‘Should we go?’ I asked.
‘Yes.’ she replied. And I moved the car.
She was serious and her expressions were frozen in a tensed tone. She was usually very cheerful, but that day, I knew well why she was like that.
I worked at a multinational company in Gurgaon as a Training Manager. One day, my manager came to me and said, ‘There are seven people coming to our office from next week. They will be coming from different locations in the Asia Pacific region. They will be here for eight weeks. We need to train them on a project that our team piloted. Would you like to lead them?’
I was very excited at the opportunity and I said yes. There were people from Bangladesh, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, China, and Pakistan.
‘Kamila,’ I said, trying to break the silence, ‘would you like to have your favourite ice cream shake?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘not today.’
Kamila was from the Karachi office, she was twenty-seven years old, and she worked as a Development Manager.
The day I had first seen her, accompanied by my multinational colleagues, I was struck by her innocent beauty and effortless grace.
She was five foot four, fair and had an athletic built. She was a swimmer, and a serious one, who had won medals for her school.
She was twenty-one when she got married and her husband was nine years elder to her. Her marriage was arranged by her parents, and the groom was the son of a rich and powerful man.
After marriage, her husband forbade her to swim because he believed it was not modest for women to do so publicly. And that was not all. He kept adding to the list of things that he forbade her to do for two full years before on one occasion she took a stand for herself and told him that enough was enough.
But when she raised a cry about her husband in front of her parents, they said, ‘what do you want us to do – break off your marriage? We will not be able to show our face in public!
‘Thank you for allowing me to drive you to the airport.’ I said. ‘I wanted to tell you something.’
‘No. Please don’t say anything.’ she said and turned her face away from me.
Kamila’s husband was infuriated that she had besmirched his good name, and so he punished her by pulling a chunk of her hair out.
Then he demanded that she work and earn money and pay him every month for the comfort and convenience that he had been providing her.
She knew that her parents won’t support her, as they put their social reputation before their daughter’s happiness, and the police won’t take action, as they wouldn’t want to put their hands on an influential family like her husband’s.
She decided to work so that she could pay her husband whatever money he wanted and save the rest so that she could one day escape from this trap and start a new life.
Two years after she had started working, she found the opportunity to break free, and so she did. She came to Karachi from her birthplace in Gwadar, contacted an NGO and asked them to help her file for divorce. Then she looked for jobs and found employment in the multinational company where she and I worked.
The times in Karachi were turbulent for her. She was threatened by the groom’s family, rebuked by her own family, and later disowned by them. She found troubles living as a single girl, as some disapproved of her and others tried to take advantage of her.
But she was strong willed, she had learnt to swim in the Arabian Sea, so she was used to fighting forces mightier than her. She also knew about the impermanence of situations and things. When she was a child, she had once travelled east with her father, where he had shown her the Gadani ship-breaking yard. She was awestruck to find ginormous tankers that jived in the lap of oceans being torn down to shreds in a matter of days.
‘Kamila, we’re almost there. And I don’t want to say goodbye to you feeling like this.’ I said, my words pushing through my chest.
‘Then don’t say goodbye.’ She said, wiping a tear off her pink cheek.
It had taken a year and a half for her to finalise her divorce, rekindle some bond with some members of her family, and to find solace, or at least a small part of it, re-entering her life.
Then three months later, she was asked to come to India, where she met me. We got along, not instantly, but eventually.
For the first week, we spoke but mostly over matters related to work. In the middle of second week she came to my office with some questions, and that is where our bond began.
I was a student of psychology and human behaviour intrigued me. I wanted to know more about her, for my selfish interests, so I asked her a few questions about her family and such.
I remember that she cried for eleven minutes, while giving me a brief account of what had happened in her life. She later told me that no one had asked her about her or her family in a very long time, so she could not control her tears when I asked her those questions.
After that day it had become a daily ritual for us to sit in my office and have lunch. It was during those times that she shared her life with me, and I shared my life with her. The ease of my life would always make her smile.
‘Asif sahib,’ she said to me in the sixth week, ‘don’t marry unless you promise yourself to keep your woman happy.’
Her lips were dry that day and I thought it was because the Delhi air was drier than Karachi. I brought a lip balm for her the next day, which she applied sitting in my car.
She then asked me if she could receive a hug and I agreed. I felt her slender built being wrapped inside my giant frame. I was six foot one and weighed a few extra kilos.
She then let go of me and spontaneously pressed her lips against mine. I could tell she did not know how to kiss so I took control. We remained intimate in the warmth of the car for a few minutes before almost suddenly, in a snap, the inebriation of the moment ended.
I knew that the next step would need to be taken carefully. She was emotionally scarred and I did not want to exploit her in any way. I was also aware that her kiss could be an act of transference. I paused for an uncomfortable amount of time, in which I decided my probable future.
In the evening I accompanied her to the serviced apartment that the company had provided for her. I was anxious and she was more. Her palms were sweaty when they touched my bare back, and her feet were cold when I kissed her toes. We bonded in passionate embraces and gave in to natural desires.
‘Kamila.’ I said, pulling in to the car park in front of Indira Gandhi International airport’s terminal three. ‘I know you wanted things to move faster. I wish things could move faster, but this is just how it is.’
‘I told you Asif, I don’t want to hear all this. I’m fine.’ She spoke, silencing me.
Three days before her date of departure, she told me that she loved me and that she wanted to be with me. ‘I feel safe with you Asif.’ She said to me. ‘I haven’t even known you for two full months but I am deeply in love with you.’
I had not managed to construct a befitting reply, and it had made her upset. She did not see me for the next two days and I wrote her a text, one of many, in which I had asked her to at least let me drive her to the airport.
The night that she shared with me her feelings, I went back home and told my parents the probable future I had thought of in the car the other day. ‘I am going to marry Kamila.’ I told them. ‘And then I will move to some place closer to the sea, because the air here gives her dry lips.’
I then wrote it all down as a letter for Kamila, and put it in an envelope on which I wrote her name in Urdu.
‘Okay, you don’t want me to talk? I won’t talk.’ I said. ‘There’s a letter for you in there. Read it whenever you want to.’ I said pointing at the glove compartment in my car.
She opened the glove compartment and retrieved the letter. She looked at me and her eyes were puffy. She had not slept well and she had cried.
I smiled at her and I nodded in affirmation. She stretched her arms at me and I hugged her. I felt her fragile breath strengthening on my shoulder. ‘I love you Kamila.’ I whispered in her ear. I closed my eyes and promised myself that I will always keep her happy.