chapter 1

chapter 1

A Chapter by pia

                ONE

                

                          THE FIRST GAME 



May 5th, 1993

One, two, three, four....... ten. Ready or not, here I come’.

I concealed myself behind the cracked door of an old and empty cupboard. Abandoned cobwebs dangled above my head, caressing the strands of hair protruding from my ponytail, attempting to seek any form of life in the mundanity of the empty cupboard.


The cupboard belonged to my grandmother when she was alive. It was made out cedar and had intricate floral designs neatly carved in around its borders.  Back when India and Pakistan were parting ways in 1947, my grandmother faced the same fate with her own house in Bombay when her father chose to move to Pakistan. She was merely my age when she watched her family wrap up their lives in India and then load their stuff onto the back of a strange truck.  An old sheet and a few ropes were used to cover the top. Then they climbed onto the back and sat in the spaces left unoccupied by their belongings. My grandmother silently watched the sun merge into the horizon, bursting with yellow and orange colours like painting in the sky. The cupboard was placed amongst the rest of the furniture, bolstered by clothes bundled together in one large bag. It too became part of the migration, and after several years it found its place in my house, joining many other forgotten pieces of furniture in one of the guest rooms.


The cupboard was the only tangible memory I had of her.  Almost as if she had fettered her soul within it. She hung up her best clothes, folded the rest and placed them at the bottom. Pieces of jewellery were cushioned carefully inside a secret chamber. A musty odour prevailed the cupboard’s air, yet, it was dominated by my

grandmother’s aroma which once embodied her and her belongings. The fragrance of fresh garden flowers in spring and it made me feel safe and sometimes struck me with evocative memories of her, like a dwindling star in an empty sky. After her death, my grandmother's name faded away slowly from my family. She was rarely mentioned and her pictures were taken down. Everything, except she owned, except her cupboard, was given away in order to bury her existence, and for reasons unbeknownst to me.


Amidst all the reminiscing memories, I forced myself back into the present, realizing that I was still inside the cupboard and that he was looking for me.  Through the cracks in the cupboard door, I saw his dark figure float past. I stumbled back into an area untouched by the light rays seeping through those cracks.  A few wooden shards dropped down shimmering like sand slipping through palms and that grasped his attention. He stopped and turned around,  pierced his eyes towards the cupboard and smiled menacingly. He knew where I was hiding.

His footsteps grew louder as he sauntered towards me like a lion approaching its prey. He was near me now. I could feel his propinquity to me, and he could smell my fear.


His presence slowly started overpowering me. I could feel the hairs on my body spring up. My forehead felt warm and all that I could hear was the drumming of my heartbeat. He knelt down and peered through the cracks, exposing a haunting darkness. He could sense a presence; a presence fed by my fear.


 Was it the fear of being found? Or the fear of what he was going to do to me? A blend of both wrapped itself around my throat like a python strangling its victim.


He smiled directly at me through the darkness which I thought was protecting me. He couldn’t see me, but our eyes made contact through it. His lips pinned upwards as he looked at me. My body froze and my eye lids twitched.

He knew where I was now and slowly started to pull the cupboard doors open, well aware that the grating sounds it made, petrified me. I pulled myself out of the darkness and stood in front of him, exposed to his sight, naked in his eyes. He grabbed me by the arm and yanked me out of my grandmother’s cupboard which once again became desolate like the rest of the furniture.


We fell to the floor with him on top of me. I tried to escape his solid grip on my body by kicking my legs and wriggling my arms. I failed. The weight was too much for me to fight against. I stopped and looked back into his conquering eyes as he looked back into mine. And then suddenly. We both started laughing.


‘You thought you could win this game, didn’t you Anya? He said mockingly. I picked myself up and dusted my yellow frock which was blemished by the dust on the floor and the dust in the cupboard. ‘Rule number one; never move a muscle when you are hiding, especially from me. I have sharp sense. I could know where you are hiding from far away,’ he exaggerated.


‘I tripped on something, I think, but this game was fun.’ I said, still trying to dust the dirt off my dress.


Adil was my aunt’s oldest child. He was seven years older to me, and I called him Bhai. His beady eyes had a glare sharp enough to tear through a person’s thought. Maybe that was why it was always easy for him to know what was going through my mind.  For a thirteen year old, he was tall and broad and had the strength of a weight lifter.  Adil had two siblings, Maliha who was seven and Abul who was five. He rarely ever played with them and rarely ever cared to catch his attention. He was always too busy forcing me to join in with his games.


