“My husband didn’t want our children to come to Pakistan because it’s dangerous.”
I looked at her and suppressed a smile.
We were at a restaurant in Islamabad, at a dinner hosted in honour of a relative visiting Pakistan from the US of A.
She had been asked why her children hadn’t come along.
And she explained that her husband and in-laws felt that Pakistan was a “war zone”.
“Oh, so that’s why you’re visiting after 10 years?” asked my cousin.
“Yes,” she said before putting a spoonful of Biryani into her mouth.
She looked around the table, with searching eyes, at which my aunt asked if she needed anything.
“Is this bottled water safe?” she asked pointing to a bottle of mineral water.
My cousin and I exchanged glances.
“I don’t think so,” he replied. “We usually just drink straight from the tap, but ordered this specially for you.”
I stifled a laugh.
The lady, completely oblivious to the sarcasm, picked up the water and read the ‘ingredients’ written on the label. Putting the bottle back on the table, she said, “I think I’ll just have some diet coke.”
“So, what are your children studying?” my aunt asked, I suppose more to keep us quiet than to keep the conversation going. “They must be grown up now. The last time they came they were in primary school.”
“They are doing great, both of them are so good at their studies!” she was grinning broadly.
Nothing gets a mother talking like a chance to praise her children.
“The eldest wants to be an archaeologist,” she went on. “In fact, he badly wanted to come with me to Pakistan. But his father didn’t let him.”
“Why did he want to visit Pakistan?”
I blurted out before realising it would sound rude. But the lady didn’t notice.
“He’s really interested in old things, buildings and whatnot,” she gushed.
I could feel resentment growing inside me but I told myself that she must mean the archaeological sites of Pakistan.
“He says that since Pakistan is a war zone and everything has almost been ruined by bomb blasts and terrorist attacks, it would be good to see the effects firsthand.”
So he can gloat over his bravery and achievement of having visited a “war zone” and tell friends ‘back home’ how utterly primitive we are, I thought.
“Well, then he should have visited with you,” I said. “I’m sure he will find ruins aplenty in this country.”
“Oh yes,” my cousin joined in, evidently enjoying himself. “You see, the whole country is a ruin. Each and every bit of it.”
“Hmm, I guess he would have enjoyed it then,” she said.
“But you know,” he leaned in to whisper. “You never know who is a terrorist and when a bomb might go off.”
We knew she hadn’t been anywhere since she got here because she was too afraid of venturing out and being hit by a bomb.
“But the hotel I’m staying at seems very safe,” she said looking around at the people in the restaurant.
“Oh that’s just a facade to lure in rich foreigners so we can blow them up,” he laughed.
Dinner ended at that point, or perhaps she just lost her appetite.
“I think we should go now,” she said standing up. “I’m really tired.”
We left the restaurant. Our aunt was glaring at us.