We should probably just dive in where we left off, right?
My semester at Cooper Union ended with as much fun and adventure as I had anticipated. Running around the empty dorms with friends, clubbing all over Manhattan and hooking up with hot strangers. Then, just like that, it was time to head home for break and have even more fun. The night before I came home for the holidays, I went out dancing so I spent the rest of the wee hours of the morning packing my suitcases. The RA checked me out just in time and apparently he had a crush on me but was too shy to act on it - geeky yet awkwardly cute. He gave me a good-bye rose as he stuttered, bechara bacha and on a desperate night, I would have probably broken him off a piece but I just gave him a goodbye peck for charity and hopped in a cab to JFK airport. Then an Emirates flight on which I slept all the way home. Life was perfect.
Most of my winter break, I spent relaxing and enjoying myself in Isloo doing the things I missed most in college, i.e living the life of a spoilt rich brat. Breakfasts in bed, country club high teas, shopping sprees, lunches, dinners and partying with Peanut who was also home from London. Peanut and I made sure to coordinate our trips home because we didn’t want to go crazy in this city without each other. It also helped that he now had a much healthier relationship with his father so he looked forward to spending his holidays with not just me but his father too. That is if he wasn’t already shacked up in a Chalet in Europe with a hot, older man for the holidays! But when we were home at the same time, we never got a chance to get bored. Days were spent shopping, lunching, smoking weed and cigarettes while mixing Vodka with Pakola in his Flat, (it was too cold for the pool). In the evenings, we drove around popping into our favorite eateries or hitting up all the weekend parties. Life…still pretty much perfect!
It was on one such afternoon when I returned home from shopping and was stopped near the staircase by my brother who also happened to be home from Dubai.
‘Padash’ he exclaimed ‘Come here, there’s someone I want you to meet!’
His excitement was peculiar to say the least, but I figured I would appease him. No sooner had I entered our Drawing Room, when my eyes fell on Mustafa seated comfortably on our sofa with a devilish grin on his face. He may have even snuck a wink at me when Bhai Jan wasn’t looking. ‘Oh my God!’ He pretended to appear surprised ‘Is this Chotee Padash! The last time I saw her she was a little kid. Look how much she has changed!’
I squeezed my eyes and shook my head at his diabolical performance and then decided to play along. ‘Mustafa Bhai, right?’ I raised an eyebrow with sarcasm ‘Long time no see.’ ‘How many years has it been since you two last saw each other?’
My poor, clueless brother asked so proud of himself for coordinating this long-lost reunion ‘Mustafa yaar, remember how much we used to tease this poor bachee when she was young.’ ‘Oh I remember, quite well!’ I added.
‘It has been ages…right Padash!?’
‘Decades!’ I pursed my lips into a cheeky smile ‘I’m amazed, we never ran into each other in the States!’
‘Right….right…so what are you up to these days? Must be finishing college. I hope you’re focusing on your studies and not partying or whatever you young kids do these days.’
‘Oh don’t worry…got my nose buried in my books at all times. What about you? Shadee naheen kee aap nay? Any plans of settling down or still playing the field?’
‘Aray you know, I’m not that sort. I’m just a shareef homebody in search of a good housewife.’ ‘Right, right…I’m sure!’
Even though you could cut the tension in the room with a plastic PIA knife, I think my brother remained clueless. After the brief and awkward yet immensely amusing conversation, I excused myself. I remember smirking to myself as I entered my room. The driver had placed all my shopping bags from the backseat of our car onto my bed, so I immediately forgot about what had just happened and began admiring the day’s bargains.
A day or two later, I answered the phone to a familiar voice on the other end.
‘Finally…Padash! Koi lift hee naheen mil rahee yehan par.’ It was Mustafa.
‘Hey, hey hey! By the way, nice surprise you pulled the other day!’
‘Aray don’t blame me…it was all your brother’s fault. He was so excited to bring you into the room. Bechara thought we wouldn’t recognize each other after all these years!’
‘So what brings you to Pakistan? In Philly you said you had no plans of coming home for the holidays?’
‘I didn’t! But after we hung out that night and you mentioned you were going home, I got kind of homesick myself and decided on a spontaneous trip home.’
‘Chalo, I hope the decision was worth it.’
‘Not at all yaar.’
‘I have been here two weeks and I’m going insane with boredom. All my friends from Atchison are in Lahore and I don’t know anyone in Islamabad anymore. The only reason I got in touch with your brother and came over was because he’s the only one I know!’
