The tinny sing-song bell tinkled in the background as Sana looked over the accounts. She was sitting in the little back office of her Gulberg salon looking over the business books as she always did the first Monday of the month. She sat back after a while and stretched languidly, resting her head on the back of her chair. She let her mind break free from its leathery restraints of reality and flit into her teeming world of reminiscences. It used to be fantasy yarns that she used to spin when she was younger. Now she traipsed through the past, reliving the potent, vital parts of it, sometimes with a “what if” twist to a particular memory that could have been better, happier. But her trips down memory lane now were almost always analytical, controlled, without the painful bite of emotion. Time had shown her how to purposefully navigate through the spaces of her heart and mind

That morning while she was looking through her desk drawer for the ever elusive stapler, she had come upon a vestige of her old life; from ten years ago in fact: A certificate of achievement for participating in the Banking Ethics and Fair Conduct seminar. She was working in a bank then as a Customer Service Officer. Young, hopeful … deluded. Naive, she thought allowing the wisdom of the years to soften her self deprecation. That had been a short lived career spanning a mostly uneventful two years and ending with the finale of an Indian soap opera.

She smiled gently. What a journey it had been since her childhood at Qaisery Gate in Faisalabad. Her mother had been a dancing girl with big personal dreams. The two were paradoxes that were bound to create storms, tsunamis. But they had escaped their two room hovel and made it to Lahore; their city of dreams, aspirations and independence. Their city of a different kind of enterprise, for she had a long time ago, ceased to regard her mother’s earlier profession with the outraged, judging eyes of society. It had been Zulaikha’s enterprise, honest and true. Colouring it with any palate but that of earnest, tenacious survival was not in the purview of imperfect men. Or women. Over the years, Lahore had truly become their city of joyful gardens.

Sana Khan, together with her mother, Zulaikha, now managed six salons across the city. The last ten years had been momentous in the lives of the two women. Every star in the firmament had shone brightly upon their endeavours as they leaped and bounded to the very top of the burgeoning beauty industry of their city of gardens, and of world class brides and begums.

Sana had got a myriad qualifications as a cosmetologist and an aesthetician. She was hands down, one of the best beauticians in town and often led the charge in introducing cutting edge western cosmetic procedures to the city, or even artfully modifying them to better suit the Asian hair and skin aesthetic. Her bold hold of her art form combined with her unrelenting perseverance had even won Sana a number of international beauty entrepreneurship awards. She and her mother were now working on a line of artisanal hair and skin care products with Saleh Hussain, a leading industrialist in the city.

It was Saleh Hussain’s first foray into the beauty industry, urged on as much by the familiar thrill of entrepreneurship as the peculiar new pull of his heart strings. He was “developing feelings” for Sana as he liked to muse in quiet moments. Her pride, her carriage, her focus, her forthrightness …. her laugh, her imagination and that translucent skin had all evoked feelings he had only ever experienced once before. He had been in relationships of course, ample and assorted, but his heart had beaten only for one other woman in this way. He had lost her to cervical cancer before they were even married. It had been an arid, drab relationship terrain that had spread out in his heart over the last 15 years. Until he had met Sana. The woman had beetled over his dreary, joyless core, scarab style: iridiscent, bold and beautiful. But it had only been six months since he’d met her and he wanted to be very sure he didn’t rush anything into the pitfalls of oblivion or worse still, enduring, abiding resentment.

Zulaikha had watched the business interest taking a secret little personal turn as the usually unflappable Saleh Hussain had begun to flap ever so slightly when her daughter was around. Minute nervous gestures, careful forebearance even during light moments, and the look of adoration that lit up his eyes every time the dignified, restrained expression momentarily dissolved. Almost imperceptibly but surely, the man was falling in love. She smiled her own little smile as she recalled another incident from ten years ago. That fateful day that another love interest had summarily walked out of their door, branding their threshold with the savage cross of stigma and disgrace.

Sana had been inconsolable for months afterwards. She had resigned her job at the bank and had stayed in the apartment, confining herself to her room for days at a time. Deep wounds of the spirit and the heart had been inflicted and it took time, togetherness and the absolute will to go on that had finally ended her daughter’s tragedy. She had in her role as the mother, the protector and the caregiver, found ever new stores of tenacity and toughness. And one day, her daughter had emerged from her all-encompassing grief like a butterfly from her cocoon. She had soared into the brightness of the sky, not looking down, heedless of the gravity and the noise of society and of their circumstances.

They had then together, taken the oars of their lifeboat and had rowed through the cresting and crashing waves of the next four years. And finally, the universe was appeased, fickle fates were pacified and six years ago, the tide had turned.

What a journey it had been since her days at Nizam’s Guest house of Gems in Qaisery Gate.

Read Part Two here:

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