The List In The Brain
This was a special day, Rabia knew it. She had to wake at least an hour earlier than usual. It was special for her too, because today, Saleema had promised to give her salary along with arrears. She gulped lukewarm tea, wrapped the black scarf around her head and left. She preferred to walk, in routine, but today she had asked rickshaw walla in her neighborhood to drop her off. Barely anything outside was visible but she could sense fog sliding off as the sun was appearing in the horizon. Riding off, she asked,
“How much, chacha?”
“Oh! No no daughter. Nothing from you. I had to head this direction anyway.” He palmed her head and, murmuring a prayer, took off.
Since he was her father’s friend when her father was alive, he could never charge her for the fare. But it was also true she would never ask for a favour unless she needed it badly. The phatphat of the rickshaw was still audible when she entered the gate of office. She could see Miss Saleema standing in front of the lawn giving instructions to other girls about arrangements. Before Saleema could catch glimpse of her, she darted towards her office to take off her Abbaya and to catch her breath. It was end of the January, and yet she felt sweat trickling down her back. And when the sweat met with chill outside, she shivered. She knew she could not be more late so she wrapped sweater around her and barged into the lawn where the program was meant to be. Saleema, catching her eye, blurted,
“Rabia, did you put the diaries and the pens in each folder?”
Knowing the answer Saleema added, “Things are in the office, you have to make 40 packets. Come on! Hurry up, we don’t have time.”
Rabia had stopped midway when Saleema had asked her about packets. She knew this was not the time to remind her about the payment, so she took a U-turn and went like a shot.
The whiff of papers and leather covers of diaries mixed with still air struck her numb face when she entered Saleema’s office. The leather covered diaries, name tags and pens along with NGO magazines were lying in piles. Relieved she had to make only 40 packets for today and the rest could keep lying where they were, she picked up a diary to put in the folder. The leather of the diary felt soft and sleek. The tag line JUSTICE FOR WOMEN was embossed in golden and it shimmered, a little less than the name of NGO in bold big letters against its matte dark brown base. It seemed to her that the little kangaroo trapped at the right corner would just hop out of the cover and will disappear outside behind the bushes in the garden. Caressing the diary, she slid one into her bag, musing that she could inform Miss Saleema later on. She reminded herself that she has to ask for her salary, too.
The Governor and Mrs. Governor of the State had promised to grace the occasion. Hence, the arrangements had to be perfect. There was an arrangement of live BBQ at the extreme left corner of the garden. Saleema had made sure that the fresh white garlands and pink rose bouquets were meticulously placed on centre of each table, along with disposable water bottles. It was an open-air arrangement, yet still the garden was pungent with the aroma of garlic and tikka masala laden chicken boti which simmered on coals. With each special arrangement for the event, Rabia’s hopes to get her salary, along with arrears, stepped a little higher. She kept revising the list of the NGO’s expenditures in her brain.
Finally, after a weeks’ hassle the chief guests arrived, which spread smiles across the garden. The ceremony ended as soon as it started, with the address of Governor Sahib about women’s rights. To Rabia’s relief he couldn’t stay for the refreshment as he had to attend one more ceremony. He was escorted to his conveyance with protocol, among clicks the of cameras.
Rabia felt lighter with each guest leaving. The time had come. Rabia stood in front of Saleema. She did not say anything but the question was written all over her face.
“Oh! That I remember, Rabia,” responded Saleema, palming her Rs6000 as if it was a reflex action. “For this month” she added.
Before Rabia could utter arrears Saleema hissed, “Abhi nahin! Not this month. Look! We had to spend way too much for today. I am short of the budget.”
Rabia squished Rs6000 in a ball, crossing the list item by item in her brain.
Sufia Hayat studied in Lahore, Pakistan. She did an MA in English Literature from Punjab University, Department of English Language and Literature, and an MPhil in English Literature at Kinnaird College for Women. She teaches at Govt. Graduate College for Women, Gulberg, Lahore as Lecturer.