A Murder in Multan

A.M. Sardar

Cover Art by Ash Collins

Proofed by Lyndsay Hill

Copyright © 2018 by A.M. Sardar v1.0

* * *


My inspirational sister, Dr Razia Ismail MBE

* * *


Part 1

Punjab, Pakistan 1986

* * *


Day 1: Monday

"What a fucking bitch," he whispered.

Lahore Airport
"Who are you ?" asked the surly immigration officer.
"Dr Shujaat Khan," replied the tired man, his face covered with a thin layer of perspiration.
The immigration officer looked at him closely. The man was in his early to mid-twenties, clean-shaven with a long narrow face, deep brown eyes and light brown skin dressed in a light tan jacket with jeans and a loose blue t-shirt.
"Dr?" he asked with a curious look.
"PhD," replied Shujaat with a wry smile; it was an explanation he had given far too often for his liking.
"Not a real doctor then," sneered the officer.
Before Shujaat could reply, the man stamped his passport and flicked it dismissively on to the counter.
Shujaat stepped out onto the blistering concourse outside the arrivals lounge and scanned the crowd fruitlessly for his cousin. Emaciated, dark-skinned porters jostled forward, eager to relieve him of his luggage, and large rotund money-changers, with their fashionable aviator sunglasses, excitedly shouted exchange rates, equally eager to relieve him of his sterling currency.
He pushed past them with difficulty, his inherent English timidity obliging him to utter numerous apologies for his actions. The suitcase started to weigh him down and the strap of his bag cut deeply into his shoulder. A thin rivulet of sweat worked its way down the side of his face and dripped onto his shirt collar. His first visit to Pakistan after nearly fifteen years was going as badly as he'd anticipated. Suddenly, a hand grabbed at his suitcase and tried to yank it from him, he forcibly resisted and turned angrily to confront the thief. It was a porter, a young skinny man, who started to plead with him in Punjabi.
" Please, sir. Let me carry it for you."
Shujaat eyed the man suspiciously, could he be trusted? Would he abscond with his clothes? He had been warned repeatedly by his friends in England that Pakistan was a cut-throat murderous society where everyone was out to do you in. Another rivulet of sweat started its journey down the back of his neck and that was the last straw. He let go of the suitcase, unburdened himself of the shoulder bag and said, in halting Punjabi, "Stay close to me ."
The porter eagerly took the baggage, gave a toothy smile and nodded enthusiastically.
Shujaat looked across the concrete pavement, the ranks of buses and taxis incessantly beeping their horns as weary travelers rushed to complete the final leg of their journey. Single horse carriages, known locally as tangas, weaved through the traffic causing mayhem as horses moved erratically, or else defecated freely whilst their drivers cursed and lashed out with their whips. Professional beggars alternated between showering passers-by with blessings and curses as they tried to extract money from the new arrivals.
A strong wind whipped across the car park blowing dust and debris into Shujaat's face. He spat out the dust, certain he could taste horse manure, and mused he would most definitely have amoebic dysentery by the end of the day. He thought for a moment about going straight to the departures lounge and catching the next flight back to London. But he knew that wasn't feasible; there would be an almighty row if he failed to arrive in Multan for his cousin's wedding. He had managed to fly thousands of miles from London to Lahore, but the final two hundred miles or so to the ancient fort city of Multan were proving considerably more difficult.
The porter waited patiently next to him, content that he had secured an English Babu with sterling who would no doubt tip generously. Shujaat glanced at the porter and wondered if he charged for idling time, like a taxi stuck in a traffic jam, or did he charge by the weight he had to carry? His thoughts were interrupted by a loud cry of "Shujaat! Oh, Shujaat!"
He turned around to stare at his cousin Kaiser, a stout young man, not much older than himself, with a large well-oiled handle-bar moustache and the obligatory aviator sunglasses. They hugged awkwardly, Kaiser insisted on giving him the mandatory three hugs alternating between the left and right sides, whilst Shujaat struggled to break free.
Behind Kaiser stood another young man, also wearing a large moustache and aviator sunglasses, and he gave Shujaat a curt nod and a half-hearted 'Salaam' greeting. Shujaat surmised that the friend had been roped in to act as an unwilling taxi driver.
At this point, the porter put the bags down and asked for payment for carrying them. Unfortunately, Kaiser had other ideas and he gave the man ten rupees and rudely shoved him away. The porter refused to go away and demanded more money, Kaiser swore and kicked out at the man but the man retaliated and they began to push each other.
As bystanders started to take an interest in the fight Shujaat's patience snapped. He shouted in Punjabi, "Buss karo!" and then added "Stop it!"
Kaiser and the porter paused momentarily, taken aback by Shujaat's anger, and looked awkwardly at each other.
"How much?" asked Shujaat.
The porter suddenly became reluctant to name a price, mysteriously started to rub his leg, as if it was in pain, and started to complain how he'd been abused and beaten up-all exaggerated charges and hurt pride, which Shujaat instantly dismissed. He handed a one hundred rupee note to the man who took it grudgingly, as if he was doing them a favour. Kaiser started to protest but Shujaat waved away his protests and they left the arrival concourse.
They walked silently for a while and when Shujaat handed some loose change to a boy begging nearby Kaiser snorted with derision.
"If you keep giving money away," observed Kaiser warily, "you'll end up begging with him."
Shujaat smiled at his cousin and teased, "You can always keep me company!"
The mood lifted, and the two cousins started chatting amicably, with Kaiser closely questioning Shujaat about the journey and how pretty the air stewardesses were. Unfortunately, the spirits took a decidedly downward spiral when Kaiser stopped in the car park in front of a Honda motorcycle.
"Where's the car?" asked Shujaat bewildered.
Kaiser smiled awkwardly, "This will be okay. The bus station is not far."
A horrified look crossed Shujaat's face, "We're going to Multan by bus?"
Kaiser's smile stayed resolutely fixed on his face and he said, "Not far, bus is good."
"Are you fucking crazy? That's over two hundred miles," snapped Shujaat.
"It'll be fine," insisted Kaiser.
Shujaat gave him a filthy look and nodded at the motorcycle, "Go on then, show me."
Kaiser brightened at the challenge set by Shujaat. His friend moved quickly to the motorcycle, kick started it and moved forward on the seat leaving a space behind him. Kaiser told Shujaat to sit behind his friend, gave him the shoulder bag to hold and he then climbed on the small luggage rack at the back and balanced the suitcase on his head.
"Good grief," sighed Shujaat.
The motorcycle weaved through the morning traffic to a chorus of car horns, curses and near-death collisions with gaudily decorated trucks and clapped-municipal buses. Shujaat clutched his bag tightly, certain they would be run over by a bus or lorry. The fear coursed through him but he resolutely hung on, worried he would lose face if he betrayed his fears. On two occasions the motorcycle swerved to avoid a certain-collision and nearly spilled the three of them onto the road. Kaiser smiled unconvincingly from the back, grimly holding the suitcase above his head with one hand whilst clinging onto the motorcycle with his other.
After a short journey they arrived at Lahore Bus Station, a dilapidated building of uncertain origin choking in wandering passengers and diesel fumes from decrepit old buses. Shujaat gratefully jumped off the motorcycle, thanked the driver and waited patiently for his torment in Pakistan to continue.
Kaiser thrust a few rupees into his friend's top pocket, patted him on the back in appreciation and then waved him off as the motorcycle sped away. He placed the suitcase next to Shujaat and gestured to him to stay put whilst he disappeared inside the booking hall, rudely pushing beggars and slow passengers out of the way.
Shujaat stood silently by his luggage surveying the scene as the huge over-laden bulbous coaches, with metals bars over their windows and elaborate Urdu calligraphy plastered over them, slowly inched their way out all accompanied by the incessant beeping of their horns. Shujaat smiled at the bundles and suitcases piled high on their roofs, accompanied by passengers stoically perched like crows too tired to fly.
"Got it," shouted Kaiser from the booking hall entrance, waving their tickets as he dodged between coaches.
He picked up the suitcase and urged Shujaat to follow as they hurried to their coach for Multan, a two-hundred-mile journey on a poorly-maintained, single lane road.
Shujaat was beginning to enjoy the experience of visiting Pakistan and, he reasoned, once you ignored the noise, pollution , beggars, charlatans, thieves, reckless drivers and gaudy marketing, the place had a chaotic charm. A genuine 'let's get on with it' spirit, which was in marked contrast to the regulated and overly-disciplined English society he was used to.
Alas, just then fate decided to spit in his tea. Kaiser turned to him and, with a slightly embarrassed look, admitted, "We have to go on top."
Shujaat's eyes followed the step ladder on the side of the bus up to the top where the unfortunate crow passengers, as he mentally referred to them, were arranging themselves amongst the luggage.
"Are you fucking kidding me?"
Kaiser didn't understand what 'kidding' was, but he surmised his cousin wasn't best pleased. He merely shook his head and said, "Sorry, yaar, all full inside."
"Alright," replied Shujaat, "we'll get the next one."
Kaiser pulled an awkward lopsided grin and said, "No good, next one's all full; inside and top."
Shujaat seethed with imponent fury, his mind toyed with abandoning his cousin and going back to the airport and never setting foot in Pakistan again.
His thoughts were interrupted by a nudge from Kaiser who was motioning him to go up.
Shujaat sighed miserably and scrambled up the ladder, much to the amusement of the passengers inside who gestured and passed rude comments about the English Babu climbing the ladder.
He managed to locate a perch in the middle, nodded politely at the woman with her dupatta half-pulled across her face, quickly turned away when her husband started scolding her and assumed the stoic gaze of a crow passenger. Kaiser manhandled his luggage onto the roof, nodded at Shujaat, who deliberately ignored him, and sat down next to him.
The driver gave a loud deafening blast on his horns which startled Shujaat, making him jump momentarily, much to the amusement of the dupatta woman who received a sharp elbow from her husband for her forwardness.
The vehicle lurched ahead throwing everyone on top forward and Shujaat realised with a sudden jolt that travelling on the roof was a death-trap. There were no seats or belts and any emergency braking or stopping would propel the passengers off the top onto the road below.
Shujaat gritted his teeth, tightly gripped the roof rack bars and settled back to enjoy the drive. The ride was as nerve-racking as he had imagined, the view from the top was extraordinary, and so was the visibility of the oncoming traffic and hazards that the coach driver had to navigate around and through. More than once Shujaat was certain they were about to crash but either the oncoming vehicle swerved, or the hazard quickly vacated the road. After over three hours of disturbing crow-class travel the coach stopped to let off a few passengers and Shujaat insisted they get off the roof and secure some seats. After much cajoling and pleading, including a few rupee notes pressed into the conductor's hand, they were allowed to enter the relative safety of the coach.
The seats were plastic, the iron bars on the windows another death trap and the air inside was fetid and humid, but Shujaat was past caring. He moved towards the back of the coach, saw an empty space and sat down heavily next to a painfully thin dark-skinned man. He glanced up and realised Kaiser hadn't found a seat and was preparing to sit on the floor for the next five hours. He turned to the man and said, in Punjabi, "I'll give you a hundred rupees if you let my friend sit there."
The man's eyes flickered as he tried to assess the offer and then asked, "Where do I sit?"
Shujaat nodded to the floor and the man understood. He nodded his agreement, Shujaat handed him the note and the man eased past him off the seat.
"Kaiser!" shouted Shujaat and gestured him to come sit with him.
Kaiser quickly made his way down, stepped past the man whose seat he'd acquired, sat down gratefully next to his cousin and said, "Thanks yaar, meharbani."
Shujaat gave him a sardonic look, suppressed a small grin and tried to sleep his way back to England.

