(Scroll down for translations for the Urdu slang)

Monsoon Promises


Years later, he would tell his son Baba fell in love with Mama the second he saw her smile. It was hesitant and fleeting, fading away within mere seconds. He caught a glimpse of it though, and he told his son that had been enough. He married her mere weeks after that, whisking her away from her family and leaving his own behind. They moved away, and started their new life; one far away from those who wished them ill and soon, God blessed them with a son.

'No, no, you didn't say it properly!' his son would find fault in his story telling.

Ahmed Siddiqui smiled, he knew what the boy wanted to hear. 'God saw how lonely they were, they didn't have anyone, no family, so He gave them a special boy. He gave them their family. And it was a better family than the ones they had left behind. They weren't sad anymore, because they had Rehan.'

'Me!' The boy couldn't control his glee, this was his favourite part of the story.

'Yes, you! Our very own special gift from Allah.' Ahmed gathered his son close, kissed the top of his head. 'Do you know what your name means?'

The boy shook his head, eyes wide with curiosity and anticipation, even though he had heard this story hundreds of times before. His father told him anyway, 'Favoured by God. That's what you are.'

The boy pondered, with a frown on his face. Then he looked to his mother sitting across from them, with an indulgent smile, and cried out, 'I don't get it!'

'It means, you will go far, my son. And Allah will always guide you and give you strength.'

Rehan decided he had heard enough then, and scrambled off his father's lap to run outside and play in the winter sun.

The carefree boy who heard that story did not know then that he would clutch it to close to his heart in the years ahead. A reminder of days gone by, when he had been surrounded by love. He did not know then that a tale his father had loved telling would become the only tether to his sanity.

The slums of Rawalpindi, 1992.

It was a narrow alley, lined on both sides by houses, and the occasional small shop. The residents of the area felt a tiny prick of pride that at least they did not live in a slum, and though cramped, the houses were not made of mud. It had rained earlier, a torrential monsoon rain that had come and gone in minutes. Presently however, the sun was back in full force and the heat showed no signs of abating. There were dogs dozing in the afternoon sun, beneath the coveted shade of a tree. A man in rags snored a little distance away from them, feeble cover provided by his cart. He stirred at the sound of laughter and shouting, a group of boys came running up the street in pursuit of a smaller boy with a much-abused football, splattering mud everywhere with their kicks. They were a familiar sight, so he turned over with a snort and went back to his restless sleep.

The boy in the front of the pack skidded to a stop and half turned around with a mischievous grin, one leg hovering mid-kick. Instantly he was crowded on all sides but there was a makeshift goal in front of him, two plastic Pepsi crates marking the limits, and he knew they couldn't stop him. He was slight and short, but he had always been faster than the rest.

'Idhar dai!' One of the older boys urged, but he was having none of it.

On most days, the boy was a team-player; you had to be if you wanted to play in the streets with borrowed equipment and no rules. Today though, he wanted the glory. He wanted to feel the triumph at besting his elders run through his veins.

'Rehan!' They were still shouting at him. His teammates yelled too, the voices intermingling, 'Rehan jaldi karo!' Another hulking boy, twice his size, tried to tackle him. He slipped and maneuvered the ball, it glided with him. One more kick and it was soaring away… in his imagination hitting the nonexistent net and actually bouncing off the wall of a house with a dull thud.

His team swamped him, coming together dusty and sweaty but for one moment, happy.

The captain of his team, Jalal bhai, patted him on the back. 'Champ, tu toh hamara Maradona hai!'

'Nahi, mai nai Imran Khan banna hai!' he said pointing to the World Cup poster stuck to a telephone pole, with the Pakistan cricket team captain in green. The legend that was Imran Khan had come back from retirement to lead the men in green one final mission, with the hopes of an entire nation resting on his shoulders.

The boys had only played a little football to pacify their younger friend, everyone much preferred cricket. Rehan couldn't hold up the bat properly and his bowling consisted of wides and no balls.

'Agla match kab hai?'

'Kis kai ghar dekhain?'

Only two houses in the street had television's, and the whole neighborhood usually gathered together to watch.

A different voice was calling out suddenly. 'Rehan!'

Rehan had still been grinning up at Jalal bhai, but he turned around. His mother was prone to scolding and nagging him, but in his short life he had never heard her sound like that.

