“….. If you change your mind, I’m the first in line, Honey I’m still free, Take a chance on me!” Farzana hummed along to ABBA’s whimsical lyrics as she sat in the lounge, clumsily dabbing on the 4th layer of metallic silver nail polish on her fingernails. The two battery operated tealites were already dancing a merry jig on the wall from where Farzana’s grandfather’s portrait, enshrined in a gilt-edged frame, looked on in grim reproach. It was just a little past 8pm and house no. 64 in GOR* was buzzing with high spirited energy and excitement. The evening looked very promising indeed, in the wake of juicy gossip to share and sultry confidences to bestow and receive.
Finally there was the grating squeal of the gate being opened and the crunch of the driveway gravel underfoot – both sounds now almost subliminal nuances of incoming visitors who were still 10 feet or so away from the main door. A little window of opportunity which Farzana always utilised to look herself dead in the eye in the lounge mirror, followed by a quick all over glance ending (most times!) in a final pleased pout.
“Sabi jaan!(1) It’s been too long!, exclaimed Farzana giving Sabeen a quick hug and two airy kisses in the relative proximity of her cheeks, while she ushered her in. Sabeen smiled broadly, looking in turn, at Farzana’s face and then at the fat golden brown braid of hair perched precariously on top of her head.
“It’s always fabulous to see you, babe! Sabeen said laughing exultantly.
“I’ve ordered your favourite dish from the club and your favourite dessert. You’re not still dieting are you? Aaj tau na kar yaar!(2)” Farzana pleaded cajolingly, taking her friend’s hand.
“You know i don’t have carbs at night; it’s always just a salad and some fruit. How do you think i maintain this body, meri jaan(3)? But I will have copious cups of tea”, Sabeen responded while looking around her.
The house was looking shabbier, dowdier and sadder. Over the years, the sparkle and gleam facilitated by copious government contracts accorded in the 60s and 70s to Mohammad Iftikhar Buksh, (Farzana’s father, who was also Sabeen’s father’s childhood friend) had waned with the timorous finality of the end of an epoch. Farzana remained an odd spectre of that era, languishing absurdly in the throes of practical everyday life.
Sabeen looked at Farzana with an almost tender look and then sighed. Farzana was a difficult person to be nice to, and Sabeen accepted that she herself wasn’t a saint either. So for the past 50 years, the affiliation between the two was generally that of strained congeniality, sugar-coated with exaggerated shows of affection. Occasional verbal sparring sessions helped to balance out the sugary sweetness.
Anyhow, thought Sabeen, it had been six months since she had last seen Fara. Having known this childhood friend since they were toddlers, she could easily read Farzana’s excitement and genuine pleasure to see her. Sabeen’s heart too, was feeling light and yielding. Today, they’d chat, they’d laugh, they’d connect, and then there would be the blithesome physical and material dissection of all the eligible men in town, and the happy prospecting of new beaus on the urban horizon. In all the discordant milieu of their association, she stolidly shared her involuntary single status with her friend. A shared nemesis, which had been the dubious trigger for more than a few misunderstandings between the two, she thought wryly. All in all though, Fara wasn’t a bad sort; she was just plagued by her own demons as were most people including herself, she thought in that charitable moment of reflection.
Sabeen leaned back in the sofa with a satisfied sigh. She’d probably peg today down as a cheat day – that fettuccine looked just like the mouth-watering curry hybrid we desis* love so much, and were so spectacular at concocting around every cuisine. The light trundle of the tea trolley propelled her hollow gut into a tentative rumbling dance.
She smiled to herself ….Princess Sabeen! Maybe…. probably… hopefully! She laughed at her own childlike excitement, while a delightful little secret flitted around the periphery of her present elation.
De Khudai pe aman
*GOR: Government Officers Residence – an elite neighbourhood in Lahore where the privileged segment of the bureaucracy resides
(1) – “love”
(2) –“my friend, at least today, don’t!”
(3) – “my love”
*Desi: a colloquial term used to define the residents of the larger subcontinent comprising of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.