“Group call!” Amani’s shrill voice squeaked from the phone the moment Hina accepted her call.“She can see that it’s a group call.” Gohar’s voice came over more calmly.“Where were you lost?” Hina said. “In high spirits, as always,” Amani said.“Let her express herself,” Gohar said.“She expressed herself all the way to Timbuktu and back in her thesis. It’s a wonder it even got accepted. The way she writes.” Amani’s voice rose a notch.“Cease fire.” Gohar, on peacekeeping duty, as usual.“I haven’t even started firing yet,” Hina said. “What’s up with you losers?
I could have died and you wouldn’t have known, the way you’ve kept in touch.”“I had some problems,” Gohar began, but Amani cut across her.“Problems shmroblems,” Amani said. “You haven’t changed one bit, Hina. Keep some fire for when we see your ugly face. Ice cream place in thirty.”“Minutes?” Hina looked up from her phone screen, where Amani’s and Gohar’s display photos shimmered, and checked the wall clock. “No, silly. Hours. It’s not like we all live in the same gated community and went to the same college within said community. You can be dense sometimes, even when you’re firing on all cylinders.”“Whatever.” Hina cut the call, then sent a group text message: “See you there.”The ice cream parlour’s non-smoking section was divided into booths. Amani, Gohar and Hina slipped into their regular spot and waved away the menu cards, which the waiter always offered them for some reason, even though they knew everything by heart. They had only been eating there since they were toddlers.“The usual,” Amani said to the waiter.“It is, as usual.” Gohar said.
“The three of us together at last.”“You two had to go off on separate vacations, didn’t you, just to bother me,” Hina said.“Whine away. You found a place for your Masters yet?” Amani spread out her fingers so that the manicured nails caught the light.“Still looking,” Hina said, then added quickly, “you all set for the wedding, Gohar?” At this, Gohar’s face twisted with worry. “No. There’s Ramazan coming up, and Eid, and then it’s so hot, and I don’t know how I’m going to get all my shopping done.” “You should just go do it in Dubai like me,” Amani said, throwing a glance at the waiter as he set down their ice creams in front of them.“But, I told you, I had problems,” Gohar began.“You and your problems. It’s a wonder your parents didn’t name you ‘Problem’.
‘Problem A’ and ‘Problem B’, those should be the names for you and your sister.”“Sometimes I wonder why I put up with the two of you,” Hina said, digging into her ice cream.“Don’t mind me,” Amani said, flicking the cherry off her ice cream so that it landed on the floor of the restaurant. “I’m just well prepared for everything in my life. Did I tell you I’m honeymooning in Malaysia after my wedding?”“Yeah, that’s a popular destination,” Hina said. Gohar was silently watching her ice cream melt down the sides of the glass.“That’s after we visit Thailand,” Amani said. “Another popular destination, I’m sure.”Hina thought of the possibility of an architect husband and a honeymoon in Murree, the local summer holiday destination, and took a particularly hard jab at her ice cream with her spoon. A decorative wafer slid off and landed on the table.“You better be careful,” Amani said. “Look what you’re aiming at.”
“It’s here...in the flesh,” Ray said, waving his phone in the air triumphantly.“You mean, in pixels,” said Hina, raising a hand to grab his phone.“Nuh-uh. Hang on.” Ray put his phone behind his back. “Are you going to be a good girl from now on?”“No,” said Hina.“Are you going to stop pulling the plug on my games?”“Never,” said Hina.“Are you going to learn how to cook like a chef, clean like a maid, and sit like a lady?”“Dream on,” said Hina.“Good girl. Just as I expected. Now, here, don’t grease the touch screen with your fingertips.” Ray extended the screen to Hina’s eye level and waited.And waited.Hina was frozen as she studied the image on the screen carefully. Finally, she raised her hands to her mouth and let out a stifled shriek from behind them. With her hands clamped over her mouth, she ran groaning to her room.
Ray stood for a moment, then followed.She had locked the door of her room, as he knew she would.“Knock knock,” he said, raising his knuckles to the door.“Go away,” came Hina’s voice from inside the room.“Go away who?” said Ray.“Go away forever and this isn’t the time for knock-knock jokes,” Hina said.“You finally believe me?” Ray asked.A muffled sound from behind the door was his only response. He judged that she had thrown a cushion at it.“Take your time,” Ray said through the keyhole. “On second thought. You have until Eid.”The sound of another cushion hitting the door confirmed that she was listening to what he said.“Come on ... it’s not so bad. If you want, I can show you his Facebook profile and-”The door opened to reveal Hina with her face contorted into an undefinable expression.“Never mention him to me again,” she said.“I get it. You want to take it slow. I can understand that. But, you see, you don’t have time.” Ray raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. Hina was not in a surrendering mood.“If you say that again, I will throw your game console in the bathtub and run the water till it’s full,” Hina said.“So serious!” Ray said. “All right, all right,” he added, as Hina took a swipe at him, which he dodged. “Good thing I keep it under lock and key.”“You mean the key you keep in the envelope in the paid bills stack?”“You’re good.”“That I am. So remember. Don’t bother me about this again.” With that, Hina closed the door, though Ray did not hear the click of the lock.
To be continued...