Webs of moonlight revealed her reluctant moist eyes. She did not feel guilt but was not ready to assume approval of conscience. Her heavy heart was the counsel of her conscience. Whatever she was doing was only in violation of assumed traditions and she cared only for the hearts she might break not the authorities she might tarnish. Had not her father always told her explicitly over so many table talks and drawing room discussions that only she has the pen which draws the lines on her hands? She has kept all the letters her father sent her in the university which could be cited in treatises on liberal values and enlightenment. But what is it with honor that makes men meek? Deny as he may, she had convinced herself that his disapproval of her lover had its roots in otherwise universally extinct phenomenon of honor. She had asked Azad, her lover, once about honor who simply called it one of the tools of suppression of women. Tools. Suppression. Liberty. Those were his favorite words and in his usual conversations he would quote from hypothetical laws of liberty, referring to it in different languages, section two of chapter nine of the constitution of hurriyah calls for abolishment of marriage, section eleven of Azadi Act promotes tasseography. The moon shone in her rolling tear. I am doing only that which I have been taught, dissent must not prevent me from choosing my ways, and if I let it win I shall forever be a coward, she rationalized her resolutions. The ways were chosen a month ago.
“If Mr. Allahbux doesnt agree to it, we are only left with one option, we shall elope”, Azad had said this fisting the table at the cafe.
Then a week ago the plan was formulated. She would meet him in the bazaar near Gol masjid. Together they would ride to the mosque on his motorcycle where two of his friends will be waiting with the imam. Formalities would be completed, yeses said, heads nodded. Thereafter they would be driven to his friend’s villa out of town and night would be felt passing and at daybreak Indus would be crossed at Lansdowne. No one would miss her at home as she would be willingly let go to attend her friend Soraya’s wedding.
The first time she brought Azad home to meet with her parents was on her brother’s graduation dinner. Everyone in the extended family was invited and no one failed to come. The party seemed more of a circumcision ceremony like the one she had attended as a girl in a nearby village with scores of children in attendance. Mr. Allahbux shook Azad’s hand and interrupted the introduction she was about to start,” Azad meet my”, “Father”, said a deep comforting voice, “farmer by day, poet by night”. Landowner by heart Azad mocked the aged man in his heart, “and whom have I the pleasure of meeting?”, Allahbux asked smiling at his daughter and the bearded young man. He perceived admiration in her eyes when she said, “Baba this is my friend Azad”. “By heart”, added Azad, lightly pressing her father’s hand.
“Very well, come join us in the feast of success. My son has been called the flower of silicon valley, the highest expression bestowed by the Dean of their university, he personally told me to let him dwell among the American architects of intelligence, something called AI..”
While her father rambled on about his son’s remarkable achievements she looked at her friend, her lover’s face, his eyes, black moons in caverns. Through out the party she introduced him to people, her brother, her uncles, famed journalists and surgeons, as an aspect of hers, as her other self. She felt she was letting her family know of her as yet unknown self, unknown even to her. She and Azad joined her other friends in the terrace. After the party she tried to analyze the effect Azad may have had on important persons in his family. Father seemed impressed. She decided to tell father of her affections. The next day at tea, when Allahbux was about to leave, she said, “Baba I have to speak to you about an important matter”.
“All your matters are important to me Doll”, he sat down again and chuckled.
“Why did you marry my mother?”
Allahbux had long ceased to think about the reasons he had married his deceased wife for and was surprised at his daughters abrupt question. He did not lose his light mood:
“Because my mother chose her for me and your mother was beautiful.”
“That could have been a legitimate reason for any other person but not for you. Did you love her?”
“Yes I did, with all my heart”
“When does one know one loves?”
Allahbux took a deep sigh. He smiled and kissed her daughter’s forehead. “What have you been reading all the literature and drama for if I still have to tell you about love my dear child? Its there when there is a deep sense of loss on imagining the absence”.
Hearing her father define the elusive concept of love, she immediately imagined Azad, lost, gone, dead and whispered, “I love Azad!”
“Did you say something my dear?”
“Baba my friend Azad has asked me to marry him”.
“Who is he? Have I met him?”
“Yes I introduced him to you at Hasan’s graduation dinner. Don’t you remember?”
“I am afraid not. But what did you say to him? Have you answered him? Where does he live?”
“No I have not Baba, how could I without telling you. We met at the university, he is a year senior, his parents have passed away and he has been living with his uncle.”
