Dialogue Times

“MAMA’S BOY” by Kamran Awan

He never liked seeing off people. He always avoided going to the railway stations, the airports and the bus terminals. Strangely enough, these places induced in him a nostalgia that always transported him back to his childhood days. A little boy clinging to his mother’s side with one hand and holding a toy plane in the other. So, one foggy winter morning when he said bye to Sara on the platform in a shaky voice with tears in his eyes, she was deeply moved. She came closer, hugged him tightly and said, “I’ll be back soon!”. As the train’s whistle echoed on the almost empty platform, he felt like crying even more and the longing to be with his mother grew manifolds…


As the train started to move, gradually picking up the pace, Nadir took a few strides with it waving at Sara who was waving him back through the thick glass panes of the parlor car until the train outpaced him on the platform No. 2 of Lahore Railway Station. He paused for a while, lit up his favorite cigarillo with the matchstick ignoring the “No Smoking” warning signs around.He always lit up his cigarillos with the matchsticks as he preferred the smell of burning wood over the stench of the flame produced by the liquefied butane in the lighters. His empty stomach growled a bit on being given a dose of high-quality burning tobacco instead of a hefty breakfast but it soon appeased down as he stepped into his car parked in the parking lot. There were a few cars in the lot on a cold and foggy Saturday morning. He wouldn’t have come out in a morning like that and would have stayed in the bed under his warm duvet had the wife of Sara’s brother not given birth to a baby boy a day before andSara’s mother not asked her to come over to Multan to lend her a helping hand at home for a few days in the post labor scenario of her daughter in law, although there were plenty of helping hands in the household in form of servants and maids.

Just a few hours before leaving for the railway station, Nadir and Sara made love, more on the insistence of Sara, as if she wanted to be sure that he wouldn’t have to go looking for sex during a few days’ absence of hers. Being in the sixth year of their nuptial, they weren’t that active sexually as they used to be in the first two years of their marriage, although theirs was a love marriage and they both were still quite fit and desirable for the opposite sexes. The sight of Sara’s love-handles oozing out of her tight short shirts over the jeans still drove him crazy. In the first year of their married life they made love four to five times a day on average regardless of what she was wearing or not wearing at all. Nadir’s father had gifted him a studio apartment just a couple of miles away from their home in the upscale Gulberg. They both would stroll naked in the evenings till mornings and made love whenever or wherever they wanted to. They had become experts in making love not only on the bed but wherever they liked and knew how to make love even on an ironing stand, on a dining table or even in the balcony unnoticed by the others. But over the time, that mutual craze had pacifieda bit and they had confined their sexual adventures to the bounds of their bedroom only. They adopted no contraceptive measures in their love making but still they were issueless. Thankfully enough, there was no pressure of Nadir’s parents on them on that issue yet so they were still enjoying their life with each other to a great extent.

Nadir had many plans of merrymaking and painting the town red in Sara’s absence, which included attending the literary moots in the city, watching a movie at the newly opened state of the art theater, feasting upon namkeen karahi and Kabuli pulao and tikkas with his chums Sajid and Sultan (and a drinking spree afterwards at Sajid’s place), informing his long time female friends that he is alone for a few days (to mentally prepare them for a hot rendezvous at his place), etc. … the list went on and on, although apparently he had hardly a week on his disposal to indulge into all that.

Although his stomach was asking for a heavy desi breakfast in the old city area, he stopped out at a McDonald’s in Gulberg. Two people could have had a sumptuous desi breakfast easily in the cost at which they were offering an English breakfast, but the sole reason for coming here was a female counter staff he saw a couple of weeks ago when he and Sara had come here to check the English breakfast, they were much boosting about. The outlet was almost empty so early on a foggy winter morning which had become the hallmark of the winters in Lahore over the years, thanks to the polluted air of the megapolis.

There she was along with another female co-worker standing at the counter smiling at him as he approached her whistling slowly with hands tucked into the pockets of his corduroy he was wearing under a bottle-green turtle-neck sweater and a tweed jacket. He looked quite handsome even in his late thirties. Probably she still remembered him thanks to the deep exchange of glances between them on his previous visit. He placed order for the breakfast, paid the cash and when he was about to sit on a high stool nearby, she said smilingly, “Sir, you please sit, I’ll serve you your breakfast on the table…”.

He was checking his Facebook on his cellphone when she came holding a tray of the breakfast. “Here, your breakfast Sir…”, she said as she placed the tray in front of him. “Anything else Sir?”, she asked again smilingly. “No, nothing’s needed… O yes, probably you could get me some sweetener for the tea instead of sugar.”, he said while placing his visiting card at the table alongside the tray. “Oh sorry, I forgot, just a minute”, she picked up the card and left. She came back after about a minute and placed a sachet of artificial sweetener on which a cell number was scribbled along with a name, “Rania”. “Here you go Sir… all that you wanted”, she said smilingly and left.

