The parking lot seemed dark and deserted, the hair on her neck stood up and she decided immediately to go back...
December 20, 2011.
Beep, beep, beep.
Sameen took a deep breath and flipped open her cell phone.
“Blue jeans, grey t-shirt.”
The car stopped in traffic. Sameen began tapping her foot impatiently. There wasn’t much time left until he would be waiting there. And sure as that was, her phone blinked,
“Where are you?”
She suddenly felt flustered and snapped at her driver to somehow speed the car through the massive traffic jam.
“Stuck at a signal,” she texted back. “Be there in ten.”
He was already there and had been waiting for her.
Sameen suddenly felt her blood pressure drop all over again.
For the past two weeks she had been talking to someone she had met through one of the study portals at her university. Thanks to the sprawling campus and hundreds of students, they had never run in to each other but ended up talking via emails. What started off as an exchange of information turned into banter and pretty soon, Sameen found herself wondering if she should say 'yes' to meeting him.
Her friends had encouraged the notion. They had encouraged the idea that Sameen should stop thinking about what happened in the past and let bygones be bygones and start something new in her life.
So there she was.
When the car finally made its way through the sea of trucks, bikes and rickshaws, her breath was dry and her palms were sweating. When the mall was in sight, she tried to calm her nerves repeating to herself what her counsellor had told her for months,
“You can do this.”
Taking a deep breath, she walked towards the coffee enclave he had chosen for them to meet.
December 22, 2011.
“He didn’t meet you? Why?”
Farah was in a huff. Sameen had called her to tell her about what had happened at the coffee shop. That she had waited for two hours and despite the text message, despite her calling him a million times, he was missing in action.
“Maybe he took one look at me and left.”
Farah sat down next to her and gave her shoulder a little squeeze.
“Pagal ho,” Farah hugged her. “You’re a knock-out.”
“Let’s just go home. The car will be here in a while anyway. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.”
She got up and gave Farah a look so weary, Farah could feel the energy being seeped from her own legs.
“Well, at least we know who to watch out for now. What was his name again?”
Sameen absentmindedly fiddled with her braid.
December 15, 2007.
Sameen was laughing so hard there were tears coming out of her eyes.
It was the night before Farah’s wedding and she was having a blast. Everyone was either dancing or cracking jokes. There were fireworks, songs and bhangras. Sameen was absorbing every bit of happiness that came her way. Her dark eyes glittered with excitement as she bit into a gulaab jamun and did a little dance that seemed in perfect harmony with the evening.
She got up to help Farah’s cousins set roses on the path but as she moved quickly, the tray full of little mehndi cups slipped, destroying the entirety of the front of Sameen’s beautiful dress.
“Oh no!” she wailed.
“Farah, what am I going to do?!”
“Ohho, don’t worry!”
Farah said quickly from under the yellow veil.
“Go change into something of mine. It’ll fit you. But first go ask one of the maids to take care of your dress. They’re probably in the kitchen in the back and you’ll have to go to their quarters. Oh, don’t worry, you’re going to be okay. You’d look beautiful even if you had a dastarkhwaan wrapped around yourself!”
Sameen nodded and went through the drawing room towards the servant quarters.
Suddenly she saw the guard.
“Ahmed! Where is Riffat? I’ve been looking for her!”
Ahmed looked puzzled.
“She’s out in the car park. Her husband had come to drop something off for her. Why are you looking for her, Baji?”
She didn’t wait for Ahmed to finish his question and rushed out the back door.
The plot behind Farah’s house was mostly used for parking purposes or for big events. It wasn’t lit as brightly as it usually was because one of the street lights had fallen victim to load-shedding. Everyone else was inside partying that night.
“Riffat!” she called out. “Riffat!”
No one answered.
The parking lot seemed dark and deserted, the hair on the back of her neck stood up and she decided immediately to go back inside the house and turned to head inside.
The voice was too close. The breath was too close. The manly cologne was too close. She turned around and was staring at the black kameez of what seemed to be a boy her age but at least eight inches taller.
“I just –”
He said something that Sameen couldn’t hear. For months, Sameen racked her brain to recall what he’d said.
Those exact words.
But her counsellor had always said that it was never about the words. It was about what he did after he uttered those words.
She had returned to the house with bruises on her face and torn clothes. She had escaped into Farah’s room without anyone noticing and had hid there until Farah had come inside to use the washroom. The moment she saw Sameen huddled under a blanket she knew something was very very wrong.
As quietly as possible, she was rushed to an emergency room. Sameen’s mother shed silent tears, the look in Sameen’s father’s eyes was impossible to take in for more than thirty seconds and Sameen’s face was hidden from everyone except her parents and physicians for the next few weeks. The first person she saw was Farah and it reminded Farah of badly made portraits where the people had no light in their eyes, faces or bodies.
January 31, 2012.
“How is Sameen doing, Farah?”
Farah sighed at her mother’s question.
“I don’t know, Ma. I – just don’t know at times.”
Her mother joined her at the breakfast table,
“The poor dear.”
“It just kills me, Ma. To see her like this, to see her die every day in her grief.”
“She’s seeing the counsellor, isn’t she?”
“Yeah but it’s been years. And no one’s done anything. Anything! The guy who did that to her is …”
“Still at large, yes, beta, I know.” Mrs Khan sighed. “It’s a terrible tragedy, it really is.”
“I wish I could turn back time and stop her from falling over those mehndi trays. I wish I could stop her from going out to look for Riffat. I wish I could go back to the parking lot and see who the man was.”
Farah looked away.
Mrs Khan shook her head dolefully.
“There wasn’t anyone in that parking lot that night. We’ve had this discussion so many times now, Farah. Everyone’s gotten it memorised. There was no one except Riffat who had already seen her husband leave, even we’d seen him leave. He was gone much before Sameen went there. There was no one except Nighat Aunty’s driver, who was fast asleep and he is a hundred years old and Sameen recognised the attacker as wearing a black shirt and he was a young boy. And Hunain had come to pick her up late anyway...”
Farah stopped in her tracks.
“Hunain, beta. Nighat Aunty’s son. He had come to pick her up but she said he wasn’t there for another hour… Farah! What’s come over you? You just spilt your tea! Riffat! Riffat, come here and clean this up! Riffat!”
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