Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Padash’s Words of Wisdom!!!

Just a few personal conjectures that I would like to share about travelling, beauty, sex, work, immigration, politics, fashion and people!

Why Yes!

Beauty and Youth:
‘Be proud of your looks but never depend on them.’

‘The sting of reality is that douche bags, bitches and Republicans are usually hot…the caress of karma is that they NEVER age well.’

‘When it comes to looks, don’t compare yourself to those much younger than you. When it comes to success, don’t compare yourself to those much older than you.’

‘Doesn’t matter what you look like, if you think you are absolutely gorgeous….the world will eventually begin to think the same too.’

‘You would be a fool not to use your beauty and your youth to get where you want. You would be a bigger fool if you relied on them to keep you there.’

‘If your boss is attracted to you, never sleep with him but definitely do keep giving him plenty of reasons to fanaticize about you. The former may get you what you want but the latter ensures that you keep getting what you want!’

‘Try never to use the BCC option in work emails. Its all well and good until the BCC replies all!’

‘The only thing worse than not going on vacation, is coming back from a vacation.’

‘The saying “America is a land of opportunity” is definitely missing the word hardships somewhere in there.’

‘There are two types of immigrants; the young and the old. The young barely notice the hardships because they excitedly wait for the future. The old detest the hardships because to them, this is their future.’

‘The future never stops…today or tomorrow. Look forward to it!’

‘The US is suffering from a low economy, Pakistan is suffering from a low-life.’

‘For a city reputed to be the most romantic in the world, Parisians act like they haven’t been laid in years.’

‘Goths and Desis have one thing in common, they only feel dressed up when they wear all-black!”

‘Paris is no longer in fashion!’

‘Some people think they’re smarter than the rest because they discuss world politics instead of watching Bollywood films. But, aren’t they both about wealth, greed, sex, good acting, fictitious happy endings and oh the key players are only there because of Nepotism. Kapoors, Bhuttos, Bush – all examples of ‘democracy’!’

‘When it comes to traveling, the way I see it, you should always spend the least on lodging and transportation. Does it really matter how you get there as long as you get there at the time you want. And does it really matter what luxuries a room comes with, when you’re only going to spend unconscious hours of sleep there. Airplane seats and hotel beds, feel the same all over the world. Save your money for the world outside your hotel room.’

‘Just because it was expensive doesn’t mean it isn’t cheap.’

‘People who claim to be open books are rarely ever talking about the first, unedited draft.’

‘When people treat you wrong; don’t blame them, blame yourself instead. Why, because you can’t change people but you CAN change yourself. Change yourself to a person who won’t be wronged again.’

‘If you don’t tell a friend how you truly feel, you’re not a good friend. If you tell them in front of others present in the room, you’re a worse friend. If you tell another person instead of telling that friend, I’m amazed you have any friends at all.’

‘Give advice to friends who complain about their “terrible” boyfriends/girlfriends only once. If they are still with them the next time you meet…they must not be that “terrible” after all.’

‘Don’t beat yourself over it, you can never say the right thing, to the right person, at the right time. As long as you get you can get two out of three, you’re good to go.’

‘There comes those days in everyone’s lives when nothing is going well…everyone is upset at you…and you feel like utter crap. I guess that’s when its most important to remember that there comes those days in everyone’s lives when nothing is going well…everyone is upset at you…and you feel like utter crap.’

New York City
‘These days too many people are worried about how to become New Yorkers. Here is a tip, the minute you stop worrying about that…is when you become a true New Yorker.’

‘New York is a city for people to be themselves…not to be Carrie, Samantha, Miranda or Charlotte.’

‘Only in New York City do people often begin their sentences with “Only in New York City”!’

‘Americans never really outlive their high school experience! There is always still a popular crowd, looks and money are still just as important and even after several years, many will spend their lives trying to outshine and defeat bullies they may never run into again.’

Sex & Love:
‘I have done enough research to validate that gorgeous men who are very down to earth, usually have a small penis! Just saying!’

‘Look around you, everyone has fallen in love once, have had their heartbroken at least once, and masturbated…at least once. See, we all do have more in common with each other than we thought. Make love not war!’

‘The married sometimes envy the single, the single sometimes envy the married.’

‘In every relationship one is always more invested than the other. But be careful, the roles can be reversed.’

‘One of the worst chronic pains…is that of a broken heart. If you think this is cheesy you have obviously never suffered through one yourself.’

Hi Tech
‘Technology is great but consider yourself lucky if you went to college when there were no camera phones, youtube and facebook!’

‘The funnest Saturday nights are the ones you spend most of your Sunday afternoon untagging on facebook!’

And last but not least…
‘Advice is definitely therapeutic. But more so for the person giving it than the one receiving it.’

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bhai Jan and Me!!!

It may come as a shock to many of you – it does to me at times - but I wasn’t born an only child. Truth is, my parents always had another offspring tucked away in boarding schools on Hill Stations. My Bhai Jan. Yet, due to a decade of an age difference, we never really enjoyed the sibling camaraderie most of our peers did. To him I was a baby he could nuzzle and scold. And to me he was an old man I saw only on the weekends. A stranger in my immediate family who both intrigued as well as bored me. But then there was that one summer! A summer the two of us became surprisingly close for a brief moment in our lives. Secrets were suddenly shared. Advice was sought. And for a split second, a brother and a sister almost 10 years apart bonded over a woman neither of us had ever met. The Mystery Woman we called her, whose face we had never seen and voice we had never heard. Yet it was she who brought us close. The summer a brother also unknowingly taught his young sister an important lesson about life and love. If only I had listened!

Why Yes!

For as far back as I can remember, Bhai Jan’s presence in my life was fairly sporadic. The apple of Baba’s eye, my brother had a very specific trajectory in life charted out by our father dearest. Impressed by the disciplined offsprings of his friends, Baba immediately followed suit and decided to send Bhai Jan off to a boarding school at a young age as well. For years most of my visual recollections of Bhai Jan are in blazers and cadet haircuts. I would see him only on the weekends when he came home or sometimes when we zigzagged up windy roads for a daytrip to Murree. We would spend the day as a family on Mall Road and then end the day with Karhaee for lunch. He would buy me candy floss or a packet of Choco Chums, planting a kiss on my forehead while Mama always bade him farewell in tears before heading home. I never quite understood why. Sure, I savored my treats and watched the snaky roads of Muree lead us back with Vertigo to Islamabad but I wouldn’t be lying if I declared that I really didn’t comprehend the fact that the boy we saw on the weekends had occupied the same womb as I at one point. In fact quite often, I forgot that I even had a brother.

But I wasn’t just to blame for that. Bhai Jan barely made an effort to get to know me either. Whenever he came home for the holidays, he spent most of his time cooped up in his room listening to cassette tapes with friends. I would hear them bouncing tennis balls on the wall while I would try to decipher the inaudible mumblings of raging male hormones emanating from inside a forbidden lair. The room which was always a source of intrigue for me: from the giant stereo system which blasted pop songs to the awe-inspiring poster of a crazy looking woman with short curly hair, a mole on her upper lip and a lollipop in her hand. Later, I would learn that the crazy looking woman had a name to go with that appearance; Madonna. Yet if I ever dared enter his room, he would tease me with his friends. When I would ask them to take me out for drives, they would dismiss my requests with sarcastic sniggers. But every now and then, they would surprise me with a bar of Jubilee or a cup of Polka ice cream when they returned home from hours of ‘Poondee’ just to appease the insignificant toddler which was I.

Baba had always been an avid proponent of higher education so when Bhai Jan finished his primary schooling and moved back home with us, the pressure to start applying to foreign universities followed almost immediately. Although as a student at Lawrence College, Bhai Jan would complain about early morning drills and the strict regimen of hostel life, but now that he was home, he was often complaining about missing that exact same life. His friends in Murree, the Sirs and their quirks, the Gallian solidarity and how this yuppie, suburban existence of Islamabad bored him.

Shortly after he moved back, we all went to Gujranwala for Eid where Shumaila and Shabana giggled around him like giddy school girls while I remained the untouchable outcast. Now I know, that for every girl her brother – no matter what he actually looks like - is God’s gift to womankind but in my case I had no choice but to feel that way when I would see cousins like S&S flit around him doe eyed and all smiles. Even Mama’s friends doted over him like cougars till their eyes fell on me and their smiles curved down into disapproving frowns.
‘Uff your son is so handsome na, bas jaldee say shade kara do iss kee.’ Auntie Shamim would gush in our drawing room with her raised pinkie as she drank our tea. Then when it was my turn ‘Shakal kee tu yeh bhi achee hay…bas thora wazan kam kara do na is ka?’
Aunty Shamim was one to talk. With arms the size of Vin Diesel’s thighs and stomach rolls like Pajero tires bulging through her saris.

After Eid, Bhai Jan returned home early to complete some remaining college applications before the deadline while we stayed for an extra two weeks. Two weeks I spent being bullied by cousins who harbored a crush on my brother but had derogatory nicknames for me. I spent those weeks by myself reading Enid Blyton books in different corners of the Gujranwala house. When we returned to Islamabad, I noticed a complete 180 in Bhai Jan’s disposition. All of a sudden, he seemed like the happiest person in the world. Gone was his homesickness and the constant yearning for his former hostel life. He even seemed a little too excited to see me. Oddly he now displayed a sudden interest in his baby sister’s life, asking me questions about school, my friends, the class structure etc. That night as I examined the items in my pencil case and made sure my bag was ready for school, he came into my room with a twinkle in his eye and offered to drive me to school. Ok, now this chirpy side of Bhai Jan was getting stranger. The few times he had to drive me to school when our driver was on holiday, he complained and whined to no end. Now, he was offering to do the same voluntarily! With a smile and a hug no less? He insisted he was going to start hitting the gym early after he dropped me off at school. Alright! Sure! Whatever you say!

For the next few days, this new sunny disposition of Bhai Jan’s remained untainted. The door to his room was now wide open with curtains pulled to allow light in a room which was once perpetually and deliberately dark. If that wasn’t strange enough, I was now often invited inside his forbidden lair. Literally forbidden because it had a ‘No Visitors’ poster on the front door. On his stereo, he would play Vital Signs songs for me and then make chocolate bars in gilded wrappers appear from his sleeve like a magician. The boy who spent most of his hours locked up in his room sulking over how much he missed his school friends was now suddenly stopping by my room and taking an interest in my elementary school life. It finally fell into place when his questions and curiosity in my life morphed into a confession. The first secret he had ever confided in me. While we had been away, he had been communicating with an unknown damsel from the senior section of my school. It all started when he had returned home early from the Eid Holidays and found an anonymous love letter addressed to him in our mailbox. It was from an Fsc student who claimed to attend my school. She wrote that she had seen him pick me up from school one day and then found my address from school records. In poetic clichés, the love letter harped on like a mushy love song but gave absolutely no identifying information about the writer. It was signed only as ‘Mystery Woman’.

