Lamentations of an Unholy Saturday

Part 1: The 7 AM Local to the Capital

Photo by Marc St on Unsplash

It was one of those days. I knew it. Could feel it. It did not feel right waking up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning. For what? I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do it. The sort of exam that doesn't add to your résumé. The résumé you desperately want to replace. And then my phone rang. 6:27 AM. Who’s alive at this hour? I turned back towards my room. The light was off. It was dark for a November morning. I tracked my phone partly through the noise it made and partly through the concentrated glow of the screen.

Unknown calling. Unknown. How mysterious. Unknown and unexpected on a Saturday morning. I don’t want anything to do with that. It stopped. And it called again. Stop it! I don’t care if someone’s dying and needs my help. And what are the odds of it happening? 0.00037? No, thanks. Text me. If it was important, it’d have been in my contacts. Family, friends, coworkers. I know them all. They’re all asleep. It stops again. I expect at least another ring. ‘Unknown’ loves the number three. Satan loves the number three. It calls again. How predictable. I’ve lost interest in it. It. It? It is a man. It is a creepy man.

At 6:35 sharp, I called Zawar Bhai to remind him that he is to pick me up. “Salamulaekum, Sir!” He greeted loudly. Everyone’s a Sir. I asked him if he’d left. “On my way, Sir.” If he says he's on his way, he actually is. In two minutes, I heard the honk. I went to the window, the white pickup waited outside. In seven minutes, we reached the local station.

Pekhawar, Pekhawar, Nokhera… I tried to separate Faizabad from all the morning noise of conductors pouring their lungs out in the cold. Zawar arranged two front seats for me. He always does. Thank you, Zawar.

The driver shouted obscenities in half-Punjabi-half-Pashto accent. It was all in good humor. No problem, Madame! His colleague with a red van had taken over him changing his lane from far left to the far right. Wow, how shrewd. The dead mother flinched in her grave. And something imaginary happened to his imaginary sister. But it was all in good humor, Madame.

The conductor at the back did his job efficiently shouting money and gathering money and returning money and whatever you’re supposed to do with it in a van puking flesh out of the windows. Winter felt like summer. Damn the moment I chose coat over shawl. Damn 6:31 AM! He had a squeaky voice of a growing teenager. The conductor. Shrill and grave at the same time. I expected he’d ask me himself: Baji, fair? He didn’t. I waited. He didn’t. I turned my head to look for him. Couldn’t tell who was the conductor in the van full of the extra passengers. I imagined he was a 15-year-old in pale blue shalwar kameez. So I took a risk and asked the driver instead.

“How much is it?”

“Madame?”

I wore a structured coat, I bought two front seats in the local. I was Madame. The woman with the baby who was sitting in the back seat was Baji. Clearly.

“The fair,” I explained.

“120 for Faizabad,” he said in clear Urdu. I gave him two notes of one hundred rupees and searched for a blue note of 50. Didn’t find one. Gave another hundred and wandered off in my thoughts.

The road finally split in two. The sign on the left read ‘Peshawar’. Another city, another province. I could smell Chapli kebabs an old friend brought from home. I could see Islamia College. What else? I heard Pashto. And a tiny human woke me up from my daydreaming. I have never been to Peshawar. The van kept moving forward. No turns or twists or breaks. It went on and on and on through the monotonous grey view. Sometimes, green. But mostly grey.

I felt something on my right shoulder. It felt heavy. I looked at it and it suddenly became wet. My grey coat was charcoal black now. I wanted it to be water. But you don’t always get what you want. It was the baby’s spit. He was now staring at me with a huge smile. As if it was an accomplishment. Babies. Such wonderful creatures. Wonderful and annoying. What are you laughing at? He was standing on his mother’s lap leaning on the back of my seat holding it from both hands. Sticky hands. Baby hands. What can you do? Babies will be babies. The mother was looking at me. I had to smile.

No problem.

I searched for a tissue in my bag. You always think there’s at least one, but when you need it you can’t find it. I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t there. You don’t always get what you want. But you do get baby spit when you clearly don’t want it. Life, thou art misery. Wow, how poetic! No, it’s an artless mediocrity! That’s more like it.

Faizabad, Islamabad. I checked my phone; it said 8:44.

I have two hours and 16 minutes. Great!

I opened my phone and turned my mobile data on. The battery sign read 91%. Good enough. I clicked on Uber, the black screen with the logo came up. The white window finally opened. Quite dramatically. I waited for it to do its thing. It didn’t. There’s no car available.

Don’t!

I checked Careem. The logo smiled on the green screen. There’s no car available. Yaaar..!!..

To be continued…

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Political.

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Zainab Jafri

Zainab Jafri

Political.

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