Thunder rumbled and heavy clouds obscured the blazing sun, and a light rain began to fall. The man in rags jerked in surprise as raindrops fell in loud succession on his prone form.

A shriek rent the air. 'Rehan!'

She was standing in the doorway to their tiny house. He started running towards her, about to confess that he'd not yet done his homework. He was smiling at her until he noticed something wasn't right. Her knuckles were white from clutching the metal gate, as if hanging on for dear life, her eyes were wide and staring.

As soon as he reached her, she grabbed him to her, her dupatta askew. He wanted desperately to be grown up about this until his father got home, but the word that slipped out was a child's fearful query, 'Ma…?'

He felt her trembling as she held on to him. There was another roar of thunder, and within scant seconds, the drizzle transformed into a downpour.

'Ma? Batao na!'

The roar of a motorcycle as it came up the street gave him hope. 'Ma, Baba's here, then you'll be okay!'

His father had gotten a job recently and just bought a new motorcycle, and Rehan rather liked travelling on it. The whir of the engine, the wind messing up his hair that his mother had just combed neatly, and his father behind him, not letting go of him for second.

That shook her out of her daze. She let go of him enough to draw him inside and shut the gate. Until she wiped her hand across her eyes, he hadn't even realized she'd been crying. 'Baba's not coming home.'

And then he wanted to cry. What did she mean? Baba was never late. His mother got scared of the being alone when it was dark outside, so he always made it back home before Asr.

'But why?'

He heard her mumble something about an accident and a flash flood, but he didn't understand.

He pestered her, 'If he's not coming home now, when is he coming?'

She held his hand as she went to the kitchen, and inexplicably to him, starting making tea.

'Why are you making him chai if he's going to be late?'

She slammed the pot down on the stove, hitting the jar of sugar in the process which slipped and fell. He winced as the glass shattered. His mother was falling to pieces before him and he backed up a few steps. Only he ended up tripping on his shoes, falling forward onto the broken shards.

'I'm sorry, beta, here,' she cried out, reaching out to catch him just in time. His right side scraped the floor. She seemed more like her normal self now, soothing him, he didn't even realize something was hurting. There was tiny flecks of red on her dupatta as she dabbed at his right knee.

'It's gone in,' she mumbled distractedly. In the next few minutes, he realised he was in pain but bravely tried not to show her, as she found another cut on his hand and cleaned and bandaged both of them.

Finally when she was done, he was swinging his legs over the edge of the charpai, and she was sitting beside him, she said quietly, 'Rehan, listen to me… Baba's dead, beta.'

She told him Baba's friend had just called, when he'd been outside playing. Rehan knew then that she didn't know any better, because Uncle Samir was always joking and his father always said never to take him seriously. His favourite line was 'Samir, yaar tu kab baraa hoga!' It was Rehan's favourite line too, it meant Samir Uncle always acted like he was still a kid, and he talked to Rehan about things he understood. He didn't have those boring grown up talks his parents sometimes did, when they thought he was asleep or busy playing. Those talks that gave his father a grim, haunted look and his mother inevitably ended up in tears.

He sat there, bewildered, and waited for his mother to stop crying enough to explain what 'dead' meant. When she finally did, he refused to believe her and told her he was waiting for Baba to come home, he was better at explaining things that she was anyway. That set her off again so he wrapped his small arms around her, patted her back and told her he would wait for Samir Uncle if the mention of Baba upset her so much.

A few hours later, when he almost couldn't take being alone with his mother when she was in this strange, teary state anymore, Uncle Samir and some men from the rest of the neighbourhood came. His mother handed him over to Samir Uncle, a lot of aunties with somber faces and holding Siparaa's close to their chests came and went to his mother. He heard the wails, Uncle Samir explaining and there was a charpai with a white sheet over it that he wasn't allowed to look under. He heard one of the elders of the mohala mention that it didn't even look like his father.

His Baba was the misshapen form under the sheet? Samir Uncle saw his frightened expression and drew him closer. They sent him to the women a little later, and when he was allowed back the sheet was gone, instead a crude wooden box was on the charpai. The top half of it was open and he was about to lean in to make sure they hadn't made a mistake, it couldn't possibly be his father, why would he be so still? His father laughed a lot, even though he was tired, and he played with him whenever he was home. Why wasn't he moving?