I would never think that my brother would ever fall for such cheap chipostree, but evidently he did. This sudden change in his personality taught me the first lesson about love. At least once in our lives, we all fall in love. Hard. Head over heels. The kind that humbles us. I say that because Bhai Jan was always the most arrogant person I knew. Now he had gone from being a cocky player to a vulnerable and love-struck puppy.

Bhai Jan and this girl corresponded mainly through letters. As much as he begged her for a phone number, she never obliged. So, carefully crafted letters would be handed for me to drop off at school. I would hide them on the top of a wall on the far end of our school building where the water fountains were. When he would return to pick me up in the afternoon, there would be a reply waiting for him in that exact same spot. We didn’t know anything about this Mystery Woman except for how she dotted her I’s and crossed her T’s. The bizarre thing was that Bhai Jan was so madly in love that he was content with that.

Those days became one of the most memorable chapters in our sibling relationship. A summer of a secret bond we now shared. Bhai Jan had sent out all his college applications and so letters to a mystery woman was a great way to keep himself busy. On the way to school or in his room, he would repeatedly play the song ‘Samjhana’ by Vital Signs. As we would sit together and sway our bodies to the song, I suddenly felt so grown up. Invited into a world where I had once been too young to step into because ‘No Visitors’ were allowed here. Especially if the visitor was your baby sister.

Even Mama and Baba were confused by this newfound amity between Bhai Jan and I. We would constantly be in each other’s rooms with the doors locked, afternoons spent examining every syllable in her letters as we looked for clues to unearth the identity of our mystery woman. When we would give up, we would stretch back on the floor next to each other, humming along to ‘Samjhana’ over and over again with the curtains drawn and staring at the ceiling till one of us would have another eureka moment.
‘You know what…Let me see her last letter again. I think I’m on to something!’ I would announce with surety channeling my inner Famous Five and Secret Seven.
‘I just thought of something too. Sometimes she capitalizes her L’s and sometimes she doesn’t. She isn’t consistent with that. What do you think that means?’ He too would jump up with childish excitement which resembled my own.

He began to drop and pick me up from school every day. I looked forward to it too. In the car, we would sing along to the same Vital Signs song and in between rewinding and forwarding, we would devise more ways to unmask the Mystery Woman. I cherished my responsibility of being the messenger between the two lovebirds.

At home, we would spend hours with his friends on the floor reading parts of the letter that I was allowed to see. His friends who had only thought of me as an annoying kid before were now encouraging me to put my Nancy Drew skills to work. No longer were they teasing me by snatching my dolls if I ever entered Bhai Jans room but they now relied on me as the mole who had sole access to the mysterious and mystifying world they only fantasized about from the other side of the wall. The world of an all-girls school. And everyday I would enter that turf and return with more clues to confirm or discredit our deductions.
‘Yaar Padash pata karo nay yeh kon hay.’ They would pester me.
‘I’m on it!’ I would roll up my sleeves like a bonafide sleuth.

Vital Signs in the background and crystal plates of French fries and ketchup like a painter’s palette besides us, we would huddle on the floor and come up with our own silly hypothesis. Like the time, we all pooled our pocket money and ran to Jinnah Super on a whim to buy all the different types of pens just to figure out which pen the mystery woman used. Then we argued as we narrowed down our options.
‘Yaar yeh Shaffer ka pen lagta hay…Confirmed! Taste acha hay bhabhi ka.’ A friend would compare her penmanship from the letters.
The next day I would run home from school, still in my school tunic and white shirt to exclaim ‘Mystery solved! Pyaree Saman Apa had a Shaffer pen in her hand today. It has to be her.’

But Bhai Jan was always the voice of reason. He instructed us to not jump to any conclusions. We had to be absolutely certain. And he was right because the letter the next day would be scribed in a Dollar fountain pen. The day after that would be a Piano ballpoint.

Still, all our clues began to point to one person. A girl called Saman Apa. All the young kids in school referred to her as Pyaree Saman Apa, as if the whole school had a lesbian crush on her. It excited me to no end to imagine that she could quite possibly be the Mystery Woman. She was beautiful, the school prefect, always topped her exams, born with perfect long hair, a fair complexion, wore pretty polka dotted hair bands and was always chosen to play the lead in school plays. The teachers adored her as much as the younger kids in school. She greeted everyone with melodious crooning, sweet smiles and perfectly shaped dimples. To naïve 3rd graders like us, she was as close to perfection as we could find in the four walls that contained us. During all-staff meetings, when seniors would be asked to monitor our class we would excitedly cheer whenever Saman Apa entered. She was so glamorous, even her ruler was pink! Surely, we didn’t gush over all our seniors the same way. Some were met with groans and grunts when they entered our class with their rulers. Saman Apa was one of the few lucky ones with the privilege of being referred to as ‘Pyaree’ by us kids. Others too had adjectives but not always as pleasant. Like Badrooh Apa (a scrawny and dark little thing with a high-pitched and nasal voice), or Football Faree Apa (a short and chubby girl who was as bland as her appearance) and then there was a Churail Laila Apa (who some girls claimed had inverted feet like the famed Pichal Pehrees who asked for lifts at Zero Point and then ate their victims). But like Pyaree Saman Apa there was a Pyaree Nadia Baji and also a Pyaree Sadaf Apa. Oh us 3rd graders, we were such losers!

Maybe I was biased, but I was completely convinced that our Mystery Woman was Saman Apa. Or at least I desperately hoped! All the clues led us to believe that. The letters were always on pink paper and everyone in school knew that Pyaree Saman Apa loved that color. Come on, all her hair-bands, scrunchies, bookbag and even her ruler was PINK. So while Baba lectured Bhai Jan everyday to buckle down and get serious about colleges, we ignored every word till he left the room. We had more exciting things to think about. Envelopes with pink hearts and clues took priority over those enclosed with college acceptances or rejections.

‘Padash!’ Bhai Jan would call me into his room elatedly as his friends circled around him on the floor in bad stonewashed jeans and baseball caps ‘Yeh suno. In her last letter, she let it slip that she has been attending a cousins wedding. Find out which Fsc student has a cousin who is getting married.’
‘Its her, its her…I knew it!’ I would declare excitedly the next day as I rushed to the car ‘Pyaree Saman Apa had Mehndi on her hands. Am I good or what!’
‘You’re the best!’ He would hug me!

If there were ever days when there was no letter waiting for my brother, it just so happened that it would also be the day that Saman Apa was absent from school. As far as I knew, the mystery was solved. Now we just had to make her my bhabhi! But Bhai Jan always irked me with his ‘proceed with caution’ attitude!
‘Not yet’ He would burst my bubble and carefully instruct ‘Whatever you do…don’t say anything to her. We don’t want to scare her away.’

I was getting impatient. Saman Apa and I had our own unspoken awareness between us. The furtive nods and the knowing smiles when we would pass each other in school.

Weeks and then months passed. All my brothers college letters had arrived and Baba was getting anxious. Bhai Jan who would never rip open those envelopes with the same excitement with which he would tear open a love letter retrieved from the corner wall of my school, kept avoiding the topic of colleges each time Baba brought it up. Every night Baba would come into his room and ask him if he had picked a university yet and Bhai Jan always came up with some lame excuse of how he was still weighing his options. Baba’s patience was beginning to wear thin. He wanted his son to attend his alma mater in Iowa but the truth was – and only I knew – Bhai Jan had already decided that he was not going to college in America. He planned to marry his Mystery Woman and stay in Pakistan. I approved of the plan wholeheartedly.

By mid-summer, it was time to concoct plans of a way for Bhai Jan to see what Saman Apa looked like. He had heard me go on for hours of how gorgeous she was but naturally he wanted to see for himself. I took his camera to school and then just as conveniently had it confiscated by nosy teachers. Dang! Plan B! Our only other option was the upcoming Annual Day where I could take part in a skit and Bhai Jan could attend as my family member. There he could see Pyaree Saman Apa in the flesh and on the stage. She would definitely be playing the role of a princess and then towards the end, she would always walk on and off stage continuously receiving trophies for her various academic and athletic accomplishments. The only problem with that plan was that our school Annual Day wasn’t till November and Baba’s pressure on Bhai Jan’s college plans were so strong that the way things were going he would have left for college in August. We even sat and brainstormed together to devise a way to convince Baba to allow Bhai Jan to defer his college plans for a year.

As days rolled by, it was getting harder and harder to avoid the college pressure from Baba. By now Bhai Jan was also getting anxious. He was in love with a woman he had never met. We had to come up with another plan, so we did. Sure the Annual Day wasn’t till November but if I auditioned for my class play, I could stay in school past 1pm and it was usually after that hour when Saman Apa left the letter for Bhai Jan in its usual spot. I could catch Saman Apa red handed myself and then I would ask her to at least meet Bhai Jan for one date. Immediately, I signed up for a tableau the next day and auditions were conveniently scheduled for that afternoon. The seniors would not have a clue that a few select 3rd graders were still in school.

On audition day, the few aspiring thespians in the 3rd and 4th grade were assembled in the library at 1pm. The term auditions is used very loosely here because it all boiled down to teachers scrutinizing every girl from head to toe as we sat like cattle on the floor tracing our names with fingers on the carpet or patty-caking ‘Das patay toray, aika pata kacha’ on each other’s backs. The teachers would whisper to each other with squeezed noses as they eyed us. As if purchasing mangoes in Jumma Bazaar, they deliberated over our physical traits in hushed whispers. Then they would reach a consensus on which girl would be perfect for which role. The fair skinned, Pathan girls or the teacher’s daughters were cast in the coveted roles. The dark skinned and chubby girls played the male parts or villains. The ability to act, sing or dance was of no importance here.

So, surrendering to a sea of pretty little girls, I sat through those excruciating auditions like a loyal sister on a mission for her beloved brother. At exactly 1:45pm, when the bell rang, I could see a flock of the Fsc girls walk by the windows of the library. All the different Apas talking animatedly amongst each other, flicking their long hair with their hands, some even with engagement rings on their fingers. That was my cue.
‘Madam can I go drink some water?’ I raised my hand.
‘Padash its “May I” and yes you may. Hurry back.’ The teacher corrected me.

