It’s been a rumbly, grumbly, thundery sort of day today with periodic sun rays selecting targets at random: the rump of a woe begone mule; the grime-encrusted face of a child; the wedding finery of a teenage girl; the red, bronze and yellow tinged leaves of autumnal trees and, most surprisingly of all, the luminescent snow white feathers of a confused homing pigeon resting beneath a suddenly glowering mass of piled up dull grey clouds. There was ‘that’ kind of feel in the air. An atmosphere of something a little off balance. A day to expect the unexpected. A day that didn’t disappoint! The morning progressed with one unlikely event after another.
The painted China Doll, who resides in a house overgrown with trees, called from her overgrown field, her tinkling, teeth-grating tone setting the dogs off in a flurry of frenzied barking. “Zahrah Auntiiii, Zahrah Auntiiiii, Zahrah Auntiiiiiiiii! You are coming to the wedding aren’t you? You’re already late so I’ve come to get you and do you have a silver bag I can borrow to match my shoes. Silver nail polish too, although gold would be okay?”
The China Doll – her actual name escapes me – is a scaled up, insubstantial version of the porcelain Cinderella in a midnight blue, star-dotted ball gown and has earned me the reputation of a ‘healer’. When I met her, she was throwing the most incredibly childish fit, weeping, wailing, rolling her eyes, drooling, stamping her feet and gurgling nonsense in a relative’s kitchen when the two frightened girls sent to fetch me hauled me in. Other women were standing around in awe having tried, and failed, with every calming remedy they could think off.
Having ascertained that the China Doll wasn’t an epileptic, wasn’t ill, wasn’t in shock, wasn’t anything other than furious at being refused the loan of a piece of jewellery she fancied, I did what any other disgusted person in their right mind would have done and slapped her, hard, across the face. She has determinedly haunted me ever since. Materialising as she does, out of bushes, from behind slender tree trunks, out of morning mist, evening gloom and completely out of nowhere, she is never attired in anything but her spotless best. No rags for this particular Cinderella I can tell you. She is in training to be a lady but once forgot herself as far as to ask to borrow the lawnmower although how she was going to magic it home, unless she expected me to carry it up for her, is quite beyond me and since I did not lend it to her, I never did find out.
Not owning a silver bag or any shade of nail polish at all I couldn’t lend them to her but get me to the wedding she would, as would the two dozen women and teenage girls (my three English students among them) who had periodically hammered on the front gate all morning. Donning the first ironed shalwar kameez that came to hand, I reluctantly toddled off to join the ‘clan’ . . . and walked straight into Amy Winehouse!
Queen of the big-hair brigade, six inches of false eyelashes plastered into place with six inches of mascara outlined with so much eyeliner that she resembled a chimney sweeps brush with a lurid red mouth, this out of place vision, balancing on six inches of strappy gold stiletto heels, a heavily embroidered crimson and gold churridar, vastly overworked shirt, six inch long earrings and an extraordinary feather boa kind of duppata filling all the gaps in between, lit up a cigarette in a six-inch-long golden holder, strutting her stuff as she cursed, in a rough London accent into her glittery mobile phone. Good grief!
Who on earth invited Amy Winehouse to this little mountain wedding in rural Pakistan?!
“Whorrryou?” she asked as I stared in fascination. “Everybody’s staring at me at all the time and I don’t know why. Itsorrible. Whasmatterwiem?”
“It’s your shoes” I gulped. “They’re awestruck by your shoes.”
Cornering one of my students, an exceptionally bright young lady in her early twenties, I suggested she introduce herself to the seventeen-year-old London Pakistani who was a relative of the groom-to-be and surprise her by speaking in English. Off she went, her extremely smart peach and cream chiffon jora flowing in the breeze, duppata demurely in place and a wicked gleam in her eye. Marching up to Amy Winehouse with her hand extended, she said a few words and marched back, leaving Amy totally gobsmacked!
“That was quick,” I said in surprise. “What did you say to her? She looks shocked.”
“I was down at my Uncle’s house in Rawalpindi last week,” she explained. “My cousins are over from Manchester and one of them – he’s fourteen – taught me some new words so I practiced those.”
“What did you say?” I repeated in trepidation. “Come on. Tell me.”
“Well Aunty. I don’t like her and I don’t like how she’s dressed or how she is carrying on. She is the kind of girl who get’s Pakistanis a bad name.”
“Out with it. What did you say?”
“I know it isn’t very nice Aunty but my cousin told me that it’s what you say when you want somebody to go away.”
“What?” I demanded, trying to keep my voice down.
“Well…..I just told her, ‘F*** off you b******. F*** off back to London, we don’t want you here.’”
Stunned speechless at first, I then had to bite my lip in an attempt at stifling the volcanic eruption of laughter and instruct my prize student absolutely never to say this again….ever…..and that I’d explain a little more when she came for her next lesson which I, by the way, am dreading as she is sure to have learned more in a similar vein if my knowledge of Lancashire teenagers is anything to go by.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Amy Winehouse was quietly filing her blood-red talons and planning her revenge over by a prickly rose bush and, with visions of mayhem and even murder in my overcrowded mind, I went to calm her down. which is when the china doll tapped my shoulder and whispered “Zahrah Auntiii. The bride has locked herself in the washroom and refuses to come out. She says she doesn’t want to get married. Her mother is crying. The bride is crying. The bridegroom has just arrived. The maulvi is waiting, there are 300 hundred guests and she refuses to come out. We need you to talk to her please.”
The moral of the story: When weird atmospheric conditions prevail and there is ‘that’ kind of feeling floating around, it is best to lie low until after the storm has broken and sanity is safely restored.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2010.
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