A few days back Shabnam was writing a Math test…her mind was not on it. She was thinking about going to Mumbai Central with her whole family – 4 brothers, 3 sisters, mom and dad. She was super excited. She was going to buy new clothes for Eid. It happens only once a year – when Abba buys new clothes for everyone in the family, buys ice cream for all the kids, when Ammi smiles with her lips and eyes and Abba looks like he really loves Ammi.
She had decided she is going to buy a beautiful pink color salwar khameez. Abba had told her she could maybe buy shoes if there was money left. She wanted shoes so badly but she was afraid to ask. Putting it in words meant the pain of hearing a NO.
She overheard Shainaz saying that she will buy a pink salwar khameez as well. Her brows furrowed. She did not want Shainaz wearing pink! Her mind ran over all the times she felt Shainaz was only intent on imitating her…but then she quickly forgot and her mind went back to thinking about the beautiful gauzy fabric that mom said she will choose for her.
She suddenly snapped back and saw she has so many more questions to do…so she quickly started writing. But then she started thinking about how her brothers, sisters and she would go on the train to Mumbai Central. Then they will walk to their father’s workshop. They will meet Farid on the way, maybe even Afreen if her mother was not at home. Afreen generally never went out, her father did not approve of girls going out and so her mother kept a good watch over her. Afreen did not go to school nor did she have too many friends. But every year when Shabnam’s family walked to the workshop, they passed by Afreen’s house and waved at Afreen and her brothers. To Afreen, seeing Shabnam and Shainaz symbolized Eid more than the ritual of sighting the moon.
Shabnam thought about Afreen’s father, he worked in the same tailoring workshop as Abba. But he was quite a strange man. Shabnam had overheard him say strange things to Abba – like once she heard him ask how Abba allowed the 3 girls to come all the way to Mumbai Central or how did Abba think of sending 3 girls to the same school as the 4 boys in the house. Abba just smiled but never answered.
Didi had just announced that there were only 15 minutes left for the test to be over. Shabnam suddenly shook her head and began writing furiously. She wrote a couple of questions more but her hands wouldn’t move! They just wanted to hug her because the bell was going to ring and she was gong to go home! At home Ammi is waiting with everyone’s “going out” dresses so that they could wear them and leave for the station. She looked over at Shainaz and saw Shainaz writing. She realized if Shainaz got more marks than she did, in all probability she might get the pink fabric for her salwar khameez and Abba might pick the brown fabric that he has left over from Qureshi uncle’s suit to make Shabnam’s salwar khameez!
So Shabnam wrote, her hands working so fast. The bell rang! Didi asked everyone to handover their papers and soon everyone was rushing out of the door. Shabnam, Shainaz and Rehana ran as fast as their legs could carry them. They did not speak to each other because they did not want to be late or slow down. They reached their door and saw Shaad Ali sitting quietly in his home clothes. Shabnam immediately knew they were not going anywhere. She looked inside the room to search for Ammi. Ammi was sweeping the broken pieces of one of the two tea cups they have at home. It was a special tea cup, white with pink flowers and was to be used only when guests came home. Abba was watching over her while she swept. He did not look happy.
Shabnam knew it would be best not to ask questions. She kept her bag at the door and went quietly to wash her feet. Shainaz being Shainaz screamed asking Abba when she could wear her going out clothes so that they could leave.
A resounding slap.