With my head spinning with excitement, I rushed out of the library, making my way briskly towards the water fountains. I followed Pyaree Saman Apa, as her back glided through the school, her long hair swaying in the wind and her pink book-bag slung elegantly on her shoulder. She was headed straight for the water fountain. She approached the fountain, took a sip of water and then kept on walking. I was confused and for a second I even wondered if the Mystery Woman was not my beloved Pyaree Saman Apa. Still, I followed her with my eyes as she walked further and further away and then vanished around the corner. Strange, I thought but when I turned my eyes back at the water fountains, I spotted Football Fari making her nervously way to the wall. Just like me, even her eyes were fixed on Saman Apa. When Saman Apa was nowhere in sight, she reached into her bag and pulled out a pink envelope. Looking around one last time, she made sure that no one was watching but soon found out that someone was. Our eyes met, and as I saw a look of shock and fear in her eyes she probably saw disappointment and betrayal in mine. She was obviously startled to see me but I didn’t care. Then, just as quickly I spun around and dashed back to the library.

‘You look like you have just seen a ghost!’ my friend Zara asked me when I settled back next to her.
‘Something like it. ‘ I fought back tears.
‘They gave us our roles while you were gone.’ Zara informed me.
But although I heard her voice it fell on deaf ears. Meaningless din in the background as I stared ahead.
She continued ‘I am a flower…most of us were chosen to be flowers….well Aliya from 3A is playing the Rose Princess and Shela from 3A is playing The Summer Breeze. But you know girls in 3A always get the best parts. I think they said you were going to play the part of the Giant Spider. At least its different than a flower. You know…you will stand out than the rest of us.’ Great! So that’s what they meant by insult to injury!

That afternoon, I walked out of the gate like a zombie with no idea how I was going to disclose the news to my brother. It was all my fault. It was I, who had raised his hopes so high. Going on and on about how his Mystery Woman was the most beautiful girl on this planet. But in reality it was the fat girl whose life seemed insipid and colorless. Bhai Jan was leaning against the car with his sunshades on like always. Without as much as a salutation, I slid into the car and without a word, he too sat down on the drivers seat. I was dreading his excited questions.
‘I guess our plan backfired!’ He sighed dejectedly as he started the car ‘I know she didn’t come to school today…I checked and there was no letter.’
‘There wasn’t?’
‘No… did you see Saman in school at all today?’
‘No…I didn’t…you’re right.’
‘All that planning for nothing! This is just stupid. Maybe I should just go home, pick a university, make Baba happy and start packing. Its all pretty stupid if you really think about it.’
‘Yeah…I guess you’re right.’ I surprised him with my equally pessimistic response.
‘Sorry you had to suffer through the auditions because of me…did they select you for anything?’
‘Yes…a giant spider. All the other girls are playing roses and tulips.’
‘No way’ Bhai Jan chuckled ‘Your Saman Apa owes you an apology. This is all because of her you know. Chalo let me buy you some ice cream.’
‘I don’t want any.’ I replied. And when the song ‘Samjhana’ wafted through the stereo, we both cringed just a little. He immediately switched it off.
‘Sorry, I’m just getting a little tired of this song.’ He remarked.
‘So am I.’

That afternoon, Bhai Jan came into the lounge with his friends quite a few times to cheer me up as I watched my cartoons.
‘Motoo, you don’t have to play the spider. I have a brilliant idea! We can forge a doctor’s note or something and say that you won’t be able to attend rehearsals.’ He ruffled my hair.
‘I’m fine, I’ll play the spider, I really don’t care.’ I pushed his arm away.
‘We’re heading out to the Covered Market. Do you want anything? Super Crisps? Jubilee? Frost?’
‘No…I’m fine…just let me watch my cartoons.’
I couldn’t really tell what it was that I felt. Disappointment? Anger? It felt like a fairy-tale dream yesterday had turned into a disappointing nightmare today. That and I didn’t know how to break that news to Bhai Jan. I decided to avoid the topic by avoiding him altogether.

It only got worse after that. There was no letter for Bhai Jan the next day. Or the day after. In fact an entire week passed and although Bhai Jan sent a letter with me everyday, there was never a reply waiting for him. He was now worried and quite visibly upset, yet each time he asked me, I told him that I had no idea. On the other end, Baba’s patience with Bhai was now wearing extremely thin. Every night there would be an argument between the two. The more Baba pressured Bhai Jan to pick a college before it was too late, the more Bhai Jan remained obdurate. He was now determined more than ever to not leave the country till he found out who his Mystery Woman was. One night, after witnessing a huge argument between my father and my brother, I stood in Bhai Jan’s doorway staring at his Madonna poster. He looked completely broken but when he saw me he immediately asked the same question he had already asked a million times before.
‘Are you sure your Saman Apa has been coming to school these days?’
I couldn’t believe it. It was almost as if he had ignored every word that had come out of Baba’s mouth. It was also the first time I had seen the face of someone blinded by love.
‘Yes, I’m sure.’ I replied.
‘Then why isn’t she replying to any of my letters? What do you think happened?’
‘I don’t know…’
‘I mean what do you think…’
‘What I think is that you should move on and forget about her.’
‘Wow’ he looked at me with amazement ‘My baby sister sounds more grown up than I do.’
‘I mean it.’
‘I cant Padash, I’m in love!’ It was the first time I heard the words on my brothers lips. It was also the first time, I saw tears in his eyes.
‘I don’t think its her Bhai Jan…’
‘Why…you were so sure before…’
‘I was….but I was being stupid….I have been giving it a lot of thought and I really don’t think its her.’
‘Well who else could it be then? Who hasn’t been coming to school this whole week. That’s our answer right there…’
‘Bhai Jan…listen to me….you’re not listening to what I’m saying. Its over. I think its time you forgot about her and pick a college. Baba is very serious.’
I couldn’t bear to look Bhai Jan in the eyes. I just turned around and retreated back to my room. I had betrayed my Bhai Jan.

Two weeks later, Bhai Jan came into the house as I was watching my afternoon cartoons still in my school uniform. He looked absolutely shattered as he walked across the lounge and stomped towards his room. I didn’t dare ask what was wrong because over the past two weeks, neither of us had brought up the Mystery Woman.
‘I’m going to go take a nap.’ He announced ‘If anyone calls…or if Mama Baba ask…just tell them, I’m not feeling well. Don’t let anyone disturb me.’
I nodded with my eyes still fixed on the screen. A few seconds later I heard his door shut, the lock clicked.

The phone rang, an hour later. It was Bhai Jan’s friend insisting I wake him up even though I tried to tell him that I had strict instructions to not disturb him from his sleep.
‘Padash yaar…please just tell him its me…I really need to speak to him…I need to find out what happened today. Do you know?’
‘He hasn’t said anything… just said not to wake him up. You will have to call back later.’
‘Aray Chotoo…just tell him its me. I was supposed to meet him at Usmania but he had already left when I got there…I need to find out what happened.’
‘Mustafa bhai, he was very serious when he said that he did not want to be woken up. Just call back later na.’
‘Try to karo Padash. Please Chotoo.’
‘Fine.’ I sighed and walked cautiously to Bhai Jan’s room. The room which was once off-limits, then became a regular hangout for me and was now reduced to a dark and dismal chamber with the lights dimmed, the curtains drawn. I knocked a few times before I heard his disgruntled voice.
‘Bhai Jan its Mustafa bhai…I told him you were sleeping but he keeps on insisting that I….’
‘Just tell him I’ll call him back when I wake up.’
I said no more and obediently relayed that message back to his friend. The friend thanked me for trying and promised me a candy bar the next day.

When Bhai Jan finally emerged from his room, his eyes were red. In his hand was an envelope which he handed over to Baba. He informed us that he had completed his college paperwork and Baba was ecstatic because he had chosen his alma mater. Only I knew, that Bhai Jan was doing this so he could leave Islamabad and all its memories. At the end of that memorable summer, Bhai Jan packed up and left for college. Dejected and heartbroken, he was probably ready for a new beginning. Before leaving, he held me tight and told me that he was glad that we had become so close that summer. He made me promise I would write to him and continue to share all my secrets. He also promised me he would never let anyone break my heart. We never mentioned the Mystery Woman to each other ever again to this day. I didn’t even know what happened that afternoon at Usmania.

‘He met her that afternoon.’ His friend informed me many years later. On a chilly night in an apartment in New Jersey. As Bhai Jan’s friend and I lay naked with unwashed bed-sheets covering our naked bodies. Sharing a cigarette after having just made love.
I listened quietly.
‘After weeks of pleading and begging, the girl finally agreed to meet your brother at that restaurant. I was supposed to meet him there afterwards but when I got there, he had already left. That’s why I was calling like crazy that day.’
‘So he got to meet her?’
‘Yes….but it wasn’t that Apa that you thought she was…some detectives we were.’
‘I know…’
‘Frankly, I still don’t know who it was. Never really got to see her…but at least your brother met her, which is more important.’
‘Did he say anything about her?’
‘Not much, just that he was madly in love with her… so I guess she must have been beautiful if he still felt that way after meeting her.’
‘Her name was Fari.’
‘Well whoever she was, she broke his heart pretty badly that day? When they met she told him that it was all just a prank to her. She had never thought he would get so serious. She came from some conservative family and begged him not to send a proposal or do anything silly. She said she was just having fun and was pretending to be another prettier girl in school. I was very angry but he said he didn’t care, he still loved her. He told her that too. And that he still wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Your literally begged her yaar. He even said that if there was as much as a slight chance that they could be together in the future, he was willing to give up college, stay in Islamabad and wait for her for as long as it took. But she really messed up, she had no idea things would get so out of control or that he would fall so madly in love with her. What did she look like, this Fari girl? Must have been drop dead gorgeous for him to act like that.’
‘She was to my brother, I guess…but back then I was too young and stupid to understand how love works.’
‘Love shove. its all stupid filmy stuff!’ Mustafa rolled over and fell asleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. I lay there next to him staring at the ceiling. Where had our journeys began, where were they intersecting and where would they end. I quietly crept out of bed and picked up Mustafa’s Rutgers sweatshirt off the floor. Tiptoeing over to his window with nothing on but his grey college hoodie, I sat down on the sill, pulled the sweatshirt over my legs and lit up another cigarette. I stared out at his college campus while Mustafa slept peacefully behind me, his face soaked in moonlight.