He remained seated there for a while after finishing off his breakfast though he felt like ordering another one to satiate his appetite. He sent a one liner “Can we meet?” to three of his female friends on WhatsApp, whom he hadn’t seen in quite some time. Two replied promptly; Farah replied with “Fuck off”, while Sharmeen, his ex-co-worker replied, “When, where, how?” to which he replied, “Wait…” and left but didn’t forget to cast one last deep glance at Rania who was also looking at him whispering something into the ear of her other female colleague at the same time.

He drove straight to his posh apartment building in the heart of Gulberg. As he reached the 4th floor using the staircase (he always used the stairs for the sake of keeping his limbs in action, although he used to do gym on weekends regularly in the basement of their building), he found Jawad his bald but tall and fair neighbor along with his wife Naghma, both in their gym Tees under the flees uppers of thetracksuits. “Hey, where are you coming from so early in the morning in this cold…”, Jawad asked gleefully on seeing him. “Oh went to see off Sara… she’s gone to Multan for a few days…”, Nadir replied to which Naghma replied, “Anything you want, just let me know…”, turning the full view of her ivory breasts under a tight Tee towards him. “Oh thank you guys, Sara’s put in place everything for me… but surely I’ll let you if anything is needed, thank you…”. The three smiledas they waved bye and headed on to their respective destinations.

Once inside his apartment, Nadir found everything tidy and arranged as if nobody ever lived in there. Though it was pretty cold inside, he didn’t turn on the gas heater as the words of his late grandmother echoed in his ears, ‘people can’t make rotis due to low pressure of the natural gas and we are enjoying the warmth of the heaters…’. He removed his tweed jacket, corduroy and turtle-neck and put on his favorite fleece PJs and almost jumped onto the bed and covered himself up to the bust with the warm English duvet. For a while he kept on changing the channels aimlessly on the LED in his bedroom but soon, he turned it off and picked up his cellphone to see what was new on the WhatsApp. Farah’s “Fuck-off” was still there on the top but he slid to Sharmeen’s message and replied, “Will let you know…”. He tried to stroll through the Facebook, the Instagram and the Twitter one by one but Naghma’s full breasts kept on chasing him everywhere he went. Finally, he fell asleep under the warmth of the duvet but she was there in his dreams too…

He woke up as his cellphone rang around afternoon. On the other end was his furious mother, “Nadir, you said, you would stay at your place when Sara is gone, we didn’t say anything… we waited for you over the lunch but you didn’t show up… what is this…?”. “O Mom, just chill out, relax, I told you Sara has left so many things to eat in the refrigerator and the deep freezer, enough for me to sustain for at least a week…”, he explained, “OK, I’ll join you folks over the dinner, promise”. He got up and saw outside the window where it was still grey all around. A typical Lahore winter’s day when the sun doesn’t show up for about two or three weeks and the day time temperature of the city falls below than that of London or New York day time temperatures.It was about five in the evening and the grey outside was just the same as it was earlier in the morning. This gloomy weather wasn’t just the winter, rather it deserved a separate identity of its own, distinguishing it from the normal winters. The laziness was one of the main characteristics of this anomalistic weather and Nadir always felt like lying in his cozy bed listening to the old songs sipping hot coffee or chocolate and cuddling… but cuddling with whom? Sara wasn’t there and his only hope now rested on Sharmeen who appeared more than eager to join him having recently divorced his second husband in five years. Strangely, the longing to be his mother earlier in the morning at the railway station wasn’t there anymore although his mother had scolded him just a while ago for not being there for the lunch with them and had asked him, not to miss the dinner later tonight. Maybe it’s some particular part of the grey matter that invokes the longing to be someone in us from our past which is triggered automatically and inexplicably by the past vibes suspended in some specific nook of the present.

He made himself a cup of tea with his favorite evaporated milk that he liked so much and also put a couple of half-done beef seekh kebabs on the frying pan along with some chicken nuggets to appease down the growling sounds his stomach madeas he hadn’t eaten a thing since he had had an English breakfast at McDonald’s earlier in the morning, which incidentally also reminded him of Rania, the girl at the counter. But where was her contact No? He recalled that she had written her contact number on something she served to him… what was it? O yes, it was on the sachet of the sweetener that she brought afterwards on his demand… but where was that sachet now? In the pockets of his tweed jacket or the corduroy he was wearing earlier in the morning….He immediately searched for the sachet in the numerous pockets on his jacket and the corduroy but it wasn’t there… “Oh fuck. I must’ve left it there on the tray and it must be lying at the bottom of some trash bin now”, he mumbled.

By the time he got out after taking a hot shower, it was already dark though it was just about 8 in the evening. He flashed open the bathrobe he was wearing in front of the dressing table in his room but then realized that Sara wasn’t there. He put on the Oud deo-stick underarms and splashed the woody body spray generously on his full body as if he wasn’t going to see his parents but going on a date. He wore his favorite Wrangler jeans and a round-neck sweater made of pure New Zealand wool and yet again sprinkled generously his favorite 4711 cologne on the sweater and even on his fleece long jacket over it. He picked up his car keys and got out of the apartment.

