C H A P T E R   F O U R   (second half)

        In those days when the whole population seemed to be homeless, we knew we had a home -- as if we had been sitting in the Shiraz through many births, like faithful priests sitting smeared with ashes, and would sit there for many births to come. As claims were approved and houses were given to the homeless and work to the unemployed, we Shiraz-dwellers began to look unsettled, as though we were the only ones in the city without a house. It was in those days, when we were going through all this, that Afzal became a restless spirit and a lover of alcohol, and the acid etched its way into Irfan's voice. In those days Salamat and Ajmal had not yet known the taste of drinking and revolution. They were still only "intellectuals," and sat in the Shiraz arguing merely about literature and art; but the one who made the greatest name for himself in these intellectual discussions was Zavvar.
        Zavvar was the youngest of us all, but he established himself among us as a learned scholar, and his brilliance and maturity of mind fully made up for his youthfully downy cheeks. At such an early age, after reading books of all types and descriptions, he announced that wisdom doesn't come from books, but from passing through the experiences of life. Thus, in search of wisdom, he sat for a few days with Afzal, trying out liquor. Then, believing it inadequate, he tried marijuana, hashish, and opium. Taking baths, changing clothes, and shaving he considered to be a waste of time, and insofar as possible he avoided such extravagances. Partly because his shoes were rather old, and partly because they were unpolished and covered with dust and dirt, they looked ancient. He himself took out and threw away their inner soles, and contrived to leave the nails protruding. He used to walk for miles, and come back to the Shiraz with his heels covered with blood.
        "Yar, why don't you get a shoemaker to fix your shoes?"
        "To become a man, one ought to have the experience of torment; and great art is born only through suffering."
        Thus, always looking for new experiences of torment, he took the Civil Service exam and passed it.
        "Zavvar! So now you're going to become an officer in the Civil Service."
        "I, a Civil Service officer! I take refuge in God against such a horror!"
        "After all, you took the test of your own free will, and passed it."
        "A man ought to pass through that experience too."
        "A new experience of torment!" Irfan laughed his sarcastic laugh.
        Now it was late at night, and we were walking silently along Mall Road, absorbed in our situation.
        "Yar, do you know what time it is?"
        These words displeased Zavvar. "Even if we find out, what difference will it make?"
        "I mean," I said, "at some point a man ought to sleep, too."
        "Provided he has a place to sleep," Irfan put in.
        These words too displeased Zavvar. "Irfan, you stay awake out of necessity. For me staying awake isn't a necessity, it's a choice."
        "Staying awake, and taking the Civil Service exam," Irfan said with a sarcastic smile.
        Zavvar's face grew red. I at once turned toward Salamat. "Salamat, you have a fine big house. Why do you wander around in the streets with us?"
        "That house isn't mine, it belongs to some Sikh."
        "But the Sikhs have gone."
        "That makes no difference. My father has taken their place."
        Ajmal suddenly remembered that Afzal's house was nearby. "Yar, if you really need a place to sleep, Afzal's house is right nearby."
        "Come on, let's go wake him up."
        We went a little way, then turned and entered a lane, then knocked at a door. The door opened, Afzal came out and scrutinized us. "Mice! Why have you come at this hour?"
        "To sleep," I said.
        "But I don't have any extra cots."
        "We're from the pre-cot era."
        "But I don't even have any extra bedding."
        "You have a bare floor?"
        "Yes, that I have, though even that's a bit chewed up."
        We entered the room. A rickety cot, with dirty worn-out bedding, and a massive book lying at one end. In one corner, a mat spread on the floor, with books scattered all over it.
        I picked up the heavy book from the bed. "What's this?"
        "It's the complete works of Nazir, and it's my pillow."
        "You still need a pillow when you sleep," Zavvar said.
        "Well, it's like this: awake or asleep, I want to keep my head high."
        Stretching out on the mat, I ran my eye over the whole room. "Yar, the room's not bad." I was seeing Afzal's place for the first time.
        "This one room's still good, but the whole rest of the house has been ruined, and in fact the whole neighborhood. When I came here the lanes were clean and the houses spotless. Now the lanes are filthy and the houses soiled."
        "In my opinion," Salamat said, "a Muslim can't tolerate very much cleanliness."
        "This house was quite large," Afzal told us, "and all furnished and equipped. The mice seized all the furniture. They left me as my total share this image of Lord Krishan."
        "Afzal, they did you a favor," Zavvar said.