In the window’ reflection I could see myself. Although my brother and I have never looked alike, that night I saw only him in my mirror image. Bhai Jan’s face and how it looked the night I saw what someone blinded by love looks like. I looked exactly like that.

My Bhai Jan didn’t teach me much but he did teach me my first lesson about love and heartbreak.

I finished my cigarette and slid quietly back into bed with Mustafa who was now snoring.

If only I had listened…

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just One of Life’s Many Tests!!!

Senior year of high school or the second year of your A-levels is a memorable time. A rite of passage, full of anticipation and fear, surety and uncertainty. Rebelling and conforming. A junction in life where we finally get to bid farewell to our present as well as our past and to embark on an exciting new journey. A journey that leads to a FUTURE the way we dreamt it. And as we desperately wait, we nervously also dread that exact same junction. The uncertainty of saying goodbye to a familiar present, the hesitation of embarking on an unchartered journey. A time of change….and waiting for change. Ending one era and starting a brand new one. One last year of dependence before a lifetime of independence. Fully aware that this life of both comfort and discomfort will never be the same once we board that plane and head off to college. Clutching on to our safety-belts we eagerly wait for what lies ahead. Decisions made on this year form the trajectory of years to come. Some refer to it as their long awaited escape (me), some simply view it as finally being able to return home (Peanut), some call it planning for the future while some are just following plans carefully charted out by their fathers. Plans, plans, plans. Mine was on a pizzeria napkin, for some it was on the back of a US News and World Report book and for some it was simply memorized words of expectations from patriarchs. A year when we are faced with some of life’s most important decisions, choices and tests. One of those just happens to be the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Or more commonly known in school corridors as the ‘bloody Ess – Ayyy- Teees!’

Why Yes!

The first time I ever gave those three alphabets any thought, was when a s slammed her thick SAT prep book in front of me. Jolting me back from a daydream of emancipated days in an American College, she was happy to remind me of a roadblock in those fading pen lines on a cherished napkin Alisha and I had once sketched my ‘escape’ plan on.
‘Have fun!’ she smirked and then with an equally sardonic laugh, she sauntered out of our school gates. She was hours away from boarding a plane to a much awaited liberal arts lifestyle. Me? I was still daydreaming. And her caustic exit taunted me because she had already crossed the bridge that I had yet to trudge on. The SATs were the first step!

A step that managed to put a damper in all our excited planning for escapes and futures. A three letter rain on our parade, in you will. Discussions of dorm room parties, shaving our heads, having threesomes and staying out without curfews were now suddenly replaced with vocabulary questions, math equations and cri reading sections.
‘Just one more year of this hell hole’ Peanut used to say.
‘And then we can move abroad.’ I would reply.
‘And live life on our own terms.’ We would chorus.
‘As long as we can get these damn SATs taken care of.’ was now also added to our comfort chant!

Suddenly, it was not rare to walk into the common room to find a classmate engrossed in their colorful SAT prep book.
‘Why would you use the word ‘Pusillanimous’ when you can just say cowardly?’ They would ask a very poignant question with marked frustration.
‘What the hell did you just call me?’ The other would bark!

Ah the good old SAT books. Quite possibly the worst gift, I have received from a senor in high school. A book that was only good for two things, migraines and bigger biceps. Page after page of sample tests, high frequency vocabulary words and amorphous shapes of geometry that only reminded us of how stupid we really were.

Sweet Dreams and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles were now replaced with SAT prep books tucked under our arms. The overly ambitious ones even started to insert cumbersome yet antiquated words into their everyday jargon.
‘Yaar my driver has still not come to pick me up he is itnaaa indolent, ufff ab I am so truculent abhi!’ One would remark.
‘Benchod malefactor kaheen ka.’ Her boyfriend would reply.

It was also quite common to start noticing the geometrical shapes that our teacher’s faces were suddenly beginning to resemble. Urdu teachers were hexagons, English teachers were usually square-shaped and the Business Management teachers were always…and I mean always round. Don’t ask me why, it was just a probability theory Peanut and I came up with.

On some days our discourse was even reduced to multiple choice options.
‘Hey yaar what do you want from the canteen?
a. Coke
b. Chilli Chips
c. Samosa
d. All of the above’
But alas, the SATs were never that easy.

Sometimes we even took the traditional stab at group study. Some success that turned out to be! I remember going over to Peanut’s Flat after school to make flash cards of archaic words that we would never use once the test was over. We even pondered if these words were really part of everyday vernacular on American streets. Once I got here I realized the truth about American English; ‘bad’ meant good, ‘mugging’ meant glaring and ‘broke’ meant impecunious. Anyway, Peanut and I would barely get through 15 minutes of a math question or a paragraph from reading comprehension before we would find ourselves engaged in school gossip for the next three hours. The fault wasn’t ours. Studying for the SATs gave rise to excitement of going to college and moving abroad. Instead of vocab and math equations we would then end up fantasizing about parties, boyfriends, dorm rooms and roommates. Before you knew it, it was time to go home and we had made absolutely no progress on preparing for THE test which would be the only way those dreams of ours could come true. You see, to ‘move abroad and live life on our own terms’, we had to pass the SATs first.

A few weeks before the dreaded SATs, Muzna entered the common room with a stack of glossy black envelopes. They were invitations for a dance party on the night the darn test ended. She flipped through them before handing me the one with my name on it.
‘Someone just dropped these off with the chowkidar! Seems like there is a party that night and we’re invited!’ She exclaimed.
When I pulled out a card from the envelope, I discovered that some girl who went to ISAS was throwing a party. I say ‘some girl’ because I had no idea who she was or how she got my name. But - like most of the time during my A-levels - I would find myself on guest lists and invitations on parties by strangers I had never heard of. High school parties had a weird culture back in the 90s. Since I had attended parties with Alisha whose name was a common fixture on invite lists, I soon began to find myself invited to parties just because and all of a sudden, I was considered a fairly ‘cool’ girl (debatable I’m sure) who attended parties. And the more I went, the more I got invited! It was a sign of utter popularity in Islamabad’s high school world when you were invited to parties of other high schools by people you didn’t know. And although I should have been flattered – and I may sound cocky for saying this now – I was so used to it by then, it didn’t even matter.
‘This will be perfect, my parents are visiting my brother in Dubai so I can stay out past my curfew!’ I fanned my face with the invite.
‘I know, we take our SATs earlier that day so this will be a much-needed celebration. Uff Yaar, I haven’t even opened the book.’ Muzna replied.
‘What do you care….Daddy’s paying full tuition at any college…you won’t have trouble getting accepted anywhere.’
Muzna’s smile confirmed my statements veracity!

Then there was Wardah. The smartest of us all. And by smart, I don’t meant SAT-smart. That girl actually believed that England and the United Kingdom were two different countries. However, rumors were flying around school that she had paid one of the school geeks to take the SATs for her. The geek in question was Mohid; a bit of a loner with acne often competing with his dandruff. He adorned the quintessential spectacles and seduced Macro-Economics teachers with insightful questions about supply and demand while the rest of us rolled our eyes. He had already taken the SATs and on top of that he has also managed to score a 1330. Probably the only time, any of us ever spoke to him or may have even envied him. During a failed study session at the Flat after school, Peanut rolled up a joint for ‘good measure’ and discussed this latest, SATastic gossip in school.
‘How can Mohid take the SATs for someone else?’ I dismissed the lies.
‘Because he’s getting paid. And I’m not talking just money. Rumor has it, Wardah has not only offered to take him to the ISAS party that night as his date but some say she has even offered to let him feel her boobs at the party.’
‘That’s just BS…there is no way that’s possible!’
‘Why not….every other male in school has groped them. Well except for me of course.’
‘But she’s a girl and he’s a guy….’
‘Yeah it’s called heterosexuality! Unfortunately for me it’s quite common in this world!’
‘That’s not what I meant….I mean how can he pass for a girl during the SATs. Don’t they ask for IDs? They must have some system in place! Does Mohid realize that he can get caught and jeopardize his entire future.’
‘Well we already know she isn’t the brightest tube-light in the world but as for Mohid…I guess some men are desperate enough to gamble their futures for a quick feel of some Cha-Chas. Can I borrow yours?’
I slapped Peanuts head with a pillow but not before looking down to admire my own breasts. They were twice the size of Wardah’s…and for a second, I wondered if I too could put them to work for a 1300 SAT score!’

There were also some of us who were actually studying. Students with their noses buried deep in their SAT books and not using party invites as bookmarks. One afternoon, Peanut sat in the common room doodling on his SAT book while I sat next to him writing down the lyrics to ‘My Sharona’ from a dying walkman. Suddenly Metro Milan Agarbatti decided to sit down next to us. Ok, so obviously Metro Milan Agarbatti was not his real name. His real name consisted of the initials, MMA which he would often pen at the end of all his assignments and even on some bathroom walls with hero-maar calligraphy. Somewhere along the way, kids began to make fun of him and referring to him as MMA: Metro Milan Agarbatti. The name suited him like a glove and then just stuck like white on rice. An extremely skinny boy with a terrible mullet MMA often commuted to school on a wagon from Pindi. His most discerning physical features were his fixed-by-scotch-tape spectacles, his bony frame and an exceptionally dark complexion. The boy literally looked like an agarbatti. We never quite understood how he ended up at UCI or even in his A-levels, where his thick accent and bad grammar were often mocked and ridiculed by his burger peers. I may feel bad for him now but back then we didn’t blink twice before referring to him as Metro Milan – sometimes even to his face.

‘Studying hard.’ His flashed a wide smile at Peanut as he sat down besides us.
Peanut shot me a disgusted look, as I tried hard not to laugh. As I shoved my face deeper into my book to stifle my giggles, Peanut took that as encouragement to pursue his mockery of MMA.
‘So Metro Milan are you taking the SATs too?’
‘Yes….Standurr test….’
‘Oh yes…..Standurrrrr test…how’s the prep going?’ Peanut imitated his accent and I turned blue holding back my giggles.
‘Intrusting questions…verbal is difficult…but Math is no problems.’
I was now going insane from controlling my laughing and Peanut was enjoying every minute of it.
‘Oh no problems I’m sure….very intrusting subject.’
‘I am nervous about Toefel you know.’
‘Oh of course…so stressed out about the Toefel.’ Peanut egged on.
‘I have been studying very hard only.’
‘I’m sure you have been. What are you aiming for?’
‘Well if you set a high aim, you do not feel bad if it is less.’
‘And what’s your aim?’
‘550….a little high but I like setting high aims.’
Peanut who had already gotten a perfect score on Toefel emitted a sarcastic smile and said…’550 should be no problems.’
At that point, I couldn’t bear it any more and burst into hysterics. I ran out of the common room and Peanut dashed after me, We ran all the way to the other end of the school and spent the next half hour catching our breaths and laughing hysterically like the bullies that we had become. Later that day, when we saw him again, we still couldn’t hold back our giggles. Metro Milan Agarbatti just shot us an uncomfortable smile ‘You two are very naughty…I think.’

