The following is from a travelogue published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 6 (2022); excerpt curated for the website by Dr Javaria Farooqui.
I flew into Odessa from Vienna with a degree of trepidation. It was my first visit ever to an Iron Curtain country. Having been brought up on a diet of Cold War novels and James Bond movies, a variety of possibilities ran through the mind. Emerging out of the arrivals area at Odessa airport, there was a small crowd of people, amongst whom stood a tall, shapely, attractive young lady accompanied by a small but sturdy man holding up a placard with my name on it. My heart missed a beat—several beats, in fact. My worst fears were confirmed. Here was the proverbial Slavic femme fatale who would lure you into her boudoir and then in a moment of high passion, plunge a dagger through your heart. Even the gifted and athletic James Bond had struggled against this breed. I stood no chance.
“Velcum to Odessa, Mr Rrrashid, we haf been expecting you. I vill be your guide and contact here,” uttered the blonde bombshell. Resigned now to my fate, I followed her into the car as they drove me to my hotel, where she pronounced, “At seven pm I vill pick you up and take you to the Opera House for a ballet performance. I haf booked a private box for us.” The scene was now clear. I was to be taken to a darkened hall, in a recessed box invisible to the hoi polloi, some amorous advances would follow and then, as the music reached its crescendo, a shiny stiletto would pierce through my chest simultaneously with a chop to my neck.
I can honestly say that I recall nothing of the ballet at all. Throughout the first half of the performance, I waited nervously for her gentle hand to reach softly for me, wondering whether to reciprocate in Bond-like fashion or to rebuff her sharply to the accompaniment of some choice Punjabi epithets. When, after nearly an hour, no suggestive advances materialised, I decided that my interlocutor was a no-nonsense killer who would reach for the drop scene and execution without any preliminaries. So now the second half was spent on the edge of my seat keeping half an eye on her in order to spot the glint of her weapon early while at the same time working out my vault over the balcony, out of the box and into the crowd. Once again, anticlimax! The ballet was followed by dinner at Odessa’s swankiest restaurant, accompanied by refreshing Russian beverages which fortified me enough to face any challenges she could throw at me. But she shrunk away into the night. I was invincible.
Haroun Rashid According to this witty twitter buff, Haroun was “born in Lahore and most likely will die here too. In between, spent twenty years in London and Hong Kong and travelled extensively around the world; from Ouagadougou to Suva, you name it. Chartered accountant, investment banker and, finally, an industrialist businessman. Now happily retired, an active golfer and armchair activist.”
About the featured artist: Fatema Shahid is a contemporary visual artist who works in Lahore. She completed her BFA from the University College of Art and Design, Lahore, in 2018 with a major in painting and her MA in visual arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore, in 2020. She exhibited her work twice at the Young Artists’ Exhibition and at the 3rd National Exhibition of Visual Arts, Alhamra, Lahore. Her works, mostly in oils, acrylics and graphite pencil, primarily revolve around the conflicts and politics within the family and the psychology of domestic life.