By Faiqa Mansab
At eight thirty in the evening, Faheem was informed that the escort he had requested was on her way upstairs. He’d anticipated that she might be late, as were the people he was supposed to meet for dinner. No one showed up on time in Lahore. It was considered gauche.
He opened the door and his jaw fell open.
His shock reflected in her face.
“What are you doing here? How did you know I was in?”
He trailed off. The obvious was too surreal. It was crazy. Sasha was a middle class housewife with two children. Sasha smiled, and sauntered past him, swaying slightly on her high heels. One didn’t expect to see a friend’s wife or sister turn up as a professional escort, any more than one expected one’s own.
He stood at the door watching her. She looked over her shoulder and said with a mocking smile, “Booze and Slims, Faheem.”
She still looked good. Most women would have gone to the dogs by now, but not Sasha.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
She just laughed.
Faheem was confounded. She was the wife of one of his oldest friends but on the other hand he didn’t want her to think he was neutered like her husband.
“Sasha, what’s going on? What are you doing here?”
“I think you know exactly what I’m doing here.”
“Why?” He couldn’t take his eyes off her and his brain seemed to have stopped functioning.
“Don’t be a prude, Faheem. Get us some booze and I’ll tell you all about my dark double life.”
How could she be so flippant about this? And who could blame him for being uptight about this situation? He took out his secret stash of Black Label, the most easily accessible brand in Lahore. Everyone was familiar with this old tag because let’s face it, they weren’t connoisseurs or anything. They were after forbidden thrills, and drinking got you into the right social circle.
Someone knocked. Imported cigarettes were very expensive and he paid for two boxes so that she wouldn’t think he was cheap.
“Aw, thanks, Faheem.”
He sat down with her and looked at his watch. They still had about fifteen minutes to nine, and the dinner was downstairs in one of the restaurants, so he reckoned they had time enough for the tale.
She lit her cigarette, sipped her drink.
“I never wanted to marry so young but my parents…”
Faheem wasn’t interested in this part of the story. This was a story they’d all heard before. It was every woman’s story but no one did what she was doing. No one left a perfectly good life to attach a stigma to their name. He interrupted her.
“Sasha, why did you leave Luqman?”
“Who says I left him?”
Faheem choked on his perfectly good whisky. He coughed, his throat burning, his eyes watering. She exhaled a cloud of smoke and curved those red lips in a half smile.
“He’s at home with the kids. He prefers staying with his mother, or the kids, or watching cricket on T.V. I just tell him I’m out with friends.”
“He’s a good man, Sasha.”
“I know. I’m not though. Good, I mean. He can’t understand that…and I can’t stand him. I don’t hate him or anything. I just want some excitement in my life.”
“Then go on a holiday.”
“Faheem, sweetie, your Lahori elements are seeping through the cracks. What happened to all that hard earned exposure in the diplomatic enclaves in Isloo and all those banned-but-happening-anyway, New Year parties?
That was going too far. He hadn’t been a Lahori in twenty years. She was trying to rile him. What was it about her that put him, and a lot of other people he knew, on the defensive? So many of their male friends called Luqman henpecked–easily the worst epithet for a man in Pakistan–you could get away with being a murderer but not being henpecked.
And here he was, drinking with, and salivating over his wife in a hotel room. He couldn’t help looking at what she’d blatantly put on exhibition, now could he? He tried to have another go at it for appearance’s sake, just to impress upon her, and his somnambulistic conscience that he’d tried.
“Sasha, exposure to a liberal environment doesn’t mean that we forget our values…”
“Yes, Faheem, you’re right. I’m so sorry. I think I’m in the wrong room, someone called for an escort. I’m sure it wasn’t you. You’re so morally correct.”
See, that’s what she did. How could a man answer such a straight hit without damning himself further? He tried not to let his anger show because she was smiling again, her eyes challenging.
“Sasha, I’m trying to help you. This is not something you’d want your daughter to do would you?”
Sasha watched him, over the rim of her glass as she enjoyed the whisky, as if it was an old habit, a comfortable ritual. She quirked her eyebrow, as if to say, that’s it? That’s your coup d’état?
He rallied and persevered.
“What are you trying to accomplish here? Not everyone is going to stop at taking you to dinner and bringing you safely home Sasha. Are you willing to risk that?”
Something stirred uncomfortably in his gut. But Sasha was still in the mood for sharing.
“I feel cheated. I feel that my life was stolen from me. Can you even imagine what that feels like?”
“Sasha, life’s hard for everyone.”