“In the Days of Old Things,” by Hananah Zaheer

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Fiction by Hananah Zaheer excerpted from our Spring 2017 issue.

Nayara didn’t want to move. She wanted to stay in the apartment she had rented with her teacher’s salary, the one she had lived in for twenty years after her father, mother, and, finally, her brother, had died. She had been finding every opportunity to plead her case with Samir, the owner and landlord of the apartment building, who looked like he was as young as one of her students and lived across the town with his wife, who, in fact, had been at St. Anthony’s not too long ago. He was kneeling next to the kitchen stove, his head peering into the oven as he twisted something in the back of it with pliers.

“Look,” she said, stepping up close to him. “Look.”

She held a wrinkled copy of Pakistan Times toward his ponytailed head. “They say that young lawyer woman is fighting to overturn the law? See? Here. And when the government sees sense, they have to—then no need to move us—people—to these, what are they calling them? Districts.” She made squares in the air with the newspaper.

Samir grunted at her so she turned around and sat down next to Samir’s wife, a small, bored woman with a face that looked like it had all the virtues of wax melting off a candle. She was sitting at the very edge of the white plastic chair, under a faded and framed print of Mary and Child, playing with her phone, thumbs flying over the screen.

“It’s such a lovely building,” Nayara said. “So much history. I was thinking of renting one more apartment. I was thinking I could open a tuition center, you know, for you girls—I mean—the girls.” She waved toward the window where the marble spire from St. Anthony’s Cathedral and High School for Girls glowed in the September sun. “I could pay more.”

The small woman did not appear interested, but Samir pulled his head out of the oven, alert and sharp of feature, and said, “I’ll send someone for that leak before the weekend.” He stood up and balanced the pliers on the twin stove burners. “It’s hard to keep up with these old apartments.” He washed his hands in the sink. “And you being retired, I can’t imagine the trouble.”

“I just retired,” Nayara prickled at him, “two months ago.” She rolled up the newspaper and pointed it at him. “I have enough saved to maintain my own house.”

“Aunty.” Samir took two steps across the kitchen and placed sharp, precise, fingers on his wife’s waxy shoulder. “It’s hard to live alone. And once the people speak up, the laws always follow. Everyone voted for the districts in the referendum. It has already started. The city is getting sectioned off, whether you like it or not. Trust me, it will be better for you if you don’t fight this.”

His wife stood up and slid her phone in the pocket of her tight, ripped jeans.

“Besides.” Samir dropped his hand off his wife’s shoulder. “If all parts of the Make Lahore Great Again project get approved, the wall between districts will run right by here. This,” he waved his arm at her kitchen, “and all the other old buildings around here will have to be demolished anyway.”

“Well,” Nayara said. “I will have you know that ‘old’ means it’s sturdy, not that it’s time to demolish it.” She stood up. “This is my home; I’m not leaving.”

Samir turned on his heel and led his wife out the door.

To continue reading “In the Days of Old Things,” purchase MQR 56:2 for $7, or consider a one-year subscription for $25.

Image via nationsonline.org.

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