Planning a Snowy Trip
Maaz finished up his English homework and waited for Shaukat to finish his evening tea and help him out with Urdu. These days it seemed everyone was so busy with the upcoming wedding and exams that Shaukat was the only one available to keep Maaz company. So the two usually spent the evenings together and Shaukat kept Maaz entertained with adventures from his childhood. Naheed was caught up in shopping, trips to the tailor, and with Khadija, who was acting up a lot. It was really cold and the houses didn’t have heating like they did in Canada. It was uncomfortable having to wear heavy, bulky warm clothes all the time. Khadija was particularly grouchy in the cold dark mornings, when she would have to get ready for school. She would be sleepy and cold, not willing to leave the warmth of her soft blanket. Even Maaz had a hard time and felt homesick for the comforts he had left behind.
Besides being cold, the day had shrunk incredibly, it was hardly morning and before you knew it, it was evening again. Maaz felt like he hardly ever saw Ayesha, who had her nose in her books all the time. Khadija was being a cry baby most of the time and he certainly did not enjoy her company when she was like that! He never knew what she might start whining about, once she started bawling her eyes out because he said she looked like a snowman in her new white sweater. He winced as he remembered her piercing squeals that she wanted snow. Why didn’t it snow in Karachi? He missed the snow too, he remembered how they used to make snowmen in their yard, and the snowball fights they would have with Mehmood Uncle’s children. His father and Mehmood Uncle would join in the fun. He missed those times, he missed his father, his home, school, his friends. He had made a few friends here, but sometimes he still felt that he didn’t fit in.
“So, let’s see your Urdu classwork, hmmm writing is getting really good!” Shaukat said with satisfaction in his voice.
“I’m doing writing practice a lot, but I still don’t understand what is written sometimes.” Replied Maaz.
“Are you reading those books I brought you?” Asked Shaukat.
“No, I did start but it was easier in the winter vacation. I had lots of time then, how come we get so much homework? We never had this much in Canada.” Maaz complained.
“Hmmm yes, I suppose you do get quite a bit of homework. We’ll leave reading for weekends then. I think we should make a list of words in an extra exercise book. You write down all the words you don’t know the meaning of, and then we can go through the dictionary together for all those words.” Suggested Shaukat.
“Yeah, okay…..” Agreed Maaz, but he really didn’t feel like doing anything extra for Urdu. He wished he could avoid it altogether. It was a difficult language and he had been bogged down with too much work in too little time. He knew his Nana was trying to help him out as much as he could, but sometimes he just didn’t feel like doing anything. Khadija was lucky, she didn’t have to do anything, thought Maaz and wished he was that little too.
“What is it? Are you feeling sick?” Asked Shaukat noticing Maaz’s expression.
“No, I don’t feel sick.” Maaz said glumly.
“Well what do you feel?” Asked Shaukat.
“You know you can tell me Baita, I will try to help you out.”
“I don’t think it’s something that can be helped out with.” Replied Maaz.
“Well we won’t know if you don’t tell me, at least you will feel better if you share it with me.” Said Shaukat.
“I don’t really know what’s wrong Nana, I just don’t feel like doing anything, I feel sleepy all the time. It’s no fun.”
“What’s no fun?”
“Nothing is any fun.” Replied Maaz sullenly.
This was difficult, Shaukat was trying to decipher what was meant by this. “How could it be more fun?”
Dunno…meant what? “Uh…well what do you mean?” Asked Shaukat, confused, sometimes he really felt lost and couldn’t understand what the children were trying to say.
Maaz couldn’t explain exactly how he felt and he knew Shaukat was trying to understand, but he didn’t know what to say. Tears came to his eyes, he was getting frustrated.
“Maaz Baita, it is okay. Just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.”
“I miss Dad.” A tear escaped.
“Yes I can understand that.” Shaukat felt helpless. “I am sorry I can’t do anything to make it easier for you, I wish I could.”
“Yeah I know.” Sniffed Maaz.