* * *


Day 2: Tuesday

Shujaat was awoken from a deep sleep by the call to morning prayers, Fajr Azaan, coming from an overhead loudspeaker in the street. Slowly his senses returned and he recalled the events of their late-night arrival, the hurried welcome from his uncle, the polite refusal of food and then the sleeping arrangements.
A slight snore from behind his back reminded him he was actually sharing Kaiser's bedroom. He gently placed back the stray leg, which was digging into his back, and surveyed the room, which was slightly run-down, in need of paint, and heavily decorated with posters of Bollywood films stars and various cricketers.
He lay in bed wondering if he was supposed to get up and pray, but when Kaiser showed no sign of stirring he decided to do as the locals do and enjoy the solitude. His body still ached from the travel which he had endured, details of which Kaiser begged him not to reveal to his family, but he was starting to enjoy the experience. It would be strange engaging with people and places he had abandoned over fifteen years ago; would he remember them? Would they remember him? An exciting apprehension crept through him as he tried to imagine how his relatives would act. He had left as an illiterate child and now he was returning as an educated man; he had changed greatly but would his relatives acknowledge that.
Kaiser stirred pushing his leg across the bed. He was obviously used to sleeping alone and was subconsciously reverting to his usual sleeping pattern. Shujaat decided to let his cousin enjoy his sleep and he carefully got up from the bed. He managed to retrieve his toothbrush and toothpaste from his shaving kit, quietly left the room and wandered through the narrow corridors of the house searching for the kitchen. He came out into a small central courtyard, surrounded by rooms, and remembered the kitchen was located at the far end. He crossed the yard and was about to enter when the door opened quickly and a slim young girl, in her mid-teens, nearly collided with him.
"Sorry, sorry," he apologised hurriedly and the girl burst into giggles.
"Salaam Babu," she said eagerly.
Shujaat smiled in response and asked if he could get a glass of water.
She nodded, swiftly disappeared inside and then emerged with a long steel glass filled with cool water.
Shujaat thought for a moment and asked the girl how he could get to the roof. She quickly pointed out the narrow stairs under an arch and then asked, "Chai saab?"
He nodded and said, "Yes, thank you," and then waited uncertainly.
She understood and waved him away, "Go, go, you go."
Shujaat thanked her again, crossed the courtyard to the arch and started to carefully climb the narrow steps to the top.
He stepped out into the bright autumnal sunshine of Pakistan and gazed across the flat concrete roof and out at the neighbourhood. Sights and sounds of his childhood flooded back to him; the square houses haphazardly nestling tightly next to each other, their flat roofs at odd heights to each other with roof aerials on long bamboo poles swaying in the gentle breeze. A slight dusty haze hung across the scene giving the morning light a brittle quality, something he hadn't seen in England and, as always, the incessant drone of the traffic played in the background.
Shujaat leaned on the low brick wall surrounding the roof and gazed around the houses. The roof had an excellent vantage point allowing him to look across and down onto other rooftops and courtyards. He could clearly make out women preparing breakfast in their courtyards, children playing on rooftops, people walking along the narrow streets below him and, above him, kitty hawks circled lazily in the bright sky.
He finished brushing his teeth just as the kitchen girl arrived with his chai in a long glass and cake rusks all neatly arranged on a tray.
"Shukriya…," he began and then trailed off when he realised he didn't know the girl's name.
"Kaneeze," she said quickly.
"Shukriya Kaneeze."
She smiled back, became self-conscious, suppressed a nervous laugh, turned and quickly left him.
The milky chai had been well brewed, seasoned with vanilla pods, fennel seeds and cardamom, and was wonderfully refreshing. He was enjoying the chai and cake rusks when his attention was drawn to the rooftop across the street directly below him. The house was a modest affair, smaller and lower than his uncle's house. The young woman on the rooftop was noisily washing clothes in a large plastic tub, picking them up and throwing them down into the soapy water, spraying herself and the ground around her. She was in her early to mid-twenties , reasoned Shujaat, with a full figure, sharp fair features and her black hair tightly plaited. Her duputta had slipped from her bosom revealing her pale white cleavage as she squatted on the ground twisting and turning the clothes. The water splashed up again across her front making her kameez cling tightly to her breasts, clearly revealing the generous shape. She paused for a moment, wiped her forehead with a soapy forearm and then looked up at Shujaat. Their eyes locked, a sly smile played on her lips as she brazenly gazed at him and, just as he became self-conscious that he was staring at her, she emitted a loud 'hmm', flicked her plait out of the way and returned to her washing.
Shujaat quickly looked away, the situation was becoming awkward, but before he could decide what to do Kaiser shouted from the courtyard below, "Shujaat! Shujaat! Come down, everyone's come to meet you."
He quickly moved to the parapet, which looked down into the courtyard, saw his cousin looking, waved at him and said, "Coming."
He went back to retrieve his empty cup and glass, gave one last look at the woman on the other rooftop who was busy rinsing the clothes in clean water, and carefully made his way down the narrow stairs.
The scene in the courtyard had been transformed with a row of low tables set for breakfast for the guests. Piles of sizzling fresh fried chapatis, known locally as parathas, were laid out with trays of spicy omelettes, whilst jugs of orange juice, milk and lassi jostled next to glasses of steaming chai, bowls of yoghurt and plates of cake rusks. Servants ran from the kitchen to the tables replenishing the items as a large stout woman barked orders at them.
Shujaat was still trying to absorb the scene when his mother crossed the courtyard, hugged him tightly, kissed him lightly on the cheek and said, "We waited for you, but it got so late."
She was nearly fifty years old but wore her age well. She had managed to maintain her slim figure, unlike her peers who had ballooned after their marriage, she had a modern haircut with loose curls and she liked to wear fashionable clothes; the benefits, as such, of widowhood and a single well-earning son. Shujaat pampered his mother, he knew she had suff ered greatly when his father had died suddenly, but rather than remarry, as her relatives insisted, she had steadfastly refused and had dedicated her life to raising her only son. In return he had repaid her sacrifice with a devotion and attentiveness she prized above all else.
"Blame Kaiser and his stupid bus," he replied.
"Well you're here now," she said beaming and kissed him again.
"Where are you staying?"
"My classmate has a house in the next street," she explained, "there's no space here with all these guests."
"I know, I had to share a bed with Kaiser. Who are all these people?" he asked with a dry smile, sizing up the cacophonous scene before him as people laughed merrily, shouted immodestly and demanded more parathas or spicy omelettes.
"It's a shaadi house," she whispered.
"I know there's a wedding," he said teasingly, "that's why I'm here."
