Stories


” Good afternoon, can I see your boarding pass, please?” a pretty air hostess greeted me as I boarded the plane. She looked at my card and then guided me to my window seat.

Few minutes later the plane was airborne. It has been an hour since. I feel excited, nervous and may be happy too. 19 years is a very long time. For whole of this period I have not been to the land that I once guarded. It was exactly 19 years, 3 months and 4 days. My memory works better when it comes to emotions. It was August 18, 1989 when I sailed off from Karachi for nowhere. Well I did not plan it that way. Our plan was to go to Greece and live there forever. You must be wondering what do I mean by ‘our’. I was not alone at the time we planned, Zarina was with me.

I vividly remember all the details; everything since I met her. I was working in coast guards of Pakistan, defending our waters. After 10 years of service I wanted to settle down in Karachi and live normal life, do something else, get married, have children and spend life with a family that I never had. Finally I was out. I began looking for jobs. It was a hot day in October ’88 when I entered a building in Saddar Karachi. I looked for the company’s name and went to that office. A pale thin girl, with a complexion that could hardy be called wheatish, in light green flowery dress was sitting at the desk, typing something.
” yes?”
” I want to see Mr. Aslam”
” why?”
” I have an interview”
” Your name?”
” Amin”
” ok wait, I will tell him”
as she picked up the phone.
She was not rude but was not pleasant either. That was my first meeting with Zarina.

Luckily I got the job in sales, selling dreams of employment to the unemployed. Yes, it was an employment agency started by a retired army Captain five years ago and now had only two employees, Zarina being the other one.

Later in few months, Zarina and I grew more friendly with each other as we did not have any other option. She found a good friend to talk to and I found in her a very good listener to share my experiences and stories with. She had large black eyes that were filled with sadness. I so much wanted to see hope and dreams in those eyes but she always had same sadness. With time I could see the reasons.

I came to know she was middle one of six children. An elder brother and an elder sister and then two younger brothers and a sister, the youngest child. She lost her mother 6 years ago when she was 14. He father was one of those men who think that their duty is to abuse their wife and terrify their children specially the girl child. After her mother it was Zarina’s duty to take care of house as her elder sister was married and was living miles away in Rawalpindi, a city she had never seen. Her elder brother had gone to work in the Gulf states , never to come back though sometimes he would send some money to father. She had to do job to earn for her younger ones. On first day of every month her father would take away all money from her and would give only that which is good for daily bus fare. She had only me as a friend who she could talk to and share these things. Like any other girl, she had dreams; dreams of getting married to a nice man who would take care of her, who would respect her. I realized she liked me because I respected her and would do something here and there to lighten up her mood. In coming months we both grew fond of each other, more than just friends. She was tired of her life, abused by her father who would shout at her when she gets back from office. At her age it was too heavy a burden. Sometimes I would wonder how such a slim girl of 5′ 1″ , who hardly had good nutrition in her life, could handle all these things.

Finally one day I asked her if she would marry me. Her eyes sparkled, her cheeks blushed and then the same sadness took over.
” You don’t know my father. He would kill me and you both if he finds out. He would kill me the day he comes to know” she sounded like a girl who needed protection but can not shout for help.
” I can talk to him and I can fight if it comes to that”
” No, he has relations with all the criminals and police. You won’t be able  to do anything”
” If you are afraid then lets go to another city and get married there”

” No, he can reach everywhere in Pakistan”
” OK so we can go out of Pakistan, then he won’t be able to reach us.”
” what!?”
“yes, I am, anyway, tired of this job. I will find a job on merchant ship and we will go to some other country and can settle there”
” where?”
suddenly I saw hope in her eyes
” Some where in Europe. Let me talk to companies for job first”
” I hope it works out that way”
” Don’t worry , I will try. Hopefully it will work”

Two weeks later I got an offer on the ship. I told her. I also applied for her passport and then talked to my friends to arrange visa for her.
” Next week we are going to Greece” I told her showing her the passport.
” What?!, How!?”
” yes, and as my ship is heading to Greece, we will go together. I have made arrangements”
“Amin, I never thought it could happen in my life. You have changed my life like a fairy tale” her eyes beaming with tears as she tried to say thanks but could not, but I understood. No one understood her better.
I put my hand on hers, reassuring that everything would be alright.

Our departure date was August 18. Our plan was that she would come out of house at normal time but instead of office she would meet me at the port at noon. By 3 in the afternoon we would be in the sea, leaving Karachi for good.
It was a restless night. I kept thinking about her. I wanted to give her happiness she deserved. She looked like a bird with terror on her face but determination in the eyes.
In the morning I got ready , took everything from my room and headed to the port.

Around noon time I started looking at the gate, she could arrive there any minute. I looked at the watch, it was moving. It struck 1, then 2 and then ….
” Brother, are you Amin?” a child tapped at my back
” Yes, who are you?”
” This is for you” he gave me an envelope. It was Zarina’s handwriting on the top from Zarina”.
” who gave you this?” I asked him
” There was a girl outside, she told me to give it to you after 15 minutes.” he showed me a 10 rupee note that made him do that.
I ran outside but obviously she had gone by then.
I opened the letter

” Dear Amin,

You must be thinking why this letter instead of me. First thing is that I don’t have the courage to face you and second I don’t want to make a scene at the port. I just want you to go to Greece as planned but alone. Yes, Amin, I can not come with you. No , no one has found out about it but I thought about it whole of the night.
I have lived years in these horrible conditions where daily I hoped that one day some angel would appear and take me away from here. I daily went to office with a hope that when I return my father would be a different man, that my brother would save enough money to come back one day and protect us, that someday I would win the lottery and everything would be changed. I wanted to believe that Cindrella wasn’t just a tale. I so much wished to be saved from the jinn in this castle. I did not know it really happens in ordinary people’s life. Then you appeared from no where to save me. You have always made me feel so good, you have always given me the respect and honor that I always prayed for.You are willing to put your life on stake for my sake. I know I am not even average in looks nor can I bring money or jewelery while running away with you but you still want me with you and that is something any girl could wish for. But Amin, I can not have all this. If I run away, three young children will be left behind without mother and father. I am their mother , father and sister to them. I am the only one they look to when they have any problem , when they are in pain, when they need anything and when they want to be protected. I have lived my last seven years with that feeling even when I was much older than them. I may have gotten used to all the abuse but I don’t want them to experience the same. I don’t know it is sacrifice or sense of duty or anything else but I just can not leave them alone in this world. No mother would. Amin, no one knows me better than you do and I hope you would understand even if you won’t agree. I have only one request, please go to Greece as planned. If you will live here I may become weak. I want to be strong Amin , a strong woman that you have made me. I just so wish that I could spend the life with you. You are a rare specie that I have known. Any woman will be happy to have you as a partner and I wished it too but for now I want a friend to fufill his friends wish.

I won’t ask you to forgive me…but I hope someday you will understand me.

Take care

Zarina

I didn’t know what to do and then I realized I am her friend too. It might be better for her. I stepped towards the dock.

Greece could not become my destination. I traveled around the world but always avoided Pakistan. Finally 3 years ago I settled down in Brussels. No woman could come to my life. Not because I had lost trust or I could not love them but because I did not want to. Like fairy tale I still believed she would be waiting for me. Sometimes I would laugh at my thoughts. After 17-18 years even the craziest of lovers forget each other and we were not even that kind of lovers. Our love originated in our basic needs of sharing , caring and respect.