Shaukat put an arm around Maaz and gave him a hug. “It will get less painful with time. That is one thing I know about.”
“It hurts a lot sometimes, and Mom is always so busy and I don’t want to make her sad. Baji only cares about her stupid exams and Khadija whines all the time. There’s no snow in Karachi, nothing is any fun.” Complained Maaz, his voice was becoming shaky.
“I wish there was snow in Karachi too. When I was young, we lived in Islamabad for some time, remember the stories I told you? You know it snows there in the winters.”
“It does? How far away is that? Did you play in it?” Maaz was curious to know about any place it snowed in Pakistan.
“Islamabad is not that far, you can even drive there, though it is a very long drive. But if you want some adventure on the way, then the drive isn’t too bad. By plane it is only about forty five minutes.”
“We wouldn’t be able to go then….” Maaz started sadly, any place that had to be reached by plane was obviously too far.
“I think maybe we could manage it…hmm….haven’t been there in a long time. My sister is there with her family and I would love to visit….” Shaukat smiled at Maaz.
“That would be great!” Maaz felt some excitement.
A grumpy, well ‘sweatered’ Khadija stumbled in, still sleepy from her nap. She curled up on the sofa to watch some T.V.
“What’s so great?” She asked Maaz, wanting to be let in on the news that had gotten Maaz excited.
“We’re going to go to Islamabad!” Exclaimed Maaz.
“So?” Pouted Khadija. “What’s Slamabad?”
“It snows there! It’ll be a lot of fun, it’s really far away, Nana how are we going to go? By plane or will Mamoo Jan drive us there?” Asked Maaz
“I don’t think Mashhood will be able to make it, we can go by plane. You and your sisters, me and your Nani and your mom.” Said Shaukat.
“What about Bajo?” Whined Khadija.
“She can come too if she wants.”
“Yay! This will be fun” Khadija had a sudden burst of energy and she ran around the house telling everyone about the anticipated adventure.
Ayesha came in gloomily on hearing the news, to ask her Nana what was going on.
“Nana that’s not fair! I’ll miss the trip! I have to study all the time and …”
“Don’t be silly, it will only be for a week, you can take your books and your notes with you. It will be fun, and you will get to meet your other cousins as well.”
“Then I won’t be able to study!” Now Ayesha was whining.
“Come on Baji you’re gonna spoil all our fun!” Argued Maaz.
“What fun?” Aaliya and Naheed spoke almost simultaneously as they came in from different directions. Aaliya had a tray of snacks and more cups of tea while Naheed, who was coming from her bedroom, had a sweater to further wrap Khadija in. Khadija squealed when she saw the sweater. Shaukat tried to fill them in on his plan, but it was difficult competing to be heard over Khadija’s wailing.
“It’s too hot! I feel like an ‘skimo! I’m not wearing that!” She was whining loudly.
Aaliya stepped in to avoid the noisy battle that would ensue between mother and daughter.
“Fine Jaanu, don’t wear it! Here have some hot chocolate, it will warm you up and you won’t need that itchy sweater. How many days do you plan on spending there Mian Bhai?”
“Bhabi…” Started Naheed.
“Naheed you are going to suffocate the child, it’s not that cold.” Interrupted Shaukat, impatient to tell all about their plan.
“What about me? You guys are making plans like we’re all on vacation. I can’t go with my exams so close!” Ayesha complained, she was getting worn out and grouchy from her stressful study schedule.
“Ayesha what has gotten in to you? I think you need a break, you are taking this exam preparation a little too seriously.” Naheed was surprised that Ayesha would react like this. Naheed realized she had been neglecting her two older children with all the wedding preparations and dealing with Khadija. Ayesha really did need a break, she looked horrible. Naheed noticed her messy ponytail. She hadn’t even bothered to brush her hair since God knows when.
“Mom, you know I can’t. There are just too many things to memorize I’m already a year behind. I don’t want to ..”