Fridays were long. My father would leave early in the morning for his office and my aunt, whom I called Aiesha Khala, would visit and spend her entire day with my mother both would confabulate over how Starplus and Bollywood were tarnishing the mindsets of their children. Of course, the blame mostly laid at rest with the women and their sleeveless outfits, but never the men in these movies who were mostly the ones thinking that the only way to win a woman’s heart was through their romantic musicals, subtly underlining harassment and love through force. I was too young to understand misogyny and when Bollywood music did play on the radio,  I would dance along with very words meant to break women down.


Aiesha Khala arrived with a hand full of bags carrying with her the most unnecessary items one could imagine bringing into their sister’s house. She had two bags filled with extra clothes and toys for Maliha and Abul to play with. Adil always carried a purple bag containing tightly sealed tin cans filled with food and snacks. It was absurd.  It seemed as if she packed enough for a three week long holiday. Aiesha Khala always kept her purse with her, whether it was in the bathroom or while she slept. You could always find her clutching to it dearly. She never left it out of her sight. As kids, we were always curious as to what she hid inside it. Once, we decided to play a guessing game over it. Abul claimed she had secret candies and Maliha guessed that it was just her make up. Adil laughed and said, ‘you don’t know anything, you’re just a bunch of kids, I know what she hides inside it,’ we leaned in closer, our heart beats racing, our minds begging for the answer. Then Adil sat back silently, let out a small laugh. ‘Cigarettes, boxes and boxes of cigarettes’


My aunt was addicted to cigarettes. It was a secret she had kept from her husband and her children. She knew the consequences very well if her husband found her lips had touched the bud of a cigarette. I did not blame her for her addiction. It stemmed from an incident which left a cicatrix in her memory and almost cost her and her child’s life.


When Adil was born, my uncle was mostly out of town for work due to his job. My aunt spent her days in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning, concurrently watching over Ali. They lived in a house in Multan, slightly isolated from the main city. Acres of corn fields surrounded the house with just a small patch of a road passing through the middle. A few trees were planted near the house to make up for some shade and greenery. It was a quiet place to live in, only the sounds of eagles and occasional vehicles passing by could be heard. The nights were orchestrated by crickets and owls hiding in the grass and the trees.

The silence is always welcomed, especially when one enjoys the chirping of birds and crickets, or someone with a baby sleeping soundly in its cradle. But sometimes, even the silence begs for  the sound of life around it when it feels insecure.


My uncle had been out of town for a few days, leaving Aiesha Khala home alone with Adil who was just a few months old. A fire broke out in one of the room at three a.m. in the morning. It was believed that the fire started through a short circuit in one of the switches. The fear left my aunt immobile. In that moment of panic, she did not know who to go to for help. There were no neighbors close by who could help her.  She threw water on the fire only to watch it blaze through the roof, ceaselessly spreading across the room. The house burned as the fire relentlessly engulfed everything that came in its way. She grabbed Adil from his cot and escaped. The night was silent. The owls had stopped hooting and the crickets had stopped chirping. Only the crisping sound of debris and crumbling walls prevailed. It was fajr time. People were either fast asleep or repenting in their prayers. All she could do was sit outside and watch her home burn down with the flames. All her belongings blown away with the rest of the ashes and the blame crown was placed on her head.


She spent a year at her in-laws house. They all blamed the for the incident, even my uncle and my grandparents. Some even believed that it was she who started the fire. They treated her like she was insane, with the awkward silences and the stalking. She wasn’t allowed to be alone in the kitchen, neither was she allowed to be alone with her son. There were burns on her arms and legs, which she always concealed with the long sleeves of her kurti. She spent sleepless nights in a bed watching her once loving husband sleeping with his back towards her. It was after she inhaled the nicotine from her first cigarette did she feel a sense of relief from all the weight inside her. That was the start of her secret addiction.


Karachi’s weather was warm and dry. It was around May and summers had arrived with its sweltering heat, along with hot gusty winds from the barren lands of the Rajastan Desert. Air conditioning was too expensive, so we spent our scorching hot days in a pedestal fan blowing hot air onto our faces. Adil and I would sit in front of the pedestal fans for hours, speaking into them and giggling over how it distorted our voices.


If we were lucky, power cuts were only for two hours, otherwise, they lasted for seven hours almost every day and we would find ourselves sweating profusely in the heat.


This time the power cut had lasted longer than usual. We could hear the electricians outside our house, mending the transformer and re-adjusting electric wires. They made it an obligation for the whole neighborhood to hear them through their raucous talk and obscene ways of addressing each other.


To pass the time and distract himself from the heat, Adil had decided to teach me how to play a new game. We usually played pretend games or board games. But this was something new. I was six years old the first time we played and I never forgot the unfounded fear I felt while playing with him. I always enjoyed our games, but this time it felt different. I felt insecure, but maybe because I was too young.


My dress was soaked wet and so was Adii’s shirt. We walked back to the lounge where my mother and my aunt were sitting.


