Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fiction #57: Areeba Faraz

List of Groceries

Every fortnight Shazia Begum (1) would devise a long list of groceries for her husband to buy on the way home from work. This would be an incredibly thought out and economically planned out list. To make it easy for him the amount that each item should be bought in would be mentioned and all things would lie in their specific categories. You would never find meat under toiletries or vegetable under dairy products. This list Hamid Sahab (2) would find in his tiffin box neatly folded into a square. This was done deliberately so that Hamid Sahab would not be able to ignore it or lose it while stuffing it in his pocket.

Truth be told Hamid Sahab wouldn't dare losing it, or ignoring it. Regardless of his wife's opinion he was very careful as to not get Shazia Begum upset. He would go to great lengths to ensure that everything she asked for was done and done immediately. Just to buy this list, he would leave work early, reach the shops, get the desired items and carry on home before sunset. He had poor eyesight and was clumsy, but he would not and could not let it come in between his errand of buying groceries.

It so happened that every time and merely on coincidence he would forget an item. He would go to the shops, read each item aloud with the quantity for the butcher, doodh wala (3) or fruit vendor. etc. Ask the respective shop keeper to pack them in bags. Carry that heavy load, place it in the boot of his car and drive off home. Huffing and puffing he would carry the bag upstairs to his apartment, ring the bell and with further huffing and puffing set the bags inside on the dining table. He would look at his wife and smile a big smile, like a kid just proud at his efforts. His wife would whiff through the bags and know in an instant that something was not bought.

'Hamid Sahab aaj bhi. (4) As usual you forgot one item, I don't know how or what I should do to ensure you bring everything home. I write the list in clear writing, I give all details for it, I plan it every fortnight only, I neatly fold the list and give it to you. What should I do Hamid Sahab? Just tell me? Why don't you understand it's not about one item it's about forgetting what I asked you to do? Hamid Sahab why don't you...'

Her anger would not abate. The entire evening every mistake that Hamid Sahab ever made would be counted and recounted. He would receive sarcastic remarks and criticisms at dinner, for tea and before dozing off. The timid and rather scared Hamid Sahab would wish he had died on the way home rather than reaching alive to be butchered by his wife.

While his wife would vent her frustration and forget about it the next morning, Hamid Sahab would pass an inward resolution with determination. 'No matter what! I have to, just have to get everything that's on that list. Otherwise, I won't come home.'

*

The next fortnight Hamid Sahab opened the list with a feverish anticipation. He scanned the list and mentally planned out his shopping trip. As the day progressed his eagerness did not deteriorate but in fact grew. He waited impatiently for the time to come when he would leave work.

At the shops, he very patiently called out all the items and then checked the bags himself. He loaded the bags in the car, looked around at the ground if by mistake he had dropped anything. After satisfying himself he drove home, beaming.Huffing and puffing he carried the bag upstairs, rang the bell. With further huffing and puffing he set the bags inside on the dining table. He stood back, both his thumbs going the circumference of his pant, patting his round belly, like Santa Claus on a job well done. His big smile, did not deter Shazia Begum from her investigation. She went over the bags, looked at the packages, the labels and the receipt. To her utter horror, Hamid Sahab, had bought everything, the exact amount and quantity. She went over the bags, twice and thrice convinced that her mind was playing tricks on her. How could an old man break a habit of so many years?

Behind her, Hamid Sahab sat on the couch with his legs up on the coffee table, a posture his wife despised, switching channels, until he found a wrestling match. He turned the volume high, hopeful Shazia Begum would interject saying 'How can you watch this garbage? What is this anyway, men in underwear fighting fake fights and hurling fake abuses. Can't you find anything decent to watch? Toba! Toba!' Shake her head and touch the tip of ears with her fingers to ward of evil. However, when he looked around, Shazia Begum was still standing over the bags of groceries immersed in the debate of whether all listed items were present or not.

'Begum, Begum!' Hamid Sahab tried to get his wife's attention, he thought he should wave his hands about.

'Huh?' She looked up lost, as if a spell had been broken and she suffered from amnesia.

'I am hungry?!'

'Oh ok.'

Hamid Sahab knew this wasn't his wife, Shazia Begum would have screamed at him, 'Can't you see I am putting away groceries and cooking at the same time. Oh God! It's like this man doesn't get that I am one person. One!' Wagging her forefinger at him.

*

Dinner, was quiet, like in a dormitory where the students would be afraid that the supervisor could scold them for using their spoons too loudly. Periodically, Hamid Sahab would look up and find his wife playing with her food. He had not once seen her take a bite and the amount on the plate didn't seem to diminish.

Hamid Sahab was losing his patience, he wanted to wake his wife from her trance by shaking her. He didn't have the guts to do that, though.

After dinner, before Hamid Sahab had even sat down in the living room, evening tea with biscuits were neatly placed on the table. Are eager elves present in his house, how is this happening? Shazia Begum sat demurely across from him, bringing the cup close to her mouth and then bringing it down ever so slowly. Hamid Sahab wondered if she was actually drinking her tea.

Hamid Sahab missed the bickering, the complaints, the bold statements 'Oho! I wonder what my parents were thinking when they married me off to you'. He wanted to plead for the cup of tea, sneak the biscuits of the jar. Now, he couldn't do that, he felt like a stranger, like a guest in his own house. This wouldn't do.

The entire following fortnight, silence made their life stand still. Everything, everybody seemed drugged, the stray dogs wouldn't bark as loudly, people wouldn't shove in long queues to the bus, even the daily news reported passive events.Hamid Sahab knew he had to make things right.

*

This time Shazia Begum handed him the list, to place it in his pocket. Hamid Sahab was surprised to see it in his hands, his wife had always kept it in his tiffin box. Hamid Sahab stared down at the neat writing, and the crisp white paper, without a single fold mark.

The whole day at work, Hamid Sahab spent more time going through the list than doing his work. He had brought it in his folder so it would form no creases on the paper. By the end of the day, he was certain what he would do.

He went over to all the shops, one by one, read out the items and required quantities aloud. He asked the shopkeepers to pack groceries in the bags and paid for the items. He had very smartly not bought one item from the list, matches. He put the load in the back of his car, and drove home.

After setting the bags down on the dining table, he watched his wife closely without a peep. Shazia Begum, didn't seem that interested in the bags, and trudged towards them aimlessly. One by one and ever so slowly she went through the bags, defeated. Hamid Sahab was sinking low with her.

Suddenly, Shazia Begum looked up.

'Hamid Sahab where are the matches?'

Hamid Sahab pretended to be confused and muttered frantically

'Kya? They are not here. But I...didn't I...I thought I bought them...'

'Uff!' Slapping her forehead lightly, 'As usual, you forgot, I knew that this would happen. Last week you bought everything, but what to do? You are just not organized enough, that was a fluke. Oh my luck! I wrote that list with such precision...'

Shazia Begum's taunts were like music to Hamid Sahab's ears. He smiled wide inspite of himself.

Shazia Begum continued complaining but the twinkle in her eye was back.

*

Notes:
(1)  title to give respect to a woman.
(2)  title to give respect to a man.
(3)  milkman.
(4)  ‘again, today’

*

I have studied literature from London University and am currently doing a creative writing certificate from The University of Toronto. I am a mother of two very active toddlers. A new immigrant to Canada, I come from Pakistan, have lived in the Middle-East and traveled in Europe.

Photo Credit: Areeba Faraz

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