‘Waisay I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you’re going to have to get bored some more for tonight. Bhai Jan’s not home. You see your old poondee buddy is now a boring married man. He may still spend his evenings at Jinnah and Covered Market but all he does now are tedious husband things like holding shopping bags instead of whistling at girls.’
‘What makes you think I was calling for him in the first place?’
‘Ah, the plot thickens?’
‘Actually…to be honest, the only reason I got back in touch with him was because I was secretly hoping to connect with you again.’
‘Deceiving my poor Bhai jaan?’
‘Aray yaar, it was the only way to get in touch with you. Lets be honest, your Bhai Jaan is now a boring shaadee shudda aadmee. You and I are the only few single ones left. So naturally birds of a feather should flock together shouldn’t they?’
I smiled at his brash honesty ‘Well, depends on how good you flock!’
‘Besides, after our little night in Philly, I’d say we have built an independent friendship of our own, wont you agree.’
‘And from what I can recall, the way Sakina used to talk about you back when we were engaged, you were quite the IT girl in Islamabad’s party scene. Mujhay bhi to kuch dekhao yeh crazy scene?’
‘Well I’m afraid, you missed an amazing New Years party. We would have to wait till next weekend to see what I can arrange. Make a few calls, send a few texts…you know how it is for a socialite!’ I joked.
‘What are your plans for tonight?’
‘None really! I was just thinking of cuddling up in bed and watching one of the hundreds of VCDs I bought from here?’
‘Alone? A girl like you should never have to cuddle alone.’ He was now getting pretty flirty.
‘Are you volunteering, Mustafa bhai?’ I played along for good measure.
‘Aray yaar sab cheez ka maza kharaab kar daitee ho tum bhi “Bhai” keh kay. Acha badla lay rahee ho bachpan ka!’
We laughed and enjoyed the conversation. By the end, we even exchanged cell phone numbers.
Later that same night, I was sitting on my bed writing on my laptop when my cell phone rang around midnight.
‘Kon see movie dekh rahee ho?’ It was Mustafa again.
‘Nina part 4. Kyoun, dekhee hoee hay.’
‘Tauba tauba…may aisee films naheen dekhta.’
I laughed because an interesting tidbit of a fact to be inserted here is that the very first porn I ever saw, I actually stole from Bhai Jan’s room after Mustafa and Bhai Jan had left for swimming lessons at Islamabad Club. It was a bad German VHS called Nina and it left me completely traumatized by the sight of a penis. Back then, I thought it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen and never wanted to come close to one. So much for that pledge. But I digress.
‘Jhoot. Don’t think I was stupid when I was young. I remember how many of my nail polish removers were stolen from me so you guys could fix that banged up VCR after rewinding and forwarding bad German porn.’
‘I can’t help it if your VCR ka head kharaab tha.’
‘Haan khair ab tu aap ko koi problem naheen ho gee “good head” kee talaash may.’
‘Yaar tum chotee see hotee thee…aur ab kya tez cheez ban gayee ho. I love it, you’re a girl after my own heart.’
I giggled ‘Anyway, what are you up to at this hour?’
‘Bored out of my skull. Was going stir crazy at home so I went for a drive. Chalna hay drive par meray saath?’
‘Are you serious?’ he seemed obviously surprised. I guess he didn’t think good girls from good families would say yes without thinking twice about getting into a car with a boy at midnight. ‘Dar gaye?’ I teased.
‘Hey, I’d love it….I just didn’t…well Sakina could never…’
‘Sweetie, I’m not Sakina…you should have guessed that by now.’
‘So I see….and trust me I’m really enjoying that fact too.’
‘Well behaved girls will only add to your boredom!’
‘Well said. By the way, I’m near your neighborhood. I could be outside your gate in five minutes.’ ‘Great, I’ll see you then.’
I quickly threw on a pair of jeans and one of my brother’s white and blue striped shirts before walking out. The guard gave me his usual judgmental glares but he had to have been used to my odd hours by now. As promised, Mustafa was waiting for me in his car with an amused smile. ‘You amaze me!’ He laughed as I slid into his car.
‘You’re not the first guy to tell me that’ I winked.
‘I really wish more girls were like you.’
‘Trust me, the world can’t handle more than one Padash. Acha tu where are we going? And jaldee say give me a sutta.’