‘What were you two doing!’ exclaimed my mom looking at our dishevelled  appearance. ‘How many times have I told you Anya, not to play in the dirt.’     

‘Adil bhai taught me this new game of hide and seek. Adil bhai had to count till ten while I had to go find a place to hide. If he finds me, I lose.'


‘I know how it’s played, dear, but look at what you have done with your pretty dress, look at the dirt in your hair’ she said dusting it out. She looked at me and then passed me a warm smile.  The smile stayed engraved in her face for a while, and then slowly started to fade away. She was a sad woman. I could always feel it.


As a child, I never understood why. Of course, I was only six, I couldn’t ever understand the pain she felt, what secrets she enshrouded. My grandmother had died five years ago, but my mother still mourned for her mother’s death or maybe that is what it seemed like she did. Her old house was sold off and everything within its four walls, except my grandmother’s cupboard. The cupboard was brought back to my parent’s house where it found its place in an old room unbeknownst to the presence of life. The room was more like a storage space for old furniture or antiques. No one really went into that room and that was why Adil suggested that it was the perfect place for a game of hide and seek.

 

We lived in a large house in Karachi which occupied almost two thousand acres of land. The house was built like an ancient building, those which were popular during the Mughal era, with carvings of flowers and animals adorned on the rising pillars, carefully painted in, bringing the bangala to life. Vine plants embellished the rooftop with its scandent stems proliferating across the bangala’s walls. The garden bloomed all sorts of flowers; Tulips, Roses, Lilies and sunflowers, assorted in various areas. The grass was watered twice a day to keep it a fresh green. A tree was rooted in the far right corner. It was an old tree with leafless branches wreathing outwards and then dropping down, partially caressing the grass it touched. The tree was slightly slanted, like it was almost about to fall since it was ostensibly a decade old. It was planted there before my parents moved in.  The tree stood there, lifeless, sombre, as if it had nothing to give in return to those who still watered it. The flowers were planted only to compensate for the vibrancy which the tree failed to provide.


My parents, just like the gardeners, felt the need for another child to make up for the sense of achievement I failed to provide. I was their firstborn, but my parents always felt something lacking in their ‘complete happy family’. Was it my inability to behave like a girl? Or was it my skin color?  Was I not fair enough for a society, fuelled by the colonial complex? Did they not approve of my recalcitrance? Or was it something in their hearts?


 I overheard them one day. Behind the closed door of their room, they expressed their lacking; a lacking of such a kind, that nothing I could do ever fix it. At the mere age of six, I discovered that I lacked the desired favorite genital. A vessel for carrying down the family legacy. A protector of the world. A Saviour. A boy. My parents wanted a son.

I had recently discovered that my mother was pregnant. She usually sat in the lounge during the day. It was easier for her to walk to the kitchen than to use the stairs. My aunty started increasing the frequency of her visits to take care of my mother while my father was at work.


‘Go change out of your dress Anya. We don’t want your father coming home to a grubby little girl,’ she moved my hair out of my face, looking at me meticulously. ‘Men don’t like coming home to see their women not looking right. We must always look appealing to our men; it’s always our job to make sure they stay satisfied and happy. It’s the least we can do while they work.’

I ran towards the bathroom to wash myself. Adil stood near the door, as if he was there waiting for me. I stopped and watched him tower over me. He was the only cousin I ever played with but, his presence was daunting. Sometimes, I felt slightly afraid of him.


‘I hope you enjoyed our little game,’ he said.


‘It was scary, but sure, it was fun,’ I said taking a step back. ‘Next time Adil bhai, can we get Maliha and Abul to play?’


‘That wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I’ll have to teach them from the start and they are young, it will take some patience, they aren’t very good at the following instruction,’ he said looking down towards the floor.


‘But we both can teach them together. It’ll be so much better if we all played’


‘We can try, but you are not very good at hiding. It’s like you didn’t even try to hide from me. So maybe next time you and I can hide together.’ He said, and he placed his arm around my shoulder. 



© 2018 pia


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Reviews

Pia, just like your previous writes that I have read, you use a great deal of detail. The way that you described the actions of the Hide and Seek game were spectacular and you can feel the fear in the girl.

You have also spent a great deal of time building your characters. This will work nicely in the later chapters when we live through their lives while reading your words. I also feel you value family a great deal as you put a great deal of detail into the past of this girl's family.

I don't particularly enjoy these kind of stories, but you write so beautifully but I can't help myself. I'll eagerly wait for your next chapter. Thank you for sharing.


Posted 2 Years Ago


pia

2 Years Ago

Thank you so much for this lovely review im currently working on chapter 2
This book will be.. read more

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Added on May 27, 2018
Last Updated on June 22, 2018


Author

pia
pia

Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan



Writing
Chapter 2 Chapter 2

A Chapter by pia



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