“He cannot see, nor hear, but he can smell you, he is over a hundred years old in human years”
I look at his eyes…when I had just approached and was not near him, they seem defocused. The flies buzzed around him; However, as I approached him, he perked up and sniffed me and suddenly I felt he looked straight at me, his brown gaze sharpened as I touched his well-kept coat of deep brown. He had lost his height or was a breed of short horses I don’t know. I stood at his stall as the flies buzzed around him trying but failing to get to his legs which were encased in summer socks which are used to prevent the flies from bothering the horses.
He was fortunate …. I thought, He has someone who pays to have someone like F take care of him. F takes care of him with affection and a practical acceptance of old age in horses and men.
We walk down the stalls. The summer heat is holding its breath and allowing the impending storm to usher in some coolness if it can be called that or at least take the edge off the heat.
“I came to the States as an Irish immigrant” Freddie recalls his arrival to the US “It was either Australia or the US and the US passport arrived first” he pauses to bring the current issues of immigrants in the US in focus and observes “ we are all immigrants here” he says “why the fuss?’ I look at his weather-beaten face and his eyes that have seen a lot. I note that he could say a lot more on that topic if prompted but the touch of British in him holds him back.
There is more unsaid then said as we converse. The calico cat with the short tail immediately falls in love with me and after walking all over my lap a few times curls up and starts to purr. “ She was a resident of the SPCA” he comments pointing to her. I gently pet the cat on my lap and the dust particles light up and seem to do a slow dance in the shaft of sunlight coming in through the open window. Time comes to a standstill.
The room is a catch all room with well-worn leather sofas, comfortable but old. I am sitting on the one with a throw covering it. Family pictures adorn the wall above the door. I see a smiling young man of 14 in a tux with black hair who holds some resemblance to the man who has been gracious enough to waste his precious afternoon hours to show me around the horses and “smell the manure’ as he puts it in typical Irish tongue in cheek humor.
Outside the lush green of summer is in full swing, the red earth of Georgia contrasting with the green provides a palette of contrasts for the Horses roaming in their area confined by the wooden fences that thank God are not electrified. I have seen the electrified fences in Europe where the horses are petrified to come to the fence.
The afternoon moves slowly as we move back and forth between Ireland and the US, between 911 and what it did to our mutual Muslim friends, and the horse next door that is being sold and the classic bargaining that is considered to be a feature of the East is going on. Each ping of a message is an offer and a counter offer.
Meanwhile Fr is assisting a friend donate a pool table to a church. She is unloading her home as her husband has been in a terrible motorcycle accident and lost his marbles and is violent and uncontrollable in a nursing home for the brain injured.
The final ping comes in, a price is agreed, the horse is bought and Fr will take care of him and the lady who bought it will come to ride it whenever she feels like and deems fit.
I sit on the well worked leather sofa with a coarse cloth covering it, gently petting the purring cat and wonder what sort of a life it would be to own a gorgeous horse, be superbly comfortable in the saddle and have all the time in the world to ride him. What an amazingly lovely life, I think. what would it be like: not working 14-hour days at the Medical School and being constantly put down and marginalized in favor of the male colleagues.
I try to imagine what it would be like to put on your riding habit every other day and come ride your horse in the depths of the lush green of the forest where if you don’t know the landmarks you can get lost. What would it be like to feel the incredible intellect, sensitivity and beauty of the creature beneath you; and then to come back hand the reins to Fr and go home and shower, pleasantly tired?
I had missed out on all that……. though I loved horses always. The trees outside defocus, I feel the heat of Karachi, heavy with humidity, time stops and rolls back:
“It is summer and we are taking the train from Karachi to Rawalpindi which is a little over 1000 miles. In Pindi we will rest a day at The Flashman Hotel which is a posh British hotel (in those days) and then take a private van to Murree. My brothers are all at the Boarding school in Murree and the excuse is that we are going to see them.
When we get off the train at Rawalpindi, the train station is teeming with people as usual, The taxis want to take us but my father is a frugal man and ignores them and we are soon in a tonga pulled by a sprightly horse and are on our way to the hotel. We arrive at the first luxurious hotel built by the British. We are her just for overnight to rest and in the morning head out to Murree after breakfast.
I am thrilled as at breakfast cornflakes are served in bone china bowls on crisp linen cloth covered tables. I am too young to know the value of these bowls but the entire ambience seems to say “ remember me”. I have ever since enjoyed an artistically laid breakfast table with flowers, fine china on a starched tablecloth.
I am unhappy because my mother has put oil in my long hair to make it manageable and braided two tight braids which hurt my scalp.( It took me till my 16th birthday to chop off my braids and let my wavy hair run free.)
The private van trip to Murree has been described as hair-raising by adults but for me it was an adventure. There were a lot of hairpin bends and a constant change in scenery, which I loved. Jannah will be green like this I would think, while looking into the verdant depths of the lush everchanging foliage.
In Murree my two favorite things happen, The ice-cream man comes on the bike everyday with mango ice-cream like I have never tasted in my entire young life of eight years.
This year is unusual and seems to have a finality in it. I can feel the tension between my parents and even in my usually carefree brothers, but the ice-cream man makes up for it.
The real treat is the ride on the “Neddy” which are the mules for children with a protective ring around the saddle for the child to hold on to prevent falling.
I see a golden horse stop in front of me being led by the horse guide“ I am waiting for my Neddy…… “ I stammer looking at the horse which seems like a giant to me. “ are you ready Bibi” asks the horse guide ignoring my comment about the Neddy.
“but where is the Neddy?” I ask as fear shoots through me as I look at the horse, regal, taller than me and ….and palpably gorgeous”
“ You are old enough to ride a horse now” he says with a smile.
“come” he beckons. He offers his hand for me to place my foot and swing myself into the saddle which to my surprise I do successfully without slipping off the other side.
The view from the horse is definitely something to remember, I tower above the horse’s guide and can see the top of his turban. I can feel and see the shiny mane of the horse, the man is leading the horse and for the first time I can see how the narrow road dips down into the ravine on one side and how deep it is even though covered with trees. I look up at the other side of the path and it is the side of the mountain covered in green. The rocking of the horse by the way gives you sore legs and thighs something I had not anticipated nor felt it till I got off the horse.
That was my first and last ride on a horse in Murree, for after that our family fell apart and there were no more trips to Murree”
I come out of my reverie as I walk along the fences, Fr has fallen silent. I note that his Irish brogue has survived the South but has been softened by it a bit.
He brings me to my car, and the afternoon is over, The horses turn to look at me, a bit disappointed with this visitor “ No apples?” say their eyes as they follow me to the car.
I drive out over the dirt road, and they go back to the business of life in a horse home where there are horses of all ages and fame.
As I regretfully leave, I firmly shut the door of “what if” and weaving in and out of the dirt road arrive on the edge of paved city road which calls me back to another life, leaving behind the horses, the memories of horse riding and the inability to ride one at this time, hoping Allah has a stately horse for me in Jannah to ride with abandon. I see myself galloping across the meadows with no fear of falling or being chastised for such wild abandon.