January 18, 2017
Wednesday morning came when I heard Abdul Rahman coming down to meet Ammy before leaving for school. I got up and prayed, spending a little longer this morning making duaa for my grandparents before I left. Barey Mama, Minahil and Mumaanijaan were going to take us to the airport, and were circulating up and down the house. I went into the kitchen and took one of the mineral water bottles off the counter. Kneeling down beside my plants, I cleaned them one last time with care, talking to them, noticing the new baby leaves that had sprung out since I got here. I turned to my mom and asked “What will happen to my plants?” And she turned to Mumaanijaan saying “Bhai yeh iss ke pauday hain, inn ka khaas khyaal rakhna.” Mumaanijaan smiled brightly and promised she would ask Shahida to take care of them.
Asim Bhai came down and met us on his way out, and Sadaf sat downstairs with us while we waited for the van to come. I said bye to the bathroom and other areas around the house. We took a few pictures with Mumaanijaan’s phone and soon Fassi’s car had arrived. Sitting inside the van, I stared at our front gate. It had changed colors, had had additions made, gotten dirtier, but nothing feels so familiar about Nana Abba’s house like his front gate, even when he isn’t around to stand in it and wave us goodbye.
I kept my gaze fixed on it, as it slowly rode away from us.
It’s been ages since we left Karachi in daylight. We usually fly PIA when going to the Middle East and that flight operates at night time, as do all flights leaving for North America. Emirates has nicer flight times. Scheduled to depart at noon, at 9:30am we were passing through Karachi streets towards the airport. It’s still a very early time for the city. Produce and foodstuff shops are open, and fortunately we found fairly light traffic. I looked out the window, taking in anything I could—the MCAT exam ads on the walls, the reckless vehicle nearby, the noises in the air. We finally passed NIPA and I peered down lovingly. After newer construction, it was no longer in our path every day like it used to be. This was the only time the entire trip that I got to see it.
After a little bit, our car started slowing to a stop and I realized the flashing police lights nearby were for us. I began reciting duaas as our young driver got out of the van and walked to the police car that had stopped in front of us. He came back after a few minutes having paid 500 rupees. I had no idea what for. Soon, we made the inevitable turn into the airport area and the guard checked in our car for who the actual passengers were. If there were too many other people with us, they would have been let off outside apparently.
At the airport we unloaded the car and I gave the driver 500 rupees Ammy had handed me for him. He smiled shyly and fervently refused saying we didn’t have to do that. Apparently it was for driving on the wrong side of the road, which I still don’t understand. It’s not like there’s lanes in Karachi. Maybe high capacity vehicles have to be on the right side. That’s my only guess.
And again all of a sudden, it was time. Our porters pushed our carts as we said goodbye to Barey Mama and Mumaanijaan—both their eyes glistening—and to my surprise, an unusually mute Minahil. I later found out she cried for hours afterwards. I waved at Mumaanijaan, flashing her the biggest smile I knew how to conjure. But when I got inside it pushed itself up to my eyes and turned into tears. I looked back at the doorway like I always do when leaving, knowing Karachi is now on the other side.
We got thru security, baggage, immigration—all in a breeze. Our porters were really kind. We stopped at the last checkpoint before the gates and the uncle asked me if I have a Saudi visa. He found it and exclaimed “1800 days..yeh kitney saal hotey hain?” I replied “Five.” And then to cure his wonder: “My brother works there.” We passed through a few duty free shops and there was a lounge nearby, but this was the boring end of the airport. I didn’t care to stick around here. We started the long walk towards the gate and an airport car driver offered us a lift. He didn’t know it was my dream to ride in these, and my heart would be fluttering duaas at him for it. He dropped us off at security, and we walked into the terminal.
One thing was clear. Karachi wasn’t gone yet. The terminal at Jinnah International is a small one designed in a circle. There are only a few gates that all of the flights leave out of, but somehow it’s always relaxed—this morning it certainly was. There are little shops all around, just the way there are in the city outside. In one corner there’s a McDonalds. In another there’s a tiny coffee shop. There’s a bookstore, a cute little pharmacy, and various stops for snacks.
I went to the counter at a snack store and pondered over the options. I was starving. There was a heated glass showcase with patties inside it. Hm. Should I? What about tummy? But it looks so good. And, I’m hungry. It makes sense. Voices fought in my head, until one side took victory. I walked away with a chicken pattie and bottle of Pepsi.
Outside our gate there was also a stand lined with cups, each with a teabag, powdered milk, and sugar, ready for whoever would like one: complimentary tea and a samosa. Despite all my pestering, I couldn’t convince Ammy to get a cup of tea—she doesn’t drink that much—but I got her a samosa. Amused after trying it, she told me it’s full of macaroni. What. Macaroni? Lemme see! She was right—it had spicy macaroni in it. Not bad.
I sat and people-watched as my mom made calls to home and Phuppi and Alia. The girl nearby was wearing something from Junaid Jamshed, the yellow version of what I’d bought. The lady across from us was wearing a Nishat print I had been admiring a few days ago. Should have bought it. It looks so great. I went and talked to the Antie for a bit. Actually, I felt like talking to everyone, or asking them if they’d like a macaroni samosa.
I was so happy sitting there drinking my Pepsi, basking in the last few moments. Even though we were leaving, my soul felt properly refueled, and hopeful it would only get better. I think Karachi makes me a better person—well, happier at least. Happier is a start to better.
[Honorable mention to Emirates for their spectacular menu planning per region as well as quality. The flight leaving out of Karachi, in Economy class, had the following spread for lunch:
Kachumar salad, a tiny shami kabab, boneless chicken curry and white rice topped with a single green chili, mango achaar, a taftan like bread roll (so good), a square of chocolate, gajar ka halwa in rabri like mixture, and a packet of saunf supari]