The first thing she did after fishing out the stuffed letter out of the mailbox was shut the door behind her. The post must have arrived soon after Mom left with Nauhil or she would have hidden the letter. Fariha sat on the sofa for half an hour debating whether or not to open it. She wasn’t sure what was in there; it sure wouldn’t be good news. Her instinct was right. Mom had missed another hearing which meant the house ownership papers were still missing.
‘Soon we’ll be charged with contempt of court but does she care? We can all go to hell for all she cares as long as she is hiding under a rock! And that bloody lawyer! COULDNT HAVE ASKED FOR AN EXTENSION!’ she screamed at the walls.
She sat there for a while, clutching her forehead in her hands. Her rage didn’t leave any room for tears anymore. She’d cried so many times without even being sure what it was she was crying over. Her fate? Her father’s death? Her family? Her mother’s total ineptitude for handling affairs like an adult? What was to blame? Dad died when she was eight and soon after that her uncle had claimed that the house they were living in, the house that Dad had passed on to Mom, was actually his. It had been 12 years and the case was still in court. They had been evicted and restored countless times. It was easy to blame Mom but Fariha couldn’t bring herself to hold her responsible for everything. She was fighting on so many fronts alone.
Throwing the letter on the table she stomped towards the kitchen to prepare dinner. There was no time for a nap now. Mom would be back with Nauhil in a couple of hours. She didn’t even have the strength to lift a finger after work and Fariha had to leave for her job right after they came so this was all the time she had. While dicing onions, she thanked God with teary eyes. Cutting up vegetables saved her from burning the house down.
She was struggling with her hair when Fariha heard the car in the driveway. Throwing away the hairbrush she rushed down, a messy bun clumsily held by a band that threatened to break off any second.
‘Finally! You know I can’t afford to be late! Dinner’s ready, salad’s in the fridge and tea is on the stove just pour it out,’ she blurted out instructions, trying to keep her hair in place.
‘It would never stay, let me braid it.’
‘I don’t have time, give me the keys please.’
‘Why do you always have to go out looking like a…’
‘Because I do. Bye Mom, Nauhil.’
The drive to work was exhausting as usual. 6 pm meant the rush hour and she needed to be at work by 6.30. She worked at a call centre so punctuality was key. Mom’s prediction came true; she’d barely exited her street and her hair came tumbling down her shoulders and face and she nearly crashed the car twice as they curtained her eyes. A sigh of relief escaped her as she swiped her employee card at 6.29. Despite everything, she had made it!
‘Hey, how many curse words did you add to your dictionary today?’ she asked a sulky Sobia.
‘The ones I could never have taught her.’ Faraz smiled at her teasingly. It worked, she flared up at once.
‘Why do these clients have to be such assholes? If the damned iron isn’t working, how is it my fault?’
‘The poor souls are upset. They need to vent. Think of yourself as a therapist, it helps.’ Fariha winked at her and switched her system on. Sobia took a huge gulp of scalding coffee Faraz had just brought her and glared in space. Fariha’s buzzer had started to go off so she couldn’t do much but glance at her sympathetically and put on her headphones.
‘Hello, this is Fariha Imran from National Irons, how may I help you?’
The lights were on when she reached home. She groaned. After listening to angry complaints and flirtatious remarks for six hours, she did not have the energy to face anyone, least of all her mother. The letter was still on her mind and Fariha was sure this was not the right time to discuss it. She could hear the TV buzzing.
‘Hey. Why are you still up?’ She had opened the door so quietly that Mom, who was sitting on the couch a few feet away didn’t hear her come in.
‘Couldn’t sleep. You’re early today.’ She smiled at her.
‘It’s almost 1 am Mom and I am normally home by now. You’re normally asleep at this time.’
‘Hmm. Anyway, dinner’s on the table. Go change I’ll microwave it for you.’ This was too much. Fairha’s eyebrows shot up her forehead with suspicion. Did she want to discuss the notice? Was she scared of her reaction?
‘Because I’m your mother and mothers take care of their children. You often forget that so I thought I’d remind you today.’ Fariha laughed and started towards the stairs. ‘Ok, I’ll pretend to believe there’s no hidden agenda behind this sudden motherly care.’ Mom stayed quiet. Even her frown was absent. Another surprise. She tried to think of a reason but could come up with nothing except the letter.
She felt extremely formal and uncomfortable having dinner at the table. Daily, she would just take something out from the fridge and munched on her way up. But today she had to go back downstairs since it was rare for Mom to go so out of her way. She was acting weird. After enduring her wary glances while she ate, Fariha broke down. ‘What is it, Mom?’
She stayed quiet for a few minutes then asked her if she could skip university the next day.
‘Why?’ Another silence.
‘It’s your father’s death anniversary tomorrow so…,’ Fariha cut her off. ‘No.’
‘Fariha…’ there was pleading in her voice. Fariha felt pity for her but she couldn’t let it overcome her.
‘Mom no. And stop asking me to visit his grave every year, my answer will not change.’
‘He was your father!’
‘That’s not news for me, I’ve known that forever. I also know that he was a criminal who died in jail, a detail you often forget.’ She didn’t want to be sassy but she couldn’t help it. Mom’s nostrils flared.
‘Did you read the letter I left on the table for you today?’ Fariha asked curtly before Mom could retort. It worked, Mom’s expression turned defensive.
‘I did.’ She started clearing the table.
‘And nothing. Stop interfering in everything Fariha!’ it was Fariha’s turn to flare up.
‘Interfere? This is my house too! You still couldn’t find the original papers could you?’
‘I’ll find them and even if I don’t, we have the copies so we can get the originals made again. It’s not your headache so stop worrying.’
‘Why didn’t that lousy lawyer ask for an extension?’ Mom dumped the dishes in the sink and walked away without a word. ‘Mom!’ she called after her only to hear her slam the bedroom door. She’d run away once more leaving her daughter standing alone.
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