It was after a few days of clandestine visits that my mother found out about Babajan.
It had been a slow day in general. Maybe it was the June heat. Maybe it was because Babajan was unusually quiet and nonresponsive. I had found the wings of a rather large butterfly fallen beside a flower bed; unusual wings, a dusky purple and brown, with marks that looked like eyes. I placed them carefully on a page torn from a notebook and went up excitedly to Babajan, who was indoors, sitting next to a French window overlooking the back lawn.
“Look! Look! Look what I found!”
There was quiet contemplation on Babajan’s face as he gazed outside and I had to repeat his name twice before he noticed I was there. He nodded and smiled with a brief twinkle in his eyes, before turning back to the lawn.
“I’ve never seen such wings before.What kind of butterfly is this, Babajan?”
Babajan looked down at his hands and fiddled with his watch. He didn’t appear to hear me.
He turned towards me and chuckled, “Haan haan…” He nodded again. It was hardly a satisfactory reply. I had expected him to tell me to drag out a hefty nature encyclopaedia and see if any such butterfly had been mentioned in it. Before I could ask him whether I could fetch it, he turned away again and muttered, gesturing outside, “See, the problem is that those two apple trees have gone rotten.”
I looked at where he was pointing, a small clump of pine trees.
“Which apple trees, Babajan?”
“That’s right, that’s right, those ones.” He was silent for a minute as I earnestly went up to the window and tried to find the apple trees he was speaking of.
He spoke up again. “They’ll need to be cut. Call Sher Muhammad.”
“Sher Muhammad has gone to get the car fixed, Babajan. He said you have to visit the doctor later.”
“What! No, no, call him.”
“Call him, call him. He’ll know what to do. See, the problem is that those two apple trees have gone rotten.”
I looked at Babajan in utter confusion. He was looking around for something. “Where is it?”
“Beta, my walking stick!” He looked upset. He yelled for Gul Bibi, followed by a stream of Pashto.
“I’ll get her,” I mumbled and ran off to find Gul Bibi, who was sitting in the kitchen, a wet cloth wrapped around her auburn head to fend off the heat.
She looked tired and then perplexed as a jumble of words spilled out of my mouth. “He wants his walking stick and Sher Muhammad to cut the trees and I don’t know Pashto.”
There was a louder yell from the other room, as Gul Bibi immediately leapt up and ran. Babajan sat awkwardly on the window seat, a few feet away from the armchair where he had been sitting. He was crumpled up against the window, a look of distress and pain on his face, his mane-like hair dishevelled. He had evidently attempted to walk without any support and had not been successful. I tried to grab his arm to help him up but he brushed me away, his face pale.
GulBibi gently instructed me to move away and give her some space. She helped him sit up straight, saying something in Pashto. I ran to get water for Babajan, recalling a time when I had done the same for a boy at school who had sprained his ankle. Everyone had kept shouting at people to get water.
“Here’s some water,” I gasped as Babajan turned wide, almost feral eyes towards me, ignoring my outstretched arm holding the glass. He looked at me with a strange kind of desperation.
“Where is your father?” his voice was hoarse with pain and fear. “Ahmed, call your father!”
I had had no intention of lying to my mother or keeping anything from her, but now that she knew, I felt afraid.
It took me a second to realise that it was me he was addressing. I took an involuntary step backwards and looked at Gul Bibi in alarm.
“Ahmed!” he shouted. “Call him! Call Kamran!”
I jumped, sloshing water all over myself, fearfully watching this sudden stranger. Gul Bibi softly said something to Babajan that I could not catch, and then to me, “Danial, go see if Sher Muhammad is back.”
Babajan groaned and closed his eyes.
I obediently retreated out of the room and almost got trampled by Sher Muhammad. I stood in a corner, watching as Gul Bibi and Sher Muhammad calmed Babajan down, unable to comprehend what had just taken place. By the time Babajan had been moved to his room and settled in, it was almost sunset.
“Bachay, go home,” Gul Bibi exclaimed as she noticed the sky getting darker outside. “Your mother will worry.”
“Is he fine?” I asked instead.
“Yes, bachat ho gaee. He’s not hurt, thankfully. He could have been but he was lucky he fell onto the seat and not the floor.”
“Gul Bibi, who is Kamran?”
There was a pause. “His son. His grandson Ahmed’s father.”
“Why did he think I was Ahmed?”
There was a sorrowful look on Gul Bibi’s face as she simply said. “Because he misses him.”
Sher Muhammad hung up the telephone from which he had been placing a mysterious call. “The doctor will come here instead,” he announced to his wife, who looked somewhat relieved.
“Nothing serious happened. Shukar hai. Chota Khan wouldn’t have been pleased,” muttered Sher Muhammad.
“Then Chota Khan should be here himself to look after his father,” Gul Bibi’s plump, pleasant face hardened. She then shooed me out of the house before I could ask her further questions.
I reached home to find my mother interrogating a sulky Salim about my whereabouts. I was grateful to note that Farhat Phupo’s snores had not ceased, which meant that she at least had been unaware of my absence.
“Danial! What do you think you’re doing, worrying me half to death?” My mother was the most angry I had ever seen her. “Where have you been?”
“He lives in the big house behind our lane.”
My mother gaped at me when Salim interjected, “Oh he means Dr. Durrani Sahib.”
“Who is that?”
“Very respectable old doctor. He has lived here most of his life. Wife died a couple of years back, children moved away years ago, lives alone. Laikin thoray se pagal hain.”
I glared angrily at Salim, “No, he’s not!”
Salim shrugged. “People say so.”
Without looking at him, my mother bit out, “Enough, Salim. It would have been better had you been less knowledgeable about the neighbours and more alert about the people who live in this house!”
Ignoring the look of affront on Salim’s face and the insolent whistle that followed, my mother led me to her bedroom and made me tell her everything about Babajan and my visits to him.
I had had no intention of lying to my mother or keeping anything from her, but now that she knew, I felt afraid. Afraid of worrying her, afraid of what my father would do if he found out and afraid of the fear that shadowed her face.
“Danial, be honest, don’t keep anything from me.”
“Haan Ammi, I’ve told you everything!”
“You can’t go there again.”
“But, no! I have to! You go with me!”
“I say that you won’t go there again and that’s final!”
“NO!” I raised my voice and she clamped her hand across my mouth.
“Don’t let Farhat Phupo hear you! Tamasha na banao!”
My eyes stung but I blinked fiercely, a lump in my throat, and nodded as she removed her hand. At the thought of Farhat Phupo, something else appeared to occur to my mother. Maybe the realisation that my great-aunt too was an inadequate chaperone. She looked at me thoughtfully. I opened my mouth to plead with her to reconsider but I couldn’t muster my voice. I gulped instead and tried to look steadily and manfully back at her, my traitorous lower lip trembling and betraying the tumult inside my chest.
“All right,” she finally said in a low voice. “I’ll go meet Dr. Durrani with you.”
 “Yes, yes”  An Urdu phrase meaning that a danger or something bad had been averted.  An Urdu phrase meaning ‘Thankfully’, or expressing gratitude.  Small or young; here referring to the ‘Younger Khan’.  “But he is a little crazy.”