The day of the test finally arrived on a brisk, cool Islamabad morning. We arrived at the Marriott hotel more worried about our outfits than the critical reading sections or the probability and algebra questions we had suffered through for the past few weeks. Kids from all the other schools of Islamabad were there and for teens with raging hormones image is more important than a standardize test score. Looking our best didn’t necessarily entail dressing like bimbos though trust me there were plenty of those too. It was just an effort to look different. To look like a rebel. To fit in by standing out. While some lathered on dark eye makeup and glared through nose-rings and clip-on lip-rings to appear angry and gothic, there were also those that sat in the corner with their walkmans apathetic to the questions they were going to expect. Some skimmed through the books still determined to chase their Ivy League dreams. And as we walked into a hotel where we had walked through a million times to go dancing at Muddys on a Saturday night, today we weren’t going to a discothèque. However judging by some of the outfits, you could have fooled me. Still, we were there to take the most important test of our lives. When we found familiar faces we flocked straight to our groups of friends. Guys checked out girls. Girls secretly flirted with guys. Some just watched at this strange burger world from the periphery – the men intrigued and seduced by the girls who rolled their eyes back at them. Aware of the spotlight, the burgers performed for this lustful audience even more. The girls accentuated their physical contact with their male friends. For some it was rare to see guys and girls high-five, hug and joke so openly. Although most still freaked out about the test, it seemed like everyone was more interested in the ISAS party that night. Who was invited? Who wasn’t? What were we to wear? What lie and excuse were we to give our parents? Who was picking up who, who was dropping who? Who needed a girl since most parties back then were a couples only affair in order to keep the stags away. Nights planned around each others curfews and fabricated stories of sleepovers at friends. Guys made sure their girlfriends found a way to get there so they could make out. Girls reminded them how hard it would be to escape overly protective and strict parents. Swear words chorused in the lobby of a landmark hotel where I too stood and laughed with my friends. We were slightly shocked to see Mohid approach our group.
‘Mohid….what the hell are you doing here?’ I asked him ‘Didn’t you already ace the SATs. Or are you trying to get a better score?’
‘Sssh’ He winked at me ‘My name is Wardah today!’
Peanut and I just looked at each other and laughed. The pep in his step confirmed that he too was looking forward to the party that night like the rest of us!

The test came and went. Girls sashayed around the hall in their rehearsed catwalks and men followed them with their eyes full of lust. And as these men ogled with hungry eyes, they anticipated college life even more when girls and sex would both be easy. Once the test ended we all poured out into the parking lot hugging each other and rejoicing over the fact that it was finally over. Some discussed questions while most were just glad to be done. Now it was time to make plans. Outside, expensive cars blasted music as we jumped in and out laughing and high-fiving. Later, we all piled into different cars and whizzed off to Hot Spot for a celebratory ice cream. The entire time, aware of the non-member audience who followed us with intrigued eyes.

That night we partied past our curfews in rebellion. For me, it was easy because Mama and Baba were out of town. As far as they knew, I was sleeping over at a friends. And to be fair, it was the truth. The gender of this friend just happened to be male –a minor detail I had omitted. But in my defense once again, the male was Peanut. I was as safe as spending the night at a girl’s house. Literally! I got dressed that night in a white blouse and black leather pants. My frizzy hair that had gotten quite long by then were parted in the middle and with only a pack of cigarettes and the invite, I was as ready as I could be. Peanut picked me up with his driver and we headed straight to a party where we danced all night.
‘The SATs are finally over love.’
‘Brings us that much closer to moving abroad.’
‘And then we can finally live life on our own terms.’

In a way, the night and the party offered us a promise. We had done our part. We had taken the first step on the bridge to our escape. No longer just a bunch of spoilt rich brats dancing to pop music in the middle of a living room with bad strobe lighting and fog machines. We were high school seniors ready to graduate and start a new chapter in our lives. A chapter we had only witnessed through Pulse Global videos, flipped pages of paperbacks and glossy magazines or through shows on our Dish Antenna. Although we had a few weeks till our scores arrived in the mail, tonight we were just going to celebrate getting closer to our dreams. The song ‘Alane’ by Wes was thumping through the drawing room discotheque when I left the dance floor for some fresh air. Peanut’s dancing skills were raved about throughout the school so he always had a line of eager females ready to dance with him. I figured it was time to stop being greedy and let the others enjoy his slick moves. He could relish the female attention while I took a walk outside.

I lit up a cigarette and strolled through the perfectly manicured lawn of that large and fancy bungalow of F10-4. Ar a time in our lives when it was a sin to ever be spotted alone…especially at a party, I walked by myself and breathed in the moment as I looked around. Everyone had the same sparkle of excitement in their eyes. Something told me that we were all going to remember this night. The night we took our SATs. And as we laughed and giggled, swayed and wiggled, one thing was for sure, high school was ending. The present was quickly becoming the past. The future…OUR future…was just around the corner. I smoked my cigarette on a chair by myself, smiling as I observed my peers. Muzna was leaning against a tree, her body moving in rhythm to the exotic beats while her entourage of girls circled around her like moths hungering for her nimbus. Surprisingly, she did fairly well on her SATs when the scores arrived. She was accepted to UPenn and although, we were excited to meet up in Philly on my breaks, we never really hung out like we imagined we would. Apart from a few coffee dates at Xandos at 12th and Walnut, we barely connected in the States after my freshman year. After graduation, she returned home, married a banker and is now raising two lovely kids. Always a little plump, she gained some more weight and every now and then we run into each other when I’m home and in a matter of minutes we catch up on our lives through small talk. She became the Begum we all thought she would and the girls who surrounded her the night of the party, followed a similar trajectory in life too. Husbands, kids and country-club high-teas. The last time I ran into her was at a wedding. It was amusing how the sight of her was no different than what I saw at the party that night. She stood in the middle, leaning against a pillar as women enveloped her with eager eyes. On the night of the party they all wore jeans and blouses, years later they were doing the same in Saris.

Gossip flew (and Peanut shared) that Mohid got to feel not one but two boobs at the party. In fact Mohid and Wardah ended up making out on more than one occasions even after that night was over. The night of the party, I saw them emerging from a dimly lit make-out room upstairs. Although people thought it was random for a nerdy guy like Mohid to be holding Wardah’s hand that night, few knew the actual deal. This nerd had used his brains to literally score, pardon the pun, not just a 1330 on his own SATs but also second base before he left for college. He had earned it. And although Wardah may have looked uncomfortable that night, it turned out to be worthy investment for her too. When the scores arrived Wardah was ecstatic and Mohid was slightly irked. The rest of the school couldn’t stop talking. A girl who couldn’t get more than an 800 on her sample SAT tests, had score a 1400 on her SATs. It probably pinched Mohid when he wrote 1330 on his own college apps while Wardah penciled in 1400. I should mentione though that Wardah never completed her degree. One winter, when I was home from college, I heard that she had taken a year off from school to deal with ‘homesickness.’ The year turned into two and then she just never returned back to finish her degree. It doesn’t really matter because she too is married now and her husband probably provides for her and their kids in exchange for a feel of her breasts at night. Some things never change, I guess. Mohid did finish his degree and went on to get some more. Not exactly sure what he’s doing, but I do know that he married a goree that he met in college. According to Peanut, they had wedding receptions both in the States and in Pakistan.

From where I sat smoking my cigarette, I could see the dance floor and Peanut was right in the middle going from one girl to the next. His T-shirt was drenched in sweat but he loved the attention. Years later, I would see him move the same way but shirtless and at a dance club in Chelsea when he came to visit me. He too did fairly well on his SATs. In fact, he was one of the few kids in our class, who got accepted to their dream school. St. Martin’s in his hometown London where he got to study art. It was his wish and also revenge for his business oriented father. His lanky frame was replaced by a chiseled, gym body. After a brief stint at Sotheby’s, he is currently the curator of an independent art gallery in Soho and continues to date wealthy older men who pamper him but those flings rarely last because just like myself, he too isn’t ready to settle down. If we are both single by the age of 40, we have promised to live together like the Golden Girls.

Me, well you all know how I turned out! And will continue to know as you read my columns. The only thing worth mentioning is that my SAT scores were quite terrible. And to this day, my family believes that I got a 1220. I hid the scores when they arrived and then lied. Hey if Wardah can get a guy to take the test for her, I sure could manage to get a nerd to make me a fake score-sheet! ;)

That night at the party, I didn’t just think about the people around me. I even thought of those that were not there. Who had not been considered ‘cool’ enough to have been invited to the weekend’s happening dance party. Those who I had seen earlier that day at the large auditorium in Marriott watching us from he periphery. People like Metro Milan Agarbatti. I think the only time, he ever got to see a dance floor or dance next to a girl was at our Farewell later that year. Even on that night, I probably only thought of him for a few seconds before returning to the dance floor. He never had plans to go abroad for college and his future plans had very little to do with flying across the world. It was a luxury he couldn’t afford and never entertained as a thought either. Yet he did quite well on his SATs. A few months later, he was accepted to LUMS and IBA. He ended up going to LUMS where he was probably treated no differently than how we was treated at our school but then again none of us knew how our futures would really turn out. That he would go on to become a successful Chartered Accountant. He now makes more than all of us and travels the world, staying in five star hotels of cities that are yet to be checked off on our bucket lists. He married a cousin of his, and by her facebook pics she seems quite pretty. The smile on her face in those same pics, confirms that she has no issues with his agarbatti looks. Quite often on his travels, he passes through New York. Once, I even agreed to meet up with him for an hour at a Starbucks. After we said goodbye, I walked back to work with a smile. He still spoke with that same thick accent we often mocked. And someone at his job probably still refers to him as Metro Milan Agarbatti. They probably still secretly giggle in business meetings when he makes grammatical gaffes like uttering ‘No Problems’. But now as our futures have become our present, did any of that really matter? No.

