C a c t u s
(a short story)
Farheen Chaudhry

They both while sitting on the bench, beside the lush green enclosure were warming themselves in the sun. Hamida looked at them snappishly, placing her bag on the nearby bench, she sat there quite bushed. She had to make a lot of notices and Saba had not reached yet.

"Flaties does not suit as compared to Sharaton and Avari, but we have to just pass the night, the cheaper will be the better." It was Ali, his tone resembled the style of Siskaari. "But Sharaton is something different; no doubt we shall spend money, the taste we shall have in Sharaton cannot be compared to Flaties". The tone of Arif became piquant.

"Listening name the image of Sharaton emerges in the mind." Ali laughed with a meaningful laughter. It was not known why in the body and soul of Hameda needles began to prickle, ants climbed on her feet and began to slither onto her neck. She made a lot of effort to restrain herself but at last the trigger of her tongue went off.

"You shut up cheapsters!" They both tuned round all of sudden, and beheld her attentively, they saw her from top to toe and lashes of lightening leapt from the eyes of both of them.

"Hameeda what happened to you?" Arif said. She became more indignant. "Such an "Unromantic name!" If someone pronounced, it seemed as if he called her to dust or wash the wares. It seemed as if ants then had entered into her brain. But seeing leaping fire from the eyes of both of them, she sent on them a mute curse and went to the department with hurried steps, and the one who was notorious for being Evil Genius went to the abyss of matter. On the very next day posters of Flaties were hanging on each wall and tree of the university.

She entered in the university along with Saba; she became stunned with opened mouth. She felt ants climbing slithering on her body and then peeping through her eyes.

"Wow!" Saba smiled. The wide opened lips of Hameeda closed sluggishly, she wanted to close them tight but they again opened. She muttered a masculine abuse, "They…." "What happened to you?" Now it was the turn of Saba to open her lips. "Nothing!" No one knew why she sneaked her eyes from Saba and spread her anchal on her chest. Saba was aware of her nature; she knew that she would blurt all in a few moments. It was not in her control to conceal anything to herself, and happened the same.

After a few moments, she was telling Saba, screeching her teeth what happened yesterday. "But how you descended in the tale?" Saba spoke in surprise, "what hurts you whether they spend nights in Flaties or Avari, let them do." Uff! I shall have to tell you that in Convent ‘Flaties’ was my vexation." Hameeda confessed the fact with blushed face and then fixed her anchal aright. The pose of Hammeda removed Saba’s confusion. She peeked stealthily between her waist and shoulders, then she spoke after having a long breath, "For God’s sake Hameeda, don’t be so weak, we shall resolve the matter…but first of all finish your tea." No one knows where Ali and Arif were, but she felt every object of the university was winking eyes to her. It seemed as if her secret revealed to the whole world and was laughing at her weakness. While thinking so she began to correct her anchal on her chest frequently. She was comparing herself to a king who on insistence of cheaters, putting on supposed silky dress had gone to amble among the masses and a child indicated by pointing his finger, "the king is naked."

To Hameeda each branch of each tree was a finger and each brick of each wall was an eye, an impish eye with satirical smile. She looked at the face of Hameeda with pesky eyes; her eyes fell on her marble neck and then halted on her locket. It was lurking around the curves of her neck. She held Saba’s hand and sat suddenly on the stairs. Simultaneously being overcome by hatred, affection and anger, instead of seizing the throat of Saba, she placed her hand on her shoulder and then rested her head there on it.

They had remained very close to each other since the period of their college education. They teased the teachers by whispering together, they spent themselves in study the days of examination with deliberate annoyance. Attractive laughter made Saba popular in the university and Hameeda was proud of her friendship. The magic of her own eyes was such as if the standard of love had been only the eyes she would get the title of ‘Queen’ but she was defeated on such heights as where wings of the angels burn too.

When students of the university began to move around Saba, she became vigilant; her heart wished that one smile from the strained smiles of Saba might fix on her too. Some stern masculine face brimming with mannish emotions should impale its leopard-like looks on her body and she impulsively should begin to flux obviously in the same state of emotions.

But no one gave such comments on her as on hearing her ears should become red, except a few sentences of the vagabonds, or at least she might take one or two drifted steps. On the other hand boys wished to caressed Saba with their looks, they wanted to slice her with their comments. They passed by the five foot eight inch boney structure of Hameeda avoiding her lest they should be hurt in case they strike against her. They did not know that the pole had the current of 440 volts.

When Ali expressed his desire to Hameeda with thousands of pleadings to get arranged a meeting with Saba, her heart wished that she should wrench his neck. "Don’t I have any importance to you? Didn’t I do nothing to attract you, sometimes by changing my hair-style, sometimes by raising morally and immorally, angles and curves of the body, sometimes by making my thick eyelashes more substantial by applying to them mascara?" Then who should make her understand that those people had become more practical. The magic of mascara functions to enhance the sale of mascara. Seeing Ali immersed in the love of Saba, she felt as if all mascara of her eyes began to melt and spread all over her face and body. The kajal of her eyes spread and moved down like gelatinous black tar and she time and again wiped her face and neck.