“Come on Aish don’t be silly, there are still a few months. You’ll breeze through your exams, you need a break before you get yourself sick. You haven’t been out in ages. My exams are coming up too, we will still have plenty of time.” Madiha was excited by her grandfather’s plan and tried to convince Ayesha.
“Oh you plan on going? What about all the things here that we have to get done for the wedding?” Aaliya questioned.
“Ammie! Islamabad, Murrey, shopping! All those sweaters and gorgeous shawls, all those great buys on Mall road?”
“Hmmm..you’re right count me in.” Said Aaliya.
“I’m not going!” Ayesha grimly stated.
“Yes you are!” Aaliya, Naheed, Madiha and Shaukat said almost all at once. All Ayesha could do was gape, open mouthed as they laughed and continued planning.
Their plans further progressed at the dinner table, everyone getting more excited at the prospect of the trip. Ali lamented at the unfairness, he had school and how could they leave him behind? Madiha brought a calendar off the wall to find a suitable weekend, there was a long weekend coming up, that way Ali could go and only miss a few days of school. They’d only be gone for a week anyways. Everyone would be going except Mashhood, who couldn’t manage to take time off from work. But he did look forward to the peace and quiet he would get with everyone gone. In fact Friday and Saturday night the whole house to himself, some old friends, a deck of cards, plenty of cigarettes, stories of the glory days and a much anticipated Cricket match. Yes he was definitely looking forward to his family’s trip to Islamabad.
That weekend Naheed made Ayesha go to Rashda’s. Ayesha seemed to have lost all contact with the world, the only company she had were text books and notes on lectures. Naheed realized Ayesha needed a break, she was getting too stressed out over the exams. Besides Naheed also wanted to spend some time with her children and a trip to Rashda’s would give them plenty of time together. She excused herself from a trip to the jewelers with Aaliya and Madiha that they had planned for Saturday. Naheed felt like it had been weeks since she had even talked to Maaz and Ayesha. Ayesha had not been as hard to convince as Naheed expected that she would. The fact was that Ayesha’s text books were driving her crazy and she couldn’t stand not seeing Mikhail for any longer.
Sabeen came to pick them up with the driver on Friday evening. Ayesha had been hoping Hasan might come with Mikhail. Salma had too. She genuinely liked Mikhail and the fact that he reminded her of someone led her thoughts back to him many times. She still hadn’t managed to talk to Hasan about Mikhail’s family. Hasan always seemed busy lately, it had been some time since he had been over and often Sabeen or her mother would come to pick up Naheed instead.
Hasan had been avoiding his trips to pick up Naheed because of Salma. He was wondering how his plan was going to progress and he was getting a bit worried, how would Naheed Chachi and her mother react to Mikhail’s proposal for Ayesha when Parveen approached them? He was wracking his brains for a solution and for the first time he, Hamza and Sabeen couldn’t seem to come up with a plan. Would Naheed say yes to Parveen? They were stuck. The worst of it was Hasan would be responsible for hurting two people he cared so much about. Mikhail was serious about Ayesha, what would happen if they couldn’t figure out a way to make this go smoothly? He didn’t want history to be repeated with Sheryaar’s nephew this time. And what about Ayesha? She liked Mikhail, Sabeen had assured him of that. What kind of predicament had he put her into? If Naheed says no, what will Ayesha feel? She certainly won’t put up a fight, he knew her too well. How would she get over it? After all the things she had just been through, she didn’t need any more disappointments. The only hope Hasan had was Divine Intervention. By some miracle Naheed and her family would like Mikhail so much they would overlook the fact that Sheryaar would be tied to their family in a very close and unavoidable way. It would definitely be awkward for Naheed. Her daughter being married to the nephew of her former suitor. And what about phase two of the plan? Naheed and Sheryaar? That could only happen if Ayesha and Mikhail get engaged and the two of them convince Naheed that this would be the perfect set up for their family. Divine Intervention, they really needed some and soon.