His mother led him to his uncle; a rotund bald man who was always cheerful and jovial. He was actually his mother's uncle and his grand-uncle, but in Pakistan everyone ended up using the same title.
"Salaam Mamuji," said Shujaat.
"Salaam Doctorsaab," he replied and patted his head in the traditional manner, "come and eat."
Shujaat suppressed a smile; his uncle was obviously very proud of him to use the formal title and he knew it was a tacit acknowledgement of everything his mother had achieved as a single parent.
His aunt waddled over and gave him a warm hug, "Why are you standing?" she admonished, "come, sit and eat."
Shujaat thanked his aunt but first had to meet his cousin Yacoub, the lucky bridegroom, who would soon be enjoying the comforts of a regular sex life. He hugged his cousin, congratulated him with mock sincerity and silently pitied the girl who would receive this specimen of Pakistani manhood. Yacoub had fashioned his style after the Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachhan and had dressed exclusively in white with big collars, open chested shirts, cuffs rolled back and an ever-permanent pair of sunglasses under the mistaken impression he would be recognised and mobbed by passing beggars.
"I'm getting married, you know," Yacoub said, "give me a big hug."
Shujaat gave a weak smile, nodded his head in agreement, broke the embrace and quickly stepped back. Yacoub would start each conversation with, "I'm getting married, you know," to family, friends and passing strangers. This was doubly irksome; his friends and relatives already knew and strangers didn't want to know. His impending wedding had attracted a gang of rowdy casual friends who accompanied him everywhere. They knew there would be plenty of food and opportunities for mixing with girls and indulging in some light flirting; what the locals euphemistically called chehr-khani but what Shujaat recognised as pestering and stalking.
"Enough, let the Doctorjsaab eat," shouted Mamu Sarwar, handing Shujaat a plate and indicating he should sit next to him and his mother.
Shujaat smiled, helped himself to the omelette and paratha and watched with amusement as his Mamu tried to force ever more food onto his mother's plate. It was obvious he was very fond of her and fussing over them was his very public display of affection.
It was a curiosity of Pakistani culture, mused Shujaat, that, even in an extended family where relationships became inordinately complicated, there was a clear demarcation between your father's side of the family, known as Daadke, and your mother's side, known as Naanke. The title Mamu clearly defined the person as a maternal uncle whereas paternal uncles were called either Thaya, older brother, or Chachu, younger brother.
"So, tell us Doctorsaab," said Mamu Sarwar loudly, "what do you do in England?"
Shujaat suppressed a chuckle and between a mouthful of paratha replied, " Mamu, please call me Shujaat."
"Nonsense, you've earned the right. You have a PhD," explained his uncle unnecessarily and then waved a large hand at the others and added unkindly, "unlike this lot."
Shujaat put down his plate, "Please Mamu, no more ' Doctorsaab' it's embarrassing."
Mumu Sarwar pulled a face showing his displeasure but shrugged as if in acquiescence.
"And I'm sure if they had the opportunity, they would all be equally qualified," he added graciously.
His uncle scoffed with derision at the suggestion but, to move the conversation forward, he replied, "Alright, Shujaat, tell us what you do."
"Well Mamu, I'm a forensic scientist."
"What's that?" one of Yacoub's friends shouted.
"Well," he smiled, "when a crime has been committed I help the police catch the criminal."
The general chitchat subsided as everyone paid rapt attention to what Shujaat was telling them.
"Let's suppose a woman…" he began but was quickly interrupted.
"You mean a gori?" someone corrected.
"Yes, a gori, an English woman, has been murdered. The police send us to where the person was murdered to see what we can learn."
"But what do you do?" asked another friend.
"Well, let's suppose this gori is found dead in her home, stabbed."
They all nodded eagerly, imaging the scene before them; unfortunately, some were a little side tracked.
"Is she pretty?"
"Chup kar!" snapped Yacoub, enjoying his cousin's story.
"I examine how she was actually killed," continued Shujaat. "Was she stabbed? Is there blood? Is it her blood or the killer's? Was she tied up? Did she fight back? Maybe she scratched their face or arms? We take samples from beneath her fingers, perhaps she has the killer's skin under her nails? We look at the body, was there a struggle? Did someone hold her arms or wrists? Are there bruises on her body? Each murder scene tells a story; where the killer came in, where the argument started, where the victim ran to escape, what she grabbed to defend herself, how she was actually killed and what the killer did afterwards.
"We gather all these clues together and tell the police everything, so they can catch the killer. And when they catch the person we give evidence in court saying what we found and what it means," concluded Shujaat.
"Do a lot of goris get killed?" asked Yacoub.
"Unfortunately, too many, but we usually get the killers."
"Yes, a lot of murders are solved very quickly, because most killers are known to the victim, they're usually family or friends."
A sombre mood fell over the gathering until Yacoub shouted, "Enough of dead goris, I'm getting married, we should celebrate."
Everyone cheered the bridegroom and returned to their breakfast with new relish and a new topic of discussion; how they would commit a murder.
After breakfast Shujaat left the gathering to have a shower and shave in the rudimentary bathroom. He had expected some differences, but this was an eye opener even for him. There was no bath and, worse of all, no toilet bowl. Rather it was floor-level bowl set in the ground over which you squatted to do your business. Shujaat sighed inwardly and thanked heaven he was only visiting.
After successfully navigating the wonders of a Pakistani bathroom, Shujaat arranged with his mother to distribute the gifts he had bought from England, a vital part of any visit home. His mother handed out beautiful cardigans from Marks & Spencer, a brand everyone recognised, to Mamu Sarwar and Mami Fatima, shirt and tie sets for the numerous cousins, with an extra perfume gift for Yacoub and scarves for the minor relatives.
Once everyone had received their gifts, and profusely thanked Shujaat and his mother, Mamu Sarwar came to sit with the pair, leaned in and said quietly, "I hope you got something equally expensive for Chaudhry Ashraf."
A pensive look flashed across the face of Shujaat's mother, a look he hadn't seen in many years. He was familiar with the name, Chaudhry Ashraf was the nominated head of their extended family, the bradhree, a pompous ageing man who had an over-inflated opinion of his worth.
It was clear his mother didn't care for the man and said, "I'm not going to visit him, he never did afsoos for my husband's death."
"We don't need his condolences," said Shujaat irritably.
Mamu Sarwar placed his hand firmly on Shujaat's forearm and said, " Izzat, what you call respect, isn't always earned by the person receiving it. The izzat is for his position not him."
"How can you separate the two?" asked Shujaat.
Shujaat's mother gave her son a reproachful glance, he fell silent and shrugged his shoulders non-committedly.
"Your mother shouldn't go," continued Mamu Sarwar to Shujaat, "just you. Go and give him his gift. He can't be ignored."
Shujaat looked pensively at his mother, uncertain about what he was being drawn into, but he gave a thin smile and nodded in agreement.
Kaiser was tasked with taking Shujaat to Chaudhry Ashraf's khoti in the adjoining district of Multan. As they stepped out into the narrow street, with its cracked cobblestones and open gutters, Shujaat sensed someone was watching him from across the way.
