Naheed rejoins the world and meets an unwanted visitor.
Friends and relatives had been in and out of Shaukat’s house all day paying a visit to Naheed, whose Iddat was finally over. Aaliya had prepared samosas and rolls at home along with kebabs and carrot halwa. She had changed on the inside, it was like she was a different person and she hadn’t felt this good in years. All those years that had gone to waste because of her stubbornness, now she didn’t want to ruin a single second.
Aaliya was careful of Naheed that day, watching to make sure Naheed wasn’t too disturbed or overwhelmed, ready to whisk her off with some reasonable excuse if Naheed needed to be alone. Salma had insisted that Naheed put on a little lipstick, which she couldn’t manage to do, her hand shook so much. Nasreen told her not to be silly and applied the lipstick for her and walked out leaving her shaken. Aaliya had given her a hug then and helped her calm down.
Aunts, nieces, cousins and friends came and went bringing gifts of brightly colored suits and glass bangles. Naheed was expected to rejoin the world, no more white or drab colors, she was supposed to be done with that. But how was she just supposed to turn on the happiness again? She certainly didn’t feel happy, she wasn’t sure she wanted to or if she actually could.
Rashda kept herself composed for Naheed, but almost broke down when silent tears streamed down Naheed’s cheeks as Faiza put brightly colored glass bangles on Naheed’s delicate white wrists.
Khadija was extremely happy, her childish grasp of the event was a blessing, her mother hadn’t looked this beautiful since they had been in Canada and she was glad to see her this way. Maaz felt a little shy, his mother looked a bit like herself, but she was so quiet and so sad. He preferred to let himself get distracted with Hamza. Ayesha didn’t want to leave her mother’s side, she looked so vulnerable, trying not to cry, keeping a smile pasted on her lips for the sake of her visitors. She looked so beautiful, much younger yet at the same time her eyes looked old; they had seen so much, too much misery over the past few months. Naheed tried to keep up with the conversation, joining in sometimes, but it was hard. Her mind kept wandering. If Faizan had still been alive what would they all be doing right now? It would be snowing in Canada, the children would be off from school for winter vacations, and they would all be enjoying hot chocolate in the evenings when Faizan came home from work.
Nasreen kept the conversation lively and steered away from any mention of the tragedy that had occurred. There was still some talk of Madiha’s broken engagement and Aaliya just smiled and gave the same story Naheed had given.
By evening only close relatives were left; Rashda and her family, Bano Dadi with her daughters and a friend of Naheed’s since childhood. Naheed was finally beginning to relax. She laughed at Faiza’s jokes and she was enjoying the antics of her sister-in-law Nasira’s grandchildren. Nasira and Nasreen had been at each other the whole day giving their delighted guests much entertainment. Each out spoken woman had been ready with a witty comeback, causing Rashda and Salma to scold them dramatically, enjoying themselves as much as their guests. Everyone was more than a little relieved that the guests had finally gone and they could unwind with just the close members of both the families. The feeling didn’t last long.
“Assalaam o alaikum” said a lady in a dark blue velvet shalwar kameez who entered the room silently and unnoticed. She was graceful, elegant and had a kind face that looked younger than her 50 years. Her presence caused a variety of reactions. Naheed glared at Nasreen, who smiled and made room for the newcomer, welcoming and gracious. Rashda looked uncomfortably at Salma when recognition finally dawned upon her. Salma sat expressionless and Aaliya protectively positioned herself besides Naheed so the lady could not sit there.
“How are you Salma Khala? Rashda Khala? It’s been a long time, seems like ages,” said Parveen in an elegant voice.
Everything about her was classy in such a down to earth way. There was nothing stuck-up about her even though she looked like she had just stepped out of a Mercedes Benz.
“Allah ka Ehsan. I’m fine. How’s your mother Parveen?” asked Salma graciously.
“I’m afraid she’s confined to a wheelchair but she has a lot of willpower and manages to do whatever she can. She hates being dependent on anyone. Unfortunately she is getting worse with time. I hope you don’t mind, I brought these for Naheed,” she said getting up to put two bracelets of jasmine flowers on Naheed’s wrists. Naheed sat there trying to keep her face as expressionless as possible, but her body had turned to stone. Aaliya squeezed her arm reassuringly and Ayesha sat feeling curious and a little confused by the sensations this lady was causing.