Last April when everything in Pakistan seemed to change, it somehow brought back the memories of Karachi. All these years I always kept Zarina’s address with me though I never tried to contact her. I finally sat down and wrote a simple letter to her about how she is doing and how I miss Pakistan while running here and there alone. I wanted to convey to her that I am still alone but did not want it to be too highlighted. At the end I wrote ‘ your ex colleague’ as I did not want to create problems for her if she were married, which I hoped she was. I was not even sure if the letter would reach her but there is always a hope. In late September, I got a letter from Pakistan.

” Dear Amin,

I can not explain how happy I am to get your letter. For few minutes I could not believe my eyes and ears. I have moved from that address but one of my neighbour brought your letter to me. I want to tell you so many things that I have kept all these years. I could never get any friend like you. I don’t know where to start but Alhamdolillah I am in much much better conditions than when you left. I could never imagined it before you came into my life. I am Headmistress in a private school now. All my siblings are happily married. Javed , my eldest brother has come back and settled in Karachi doing his own business. The second one is now an engineer working in a power plant near Multan. The other younger is a software developer and is living in Dubai. The youngest sister got married 2 years ago and is living at Clifton here in Karachi. We lost our father 5 years ago.
I think I have told everything in few lines. And yes, the school I run is partially owned by me. So thats about me. And why do you say you are alone? you didn’t get married? may be thats why we are friends, we have many things in common.

Do write back…and send your picture. I want to see how do you look now in 40s. You must have aged gracefully I think. I am sending you mine.

Zarina”

I looked at the picture. She had not changed that much. Just addition of glasses and some signs of better health but I could still see the 20 year old Zarina in it.

In the following weeks, I planned my work to take few months off and finally I am here, heading to Karachi.
Now it is 19 years, 3 months and 5 days. It is 6 am on Sunday morning, a weekend. Captain has just announced we are going to land at Quaid e Azam International soon. I can now smell the dust of my land and I can hear the call of love. I have always admired and valued this ordinary woman named Zarina, and I think I always will. I have heard Cab system is very good now a days and I have her new address in my wallet. I have to shut down my laptop now but a famous saying echoes in my mind

” Waqt sey pehlay aur Qismet sey zyada kisi ko kuch nahin milta “
( No one gets anything before the time and more than the fate )

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I have wondered for long time why do people love. I wish someone can tell me the answer I could trust. I know some do answer but they are the ones who have never loved anyone but themselves, and the others, yes the ones who have really loved do not say anything. After 9 years today once again I was at the lake, the ‘union lake’ as she would call it. It is just 2 km from my house. You must be wondering why don’t I go there more often than 9 years if it is so close by. Well, I used to go there every year but then she came into my life. The same lake brought her into my life.
It was a beautiful evening in ’97 and I being in love with my solitude , had gone to spend peaceful yet thoughtful time at the lake. It was more like a pond with nature in its purest form all around. Fellow beings had not tried to civilize it as yet. Just when I was pondering over the vastness of our small milky way , I heard brakes of a bicycle. My head turned around and I saw a beautiful blond girl on red bicycle with a small basket with some flowers. Yes, exactly like we see in movies. She waved and I responded as she was coming closer.
” Hi”
” Hey”
” this is beautiful!”
” yes it is”
“such a raw beauty!”
I did not say anything and just looked at her. My eyes complimenting her with the same sentence.
” Hi I am Alisa”
” Good to meet you, I am Najam”
” Nice cute name. What does it mean?”
” I think in Arabic it means star”
” so you are looking for star?”
” no, you are looking at star”
I laughed.
” Aha!, do you live close by” she asked
“yes , my house is on Eldorado, you?” I stood up.
“I am visiting my grandma. I live in Zürich”
” Nice, what do you do in Zürich?”
” I am doing graduation in interior designing. This is my last semester. What do you do Najam? Najam, did I pronounce it right?”
” yes you are just perfect. I am a Financial Planner”
” hmmm..Financial planner, so you plan to make other people rich”
” No I take half of people’s money to tell them how to hold the rest”
” you are quite honest”

” I was kidding”
” how come you are here in this small town?”
” I own a small house here. I like this small town”
” Look how beautiful is the sunset here!. I wish I had the camera”
” Camera can never capture the beauty of nature. It is our eye that sees and stores it in our memory”

she looked into my eyes and smiled.
Next 10 minutes we kept on looking at the sunset, without saying anything.
Then I started to walk to the path to the town. She accompanied me.
” Are you from India?” she asked
” No, I am from Pakistan”
” Really!? one of my friends has just returned from Pakistan. She is a mountaineer and went to north of Pakistan”
” O yea? Pakistan is heaven for mountaineers. How was her experience?”
” She loved it. She loved the mountains and mountain people there. She plans to return next year. I saw her pictures. They were beautiful!, the kind of beauty that you see in pictures and don’t believe till you see with your own eyes”
” I think that area has majestic beauty. I have been to few parts and one can just wish to be lost in them, though not literally as they are dangerous too. I think wherever there is a beauty , there is a danger. “

” do you think so?”
” yes, look at the simple example of rose and thorns”
” o cmon man!..anyways this is my grandma’s house. Thanks for the company Najam, I enjoyed it”
” I too have enjoyed it after a long time”
I smiled.
” Are you free tomorrow, lets go for dinner if you don’t have other plans?”
” Sure, here is my number. Call me in the morning and let me know”
” Thanks, I will.”
” Bye Alisa”
” Bye Najam, See you tomorrow”

Next day she called up at noon to confirm if I was free for dinner. I told her that I would come. I picked her up at 6:30 and we went to a steakhouse. We talked about many things while waiting for our meal to be served. History, arts, philosophy, science, economics , we touched many subjects. She was curious about life in Pakistan, about Islam. Coming from Jewish-Christian background she had some idea of my religion specially Halal food as her grandma was strict to Kosher.

” Now I understand why did you order Salmon steak instead of beef”
“ You ordered it too”
I smiled.

We had light discussions during the meal. After the dinner I dropped her to her grandma’s.
” Thanks for the dinner. I really had good time”
” My pleasure Alisa. It was nice. Give me a call tomorrow, I know a very good place for Espresso, we will go there”
” Sure. As long as I am here, we should try new places daily”
” I wish I could but I have to go back to Toronto next Monday”
” ohk, we still have few days”
” yes, lets meet tomorrow for coffee”
“see you tomorrow then, good night Najam”
” Good night…bye”

I came back and kept on thinking about Alisa. I knew that she is attracted to me but am I falling for her?. How could I, knowing that we have so many basic differences , our religion, our culture, traditions, ..but on top of everything knowing that according to doctors I don’t have much time left. I had not told anyone, not even my family or friends. Only my best friend knew it. I did not know what to do. I feel like living and spending time with Alisa. First time in my life I felt like that for a woman and here I was fighting for my life itself.

A song of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was being played on CD player

” zindagee sey yahi gila hai mujhay ( I have only a single complain to life)
tu buhat dair sey mila hai mujhay ( I have found you very late) “

Should I tell her? What if she goes away? She is a practical western girl, she may show sympathy but she wants to build a life?
I did not know when did I fall asleep on the couch with all these thoughts.

Next day we went for coffee. Again discussion spanned variety of topics coming back to the most important topic, the life.

” you seem to be distracted by something. something is in your mind” she suddenly asked me directly
“nothing, just don’t feel good”
” do you have family here?”
” No, my family lives in Pakistan”
” it must be difficult for you to live without your family?”
” don’t know, never thought about it”
” you must be in your early 30s and you are still single!, no girl friend, no wife?”
” don’t you think it is very personal?”
” yes I know, thats why I am asking”
her laughter cracked me too.
” and how do you know I don’t have one…may be I do”
” you want me to believe that she allowed you to have dinner with me? “
she had mischief in her eyes.
” why not?”
” o dear, you have never been in a relationship, else you wouldn’t have asked me”
her smile was as wide as her face.
” how about you?”
” don’t you think it is personal?”
she showed me the mirror
” OK, then don’t tell me”
” OK OK , I will tell you. I had one few years ago but we broke up in 3 months”
” why?”