        "Really?" Afzal looked at Zavvar with innocent wonder.
        "After all, what would you have done with furniture? They've left you the really important thing."
        "You're exactly right. This is just what I thought myself. Yar, they're good people. They left the good thing for me. It's the reason that this room is clean, while the whole rest of the house is soiled."
        Stretched out on the mat, I was turning over the books. "Afzal, you were sleeping; you're a big bore."
        "Then what were you doing?"
        "I was conversing with the image."
        "But we've come to sleep," Ajmal said.
        "Don't sleep."
        "Why not?"
        "If you go to sleep, when you wake up you'll see that you've turned into mice."
        "You're quite right." Zavvar, who had sat down on the cot, stood up. "Come on, yar."
        Taking Afzal with us, we went out. "Yar, where are we going?" I asked, as we walked down a long road.
        "It's a very meaningless question," Zavvar said. "Don't ask where and why. The real point is that we're going."
        "Come on, we're going to the Imperial!"
        The Imperial was the final stopping-place in our night journey. The city was still unacquainted with air-conditioning, so the Imperial took great advantage of its expansive courtyard and open-air dance floor. Romantic couples loved to dance there, holding each other elegantly and decorously under the star-filled summer night sky. This decorum was endangered when the night grew late and all the lights suddenly went out and Miss Dolly's appearance was announced. Then there was darkness all around, with only a spotlight on Miss Dolly. But Miss Dolly herself, wearing only the most nominal costume, was like a flash of lightning in the darkness. There was one other living creature who could sometimes be seen with Miss Dolly in this circle of light: a tawny cat. But a waiter always came swiftly from the back, and either picked up the tawny cat or chased her away.
        This tawny cat was the manager's darling; she habitually lay tucked under his chair. She contented herself with whatever she got from his table; she was never seen prowling over toward any of the other tables. But when it was time for the cabaret, she yawned and arose and went over to the dance floor, sometimes right near Miss Dolly. A waiter coaxed her away and brought her back, and she came without a fuss and sat down again by the manager's chair, or tucked herself underneath it. Dolly and Tawny were the Imperial's two chief characters.
        That evening at the Shiraz is enshrined in my memory, set apart from all other evenings. When the Shiraz, despite being full, was silent, and there was a sign in the middle of the room, "Please refrain from political conversation." Even the night before, the Shiraz had been noisy, for at every table and in every group there had been only one topic of conversation: the coming elections. The discussants had been loudly and energetically predicting the downfall of Sikandar Mirza. But today the whole discussion had been suspended. The people sitting in the room were only drinking tea. They exchanged a few words among themselves, but in whispers.
        "Yar, the tea was cold," Zavvar said disgustedly, as he drank the last sip.
        "Yes, yar, it was no good, let's order more." With these words Salamat called out, "Abdul!"
        Fresh tea came and it was hot, but even then they didn't like it. That time it was Irfan who announced his displeasure: "Yar, what's happened to the Shiraz's tea?"
        Gradually all the friends began to suffer from the feeling that something had happened to the Shiraz's tea. Then they passed beyond this feeling and began to think that something had happened to the Shiraz itself.
        "Yar, the Shiraz is deserted now."
        "Yes, yar, how noisy it used to be!"
        "Where has everybody gone?"
        "Not everyone is as idle as we are."
        Salamat glared at Zavvar. "Meaning?"
        "What I mean," Zavvar said, "is that we waste a lot of time in the Shiraz."
        "Where else should we waste it?" Afzal said promptly.
        "Do we have to waste it?"
        Afzal looked angrily at Zavvar. "Mouse! Time can't be carefully preserved. Time is wasted no matter what."
        In fact we had now begun to feel uprooted in the Shiraz. We tried very hard to stick to the place. Forgetting all our differences, we talked sometimes about literature, especially modern literature, and sometimes about abstract art, but somehow or other someone would wander off the topic and end up in forbidden territory. The conversation shifted from literature to the situation. But very soon someone would look with a start at the neighboring table, and fall silent. The man at the next table was looking elsewhere, but listening to us. It seemed as if his ear were right in our midst. Ears loomed larger and larger in our imaginations, they came and pressed themselves against our lips; we fell silent.
