The faint smell of attar and eager anticipation is in the air. A seventeen year old Fahtima paces on her terrace, awaiting his arrival. In less than two hours ammi would be home – where was the bloody fool? The sun is beating down on Fahtima’s hijab as she awaits Firoze, her new friend from college with eyes affixed on the rusty iron back gate. She is anxious because knows the fate of boys who get caught. They would get beaten with a cane and rusticated from college within days. Abbu had no patience for shararat, as Imad had learnt the hard way.
He was not like other boys. He sat next to her a week back because he came late to class and then sat next to her every day. Ammi had left to meet Rukhsar aunty in the morning and once Abbu left for work, the window was open to invite a boy over for kissing. But Firoze was late and she was not amused. Firoze would not show up. Neither to her house that day or to college the following week. No one seemed to know what had happened to him. Fahtima did not know where to look for him or seek answers to this familiar quandary.
A year passed and now she was forced to spend time with Uzair and go on long walks in the sabz baugs of the town. It was shy and awkward; he was not nice like Firoze. He stood ahead while she walked behind, pointing at the names of trees. Uzair was smart and ambitious. He had joined the youth wing of the local political party. Staying with him made sense.
Another year passed and now college was almost over. Abbu had finalized their iqrar. Uzair will be a minister one day, he would say proudly. His party had won the elections and Uzair was in the thick of it. Fahtima would spend several hours at the library preparing for her final exams and dreaming about her nikaah. One day, a strange thing happened to her in the library: she recognized the face of the new librarian’s assistance. It was a face she hadn’t seen in over two years. It was surreal.
Firoze had hunted her down and even found a job at the library! Your abbu beat me with a cane he cried! They made me go to a different college in Aligarh! It’s too late now, Fahtima tried explaining. The times were uncertain – old notes had been demonetized and there was pandemonium in the galli-mohohllas. These foolish people do not understand that the government has done this for their own good only, Uzair exclaimed at the reporter on the television who was relaying the plight of people suffering the consequences of demonetization.
He must be crazy, Fahtima thought. After all this time, the nerve to show up like this! I like Uzair – he’s stable and intelligent. He believes in the noble cause of eradicating black money. Even Abbu likes him and thinks he is right for me. This no time for indecision, Fahtu! She said, thinking aloud. Maybe I am a hoor after all for all these boys to want me so much.
Abbu must’ve beaten him senseless for him to still want me. Such love is admirable. With these thoughts, Fahtima went to bed. The next day, Fahtima finds Firoze again in the library. She is unable to pay any attention to her books and leaves. After a few months, her nikaah to Uzair takes place. She fails her exams but Uzair gets her papers cleared unlawfully as he is well connected.
After several years, Fahtima is invited to college for a reunion. Firoze is still at the library and asks her how she is doing. She begins to sob. I made a mistake, he is not a nice man. I mean, he takes care of me but I’m not allowed to go out much. I don’t even know if he loves me anymore. Abbu wants me to stay with him till I die. I have no skills, didn’t pay attention in College and now I am useless Firoze.
No you’re not Firoze says, you’re wonderful. If it isn’t too late, I’d like another chance. She wipes her tears and smiles.