We drove all around the city that night. Zooming on the wide streets of Islamabad we conversed about the architecture of the Saudi Pak tower, Faisal Mosque and even the PM house. Later we ventured off to Daman-e-Koh, where we joked about the daters and the newly married couples. We even pretended to join in their romance shomance.
‘Mufti tum jantay ho, may nay sirf tum say mohabbat kee hay. Tinkoo, Minkoo aur Bubloo sab ko chor kar may nay sirf tum ko rose ka phoool diya.’ I dramatically slapped my wrist on my forehead.
‘Dorling…may nay bhi tu sirf tum say shadee kay jab kay Shabbo roz meray ghar halwa bana kar atee thee.’
‘Tu phir mujhay Nelaam Ghar lay kar jao na honeymoon par.’
‘Pakka waada Dorling.’
Around two in the morning we both got tired of driving around, so we ended up back at his house. He snuck me up into his room through the servant quarter stairwell and kept on commenting on how much ‘fun’ I was and how I was so different from most girls he knew who were all boring fuddy duddies. The main reason we had retired to his room was because we had been craving a drink and besides Peanut’s Flat, I could rarely find any alcohol anywhere in Isloo even with all the diplomats running around. Mustafa had a stash of Absolut which he had smuggled in from a Duty Free so no sooner had we settled on his favorite couch that we toasted to new friendships, making the most of Islamabad and to cherishing our fun-filled lives back in the States.
‘Do you have that song you played in your car in Philly?’ I asked him.
‘Hell yeah!’ He immediately dug out the Night Song CD and played ‘Longing’ for me.
We sat there for hours, allowing Nusrat Fateh Ali’s melodious voice serenade us into a peaceful calm while we drank and enjoyed each other’s company. So engrossed were we in conversations about college, lives and our friends that we lost complete track of time.
‘You’re really gonna miss Julie and Jenny when you graduate aren’t you?’ He asked me with a smile since I couldn’t stop narrating all our crazy escapades. And the thought both saddened and petrified me. I couldn’t imagine a life without them.
By 4am, we were both a little buzzed and figured it was time to head home. Just then, the song ‘Longing’ came back on. I leaned across him to turn the volume up for one last listen but somehow, we both lost our balance and collapsed on the floor. During all the giggling, he leaned over and lovingly planted a kiss on my forehead. He may have displayed similar affectionate gestures – the brotherly kiss on the forehead – many years ago but that night, it managed to cease time for both of us. The giggles immediately subsided. Even the smiles perished and were replaced with expressions of confusion, fear and desire. Maybe it was the final manifestation of what had been brewing for months, unbeknownst to us. All the harmless flirtation and sexual tensions sort of converged and exploded around us. We continued to stare into each other’s eyes with the same look for what seemed like an eternity and when I closed my eyes, I felt his lips pressing against mine. I kissed back. Our lips locked with such electric hunger that I literally felt like I was losing my balance. I had never felt that way before by a mere kiss.
The next thing I knew, our clothes were peeled and scattered all over the room as we made love on the floor. Yes, I use the term ‘made love’ deliberately because that night felt different than any other sexual experience I had ever had. Before that night, I had only had sex. That night, I experienced for the first time what it was like to make love. Our bodies intertwined while the haunting chants of the song sent shivers down our flesh. Hours rolled into the past like minutes and I really didn’t want the night to end. Our only reminder of the passing time was when the familiar tune of ‘Longing’ would play again on the CD. It meant that the entire CD had played to the end and was now starting back again. We responded only with smiles.
Once it was over, we fell asleep on the floor in an embrace. It still felt so natural. No guilt, no remorse, no worry about consequences. Just dopey smiles on our faces as we lay there naked with our eyes closed. Not a word was uttered for a long time as he stroked my hair, humming and staring at the ceiling. It did not even occur to me for a second that I had just made love to the son of my parents good friends. I had just made love to my older brother’s friend. Most of all, I had just made love to my cousin’s ex-fiancé. But I only think of those things now, years later. That night, we just lay there basking in the afterglow of love both made and felt.
I had never been one to cuddle. In college, I was famous for calling boys on their cell phones when I needed them and once the sex was over, I would immediately ask them to leave. Julie and Jenny often accused me of having sex like a guy and to be honest, most guys appreciated that about me. But that night, even though I had just made love to Mustafa, I lay there peacefully not wanting to leave. Alas, we both knew that we were in Pakistan and not in the States. The night had to end. We had to sneak back into our shareef lives before dawn. Before all the countless people who connected us to each other, would awaken.
