Rani

Kanza Javed

 

My grandmother, Daddi, kept calling her dead husband to bed. On the night of the funeral, Daddi looked for him in the folds of her velvet blanket, the hollows of her cheeks, and the flickering flames in the gas heater. She sang ballads as if Dadda was lost somewhere: forgotten in a forest, interwoven in the fabric, burning in the fire, braided into the silver of her hair.
The family had just buried him that morning, and Daddi did not remember anything about the ordeal.
No one in the village of Bismillahpur expected my grandfather to live for that long. He had survived the 1947 partition, the 1965 war, a bankruptcy, and two heart attacks. He was eighty-nine when he died, and it was the third heart attack that his frail body surrendered to. After the second attack, my parents and I had begun to believe that he had achieved some kind of immortality. He had cheated God. He was enshrouded in a cloak of invincibility. Dadda was to remain forever.
The news of the death rattled everyone but Daddi. She slept next to his dead body for two nights, until a maid returning from her weekend off discovered them. She called my parents in Lahore. It was a three-hour drive from the city to the village. I drove while my parents sobbed and consoled themselves during the commute.
I had just moved back into the family house after my divorce. My decision to end my five-year marriage had hit my parents hard. It fractured something deep inside them. They believed that marriages, no matter how bad, no matter how cursed, should not die an early, unnatural death. They should be endured. Pushed through. Dealt with.
When Dadda died, they sniveled and sniffled in their seats. Some things in life are inevitable, like the death of an old man who had already outlived all his siblings and cousins. It was a natural thing to have happened. The time had come. But to leave a husband and walk out of my in-laws’ house, childless and penniless, was an unnatural thing.
The weight of the hasty funeral fell on my shoulders. My father removed himself from the task, as he was mourning something else—both his sons, my older brothers, had remained in Michigan and offered condolences over the telephone. They could not make travel arrangements with such short notice. So, the village of Bismillahpur watched a thirty-four-year-old divorced woman orchestrate her dead grandfather’s funeral: arrange for clean, white linen and the funeral prayers. Summon men to bathe the body and dig the grave. Remind the mourners that the widow had Alzheimer’s and could not utter anything with certainty except the words, “Accha, accha.”
Yes, yes.

 

I drew the heavy curtains in the bedroom so the light could meet my grandmother’s aging, grey eyes. She sat up from her charpoy and looked at the speckled sunlight filtering through the barred window. The light only illuminated her neck and baby blue sweater—the rest of her remained immersed in shadows, hollowed out. Two weeks had passed since the burial. My parents returned to Lahore so Father could resume his work as an economics professor at Government College. I was told to stay back for another two weeks in Bismillahpur and pack Daddi’s belongings, clean and lock the house, pay the servants their fair dues, and enlist the seasonal duties to the farmers who worked on my grandparents’ farmlands. Wheat and cabbage had to be sown. Rice and peas were to be harvested.
My mother believed that since my divorce I had too much idle time on my hands. I did not have a husband to cook for or a baby to nurse and pamper or a job to go to. I did nothing but sit in the winter sunshine of our Lahore home and read books. I refused to meet new men or atone for my sins by grieving and praying before God. When relatives came to inquire about what had happened in my marriage, I retreated to my room and stayed there. No woman in the family had ever gotten a divorce. It was a shameful stain on the family’s reputation.

 

Kanza Javed is the author of the novel Ashes, Wine and Dust. She holds an MFA in Fiction from West Virginia University. She was a short-term fellow at University of Massachusetts and a research scholar at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in The Punch Magazine and American Literary Review. She won the 2020 Reynolds Price Prize in fiction, and is currently working on her second book.