"Are you all right?" Ali said.

"I don’t know, I am feeling dizzy." She was really exhausted.

"Come! I shall take you to the department."

Ali extended his bulky hand to Hameeda, she felt as besides wiggling of tar, ants began to slither around her neck. At that moment she urged for the Storm of Noah or prayed to be devoured and preserved by the riven earth. But wishes are the wishes; the reality was scaring her in the form of an old woman with projected teeth. She composing her soul went somewhere far away; she got free her hand from Ali’s and said dryly, "No thanks." After remaining aloof for several days, at last she hoisted on the shrine of love the flag of ‘Dear Brother’ and finding all routes barred she began to talk to Ali.

On the other side Ali did not spoil a single moment and began to disclose the state of his heart and feelings about Saba, Hameeda according to her wish, began to reflect all words to herself and she placed the remainder before Saba.

Saba after listening to Ali’s messages used to say, "They all drool on each girl in the same way."

"Then why not on me." This sentence descended on the heart of Hameeda like damnation but she merely stared at Saba. One day all of sudden it revealed to Hameeda that Saba was a flirt of the lowest kind. Now with him and then with someone else. Whenever her heart wished, she sat in the front seat of the car of someone, and passed by Hameeda, trampling her heart like a guided missile. Each time she thought that she would deal with Saba with harsh tongue. She would rebuke her and break friendship of such a loose character girl, but when she used to see Saba’s face imparting no comments, she would say hardly, "What kind of adventure was the new one?"

"A one!" Saba used to wink her eye naughtily, make a circle with thumb and index finger, and place the circle on the troubling vein of her neck and all distress of Hameeda get imprisoned in that circle.

"Why not I too!" Many times Hameeda thought while hitting gently the round sarsens with the toes of his shoes. One day dreams of Hameeda’s became reality when a common black boy of biology who had been looking at Hameeda with sweet looks for several days became successful in taking her to the cafeteria. How could that poor boy succeed? In fact it was Hameeda who made him successful, and in a few days she after going through the experience of front seat reached his room.

Fulfilling all demands of Mother Nature, she came back where she started. Thrill merely proves thrill that only simmers blood, and it does not have any concern with the emotions. She began to feel herself like a balloon which had been defused and it had crumpled into a piece of rubber.

She began to experience depression!

"But the face of Saba expressed something else; my face tells narrates another tale." She said to her own reflection. But the mirror remained silent; she entered into the arena enthusiastically to assume the face of Saba. It is not necessary for a thrill that the mountains should be lush green, sometime one has to surmount drab and dry rocks, so many of the boys had overcome that grey mountain, but Hameeda could not get access to the cliff hanger which she had been waiting for.

"Which are the routes you are heading on?" Saba objected.

"Had you ever consulted me?" She replied bluntly.

Saba read her face with surprise, and on seeing alien inscription Saba darned her lips. Then both of them began to move in their own circular zones, now befuddled, then restless and then depressed.

Final examination was nearing, one day Saba stopped her on the way, "Listen! I want to share a news with you." Who knows what kind of tinkle was in her voice that Hameeda had to halt though she didn’t want to stop.

"Wouldn’t you ask?" Saba peeked into her eyes, but Hameeda kept silent.

"Ali has proposed to me and I have accepted the proposal." Saba announced in a decisive tone.

Hameeda felt as if all walls of the department began to crumble down on her one by one. She composed herself groaningly and an acrid sentence slipped from her mouth abruptly, "And what happened to the list of your lovers?"

"Come on Hameeda, at least you should not say so."

Saba’s face corroded a little.

There sputtered in Hameeda somewhere deep a mini fire-cracker.

"Come on I shall tell you the whole affair."

Saba began to drag her, but Hameeda wanted to avoid and said, "I am getting late, the library will be closed." Hameeda felt a little solace finding her arrow hitting the target. She wanted to leave Saba panting alone in the same state, but it seemed as if Saba stabbed her arms with the daggers made of stone. Her face was extremely serious, so much grave that Hammeda became scared. Saba hissed, "I many times tried to refrain you, but I don’t know how and when you strayed so far."

"What do you think about yourself, what will become when Ali becomes aware of all affair?" Hameeda’s thirst putting on the slough of apprehension came on her tongue.

"Ali knows more than you do, and that all too that you do not know." Saba’s tone was so much confident and stern that Hameeda winced from within.

Saba spoke fearing something unexpected, "It was not the truth that you and the stupid like you were thinking of, keep in mind, the sap of all flowers is not to be guzzled, some flowers carry such a fatal smell that the flying insects hovering around with the motive to enjoy their bewitching fragrance, fell onto the ground at distance, and those who come ahead are pricked on the points of thorns or poison kills them, no one plucks the flower of cactus. Did you understand?"

Hameeda became stunned with the opened mouth and she felt as if she really was the pathway to Flaties which was being trodden from this end to that one under the feet of every passerby.

(Translated by Muhammad Shanazar)

(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Jan-April 2014)