He dropped me outside the gate as the sun came up. Both of us still smiling like little teens who had lost their virginity for the first time. As I entered the gate of my house and walked across the front lawn, I felt like the whole world seemed different. I had often walked home at sunrise in the past but that night the world looked completely new all of sudden. Beautiful, almost exquisite. So breathtaking that I had to stop and take a minute to breathe in the beauty of nature around me. The cobalt sky, slowly diluting into an opaque blue while the dew on our perfectly manicured grass glittered like meticulously cut diamonds. Still, smiling. I couldn’t explain the feeling that I felt. I sauntered into the house and then sat in the drawing room smoking a cigarette still entranced by the world outside and around me. Trying to make sense of why everything felt so different than before. As if everything had changed. And then I realized, it had. It was the moment people had warned me about. The moment of falling in love. The world and my life would never be the same again. Maybe I tried to fight it, maybe I tried to tell myself it wasn’t true but it just felt so good and so right. I quietly crept into my room, brushed my teeth and crawled into bed. I fell asleep smiling and I woke up with a smile. I may sound like a sappy loser but hey it’s true.
From that moment on, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. Even if I tried, I just could not get Mustafa out of my mind. We went out for coffee again the next day and he bought me the Night Song CD. Later, he held my hand as we drove back. We repeated this ritual a few times for the next week or two.
‘I hope I get to see you in the States?’ He asked me the night before I was heading home.
‘Of course you will.’ I replied.
Before leaving for the airport, I sat in my room listening to our song all night instead of sleeping. I even called him to say ‘goodbye’ from the waiting lounge. I then spent the entire plane ride listening to the song over and over again. On my first night back on campus, I met Julie and Jenny for dinner at the dining hall. It hadn’t even been a few minutes as we sat down on the table with our trays when Jenny exclaimed with wide eyes,
‘Oh my God, biotch you’re in love, aren’t you!’
I had no choice but to nod.
‘Who is it?’ Julie asked.
‘Remember Mustafa…the guy we met in Philly…’
Their jaws dropped open.
Then after a few minutes of shocked silence..
‘Well…all I can say is…welcome to the club,’ Julie grabbed her fork nonchalantly and dug into her lasagna ‘We all finally have that bond in common.’
‘The bond of being in love?’
‘Well that and the bond of…lets just say you’ll have to figure it all out yourself.’ Jenny stopped herself.
‘For now all I can say is…fasten your seat-belt honey, cuz its gonna be a bumpy ride. And it aint always a fun one.’ Julie winked.
Life went on but I wish Jenny had completed her sentence that night. Because today as I sit in one of the few local independent cafes left in Manhattan, I realize what she was trying to say. We all do have one bond in common. From the African American Barrista slaving away behind the counter with more piercings than pores to the lesbian couple interlocking each other’s fingers at the other end of my sofa. The Latina nanny that rocks a stroller with one hand and turns the pages of Twilight with the other. The stuffed and starched intern in a suit struggling to find an outlet for his laptop, the statuesque blonde that saunters outside the window and then passes the short, angry feminist who probably makes more money than all of us combined. The hooker, the suburban housewife and even the desi cabdriver ashing his cigarette and swearing in Punjabi…we still have one bond in common.
But it isn’t just experiencing the moment of falling in love. Its actually surviving the physical pain of a heartbreak. We have all once been in love and we have all once experienced what it was like to have our hearts broken. After which, life never stays the same. I still wouldn’t wish a broken heart on the worst of my enemies but unfortunately it’s a chapter to be written in all of our lives. The bond that can make the most different of us, familiar. The strongest of us, weak. The lesson we could learn only by experience. What shapes and molds us into the people we stand before each other today. Strong, experienced and full of wisdom.
Last Wisdom: Its not being in love that makes us the strong people we are today…its how we survived if it was eve over.
For my readers who share this bond with me from a past, I commend you for your strength. A valuable lesson we learned.
For my readers who are experiencing it right now, I offer you support and remind you that though it may take time…you will get back on your feet, stronger. A valuable bond we will then share.
For my readers who are in love today….enjoy the moment, it could be temporary or it could last forever. But don’t think about the future. And definitely don’t over-think the present. Just savor the moment. Because it is a valuable moment…meant purely to be enjoyed!