January 17, 2017
It was about 15 hours until Khala Ammy was to leave later in the day—rather, in the middle of the night. We went with Nausher Bhai to run small, last-minute errands at Bahadurabad and Tariq Road. After entering Dolmen Mall, I proceeded towards Junaid Jamshed for a return, while the moms went to the money exchange. On the way there a jade necklace caught my heart at a small jewelry stall. It’s so easy buying things on the last day. There aren’t any nights left to sleep on the thought, and bargaining too much feels miserly. It all becomes quick. The stall keeper was nice too. He took down a couple hundred rupees as easily as I let a couple go. I asked to make sure the necklace wasn’t from China, and he laughed confirming it was from Afghanistan.
The moms came down and helped me exchange something at J Dot. We verbally said Khuda Hafiz to the store and left the mall from the side exit. This doorway opens out to a lively side street to the left of Dolmen Mall. There’s a small restaurant across the alley right in front of the mall’s exit door. It’s built in a way many Karachi restaurants are where you can see most of the restaurant from outside, as well as naan being tossed and served, chai being made, entrees being stirred. Some of the space outside the restaurant is occupied by benches, and red and orange chairs with tiny holes in them. People are found sitting and talking and eating together. It’s hard to explain the energy and warmth bubbling from that one establishment. I walked down the alley up to main Tariq Road and something felt different. I turned to my mom: “Look at this street, it’s so clean…” My mom looked around and agreed that it looked like safai had been done indeed. Things had been different after the rain. On two occasions I saw garbage trucks picking up waste. And now this street looked spectacular. How completely wonderful—’umeed pe duniya qayam hai.’
We went to Bahadurabad next and I stood outside Darbar-e-Shereen taking in my own panoramic view of the expanse before me. Bahadurabad is my favorite place in Karachi. Well, it’s actually NIPA chowrangi, but no one’s going to let me hang out there. Of the places I’m actually able to visit frequently, I love going to Bahadurabad. I stood at the roundabout looking at the large fort-like structure standing in the center. On one end I could see a digest and newspaper stall, further away was the bookshop, after that was where Music City used to be, an abandoned Money Exchange, other shops, a vendor selling gajak and chikki, and a mass of cars everywhere.
I knew if I stood outside too long, a swarm of beggar children (famous for their location at this roundabout) would rush in at me from all corners. I stepped back into the brightly lit mithai shop, run by tall young men with long black beards and namaz topis. I helped Khala Ammy and my mom pick out sweets, making a point to put in habshi halwa in her box for Mona.
Our next stop was United King Bakery, that has advanced superbly in the past few years. They sell everything. Everything. Dahi barey, biscuits, nimko, little pizzas, bottles of their own branded sauces, bread, pastries, cakes, frozen finger snacks—there was so much food all around me. We bought a ton of paapay, some nimko, and although my tummy still wasn’t well, I chanced a bottle of Pepsi. It was the last day, and I like the way Pepsi tastes in Pakistan—a little sweeter, with a bit of a zing to it. Outside the bakery was a United King stall selling chinese soup. I wish we had these.
Our car was trying to pull out from parking as someone unjustly blocked us. Khala Ammy yelled at them from the window. I looked down at my clothes. The first day we come out to the market, we always feel so out of date, out of place, in our clothes from seasons ago. I sat now wearing a knee length kurti and a shawl draping off my shoulders. Then I looked up at Khala Ammy yelling at the other vehicle and couldn’t help laugh and smile. We were of here now.
A little bit later at home, Khala Ammy was fitting in the last of her things into suitcases and checking weight. I said to her, “Now it looks like you’re going.” And all of a sudden things whirled to a complete stop. Vacation, for lack of words for what this really had been, was over now. It was so strange how abruptly it came to an end. The presence of our exit was in the air. Khala Ammy was to leave early the next morning and we would leave the morning after that. We had our least meal upstairs with Khala Ammy there. Later at night, Asim Bhai and Sadaf came to weigh her things and say goodbye. I turned the TV on to see which Pakistani movie was on tonight. The two moms lounged in their room. I went to nap for a bit and asked them wake me up when we need to leave for the airport.
I woke up to voices. Khala Ammy came into my dark room and called my name to tell me she’s leaving. I woke up and protested sleepily, saying they were supposed to wake me up. Of course they thought the idea of waking me up from sleep was too much trouble while the whole senior lot of them hadn’t even slept a wink. So them.
She told me how nice it had been to have been able to spend all this time with me here. I couldn’t say anything. I sat up in bed as she stood beside me, and hugged her like a little child.
And in a flash she was gone.
The next morning, none of us had slept too well. We weren’t up having tea at 6am. I didn’t see sunrise. Everything had vanished, and it felt disturbed.
Our trio was broken. My mom stood at the screen door in the front in Khala Ammy’s purple sweater, her back facing me. She looked so much like her. Where had Khala Ammy gone so fast? She was just here, part of us. The rest of the day was quiet. I watched Alia cover the china cabinet with sheets, per my mom’s instructions. Tomorrow at this time we would have left too.
I went on a last trip to Saad Medical, took a last shower indulging in the scent of Sunsilk, I tried to consume anything I could: bakery chips, biscuits, a last bottle of Pakola, the firmest round amrud I could find. Chachajaani had arrived the night before and he came with Phuppi and Phuppa to meet us later in the afternoon. Mumaanijaan put out a naashta for them and Alia made tea. I was so overwhelmed in that one moment by everything Mumaanijaan had been doing for us, all the dinners, all the preparations for people who came to meet us, all the help with errands. She didn’t have to do any of those things, but she did for us and from her own goodness.
During Chachajaani’s visit, it was time for Alia to leave. We took a quick excuse from the gathering to go into Mumaanijaan’s kitchen where she stood. My mom and her exchanged a quick but emotional goodbye. They were both very sad. And I was sad. I wanted to so much to start crying untethered, but I had to keep composure since we had guests over. But a voice in me said I would lose the chance if I didn’t say anything at all. As she walked away through the back rooms to leave, I called out to her saying “Alia, duaa karna,” my voice almost at the edge of a cliff. She turned immediately with a bewildered expression implying that I had asked for something I didn’t have to ask for. She called back out with her earnest smile, “Of course! I’m always praying for you and Mona!” She turned to leave as tears streamed down my face, and I couldn’t even make out enough words to say thank you or good bye after that. I watched her disappear, and made my face up again to return to the living room.
What is creation—what kind of wonder is it that people we don’t even know, aren’t related to, become our source of livelihood, our source of hope. Something made me believe I would regret it if i didn’t ask for her duaa when saying goodbye—the way I ask for duaa from those closest to me, those who only wish good, like the ones my grandparents would give.
God blesses us with so much goodness even when we think all the people that loved us that way have passed away. Something Misha Bhabi’s mom told me once forever rings in my mind: that Allah says in His Book, He provides for you from sources you could not even imagine. [65:3]
The crows are asleep now, the cars seem quieter—more solemn—as they pass by the gate outside, no weddings in the neighborhood, cheeks stained wet.
Goodbye Karachi—till we’re home again.