We hugged each other tightly. Each one pulling away slightly to look the other in the eyes. Was it true? Finally! Our beaming smiles and laughter were unaffected by the onlookers watching us. My new acquired family, and Shib’s own were watching us, it was truly a great moment for us.
A big Alhamdolillah and thanks to Allah for all this happiness. It was difficult to digest so much happiness; the night before, I realized: Just as we accept the hardships in our lives with patience and gratitude, in the same way we need to gratefully accept all the happiness and blessings of Allah, also.
It was Saturday, October 5th, 2019, Calgary. 5.30 pm.
We had finally met.
The last time we met in the blistering heat of Lahore, July 1978.
Now, we were meeting after 41 years, in a beautiful chilly evening in Calgary.
Empathy and understanding:
Coming back to reality, and Calgary, and the full day she was having, Shib was aware that I had hardly slept the last two nights, mostly from excitement. So, before the rest of guests arrived, (there was a dinner at her home,) she took me to my room, and Shib, Don and I had a few minutes together.
Flash of memories:
Mischievously, I hummed the tune of a song. Instantly, Don, knew that song as he had written the words for Shib in those days of their early engagement.
Both of them burst out laughing.
He was shocked at how much I knew and remembered about my friend. Yes, we all were happy.
Soon they left me to rest, and downstairs to attend to their arriving guests. I fell asleep, feeling comfortable, and ‘at home.’
I woke up, at 7.00 pm. and quickly got ready and went downstairs to find that dinner had already been served. My friend didn’t disturb me and just brought me a plate of the delicious food. Chicken, veggies, and mashed potatoes, with lemon sparkling water. I settled down, listening to the live music.
Another way to console each other:
A couple who were Diane’s close friends, were singers, and had brought their guitar and sang their friend’s favorite songs. They were a very close group sharing their sorrow and consoling each other with favorite music of the departed soul.
Donald also joined in, on everyone’s insistence, and I heard his operatic singing for the first time. It was straight from his heart, and one could see that he was moved.
Our first day together:
Next morning the 6th of October, was bright sunshine, as Shib brought my breakfast in bed. My favorite banana on toast with a cup of tea. Later, we lazed in Shib’s beautiful back lawn, next to her huge rocky water fall.
Renovations were taking place in her home. The workers were in the front and back. We sat next to the sound of falling water and reminisced about our past antics.
As we lounged in the sun, Adam came and sat with us, enjoying our walks through memories, and giving time to me.
The background of water fall, the sun and peace just added to our tranquil feelings. Soon her neighbor popped in, who is an artist. (I was gifted a painting by her, bought by my friend.) I could see they were old friends.
Lunch that afternoon was our childhood favorite tomato soup, something she knew I loved. (In our teens, we always go for Robbiya Snack bar in Main Market, Gulberg for their tomato soup.)
Dinner was at their friend’s home, Laurie and John who lived nearby. Laurie had cooked lamb stew and served with carrots, and finished off with a delicious dessert.
John was keen to meet me specially to get tips on writing and getting work published, he was already busy with his novel. Somehow in all our chats, I never got round to talk more about his book. But they all were so close and full of fun. It was easy to slip into the banter and leg pulling going on. Happily I found myself blending in.
Our childhood memories matched:
The amazing thing was that all our memories matched. I mean 41 years were missing in our lives, but nothing was lost in our friendship. We just touched base immediately. Yet every detail was etched into our memories.
As kids, our families would often laugh at our fights. Both of us couldn’t remember why we ever fought, but sometimes these lasted for a few days. We both vividly remembered, how during our fights, I’d climb up my favorite tree from where Shib could see me clearly, and I’d munch my apple and read my book, half lying on the branches. Just to make her feel bad!
There was the time, when my cousin Najib, had come visiting for a few days. In those days, we weren’t on talking terms due to some fight. I made sure to ask him to take me for a ride on our batman’s bicycle just in front of her house, so she could see how much fun I was having, with my cousin.
She sharply remembers seeing me going out on that bicycle, with my cousin. She felt so jealous. Normally, whenever our cousins came we both would have a lot of fun playing. Specially, when her cousin Richard came, we would love playing with his dinky toys. But she missed out that time, when Najib had come. Much later, he was the one I did end up marrying.
Once Richard filled up a tub of rainy water with earth worms and asked us to put our hands into the water to check. We said, ‘you do it.’ He did, and his hand came out of the water full of squirming earthworms. Of course we both screamed and ran off.
We would love to build ‘houses, or secret homes from the useless logs, and items lying outside or on her roof. We were full of ideas. Once we used an old wooden ‘commode’ as the window hole for our ‘home’! We were quite thrilled.
We were neighbors in Cavalry Grounds, Lahore Cantt. Both of us went to Azam Garrison School for girls, in the Rangers’ school bus. She was in class two and I was in class six, she was six years old and I was nine. We remained close even after my parents and I moved away, till our teens.
In the school bus we would often pretend to be very impressed by young boys trying to jump and do tricks to ‘show off’. We could see that they were getting hurt, but we would pretend to be enjoying, and the boy would go on, and on. This would tickle us no end. Yes, we could be mean with boys who tried to show off.