"Whose house is that?" asked Shujaat.
"That," said Kaiser pointing at it, "is Maliki's house."
Maliki's house, thought Shujaat; then the woman on the roof he had seen washing clothes must have been his wife. It seemed unlikely such a small house would have two families in it.
They wandered out of the narrow lane and onto the main shopping street, walking casually, and enjoying the early morning sunshine. Kaiser was Shujaat's unofficial tour guide and he took great pride in parading him to his friends, of which there were many. It seemed Kaiser had a very odd view of English girls and, disturbingly thought Shujaat, had gleaned all his information from adult videos. He kept pestering Shujaat for details of his girlfriends and was disappointed when the English Babu refused to oblige.
"The goris like Pakistan man? Yes?" He pestered.
"Well, some of them do," admitted Shujaat.
This seemed to satisfy him for a moment until a new thought occurred to him, "I hear they go crazy for boys with curly hair."
He casually brushed back his curly hair as if to demonstrate his enchanting beauty before which English maidens would swoon.
"Who told you that?"
"Last year my Mamu Feroz came, he told me."
"Yes," he said slyly, "it's all true."
Kaiser gave a huge self-satisfied grin and marched down the main street with an extra bounce in his step.
Chaudhry Ashraf had a large sprawling detached house, known as akhoti, in an upmarket district. Both the district and the khoti had seen better days for there was a faded grandeur to the place and, Shujaat was sure, to the occupants.
A bored looking security man, with an old Enfield rifle, recognised Kaiser and waved him through to the large drive which ran up to the pale off-white house. The house was all mock Roman columns and sweeping balconies, but also, simultaneously, was an imposing and ridiculous edifice.
Shujaat eyed the bright red Mitsubishi Pajero jeep parked in in the courtyard at the entrance whilst a surly-eyed thick-set man polished it laboriously.
"Don't they have a garage?" asked Shujaat innocently.
"And how would you know he had a Pajero," explained Kaiser with impeccable logic, "if it was parked in a garage."
Shujaat smirked at his cousin, "Does it start?"
"Oh, yes," said Kaiser gleefully, "every Eid parade."
Across the drive, on the front lawn, two young heavy-built men were vigorously exercising with dumbbells, their shiny biceps bulging as they lifted the heavy weights.
"Salaam," Kaiser called out at them, they looked up, ignored him and returned to their training.
"Who are those idiots?" asked Shujaat.
"Shh, quietly," said Kaiser in a mock stage whisper, "that's Ashraf's sons, Pervaiz and Amjad."
They were greeted at the entrance by an emaciated man servant with a suspicious stare, Kaiser informed him they wanted to see Chaudry Ashraf and he reluctantly showed them inside. The hallway was cool, overly decorated with gold gilding mirrors, white marble and fancy French occasional chairs.
"You wait here," said Kaiser to Shujaat, "I'll find out where he is."
Shujaat sat idly in the stiff, over-padded, French-style chair and wondered if French landowners returned the compliment and had Pakistani furniture in their homes? His stray thoughts were disrupted by the faint whisper of a tiny bell. He thought he had misheard and listened intently, and sure enough there it was again, the soft delicate tinkle of a very small bell.
He looked up to see a slim figure, covered from head to toe in a burkha, step through the front door and as she walked across the hallway, the unmistakeable tinkle accompanied her. He realised it was her sandals and each one had a little bell attached to it.
The figure stood across the hallway ready to leave through a side door when it paused. Shujaat was confused as young girls didn't usually wear a full burkha; that was more favoured by older, more religious women, and it was clear from her shape that this was a slender youthful figure. She looked at him for a moment through the cotton grill in front of her eyes, decided she didn't care if he saw her and took off her head covering.
Shujaat was expecting a ravishing beauty but it was only a plain-looking girl with a slightly-prominent nose, which sat proudly above a too-thin mouth, a shapely chin and sharp lively eyes, which she shamelessly locked with his, all balanced on a long slender neck.
Before Shujaat could say anything, he heard Kaiser approaching, " Aajaa, come, he's in the garden."
Shujaat stood up and quickly glanced back at the girl but she'd disappeared into the other room and, he thought wistfully, she hadn't even tinkled her slipper bell.
"Aaaja na, come now," urged Kaiser, "he's waiting."
Shujaat shrugged and followed Kaiser through the house, past gaudy paintings of ancestors with large moustaches, turbans and shotguns, and out towards the back. The garden was a large expanse of verdant lawn with various bushes and plants in the border running along the edge. At the centre of the lawn was a large metal bench, some chairs and a table laid with various drinks and snacks.
Chaudhry Ashraf was proudly seated whilst behind him stood two bodyguards, with shotguns casually slung over their shoulders and shotgun belts draped across their chests. They gave the new arrivals a belligerent look and then returned to gazing evenly into the middle distance.
Chaudhry Ashraf was a large rotund man in his early sixties who sported an enormous moustache, a large white turban, and a very stiff over-starched pure white shalwar kameez and a dark, red, patterned chador shawl carefully arranged around his shoulders.
Shujaat had vague memories of the man from his childhood, mostly of a big white turban towering over him; they weren't fond memories and he instinctively had a wariness about the encounter.
Kaiser warmly greeted Chaudhry Ashraf and said, "Salaam Saab."
He nodded dismissively whilst maintaining a stern fixed gaze on Shujaat, waiting for him to speak.
Finally, Shujaat said, "Assalam Alaikum."
The old man surveyed him with pale yellow rheumy eyes, ignored the greeting and said, while nodding his head, "Hmm, so you're the son of that kebabwala, eh?"
His bodyguards smiled and nudged each other as their Saab belittled the English Babu in his smart clothes.
Shujaat eyed him blankly, unmoved by the pointed dig at his father's lowly upbringing. It was true his father had sold kebabs from a small shop near the railway station and, although he had done many other jobs, it was this work that anyone referred to when they wanted to belittle him. He refused to rise to the bait and stared steadfastly at the old man.
Chaudhry Ashraf hadn't finished baiting him, "He made very good kebabs, I'm sure the English like them too."
His bodyguards chuckled at the remark and Kaiser twitched nervously. Chaudhry Ashraf was trying to humiliate his cousin and he wasn't sure how much more the young man would tolerate.
Shujaat remained icily calm and replied, "I wouldn't know, he passed away some time ago."
Chaudhry Ashraf ignored the remark and continued to needle the boy, "I bet you make good kebabs too."
Shujaat gave a thin cold smile, "No, I don't make kebabs. It was a pleasure meeting you, here's your present but I must go. Khuda Hafiz."
Before anyone could react Shujaat had dropped the cardigan on the table, quickly turned around and was marching back towards the house.
Kaiser looked around, torn between staying with the Chaudhry and accompanying his guest. In the end he blurted out a quick "Good Bye" and sprinted after Shujaat.
"Yaar," he said outside on the drive as he caught up with Shujaat, "you don't walk out on Chaudhry Ashraf."
"I couldn't give a shit," said Shujaat.