“you know I am a typical woman. I wanted commitment, I wanted to settle down, build my own home but Dave was not ready for any responsibilities, any relations that would tie him down to one place or person. He was not a bad guy but…I heard he lives in Germany now”
” Have you ever thought why?”
“I have seen many men are afraid of commitment, of getting married”
” I know , and this is nature of man. Man loves the unknown while woman loves the known. Man likes to discover and woman feels happy with the discovered.”
” are you too afraid of commitment?”

The moment had come to choose a path. One was of honest, truth and probable pain to both of us and the other of a lie, care and pain mainly to me. I was man torn among the two. I had to choose between few days of feeling love and being loved or probable regrets and satisfaction of sacrifice.

” To be honest I am not but I was waiting for the girl I can fall in love with from very first sight”
She lifted her eyes and looked at me like she would absorb me in herself and then she smiled. I too smiled in her response, smile that was genuine in meaning.

Next five days went by quickly. We came close to each other, closer than she thought and closer than I wanted at that point. But I had forgotten everything. I just wanted to enjoy every moment with Alisa. I believed I too had the right to enjoy life, no matter how short it is going to be cut. I kept on deceiving myself and Alisa. I wanted to live in the present without thinking about her future. those nine days had brought me the happiness that I always longed for and I did not want to let it go. It seemed out of my control, just like I did not have control over duration of my life.
The last day had come. It was Sunday. She wanted to go to church in the morning. I too accompanied her. I looked at her when she was praying. She looked like an angel.

Then we went for brunch at the restaurant. My mind was full of every kind of thoughts. She kept on talking like always but this time I was just watching her, looking into her eyes , thinking that it might be our last meeting ever. Then I dropped her at her home. We exchanged byes. I went ahead and kissed her forehead. That completely surprised her. She looked at me.

“Thank you Najam!” she had tears in her eyes.
” Thank you Alisa, and be happy” I held her hands for few moments while looking in her eyes and then left.

I went back to Toronto next morning. My friend , my best buddy John saw me and came for a short chat. He asked me to join him at dinner. In the evening I told him everything in detail. He listened to it attentively and did not say anything.
” I need your opinion at least” I urged him
” Listen man, I will be honest with you. If you go ahead with her knowing your condition, this relationship will not be based on honesty. If you tell her the truth she may not leave but that might be out of sympathy not love. It is hard to say anything but I might have stopped the contact with her at once. But again, this is something only you can decide, no one else will decide it for you.”

I thought and thought it through and then came to same conclusion. I decided not to keep any contacts. I changed my phone number, did not respond to her emails. She was quite consistent for months but I would not read any and then later I blocked her.

I wished I had a longer life. I wanted to see how life would be with Alisa. I wanted to live, my desire to live for Alisa and myself was more than anything. I fought for my life. I wanted a forced extension. I made up my mind that I won’t succumb to the disease without resistance. I surprised my doctors, my reports and even myself. I defied all rules of existing medicine except placebo. How did it happen I don’t know but it took me eight years to beat all those predictions.

Finally, last year I came back to this town with a hope that Alisa might be on vacation again or at least I could get her contact info from her grandma. I wanted to restart. I wanted to fill and heal the open wounds with my love. As I went to her house, the gate was locked. The house did not seem to be inhabited. A neighbor told me the lady died 3 years ago. Now her daughter rents it out every year. She and her husband come once a year to spend some time here. They might move here in couple of years and they might rent it out again for the moment. That was enough information for me, not the one I expected to hear though.

For eight years I worked hard to get few days more so that I could go back to Alisa and now I had time but she was gone. I always felt she was my love and she loved me but I knew she must have moved on. She would have forgotten me. I don’t know if it was my mistake but I know it was good intention.

This fall I came back again. As I was passing by their home in the afternoon I saw couple of kids playing. “So now they have rented it out again” I thought.
I went to the lake and sat there. I heard someone biking nearby. It was a young kid running his bike after birds.
” Hi, have you seen a kid with a red bike here?” I saw a man walking towards me.
“Yes he just passed by a minutes ago.”
” He is crazy. He might have gone after the butterflies. O yea, there he is coming back”
” Anyways, thanks man. I am Dave” he extended his hand “ We have come for visit here from Germany ”
” Nice meeting you Dave” as I stood up ” I….”
” and I am Najam” the kid cut me short and extended his hand
” you are what!!?”
” Najam…O yea, this is Arabic name , it means star. My wife named him. She knows Arabic ” Dave clarified.
I looked at Dave then looked at the kid. I could not say anything. I did not know what to say.
” I am….you can call me Mr. Hussein. Good meeting you guys. I better go now” I could hardly utter these words and started walking back.
” Hope to see you around.”
” I….I am going back tonight. Bye”.

Now I am sitting at the bus station waiting for the Grey hound and thinking….thinking about my life, my love , Alisa… and wandering if it was possible for me to comeback to life without the thought of Alisa being there waiting for me. A saying of Lao Tzu echoes in my mind “ Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage”. I can not figure out I was more strong or more courageous. I wonder if someone has the answer…for sure I don’t.

Copyrights Reserved.

Railway station..seems like an old word now a days but when you are sitting there waiting for the train it is your whole world..well may not be now but way back then, in 1989 it was like that. Eighteen years is a long time. There were no cellular phones and wireless laptops disturbing the beauty of silence. It was such a beautiful chilly Saturday morning of mid December. Sitting at this Colbert station in Limerick city I was waiting for the train to Dublin. It was very wet and cold day; the tea shop was not yet open , nor was the ticket counter. 6:20 was too early for the first train that was scheduled for 8 o’ clock. I did not want to be late and miss the train as I had noon meeting at Regional hospital in Dublin.

I was looking at the coffee shop glass door that was supposed to open at 6:30. “Still 10 minutes” I thought while rubbing my hands. It felt much more cold even at 4 degrees Celsius.

“ Sorry, where is the ticket counter?” I heard a beautiful voice.

I turned back and looked at the person. For one moment I forgot everything. That one moment seemed like months of dreaming….where you just watch complete story while still remaining an outsider.

“ woh…” only Urdu words could come out of my mouth, but immediately I corrected myself

“ ..I mean go straight and turn right after the third pillar. First window on right hand “

“ Thank you” she started walking

“ but it will open at 7. I am also waiting for it” I just wanted to talk to her.

oh, where are you going ?”

“Dublin, and you?”

“ I am going to Waterford” as she looked around “ no tea or coffee either?”

“ I hope they will open in 5 minutes “

“ Do you live here?” she asked sitting next to me

“ Yes, near the post office on O’Connell ….you?”

“ near the dock ….you from India?”

“ No, I am from Pakistan”

“ really!, doctor?”

“ yes, how do you know?”

“ all Pakistanis I have seen here are doctors “ she smiled

I felt satisfied and even proud about being a Pakistani.

“ where are you from?” I wanted to know more about her

“ do you know Tipperary?”

“ yes”

“ I am not from there” she laughed …. I joined her when I understood.

“ I am from waterford ” she was still smiling

“ No doubt it is the city of crystals” I looked at her

“ oh thank you!, our crystals look delicate but they stay with you for whole of your life.”

…and thanks for the compliment……I am Ciara”

“ Nice meeting you Ciara, I am Kashif”

“ Do you want coffee?…tea?” I saw the shop lady opening the doors.

“ Lets go there, we can sit inside. It is cold and this rain!!…it never stops!”

“You should be used to it. You are an Irish,?”