Just like the SATs, I would one day take my GREs and several other tests and exams. I have never been and never will be a fan of standardized tests. I think they are pointless. But I will agree with one thing. The SATs are probably still the most important test in your life. I learned a lot from them too. Not from the test itself, or the critical reading section or the algebraic equations or the hour spent circling the best option with a Number 2 pencil in a large air-conditioned Shadee Hall at Marriott. I learned from the experience of taking the SATs with my classmates. And the lives that unfolded after. The SATs taught me a lot about life and the future that lay ahead after you walk out of that hall. You laugh with friends outside you who think will always be a part of your lives. You plan for a party you think determines your worth in this world. You snicker at people you think will be as insignificant in the future as they appear now in the periphery. But only time is able to tell that the future can actually prove us wrong!

If there are any readers who are talking their SATs, GRE’s or any important test in the near future. I certainly don’t envy you. But I do wish you the BEST of LUCK! You never know. You may learn something!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The day a Princess died....

It was the day Versace died. The same day a girl kept up with the news to soothe her boredom and a young boy in the UK fell asleep on his suitcase with tears in his eyes.

Why Yes!

Gianni Versace had died. On an uneventful day, outside his mansion, after a morning walk. Just like that. Gunned down by an old flame, an old trick, an old friend – BBC, CNN, PTV. Years later on a trip to South Beach with Dario, I visited that mansion and sat in front of those steps. I tried to imagine where his silhouette was chalked in that summer of 1997.

The summer when he died. The summer after my O-levels. I had returned after a month in Karachi teaching English to underprivileged girls at a Coaching Center while receiving my own coaching in a staff-room by colleagues from Nazimabad who allowed me a glimpse into a world completely different from my own. The summer I had bid farewell to my first true friend; the person who helped me, taught me, shaped me, formed me and then when her work was complete, left me. It was the summer I lay around in constant boredom, sneaking cigarettes from my bedroom window and watching The Wonder Years and Chicago Hope on the Dish. Sometimes, I would lie down on floor cushions and re-read An American Brat by Bapsi Sidhwa for the sixth time. Skipping over the gratuitous parts about Benazir Bhutto but savoring the descriptions of Feroza’s move to the States; even harboring a slightly ludicrous crush on Manek. A book read, simply because it reaffirmed and motivated my plans for escape to a land called America. A plan, I had carefully concocted on a pizzeria napkin one day with the friend I had just bid farewell to in Karachi but never heard from again.
News that day was saturated with descriptions of a murderer on the loose. He had killed many, including….actually….especially the founder of a multi-million dollar fashion empire. Emphasis on million and dollars; my first lesson that it isn’t the actual crime but more the value of the victim’s name which makes the news. This name happened to be stitched on the denim that covered my ass. Yes, he had died that day.

That same day a young boy in England walked home with a lump in his throat. Although he lived for fashion and the men who created it, today it wasn’t this news that grieved him. He had never felt so alone, so helpless and so betrayed in his life. He had no one. The ones around him had all lied to him. A boy who had lost his mother earlier that year, so death was already all too familiar to him. He had begged and pleaded to stay in London after his mother’s death but had no choice. He was made to move to his father’s mansion in Islamabad. This summer was supposed to be the end of that punishment. The tormented few months of living in Pakistan were now past him, or so he had thought. A boy I had only briefly seen and once caustically smirked at with pity in Froebells. The insignificant new kid in school, the target of bullying. The ‘weird new Brit kid’ who masked his effeminacy in gothic garb, frilly black shirts and an arm full of black jelly bracelets. The bullies aped his accent and mocked his walk and I? I smirked along as a passerby before moving on. As BBC narrated their own facts of horror about Versace’s death, the boy cried some more. He had walked around London all day, riding the tube to all his favorite places and then ending up on a bench at Hyde Park where he rolled up a joint in solitude. Stoned and despondent, he walked back to the house where he had just discovered that he was a guest not a resident. He had wished for the latter. The house was owned by his mother’s close friend, referred to lovingly as ‘Auntie’. A woman he had, in his mind, already moved in with but he was now told that he had to go back. His father called, sometimes persuading him with babied affection and sometimes scolding him to ‘be realistic and act his age.’ Act like a man! A man! A man!

At the young age of 16, he discovered the harsh realities of life. His Auntie was there for him and her house was open to him to spend his holidays but she was not going to take the responsibility of adopting a friend’s teenage son. Those were improbable and fatuous fantasies of grieving child. So, he reacted like most teenagers. Instead of agreeing with the facts, he slammed doors and thundered at the only woman he thought was his friend.

‘You ditched me too…you’re all the same…I have no one…I want to die. I want to go to heaven and be with my mother!’

When he found out that Versace had died, he went for a walk. After a day of soul-searching he returned to Auntie’s house and came to terms with reality. Sure, he felt defeated. Three months in Pakistan had seemed interminable. Now that his prison sentence was finally over, he was being told that he had to go back. Not three months this time but two whole years.

Curled up on the sofa he surfed the television on for any developments in Versace’s death. Still no sign of Cunanan but strangers who claimed to know either the prey of the predator were stepping up for their own five minutes of airwave fame. As their hyperbolic tales droned in the background, he recounted his conversation with Auntie and wondered if had been unfair to her. After all, she had sat by his mother’s bed when she barely breathed and stayed there even when she had stopped. She had held his weeping face in her hands and brought him to her house. She never stopped him from smoking fags in her house as she finished her own pack grieving the loss of a friend. Sometimes, she even sat with him and shared her own despise for his father. Other times she became the cold and austere middle-man between the two during phone calls between Islamabad and London. When his father convinced him to leave everything behind and move to Pakistan, she promised the boy that he would return to London for the summer holidays. She would see to it! But the summer was ending. And he had to return to his father. She had no claim to him. Her words rang through his mind.
‘Its only two years…’
‘Think of it as an extended vacation…’
‘As soon as you get there, you can start applying to Unis in London and then you can come back here. No one can stop you then. You wont even need an Auntie to crash with…you will have your own place.’
‘Trust me it wont be that bad. You will live in a huge house with a pool and servants and…’
‘You don’t have to go back to that school…I will demand that your father enroll you into another school.’
‘I will make sure your father promises that even in those two years you will spend all your summer holidays here with me…I assure you.’

Wiping off his tears, he accepted his fate. Two years and then he could return. 24 months of putting up with the bullies, his father and the despicable new step-mom. After that, he could return back and never look back. A plan, albeit never charted on a napkin, but very similar to my own.

He would ask Auntie to relay one more demand. He would only move back if he could live in the pool house. It was his way of knowing that he wasn’t sharing a roof with the man he loathed and the woman who tried to replace his mother.

Slowly he walked over to his suitcases, which lay dejectedly in the corner. He began to pack…again. Throwing in his frilly shirts and picture frames, he eventually fell asleep on a suitcase. There were tears in his eyes.

It was now August. Back in Islamabad, a girl dreaded her return to her peers. She had enrolled in a new school called UCI. A decision she had made on her own. Her mother displayed her anger and disapproval in strange ways. And each time the girl was reminded of returning back to the dreaded walls enclosing despised peers, she reacted to her teenage angst by hardening her appearance some more. An angrier haircut, a meaner face, shirts and jeans ripped up to wear. And with every snip, scowl and tear a mother’s frown drooped lower and lower. That girl was I.

A few miles from my house, the boy landed at Islamabad International airport. Eyes swollen and crimson with tears. In the backseat of a car driven by the man he cringed to call his father and besides him the woman who had replaced his mother. Long before her death. Once in secret but now in broad daylight. The boy’s only recollection of the girl with the new haircut and ripped jeans were of gossip. A rude girl who was rumored to run with a dangerous and morally depraved crowd. Who did drugs at parties and gave head in backseats. None of them were true…yet…but my appearance and my reputation urged otherwise. The boy still claimed to have been drawn to me and had even tried to befriend me. Unfortunately, I had been engaged in a similar charade of being unapproachable and unwelcoming. Besides a brief exchange of a cigarette on the roof of our old school, I had not responded warmly to any of his greetings.

When he arrived home from the airport that day, he claimed of a fictitious jetlag, and then immediately headed for the pool-house. When he switched the TV on, he was met with more unfortunate news of the summer. Princess Diana had died in a car crash.
‘Padash, I closed my eyes and cried more than I ever did all year….’ He told me a year later as he reminisced of that day.

The world gathered in front of their television sets. Local news tried to zoom in on Imran Khan and Jemima as they waltzed into the memorial. Unlike other girls, my crush on him had lasted only a week. Although the only person close to a heart-throb, his arrogance was quite a turn off. Afterwards, I grabbed my driver and rushed to Radio City to buy a cassette tape of Elton John’s song ‘Candle in the Wind.’ I played it over and over again in my room. For an odd reason, the voice more than the song gave me a strange boost of strength. As if it assured me that it was going to be ok. I was ready for my A-levels. Two more years of this hell-hole and that was it! Then, I could leave for good following my napkin plan. Finally live life on my own terms. I didn’t realize, that Elton John would not be the only homosexual Englishman to give me strength for the next two years.

The boy too watched Diana’s funeral in his room which he decided he was going to call, his ‘Flat’. He watched the service alone and then wept uncontrollably. He would later share with me that the lyric ‘Your candle burned out long ago but your legend never will’ was when he broke down and cried the most. The words finally served as closure to his mother’s death. Two years of this hell hole was all he had to suffer through. And then he could return back for good. Live life on his own terms.

So tell me dear readers. Where were you when Versace died? Where were you when Diana died. What do you remember most about that summer? And how has your life changed since then?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I kissed a girl and I liked it!!!

…the taste of her Skoal stained chapped lips. She leaned over in the dimly lit bar while I kept my eyes fixed on the prize. A faded and oil-stained baseball cap perched clumsily on her forehead. Remnants of a mullet peeping from underneath the embroidered words ‘I Love BUSH’ as her lips parted to reveal a smile. And a missing tooth. A bottle of Heineken clutched in her hand, she moved her face inches from mine where I could count the axiomatic traces of a moustache on her upper lip, just days away from a full- fledged handlebar fit for a Chowkidaar. I gave her ensemble one last look: Birkenstocks on grubby feet and a gray tank-top underneath a stained red flannel shirt. Khaki shorts courtesy of Walmart contrasting with my black satin pants, courtesy of Marc Jacobs. Alas, I had no choice but to take the plunge. So I went for it and pressed my tender lips on Britney’s. Oh and by the way, if you haven’t guessed by now, this wasn’t the same-sex kiss that I had enjoyed. That one came a few minutes later. But lets rewind to a few hours earlier and how I even found myself in this situation.