* * *


Day 3: Wednesday

"Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar," blared the loudspeaker from the local mosque.
Shujaat rolled over and buried his head under the covers. At least he had the bed to himself this morning; Kaiser had volunteered to sleep elsewhere.
Shujaat half-slept drifting between the delicious states of consciousness, the events of the previous day mixed and stewed in his brain. He could clearly see Kaiser putting a gloss on the events, then a simple tinkle of the bell and the echo resounded through his head, those audacious eyes staring defiantly at him, the water splashing on her breasts, that impudent face and he was suddenly wide awake.
'Shit,' he thought, 'I'm dreaming about the neighbour', and he started laughing silently to himself. Slowly the fog cleared and he decided to get up rather than lie in bed dreaming of sultry women who stared at him without shame.
He obtained his customary cup of water from Kaneeze, made his way up to the roof to enjoy the early morning sun and started to brush his teeth, when he saw the woman from the other house emerge onto the rooftop from a small doorway and moved towards the line of washing from the previous day.
He acknowledged her by raising his cup of water and nodding at her. She responded with a broad smile, a shy little wave of her hand and an exaggerated swing of her sensuous hips. She started to take down her washing but kept looking at him, gazing up intently at the English Babu. She had nearly finished when her attention was distracted from a shout below and Shujaat sensed a note of nervousness in her behaviour, more focused on her washing than the stranger on the roof across the street. The little door onto the roof was opened by a young boy who approached the woman and said, "Bapu is calling you."
She turned around swiftly and snapped, "Tell him I'm coming."
Shujaat stepped back, as if caught in a compromising position, and turned towards the courtyard just as Kaiser came through the doorway carrying his morning chai and cake rusk.
Kaiser placed the tray on the parapet and looked across the rooftops and noticed the washing woman folding her washing away.
Kaiser smiled and turned to Shujaat, "That's why you like it here."
Shujaat ignored his teasing, took the chai and carefully sipped the warm fragrant drink, "Who's she? She's always here when I come up."
"Maybe she waiting for you? Eh?" teased Kaiser with a wink and a smile.
"I asked, who is she?"
"She is a putaka," said Kaiser with exaggerated emphasis, "a big bloody putaka."
"Firecracker? Hmm," said Shujaat thoughtfully and looked down again at the woman, but she didn't return his gaze.
"Oi, don't," said Kaiser, pulling his cousin back away from the parapet, "she's married."
"I was only looking."
"This is Pakistan, looking at a woman is bad, touching a woman is even worse, thinking of her is…," he trailed away.
"I know, I understand," said Shujaat, "there's no need to go on."
They turned away from Maliki's house and stared casually across the square roof tops enjoying their cups of chai. The silence was broken by Shujaat, "You didn't say who she was."
"Alright yaar, that's Chindhi."
"Hmm, Chindhi the Putaka, eh?" he smirked, and Kaiser burst out laughing.
"What's her story?"
"Her story is a murga chase."
"Chicken chase?"
"Yes, in Pakistan chasing after money is like chasing a chicken, sometimes you get it and sometimes you do not," explained Kaiser.
"I take it she didn't catch the murga."
"Oh, she definitely caught the murga. She's married to Sajjad Malik, he had lots of minibuses, bright red, very comfortable. Made lots of money."
"Then one day somebody didn't like his business so they burned down his depot. All his lovely red minibuses gone."
"That's dreadful."
Kaiser nodded thoughtfully, "He went from 'Malik-Saab' to 'Oi, Maliki' overnight."
"Do they know who did it?"
Kaiser shook his head.
"Or why?"
"Who knows? Jealousy, bad blood, who knows? Maybe Allahtallah didn't want him to be too happy."
"He's married to her," mused Shujaat, "he can't be all that miserable."
"Ah yes. When a woman marries a rich man, they make a bargain. Give me lovely things and I will give you lots of pyar."
"But he's no longer rich," pointed out Shujaat.
"And she didn't marry him to wash clothes every day. So, she looks and looks and looks…"
"And what about him?"
Kaiser looked thoughtfully over his shoulder at the house they were discussing, dropped his voice and said softly, "He beats her when he catches her looking."
Shujaat casually turned to look back at Chindhi, and suddenly he saw her not as an attractive woman, but as a victim of her husband's jealousy.
The pre-wedding ceremonies were starting tonight and the bride's family and girlfriends, minus the bride, would be bringing mehndi, henna, for Yacoub. The house was a scene of orchestrated chaos as numerous servants flitted around the courtyard stacking chairs, moving tables, carrying in trays of cutlery and plates and laying out the dancing floor carpet. Electricians shouted excitedly from the roof as they threw fairy lights down to the courtyard and cables snaked dangerously through doorways and windows as they worked to turn the mundane drab house into a Palace of Light.
Mami Fatima had decided to split the lunch for their house guests; they would make a large pot of chicken curry at home and get the chapatis made at the local tandoor. Kaiser and Shujaat were handed a large tray of dough and brusquely ushered out of the house.
Kaiser hoisted the large tray above his head, handed a large plastic bag to Shujaat and said, "Come on yaar, let's get out of here."
They stepped out into the narrow street which today was further congested with the hired chef and his assistants preparing the food for tonight's mehndi party. Two huge bulbous metal pots, over a metre tall, were being vigorously scrubbed, a huge bag of onions was being speedily peeled and chopped, and other assistants were bringing in cans of cooking oil, bags of spices, huge stirring ladles and logs for the fire.
"This is crazy," said Shujaat.
"This is nothing yaar," shouted Kaiser above the din, "wait till the proper reception."
The pair exited the street and slowly made their way down little alleyways, avoiding the open gutters which occasionally overflowed, chatting amicably as Kaiser gently probed Shujaat about his life in England.
"Tell me yaar," he said with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, "do you drink garam pani?"
Shujaat was confused by the phrase, it literally meant 'hot water', and he looked at Kaiser with a puzzled expression. Kaiser responded by raising his eyes skywards and blinking knowingly. Shujaat understood what the young man was hinting at, he was asking did Shujaat drink alcohol in England.
"Do you drink?" responded Shujaat.
"Oi, Allah," said Kaiser shocked, "that's a rich man's game. It's not easy to get it here."
"And in England there's a pub on every corner?"
Kaiser nodded eagerly and Shujaat suppressed a smile.
"So, you don't drink because it's haram," said Shujaat in a casual manner, "but because you can't get it?"