The dinner itself was a quiet family affair, except the noise made by the children of his elder brother Qasim and younger sister Faryal, who were also present there over the dinner. His brother lived in the upper portion of their parents’ sprawling house but his wife wasn’t happy living luxuriously near her parents in law, though they hadn’t had to pay a single penny for that. On the table too, she kept quiet mostly and just smiled occasionally passing on the dishes to the others.His sister Faryal, who was married to an army major stationed at a nearby cantonment had especially come over with her family on the invitation of her parents.

The dinner was mostly mute and boring, save the Pulao and the okra with mutton made by his mother that he liked so much. They finished eating as if under some sort of a compulsion and started leaving soon after. Nadir stayed a bit longer for a cup of tea with both his parents and puffing a cigar with his father in his cozy library, much to the annoyance of his mother. When he begged leave around 11, both his mother and father asked him to stay for the night at their place. A thick blanket of fog was still suspended all around and it was impossible to see beyond the bonnet of the car while driving.As it is said about the English weather, “the bad weather looks worst from the window”, same is the case, venturing out in the fog. Before you step in, it looks frightening, but as you move on, the fog starts giving you the way, the key is to keep your cool as you drive and move slowly with the headlights and fog lights on. Nadir evaluated the chances of picking up Sharmeen, which were none in this dark and foggy night so he decided to stay for the night at his parents’ place. He knew where to sleep. His old room was still kept by his parents in an immaculate condition and all the casual dresses and personal belongings were also there which a person could need for a few days’ stay.

He was tired and wanted to hit the bed and doze off immediately. He changed into the fleece PJs placed in the ward rob, brushed his teeth and jumped on to the bed. He turned on the LED just in front of the bed on which Steve Irwin was wrangling with a croc which had intruded into a private property. He picked up the phone to check his social media accounts one last time before dozing off. There was a new message from Sharmeen with only a “?”. He smiled on the thought that how horny she must be feeling right now, but didn’t respond. He checked Sara’s status which was showing “online” with no new activity in the past eight hours. He typed, “I am at Amma’s place for the night” and sent it to Sara.Promptly he got a reply from Sara, consisting only of a single word, “Why?” As he was thinking an appropriate answer to that “Why?”, the flurry of further messages started pouring in like, “What’s the reason?”, “You were afraid at home?”, “I left so many things for you to eat”, “You shouldn’t have left the home’, “Mama’s boy”…. And in the end, “All are asleep here, I’ll talk to you tomorrow”. Bemused, he put the cellphone on the side table. On the Nat Geo, a lion was mating with a lioness and a baboon was running amok just nearby making more noises than the mating couple.

He woke up in the morning with a mild attack of migraine, of which he was a chronic patient. But he never understood, that why this happened to him only on the weekends or a holiday. May be the modern-day man has become so mechanically driven in his composition that body and the nervous system start protesting in their own manner on given a dose of relative tranquility. It was about 10 in the morning but same greyish cover was suspended far and wide. He took up his cellphone to check on the WhatsApp activity. Sharmeen was there with a new message that consisted only of a “?”. Next to Sharmeen’s, there was a new message from Sara which said, “You awake?”. The moment he replied, “Yes”, there came the reply instantaneously, which made him jump off his bed; “I am coming back tonight. Pick me up from the Daewoo terminal at 10 in the night”.

He dialed Sara’s number. “I know my baby is missing me”, Sara chuckled promptly. “No… aa yes, but you said you’ll be gone for a few days…”, Nadir mumbled. “No use of staying here anymore… Bhabi and baby are ok… there are a couple of maids to help Ammi, I saw them all, so no use of staying any longer… pick me up from Daewoo at 10, Love you”, Sara said before she cut off the phone. At the same time, the door of his bedroom knocked and Nadir’s mom came in. “Oh, my dear boy is up. Come down, Baba and I are waiting for you on the breakfast”, she said lovingly.

Nadir finished off his breakfast halfheartedly, though his favorite beef nehari was there on the table which he hardly gulped down along with the sweetened lassi. “Amma, send my tea to my room. I am having a headache, I want to take some more rest, I won’t have my lunch please if you don’t mind…”, he said to his mother as he got up from the table.

He got out of the room around nine in the evening when he was summoned for the dinner. It was cold but the thick blanket of greyish fog wasn’t there surprisingly. He finished off the dinner hurriedly and said bye to his parents. “Is everything ok”, his father asked lighting his pipe with his favorite old Ronson lighter. “Yes, all is well, gotta pick-up Sara at 10. She’s coming back”, he replied and left.

Ten minutes before ten he was sitting in the cozy passenger’s lounge of Daewoo Bus Terminal at Thokar Niaz Beg in the South of Lahore. He never liked seeing off people. He always avoided going to the railway stations, the airports and the bus terminals. Strangely enough, these places induced in him a nostalgia that always transported him back to his childhood days. A little boy clinging to his mother’s side with one hand and holding a toy plane in the other. “Oh, my poor baby…”, said Sara as she got out of the luxury bus and half hugged him. Nadir only said, “Welcome back darling” with a forced smile. The desire to be with his mother was getting even stronger now.

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