Mikhail was more than happy to accept Hasan’s invitation to join them for dinner out that Friday when he found out Ayesha was over for the weekend. He felt like he hadn’t seen her in ages, and he really missed her. He drove up to Pizza Hut where they were supposed to meet and parked impatiently. It was crowded inside, Friday night, and he couldn’t see them at their regular table. He looked around and saw Ayesha first. He just stared and it was as if she sensed he was there because she turned and saw him. And smiled. The most beautiful smile he had ever seen. One that did not hide how she felt. And from that moment everything changed for him. He felt like she had openly acknowledged her feelings for Mikhail, that gave him back some of his confidence.
Hasan turned and waved as Mikhail walked over, Mikhail waved back but he couldn’t take his eyes away from hers, they were having a conversation no one else could hear. Mikhail pulled out a chair they had saved for him and he was excitedly greeted by Maaz and Khadija. Khadija climbed over everyone to get to Mikhail and tell him all about the trip to Islamabad. They all started going through the menu together and as everyone got caught up in what to order, Mikhail was able to talk to Ayesha over Khadija’s head.
“Haven’t seen you in awhile…” which really meant ‘I’ve been missing you.’
“Yeah, I guess I have been going a little overboard with my studying. I should have taken a break and come last weekend.” Laughed Ayesha, and she really meant ‘I missed you too’.
They both understood perfectly what the other meant. Dinner was over too soon. And although Hasan never noticed anything unusual, he would have slapped himself if he had realized that just how hurt Ayesha and Mikhail could really get.
Nasreen often phoned Parveen to do some brainstorming on what they could do to bring Naheed and Sheryaar together in the near future. They were both getting impatient with the passage of time, although there was no rush. Neither of them was going anywhere and there was no deadline. But still Nasreen’s “if it has to be done, it should get done” approach was beginning to rub off on Parveen. She was getting as annoyed at her brother’s reluctance to even talk about the idea as Nasreen was getting with Naheed. But Mikhail’s revelation had given her some hope and she couldn’t help but be amazed at the coincidence. At the same time doubts nagged her, the same ones that nagged Hasan. What would Naheed say if Parveen ever approached her for Ayesha? Naheed had no clue that Mikhail was Parveen’s son. Until now, Nasreen had kept Parveen and everything related to Parveen in a very separate file. All those years ago when Salma and Shaukat had picked Faizan over Sheryaar, Nasreen knew she couldn’t finish her friendship with Parveen over her parents’ decision. She maintained her friendship quietly to avoid anyone feeling uncomfortable, so no one knew any details about Parveen.
Parveen wanted to share how Mikhail felt about Ayesha, maybe Nasreen could figure something out but at the same time she might just mess everything up in her rush to get things done. If Naheed found out too soon or in the wrong circumstances, who Mikhail was, she would flatly refuse the proposal. And history would repeat itself all over again. Sheryaar and Naheed. Mikhail and Ayesha. She couldn’t bear the thought of that happening to Mikhail. She realized she couldn’t keep this information from Nasreen much longer, one of these days Nasreen might bump into Mikhail at Salma’s house, it was a wonder she hadn’t already.
“Are you listening? What is wrong with you?” Nasreen irritably asked Parveen as they drank tea in Parveen’s room one early evening.
“Nothing why?” Answered Parveen trying to concentrate on what Nasreen was complaining about, her mind wandering around the parts of the problem, trying to solve them.
“Because you aren’t paying attention to what I am talking to you about. Did you have a fight with your husband or something?” Asked Nasreen.
“No, of course not. I was listening, and just thinking that’s all.”
“Well?” Asked Nasreen.
“Well what?” Asked Parveen smiling at Nasreen’s exasperated expression.
“Well have you come up with anything or not genius?”
“No. I can’t figure anything out. I don’t think we can rush them like this. They refuse to even consider anything right now. It has only been a few months Nasreen. You shouldn’t do this to Naheed. It is just too early for her. Let’s leave things for awhile maybe something will come up, and everything will just fall into place.” Said Parveen.