“ I am an Irish but I was not born here. I moved to Ireland 6 years ago. We were living in Spain before”

“ ohk, that is why you don’t have Irish accent.”

“really?..then what accent do I have..English?…or Spanish?..”

“hmmm….I guess Chinese!” we both started laughing.

“ you know, sometimes we meet people who are complete strangers and yet we feel that we know them for a long time” she looked into my eyes while sipping from her coffee cup.

“ Yes…and then we realize that they are in fact our next door neighbours”

She burst into laughters… and for me it was like listening to Beethoven’s 5th symphony….soothing to my inner self”

“ You know you are funny. I have not laughed this much in months. Thanks”

“ I am gad that I could bring out those laughters…they must be buried for months”

“ Are all Pakistanis so witty and funny?”

“ No, only half of them…the other half is audience ” I smiled

“ I am serious!”

“ so am I”

“ Do you live with your family?”
“ No , my family lives in Pakistan. I am alone here”

“ My mom lives in Waterford. My mom and dad moved to Spain after they got married”

“ and what do you do here?”

“ I am in the college of nursing. I will graduate in ’91”

“ Thats nice”

“I can help you if you want then”

“ o sure, I would love to have you assist me”

“ so tell me Kashif, what else do you do? “

“ well lets see, I like to play squash and being Pakistani I think I love playing cricket. I like to read too”

“ really!? I love to read. What kind of books do you like ?”

“ mostly literature, classics”

“ me too. I love Jane Austen, Bronte, Eliot, Henry Fielding and so so many.”

“ I like those too. I love Russian and French literature. I like James Joyce. I guess being Irish you might have read him too ”

“You know I tried to read ‘Ulysses‘ but hardly went beyond few pages. I am Austen’s girl. I feel myself to be her heroin when I am reading her”

“ yea? She must be close to your nature?”

“ yes she is “ she paused for a moment then said “can I ask you something?”

“ yes?”

“have you ever been in love?”

“ what!??”

“ sorry, I know it is a personal question. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to”

“ ok, I don’t want to answer”

She looked at my serious face, then smiled.

“ Why are you smiling?”

“ will you believe if I tell you the truth?”

“ don’t have any reason not to”

“ I have started to like you”

“ you are funny too”

“ I am serious “

“ oh ok, sorry. Well, I am flattered to know that a girl as pretty and nice as yourself likes me, but I fail to understand why, specially when you know me only for last 30-40 minutes. You don’t even know me”

“ can’t you like a stranger?”

“didn’t your mom ever tell you never to trust a stranger?”

“ she did but she had not met you till then”

“ oh ok. Hold on!. now it is getting serious”

“ Do you believe in soul mates?”

I only believe in Check mate” I laughed but she did not, rather she ignored my comments

“You know they say ‘everyone in the world has a soul mate, who can be regarded as a life traveler. Soul mates have known each other in past lives and will know each other in future lives. They are destined to be with one another, may even meet at a very late stage of their life. But unfortunately, sometimes their paths may not cross. Sometimes two people who are truly meant for one another never make contact in this lifetime.

But if and when we do meet our soul mate, even if it’s for a brief moment, the two of us will know instantly. The chemistry, the feeling, the easy conversation will be there. As you look into each other’s eyes, you will know. You will have the feeling you’ve known this person before…and it’s true. You really have known this person before. “ her eyes piercing through my soul.

“ Wow…. am impressed…I mean I don’t have words”

“ Do you understand what I said”

“ Yes I do….and honestly I can not disagree with you. I feel you are right” I smiled. She smiled too.

“ Kashif, here is my contact in Limerick and Waterford. I will be back in town mid January. I would love to stay in touch. Please do, if you like to” she wrote her contacts on a paper and gave it to me.

“ Thanks Ciara. Have you heard that they say ‘ don’t trust Irish weather…and women. They can change instantly” I could not stop teasing

“ Yes I have heard that. I think the people who say that don’t know how to enjoy what either of these offer….”

“ and till now I have only seen weather and I have enjoyed that” I could not resist

“ One day you will know about the other part too……see.! I told you, you are witty “

“ I was witty even before you told me that”

“ok Mr. Witty- funny train will leave us if we don’t rush .”

We walked towards the platform

“Alright Kashif, I will wait for you. When you feel the same way, come to me, you will find me waiting for my soul mate”

“ Ciara, I can not lie to you. I like you but don’t know you enough and we have many basic differences. Let the time take its own course”

“ I told you what I have felt in last one hour. I had no idea when I came to the railway station but now I know who my soul mate is……. ”

“ Ok. Bye Ciara…take care of yourself”

“ Bye for now Kashif” she hugged me.

Two weeks later I got call from home. I had to go back to Pakistan. Same family and estate feuds forced me to abandon my idea of returning to Ireland. It took few years to take care of everything. Sometimes in the night when I used to lie down and read a book, I would think of Ciara.

“ she would have forgotten you by now” I would tell myself but my inner self never believed in it. I don’t know why.

Years passed by. Mom and dad asked me to get married now as I had crossed 40 . There were still good proposals from nice girls from similar families. I thought about it seriously but could never convince myself. Whenever I thought of soul mate, Ciara’s face appeared in front of me.

One day in year 2003, I decided to go back to Ireland for a visit. On a rainy eve of November I landed at Shannon and headed to Limerick city. Things had changed. European Union and IT boom had changed the country but the beauty and innocence of nature was still there.

I stayed at my old friend and colleague Javed’s place. In the night we sat down near the fire and talked about old days. He started telling me about what everyone was doing.

“ By the way , I remember now. Few weeks after you had left, a girl came looking for you. She said she had some personal thing to discuss with you.”

“What was her name?” I got excited

“ As far as I remember it was Ciara.”

“ What did she say?”

“ she just told me to tell you that she was moving to waterford. She never came back again and neither did you….and I forgot to tell you.”

“ its ok, it doesn’t matter”

Next morning I was at the same railway station waiting for train, but this time it was train to Waterford.

It was long 3 hours. I still had Ciara’s address in my wallet. I don’t know why did I keep it with me all the time. It was a bit outside the city. Finally I was there, at front of her house, an old Irish house with colorfully painted walls and flowers everywhere. I pressed the bell button. An old lady showed up

“ Who is there?”

“ Is this Ciara’s house?”

“ Who are you?” She looked deeply at my face then said “ you must be Kashif!!”...then started shouting “Ciara Ciara…..you were right. Kashif is here”

“ how do you know who I am” it really made me happy

“ Ciara told me everything about you. You are exactly like she painted your picture. I am Mary, her mother.”

“Where is she?”

She looked at me trying to find something on my face then said

“ She lives near the church. I will take you there. “ she held my hand and started walking “ you know I never believed her but she always said that one day you will come and she should wait for you. I thought she had gone crazy but she said you will come back one day…she also started studying Islam and Pakistan but..”

We passed by the church and entered a gate

“ There she is…my child…waiting for you…”

I looked at her with pain in my heart

“she could not fight cancer” she pointed to a grave stone that said “ waiting for you… Ciara O’ Mahoney”

I looked at Mary, she had tears in her eyes. I felt warmth of my own tears on my cheeks as I touched the stone.

“ You were right Ciara, I had only experienced Irish weather but now I know Irish wo….” I started crying loudly…my body seemed to jerk while I was trying to control my emotions. I did not have power or will to move as I felt Mary’s hands on my shoulder.

Its been four years since then. I run a hospital in Waterford named after its own girl “ Ciara Hospital”.

I do come to Limerick quite often and always use train. The Colbert station reminds me of many things ..but more than anything it reminds me of my soul mate… soul mates…and waterford crystals….they stay with you forever.

