Jamila- Part- 14

When I reached the flat, I realized that another ordeal awaited me. Some cars parked outside indicated that we had visitors.

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When I reached the flat, I realized that another ordeal awaited me. Some cars parked outside indicated that we had visitors. The watchmen who rushed to the taxi to pick up my suitcase,confirmed that some religious gathering was taking place in my flat. I presumed he meant the recitation of the Quran. I could understand my aunts desire to get the Quran recited but she could have waited for me especially considering Azra’s condition.

The door of the flat was open and a heady mix of my uncle’s favorite perfume and of burning frankincense wafted out. A plethora of women’s footwear indicated Aunt's social network : her friends and the members of her NGO.

Inside, the drawing room was crammed with ladies, mostly middle aged matrons – all dressed in immaculate white with their head covered . Very few were reading the Quran, many were sitting around aunt - who looked resplendent in a white chiffon with sparkling diamonds ear tops- listening with rapt attention as she tearfully narrated incidents of her brother’s goodness and displayed his photographs from the album. As I entered, I heard her lamenting his dying, childless.

“He was so handsome and to think that he has left this world without leaving behind an image of his good looks.”

I looked around for Azra, she was nowhere in sight. But my mother in-law appeared looking tired with the maid carrying boxes of uncle’s favorite sweets - Aflatoon and Halva Sohan for the mourners, none of whom had known uncle. Seeing me she brightened up.

“When did you come Sami?.”

Aunt immediately put down the album, got up, hugged me and broke into fresh sobs. “Sami, I wish I had gone with him.”

I was silent. I didn’t know whether it would be appropriate to hand her uncle’s clothes for comfort. Azra, hearing my name came out. She looked so exhausted, I gently disengaged myself and went towards her,"Are you OK ”

She just nodded and turned back to her room. I followed her, noticing her swollen feet and the difficulty she had in walking. Once inside, I closed the door of our bedroom.

“Why did you agree to all this?” I asked her, agitated.

“She was getting very sentimental. She felt that since he had no heir, it was your duty to have this recitation.”

“She could have waited for me. And why have her friends. They didn’t know him.”

“Don’t make such an issue. It will be over in an hour. Mother is managing it.” She went and lay down. Though tired she was as usual calm and collected. Azra's temperament - gentle, accommodating, caring, was a balm for frayed nerves. I was grateful to aunt Rasheeda for having arranged the match. Mother said aunt had her own selfish reasons for it – probably Azra was one person who could put up with aunt’s domineering nature.

Azra probably inherited her gentle nature from her mother who was at the moment patiently taking instructions from aunt on how to brew tea, the way her deceased brother liked. A few minutes later she brought in a cup of hot tea for me.

“You must be tired. Don’t fret so much about Azra - she is OK"

"It is good you are here. Aunt could very well have had the recitation of the Quran in the mosque. I would have arranged it, "

"'But then she couldn't have talked about him. This is her way of finding solace – by reliving the moments.”

After some time the guests left. But Aunt's grief didn’t subside. She took out a photograph from Uncle’s wedding album. Uncle’s was in his wedding finery, his face almost covered by a screen of flower strings, while mother and aunt were dazzling in their brocade saris and jewelry. She wanted me to enlarge the photograph and get it framed.

“But you can hardly see his face.”

“It doesn’t matter. It was such a grand event. People still remember: the splendid décor, the lavish dinner… I wish he had married again. Probably the second marriage would have been fruitful.”

I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I remembered Jamila and the boy. Was aunt also a party to that horrendous act of getting Jamila forcibly married?

“But one thing I never came to know was what happened to those beautiful bracelets which we had brought for his bride to be. They just disappeared.” She said looking quite bewildered.

My hands went numb as I thought of the box in my suit case. Aunt seemed to be unaware of the incident which led to Jamila leaving the house. How will she react if she learnt about Jamila and the boy? Will she accept her? Aware of aunt’s imperious temperament, I had my doubts.

I got up hurriedly saying,"I have brought uncle’s shirts."

To be continued...