House Number 93
The news spread like an infection.
Abdul Jabbar Hasan Gillani of House Number Ninety-three, Fifth Street, Phase 2, Defence Housing Authority, had passed away. At eighty-three, he had finally succumbed to the multiple diseases thrown his way. Rumour had it that he had been fighting a common cold for the past few weeks.
Mr. Gillani had been somewhat of a local celebrity: he had an estate stretching over three thousand square yards, fourteen imported cars, two wives, a pet lion, a thick moustache covering most of his upper lip and on the occasion of Baqra Eid he would have the fattest and most expensive looking cow chained outside his house.
His Janaza was scheduled to follow after Asr Prayers. The entire route from the Masjid to the graveyard four streets away had been cordoned off so that the funeral procession could pass smoothly. After all, the entire neighbourhood, along with the Gillani family and many other high ups of the city were expected to attend.
The grieving widows had spent the entire morning dealing with countless condolences communicated through sympathetic text messages, tearful phone calls and awkward hugs. They retired shortly after three o’clock, away from the public eye, and it was rumoured that they were holed up in the same room for the first time in seventeen years.
Jaffer could not fathom which shalwar kameez to wear. He could go with the brown striped khadi but it seemed a bit too nonchalant for the occasion at hand. Then there was the plain grey stone wash, which always made him look broader but he had worn it too many times for Juma Prayers. Finally there was the orange cotton one, which he had got stitched for his sister’s mehendi. The colour was not too flattering on his dark brown skin but then again he had gotten a few compliments here and there. Those were the times when he wished he owned a shalwar kameez that would truly make him noticeable. The choice was ever so unnerving. He was about to give up and go take superior advice from the wife when he saw it, pushed way back into the cupboard, hiding behind an old flannel sweater. He knew at once…
“Rasti what in the world is taking you so long?” Mrs. Khan’s voice echoed throughout the house. A startled Rasti winced as she pulled out the final hair a bit too hard. She rubbed the skin above her upper lip gently, trying to soothe the burning sensation her act had produced. “Rassssstiiiiiii…come down right now!” Mrs. Khan was getting impatient. Rasti trudged out of her room and stood at the top of the stairs to see that her mother was already half way up.
“Do you want me to send you an invitation every time I need you to go with me somewhere?” Mrs.Khan implored.
“Ami, I was just getting ready, you go ahead na…it’s just two houses away, I’ll come khud se…”
“Rasti it’s a funeral, we’re already late…is tarah akele ao gi, it won’t look nice and-“
“I said I’m coming Ami…just give me ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes? Beta-“
“Please na I’ll be there!”
Mrs. Khan gave one final disapproving look and turned. A minute later Rasti heard the door shut and she breathed a sigh of relief. She quickly rushed to the window overlooking the street, saw her mother exit through the gate and make her way to the Gillani residence. Finally. So seldom was the house empty. Instantly her phone was out and the desired numbers were being pressed. One ring. Two rings. Three-
“Hello.” His husky voice made her cringe with glee.
“She just left. The soyum will go on till maghrib and she won’t even notice that I’m not there once it starts. So I think we have about an hour and a half or so to be safe.”
“Oh, good good. I’m just waiting for my car. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes,” he replied.
“Okay…back gate today, too many people ageh gi taraf…and hurry…love you, bye.” She hung up. Her heart was racing slightly and he hadn’t even come over yet…
Mudassir had seen Mr. Gillani only once. It was two years ago when he used to deliver the morning newspaper. He had stopped in front of the house opposite the Gillani residence to grab a glass of water. He was waiting for the guard to return when the tall dark metal gates swung open. A white BMW reversed out into the street and Mudassir managed to get a glimpse of the aged fat man with the thick moustache sitting in the back seat.
The same guard informed Mudassir before Zuhr Prayers at the Masjid that the fat man was dead. The Soyum would be in the evening and he should be there if he wanted to have some free biryani. An offer Mudassir could not refuse. He loved biryani. Especially free biryani. What luck that he was in the neighbourhood.
