Shiraz was busy packing some books in his suitcase. He had already heard Zainy talking to his mother and sister and knew she had arrived. The moment she stepped in he said, “Ah so you finally thought about me!”
Zainab smiled; she was quite used to hearing him use this tone and phrase.
“You didn’t greet me, didn’t ask how I was doing. All you do is complain,” Zainab said. She set the tray down on the coffee table.
Shiraz was also used to this reply. This was their standard talk when they met. He smiled, abandoned the suitcase, pulled up a chair and sat down at the coffee table.
“I’m fortunate that despite all my bad luck, I get a special paratha treat from you,” he said as he broke off a piece of paratha and put it into his mouth.
“When are you leaving?” she asked
“You know that!” Shiraz replied.
“Yes, I do. And when will you return?” she asked.
“You know the answer to that question too, Zainy. I’ll be back in about two days.” He was about to break another bit of paratha when he noticed that Zainab having pushed up her sleeve was taking off her gold bangles; she and put them down on the table in front of him.
“These are the gold bangles I had made for my trousseau. I saved up the money from tutoring children at home. You need ten thousand rupees, the bangles should fetch you that at least if not more,” Zainab replied.
The previous day Shiraz had asked her if she could give him some money, but she didn’t have any to give. This was not the first time; Shiraz often asked her for money. Sometimes he would return it and sometimes he would not. But this was the first time Shiraz needed such a large amount. If he had given her a few days, she would have produced it. But he wanted the money that very day and said that she should not mention the request to her father or to anyone else at home.
“But I don’t have that kind of money, Shiraz. I had some of father’s money but just a couple of days ago he asked me for it to loan it to a friend. I have fifteen hundred rupees and you are welcome to it.” Zainab was upset that she couldn’t help him out at this crucial hour in his life.
“No, that’s OK. Fifteen hundred won’t help. The problem is I wasn’t able to do any tutoring because of my studies. As a result, last month’s bills haven’t been paid and if I don’t pay the current bill either, our electricity and gas may be disconnected. Plus I need to buy a suit and shoes for the interview and pay for the trip and the stay in Islamabad.” Shiraz seemed anxious and this was too much for her to bear.
“I’ll tell father; he’ll arrange something for you.”
“No, no; please don’t tell chacha,” Shiraz said. “I’ll borrow it from someone else.”
Though Shiraz reassured her that he would manage, she remained anxious; sometime during the night she remembered the bangles. She was relieved: she could help Shiraz after all. Though she had saved for two years to buy the bangles, she was happy to turn them over to Shiraz.
“Sell them,” Zainab said.
“No Zainy, I can’t do that. These are yours.”
“Really? Since when have you and I started the ‘this is yours and this is mine’ thingy?’ Zainab said offended at his refusal to accept the bangles.
“No, Zainy; I…”
But Zainab cut him off. “If you don’t take them, I will leave them here. If I have something and it can’t be used to fulfil your needs, what’s the use of having it?”
Shiraz was quiet for a few moments.
“Here’s fifteen hundred rupees, too,” Zainab said putting down the money by the bangles on the table. “Now let’s have breakfast before it gets cold.”
Shiraz stared at the bangles with a sense of relief – he would be able to buy the clothes and shoes he needed to be presentable for the interview, plus he would also be able to pay off the utility bills and buy some groceries for home and have enough left over for the trip to Islamabad. He was grateful to Zainab for her generosity.
“Why are you quiet? What’re you thinking of?” Zainab asked.
“Zainy, I am obliged to you. I owe you for this,” Shiraz said with great sincerity.
“You only owe someone for favours when you want to cut off ties. But in love, there is no obligation on either side,” Zainab replied.
“When I join the civil services, I will use my first salary to buy you bangles; not two but six; even if I have to borrow from someone to make up the shortfall,” Shiraz vowed, overcome by emotion.
“I’m satisfied to be with you. I don’t care for jewellery; that you care about me is all that matters,” Zainab smiled happily as she realised that he had accepted her gift.
“Jewellery is also important.”
“But not for Zainab Zia.”
“That’s because Zainab is more precious than all the jewels in the world.” This was Shiraz in his most emotional state.
Zainab laughed happily and said, “I’ll bring the tea, you get on with your breakfast.”
Shiraz picked up the bangles; they were light but he was sure they would see him through the month. At peace now, he reached for the paratha and realised that he had forgotten to offer it to Zainab. He thought he would save a bit for her; but it was so delicious that he polished it all off and when she returned, not a crumb remained. Zainab was thrilled to see the empty plate; it felt good to know that she had made his day.
Excerpted with permission from Till Death Do Us Part, Umera Ahmed, Juggernaut Books, available exclusively on the Juggernaut Books app.