Why Yes!

One night, Jenny, Julie and I decided that enough was enough. Tired of this boring and depressing turn that our lives had taken, we were going to treat ourselves to a night of unabashed clubbing. Just us! A fun girls night out like old times when life was carefree and exciting. Before emotionally unavailable boyfriends and just as emotionally unavailable futures. Junior year had been very difficult for all of us. While I constantly found myself sulking over a desultory relationship with a boy called Mustafa, Julie fretted about her future after graduation. She hoped desperately to score a job – any job - so she would not have to move back to Staten Island with her parents. To pay for the extra credits for next year, Jenny had picked up extra weekend shifts at the Blockbuster. Thus we barely ever saw her on the weekends now. Weekends which were often spent chasing after so-called boyfriends on the phone while Julie sat staring at her half-page resume ensconced between a thick Psychology textbook; a class she hoped she would pass on her third attempt.

So it was decided. That Saturday night we were all going dancing like we used to. I should mention here, that the only thing remotely similar to a club in our undergraduate lives was a dive bar called Aces, about a half hour away from campus. After paying a buck for a cover, you got the pleasure of enjoying a rickety dance floor, bad strobe light and an obese DJ who doubled as a bar-back. Yet, when I look back at my college years, it was a place that brought us all the joy we ever needed on a Saturday night. Memories of excitedly dressing up in skimpy clothes to tastefully show skin. Pre-gaming at the apartment to Julie’s Napster collection and then piling into my Mini Cooper to zoom out of our small campus town. Speeding on highways, dancing as we drove and then entering the exit for the closest excuse for a city. Bestowed the label of a metropolis only because it had a movie theater, a shopping mall, a bus system and two ‘dance clubs’.

Getting dressed for a night out at Aces was a memorable ritual among the three of us. Although we would commence the process in our own rooms, we would somehow end up convening together at the large full-length mirror by the staircase that had been picked up for 5 bucks at a garage sale. There, we would fight over our reflections, share make-up and ask for advice on shoes and tops. Plenty of times, entire outfits had to be revisited based on each other’s frowns.

We each had also our own designated roles for the night. Julie was in charge of picking the music as we got dressed and she gladly obliged with the interminable list of Pop hits on her Napster – later replaced by Limewire - to help us get pumped up for the evening. That night she blasted Missy Elliot’s ‘4 My People’ as we danced together while fluffing and patting our hair and faces. Jenny was always in charge of fixing us drinks for the pre-game and then sometimes, if we wouldn’t stop at a diner on our way home, she was also responsible for fixing us a post-dancing meal in the kitchen. I owned the car so obviously, I was the designated driver for the night but at the same time I was also responsible for attracting some old geezer with my cleavage to buy us all the first round of free drinks.

The bottom-boyz as we liked to refer to our downstairs neighbors, would be engaged in a similar ritual themselves. Usually we would run into them on our way out the door. In their tight tank-tops and tighter jeans, glow sticks between fingers and glitter on their faces; they too would be piling into their Yellow VW Bug to hit the gay bar which was conveniently located just a few blocks down from Aces. One of them liked to dress up as a woman when he went out dancing, and would often walk upstairs in his wigs and stilettos to borrow some of our makeup. Saturday nights was the only time this poor boy could escape the jocks and the bullies to sneak out into the dark in drag and we applauded his fortitude. I should probably add, that he is now a professional drag queen in Buffalo and even stayed at my apartment one year, when he came down for NY Pride.

Around 9pm, we rounded the troops. Last sips of mixed drinks, lip gloss smeared, ATM cards and IDs in back-pockets along with a dollar in our purses for the cover. With Missy’s song blasting from our windows, we swerved our bodies with the car. The light blue ray of the moon soaking our skin and tingling it with thrill. The usual knots of excitement and uncertainty in our stomach as we entered the city and parked our car outside the club. For once there was no talk of GREs, resumes, shifts, Mustafa or any other disconcerting topic that could remind us of reality. It was girls night out!

And boy we should have been careful what we wished for! Even when the disgruntled blondes in their hooker boots stalked angrily past us scowling ‘This is Bull-Crap’ we remained clueless. As far as we knew, it was 4 less hot girls at Aces to compete with. The woman checking IDs wasn’t the usual one and her glance of skepticism at our clearly expensive outfits baffled us but only slightly. Confidently, we marched into the club, peeling off our coats with the signature gusto that announced our arrival before making our way to our usual booth. Cigarettes lighted, first round of drinks ordered, we began to survey the land. Handsome men walking around but dressed in extremely casual clothes. I use the word ‘casual’ here as a euphemism for poor taste. Flannel numbers with sleeves rolled up, Leather jackets, Timberland boots, fitted caps cocked to the side and large White Fruit of the Loom T-shirts.
‘That one is cute!’ Julie pointed at a short white guy that resembled Eminem.
And we agreed that once his bail would be posted, he could very well be a contender for the evening’s company. But when the DJ kept playing KD Lang mixes and the bartender brought us a round of drinks with the disclosure ‘these are from the ladies on the far table’ we finally put two and two together. What we thought were handsome construction workers were actually butch women. Nervously we looked around the club again and saw tiny little humps bulging through the flannel and the white T-shirts. All the Eminems, Snoop Dogs and Kid Rocks in the place came with their own set of breasts. That’s when it dawned on us that we had decked up in our finest to go out clubbing on lesbian night. Not exactly what we had in mind when he had hoped for a girls night out!

‘Dyke night!’ The bartender informed us loudly over the shrill beats of a country song ‘Some lesbian softball convention in town so they booked this place for their social event. You should have checked our website.’
Who the heck checks a clubs website before they go out? Heck we didn’t even know the place HAD a website. As our bartender flashed us a sardonic smirk and walked away, we looked at each other and then broke into baffled hysterics.
‘I guess we have no choice but to make the most of it!’ I announced as I dug for a cigarette. ‘I mean we’re already here. Why not schmooze with the ladies!’
‘Hey…free drinks taste like free drinks no matter who buys them, boys or girls!’ Julie gave me a high five.
But Jenny wasn’t convinced. Tonight – just like any other night – she was on the hunt for a penis. Unfortunately, she wasn’t really going to have much luck there. Unless she was willing to settle for something that came with a strap.

The DJ was surprisingly good and we danced from our booth while graciously accepting all the free drinks being sent our way. Let me add that this isn’t the first time I have been around lesbians. I had plenty of gay friends in college but those girls were stylish intellectuals with sun-kissed skin and surfer bods who only dated feminist Women’s Studies majors. These hyper-masculine women with boots, mullets and missing teeth were a different breed altogether. These could make Chastity Bono seem like a beauty pageant contestant! Still we tried to make the most of the evening. Mustafa texted me to inquire about my night and was more than amused when I informed him of the fiasco which we were now attempting to salvage.

At around midnight, Julie disclosed to us that she had been making eye contact with a gorgeous – and hopefully biological - male across the bar.
The only man in the club that night was a good-looking Hispanic dude that looked like he was from of a Reggaeton music video. Just the way Julie liked them. Tatted up, a wife beater, a perfectly trimmed goatee and a body which could only have been sculpted in the recreated gyms of penitentiaries around the world. Of course, we agreed he was delicious.
‘Some more liquid courage and then I’m making my way over there to holler at him real quick!’ Julie announced ‘Padash quick flirt with some more Lesbos for free drinks!’
I guess I wasn’t working hard enough!

When Julie finally downed her next drink and made her way over to Papi Chulo, Jenny leaned over to me.
‘I feel really bad.’ She whispered.
‘I think he was actually making eye contact with me.’ She explained.
‘You sure?’ I asked.
‘Pretty certain. We always flirt at Aces…we have been doing it for years. He even hit me up once on yahoo chat.’
I didn’t know what was more disturbing. The fact that my best-friend had not informed Julie of this little tidbit or that she frequented chat-rooms on Yahoo. I mean who did that!
‘Why didn’t you tell her?’ I asked her pointedly.
‘I didn’t wanna come across as arrogant and she seemed so hell bent…I just felt terrible…’
‘Yeah but we’re friends…you could have saved her the embarrassment…oh wait look.’ Across the bar I could see the man write his number down on a piece of paper and hand it over to our Puerto Rican girl ‘Looks like she got her some digits after all.’
Jenny didn’t reply. This all seemed sort of shady but Jenny had always been my best friend and much closer to me than Julie so I decided not to push it any further. Still, I thought…girl code should be followed, especially at a lesbian club of all places.

Julie’s walk back to us wasn’t nearly as intrepid and seductive as before. Sliding back into the booth, she dropped the chit of paper in Jenny’s lap.
‘He’s all yours Chica…’ She sighed ‘Turns out he was actually interested in you.’
Jenny feigned shock and I guess Julie was dumb enough to believe it.

For the next few awkward minutes, Jenny sat fidgeting with the number in her hand while Julie stared straight into the flashy lights of the discotheque. I just kept my head down and continued to reply to Mustafa’s intermittent texts.

‘I’m gonna go get a drink’ Julie announced and then walked away to the bar. I figured she needed the time alone. So far, girls night out wasn’t turning out the way we had planned.
‘I’ll be right back.’ A few minutes later, Jenny too grabbed her purse and slid out of the booth.
I was glad that Jenny was going to go talk to Julie because she was already dealing with a lot these days.

The bartender brought over another drink to the table and informed me that it was another complimentary gift from the ‘lady’ in the baseball cap. I thought it was quite ironic that the manliest specimen at the club was being referred to as a lady but who am I to judge…or turn down a free drink. I held up the glass in gratitude and smiled back. Then I immediately looked away before she got any ideas. When I searched the crowd for my friends, I saw Jenny engaged in a flirty conversation with Papi while Julie was ignoring the sight by dancing alone, head lowered, eyes closed, swinging her hair from side to side. Ouch! I guess that’s not who Jenny went to talk to!