” Excuse me” someone tapped on my shoulder as I was enjoying London’s Tube.
” Yes?” I turned around and saw an old South Asian lady in saree smiling at me.
” I am looking for this address” she showed me a handwritten slip with address and a map.
“I am not sure if I can help you as I am on visit here” I tried reading the details.
” It says you have to get down at Piccadilly. I am also getting off at Piccadilly. Lets see when we get there” I told her.
” Thankyou. Are you from India?”
” No, I am Pakistani and you?”
“I live here in London so now I am from London” she smiled.
” you have come from Pakistan to visit?” she asked
” No I live in Ireland. It was bank holiday so came here to visit London”
” Do you work in Ireland?”
” Yes I work and am doing my postgrad studies too” it felt good talking to an old lady from similar background after a very long time.
” I heard Ireland is a beautiful place. Do you like it?
” O yes, it is definitely a very beautiful place, seems like a piece of heavens. I love it!”
” and how about the people? we hear about racism?”
” I think Irish are a very friendly and intelligent nation. I have not felt any racism” I disclosed my experiences in Ireland.
She smiled, then said ” Pakistan and India are trying to mend relations now a days. I hope they realize there is much more in this world than their ego.”
” Piccadilly is next. Lets get off and then we will find your location” I said moving towards the doors.
We got off the tube and walked towards the exit.
” so, why do you think it is only ego?. I think it is their identity as Pakistani and Indian which is more important. They are trying to keep their identity to show one is better than the other” I tried to be pseudo philosopher as we got out of the UnderGround.
” what identity are you talking about?” she had a sarcastic smile.
” I mean we put labels to identify ourselves. We feel proud of our identity. Like I am Pakistani, my colleague Rahul is Indian. I think being Pakistani is better than Indian and he thinks the opposite”
” And you guys think that just by having the identity of being Pakistani or Indian makes you better?”
“Well, everyone in this world thinks the same. Don’t you ?”
” No I don’t “ she replied with a stern face.
Looking at my perplexed face she started ” let me tell you my short story. I was born when British were ruling the sub-continent. People were trying to push them out of there. My grandfather sacrificed his life in the war for freedom. He made everyone in the village proud to be Indian.
Then muslims wanted a separate homeland for themselves, Pakistan. My father was an active freedom fighter too and got martyred fighting for Pakistan’s independence. In 1947 we migrated to Dhaka, Pakistan.
Overnight I became a Pakistani. I remained the same person but people’s feelings towards me changed at once. I started the transition from being an enslaved Indian to a free Pakistani.
I got married , we got four children. My eldest son just turned 20 when another war of independence started. He was killed by Pakistani forces. Then one day in 1971, once again in my life, overnight my identity was changed from Pakistani to Bangladeshi. I had to go through the transition of changing nationalities again.
In 1975 my other son was charged with conspiring against the Bangladesh government. We had to leave the country and come here. Since then I am living here. Now I am called a Londoner, the same person that was once Indian, then Pakistani then Bangladeshi. Now I don’t relate to the land anymore…to identify myself. Infact I, as a person, bring the identity to the land. My identity is my character and my personality. I will remain the same person wherever I live”
her eyes were wet and glittered as we reached her address.
I bade her goodbye and left, thinking about my own identity…an identity that I could really be proud of..an identity that makes this world a bit better place for our next generations.

I have always found Sun flower very interesting. It knows its focus; does not care about anything in the world but the sun.
When I look back through the fifty three years of my life I realize that many of us humans too are very similar to the sun flower, in our daily life, in our life long goals and even in our relationships too.
Now I find it very interesting to look back in my life and analyze it.
It was summers of 1960 in Lahore,the first day after summer vacations and we all were just chatting and sharing our vacations stories while waiting for our teacher. Sikander, Shazia, Khalid and I, we all were excited.
You know I spent a whole month with my dadi (grandma) in the village. It was sooo good..and you know what I like the most?” Khalid stopped and looked at us to guess his mind.
I have never been to a village so I don’t know” Sikander didn’t want to try.
Your dadi’s cow?” everyone bursted into laughter as I tried to make fun of him.
yea that too, but it was yellow flowers in lush green fields” he did not seem to lose his concentration.
You mean Sarson (mustard) ?” Shazia always had better observation than us three.
no, the big ones, they look so good. I wish I had camera” Khalid seemed to be still in the fields.
oh the sun flower!” Shazia finally guessed it.
and right then a new face entered in the room
whuhoo!” I exclaimed as I saw the new girl.
What was that?!!” Shazia looked at me with surprise in her big beautiful eyes.
whats in her that made you say wuhoo” Sikander was suprised too looking at her.
well..because she is new in our class…thats why” I tried to come up with some reason.
Shazia went to her while we three kept on looking. Then she came back with that girl.
Guys, she is Nisrin” she introduced her to us. We took our turns to introduce ourselves to her.
From that day on Nisrin became a part of our group.
Her father was major in the army and they had moved to Lahore just a month ago. She did not have anything that boys could find attractive though she was a nice company. Later on, we found out that she was not bad in studies.

Sikander was a boy with an average physical appearance and abilities but hailed from a rich family. He used to read all kind of books and was so much affected that he knew life only through books. Rarely did he use his own thoughts as everything he would say was from one of the books he read.
Khalid was a happy go lucky kind of person who wanted to be a very successful banker. His father was working in Interior ministry. He was my buddy in cricket,hockey and all outdoor boys activities.
Shazia was a very attractive girl from every aspect. She was pretty, lively and belonged to a well off family.She always cared for me and was my best friend.
I, Asad, was considered one of the most intelligent boys of school. I was known to be a witty boy with many talents. I was there in every major sports and extra curriculum activity, centre of attention in a co-ED environment. I came from a family that was always short of resources, one that could hardly be called an average. I had to fill in that gap with my confidence in myself.

Days went by with all of us enjoying that period of our lives. I felt that I was getting interested in Nisrin more than a friend and she somehow knew it. In the case when we two were left alone, she would try to find a reason to go away; When in group she would try to ignore me.
I kept wondering about our behaviour with each other. I was a boy who was center of attention for so many girls who were nice in every way and here I was trying to get attention of someone of no importance. To me it seemed that she is interested in Sikander and yet again I could not figure out why. His bookish knowledge and money seem to attract her and her plain personality was doing same to me.
The day had come when we said good bye to our school and moved on to the college. As girls and boys colleges were separate , we were not able to spend as much time together as we used to.

Years passed by, step by step finally we entered in to our professional careers. Khalid and I Joined the leading bank, Sikander joined his father’s business , Shazia became a dentist and Nisrin went to administration.
We started meeting more often, hanging out together whether it was a movie or a theatre or a ghazal evening. My relations with Nisrin remained the same but her attitude towards me started to change to a more relaxed one. I thought it to be the outcome of growing more mature. Shazia, however, seemd to be more concentrated on me. She would join me in everything that I did. She would always agree with whatever I would say and admired my thoughts.
It was an evening of chilly November as I had to go to the Ferozsons bookshop. I was searching for a book by Faiz when I saw Nisrin.
Hey Nisrin, how are you?
I am fine thanks, how are you
I am good, just wanted to buy a book
ok” she smiled
Nisrin
Yes?
Listen I have been trying to tell you something but did not get the space and time”
What is it?
Well…” I cleared my throat ” ..I have started liking you and was thinking…
look Asad, I know that, but I am interested in someone else and you know that, right?
Sikander? but you don’t know him…he only likes…” I could not complete my sentence that he only likes pretty girls.
Excuse me Asad, I have to go. You are a good guy and nice friend. You will be better off with someone else. I am just waiting for him. Will see you on wednesday at theatre

I think I felt a bit hurt but I knew Sikander very well. He was only interested in very pretty girls and we have talked about it many times. Khalid and I was also certain that he would marry a rich girl. Nisrin lacked either of the qualities. That made me think that I still stood a chance.