“They are lovely, just what was missing,” said Faiza good-naturedly and tried to keep up some chatter in the silence that was getting deafening.
“I absolutely adore the smell of jasmine. I’ve been thinking of getting a jasmine bush planted in my garden for ages.” Said Faiza
“Now that your pack of devils have grown up and hopefully won’t destroy it, I could get my gardener to put one in for you,” continued Nasira
“I personally have always loved ‘Raat ki rani’,” said Aaliya “There’s nothing like the scent of it on summer nights.”
“Is this your daughter Naheed?” asked Parveen.
“Yes this is Ayesha, my eldest.” Answered Naheed quietly.
“She’s lovely,” complemented Parveen.
“Well she gets her good looks from me,” stated Nasreen loudly, that was Nasira’s cue.
“From you? You have got to be kidding me! Although I was very young at that time, I clearly remember you being a very homely looking teenager! Tall with big hands and big feet! No, no Ayesha gets her good looks from me” said Nasira and they continued arguing back and forth relieving the tension in the room. But all Naheed could think of was that Ayesha got her looks from Faizan.
Naheed was sleepy and glad when the last of the guests had gone including Rashda’s family. She was mad at Nasreen and didn’t want to talk to her at all. But Nasreen lingered on unnecessarily in her parents’ room even though Naheed had gotten into bed and made it clear that she planned to sleep right away.
“Don’t you have a home to go to?” asked Shaukat, “Or did your husband finally find some courage and kick you out of the house? Don’t plan on staying here though! You can go stay with your khala, she doesn’t mind you bossing her around.” Said Shaukat from behind a book he was reading.
“Really Mian Bhai! You kill me with your humor. Naheed isn’t talking to me, I’m not leaving until she does.” said Nasreen stubbornly.
“I don’t blame her, Naheed you don’t have to talk to her, you have my blessings. Go to sleep.” And Shaukat closed his book and pulled the sheet over his head.
“Naheed baita, what is it?” asked Salma “you two are too old to be behaving like this. I need a break from these things. I’m too old to deal with it anymore.”
“Ammie, just ask her why she invited Parveen! When will she start minding her own business?” asked Naheed indignantly.
“Your business is my business and I didn’t invite her, just like I didn’t invite any of the people who came today. They came because they care about you.” Retorted Naheed.
“How come you are still in contact with her?” asked Naheed.
“Because she’s my friend! I was in contact with her even after you got married and went to Canada, she always asked about you and I always updated her. No big deal,” Nasreen argued loudly.
“Now that’s all cleared up, start talking to your sister so she can go home.” Said Salma.
“No it is not all cleared up! This is just the beginning, I know Nasreen. Now Parveen will start visiting regularly and everybody is going to start seeing things from Nasreen’s point of view, I know you’re having second thoughts Ammi!” Naheed glared accusingly at her mother.
Nasreen looked at Salma questioningly.
“Really? That’s great!” she said triumphantly.
“NO IT’S NOT! Why can’t you just leave me alone! Don’t you have any feelings, I’ve just finished my Iddat and all you can think about is getting me remarried!” Naheed hissed hysterically. There was a loud gasp and everyone turned to look at Ayesha, white as a sheet, frozen at the now fully opened door.
Ayesha stared at her khala, waves of betrayal washing over her. She couldn’t believe it, so this was the big secret! How could Nasreen imagine such a thing? Especially in a culture where it was already rare for a widow to remarry. A widow with three children whose husband had only been dead a few months.
“How dare you!” whispered Ayesha anger building up, eyes burning with hot tears.
“My father isn’t even cold in his grave yet, and you expect my mother to dump us and go get married again?” Ayesha hissed through barred teeth.
“Ayesha baita let me explain the situation,” started Nasreen.
“Don’t Ayesha baita me! I’m not your baita, you are nobody to me! My parents loved each other very much, nobody can take my dad’s place and I know my mother would never want that. She doesn’t have any room in her heart for anyone else. But you wouldn’t understand that. You are a heartless, loveless, cold, calculating, nosy, bossy bitch!” screamed Ayesha then ran to her room and locked herself in the bathroom.
“I hope you are satisfied Nasreen! My children have enough problems, they don’t need this!”
said Naheed vehemently and went after Ayesha. Naheed was shocked that Ayesha would swear at her aunt. She was trying to grasp how hurt she must be.