He felt the pull on his arm before he heard his mother admonishing sharply, 'No, Samir, don't let him look! I don't want Rehan to see him like this!'

The men made way for his mother and a few of the other women. Samir uncle dragged him outside the room, Rehan kept looking over his shoulder but the world had stopped making sense.

Samir uncle's voice croaked as he taught Rehan how to offer the nimaz-e-janazah. The boy obeyed, not understanding why the words he had to utter were suddenly different. Once the prayer was over, some of the men went to lift the charpai onto their shoulders. Samir uncle had to pry his mother away first, she was gripping the edge of the coffin and tears were racing down her face, dripping into the folds of her dupatta silently.

Rehan wanted to stay with her, but she gave him a gentle shove back towards Samir uncle. 'Go. I'll be right here when you come back.'

He noticed her voice was hoarse, like Samir uncle's. His father wasn't coming home and his mother didn't even sound like his mother anymore. He wished this day would end. Maybe if he curled up on his bed, willed himself to sleep and everything would be back to normal when he woke up.

But the nightmare of a day dragged on.

Rehan walked with the stream of men escorting the coffin, until they passed by a masjid and reached a field with overgrown grass and stones placed at odd intervals.

'Say goodbye to your father and pray for him,' Samir uncle told him gently. They stood to one side, watching the men, some of them were friends of his father, but most of them were people from their street he knew only as the fathers of his friends.

He started crying when they lowered the body into the cold, muddy ground. His tears became screams when the men started to leave after they had piled dirt on top of his father.

'Why are you leaving Baba in there?' he kept asking them, but none of their answers placated him. Some of the uncles told Samir Uncle to take him away, this was no place for a child they said, but he refused to leave without his father.

In the end, kicking and screaming, fists pounding on Samir Uncle's back, he was carried back to a house that didn't feel like home anymore. Exhausted from the strange day, he eventually fell asleep, curled up with his head on his mother's lap.

A/N: This story has been on the backburner because of Papercuts for almost two years now. I finally couldn't stop myself from writing it. Feedback would be much appreciated, because this is still a tentative project. The reason I write desi romances is because I don't think real, normal life is depicted anyway near enough. Also, I could never find good Pakistani stories to read. So I ended up writing some.


Rehan is six years old when his father dies. He is twenty-five when he meets Sherry, who is twenty-two.

Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan. Rawalpindi is its twin city.

The ICC Cricket World Cup in 1992 was actually held from 22nd February to 25th March, not in July as I implied here. It is the only time Pakistan won, a tale still told in every household. (I couldn't resist hedging the dates and including it in the story.)

Diego Maradona, an Argentinean football legend, notorious for the 'Hand of God' and the Goal of the Century in the 1986 World Cup, among many other feats in the football world. Though the character who mentions him here would have been too young to see it live, he saw the highlights of the match on the local TV channel years later.

Imran Khan, the man who led Pakistan to victory in the '92 World Cup, eventually becoming a politician. His party, PTI, won the mandate in one of the provinces, KPK, in the May 2013 elections. He is still considered the only hope and savior and much comparison is still made to his triumph in the World Cup.

Samir is not really Rehan's uncle, he is Ahmed's closest friend.

Baba- father

Idhar dai!-Pass it here!

Rehan jaldi karo!- Rehan, hurry up!

Bhai-Brother, also used for friends sometimes.

Champ, tu toh hamara Maradona hai!- Champ, you're our Maradona!

Nahi, mai nai Imran Khan banna hai!-No, I'm going to be Imran Khan.

'Agla match kab hai?'-When is the next match?

'Kis kai ghar dekhain?'- Whose house should we watch it at?

Dupatta- a garment worn either over shoulders, covering the chest or on the head, or sometimes ornamentally across the neck.

Batao na!- Tell me!

Asr- The late afternoon prayer, one of the five daily prayers in Islam.

Charpai- a type of bed, consisting of a web of rope or hemp netting stretched on a wooden frame on four legs

Beta- son

'Samir, yaar tu kab baraa hoga!'- Samir, mate when are you going to grow up!

Siparaa's- The Holy Book, the Quran has 30 Siparaa's, or chapters.


Nimaz-e-janazah- The funeral prayer

Daado/Daadi- Paternal grandmother


Pata nahin-I don't know


Pakoras- deep fried snack made with gram flour, can be made with vegetables, cottage cheese, potatoes, chicken etc.