The Reclamation of Zarah Baloch (Novella Ch:4)

Ch:1, Ch: 2, Ch:3


Chapter 4: Appeal

October accompanied the city with the habitual Western depression rain showers that further added to the humidity and coupled itself with the first signs of wintry chills. Every early morning from here on out till the start of Spring would feature mild to moderate to thick blankets of fog that distort all vision, work and travel. It’s a featured element of the State of Punjab, though Rawalpindi is spared the severity of it due to its hilly locality, although this attributes to colder temperatures and frosty dew.

The crammed city opposed the weather by switching to smaller vehicles and bicycles in the mornings to avoid too harsh an accident, and line the streets with dumpster fires and a multitude of layers of closely-knit, thin garments. The city never received snow, only episodes of crisp showers and an occasional hail in some part every-other season. The residents never sought special precautions for the arrival of winter, usually just hoping and praying that it would pass with no observable effect, conveniently ignoring the other deficiencies facing their existence. All acclimations for the weather were subverted by a lack of foundation equipment, such as access to heating and insulation. Each home played the part of a wooden, clay or brick box laid out in the wind, at the mercy of dropping temperatures and void of reliable supplies of internal or external sources of heating, be-it gas, wood or even electricity, proportionally getting colder.

Zaka’s university was no exception, especially due to its lofty position and open layout. The design was a haphazard one, consisting of slightly rocky terrain with patches of greenery laminated and lined with buildings, all connected by several unthought, unmetalled roads. Each of these buildings constituted to a specific academic complex, the Arts, the Natural Sciences, the Engineering, the Business etc. The university was expansive and consistently dropping brick and mortar into all possible sites within its guarded and gated boundaries. The administration was more interested in reeling in potential students rather than attending to the needs of those present. That meant more new buildings, with the same sloppy workmanship and ill-equipment.

He had maintained his close observation of Zarah, trying to pin-point the next opportunity to talk to her. The awkwardness was out of the way and instead, was now a topic of discussion should they chose to entertain it. All he needed was a plausible opening. He regulated his blog with previously prepared embellishments of his collection of research experiments, to keep the audience from dying out. One needs to always bear the audience in mind so as to not lose relevancy. Her routine had changed slightly now. She sat closer to a bench further inwards, closer to other students and she was always picked up by her new driver now. The few openings he had to approach her, were constricted, leaving him in the position of an encircling vulture, eyeing for an opening.

Two weeks into this habit, he noticed Zarah looking around herself occasionally when on the bench, unshaken by the cold, until her eyes met his and then immediately refocusing onto the book she was reading.

She’s certainly expecting me now. I cannot confirm yet, whether it is anticipation or annoyance.

To celebrate the onset of colder weather there was always an annual bonfire event at the cafeteria next to the Business complex.  Students from all walks of the institution would brush shoulders for the one and only time in the season, superficially engaging in social conversations, but generally having dumb fun with their buddies.

On the eve of this weekend event, Zaka found himself in his familiar walking-spot overlooking the Arts complex, only to witness that she was not there for once. He made nothing of it. She is just as vulnerable to colds and fevers as anyone else. It changes nothing.

As he continued down his path to the Natural Sciences buildings, his route was cut by two swaying men, clearly intoxicated and slurred in speech. Their deteriorated state pointed to a recent and long run at the bottle, but their coat was pristine and pressed. Zaka concluded that this wasn’t a poor timed coincidence as the duo pointed at him and motioned him to follow them, after several failed attempts to communicate the message verbally. Though unwilling, Zaka knew the duo to be Sadaqat and Awais, part of the rowdy alcoholic group in the university, notorious for being short tempered and from powerful families. To refuse meant to fight with the whole group and even though no one was exactly sure how many students were in that group, it would be an ill-advised thought. So, he followed.

They led him across bushy coverings and into a marshy shaded grove by the flowing canal. The area was completely obstructed from view by any complex or road nearby, and the scent of decaying humus masked the milder odor of ethanol. It seemed as if the very bark and soiled wreaked of the stuff. Behind the comforts of one these trees emerged a wobbling, pale pink, skinny man with an unkempt facial and shabby long hair, slowly making his way towards Zaka. His stench imposed on Zaka who started to slowly retreat and cover his nose, until bumping into the rowdy duo behind him.

The pale young man stared him down, trying to gather his focus and sipping on a small bottle in his hand, until eventually blurting out.

“Yew the guy tickin’ off my sis, eh?” His voice was raspy from the alcohol and demanded effort to be legible.

Zarah’s brother…Dammit. She called him on me?

Zaka slowly raised his hands up and replied in a quiet manner, “Look buddy, I have no idea what you’re talking about, alright? Just tell me what the issue is and maybe we can…”

The man thrust the flat end of his bottle onto Zaka’s nose who fell over grasping it, trails of blood flowing from between his fingers.

The pale man stepped closer, looking at his companions and spoke in the same distortion.

“Don yew- I say- I say don yew twyna be a smartass with me, eh bud?”

The man stomped on Zaka’s back and then landed several kicks to his chest as his buddies looked on at the guy writhing in pain.

Is she…scared of me? I don’t understand this…

The pale man bent down to speak to Zaka but inadvertently fell over and remained lying on the wet grass, recollecting his thoughts and his focus.

“Ight, so…” he began again. “We gots us a- like a undewshtanding eh?”

The man ended up vomiting next to himself, adding to the filth of the atmosphere, then sitting up and gesturing his companions to take Zaka away. The tipsy duo just nudged him with their feet until he got up from his knees to his feet and scrambled off out of the grove.

He dragged himself towards the pathway from where he was picked off and managed to reach the complex connecting shuttle buses in time, pressing down on the bruises and marks on his chest and desperately using his muffler to conceal his face, mouthing to himself as he rode to class…

…What the hell is up with this Zarah? Scared or angry, you’re calling me out.

….and I’m listening



Ch: 6



Pic Credit to Owner



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