On the following wednesday we were supposed to go to watch theatre. I was the first to reach, Nisrin followed.
You know exactly 9 years ago we met for the first time” I said when Nisrin and I were waiting for others at the theatre.
ok, I don’t know. I don’t remember the dates” she said dryly.
Good for you but I have good memory. I remember most of my dates in my life” I replied ” should we go for tea till they come?
No. I am waiting for Sikander..”….” and Shazia and Khalid” she added.
Hey guys, sorry I am late” Sikander was the first to arrive “ I have headache, I have to have a tea. Anyone?” he asked
ok, I will join you” Nisrin’s imemdiate response turned my head.
You are not coming?” Sikander asked
No, you two go, I will wait for them here” I said looking at Nisrin who was avoiding eye contact.

Shazia and Khalid came soon and after few minutes we all went to the theatre.

You were very quiet yesterday, is everything ok?” Shazia asked me next day.
O yes I am fine, just had headache
You know I am your friend and I know you. Sometimes it is better not have what you want. I just don’t want you to regret one day” her eyes were sad.
what are you talking about?
You are not a good actor. You know everything what I said. I better go now” She stood up.
I stood up and looking in her eyes said ” Thanks Shazia, I know I have a very good friend to count on
Anytime!. ” She said and left.

Life was going good but then the country went in to darkness. We lost half of our country and the rest was in a chaos. People were uncertain about the future. But as they say, neither good nor bad days are forever. Life started to move on. I was tranfered to Karachi and Khalid to Rawalpindi.
I kept in touch with Shazia and Khalid. Time passed by. I went back to Lahore for our bank’s annual meeting. Khalid had come too. We all got together again for dinner.
Main topic was marriage. Everyone was interested to know who is getting hitched.
I am getting engaged to Hina next monday. This is arranged by families” Sikander broke the news.
o yea, I know we met her with you at Intercontinental few years ago, right?” Khalid seemed to reminded me too.
Nisrin looked shocked by the revelation turning her head towards Khalid and Sikander.
I always knew you would go for some real beauty and daughter of some tycoon” Khalid was all laughter.
No…umm…I mean it is family decision” Sikander could hardly say anything
Yea Yea, we know you too well Mr., I knew it very well that you liked that girl from school” Khalid did not want to accept it.
oh well, I wish someone was interested in me during school time” Shazia made innocent face.
You are so pretty. I know many boys were interested in you but you never liked them” Sikander said.
well, they were not my kind. I like different kind of guy who offers everything” Shazia said while looking at me.
what are you looking for?” She asked me
Nothing” I laughed looking at Nisrin who was staring at me “I am heading to US in March.”
Are you still interested?” I was taken by surprise as Nisrin asked me while we started walking towards our cars.
well…
Here is my number… call me when you have made up your mind” she handed over a slip to me.
None of the other guys seemed to notice as they were walking ahead of us.
In the morning, I came back to Karachi. I kept on thinking. For so many years I was waiting for this girl, she was the centre of my attention even with all her rude behaviour.And now she was interested herself. I felt happy. A sense of achievement swept me over.
I started to analyze and decided to think for few weeks. After a month or so I got call from Shazia.
Sikander has broken his engagement” she told me.
what!, why? so soon!” I was surprised.
I don’t know. But what I know is your slip is useless now
what slip? what are you talking about?
Stop acting Asad. I saw it. She is back with him
But she asked me herself!!
Move on Asad, don’t waste your time. we all have weak moments and that was hers
Thanks for making me understand. I will call you later” I could not believe.
Days passed by and I got busy with my plans for US. In March I moved to New York.
Life got real busy. In short time I was known as a succesful banker. I made lot of good friends but I could not find that one person I could say entirely mine.
Every month I got a letter from Shazia. Khalid had moved to London and called me whenever he got a chance.
After 7 years oneday I got a letter from Shazia. At the end she wrote “Sikander is getting married…with Hina. You can imagine Nisrin is devastated. She loved him so much. He was to her what Sun is to sunflower. Whole of her life rotated around him but he used her to have good time. When she insisted on getting married he told her that she will not be acceptable to his family as she is neither rich nor pretty. I have seen many men like that but Asad, you are so different. You were a sunflower to her as she was to Sikander. I wish you were here Asad. Your jokes may help her.
I thought about it. After two weeks I was flying back to Pakistan. After one week in Karachi, I headed to Lahore. On the way I kept thinking of the sun and the sunflower.
Ah! what a trip it was that changed my life forever. Well, I should say our life forever. Finally we both became sun for each other. That trip to Lahore made me realize what true and sincere love is.
Shazia was right, every sunflower is also a sun. It took me years to correct my direction to her.

Twenty years have passed , Shazia and I live in New Jersey with our two kids. Our love still grows for each other. Her head still turns wherever I go.
We always tell our children “We all have our sun flower somewhere but only fortunate ones recognize and make them their sun too“.

I heard gunfires…an explosion…a blank screen… smoke everywhere…what was it ..what happened…. I feel red wetness…numbness in my limbs…as I hear distant voices ..someone shouting
” Colonel Hassan has been hit…he is alive…bleeding..bring stretcher…hurry”
” what kind of a dream is it?” I think “is it a dream or is it real?”...
It has to be a dream….when did I go to sleep….I could not recollect..
I try to wakeup and lift my body…but could not…then I feel hands lifting my body…
” rush him to the safe place and call ambulance” I hear someone shouting

“Take it easy my son …you have made me proud…you kept your promise” I feel baba’s hand holding mine. I hear his voice may be after 35 years
” Baba….where were you?…where am I?…where is Maan jee?”
My eyes shutting down….white screen….

Dec.29, 1971, I see Maan jee holding my hands…she always looks so nice in black…
I remember few days ago she cried a lot…everyone on our street did….it was Dec.16….
we walk through … to the open ground…well dressed army men all around…some wooden boxes draped in our green flag..
” Bhabbi jee…come with me please” Uncle Shahid looks so handsome in that dress with stars
” but why is he serious today?” I think as I keep going near the boxes with Maan Jee.
‘Major Khaled Hassan’ I see Baba’s name plate on one of the boxes.
” He fought valiantly, did not let it go, even Indian army officer acknowledged that” Uncle Shahid tells Maan jee.

I remember baba saying ” Azfar beta, a man is known by the words he keeps. I was 7 when we got Pakistan and when I first saw Quaid-e-Azam I promised him from a distance that wherever I live, whatever I do I will defend and serve my people and this land till my last breath.”
Baba was born and grew up in Calcutta before moving to Pakistan in 1947. He worked hard to make his way to the army. During 1965 war he was Captain and fought bravely at Chamb sector.He proved his mettle.

A month after the war he saw Maan Jee when he was posted in Quetta. She was a baluch from Khuzdar and he a ‘mohajir’ but that did not mean anything to them.Both the families objected but were enough open minded to accept the difference.
When I was only 4, I remember him talking to his friend. He would say ” for me people in Dhaka and Chittagong are no different than people in Pindi or Karachi. We have to watch the borders so people can live in peace…I have my promise to keep”
I realize Baba has fulfilled his promise.
I stand for prayers with Uncle Shahid.
Guns roar to honor the ones in the boxes and army band starts playing…
Maan jee has pride and honor on her face…tears in her eyes
I take a fistful of this land….and drop it on the box…” I promise wherever I live, whatever I do I will defend and serve my people and this land till my last breath.”