Once we went all the way to an unknown person’s house to see the face of a girl, who we had heard had got divorced. We were shocked to see that she was a normal person.
All the time, Don, Aisha and Adam would ask, ‘where were your parents?’ We had to be home before sunset. Otherwise, we were mostly outside playing our games of Robin Hood, William Tell, but mostly we were the ‘Secret Two’, solving mysteries. I’d be reading Enid Blyton books and we would act them out in our own ways. So Secret Two was actually from her Secret Seven series. But we were only two, so Secret Two it was!
Both of us remembered every conversation, and every situation.
A Childhood free of screens:
It was a childhood free of television, (it had only recently started.) A time when you did a lot of reading, meeting friends, playing outdoor games and focused on conversations.
Shib’s children and Don agreed that we definitely had the best childhood anyone could have imagined. Perhaps that is why we grew up to be strong individuals.
We both have faced very tough and harsh life’s realities head-on. Smiling our way through it all. None of the harshness of life, was able to deter our excitement, sense of adventure or seeing the humor in every situation.
A happy childhood is the best gift a parent can give to one’s child. Our parents didn’t breathe down our necks, they allowed us to get free play time, to be able to create our own fantasies. They were watchful without being intrusive.
In those five days, I watched, how smoothly Shib was managing everything. She didn’t even realize it, till I pointed it out to her.
- When she heard that I’m going to Halifax, she told me she would visit me there.
- She was also taking a Euro tour with Adam, her son at the time. I was following her trip on Facebook.
- They had been away from home for quite a while, so she decided to call me over to Calgary, instead. That way, her family and I would be able to meet each other. I told her, ‘you don’t think out side the box, you ‘live’ outside the box!’
- When she sent me my airfare to Calgary, her sister-in-law was alive. The death took place much later. So, instead of cancelling my visit, she continued with every commitment as before. Casually dealing with all commitments.
- For instance, the same day, when we met for the first time, she had invited guests for breakfast, after that they went for the funeral service at the Anglican Church. Over two hundred person were there and different close relatives stood and spoke about the departed soul. Don also, I believe made a touching speech. I think one calls it a eulogy.
- Funeral, church event, and reception: After the funeral, they had arranged a lunch reception for all the guests at another place. That was at 2.00 pm, and then around five thirty the guests started arriving for the dinner at their home at 6.00 pm.
- All this time, the workers for renovations in their home were doing their bit. It was a race against time, as a cold spell of snow was expected very soon, so they were in a hurry to complete the work, before that.
- Besides this, as I mentioned, their children were at the stage of leaving home, so in fact the empty nest syndrome would be setting in too. But I could see, they were doing fine with it all.
- As the guests were leaving, I saw her put in generous helpings of food for the bereaved family. So, they wouldn’t have to worry about food.
- She had paid for my flight tickets from Halifax to Calgary, and direct flights aren’t cheap, I may tell you. When I offered to pay, she waved it off, saying ‘otherwise, I was going over to Halifax, it would have meant the same!‘ It wasn’t. She literally arranged and paid for every outing and every expense too.
- The plans for me included a trip to Banff.
- She and Don, got front row tickets for Adam and myself to watch ice hockey match of the Flames against the Kings. So, my whole trip was masterminded by her.
- I was happy to see that the sketch I had gifted to her in 1973 was hanging proudly in her picture’s gallery. She had kept it all these years.
Later on, I told her how much I admired the cool way she was managing it all single handedly. At first she was surprised, then she shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘if its got to be done, its got to be done.’ Of course, Don was helping a lot, and he arranged for catering for their home dinner. But still we know what it all means.
Don and Mahira-Rea’s house:
It is a truly elegant, comfortable and beautiful house. Masha Allah, may Allah grant them every happiness, healthy and wonderful memories in it. It felt so great to find my friend comfortably settled. Don, said, we chose a house close to center of city, so that the commute time becomes less for them all. This would give all of them more family time.
Having the house full of paintings was such a natural thing. 🙂
Then the rockery in the back yard:
Paintings all over the house, just loved it. When I asked her ‘what do you want?’ She said, ‘your book and a painting.’ So, of course, I got her those. Seeing her home, it was such a joy to find the amazing selection of paintings that she had bought.
He makes breakfast for Shib daily, and he did the same for me too! On top of it, he made sure I got an excellent cup of tea (the way we Pakistanis love it), whenever I wanted it.
Don had taken the day off, on October 7th to take me to Banff, which is the second most beautiful place in all of Canada.
‘which one is the first? Don asked, ‘Niagra Falls,’ I told him. Yes, I had seen all the YouTube videos about Canada.
Our time was precious:
As there were just five days together now, so we made every minute count. This is why it wasn’t possible for me to meet up with Tamania (Urdu Mom) whom I was dying to meet, and Menaal, whose parents I’d known and had great regard for. Insha Allah, another time. This visit was reserved for my deep associations of forty one years with my childhood friend, and over a hundred years with my relatives.
It has been an amazing time. This is why we can wait till my next blog post for the rest of this amazing trip.
Till then, stay blessed, and keep smiling. 🙂