Allahbux was silent. He compared the naive biography of a man with what he had already found out. He remembered Azad very well. He asked her daughter to invite him for a dinner on the weekend and left her in the garden, her face, a pale flower stayed before his eyes. Allahbux, the acute observer of men’s faces, who could detect a lie in silences had sensed the closeness between young children at the party. They were each other’s shadows and he was very sure their spirits had already mingled. He had ordered his close associates the same night to inform him about Azad’s history. Azad, the leader of the student wing of the Liberation Front, a nationalist party with pre-partition roots formed by semi-liberal sons of feudals who had half formed notions of European values and who felt pride in their idolatory of pre-historic and extinct culture and civilization of the region. Post-partition their leaders were few in number with no popularity and they were suppressed by the Army’s rule for many decades. They never gained the greatness their founders had aimed for and gradually lost whatever passion they had. Except during Mir Hassan’s, the founder’s great-grandson, short tenure as the recognized leader, the nationalists had fought among themselves and had vague ideas about their cause. The governing forces of the country never really saw them as a big threat and considered them unnecessary troublemakers. Time and again, they were dealt with iron hands. The serious troublemakers often went missing and were later found tamed. Azad was just another fruit of a tree which had no roots. His father was dead and did not leave anything for the boy. His uncle himself did not have much to share but he cared for him and treated him as his own child. He had no prospects and by adopting the nationalist cause he had become a hopeless idealist. Allahbux pitied the self-importance of such men. They were ants. They were worse then ants, ants are disciplined. No such blood will mix with my blood, he told himself as he completed a round on the walking track.
After speaking with her father, she rushed towards her room and called Azad to apprise him about the situation. He invited her to a play in the theater gala at the university. After sunset she left a note at her father’s desk about theater gala and left with the driver for the university. A play was in progress at the improvised open air theater, a sindhi adaptation of Shakespeare’s, Venice Jo Vapari. Azad met her in the vacant ground behind the stage and felt her raised heartbeat during the embrace.
“He wants to meet you this weekend.”
“I asked the director to manage without Shylock or arrange another.”
“Stop it you child,” she said laughing. They shared their breaths and entangled their spirits. Although she had told him everything about her father, she repeated all about him in form of instructions. Azad nodded his head at each of her instructions and embraced her near the patch of earth allocated to agriculture students. He torn up some lemongrass from the ground and rubbed it between his hands and brought them close to her nose. He sat down and rubbed some grass on her feet, looked up to her eyes. Their gaze entangled. Standing up he turned toward the vacant ground and putting his hands on his hips and said addressing the imaginary audience, “The Freedom Act states as clearly as the day”, turned towards her, rubbing the grass in his hands, “it says lady that fate is destined to be with us.”
On Saturday, three of them sat and dined under the sky. The small talk was almost unbearable. After drinks Allahbux sent her daughter to her room and asked Azad to walk with him. As soon as she was gone, Allahbux said bluntly, “let not my daughter’s naivety harbour any hopes in your heart, she does not know you.”
“Sir she knows me as she knows herself.”
“You have enchanted her, I know the likes of you Azad, and if you have any sanity and honour you must leave my daughter.
“Your daughter loves me and I her.”
“Its drama nothing else. What have you got. Listen to me I will tell you about your life story, out of unending passion for your meaningless cause you will waste your entire life, you will be jailed, tortured, and tamed. You will not give up and you will go through this cycle again until you die. And your cause, its absolutely meaningless, has anything fruitful ever happened because of struggles of ideological fathers? only misery for themselves and their families. Stronger forces than your mere idealists have tried to break this country but it shall withstand all efforts!”
“When you question my ideology you show your ignorance. You Sir are very far from what we have been fighting for.”
“That is the language of all your heroes and yet they are under your very feet. I do not want my daughter to be affected by such a fate.”
“I shall not do anything which hurts her and you have no right to stop her from doing what she wants.”
Allahbux was furious at Azad’s words uttered in a courteous tone and he angrily asked him to leave the house immediately. Azad obliged and very calmly walked away. Allahbux went into the house and called her daughter. Allahbux embraced her daughter and gave his verdict. “My concern is that he will ruin his life in petty politics and may even lose it one day.” She imagined Azad dying and remember what her father had said about love.
She did not meet Azad for a week and asked her father to reconsider his decision. But Allahbux did not budge and even convinced her to forget him and learn to live without him. She imagined living without him. When she met Azad some weeks later, he proposed the idea of marriage by dissent and put her in a dilemma. She spoke to her father again but all her efforts were futile. One day in despair in the middle of the arguments she told her father that she will elope with the boy. Allahbux was full of wrath. “I shall never see your face again if you dare do such a thing”.
At daybreak, two little Caesars crossed the Indus. She had left a note which would be discovered a few days later. She wept silently throughout the journey like the Indus her eyes were dry and moist as they crossed towns and cities. She remembered her father’s words. He will punish her by indifference. Indifference, taking the life away from the living. She is now a spirit, unrecognizable.