“Can you believe the tongue on that girl? Where the hell did she get that from? I can’t believe she said that to me. I expect an apology in the morning!” huffed Nasreen indignantly expecting some sort of agreement from her parents. Shaukat stared at her with contempt on his face.
“Go home now Nasreen.” He said in a very low harsh voice, anger beginning to boil up in him.
“I’m going, I’m going! You think I would stay after this insult?” she turned to Salma. “Talk some sense into that girl when she calms down. She’s reasonable and will begin to see the logic eventually.” Nasreen said in a business like tone.
Salma was speechless but Shaukat practically growled at her. Mashhood came in to see what all the noise was about just as Salma was going into Ayesha’s room and Nasreen was heading for the door to leave.
“What’s wrong?” he asked worried and before Salma could answer Nasreen dragged him into the drawing room.
Naheed had convinced Ayesha to come out of the bathroom. They were both upset and felt awkward, like a wall had suddenly come between them.
“Ayesha that was a horrible thing to say, you can’t talk to your khala like that,” started Naheed. She knew this was a bad way to start.
“Mom! I don’t believe you, what did you expect me to say? ‘Good idea Khala Bee! Surprised I didn’t think of it myself’ then give her a high five?” Ayesha asked choked up with tears.
“Ayesha, she’s my sister and I will handle her. This isn’t something I wanted you to find out about. I knew it would be painful and frustrating for you. It was my fault for getting so loud and out of control. She can’t make me do anything I don’t want to. I guess I was just very tired and depressed.” Said Naheed.
Salma had just come in, worried about Ayesha.
“Your Khala Bee has always been telling everybody what to do. I think the nurse dropped her on her head when she was born, she always has such different ideas from what people normally have. I tried to make her more docile when she was a little girl, but well, what can I say? Nothing worked. We’ve just learned to accept her the way she is. She doesn’t mean any harm, she loves you children like her own. She’s just very over protective of Naheed and wants her to be taken care of. It’s only that she has a very different way of seeing things and she expects everyone to see her view.” Explained Salma while helping Ayesha get into bed. She kissed Ayesha on the forehead and started reciting Ayat ul Kursi over her. Naheed stood beside the bed.
“Ayesha I know you are very upset but baita you’ll have to apologize and I expect you to phone Khala Bee in the morning.” Her words were final and Ayesha didn’t argue but she had no intention of ever apologizing.
“Nasreen have you completely lost your mind?” Asked Mashhood incredulously, getting up off the sofa and glaring at Nasreen. She grabbed his arm and pulled him back down.
“Naheed is only thirty five! She’s beautiful and has her whole life in front of her. When her children are all married and have families of their own what will she have?” asked Nasreen.
“Grandchildren!” said Mashhood surprised she couldn’t see the obvious.
“So she raises her own children, by herself then she gets the duty of raising grandchildren? Let me put it like this, imagine Naheed is Madiha, would you want her to be lonely for the rest of her life? It’s not like we’re telling her to give up her children. Parveen knows she has three children, no one is expecting her to live without them.” Said Nasreen trying to make him see her point of view.
“She has a place in my family, she has support and can live the way she wants to. She doesn’t want to remarry, Nasreen for God’s sake show some feelings! She’s just lost her husband and they had an ideal marriage. How can you expect her to accept another man?” Asked Mashhood getting irritated.
“How come men get married within a year of their wives’ deaths, even if they are sixty they find a woman of thirty and everyone says; ‘He did the right thing, after all he’ll need company at this age and his children have their own families to take care of. He needs a woman to take care of him.’ But a woman is expected to live the rest of her life without a companion even if she’s young and beautiful. She has no right to a second chance?” Argued Nasreen.
Mashhood couldn’t think of anything fast enough to counter that.
“In fact it’s just a stupid culture we’ve created. Islam actually encourages it, take the Prophet’s time (PBUH); widows would always remarry back then. Why should we care what people say as long as Naheed and the children are happy and secure?” asked Nasreen.
“How do you know they’ll be happy?” asked Mashhood.
“How do you know they won’t?” countered Nasreen.
“Nasreen it’s late, I’m tired, I don’t want to talk about this right now.” Said Mashhood rubbing his temples and eyes.
“Okay I’m going, but you are going to think about this. There doesn’t have to be a rush, we can let Naheed take her time, whenever she’s ready.”
“ENOUGH!” said Mashhood angrily then turned and stomped off towards his bedroom leaving Nasreen to show herself out.
That night none of them were able to sleep.