The following is excerpted from a short story first published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 4 (2020).
I hear the sirens before the rest do. There’s this moment, you see, and only I notice it. Everybody else is too busy doing whatever the fuck. I throw my head back against the pulse of the music, I sense it coming toward me, and I feel so small against it, and the lights are flashing red-and-blue, red-and-blue, and my heart trembles against the magnet of the beat, deeper and deeper, then droning, like an alarm, and there, in the magnificence of that soul-surrounding sound, that’s when I pray that I find my eighteen thousand rupees’ worth of grade-A yayo tucked away in a locket that’s God knows where.
The cop cars burst through and everyone is running around, holographic ants in the flashing signals, and that glimpse I get feels so powerful I think that my entire body would seize, and I stretch my neck over the chaos in the hopes to find my locket when I see Iqra, that dumbass, looking rather alarmed, scurrying toward a policeman. I run against the current, my rage propelling me, and reach for the back of Iqra’s stupid head, grab a handful of her hair, and yank it.
“Where are you going, you goddamn thief? Where’s my locket?”
She is visibly distressed, and I can see myself in her big dinner plate eyes, so wide I think they’re going to suck me right in. She sniffs.
“The one with the coke.”
She laughs and sticks her hand down the front of her shirt, then her other hand, rootles around and pulls out my gold chain, the locket dangling down one end, the diamond wink in the centre, and I want to cry, to weep at the sight of it, when the policeman Iqra was rushing toward snatches it out of her hand.
“That’s mine,” I tell him with a tremble that betrays my resolute placidity, holding my hand out.
“I’m taking you to the thana,” he says. He turns to Iqra. “Tell me your name.”
“Ayesha,” she says, adjusting her cleavage.
The policeman sneers at her and turns to me to ask for mine but I refuse tell him, not unless he gives me back my locket, which he holds up so it twirls, the chain embracing itself, then unlatching. I pray ferociously that he doesn’t recognize me from Noosh’s list and glare at him.
“An inqalaabi, eh? Madam-jee, at this point all you can do is help me help you. Any resistance won’t work in your favour.”
I can’t believe I’ve gotten myself into this shit. A stupid thulla doing a chhaapa at a rave should not have two and a half grams of your coco hanging off his index finger. My heart beats so fast I can hear it drumming in my ears. I can’t stop looking at the locket, which the policeman is flicking back and forth, like a hypnotist, and his grin is wet and sharp. The DJ has turned the music off and I turn around, squinting into the dark, trying to find Rafay, Jeejee, anyone. I want to protest, and it looks so easy to just pluck the locket out of his hand, it’s right there, but the way he looks so erect in his uniform terrifies me.
“Get in the car.” The policeman says.
He reaches forward, and for a murderous second I dread that he’ll touch me, and I stiffen, bracing myself, planting my feet to the ground, but he stops short, embarrassed by my reaction, and opens the door, beckoning Iqra in.
The locket is wrapped around his wrist, the fucking sicko, and when he closes the door behind me, he leans in and says, “I will only return this locket in your father’s hand.”
His face is so close to my face I have to swallow to get the flavour out of my mouth. He gets in the front and fastens his seatbelt. His walkie-talkie screeches.
“I’ve got two,” he announces, peering out the windshield.
I turn to Iqra. “Thanks a lot,” I hiss. “It’s not my fault you’re careless with your belongings.”
“You better pray he doesn’t realize there’s something inside.”
I tell her, my wet towel lungs now being wrung, and I feel the churn in my stomach that tickles my bellybutton on the inside and races up my throat, gagging me.
“What are you girls conspiring, hain?” The policeman barks.
We’re somewhere on Raiwind Road and I am frantically trying to restart my phone, because the new iPhone just came out so my old one has a shit battery now, and I need to do this fast, think about an excuse for the call my mother will get from the station, wishing that somehow the trees outside the window contort into hands that will pluck me out of this car and deliver me unto the gates of heaven so I could beg for just one more bump, just one more for this night and the car stops.
“Abhay yaar,” the policeman says, ejaculates some delightful curses at the steering wheel and grumbles at us to wait. He steps out of the car with his walkie-talkie and calls for backup. I glare at Iqra, dialing Rafay’s number. He picks up at the third ring.
“You can’t come with me,” I inform Iqra.
She doesn’t say anything, just grins, running her tongue across her teeth. Psycho. I can hear police cars again, but Jeejee, in sunglasses, pulls up before them in someone’s Civic, and she’s waving me over, her head bobbing. The policeman sees the car and spins his fist around, telling her to roll her window down. She does, and cocks her head out. The policeman is yelling something and then she yells back, gesticulating wildly.
Then she smiles at me. Good old Jeejee.
“Your friend is going to the thana with me,” the policeman tells her, loud enough so I can hear.
My locket is still glinting at his wrist. Rafay leans over Jeejee and starts screaming something, jabbing his finger towards us. The policeman turns around and looks at me, then Jeejee and Rafay. He walks back towards us and leans in through Iqra’s window.
“What did you say your name was?” he asks Iqra.
“Aleena,” Iqra says.
“I thought your name was Ayesha,” he says.
I can’t believe I’m thinking this, but thank God I’m sober.
Meher Hasan is a Lahore-based creative. You can find her on Instagram: @mehrujuana
About the featured artist: Dua Abbas Rizvi is a visual artist and writer based in Lahore, Pakistan. She graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore, in 2010, with awards for excellence in fine art and art history. Her artwork has been part of numerous exhibitions at home and abroad, including Home Alone Together (Washington D.C.), Stations of the Cross (New York), Beyond Borders (New Delhi), and Art for Education: Contemporary Artists from Pakistan (Milan).
Rizvi has been writing on art and culture since 2009 and her essays, reviews, and creative nonfiction have been published in Pakistani and foreign English-language newspapers, journals, and anthologies of repute including Dawn, Herald, The Friday Times, The Aleph Review, Encounters: The Art of Interfaith Dialogue, Image Journal (for which she also serves as an editorial advisor), Selvedge Magazine, and the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception.
She is currently working on her first book, a work of autofiction, on a South Asia Speaks Fellowship (2022).