‘Hey what’s shaking Mama Sita…COMO ES STAAA.’
Great! I gritted my teeth and looked up at the source of this pathetic salutation. Baseball cap ‘lady’ had made her way over and then slid comfortably beside me in our booth. Then, before I could even conjure up a reply to Martina Navratilova’s stunt double, she added ‘I LOOOOVE Mexican women.’ Flashing a big, libidinous smile. And oh yes….there were definitely some teeth missing!

I spent the next hour talking to ‘Lady Baba’ whose name was actually Britney! Really? Somehow that name would not have been my first guess for this female Sasquatch seated besides me scratching her stubble. But, to be truly fair, she did make for interesting company and as we made flirtatious jabs at each other, I figured if nothing else she was good for practicing my flirting skills.
‘By the way’ I replied to one of her pickup lines ‘I’m not gay.’
‘I know’ she replied ‘And I only date straight girls.’
She may have even winked and flicked her cigarette at that point. I was reminded of Ajab Gul in a ‘Swaad A gya Badshao’ Embassy cigarette commercial.
‘So…I see you’re a republican eh?’ I frowned at one point as I noticed the words ‘I Love Bush’ embroidered on her baseball cap.
‘What makes you think that?’
I pointed at her cap with disapproval.
‘Sweetie, who says I’m talking about the President!’
‘Oh’ I silently mouthed with my lips.
‘You can have it if you want it?’
‘You can have it if you want, you know!’
‘Excuse me?’
‘I’m talking about the cap…but it will cost you?’
‘Oh really?’ I already suspected the answer.
‘A kiss!’
To this, I couldn’t help but emit a loud cackle.
‘Hey’ she held her hands up ‘Don’t knock it till you try it!’
‘That’s ok…you see I’m from Pakistan. I’m pretty sure by now that I’m not a fan of the Bush.’
‘They don’t have lesbians in Pakistan?’
‘Oh they do….we have plenty of lesbians…we just don’t allow republicans.’
‘I guess that means I still have a chance?’
I had to give it to her. This country western biker chick was good. Smooth even! Heck, I could take a few pointers from her.

I didn’t realize how much time had passed till the bartender announced last call. As was tradition at Aces, the DJ always ended his set with an extremely mushy love song at the end. His words – and we almost knew them by heart by now – were always:
‘Alright good peeps…its that time…time to say goodnight. So this one goes our to all the lovely couples in here tonight….But if you’re single grab the new friend you just made…hey this may even be your last chance to get the courage and make that final plea for that person you have been eyeing all night… go ahead, ask them for a last dance.’

Luckily, my new friend had informed me earlier that she wasn’t much of a dancer. I’m pretty sure its harder to bust a move in Birkenstocks than Manolos! Whitney Houston’s beautiful voice spread across the club, and women all over coalesced to slow dance with each other to her song ‘My love is your love’. Heads buried safely on each other’s shoulders and arms wrapped around waists; they moved side to side with true affection. It was actually quite sweet to watch them. Love was truly never supposed to be confined to boundaries.

I even saw Jenny and her Papi amongst the crowd. His strong, inked arms holding the back of her waist with such delicacy as if he was holding a petite and fragile doll. Her beautiful face next to his, cheeks brushing against each other and that tender sight brought another rush of endearing emotions through me. But then I looked over at Julie, who had walked away from the dance floor. Quietly leaning against the bar, she watched with eyes that narrated envy, longing, sadness and fear. All at the same time.

‘Lets do it!’ I spun around towards Britney almost shocking her.
‘Excuse me?’
‘You got a deal…5 minutes…no tongue…’
‘I was only joking…’
‘Are you backing out now?’
She was almost cute as she blushed. ‘I guess you are a Republican after all…’
‘I like to think of it more as experimentation.’ I winked and leaned over.

That was when I could almost taste the Skoal on her chapped lips. As she leaned over in the dimly lit bar. My eyes fixed on the faded and oil-stained baseball cap. Remnants of her mullet peeping from underneath the words ‘I Love BUSH’. A smile, a missing tooth. Traces of a moustache on her upper lips, just a few days away from a fully fledged Chowkidar handlebar. And as I described earlier, just like that, I took the plunge and pressed my lips on Britney’s. Oh and this still wasn’t the same-sex kiss that inspired the title of this column. As I mentioned earlier, that one came shortly after!


Pushing my hair inside the cap, I made my way across the bar to where Julie stood by herself. I mimicked a masculine walk as I went up to her. Scratching my crotch and then tapping her on her shoulder, I deepened my voice, ‘Hey shorty…I couldn’t help but notice you from across the bar…don’t really know if you play for my team but would you be kind enough to give me the pleasure of this last dance.’
I think I may have even spat on the floor but hey, a little overacting never hurt anybody.
Julie stared at me with her mouth agape for a few seconds, truly speechless. I will never forget the smile which then spread across her face as she shook her head with disbelief. ‘You are crazy’ she smirked and then accepted my hand ‘And I would love to!’
I gently kissed her hand – still taking my role very seriously - and then with a ‘You wont regret it Madam’ I led her to the middle of the dance floor where I cupped her waist with my hands and asked her to lay her head on my shoulder.

That song seemed interminable but it didn’t matter. The moment felt good, as we held each other close and slow danced. I could even feel a tear escape my eye, because just like her, I too was petrified of the future. Our perfect life of dwelling in a campus bubble was slowly coming to an end. We had no idea what lay next for us. So, we held each other closer and tighter. That night, I realized how much I was going to miss Julie. I had never been as close to her as I had been to Jenny but somewhere along the way, she had turned from being a third-wheel in our group to one of my closest friends. Now I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like after she would graduate and leave.
‘Thanks’ she looked up at me with tears in her eyes not shocked to see some in mine too.
‘No sweat’ I winked.
‘I’m scared.’
‘It will all be ok.’
‘Rejection hurts…’ she shared as she glanced over at Jenny and her Papi passionately French kissing on the other end.
I searched for something to say before Julie completed her sentence.
‘I found out today that I didn’t get the internship in DC that I had applied for. I had such high hopes for it too.’
‘I’m sorry…’ I wiped a tear from her cheek. It was the most intimate we had ever been.
‘Its ok…like I said, rejection hurts…’
‘But we might as well learn to deal with it now…something tells me it will always play a part in our lives….even the best of us…’
‘I guess that’s exactly what I need to remember before stepping out into the real world…’

And then, Julie did something which neither of us were expecting. She leaned closer and gently pressed her lips against mine. I kissed her right back. It felt like the right and natural thing to do. There was nothing sexual or even romantic about that kiss. It was simply a kiss between two friends that knew and acknowledged the depth of our friendship and how much it meant to us. How much the two of us were going to miss each other.

It wasn’t till we heard all the women around us applauding when we were slightly embarrassed by what had just occurred. We began to sheepishly giggle as Jenny made her way towards us with her Papi in tow.
‘You freaks!’ She exclaimed.
‘Hey…do at Rome as the Romans do!’ I laughed.
‘I’ll grab our coats,’ her man offered as he took her coat ticket.
I waited till he walked away before I asked ‘So I guess you’re not coming home with us tonight?’
‘No…he said he’ll drive me home tomorrow morning. I’ll just meet up with you guys at Brunch or if I’m late I’ll just see you at work!’
‘Well be safe, love.’ I hugged her.

Julie and I drove home together loudly singing along to slow jams. In a weird way we were glad that Jenny had gone home with the guy. When we walked inside our apartment, we were both starving. Most nights, we would stop at the local Dennys for breakfast on the way home but when we were too tired or too broke we settled on our stash of Ramen Noodles, Pop Tarts and Mac N Cheese on the couch before bed.
‘I’ll throw something together really quick!’ Julie made her way towards the kitchen.
I clicked on the TV and announced ‘Awesome, Real Sex is on HBO….perfect way to an end the night!’ The simple pleasures in life!

When I stepped out of my room after changing into an XL tie-dye T-shirt that a hippie guy had left in my room one night, I couldn’t help but notice the delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen.
‘Phish?’ Julie gave me a lopsided smile as she read the logo on my T-shirt.
‘I figured it was appropriate considering our night. By the way, what smells so good?’
To this, Julie revealed two plates of freshly backed pancakes and handed one to me. ‘Come on, lets watch old naked people on HBO!’
‘Oh my’ I was pleasantly surprised ‘I wasn’t expecting this feast.’
‘Why not!’ Julie winked ‘Didn’t you know I spoil those I bring home with me.’
‘Well then I could get used to this lover’

We sat on the couch and inhaled our pancakes while watching back to back episodes of Real Sex followed by Taxicab Confessions. And then somewhere along the way, we fell asleep on the same couch with our heads on each others shoulders. Yes, dear readers, as you had hoped, this column ends with me sleeping with another woman. But probably not in the way you had imagined. I woke up the next day to the 7th missed call on my cell phone. I figured it was Jenny, but it was actually a number I didn’t recognize. It didn’t matter because the time on my cell reminded me that I was late to work. I jumped up and immediately dashed to brush my teeth.
‘Who the hell keeps calling you?’ Julie asked sleepily as she stretched out on the couch ‘Is Jenny Ok?’
So, while brushing my teeth I decided to check my voicemail. It went something like this.

‘Hey…umm…I cant even pronounce your name but this is Britney from last night. I think you should know that you’re a BIG slut. You should be ashamed of yourself. I spent the entire night buying you drinks and then right after you kiss me you go off and start making out with some other chick on the dance floor. How could you be such a whore! We hadn’t even kissed for 5 minutes before I turn around and you’re kissing some other chick. And then you try to lie and tell me you’re straight! I want you to know I was really hurt. Don’t ever try to call me, you just lost your chance to be with the best thing that could have ever happened to you. And by the way, I want my cap back….’

‘Who was it?’ Julie asked with her eyes still closed and too drowsy to care.
‘Long story’ I laughed ‘I’ll explain at dinner.’
With that I picked up the ‘I Love Bush’ cap from the floor and placed it on my head.
‘Don’t tell me you’re wearing that to work?’ Julie asked.
‘Why not!’ I laughed and walked out the door.

Sure, I got plenty of puzzled looks from my friends and colleagues at the library but it was an inside joke, they would never understand. Even Jenny did a double take when she walked in 30 minutes late looking like the night before.
‘I don’t even wanna know.’ She rolled her eyes as she sat down next to me with tired eyes and a Starbucks cup.’
‘Oh yes you do…’ I laughed!
‘Well we do have a five hour shift before dinner…you go first.’
‘Sure’ I replied as I pulled out my cell-phone ‘But first, I want you to listen to this voicemail.’