"That's not what I meant, yaar," protested Kaiser.
They walked on in silence for a while before Kaiser returned to the subject.
"You must have tried it?" said Kaiser softly.
Shujaat had to admire his cousin's persistence but decided not to answer him, instead he walked a few yards, turned to look him and gave a little wink.
Kaiser was surprised by the admission, stumbled on a half-brick and nearly dropped the tray.
"Careful yaar," said Shujaat, quickly supporting the tray, "we don't want to go back empty handed."
They went down a very narrow street walking behind each other, so narrow it was that you couldn't walk two-abreast, past a dilapidated, heavily padlocked green door.
"Is the house empty?" asked Shujaat, intrigued by the large padlock.
"Oh, that," said Kaiser from under his tray of dough, "that's where Baba Billa lives. The padlock is to keep Baba in and people out."
Kaiser turned his head with difficulty and explained, "He's blind, anybody could walk in and rob him."
"Where's his family?"
"Don't know," replied Kaiser and then stumbled, avoiding a pile of faeces, "watch out for the shit."
Shujaat carefully side-stepped the mess, noted its shape and said, "That's human. Someone actually had a crap in the street."
"Better than on your head," mused Kaiser.
"You're safe under that tray."
"You're welcome to carry it."
The tandoor was essentially a deep, floor-level, open-mouthed oven with a fierce log fire, which was run by a couple and their numerous children. Every day, at noon and early evening, the tandoorwala would light his wooden fire and wait for the locals to arrive with their dough for him to make the chapatis. His wife, a dark skinned, sullen creature, would take a fistful of dough, roll it round and pass it off to her husband. He would rapidly slap it between his palms into a flat round shape, carefully place it onto a padded tea towel and skilfully throw it onto the inside of the tandoor. One of his children would hover over the tandoor watching the chapati cooking and, once he had judged it was done, would hook it out with a long metal rod. Their other children ran around helping occasionally but mostly playing, including the precocious toddler who would try to grab the hot chapatis, occasionally eat a bit of raw dough or, as Shujaat noted with alarm, frequently walk unsteadily toward the edge of the tandoor.
After the second time it happened, Shujaat couldn't resist and said, "Excuse me brother, but your child is too close to the tandoor."
The tandoorwala looked up sharply, without breaking his chapati-making rhythm, and replied scornfully with an evil stare, "English Babu, we can look after our own."
Shujaat bristled at the taunt and was about to move forward when Kaiser intercepted him, pulled him to one side and said, "If he wants to cook his children that's his headache, why are you getting involved?"
Lunch was a lively anarchic affair with guests eating, laughing and shouting whilst all around them servants tried to arrange the setting according to Mami Fatima's demanding instructions.
After the meal, Shujaat's mother tugged on his sleeve and asked him to follow her; the house was such a hive of activity that the only place they could find some solitude was on the roof.
His mother sat on a low concrete bench along one of the parapets and patted the place next to her, "Sit beta, I want to talk with you."
"What is it?" he asked cautiously, as he sat down.
"How do you like Pakistan?" she asked with a disarming smile.
He pulled a face suggesting it was a mixed bag of trials and tribulations.
"I know, it's different isn't it?"
"After so many years it's a big shock. I just want to tear it all down and start again," he confessed.
She smiled and said, "Well, let's not be too ambitious."
"So many relatives," he protested weakly, "I don't remember even half of them."
"You may not remember them," she said pointedly, "but they remember you."
She sighed, a pained expression flashed across her face, and she added, "They remember everything."
"What does that mean?"
"These people remember not only you and your father but his father and his father and …," she trailed away.
"I get the idea, but what's your point?"
She leaned forward, lest she was overheard, and said, "Be careful around them, they smile sweetly but hide a sharp knife. You've led a sheltered life in England, and this is not England. Never take anyone at face value and never assume they mean you well."
"Perhaps I should go back now and be done with it," he teased.
"No," she said quickly, "don't be foolish."
"I understand," he said, holding her hand, "and I promise I will be careful."
"Good," she replied, seemingly consoled by his reassurance.
Shujaat casually glanced across the street towards Maliki's house to see if Chindhi was doing her usual washing when his mother caught the look and said, "What are you looking at?"
Embarrassed, he quickly turned back to her, "Nothing."
It was obvious she didn't believe him but decided to drop the matter and returned to her original subject, "We've come far, you're a doctor now. Your father sacrificed much to get you here."
"I appreciate everything he did," replied Shujaat and then mischievously added, "I noticed how you keep introducing me as your doctor son, as if there's another."
"And why shouldn't I? You've earned the right."
"Yes, but do we have to go on about it?"
"Yes, we do," she insisted, "they need reminding."
"Am I here to attend a wedding or am I your show pony?"
"You are here as my doctor beta," she insisted and then added, "and I don't know what this show pony is."
"It means to show off."
"Tfff!" she scoffed loudly, "we are only what we are. It's not a lie."
"Fine," he shrugged, helpless before her relentless logic, "but less of the doctor beta, please."
She shifted her head slightly, as if to acknowledge his reproach, but remained silent.
They sat quietly for a few moments enjoying the afternoon sun. Shujaat knew his mother hadn't finished her lecture. Her lips were pressed tight and she had an agitated expression on her face. She looked across the street at Maliki's rooftop, turned to look at him, very pointedly, and said, "And one other thing. Be careful with the girls."
"Oh, don't be such a gora," she said dismissively, "they will be buzzing around you."
He sat silently, refusing to rise to her bait.
"And you have a wandering eye," she added sharply.
He gritted his teeth trying to control his irritation at the subject.
"Don't," she said, leaning forward, "give anyone lift until you've spoken to me."
"Lift?" he asked confused.
"Encouragement, bevkoof!"
"You don't want to become involved with someone wrong," she said sternly.
"What do you mean?"
She sighed theatrically, "There is a lot of family history here, too bloody much, things you don't know. You could be going after a girl who has the wrong family history."
"Oh, and how will I know who has the right history?" he asked with impeccable logic.
"Never mind," she responded tartly, refusing to be drawn into his gora mind games.
"Are we finished?" he asked and she responded with a non-committal jerk of the head.