My body is shaken…I try to open my eyes…I am feeling pain somewhere….I don’t know where..I hear shouts…
” rush him to the operation theater, Call Major Ali “

” why is my bed moving…is it earthquake? or am I sleeping on a truck?” I feel being run on wheels.
” give him anesthesia” I hear someone
I want to wakeup…but I am going into sleep again…white screen….

I see myself going to school…it is March 31, the results day…teacher announces my name for I stood first in the class..
Maan jee comes, kisses my forehead…determination on her face….tears in her eyes.

Outside the school there are processions, people chanting slogans ‘roti kapra aur makaan’. I could only understand that for the first time our leader has given some rights to a common man. It is good to see them happy but why Maan Jee does not seem happy?… I could not understand. She thinks this will be over very soon.She is right.

Couple of years more and another General takes over. People are afraid to speak as he preaches the ‘real’ Islam. Maan jee says “people who use religion to suppress others can not be true follower of the religion”. I try to understand as I see changes all around. Pakistan loses its most dynamic politician .
I see some moulvis starting to force their thoughts. Afghanistan, Russia and General Zia are the only things that one sees on PTV.
I am reluctant to join the army. Maan jee gets annoyed ” you go to army to serve and defend Pakistan and people not a General. Generals come and go, Pakistan and its people will stay and will depend more on sons like you”.
Summers of 1982 I pass matric exams with flying colors.
Maan Jee kisses me…encouragement on her face…tears in her eyes.

I join Kakul Academy. Go through the rigorous training. Outside world is changing rapidly. The Leader uses religion and ethnic diversity to divide the very country he swore to defend. People are losing patience. Gunshots are becoming a norm.
Time passes quickly…I am preparing for my passing out parade. Maan jee has come from Karachi. Every one looks his best.My name is called. Ceremony ends. I run to Maan jee.
She kisses my forehead …admiration on her face….tears in her eyes..

I get posted in Sialkot. Days pass quickly.On the streets gunshots become a norm. Kalashnikov becomes earings of men.
I start hearing same slogans. One day in August, suddenly country loses its top brass. Chaos at the top.
Images passing quickly. People sticking to hope for a change, leaders sticking to their goal to accumulate more money in less time.

1996…I get posted in Peshawar..I meet Shahreena…I love the way she speaks Pushto…her father objects but then accepts our proposal. We get married in December same year.
A year later we are blessed with Shahroz and then Palwasha comes two years later. I see everything changes outside.
Another war between the neighbours. I get bullets in my leg, medal on my chest. Haji Miskeen of Gilgit thanks me ” sahib,you fought for our homes, our children, our people, we do not forget that”. I tell him ” you are part of me, your home is my home. From Landi Kotal to Karachi, it is my home..these are my people”.

On the streets, people are ready to kill without any reason. Leaders are busy filling their swiss accounts.
Maan jee says ” Leaders and Generals come and go…Pakistan is here to stay”…
She is right…another General takes power…twin towers in US are hit and Pakistan faces the ripple effect.
…situation outside deteriorates. I am a Lt. Colonel now. Shahroz and Palwasha go to school and love the land their grandpa sacrificed his life for. I get orders to reach the north…this is the same land I got bullets for…this is part of me, this is part of Major Nasir Baluch, this is heart of Colonel Faisal Jadoon, this is part of Major Raja Mohsin…the people here are same people…same Haji Miskeens…my people who can not hurt me….

I hear noises….voices…I see blurred images of people in white dress…
” his condition is very serious…next 24 hours are very critical”
I try to open my eyes…I try to breath more air…I feel a mask on my nose….
” Look at his eye lashes….he is coming to senses”...I hear a female voice…
” Azfar beta…open your eyes my son “ I hear Maan jee..
“Azfar”…I hear Shahreena’s voice coming from distance…
” Papa…Papa “ I try to respond to Shahroz and Palwasha calls…
I try to open my eyes…I see Maan jee praying…tears flowing from her eyes..

I try to move my right hand….I feel small fingers…warmth of four small hands…I hear their fingers murmur…
Now I can clearly listen to them saying…” I promise wherever I live, whatever I do I will defend and serve my people and this land till my last breath”
I try to look…
I see Shahreena’s face….pride and honor on her face…tears in her eyes….

Copyrights Reserved

It is the month of October and I am sitting alone here in front of Taj Mahal , the monument of love..the symbol of remembrance. I told you there are three places I would love to go with you…Venice, Paris and Taj Mahal. Now I am here. Few months ago I never thought I would come here without you. Even though I have come here, I do not have the courage to raise my eyes and look at it with more than a passing glance. Each glance on the white marble structure takes me to you. Reminds me of everything that can be called our history…yes…history…..yours and mine.

It reminds me of the short chat when I gave you my number…
It reminds me of the morning a month later when you called me up for the first time from across the oceans. I looked at my clock, it was showing 4am on sunday morning
” Hello ” I picked up my phone.
Hi, its me “ you introduced yourself.
” heyyy, how are you?! ” I recognized you.

You were amazed by the way I greeted you but I was just being myself even at that hour of the day.

We talked for a bit. You seemed to be a very nice girl, an honest and open, nothing superficial…everything genuine.
Since then we talked to each other so many times again and again. It was a blessing that I was waiting for.

I am looking at a couple holding hands. The girl says something in man’s ears and he turns , looks at me and holds the girl in his arms as they slowly walk away.

Do you remember my birthday when you told me you wrote a poem on ‘someone’ you were always looking for.
You said ” in the beginning I got scared because it felt so right! “ and yes you were right… it really did.
I thanked Allah so much that HE has sent a person in my life who is as passionate as I am and who expresses herself and communicates her feelings as much as I do. I couldn’t have asked for more.

I remember few weeks later it was your birthday and Eid too…you were born on that day 100s of miles away from where I spent my life. Your parents celebrated birth of their only child in real tribal fashion. Years later I , a man who had never met or known them , was celebrating the same day 1000s of miles away.
Days went by…we both talking daily…knowing each other more…you asking questions..wording your concerns..and I trying to clarify. You wanted my family to communicate with your family. I had not even met you but I was eager too to start the process.

Do you remember the day when my family was visiting your home? It was the first time my family was going to see and propose a girl for my marriage. I woke up early just waiting to pass time so that I could call home and ask them how did it go. Response from them was ” she looks younger and prettier than the pictures”. I was so happy as well as relaxed and when I teased you that my mom said ” the girl is just ok in looks”, you were losing your voice but then I told you the truth and you could not stop smiling. Everything seemed to go smoothly.

A french couple passes by ” Bonjour!”
“Bonjour!” I replied, though I did not like them disrupting my thoughts.

You remember when I was traveling to Pakistan to meet you. I called you from the airport. You were angry due to a misunderstanding and I did not have any idea. But I said sorry and told you ” if something happens to the flight, I may not make it to Pakistan but I want you to know that you are the ONE!”
You were surprised but I told you it was true.

It was mid November. Finally the day had come. I was supposed to visit your house and meet you and your dad. I was calm and confident but still there was some uneasiness as this was the first time in my life that I was going to a girl’s house to meet her and family for marriage purposes.
When we got there I could see the anxious and probing eyes of your friend and father. Discussion started and questions started flowing in making me feel more at ease, more confident. Your dad could see the honesty and sincerity in my words and eyes.
Then THE moment came. There you were, stepping into the room with a tray of ‘Chai’ . The girl was quite different from the one I saw in pictures. I stood up and with usual smile said “Salam Alaikum, how are you”. You were nervous but I was at ease and confident. I looked at you and thought ‘she is the person I am going to spend my life with’. I thanked and praised Allah. You sat down in front of me. I was trying to gaze at you while answering questions from your dad.
I remember your dad said ” Please don’t mind, she is the only precious thing I have and I want to know things about you. You know she is the first one in our family for whom we are considering a proposal from outside our tribe.”