“Are you kidding me? How can things just fall into place? And the longer we give them and leave the topic, the more chances are that it will just get left altogether and nothing will ever come of it.” Nasreen was irritated at her friend’s suggestion.
“Nasreen, they are not kids, they are adults capable of making their own decisions. We can’t force them, what do you suggest we are going to do? Knock them out and get the Nikah done?”
“I don’t know, but that isn’t a bad idea you know! If all else fails…..” Laughed Nasreen, seeing the silly side of the situation. She knew Parveen was right. There was not much they could do. But Nasreen hated the inaction and the waiting. Parveen had that look again and Nasreen suspected she was keeping something to herself. This really bugged her, she couldn’t bear the curiosity.
“There is something you aren’t telling me. What is it? Is Sheryaar interested in someone else?” Asked Nasreen jumping to conclusions.
“No! Of course not! Don’t be so ridiculous. It isn’t anything like that.”
“Well it is something and it’s driving me crazy. You know I can’t stand suspense, so out with it.” Demanded Nasreen.
“Nasreen, I was just thinking we should leave the whole thing alone for awhile. Not even talk about it to Naheed or Sheryaar. Let’s just see what happens and….”
“Nothing will just happen. They’ll be glad we aren’t bugging them and forget the whole damn thing. What is it? You aren’t telling me something. You have gotten an idea haven’t you?” Nasreen would keep after her till she told whatever it was, Parveen thought about what to tell her.
“What if we can get them together indirectly, after some time? You know go about this another way?” Started Parveen.
“And just what is that ‘other way’?” Nasreen asked sarcastically.
Parveen thought for a few moments thinking about how to say what she wanted in a way that would convince Nasreen. The only way Nasreen could understand was when it was presented to her straight forward and no beating around the bush. Nasreen was losing her patience, what little of it she possessed, at Parveen’s seeming unwillingness to share her idea.
“Oh for Heaven’s sake! What is it woman?” Nasreen felt like pulling out her hair.
“What if what? Tell me before I pass out.” Interrupted Nasreen.
“What if we get Mikhail and Ayesha engaged, and then married as soon as they are both done with their studies.”
“Hah! We can’t get these two relatively docile personalities to listen to us and you plan on getting young minds of their own to agree to an arranged marriage? Maybe you have that much of a hold on Mikhail, but Ayesha! We won’t be able to get her to agree especially when she finds out you are the boy’s mother. She is really stubborn.” Said Nasreen.
“She must take after you,” laughed Parveen. “What if they like each other enough? And they think it is their own choice?” Asked Parveen her eyes starting to twinkle.
“Okay, I have had it! Out with it in one go! Stop talking like some over dramatic bad T.V serial. What is going on?” Nasreen demanded.
“Mikhail knows Ayesha very well. He’s Hasan’s best friend and he likes Ayesha. A lot. He’s over at Hasan’s every weekend when Ayesha is there and they all go out together quite a bit. From what Mikhail tells me sometimes I think Ayesha might have some feelings for him as well. So?” Asked Parveen.
“You have got to be kidding me! Hasan, Ayesha’s cousin? All this time! And we never knew what was going on? How could we have missed it? And no one knows who anyone is? This is one hell of a crazy coincidence. Did you tell Mikhail who Ayesha is, I mean the whole story with Sheryaar and Naheed?” Nasreen was stunned, this was great news.
“No of course not, that might scare him off. He’ll realize that Naheed would never say yes and he might stay away to avoid the whole situation.”
“We have got to speed up the process, eventually Naheed could find out who Mikhail is. What if she decides to interview him some day, you know just out of curiosity since the kids are going out together so much. That would ruin everything. We have got to get them engaged, but how? Once everyone meets you, it will be a catastrophe. This is getting complicated.” Nasreen wasn’t sure this new development was good or would just make everything worse.