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A Very Short Love Story

Updated: Mar 8

Dr Javaria Farooqui


A modern love story, with art from Beenish Ahmed Saraz.


Her cellphone’s screen lit up, and a tiny sound like a coin dropping on the floor was heard. The urge to stop listening to Abba and go check if it was his reply to her pre-tea message was so strong. Farah’s knuckles turned white and for a moment she thought her Games of Thrones mug would crumble in her own clutches. Abba’s commentary on the new episode about the national political mess, Ammi’s low grumbles about missing the Sapphire sales and the antics of the house help, the harrowing music of news on television, everything just became a backdrop with that one sound.


She was still sitting on the floor cushion, air writing her own name with her toe and nodding to her parents, but her whole being had tuned to the cellphone that she had put on charging. If someone asked, she would never be able to tell them exactly when her heart started thumping so ferociously the minute his presence was felt in her life. Perhaps it was when she started blushing when his post appeared on socials. She used to be a regular desi person who used X for venting, browsed Pinterest to her heart’s content, and avoided Facebook because—duh!— that was the favorite stalking place of all relatives and cringe colleagues.


And then, something very strange happened a few years ago and she met Shahan online. Back then, she used to post a lot about the plight of women on X and got a lot of backlashes from her misogynist countrymen. His posts with similar content just started showing up on her timeline and it was not really a big deal. At first, it was good to read his words and think that perhaps real parhey likhey, sensitive men were not an extinct species. Then things started feeling different and took on a bizarre flavour. She would be thinking one thing about the trending topic and bang!... his tweet with the exact same thoughts would be there. It was the sort of uncanny connection that one would not dare to expect even in relationships with siblings and best friends. Almost the same as talking to your friend about some new clothing design and seeing it in the advertisements immediately afterwards, except that it affected Farah’s heart in a way that a lawn two-piece suit never would have.


She was so prone to overanalysing situations, people, relations, random comments, posts that made sense and Instagram reels that did not make sense. Yet, this man had sifted through her cynicism and bean-plating so quietly that she had trouble processing how it happened.

So, she coughed a little and Abba stopped and Amma declared that no one should ever eat peanuts while having tea and she got the excuse to get up and check the message. Yes! It was him. Shahan sent so many laughing emojis in response to her tirade against the disgusting leader of his favourite political party, sharing comments that totally made sense and made her smile.


“I am such a pathetic thirty-two-year-old schmuck,” she thought, “who has no self-respect or love life and finds thrill in general discussions? Too embarrassing for a grown up woman with a shiny career!” She just closed her eyes and softly rested her head against the switchboard.


She was so prone to overanalyzing situations, people, relations, random comments, posts that made sense and Instagram reels that did not make sense. Yet, this man had sifted through her cynicism and bean-plating so quietly that she had trouble processing how it happened.


They had not met in person and never talked about anything remotely romantic, except when they joined heated public debates on celebrity wedding pictures. She knew that it was so silly to have feelings for a person who might be a con man at worst and betrothed to his phupho ki beti at best, but she liked leaving such thoughts out of the equation. Everything wasn’t about marriage, and she was not sure even a kindred spirit like him would get her fears about relationships. Farah knew it to be the realm of the unsaid, and it was easier to leave it at that and go chat up her mother who had noticed her smile and was trying to hide her suspicion.


 *                                


“You know that I know, and I know that you don’t want to know that I know,” Kami told Shahan and threw some chips at him, making him jump slightly from the sofa.


“What? That you have been binge watching that problematic white boomer show again?” Shahan replied to his brother while glued to his phone screen and inwardly rolling his eyes.


His brother had painfully acute observation and he knew that the best way right now would be to avoid his sibling who had just seen him smiling at Farah’s very colourful venting, which had somehow swelled his heart with inexplicable pride, and he had let his guard down.


“Keep denying, bro, and wait till you will be buying a book on strategic defence in South Asia for her wedding with her phupho ka beta in USA,”Ahmed quipped. The very ignorable comment made Ahad’s heart skip a beat and he was so not ready to acknowledge the strange feeling. How could he think in the line of hearts and flowers at the ripe old age of thirty-eight? His brother’s smirks were more meaningful than the neglected repository of his own emotions.


He was on his merry way to achieving ultimate uncle-hood with thinning hair and socially appropriate levels of misanthropy when he started missing her presence in his spaces. Too wary to ask her why she did not join, he once acted like a dimwitted pervert, stalking her likes and finding her account on Facebook, only to realize later that there might be a reason for his weirdness.


It was too difficult, and it would always feel too soon to determine what he actually wanted out of his association with one of the wisest and funniest women he had ever talked to. She might turn out to be a respectable married lady with three kids, or was engaged like his creepy brother said, or wanted to have kids!


“And why am I becoming Ammi and dragging marriage into everything?” he shuddered, “we never even talked about anything remotely on this topic and I am better than this. Definitely.”


He dropped his head on the sofa back and stifled a sigh in time. Staring at the ceiling he knew that the unsaid had to be said at some point soon and his feelings needed to have a title.


