December 27 2016
We arrived in Karachi early this morning. Close to 4am the plane began to descend, the flight attendants were asked to assume their seats, and I sat sleepily an aisle and three seats away from the window. But I knew what was outside—the tiny lights from houses amidst complete darkness, as though you were landing into a sea of stars—a descent separate from any other city.
Everything elicits a sigh of relief on this side of the world. Immigration and customs are friendly and go by painlessly in a few blinks. What took long was our luggage. I stood watching suitcases appear, with containers of Zam Zam scattered in between. The conveyor technology wasn’t working too up to date. Every few minutes a piece of luggage would topple violently off the corner where the belt bended. At some point, a worker might jump over the belt to retrieve the item.
Our bags took so long that after two arrived, expecting the other two almost felt gluttonous. I began following every person I saw walking away with a bright magenta suitcase, in case they accidentally took mine.
After finding all our suitcases, we made our way toward the exit, a set of open double-doors, its frame crammed with expectant faces on the other side waiting for relatives to come out from Jinnah International. I pushed the cart laden with suitcases as our past arrivals in Karachi pulsed through my mind: long ago my nani and nana would come themselves, my grandfather dressed in his best clothes and cologne, my grandmother’s french chiffon saari draped over her head. It seemed like my nani was always smiling. Despite how sick she got at the end, I can recall nothing except her best days, her childlike smile. My nana would kiss us on the forehead as our faces met his signature scent and the prickles from his beard. Another time when I came alone, Khurram and Ghazal Antie picked me up. I came outside turning my head left to right trying to see who came to get me. My cousin emerged from the mass of people mimicking my head movements, and we burst into smiles. The two of them took me straight into the city to buy mithai and do other errands before we went home. Other times it was Khalid Mamoo, Farheen Baji and Umair or Danish in the middle of the night, greeting gently, happily.
This time, I knew all these people had passed, or moved away. I was to search for people who were themselves visitors to Karachi. Khala ammy was right up front, and I was pleasantly thrilled to see that Mumaanijaan had come too.
I walked a few steps and found the floor magenta with petals, the scent of Pakistan’s roses embracing us into a sort of ecstatic familiarity. Barey mama greeted us like he always does, his hand resting on our heads and calling us beta. Behind him emerged a new greeter, my cousin’s son Abdul Rahman. They took charge of the carts and I looked around at the crowds of people saying hello to loved ones. People were putting garlands around the necks of relatives that had arrived. Mumaanijaan explained that many people were returning from Mecca. Ah, that explains the Zam Zam. And the petals.
It was five in the morning but the entire airport was live with delight. We piled into Fassi’s van on the soft, maroon, velvet seats. I brushed my curtain aside to look at Karachi the only time it knows to be this quiet.
And we drove home.