“I am sorry. All the tests came out fine. The piping is all good. Sometimes it just happens. You can always wait, or adopt?”
They sat still, totally at a loss for words to express their anguish. They had been trying to conceive for quite some time now. When they were new to the city, they both had intentionally postponed the prospect: Islamabad had seemed a lot more receptive with its political and personal secrets to an exhilarated couple than to exhausted parents. To her relief, he had himself voiced her apprehension once, “Shouldn’t you have stayed back in Sukkur if you wanted to be a mother right now? There, you had help at least!”
Both happily skimmed though the city in its initial years, and none of them had regretted this delay, despite it raising all sorts of peevish questions from their families.
But that was when they were younger.
Now, nothing was happening. This doctor at Polyclinic, like so many others before, had only reiterated what they already knew, except for his choice of the term ‘piping’ for their reproductive channels.
Idiopathic. Without any cause. The worst of them all?
The next day, she started sobbing as she woke up. He comforted her, telling her all sorts of lies that might console her, but her predicament was different. She was crying because she could no longer decide what to make for lunch every day (she ferociously clung on to the practice of cooking as it was the only remnant of her Sindhi identity, apart from paying monthly visits to Bari Imam, for Sufi shrines constituted a fundamental segment of her childhood memories).
“It is so taxing upon my nerves. To think every day about it!”
Later, when he had solved the matter by arranging a weekly cooking schedule for her, with many repetitions owing to her limited cooking abilities, he saw her through the kitchen window; working her way magically with the condiments. He smiled, and was just about to say something when something happened: a potent silence overcame him. Worse, it wasn’t one of those comfortable silences they had so smoothly snuggled into, but one heavily laden with words. And something else.
So intense was this sudden upheaval that she must have sensed it, too, for she turned the burner off and without looking at him, escaped through the side door into the verandah.
Kamla, the maid, glanced through the verandah. Her old mistress was already at the stove, preparing - as the aroma hinted - Pallo Machi. She would have to come up with an innovative excuse for running in late again, as all the previous ones had been done to death. But she stopped right there, scrutinizing the impermeable countenance of the old lady. Though Kamla couldn’t have afforded such leisurely hogwash on another day - but it was autumn in Islamabad - and there was an eruption of trees into a fiery hue of orange all the way from Shakarparian to her abode in I/11. And, to assume that someone even as practical as Kamla would be completely immune to seasonal effects, would be unfair. She marvelled at the face, and fathomed at how the old lady’s husband had just about the same coldness in his temperament working for him. It had been two months since she had started working in this opulent household, and she was sure she had rarely seen the old couple speak to each other. At most, they gestured; and what was plain lunacy for Kamla was perfectly comprehensible for them both. Kamla had often peeked at the pictures of the couple from their younger days, placed in the living room’s drawers; at various wastelands of the city before they sprang to life and sprouted in its sectors. In all those pictures, they looked content. Happy, even! Then what had happened, she wondered. Maybe they weren’t compatible physically, or as she so religiously believed for Islamabad’s elites - maybe one of them was having an affair? She shrugged before entering the kitchen, armed with an emphatic story about the death of her cousin, “Or maybe too much money does that to you!”
She plucked out the stray strand of white hair hanging loose by the side of her temple with a flick of her wrist. He made no effort to conceal his exasperation; white hair wasn’t as much of a problem to him as was a public show of downright repulsion for them. She smirked, and made a quirky comment on something, which he only half-heard, but responded to with good grace, nonetheless.
They had only recovered from a fight centring around the issue of going to Sukkur for two weeks; they had been visiting the city about once every year, but this time it had been five. Added to it the fact that none of their relatives had visited them for the longest time possible - the visits always full of garrulous catching-up on what they were missing out on by living in their beautiful, detached capital. No one between them remembered anymore the exact reason for the cancellation of the trip, but only that the acrimony had lasted. And it had decided to stay between them ever so conveniently.
Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. The distance allowed them to think independently. Or maybe not.
He had been longing for an individual space, lately; but everything in his life seemed adulterated by impressions of her footprints. Their families had always been one. They had also cumulated his friends and her friends into a big, combined circle of mutual friends. So awestruck were they by each other’s company in the early days that even one’s habits, one’s hobbies had been duly picked up by the other. He could have secured a personal sanctuary for himself in his work, but he had perfectly ruined that for himself, too; involving her in his work even when she least wanted it.
He was sure his feelings were reciprocated.
They were, practically, inseparable; they had marred the incredulous space the city offered them with their own myopia.
But they also knew the indispensability of one to the other. They had, by now, almost lost the foresight to navigate through life without the other’s sense of direction.
Accordingly, they hadn’t let go the habit of their evening walks in the city’s numerous gardens. And they would, more often than not, exit the lounge at the same time in the evening and make their way to the car, without saying a word.
To be continued...