 *


They were all going to a wedding. Farah loved and hated attending wedding parties in equal measure. She loved the glorious reception of baraat, the permeating scent of roses that kept getting mixed with other whiffs of fragrances, bright lights, the never ending vibrance of colours, and rustling of silks, pashmina, and chiffons.


Excellent occasions for taking selfies and getting the choicest nastiest negative commentary from the relatives you happen to meet once a year at a wedding or a funeral. She was sure to meet two to three aunties who would start their tête-à-tête with “MashaAllah, our Faro Paro always looks good” and end with  “we keep praying that she gets married soon” followed by a “keep looking for a suitable match” advice for her mother.



Artwork by Beenish Ahmed Saraz


She had stopped caring about the plethora of remarks and questions about her marriage, but desi socialising was plainly injurious to mental health. That one time when Maryam Aunty kept shoving her ‘original’ Coach bag under her nose, and her settled-in-the-UK-engineer son kept sharing how women in Pakistan were becoming so ‘Western’ and needed to wear hijab and Farah kept thinking how to finish her pink tea in peace and nursed a headache for the whole week. She had wondered later how he would react if she told him that she didn’t plan to have kids or that she wanted to continue working even if she got married.


She was apprehensive, happy, and wore mehndi on both her hands when she entered he banquet hall with her parents.


*


Shahan believed that weddings were a waste of time, money, and energy. His mother did not think so and there he was, attending the latest family freak show.


“We just wanted to get together to show accumulated wealth and exploit the working class. Why so much pomp and show because two people were about to do the deed? Come on folks, grow up!”’ he felt like shouting.


And aunties making what they believed to be good jokes about his receding hairline was the cherry on top. Like always, he was done with the greetings in twenty minutes and out of the banquet hall, strolling in the fresh air and wondering if he was mad or if everyone else was.


*


“Why does this dude look familiar?” Farah squinted and wished her eyes did not react so badly to lenses and she could discern faces properly on her mascara-kajal-no-glasses days.


Abba left her side and went straight to greet the stranger with known vibes. As Farah approached the stranger, her thoughts went into overdrive.


“Is it Shahan? No, right? Have I finally become the 7pm drama heroine who sees her beloved everywhere. Also, Astaghfirullah, he is so not my beloved. Or is he? I am old and I need to get my eyes examined.”


Why was her Abba going straight towards him anyway? The entrance to hall was on the left and Shahan (or whoever looked like him) was helping the uniformed caterers and pulling out a deig. Perhaps it was him, and he did not have the fancy IT job he once mentioned casually and ran a food catering business!


Well, he did give very humble and earthy vibes. She halted her terrain of thoughts to focus on the present where Abba was greeting and hugging him like a long-lost son just found. Feeling very dizzy, she inhaled the wonderful smells of food and rose petals, hoping to get hold of some biryani, and bulk loads of sanity, not necessarily in the same order.


*


Uncle Haneef’s daughter reminded him of someone or something. She was graceful and pretty, but he had this urge to look at her face again for unknown reasons, which would have been very rude and very unlike him.


He noticed her gajrey and bangles and it was like a seeing Farah’s Intsa reel. “Is she Farah? Nah. NO!’ Shahan felt like kicking the deig or going back in time to not help the catering staff. He did think about meeting Farah, more often than he wanted to, but never in his wildest imagination would he have been able to pull off this surreal meeting.


Holding a thoroughly blackened deig of biryani, he wished with his whole heart that he had listened to his brother and changed into a better attire than the yellow stole stole over his worn out shalwar kameez.


“Looks don’t matter, looks don’t matter,” he chanted to himself, “This may not be Farah.”


And then she half turned, exactly like in her DP, looked back, smiled cautiously in recognition, and everything froze. It was her.


He just could not stop smiling, long after she was gone and the deig had reached its destination. She was so real, and he had become a cliché in the lifetime of a few minutes. He could hear the beating of his own heart and smiled more broadly when Kami met him at the stairs and told him that he looked like an idiot.


“You know what you don’t know?” Shahan asked him, “Your bro here is going to have his own whacko love story and two full plates of biryani!”



 


Dr Javaria Farooqui got her PhD from University of Tasmania, Australia. Her research forte is popular romance studies, book history, postcolonial studies, and reading cultures. Her recent book, Romance Fandom in 21st-Century Pakistan: Reading the Regency, is set to be published with Bloomsbury Academic in November 2024.








Beenish Ahmed Saraz is a visual artist raised in Hyderabad, Pakistan. She graduated with Honours in the department of Fine Arts with a major in Painting from National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan and completed her Master's with Distinction in Masters of Arts and Design from Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan.


Beenish was awarded  ‘The Best Artwork Award’ in the 17th Young Artists Exhibition Alhamra Arts Gallery. She also secured her position as runner up in Pecha Kucha Workshop 2023, organized by the Karachi Biennale Trust. Her work has also been exhibited nationally in various group shows. Additionally, she has been an active participant in two Art Residencies. Her work has also been featured in international magazines.

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sarazulqernain56
09 Μαρ

Lovely 😍

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Umer Bilal
Umer Bilal
09 Μαρ

A great story full of emotions and cultural reflection. I'm so happy to have an opportunity of reading this story❤

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