        Finally we were uprooted from the Shiraz, and uprooted in such a way that our group was broken up. Only Irfan and I were left, having emigrated from the Shiraz, sitting in the Imperial. But now the Imperial didn't seem so lively either. No white faces, no young couples dancing together, no chinking and rattling of cups and plates, no waiters bustling efficiently back and forth. Many of the tables remained empty. One or two tables were filled. On the open-air dance floor, some middle-aged Anglo-Pakistani couples wearily danced. The band too played in a tired-out way. The tawny cat sat next to the manager's chair, with her eyes closed. Only rarely did she rise and go onto the dance floor, and meekly say 'Meow,' and voluntarily turn back. Why should she stay on the dance floor? Miss Dolly's cabaret no longer took place. Some high-spirited admirer had whisked her away. When she went, the Imperial's vitality went with her.
        "After today I won't be coming here."
        "I've gotten a job on the newspaper, and I have night duty."
        I looked at Irfan with surprise. "You're going to work?"
        "I'll have to." He sighed.
        "All right, so you won't come here tomorrow." I fell into thought. "Why should I come here either, all by myself -- "

        Tasnim! She left me and went away. She was preparing to do an M.A. in History. She first came to me bearing a letter of recommendation, and asked my help in her preparation. She appeared regularly, sat with her notebook open, jotted down notes with great earnestness, and left. She wouldn't by any means start any casual conversation. Not that I wanted to chat with her, anyway. She seemed a very plain, colorless girl. Why would I chat with her? But that day she appealed to me. It was morning. I had just had a bath and changed my clothes before leaving home, and she too looked shining clean. In that full bus, after making myself a place to stand among the ladies' seats, I saw that she was standing in front of me. So close that her white neck and pink earlobes were within the reach of my breath. I found myself breathing a little faster.
        When she got down from the bus, I got down too. It took me a little while to force my way through the crowd and get to the door. In this small amount of time, she vanished. Well, it didn't matter. I thought she'd be coming to study that evening, but that evening she didn't come. Well, tomorrow evening for sure, I consoled myself. But she didn't come that evening either. Her not coming made me even more eager.
        The next day I phoned her and, as her teacher, asked why she hadn't come. She gave some meaningless answer, and hesitantly said, "I'll come today."
        That day passed with the weight of a mountain, as I waited for the evening. But finally the evening came, and she too came. When she came, she sat down in silence. The concentration with which she used to ask questions and jot down notes was no longer in evidence. Today my heart wasn't in the teaching, either. I wrapped up the lesson quickly. Then she was silent, and I was silent.
        "Tasnim!" I finally opened my mouth.
        In response, she lifted her eyes to me, but I didn't know what I'd wanted to say to her. I was lost, dissolved, as though I didn't exist at all.
        Finally she rose. I too rose, confused and flustered. I escorted her to the door. As I was leaving the room I said softly, "Tasnim!"
        She paused, but I was struck dumb. Then with the speed of lightning she left the room. I was left standing there.
        She didn't come again.

        Tasnim had gone. My evening's occupation was over. Empty inside, indifferent outside, I wander in the city. For no reason my footsteps turn toward the Shiraz. Abdul is astonished. "Zakir Sahib! Where have you been?"
        "Right here. Where are the others?"
        "Nobody has been coming. Shall I bring tea?"
        "Yes, bring it."
        I'm sitting alone in a corner, drinking tea. Around me all the faces are new and strange. Oh, so the white-haired man still keeps coming. He's a man of fixed principles. But where are my friends? How strange it is. In the Shiraz we were once the main group. Now we're gone as completely as though we'd never been here at all.
        Afzal suddenly enters. "Yar, where is everybody? I've worn myself out looking for you. I didn't find a single mouse. I'd heard that you and Irfan had taken to sitting in the Imperial."
        "We used to."
        "Anyway, I went there with the idea that I'd find you there. Yar, that place is in terrible shape. The cabaret show was going on, the lights were out. Well, I sat down. I said to myself that when the lights came on I'd search out those mice. When I look at the floor, no Miss Dolly. A disgusting woman was dancing. The people who praised her sounded just as disgusting. When the lights came on and I looked around, it was all boorish rustic types. I cursed you both and came away."
        Afzal was telling the truth. This was the Imperial's new style. I too had gone there one evening. When I saw how things were, I left again.
        "Yar, where have the good people gone?" As he spoke, Afzal was looking all around. He muttered, "Who are these people? Where has everybody gone?"
        "Zavvar has joined the Civil Service and left the city."
        "He can go jump in the lake. Tell me about the others."
        "Salamat might go off to America, he's running around trying to get a scholarship. You can usually find him in the U.S.I.S. Ajmal has been swallowed up by his Basic Democracy job."
        "And Irfan?"
