In the room where my mother and I sleep, it is well into the night. I’m not sure why but I am awake. I get up from my mattress and go to the bathroom where it is less hot. There is no electricity and it is dark. I open the bathroom window so that the breeze can pass through. Then I wash my hands, my hair and my face.
When I was younger and it ever got this hot, particularly during September when it would be scorching, my father would take me down to the lake with the other families. My mother wouldn’t come with us. At the lake, we would see friends and neighbours and baba would say hello to some people from his work. Sometimes some of the farmers would bring their animals to the water to cool down, and this caused the younger children to either get extremely excited or extremely scared.
Older kids were engaged in their own teenage agendas. Girls would run quick and fast into the water; their braids would be tied tight and their dupattas hung on the branches of trees. Boys would climb up those trees and in their sweat and swagger, they would take big dives into the water. Fathers would pick up mothers and carry them in on their shoulders. No one really thought much of things, they were making lots of waves and it was very loud. When otherwise the water was still, on these days it was anything but. The first time when I came I was 5 and it was July. Back then I was too afraid. We came on a Sunday and there was lots of commotion, huge crowds and loud screams. I ran back to our bike. I remember feeling I was too small for this. I didn’t know how deep the water would be or if there was anything inside it. What if I got lost and baba couldn’t hear me scream? I remember also wondering to whom this lake belonged and if we were allowed to do this.
I remember baba, heroic as he was, took off his kameez and revealed a white undershirt beneath. He picked me up in his arms and I closed my eyes and buried my head in his shoulders; kicking and screaming. The next thing I recall was a brush of water against my toes which was surprisingly cold. Baba was still holding me in his arms. I looked up over his shoulder behind us and saw the kameez he had left on the grass so far away. I turned and looked forward toward the water, it was up till my waist now. People were playing all around us. A girl tried to swim while drinking a bottle of Pepsi at the same time. I reached down and touched the surface with my fingers. Baba thought it would be funny to let me go, but I instantly started to scream and held him tighter. He laughed and hugged me close. On the way home, we both ate ice cream.
Baba passed away in the evening when I was 14, and it wasn’t a surprise. The doctor had said it was going to happen before the end of the week. Many people filled our tight home for prayers. They remembered his kindness when I spoke to them; they said they saw it in the softness of his palms. One person mentioned to me an incident where baba had helped him buy a water cooler. Another asked me about his bike and if we were going to sell it. I hadn’t met any of them before.
Now so much time has passed and everything is so busy with work and studies. I like my job at the auto-shop, there is a lot to learn about cars and mechanics. And across the auto-shop, there is a game zone where we all play foosball after work – sometimes even during. Mama comes home late at night, the woman she works for keeps her longer often so I have to arrange my own dinner, which I like.
I sit on the bathroom floor, thinking about baba and his white undershirt and that water-cooler. The breeze passes from outside and the door creaks. I remember the other day when I was having food near our home and saw this girl in my class at school. Her name was Layla. I went up and I had said hello. She was very nice, but now I’m wondering if I had called her by the right name. I stand up now and go back outside and lie down on the mattress again. I’m thinking about tomorrow. A few minutes later I am asleep, and in that sleep, I am on a green train in my dreams.
Hi, my name is Asfandyar Khan and I am a 21-year-old student studying law. I enjoy fiction in all its forms and try to tell as many stories as I can in as many interesting ways as I can. (Instagram handle: @asfandyarkhan47)
Cover Illustration by Rihab Nadeem; Instagram handle: @arthentic.rsn