” I understand and if I were marrying off my daughter I would have done the same thing. You don’t know me but my words are the only thing that I can give you with full confidence. And my words are one of the most important things for me. I can lie to you but I can not lie to my creator” my feelings gave me confidence.
Time passed by. We were ready to leave.
I could see the relaxed face of your sister and satisfied face of your father. I could see in their eyes that though none of us knew what Allah holds for us yet they got the idea that I would try to keep their girl happy. On the way back I called you up to know your reaction on first meeting and what I heard made me real happy person. The feeling was definitely mutual.

You know I am laughing when I remember meeting your aunt and uncle two days later. When I reached their house you were there at the door. You looked more confident and relaxed. While talking to your aunt I looked at you in the mirror. My heart seemed to skip a beat. You were as pretty as I had imagined. I was sure once again that this was the girl I wanted to spend my whole life with. After a nice chat with your uncle, a grueling interview by your aunt started
” How can I believe you were not married before? “ She asked aggressively.
” I am not even getting one and you are talking of the second !” I could not supress my humor streak. ” But why do you think I would come all the way from Detroit to destroy some innocent’s life”
Later on she left two of us alone to talk about things. Then I had to leave though I did not want to leave your company. That was the companionship I so much wanted. That was the person I wanted to share my life with..forever.

You told me your aunt liked me very much and had told your dad to go ahead. Nothing concrete was decided on your dads part and I got ready to fly back. It was a very short trip and I was ready to leave monday morning. Sunday night I called your dad and told him that I was leaving early morning and thanked him. I still remember he said ” You are my son, I am calling you my son and you know what does it mean!”
I said ” yes sir, I know and I am thankful for the confidence you have shown in me and inshAllah you will never regret”. I was so happy that I could not explain yet I was disappointed to leave alone without any commitment.
I left Pakistan…disappointed yet hopeful. I did not win but did not lose either.

From then on I got closer and closer to you. With every passing day I tried to know you better so that I could keep you happy. I tried to take care of small things for you… I wanted to give you more than what you could have imagined. I would call you daily before you would go to office to wish you a nice day. I would wake up early to know the details of the day after you had come back from there. I had lost the sense of time difference. My clock was you!.

A child selling flowers comes near me. ” Rose for your lover, Sir?…only 25 rupees” he insists even though he knows I am sitting here for last two hours alone looking in the air. I buy the red rose and give him hundred rupee bill and tell him to keep the change.

Red rose…yes…does it not remind you of the valentines day?. . It was snow storm in Detroit and I was stuck in the traffic for 3 hours. I so much wanted to send flowers to you but you stopped me as you thought it was not right till your dad gives the verdict. On the way I bought a long stem red rose. My neighbour Dave met me in the elevator
” Hey , so you are in time with the roses…I am also done with it “ he laughed.
” Yea, but she is in Pakistan and I have to take a picture and send it to her.”
” Wow man!..she is lucky! “ he said .
” Well I think I am more lucky” I smiled.

With my camera I took picture of the rose with your picture frame on the side. I kept thinking what else could I do to surprise you…and then I wrote a poem for you

بتا اے جانِ تمنا کیا تیرے نام لکھوں
وفائیں، خواب، خوشی، اپنی صبح و شام لکھوں

[My love what should I dedicate to you
My loyality, dreams, joy , every day & night ]

And I wrote everything that happened between us …with all dates…and put up a blog. Then I sent the email to you. I called you up in your morning, as I did daily since we met, and told you casually that I have sent you an email. I knew you would check it later in the office.

At 2:30am my phone rang

” You know this is sooo beautiful!!!….sooo romantic!…Thankyou!!! ” I could feel the tears of happiness in your voice as you went on ” …I could not hold my tears when I was reading it and I had to come out of the office and call you….Thankyou for making my life beautiful! “

” Thankyou! for coming into my life “ I felt satisfied for making you happy.
Days turned into weeks. People here started coming out of hibernation but you started having second thoughts. You said “ America is so far, how can I leave my father here alone…how many times will I be able to visit Pakistan”

“your father is not alone there, his relatives are there in the neighbourhood. You will be able to visit him as many times as we could afford…may be twice a year “ I tried to convince you.
“But…….”
” well you can come here for 3 months and spend 3 months there …how about this?”
” do you really mean it?…why??” You were surprised.
” Yes you have my words….if it is important to you, it is important for me…I will try to move closer to Pakistan but I can not just pack my bags and move the next day”
” I will think about it….I ll talk to my father…I think it is nice idea….I want to be with you! “ you sounded happy.

” brother, are you serious?!…I have only read about these things in books” I remember when I told your friend, she was amazed.
” men like me can only be found in the books “ I laughed.

” what would have you done if you were at my place” I asked you
” I would have left and moved on…..why didn’t you?”
” because I am not you”
I smiled.
April brought the smell of the springs. It was April 4. I was preparing for my citizenship oath next morning. I called you up to wish you a nice day.
” I have a bad news for you” you said at once.
” what!?”
” my dad has decided against us and has told your family” you broke the news.
” why! why did you do this to me!!” I lost my mind. It was a real shock for me…my hands were trying hard to hold the sand of hope but all invain.
” I have to go “ You said with plain voice.
I banged the phone without even saying bye.
My mom and family had come to know. They were sad…and worried that I was alone here. I told them that I was fine…it was ok…if it is in fate then no one could change it.

I called you again and again but you did not pick up but instead sent a short mail.
” I know you must be mad and I am not going to say sorry as I know you are really hurt. It was hard for me too but I am not like any other girl who can leave her father alone in this age and goes to far off place just for her own happiness. I know I will not find anyone who will love me like you did. Thankyou so much for showing me that life can be so beautiful. I wish we had different outcome but I do wish you a girl who can love you more than you have loved anyone. Please do not hate me and please forgive me”

I did not know how to respond but then I wrote
” I can understand. I got mad and rude as I was shocked and hurt. It is painful. I wish I could change the life for you but I guess that was destined. I am proud that my choice was right..a girl who could sacrifice her own happiness for her father and family. With time I hope I will be able to forgive you but I may not be able to forget you. I wish you peace “

The next day I took the oath of citizenship. I did not know who to share it with.
My mom and family knew how much important you were for my life. One day my mom asked me ” why don’t you talk to her..may be she wants you to wait for her”
My mom is so innocent!. I told her that it was over.

I wanted to test my courage…to live without you..

Two months passed by, I went to Paris…alone. I missed you every moment…every place…at Champs Elysee…at Eiffel Tower…at the banks of Seine… I wish you were there….but….

Three months later, I went to Venice….alone. I wish you had traveled with me on the boat. It was exactly like what you had imagined… but to me it was exactly what it should not have been.

Now I am sitting here….I don’t know why people come here…some try to renew their love, some try to remember theirs and some try to bury and forget theirs …I don’t know why am I here….but I know one thing… I have become more courageous.

More than a year has passed and I still think of that beautiful first week … It really ‘felt so right’..
I hope someday you will think of me as someone who really cared for your happiness…
One of your friends told me you are getting married soon…to a rich Pakistani guy and moving to Syria…
I don’t know I am happy or not …but I want to see you happy..
I hope…

Do you know …that company I was negotiating with has offered me VP Engineering position in Pakistan…I am moving to Karachi next week…in November…

Now shadows are getting longer….its almost sunset. Taj Mahal looks even more beautiful…even more sad….just like my love.
I have a bad habit of forgetting things…before I forget…let me open this box…do you remember what date is it today?…

next year who knows what happens…but today I have brought your favorite chocolate cake…let me …put a candle and light it….

……Happy Birthday

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