        "He's got a job with a newspaper."
        "Mouse!" Afzal grumbled, "What are you doing?"
        "Love?" Afzal looked me over judiciously from head to foot. "Well, you're a good man."
        "Sitting in the Shiraz chewing over literature and art and politics isn't everything."
        Afzal listened gravely to my words. "You're right. Love is a bigger task than that. But, fellow, to make love, a man ought to be virtuous."
        "Yar, you're certainly virtuous yourself."
        "Yes, I'm virtuous, but I'm very much occupied here."
        "Fellow! Don't you know how much of my time is spent in the company of birds and trees? I don't have time for love. You make love, I'll pray for you."
        "Yar, what good will prayer do me now? She was here, but now she's gone away." I heaved a long sigh.
        Afzal regarded me very sympathetically, and advised me, "Fellow! Keep the door open, and stay awake."
        The door that had been closed for so long, she opened as she left. Now I couldn't close it. The door stayed open, and I kept waiting. She didn't come, someone else came. I ran into Anisah at a music conference. I was surprised to see her: "What, you! When did you get back from London?"
        In fact, what surprised me wasn't that she had suddenly come back from London. What surprised me was that she had come back with a new elegance. When I had seen her in the Imperial, I hadn't been struck by her at all at the time. She had even shown a bit of interest in me, but I didn't give her the smallest chance. How could I have? The door was closed inside me. And furthermore, at that time she wasn't exactly eye-catching. Her figure seemed utterly flat. But now her body was full of curves, and her breasts were very apparent. Her plump, rounded arms were bare, her waist and hips swayed attractively, her full breasts seemed to quiver when she moved. With wonder and joy, I looked her over from head to foot. "Anisah! London has transformed you!"
        She accepted my words as a compliment. She laughed, then said, "It's getting on into the night -- when will this conference be over?"
        "Do we have to wait for it to be over?"
        "No, we don't."
        We immediately went out. When I opened the car door, she looked at me with surprise. "Why, you've gotten a car! That means I'm not the only one who's changed, you've changed too."
        "It's second-hand."
        "Second-hand ones run more smoothly." She burst out laughing.
        "Shouldn't we go somewhere and have tea?"
        "Of course. Why else did we leave the conference? How is the Imperial nowadays? In London I only missed one single thing here -- the Imperial."
        "The Imperial has changed too. But it's changed differently. When you see it now, you'll be dismayed."
        "Then I certainly ought to go and see it."
        I turned the car toward the Imperial.
        Now the Imperial had gone even further downhill. No cabaret, no band playing. The tables were mostly empty. Here and there a customer or two sat drinking tea, in silence. The tawny cat lay next to the manager's chair, her eyes closed. Then she rose with a kind of lassitude. She yawned, and straightened out her body. Then, moving wearily, she passed under various empty tables until she paused by a customer eating shami kabobs and gave a meek 'Meow.' But when she saw his indifference she went on. She reached the dirty, dusty dance floor, sat down in the middle of it, and closed her eyes.
        Anisah watched this whole scene with sadness. She said, "The Imperial has gone into a total decline. How did it happen? When I left, the Imperial was really at its peak. Who could have imagined then that such a fate would overtake it?"
        "That's the trouble with peaks. Those who are on them never even imagine that they could be brought down from such a height! And when the decline starts, it can't be stopped halfway. The decline doesn't stop even for a moment, until it reaches its limit."
        "You've started talking about the decline of nations. I was talking about the Imperial."
        "Whenever and wherever decline begins, it works in exactly the same way."
        Anisah gave me a meaningful look. "Meanwhile you seem to have become a real intellectual. Come on, let's not stay here."
        As we got in the ear, I made a suggestion: "The Lorraine will be open now. We can get good tea there."
        "I don't mind."
        As we sat in the Lorraine she said mischievously, "So I've changed since I've been in London?"
        I again looked her over from head to foot and was delighted. "You've absolutely changed."
        "But I see that you've stayed right here and changed."
        "Such that now you can talk to a girl, and drink tea with her in a hotel late at night." She paused, then said, "Since I left, haven't you made some experiments in love?"
        "I haven't, but I want to."
        "Don't tell lies. Your behavior shows that you've made the attempt. If it didn't succeed, that's another matter. It's not so important. The first attempt usually turns out that way. Have another try, success will crown your efforts."
        "I'm not over-age for it?"
        "Nonsense. Over there, in matters of love the real period starts after forty. And the man who has white hair at his temples has the girls swarming around him like flies."