He stood, stretched his legs and started towards the stairs down to the courtyard.
"Remember," she shouted after him, "tell me first."
"Naturally mother."
The bride's family arrived, promptly by Pakistani standards, nearly two hours late, and assembled in the narrow street outside Uncle Sarwar's house, which was now a riot of blinking fairy lights complete with a large neon board announcing 'Mehndi Party' whilst neighbours swarmed on the rooftops looking down on them.
The exclusively female party, all dressed in various shades of traditional mehndi-party yellow, consisted of pre-teens, teenagers, young women, married women, mature rotund aunties and a couple of elderly grandmothers who really should have known better and stayed at home but insisted on participating in the ceremony.
Inside, Shujaat was getting bored. They had told him to be ready at seven and when he had entered the courtyard at the allotted hour, freshly shaven and showered, he was the only one there and was further irritated to learn Yacoub was still sleeping. The bride's family were supposed to arrive at eight, it was now nearly ten, and they were still fussing outside in the street trying to light their clay oil lamps. Shujaat was on his fourth glass of mango juice and starting to feel hungry, but he knew the food was still a few hours away. He smiled at a passing pretty girl, who giggled uncontrollably and ran off to her friends, no doubt to tell them all how the English Babu was flirting with her.
The lights were momentarily turned off as the bride's mehndi party arrived into the courtyard, their faces golden in the shadow of the flickering oil lamps, the video camera man postured as if he was filming the latest Bollywood blockbuster, the assembled guests clapped politely, and a traditional folk song blared over the speakers.
Kaiser sidled up next to Shujaat and whispered, "Lots of putake here tonight."
Shujaat didn't respond but merely smiled. Kaiser was right, there were a lot of girls on display eager to catch the eye of a suitable marriage match. Girls of all shapes, sizes and hues paraded with false modesty past the select family members and guests.
Shujaat scanned the mehndi party until he saw a slender tall girl, towards the back of the line, looking directly at him. It was the burkha girl he'd seen at Chaudhry Ashraf's-the one with a little tinkling bell on her slippers. Their eyes locked for a moment, she let slip a secret half-smile and then, with false propriety, she lowered her head.
"Who's she?" he asked Kaiser.
Kaiser recognised the girl Shujaat had been looking at and said with guarded caution, "That's Henna, Chaudhry Ashraf's daughter."
A soft "Ah" slipped from Shujaat's lips.
"I told you before," hissed Kaiser, "it's dangerous to look at girls here."
"And what if she looks at you?"
"Better to be blind than return that gaze," said Kaiser ominously.
"You sound like an old woman," said Shujaat dismissively.
Kaiser gave him a withering look and moved away to attend to the mehndi party.
The evening started with the ritual anointing of Yacoub with dabs of mehndi on his hand, the handing over of gift envelopes bugling with rupees effusive well-wishes for his marriage and then finally the food was served.
Shujaat was idly eating some sweet rice, whilst casually leaning in a doorway, when he became conscious of a presence behind him. He half-turned and saw that Henna was gazing intently at him whilst casually twisting her long yellow duputta scarf.
"Nice?" she asked, flicking an eyebrow.
Shujaat smiled and nodded, paused for a second and asked, "Would you like some?"
She nodded, approached him slowly and came to stand in front of him in the doorway.
A sly smile flicked across his lips. He took a generous heap of sweet rice from his bowl and moved it towards her face. She moved enthusiastically forward, opened her mouth wide as the spoon approached and, just as she craned her neck forward to take the rice, he swiftly pulled it back and started laughing as her mouth trembled in impotent anger.
"Batameez," she snapped and gave him a fierce, annoyed glare.
Shujaat affected not to notice, but he could tell she had been wounded by his actions and immediately regretted it.
The evening progressed with much singing, dancing and teasing between the bride's and bridegroom's friends and families. At one-point, Kaiser pulled Shujaat onto the dance floor and he was obliged to join in. After a hesitant start he managed to find the rhythm and acquitted himself with aplomb, much to the amusement of his family and guests. He retired from the dance floor when one particularly stout girl insisted on dancing very closely with him.
Later in the evening, whilst a group of girls danced to a carefully choreographed Bollywood song, he was standing in a tight group of people when someone fiercely pinched his hand. He controlled his surprise, half-turned to see who it was, and realised that Henna had exacted her revenge for the feeding insult.
The awkward Bollywood dance number was suddenly brought to a brutal halt as the fuse box blew, dramatically plunging the whole house into darkness. A few screams rang out, mixed with liberal cursing from Mamu Sarwar at the electricians for their negligence. Some of the men held aloft cigarette lighters and Kaiser produced a large torch and said loudly, "Please stay where you are, it's only the fuse box, we'll have it fixed shortly."
Shujaat stood patiently, enjoying the sudden solitude of the darkness. Around him it was pitch black, the darkness so absolute it was as if a blanket had been thrown over them with only the distant flickering of cigarette lighters giving any semblance of perspective to the view.
It was at this moment Shujaat became aware of a finger lightly stroking his hand where it had been previously pinched, almost as if apologetically, but he resisted the approach and flicked it away. A few moments later the stray finger returned and stroked his hand again. He smiled to himself at the persistence of the girl. He knew it was Henna as she'd been standing immediately behind him when the lights went out and only she would know where he had been pinched earlier. He relented and didn't brush the hand away but waited to see what would occur next. Immediately, sensing a hint of approval, the fingers slipped into the palm of his hand and gripped it strongly. He returned the grip and was rewarded with Henna pressing her body lightly into his back. He could clearly feel the shape of her breasts and stomach pressing into his back and the subtle touch of her breath on the back of his neck. The breath grew stronger as he sensed, in the darkness, her lips approaching closer to his neck. Finally, they touched with a gentle graze of a kiss and he struggled to control the sensual shiver that swept through him.
The lights came back on, the hand was swiftly pulled back and he knew the moment was gone. He turned to look and saw she had already moved away.
It all seemed like an hallucination in the disorientating blackness. He touched the nape of his neck where her lips had touched it, felt the merest trace of her moist lips and knew it was all too real.

