Last night we awoke to the sound of a storm. Thunder and lightening were a little unsettling, because one doesn’t really know how they will effect the already unreliable infrastructure on which one depends, but the gushing sound of the rain was soothing. In day light it seemed the Margalla Hills had inched even closer to our windows, all the ridges, rock outcroppings, and bushy ravines were visible for the first time. The mountain looked reassured and reassuring.
I took advantage of the fresh morning air to walk around our neighborhood. So far my experience of Islamabad is that of a dusty, smoke shrouded city, with yellow grasses and bare or wilting trees. This morning a new picture emerged. Crisp contours, vibrant colors, and fecund textures. Even the birds were out rejoicing, frolicking in the new puddles, chirping in the branches. There seemed to be a greater variety than the typical gray crows. Hawks sailed above the foothills, treepies and warblers bounced on their wiry legs. Even the monkeys seemed more like our distant cousins, chasing each other and swinging on the branches, and less like scavenging rodents.
It is Friday, and more people seemed to be out on streets. Of course, by that I mean men. More men seem to be out on the street. The back road, Hill Side Road, which acts as a border between the neighborhood on one side and chaparral hills on the other seemed busy. Mostly because the scrubby yellow fields which extend over a part of its length are full of boys from the neighboring madrassa running around. There is a game of soccer, a game of cricket, and a game that could best be described as “stick ball.” Some just squat along the periphery, cheer on their mates, others walk around, hand in hand. Some of them wear uniforms: sandy colored shalwar-kameez and a maroon sweater. Others wear random, dirt colored pants and shirts. One kid in a fluorescent vest looks like a neon molecule bouncing around the filed. Some of them run barefoot and I imagine how good the wet ground must feel on their feet. All of the boys wear white prayer caps.
Older boys from the madrassa come to the mosque by our house to pray. They stare at me as we pass each other in the street. I only register this out of the corner of my eye as I fix my gaze straight ahead, avoiding their eyes.
As I walk, the hills slowly grow darker. The details of their face disappear into a deep blue shroud, reflecting water filled clouds that had arrived from the south. Faisal Mosque, the largest, most modern mosque in the city, appears startlingly white against the background. It seems like one of its four sharp towers might tear a hole into the floating rain clouds. I stand for a few moments and watched the clouds approach the spires, the whole sky seems like a slow swirl of cobalt cotton. I cover my head with the blanket I am wrapped in. Men stare as they approach and pass by me. But the sight is arresting, I can’t seem to move. Everything is quiet. And finally, the sky, indeed rips open, and sheets of rain begin to fall.
I walk faster on the way home. Under a tree, two men huddle in their shawls, between them a sack and they scoop something from it with their hands. A quick smile flashes on one of their faces - the first one I’d seen since Tom left the house this morning. He points to the bag and with a gesture offers me some. I realize it is simply rice. I smile, thank them, and keep walking. I feel thankful that someone smiled. And I am sorry that I have to assume a hardness when I walk in public.