        Involuntarily I ran a finger over the hair at my temples. "When will that fashion arrive here?"
        "It's already arrived. Enter the field. Start an affair with some girl soon. Tell me, who will you start with?"
        "Why shouldn't I start with you."
        "With me!" She looked at me with some surprise and then laughed indifferently. "You really have got nerve!"
        "Still, what's the harm?"
        "No harm," she said composedly. "But I'm a difficult girl. You won't be able to keep up with me." She thought, then said, "Listen! If you were fixed up with Raziyah, how would that be?"
        "I don't care for her."
        "Then who do you care for?"
        "I see!" She smiled. "You really are filled with manly courage! That's a fine thing."
        En route from the Lorraine to her house, I made a further display of manly courage. While driving, I took one hand away from the wheel and put it on her bare arm. She neither praised me for this manly courage, nor did anything to dampen my enthusiasm. My hand slid along her arm and reached her shoulder. Traversing her shoulder, it began to move toward her breast; then she instructed me, "No further."
        "You can't expect reasons for everything. I've told you, and that's enough."
        "But I want to." As I spoke, I pulled the car a little off the road and braked to a stop. It was very late at night, and the road was empty from one end to the other. I slid over near Anisah, so near that I could feel with my body the warmth and softness of her hips. I slowly ran my hand over her hair, my fingers came along with her loose curls and slid down to her soft shoulders, from her shoulders to her smooth arms. Then I slowly and gently put my hand on her swelling breast. She lifted her eyes and looked at me seriously. "What did I tell you?"
        My hand stayed in place, amidst the warmth and softness. She went on looking at me. She had given an order, and was waiting for it to be carried out. I slowly removed my hand. But we went on staring at each other. I slid nearer to her. My lips moved toward her moist lips.
        In a tone of finality she said, "No."
        "I'm a difficult girl. You're a simple type."
        "I'm not simple any longer."
        "Oh?" She looked at me archly.
        She suddenly laughed, the way people laugh at the innocent words of a child. "All right, let's go, it's very late. I have to get some sleep."
        At her house, as she got out of the car she said, "Come on, I'll make you some coffee."
        "It's surely not polite to disturb your family so late at night."
        "No, my room is off by itself. I can make coffee right in my room."
        "But why should you go to all that trouble so late at night? I don't want to bore you."
        She smiled and said, "All right, good night!"
        "Good night," I said, and started the car.
        After I had gone some distance, I hesitated. Why had she detained me? I braked to a stop in the middle of the road, and fell into thought. Then I swiftly started the car, turned around, and headed back at full speed toward her house.
        I pulled my car into the driveway. I stopped, and examined the room which Anisah had said was hers, and which was indeed off by itself. And she had also told me that she stayed up till late at night, reading. But her room was submerged in darkness. Not the slightest ray of light showed through any window, any pane. I turned the car around, feeling very downcast, and went back.

        "Oh!" As I was walking along, I came to a stop. The Imperial lay in utter ruin. The whole structure had collapsed. The dance floor was deeply buried in dirt.
        I stood there staring. I had to go on, but my feet wouldn't move. I turned back instead. As I turned back, my eye fell on the tawny cat. It was dusk, and she was wandering around near the dirt-covered dance floor like a shadow. How dirty and scrawny she looked!
        "Mice! Are you back again?" Afzal saw the group together again, and was astonished.
        "We didn't go anywhere," Salamat and Ajmal said together.
        "Salamat!" Afzal addressed himself to Salamat: "That scholarship you were going to get for America, what happened to it? I thought you'd be there by now."
        "America!" Salamat said scornfully. "You know I'm anti-American! They offered me the scholarship, but I rejected it."
        Irfan, watching Salamat, smiled without saying a word.
        "Mouse! Why are you laughing?"
        "It's nothing. I won't say a word.  Irfan brought his smile under control, and assumed a grave expression. Salamat looked at him angrily, but remained silent.
        "And you, Ajmal?"
        "Me?" Ajmal announced with extreme seriousness, "I couldn't reconcile myself with the Ayub dictatorship. I quit."
        "Or were thrown out?" Afzal again looked meaningfully at Irfan.
        "My lips are sealed," Irfan said, with a small smile.
        Irfan too had begun to be seen again in the Shiraz. After slaving away all day and all night on the newspaper, he had eventually found ways to wrap up his work and escape from the office.
        One by one all my friends came back, but the vanished days never came back.



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