* * *


Day 4: Thursday

He awoke with a start and realised it wasn't the sound of the mosque's loudspeaker he was hearing but the sound of a woman screaming.
He sat up in bed trying to work out from which direction the screaming was coming from. Slowly the sleep fled from his senses and he realised the sound was coming from Maliki's house; it was obviously Chindhi screaming.
Just as he got up from the bed the screaming stopped, an ominous silence filled the semi-dark room. He stumbled to the window and looked across the narrow street at Maliki's house. The lights were all on and Shujaat's mind filled with dreadful scenes of carnage, all too familiar from his work. A guttural scream broke the silence and he was equally grateful she was alive and still in danger.
He ran out into the corridor and started to work his way down to the front when he ran into a bleary eyed, half-dressed Kaiser coming the other way.
"What's happening?" he asked, rubbing his eyes.
"It's Chindhi," replied Shujaat.
"Tut, forget it," scoffed Kaiser, "It's nothing yaar, just go back to sleep."
"He's killing her," said Shujaat.
"It's just Maliki and Chindhi having another fight," he replied, turning back towards the room he had come out of. Loud voices could now be heard from the left of the house where his Mamu slept.
Another loud, desperate scream rang out across the houses and Shujaat said angrily, "That's not a fight, he's killing her."
Shujaat ran out into the courtyard, crossed it quickly towards the front door, winced as a thorn dug sharply into his bare heel, and then groaned in frustration when he realised the door was heavily padlocked; he shook it in impotent rage. Chindhi screamed again, jolting him into desperate action and he knew her strength was weakening. He kicked the door with fury, so close but yet so far, and then a thought occurred to him.
He ran across the courtyard and rapidly climbed the narrow stairs, taking dangerous strides in the darkness, climbing two or three steps in one go.
He burst out onto the roof, ran to the parapet and looked down on Maliki's house. It was a good twelve to fourteen feet drop down to it and he would have to get across the narrow street. Cursing silently, he stepped back from the parapet, hoped he didn't break his neck, hesitated for a fraction until Chindhi screamed again, ran towards the parapet, stepped on top of it, pushed himself with his leading right leg and launched himself into the dark night.
He flew across the gap between the houses, easily clearing the street below, fell towards the opposite roof and landed heavily on the concrete floor. He was knocked breathless and there was a sharp pain in his right leg. As he lay on the roof recovering his breath he forced himself to stand up, a mounting fear gripped his chest; the screaming had stopped. The final one had been cut short.
He shoulder-charged the flimsy door which opened onto the roof, stumbled down the narrow, uneven stairs and found himself in a short corridor. He opened the first door and saw it was an empty bedroom with bedding and clothes strewn everywhere; clearly the fight had started here. He moved onto the next room and he feared the worst when he saw a still shape under the covers. He moved quickly forward, ripped the covers back and found, to his relief, it was Chindhi's son. The boy was only six or seven, but he was clearly terrified by what had been going on.
"Where's your mother?" asked Shujaat insistently.

Continue reading to find out what happens next at Amazon.

Available for purchase from UK       and US