I don’t know why this memory came to me today like a crystal clear movie so much so that I could smell the rain and feel the peace in the entrance foyer of my mother’s friend’s flat in Karachi.
It was raining and with every new rush of downpour my mother’s face was creasing with worry. Even though I was only a pre-schooler I could make out that this was no ordinary rain just by observing the expression on my mother’s face.
We did not have a phone, or a car and my father was in England or Great Britain as it was called then. He was busy collecting degrees by taking all the specialty examinations in Medicine that he could and acing them as he went on to the next one.
I soon realized that the rains had something to do with my brother’s delay in returning from school in Karachi.
Soon I found myself walking with my mother to the Bus stop in Malir Cantt. The wet white sand squelching between my toes in my chappal clad feet. I mindlessly following my mother, looking forward to an adventure as it always was one whenever we went to Karachi.
She held my finger as we boarded the women’s section of the bus, which was traditionally in the front of the bus. It was connected to the men’s section by a narrow entrance just enough for the conductor to squeeze through to collect the payment for the tickets.
As usual there was no place to sit. The women’s compartment comprised of only one fifth of the bus or maybe even less. I was always tempted to lean against the hump next to the gears, which always produced a frown or an admonition from the driver. I looked at the women with much curiosity, as I had never seen such a variety of differences in Pakistani women in our circle. Most were clad in the traditional two piece black burqa which was like a flowing coat and a head piece which they could maneuver into place to hide half or their whole face. The second group of women was always laborers and you could tell that by their colorful skirts and their flimsy and see through blouses. Their brazen way of standing in the bus would put Britney Spears to shame.
The bus rattled along for what seemed a long time. I was in a state of never never land, I was not at my destination and nor was I at my origination. This is the space of time where I am in no mans land during which I do my best thinking and dreaming.
The conductor came through the opening from the men’s compartment. He was a slim lecherous looking guy with his cap askew on his head, looking at the women to figure out their faces, and their background. I noticed that he completely ignored the laborers other than giving them the ticket on receiving their money, which they unashamedly dug out of their bra like blouse.
My mother stepped back to avoid brushing against him and handed him the money. Her beautifully coiffed hair, her black and white polka dot kameez and delicate chiffon dupatta screamed that she was out of place on this bus.
Soon the crowd begin to increase, I was in a strategic place near the driver and could see what ever he saw. Right in front of my eyes the white sand sidewalks and sparse bungalows of Malir Cantt changed into tarmac roads, with pavements full of crowds of people waving the bus to stop and the buildings started to grow exponentially in size and density.
What caught my imagination was the flowers in the V shaped bed where the bus began to bear right and the cars veered left, dividing the poor riders from the rich riders. The flower bed was aflame with tall red velvety flowers with lush wide shaped leaves.
Soon they were left behind and the bazaar began.
This was the section we called the foreigners bazaar as it had the most boring merchandise to my young eyes. There were walls covered with thick colorful oriental carpets and floors covered with highly ornate carved furniture inlaid with mother of pearl and ivory.
That too passed and we were approaching a semi posh area where there were a few shops and businesses on the ground floor and flats on the top.
Next thing I knew we were getting off the bus. I could see that my mother was absent minded as she got off and handed me down from the high step of the bus. We walked a few blocks. It seemed she was trying to remember an address. Every thing looked the same to me, except for the occasional signs besides closed doors of businesses.
It seemed like she had found where we were to go and we entered a doorway which led into a cool entryway with high ceilings and elegant hardwood stairs with banisters gleaming with fresh polish. Suddenly the hubbub of the street receded and in the semi darkness of the foyer, peace seeped into me.
Upon reaching the top, at the very first knock, the door was opened by a lovely slim lady my mother’s age. Her hair fashionable coiffed in a bun, she smiled and me and welcomed my mother and led us into a musty drawing room. A room that I later understood to be a very stylish drawing room with a colonial British decor. The furniture was polished and dark and the drapes long, heavy and elaborate.
There were so many things I wanted to get up and check out in the room, the telescope in one corner, the globe in the other, but good manners kept me glued to my seat. The room was dark though not gloomy. The things were old but not decrepit, more historic than just aged. It reminded me of my grandfather’s house in later years.
In listening to my mothers conversation with her friend, I realized for the first time in my adventurous journey from Malir Cantt to Karachi that my brother was lost in the tumultuous rain and resulting bus strike or cancellation and that my mother had come looking for him……….
I listened to my mother questioning her friend, her tone worried and anxious and her friend responding in a soothing voice, reassuring her that nothing bad could have happened etc etc etc…..What my mother did not realize, which I did, was………… that my brother was a teddy bear made of some God blessed resilient material that no matter what happened to him, he laughed it off and made it a fun thing instead of being serious, angry or depressed.
As her friend talked and served mango squash, I watched my mother. The lines of worry eased and gradually her face relaxed. However this was soon replaced with righteous maternal anger. My brother it seems had realized that the rain had canceled the bus service to Malir Cantt so he decided to go see a matinee movie after school. When he came out of the cinema theatre they told him it was still raining and the buses were still not going to Malir Cantt so he went to the adjoining Cinema theatre and watched a second movie which was his favorite subject: a cowboy and Indian movie. As an explanation later on he said he only did that to make use of the time while he was waiting for the bus service to resume.
My mother could not decide whether to be livid with anger for the headache and heartache he had caused her or to laugh at his ingenuous use of time on his hands.
I could have told her all along…….that I had a gut feeling that no harm would come to him, then, now or ever, inshallah!
Calamities have struck his life in many ways but he has always found a sunbeam in the midst of a rainstorm and I pray that Allah Subhanawataala always send him his own personal sunbeam and keep him under His watchful eye, and protect him from all evil. Ameen.
“A calamity that makes you turn to Allah is better for you then a blessing which makes you forget the remembrance of Allah” ~Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah