So, I started writing my novel, Heela, in 2005. And I decided to revisit it again, after not working on it for about three years or so, and I’ve come to realize how much my writing style has changed! I’ve made a few changes here and there, and fixed some stuff around, but I kept the story as is. But as I was reviewing, I couldn’t believe how much I’d written! It’s a little over 160 pages, but I am hoping to start working on it again, even though I am also currently writing another one of my novels called Nang, which I am hoping to complete by the end of this year.
Anyway, I would like to share a couple excepts from Heela below. Oh, and because my novels cover some very, very serious themes, as I tend to use details that are a little aggressive, reader discretion is strongly advised.
It was almost 12:30 am and I realized baba was out late drinking again. In the last few weeks, he came home earlier than usual and kept his drinking to a minimum. But it seemed he was back to his old ways again. I was lying on the cot with Baryal sleeping soundly beside me and morr janay snoring softly on the other side of the room. I sighed and sat up; for some reason I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know whether it was the heat or the fact that baba was out late drinking again. I decided to wait for him in the living room and work on a study plan for my next tutoring session with Zirak. I recalled how naughty and disobedient he was and shook my head of the thought with an amused smile on my face. Zirak was definitely a challenge and I was more than determined to do something about it. If I was to be a teacher someday, I needed great patience; and with Zirak, I needed all the patience in the world.
I made myself comfortable on the floor and pulled out the Hansel and Gretel book, and placed it on the small rickety table in front of me. The bite marks that Zirak’s teeth had caused on the book cover looked denser. I was about to write something in my notebook when Abasin’s beautiful eyes flashed before me. I didn’t know when I would see him again, but I hoped it would be soon. I decided to visit the pharmacy sometime next week to pick up morr’s medication. I was lost in my reverie when I heard baba’s motorbike pull up. I looked up at the time and realized it was almost 1 am; baba would be furious if he saw me studying this late. I quickly shoved everything into my bag and pretended like I’d just woken up from sleep as I opened the door to let him in. I saw him lying still on the floor, as if he were bowing. My heart started to pound for fear that he had probably passed out, or worse.
“Baba” I said softly, and touched his shoulder. He suddenly jumped at the slight touch and looked up at me with angry red, watery eyes.
“Why are you still up?” he demanded, his voice a deep slur.
“I-I heard your motorbike pull up and it awoke me, so I thought I’d let you in,” I lied, stammering.
In response, baba grunted and tried to get off of the floor, which thankfully he was successful in doing since I didn’t want to carry him inside the house; the whiskey smell on his breath was making my stomach turn. I quickly stepped aside for him to make his way awkwardly into the shack. I prayed he wouldn’t lose his balance again or else he would seriously hurt himself, like he did the last time he was this horribly drunk. I closed the door and watched as he made himself comfortable on his armchair. I thought he’d fallen asleep because he didn’t move, and I was about to make my way back into the bedroom, when I heard him bark after me. I turned towards him, reluctantly.
“Y-yes baba?” I replied nervously. I didn’t like speaking to baba when he was drunk, he was glaring at me oddly, and I had an odd feeling that something really terrible was about to happen. I watched as baba struggled to speak, his eyes kept drooping and he pointed to me and said sharply: “Where is the money?”
I looked at him, a little surprised at the question. What is he talking about? I wondered and then suddenly realization hit me like a ton of bricks, and I felt the hair on my arms stand on end. However, I pretended that I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“What money baba? I think you should go to sleep, you’re not thinking straight,” I said boldly. In response, baba got up so fast that I didn’t have time to cower, and slapped me across the face, but not hard enough for me to lose my balance.
“Who are you to tell me that I’m not thinking straight, how many times have I told you never to talk back to me? HOW MANY TIMES?!” baba cried, his red eyes flaring. I sobbed as I rubbed my stinging cheek. Baba was talking nonsense; I’d never talked back to him. Never.
“I’m s-s-sorry b-baba,” I managed to say in between sobs. Baba looked so angry; I was afraid he would hit me again, but thankfully he didn’t. He just stood there and glared at me. I almost wished I’d gone to sleep and hadn’t let him in, else I wouldn’t be in this predicament. But knowing baba, he would probably have asked me for the money I’d earned from Zirak’s tutoring lesson sooner or later. I felt my heart ache; I was so looking forward to saving up for morr’s treatment.
“Now be a good girl and give me the money,” he said holding out his left hand and wiggling his fingers greedily. It seemed like the whiskey’s dizzying effect was wearing off. He looked almost sober.
“It’s not much baba, I’m trying to save up for morr’s treatment, please don’t take it, please,” I begged, as hot tears spilled out of my eyes and slid down my cheeks.
“Are you trying to defy me again?” baba demanded and suddenly grabbed me roughly by the hair and yanked my head back, I yelped in pain. Baba brought his face close to mine and I felt a blast of his whiskey breath in my face.
“I pay for your mother’s medicines, don’t I? I provide food on the table, don’t I? I send you to one of the best schools in the country, don’t I?” as he was saying this, I nodded every time he said “don’t I.” My head was starting to hurt terribly from his pull; it almost felt like he was trying to yank the hair off of my scalp.
“The day I die, the day my body is rotting in the grave will be the day you can take over, but until then, you will be living under my roof and do everything I tell you to do and that includes giving me the money from your tutoring! I don’t want you defying me, it makes me very cross!” baba continued through clenched teeth, and finally released me with a shove. This time I lost my balance and landed on the floor with a thud. I prayed all this noise wouldn’t wake up morr; I didn’t want her to witness this nor did I want her getting hurt. Baba was in such a state that if need be, he would even strike her if she tried to interfere. I rubbed my scalp to ease the throbbing pain there and slowly got up from the floor. Wiping my runny nose with the sleeve of my kameez I made my way towards the vase in which I kept the money I had earned just the evening before. I reached inside and very reluctantly pulled out the hundred rupees. My heart felt heavy with despondency. Baba walked across the room and snatched the money from my hands; I was surprised he didn’t rip any of them. He licked his lips as he counted them and suddenly his expression turned from glee to anger in an instant.
“Hundred rupees? Is this all that Mirwais paid you?” he demanded angrily, his words still a deep slur as he waved the money in my face. I blinked quickly and almost expected him to raise his hand to slap me again, so I cowered and replied in a shaky voice that was all Dr. Khattak’s wife paid me. I also made the mistake of telling him that they would increase the rate the more they saw improvement in their son’s academic progress. I regretted it instantly. Baba didn’t care about Zirak; he just wanted the money, all of it, to spend on whiskey. It was in that instant, the way he snatched the money from my hands, not giving a care in the world about anyone but himself, that I realized I’d never despised anyone more than baba in my life. Not only did I feel helpless, but I also felt like I had let morr and Baryal down.
“Oh, Gulnara paid you?” he asked and looked down at the money in his hand, rubbing it with his right thumb. I noticed that at the sound of Dr. Khattak’s beautiful wife, the expression on baba’s face softened.
He seemed to be a little lost in his thoughts when he realized the odd way I was looking at him and quickly recovered.
“Well they should be paying you more! Hundred rupees won’t even buy me half a pint!” he exclaimed, I knew what he was talking about and looked away in disgust. I watched as he shoved the money into the pocket of his kurta and turning on his heels, toddled towards the bathroom.
I let out a sigh of relief as soon as baba was out of sight. My left cheek was swollen by now but didn’t sting as much, and the pain in my scalp had turned into a throbbing migraine. Thankfully morr and Baryal were still asleep when I went back to bed. I pulled the blanket up and close to my chin, and without realizing, I felt my pillow get wet with my tears. I don’t remember how long I cried, but I do remember falling asleep sometime during the early hours of dawn.
The weather wasn’t as hot now so I didn’t mind walking to the bus stop, which was a good thirty minutes away. I was still shocked over Zirak’s’s naughty behaviour, but what did I expect from a child with ADD? I was thinking of bringing Baryal with me next time; maybe if Zirak saw how diligent and serious my little brother was about his studies, perhaps he would take an interest as well. Usually children respond better when they are around other children who are around the same age. Zirak was after all only nine years old. I was just glad that I’d gotten paid, even though a hundred rupees wasn’t much but if I kept saving, I would save enough to at least try to make a slight difference in our lives.
I looked forward to going home and putting the money in the small vase that Daaji had bought for morr, as a gift, almost twenty-five years ago. It was a pretty sky blue colour with yellow tulips painted on it. The vase was very dear to morr, as it was the last gift she received from her beloved father before his passing. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice a car pull up beside me and a voice call out my name. I was suddenly snapped out of my reverie, and I looked up to see who it was. I caught my breath when I saw Abasin leaning his arm on the car window and smiling at me.
“Pa khair maa’m sahiba,” he said and placed his hand on his temple as if in salute. He was grinning widely, which made me blush.
“Pa khair,” I said, wondering what he was doing here. And as if reading my thoughts, he replied, “I was just dropping off medicines for a family a few blocks away and I saw a small familiar figure walk out of that giant mansion over there and as I got nearer, I realized it was you.”
“Oh yes, I just came to visit with principal Khattak, I needed to pick up forms to apply to universities,” I explained, I felt terrible about lying but I thought it was the only way that I could protect my business with Dr. Khattak and his family. Even though I felt that I could trust Abasin, it just wouldn’t feel right to tell him. At least, not yet.
