Weak sunshine snuck in through the gap in the bedroom curtains as the sun rose in a haze of reds and pinks behind the jagged mountains of Azad Jammu and Kashmir across the deeply shadowed Jhelum Valley. I sleepily put the kettle on, fed Corvus the cow, gave the dogs their breakfast milk, fed the cheerfully squawking budgerigars in their cage on the living room window sill and ignored the insistent demands of the first pair of ‘Google-bop’ birds (so called because of the ‘google-bop’ sound they make) to return for the winter. They would have to wait their turn as I was not going to trudge down the garden to their feeding spot until after I had kick-started myself with at least two mugs of coffee.
My neighbour Olive Oil’s buffalo was bellowing to be let out so it could terrorise passersby and the Screech Owl was rushing her children to school. As I breakfasted on the front doorstep, I watched the sun burst over the mountain peaks, flooding the valley with brilliant light. The warmth permeated the atmosphere as the air filled with bird song and raucous google-bopping. These winter visitors usually hang out in the bare-leaved orchard until they are fed their daily ration of chopped apple. In another week or two, they will have become brave enough to snatch an apple from my outstretched hand.
I had my day all planned out with mundane chores: washing, vacuuming, making fresh juice, whizzing up another batch of humus, setting the fire and getting to grips with a humungous pile of paperwork. I had just filled up the cranky washing machine when IESCO infuriatingly altered my agenda by switching the power off. When the electricity hadn’t returned an hour later — time spent chopping wood and organising the fire — I phoned to find out what the schedule was. “We’re undertaking seasonal maintenance,” I was told. “Today’s work should be done by about 4 pm, or maybe 5 pm.” Blast it!
Having extravagantly used up the laptop battery by listening to music while I chopped, there was no alternative other than to occupy myself with chores that did not require electricity. At the top of a very long list was climbing up to the roof to clear leaves out of the rainwater collection nullahs. Having had to master my fear of heights many moons ago, I determinedly armed myself with a jharoo, trowel and a hammer. It had been a quite a long time since I had braved the ascent up the wobbly step-ladder. Climbing up, for yours truly, is, despite cowardly cotton wool knees, the easy bit. It is the getting back to earth that is so incredibly nerve-wracking and difficult. After a good hour and a half doing what had to be done and congratulating myself, it was time to steel myself for the downward descent. Somehow I misjudged distances and knocked away the ladder. I was stranded!
I walked around the sloping roof, exploring my pitiful options: Attempting to leap across the looming divide between the front part of the roof and a tree in the garden didn’t seem like a good idea and leaping off the back of the roof onto the top of a water tank was distinctly suicidal. It was then that I realised that Olive Oil’s roof adjoins mine and offered relatively easy access into the field above as her house is partially built into the hillside. Throwing my tools down on the front lawn I confidently strode across Olive Oil’s roof and was almost within reach of salvation when the totally unexpected happened. The roof gave way and I sank to my waist before managing, miraculously under the circumstances, to halt my fall by grabbing on to the roofing sheets around me. As I was hanging there, legs swinging, muttering unprintable curses, I considered the options available to me. Should I slide down completely into the house or try and haul myself back up and out. Dropping down was the easier option and this I managed to do just as an extremely startled Olive Oil, armed with a huge stick, cautiously entered her storeroom to investigate the cause of the commotion. What could I do, standing there, covered in bits of her rusty roof and debris with my feet buried in a heap of dried buffalo fodder, other than grin broadly and say “Good morning. Thought it was about time I dropped in!”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, December 25th, 2011.
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