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!
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.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
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.’
‘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 fewhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif 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.’
‘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…