Behenchara

Paanchwin Manzil

by Shafaq Javaid

I get stoned at Zara auntie’s. She lives in the apartment next to ours. She covers for me. Gives me mints. And tells me stories of her youth. She laughs and recalls her one and only dating fiasco which led to Junior, her 17 year old son. Our building is located on Warris road. “Bapsi Sidhwa used to live here.”, I tell my mother. She seems mildly impressed. Doctors, teachers, young professionals, artists, single mothers, we all live here. This is home. Before quarantine, I did not know any of these people, at least not the way I know them now. I never paid attention, never interacted with anyone; I left the niceties to my parents.

I met Ayesha through an event at an art space in Lahore. A few weeks later I found out she lived in 302, 2 floors below me. I had never seen her despite having lived in the same building for 4 years. We became friends when the lockdown began. Some mornings we meet at her apartment, meditate, and get stoned. We talk; cross legged in our 3 day old pajamas, with hair that hasn’t been washed in god knows how long, her 5 cats, and no pretense.

I encountered Zara auntie the day my dad had a heart attack. Amidst the first responders, my mother’s breakdown, and my dad’s blissful sleep, she calmed me down, and talked me through the tears that followed. A few days after abba’s death, I went to ask Junior for smokes. I had seen him smoking in the elevator, on his way to college. I found out he, too, was a charsi. The first time I got stoned with Junior, zarah auntie sat next to me and we talked. A lot. She told me about the threatening phone calls her family had received, how her brother was forced to convert to Islam, how her home was taken away from her and she was left penniless. A single woman, devoutly Christian, living in Khan Sahab’s riyasat-e-madina, she feeds me mattaar walay chawal and tang, and puts curine in my eyes when I leave for home.

Ma and Zara auntie get along really well. Two single mothers, with one child each. Junior and I, I have realized, are very much attached to them. Probably because they’re all we have left. Since the lockdown began, Ma spends her days praying, cooking, reading, and playing candy crush. I spend my days getting stoned in various apartments throughout the building; ocassionally at Ayesha’s, mostly at Zara auntie’s. Some days I feel like a stray cat. This morning, Ma and I sit and talk. She tells me about the dream she had last night. “Tumharay papa aye thay khawab main. Khush thay, sehat mand thay.” She smiles, she seems alright.

Ma and I call our floor Aurat Raaj. We joke about never having seen a male identifying creature on our floor. I roam around barefoot while it rains outside. No one in sight. It feels unreal. I have never been out here for so long. I have never smoked here. I have never felt this space so freely. Yet, I am here. I am here now. In my little bubble. Just us. Bus ham Aurtain aur yay paanchwin manzil.

You can see more from Shafaq at @ghaib_dimagh on Instagram.

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