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Noor Khan | all galleries >> Galleries >> New Additions August 2007 > Chapter 4 - Kabuli Jan
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Chapter 4 - Kabuli Jan


April 1st

I'm sitting in the back room of her house. She is squatting in the corner, ironing clothes on a towel spread out on the floor. One of her husband's younger brothers, Iqbal, about twenty years old, comes in the room.

"April fool." he states.

"Yeah," I say, "it's me. I'm the April fool."

"April fool." Nasreen laughs.

I look at her. "Do you know the meaning of that?"

"Yes." she laughs. "Why not?"

God, how few common experiences we must share. I can probably count them on my fingers. We are from two completely different cultural backgrounds, upbringings, but I seem to be falling pretty much on her side of the fence. I'm so comfortable in her culture. And something about her is so familiar, so comfortable to be with. