It was during the five second interval between Aaroh’s Yaara and Noori’s Dil ki Qasam that Taha realized something was wrong. Turning down the radio, he pulled up towards the side of the road, bracing himself for the worst, while hoping with the optimism and innocence of a six year old that nothing would actually be wrong. Even as his heart sank, the aspiring doctor could not help but appreciate Fate’s sense of humour - it was quarter to one in the morning, and he was parked on the side of a highway in the world’s most dangerous city, with a flat tire. Every single emotion being felt at the sight of the blasted tire expressed itself in an all-encompassing “Dear Lord”.
The nearest gas station or mechanic’s shop could be miles away - there was certainly none that could be seen. On top of everything, this area happened to be one of the least frequented - certainly none that one knew of or used as a landmark. Like for any normal person, the most plausible thing to do was to call a friend who might help. “Hello, yaar don’t ask. Tire’s flat and I’m stranded on the highway.” “Don’t you have a spare?” “Do you think I’d be calling you if I had a spare?” “Masha Allah.” “Save it for later.” “Okay any idea where exactly you are? I just passed a Shell station, I could get a spare and tools from there and drive back to where you’re stuck.” “Yaar, I have no idea where I am. It’s pitch black all around me, just drive back on the route of the restaurant, you’ll run into me at some point.” “God help us.”
Sitting in the car with just his own window rolled down and both back doors childlocked, Taha felt a lot like a child himself, sitting apprehensively in alien surroundings, waiting for his parents to return. Who knew what might happen at one in the morning in one of the most dangerous places in the most dangerous city in the world.
And yet, even as the thought materialized, bandits and kidnappers seemed the stuff of myths. True, Karachi was notorious for its criminal low-life, but it seemed to be only in name. Perhaps it was that Taha had developed the immunity that is characteristic of Karachiites who have lived too long in the South Asian hub. Besides, it was not as if he belonged to a mafia group or had political affiliations that would lead to him being targeted. The most that could happen was his near-empty wallet and scratched cell phone being stolen; even the car could not be driven away. As far as the chances of a kidnapping for ransom went, the 24 year old preferred reciting every supplication his mother had made him memorise when he was young, and trusting in God.
Staring at the starless sky, Taha could not get enough of the midsummer wind. He could not recall the last time he actually let himself be all-consumed by the night, painted in its many unidentifiable shades of blue. A dog collapsed, panting, onto the betel-spit-stained sidewalk on the other side of the road, clearly in its first stages of labour. Its cries were impossible to ignore, and had it not been for the eight percent battery left in his phone, he would, of course, have been more liberal in its usage in order to try and block out the howls of the creature in agony. But a crucially placed phone call was worth more than the chance to entertain himself by scrolling down his Twitter feed.
His only companion’s whining was becoming almost unbearable when Taha swore he could hear a car approaching at 60 mph from the rear. Nearly falling flat on his face in the rush to not miss a saviour, he got out of the car, hands outspread, standing like a lunatic, blocking the road. The fast-approaching Swift slowed to a halt and Taha could see the driver was a hijab-clad female. Trying hard to keep his composure and approaching the driver’s side, he blurted out, “Assalam-o-alaikum, I am so sorry but my tire went flat as I was driving home and I don’t have a spare.” He immediately felt like an idiot because what was this poor soul to do; also, Ahsan was already on his way so there was no point in even stopping her. But, what on Earth was she doing on the highway, this late at night? And as the entire experience grew more bewildering, she replied, “Wa-alaikum as-salam, it’s okay, I have a spare, and tools. I’ll pull up and you can change tires.” As much as Taha was grateful to God, such occurrences never happened off-screen, and afraid that he might somehow break the spell by asking too many questions, he mutedly accepted the help sent his way from the script-writer, muttering only a “thank you”.
“Yaar, where are you?” “I have been driving for 10 minutes now, and I see no car with a flat tire parked on the side of the road. Is this a joke? Are you pranking me?” “Yaar, leave it; turn and go home. Even I don’t know where I am, but someone was driving by and they have a spare tire so I’m changing mine right now and then I’ll drive home.” “Are you crazy? Are you sure? Have you seen the tire? What if they’re fooling you?” “They are not fooling me; the tire is already in my hands. It’s okay; you won’t find me anyway. Go home before your mom starts worrying.” “You’re a mad drama.”
It was as he tightened the bolts on the wheel that Taha finally worked up the courage to ask, “What were you even doing here at this time?” “I’m a journalist, I was driving home from an assignment”, came the brief reply. “Oh”, briefer still. The thought of a 20-something female journalist driving down the highway alone in Karachi, at one in the morning, seemed bizarre. Indeed, the only thing that surpassed the night in its danger was its absurdity. Did this girl have no parents? “Your parents let you go out this late at night?” “They have their reservations of course, and I was supposed to be home by 11. But the job has its demands and none of us can really help it.” “And it doesn’t scare you?” “How am I supposed to do my job if I’m scared all the time?” “Even I was scared!” “That’s because you didn’t have a spare tire,” she replied with a smile.
“Thank you, thank you so much! I don’t know how to repay you.” “It’s okay, I’m just happy to help.” And as the window rolled up and the Swift sped away, Taha could not help but admire the blatant disregard Karachiites had for peril.