Going back is always a mixed bag, though. Not that there’s anything wrong with Islamabad *stops, reconsiders statement* but the fact of the matter is that now when we visit the city, we’re visiting our parents… we’re not actually ‘at home’. And with a child on either hip, it can become complicated not to be at home. You’ll recall the famous saying: Home is the where the frickin’ playpen is.
It actually hasn’t been that long since we were there last – we’d just flown up in June to celebrate my 33rd birthday. The occasion was ominously rolling around and Azfar and I were beginning to wonder what the heck we could do in Karachi with a total of four people living within driving distance who were actually willing to meet up with us. So we thought we’d take the ostrich approach and go to Islamabad instead. I nearly changed my mind, however, after having this surreal conversation on the topic with my mother:
Amma: Aafoo, I’ve decided I’m having your birthday party.
Me: Aww. Amma, there’s no need… really.
Amma: No it’s fine, I owe people dinners anyway.
Amma (forging ahead): The guest list is coming to about fifteen people. Mashallah, there are eight of us just among the immediate family. Then I thought I hadn’t gotten my friends together for a long time, so there’s Tahira, Nina, Kaisera and Imran, Cheem and Zafri, Nazo and Bajia. Asma may not be able to make it but I’m going to ask her, of course. You never manage to meet all of them when you visit, so this will be a good time.
Me: *waiting expectantly*
Amma: If you like, you could invite one or two of your friends as well!
Me: Hmm. That could be problematic, seeing that there are more than one or two of them and, um, they’re all married with… err… children and stuff.
Amma (forging ahead): Oh, I forgot. Kaisera’s son-in-law’s birthday is also on the same day and he MAY be visiting from Dubai on a surprise visit… we don’t know yet… so I have told her that I’ll also have his name written on the cake.
Me: MY BIRTHDAY CAKE IS GOING TO SAY ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY AFIA AND ASIM’??!
Amma: Yes, I thought it’ll be a nice gesture.
Me (thinking quickly): Ma, Azfar is going to get my birthday cake.
Amma: AFIA. Don’t be SILLY. I’M hosting the birthday party. I will NOT ask your husband to buy the cake.
Me (conspiratorially): No, Ma, you don’t understand. I’m MARRIED now… it’ll look VERY weird that you’re doing everything and that my husband isn’t playing a role, you know?? What will my in-laws think? It’s just not DONE.
Amma (conspiratorially/totally-getting-it-ly): Ohhh… I see. Yes, you’re right…
And so we went to Islamabad for my birthday. Amma put a fabulous do together; so fabulous, in fact, that she was wiped out before it even started. The food was AWESOME and Amma’s awesomer than awesome friends rocked the party like they always do. On our end, Zain spent the evening bawling for no fathomable reason. So one could say the party was being rocked on one end and wrecked on the other. But everyone agreed the food was delish. And Amma had put up these lovely balloons and streamers. And the cake said ‘WANT A PIECE OF ME.’ And I got very cool gifts, ranging from perfumes and bags to book vouchers and almanacs on Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali (yes, you read that right). And Amma gave me a hilariously appropriate card that read:
NOT EVERYONE IN LIFE IS LUCKY TO HAVE THE MEANS TO CUT A CAKE! BUT YOU DO!!!
Chalo Shabaash Cake Khareedo Aur Kaato! It’s your Birthday!!! :p
The last present was an anonymous-looking box wrapped in generic, totally forgettable, silver paper. “Who’s this from?” I wondered, opening the card. There was a pair of scissors made on the front with a smiley face on either blade.
With you being my other half, life seems so complete and better in every way
Happy birthday to my perfect match. To my wife!
I blinked. Then I rushed to the adjoining room, where Azfar was playing with the kids. “Thank you for the card,” I barely managed to whisper in his ear. “It was WHOLLY undeserved.” And with that, yours truly promptly started crying.
“It’s the best card ever,” I gurgled, tearing the wrapping on the gift open. “This is better than ANY present you could EVER give me. OHMYGODANiPHONEANDAKINDLE??!!!! WHOOOOOHOOOO!!!!! WHOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! *galloping off back to the next room* AMMAAAAAA… LOOK WHAT AZFAR GOT MEEEEEEE!!!!!”
Once the excitement had worn off, I got suspicious about the card. My peers will understand what I mean when I say that it was a little too perfect. Something was fishy in the State of Denmark. Later that night:
Me: You picked the first card you saw, didn’t you.
Azfar (sagely shaking his head): Nnnopes.
A: It was bright yellow…
Me: I don’t want to know!!!
Anyway, so in that incredibly rushed trip I remembered why it’s so goshdarned brilliant to have a home town to go to. In four days, I got more done than I’d been able to get done in six months of being in a new city. Got the tailor over to stitch my quota of summer clothes; got my bank issues sorted out; reconnected with most of our incredible friends (including two of my closest girlfriends, one of whom just had a baby a few months ago); had a birthday party; watched our parents enjoying their grandchildren; and sat on Amma’s roof.
Don’t underestimate that last point. Because when you’re from Islamabad and you move to Karachi (or Houston, for that matter) it’s almost a shock to return to that environment. You feel like a starving plant that’s suddenly been hooked up to an IV with chlorophyll. I sat on Amma’s roof, and I drank in that view and I feasted my eyes on those green-as-green-can-be hills, on the flowering plants and bushes in Nani’s lawn, the stretch of park just beyond – nearly choked with trees – and yes, feasted my eyes too on the clouds rolling over those hills, the sky so blue after the rain of the previous day. You see, I know what my friends are on about when they post those FB status updates. I know.