So Mudassir hurried home, almost an hour away, to ask his mother and sister if they would like to join him. It would take longer to come back in the evening as the buses would be crowded and would make more stops. Maybe he could borrow his neighbour’s motorbike? He just hoped he would make it before the biryani ran out…
Mrs. Shahnaz Haider slammed the phone down with contempt. Her high tea, which she had been planning for the past three days, had just been reduced to two guests. The remaining two would probably call to cancel any second now. And all because that Gillani had decided to pass away today of all days. He had been sick for almost six years now but no, this was the day he had to go.
She cursed her luck out loud. Loud enough to make her cook, who was at the other end of the house in the kitchen, come scampering into the room. “Kya huwa baji?”
“Mutton ko chulle par mat rakhna, zaya ho jae ga,” she answered reluctantly. “Baji magar woh-“
“Maine jo bola he woh ja kar karo!” With that she slumped onto the sofa that was closest to her, racking her brain to figure out a way to salvage her tea party. Maybe she could turn it into a dinner? No that was impractical; people would just present the “it’s too soon” argument.
It was inevitable; the party must be shifted to tomorrow. How irritating that was. She looked at the time. It was nearly three-thirty. The Soyum was in an hour. She could go to that. Everyone else was going to be there anyway.
She heaved a long sigh and made her way to the bedroom, thinking how she would guilt trip her no-show guests for cancelling on her party…
Aziz rested his arm against the window and tapped impatiently on the steering wheel as he waited for the traffic signal to turn green. There were at least forty cars in front of him, all honking at this one rogue driver who had decided to reverse mid way, smartly realizing that the road wouldn’t be opening any time soon. Aziz slid down the window and craned his neck outside to somehow figure out what the matter was. The issue seemed to be more than just a kharab traffic light.
“Yeh road kyun band kardi he yaar,” he wondered out loud.
The over enthusiastic driver in the car next to his came to the rescue, “Suna he Jabbar Gillani mar gaya he, aj subah ki-“
“Jabbar Gillani? Doesn’t he live near fifth street somewhere?”
“He does, but the graveyard is around the corner, the janaza was right after asr and so-“
He rolled down the window. He had had it with these people. One of them died and the whole city shut down. He wanted to be home in the next fifteen minutes but roads would not be opening for another half an hour if the janaza had taken place around ten minutes ago. There was an alley towards his left, half blocked by a truck. If he could somehow squeeze through the gap between that truck and the electric pole he would be free. Then he could just travel around the blocked traffic and be home in about twenty minutes. Fifteen, if he stepped on it.
With that thought he flicked the indicator signal on and started to turn…
Nadia sat on the edge of her bed and lit up the last cigarette in the pack. Benson and Hedges – her father’s favourites. She had started smoking right after he stopped eight years ago. He would have been furious had he found out then that his eighteen-year-old daughter had picked up the habit. He did find out much later. A year ago to be exact but by then he was emotionally too weak to protest. She was his ladli after all, the youngest of seven daughters.
She was sure he had wanted a son, though. Apparently, that was the reason he gave for marrying her mother. That did not work out too well. She was the only child from the second wife and that too was a miracle considering her father was fifty-seven when she was born. He probably realized that himself and so she became the favourite. This is not the time to be thinking about these things, she thought to herself.
She walked through the huge glass doors and onto the balcony. It was almost time for maghrib- the day was finally over. She walked to the edge and placed her elbows on the railing. So many people had come to pay their respects. Almost the entire neighbourhood.
Her father had been loved by so many.
That was when she saw Jaffer Ahmad and grimaced. What in God’s name was that man wearing? A Sherwani to a funeral. No wonder his wife seemed to be hiding her face behind her duppatta.
Here came the innumerable aunties she had met at shadis and dinners. Mrs. Khan, from the end of their street; her daughter did not seem to have made it though. Even Shahnaz aunty from around the corner was here. She always threw the best tea parties. And so many others had showed up.
“What are you looking at?” someone called. Nadia turned to face Anum, her mamoos daughter, standing next to the glass door.
“Nothing I…didn’t you leave like ten minutes ago,” she said.
“Well I was going to, but then my driver disappeared. Apparently there was an accident three streets away. A car hit a motorcycle wala. A man and two women are dead, I think.”
“Oh no…that’s…that’s terrible.”
“Yeah, the driver sped away after…probably drunk…but these motorcyclers never learn either…always jumping right in front of your car when you least expect it…no sense of direction I tell you.”