Athiya Hasan knew she had never looked this good in her life before. She doubted she would ever again. She spread the lehenga outwards as she sat on the sofa and looked down demurely. It felt strange and surreal. She had always assumed that rich lehengas such as this one would be scratchy and uncomfortable, but instead, it was sensuous and slid over her curves beautifully. The rich maroon made her skin glow and she felt an inner happiness that she knew was visible on her face.
She thought of Abbu and the happiness slipped a little. Abbu was not going to be happy. In fact, she knew he was going to be quite displeased. And anyone who knew Abbu knew that asking forgiveness instead of permission didn’t really work with him. He didn’t yell, but then his eyes became wide and hurt and the person who had offended him would want to just end their misery. It was best if he didn’t know about this.
As for Ammi? What would Ammi have said if she had seen her now? Would her face have lit up in joy or disapproval? She sighed. Don’t go there now, she told herself. Not now.
She looked up and nodded. The lights switched on in the room and she ignored them as the photographer started clicking.
“Straighter. Look this side!”
The instructions rang out in the room and Athiya focused on following them.
“A little to the left. Yes, chin up!”
She tried hard not to show how much this unnerved her, but in the end, all she was concerned with was the fat cheque she would be getting. Modelling for a bridal magazine was not her idea of a job. She was actively looking for a decent, well-paying job that suited her skill set. But even months after finishing her post-graduation, nothing had happened.
Athiya had continued assuring her sisters that she was fine. She was happy to laze around at home and relax for a while. Abbu was hardly at home these days because he spent half his time hanging out around the site where their joint development project was taking place, most likely making a nuisance of himself. But he wouldn’t listen to anyone. He would go there every day and water the jasmine plant and watch as the building took shape before him. Athiya couldn’t really think of the tiny apartment they were staying in as her home. It was cramped and smaller than Jasmine Villa, which itself had been quite small by “villa” standards. Nevertheless, whenever she was at home, she was busy hunting for jobs, going for interviews, hoping against hope that something would work out for her.
Both her sisters, Tehzeeb and Ana were working and they were content with their lives. Well, as content as it was possible to be. She knew that if she dug deeper there would be some worry or some anxiety, because she knew that no one led a completely carefree life. There was no happily ever after, even if the two of them were deeply in love with the men they had married. Sometimes, she missed the three of them being a unit, but she knew that things had to change and she just had to accept it, even if she didn’t want to embrace it. She briefly wondered what her sisters would say if they knew about this gig.
They would definitely be displeased as well. No one in her family had ever done such a thing. The photographer’s instructions kept ringing out. When her friend, Ashwini, had casually mentioned hearing from a friend, who was a model coordinator, that there was a requirement for a model, and would she be interested, she had laughed at her, albeit on a WhatsApp chat.
“Have you noticed my height?” she had typed back.
“Yes, but it’s not runway modelling. This is an emergency because the model they had signed got food poisoning and they have to wrap up this shoot soon. You just have to sit somewhere and they’ll take the photos,” Ashwini had said.
It was tempting, especially when she found out how much they would be paying. It was a decent figure and she would be able to hold off from finding a job immediately. She could take a little time. Abbu had encouraged her to get a job. Any job that made her happy. She had specifically told him not to start looking for rishtas for her, because she’d noticed how he had managed to get both her sisters married just as they had begun working.
Abbu had merely smiled at her, but there had been something fishy about that smile. Had he already planned something? She was suspicious. He had to be working with that annoying Taskeen Auntie, she figured. Well, she wasn’t going to capitulate like her two sisters. She was planning on not getting married at all. Yes, there were perks to marriage but that was because her sisters had been lucky enough to find decent people to get married to, but she had no illusions that there were any more such men around. Also, what about the disadvantages? Those far outweighed the perks. Imagine living with in-laws and listening to their demands? Ugh.
The photo shoot had lasted an hour. She had arrived here, at this rundown house that had been converted into the site of the photoshoot three hours ago, and was now dying to get back home, take a nice hot shower and curl up in bed with a book. The lehenga she’d been asked to wear was gorgeous and only when she saw it, did she realise that she might not fit into it. She was top-heavy, and she felt the slightest twinge of embarrassment when she wondered what she would do if she couldn’t wear the blouse. It was a tight fit and Athiya couldn’t breathe but she would manage, she told herself. When the makeup was completed, she couldn’t recognise herself in the mirror. How had they transformed her into this beautiful woman? She was okay with being plain. She knew that she didn’t have Tehzeeb’s heart-stopping looks or even Ana’s quieter beauty and she didn’t give a fuck. She was just glad her skin was clear and she didn’t have to figure out various acne treatments and spend more money on cosmetics to cover up zits.
The makeup artist had done something to her eyes to make them look bigger and her lips look poutier, if that was possible. When the shoot was complete, she felt exhausted even though she had done nothing except sit and look regal. She didn’t speak much to anyone as she signed a sheet of paper that had been handed to her and then followed some of the other models to the adjacent room where they could change back into their own clothes. Athiya didn’t tune in to their chatter and since she wasn’t really a friendly person; a couple of the girls merely nodded in her direction and she nodded back.
Before she reached home, she’d removed all traces of makeup, although she would need to wash her hair to get rid of the hairspray. She unlocked the door to the apartment and stepped inside, feeling thrilled at the cheque in her bag. A loud pop startled her and she gasped, dropping her bag on the floor.
She kept her hand on her chest because her heart was beating way too fast. Around her, her family grinned and there was a cacophony of voices surrounding her, wishing her for her birthday. Tehzeeb and Ayub had come with Aslan who was a bouncy toddler now and Ana and Luqman were there too. Abbu smiled quietly as he watched them hug her.
She rolled her eyes when she saw that her sisters had conspired to surprise her on her birthday even though they knew she never celebrated it. What had made them think that anything had changed this year?
Excerpted with permission from Three Times Lucky, Andaleeb Wajid, Westland Books.