“Ahan, I see,” Abasin said, narrowing his eyes, as if in skepticism, and then smiled widely to ask me if I wanted a ride home.
“Manana, Abasin, but I will take the bus,” I quickly said and felt like kicking myself for refusing, but then I’d never been in a car with a boy alone before — well any boy for that matter — and I felt a little uncomfortable. Palwasha had always warned me to be careful about accepting rides with young men. She told me that she’d heard so many stories about young, naïve girls who were manipulated into a car by a stranger off of the street and then raped or worse, kidnapped for ransom. However, I knew I was being paranoid; Abasin wasn’t like that and certainly he wasn’t a stranger. I knew in my heart that I could trust him, yet I couldn’t help having that “what if” feeling.
“Oh c’mon, it will be no problem at all, I promise I won’t kidnap you,” Abasin teased as if reading my mind again, which I thought was very uncanny.
“Besides, you don’t think I would actually allow you to go home all alone now do you? Especially when I know you’ll reach home safely if I drove you,” he added, showing his genuine care. I hesitated for a few minutes and was about to refuse, but Abasin was already out of the car and opening the passenger side of the door for me. He beckoned for me to get inside and I, throwing resistance to the wind, smiled and kindly accepted his sweet offer.
“So why go to all that trouble, Heela janay? I mean you could’ve easily picked up the forms from Dr. Khattak’s office at school, why come all the way to his home? I am sure you won’t be applying to universities for another year or so right?” Abasin suddenly asked, and turned to look at me to see how I would react. I somehow managed to keep my cool and gave him one of my coldest looks.
“Well it’s seriously none of your business where I go and what I do, so please let’s get off this topic, alright?” I snapped and looked away, but before I did, I saw him raise his eyebrows and drum his fingers on the steering wheel.
“You’ll have to pardon me, I tend to get a little nosy sometimes,” he said after a short moment of silence.
“That’s ok…so um, do you usually deliver medicines to people’s houses?” I asked, turning to him again. He was looking straight while he was driving and without turning towards me, he said:
“Well, well, well…look who’s being nosy now?” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. He looked at me and grinned.
“You really have a beautiful laugh you know that,” he said, suddenly turning serious. Heat rose to my face again and this time when I looked at him, I kept my eyes fixated on him, as he continued, “It’s like your whole face lightens up like a candle, and for a few minutes, all the pain and troubles from your face disappears; It glows so beautifully.” He glanced over at me again and our eyes met. I felt an electric shock run down my spine. I looked away and swallowed hard, for my mouth was dry and, all of a sudden, I felt incredibly uncomfortable.
What are you doing, Heela? I thought to myself, what are you doing in this car with a boy you barely know and for whom you are developing strong feelings that you can’t explain? Am I falling in love with him? Is this what love feels like? I was after all only sixteen years old; perhaps it was an infatuation, falling for the first boy I meet. I shook my head of the thought and glanced at him again, he was watching me with a questioning look on his face, it seemed like he was waiting for a response.
“Thank you for your compliments, Abasin,” I managed to reply shyly. He smiled and told me that it wasn’t a compliment, he was speaking the truth. I couldn’t wait to go to school and tell Palwasha all about him. I was sure she would be so ecstatic. The rest of the ride home went by in small chit chatter and soon I was home.
“You have a very cosy house there, Heela gulley,” Abasin said, as he stopped a few feet away from the small mud-bricked shack that my family and I lived in.
“Yes, it is. Deera manana for the ride, I really appreciate it,” I replied and smiled at him. He smiled back warmly. Feeling flustered, I looked down quickly and bit my lower lip.
“No problem at all, it was my pleasure,” he said softly, adding: “Good bye Heela janay, parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till we meet again.” He quoted from Romeo and Juliet; one of my most favourite plays by Shakespeare! Oh, it sent such a warm feeling in my stomach to have him recite one of the most romantic quotes from the play. I let out a small nervous giggle. I was starting to wonder if he read and adored Shakespeare as much as I did. The fact that we could be so much alike brought goose bumps on my skin.
“Goodbye,” I whispered and turned the door handle to get out, but to my dismay it didn’t budge. I struggled with it for a moment, when Abasin leaned over and unlocked it. We were so close that I could smell the fresh scent of life buoy soap on his skin. It smelled very nice. I felt so humiliated for not realizing that the door was locked. I gave him an embarrassed look, my face burning; but he just chuckled.
I quickly got out and walked a few feet towards my home, when I realized Abasin was still there, probably waiting for me to get inside safely. I stopped and turned around to wave at him, but noticed how intently he was watching me. He responded by putting his palm up and nodding softly. I swallowed and turned away and walked inside my home, locking the door behind me, all the while my heart pounding in my ears.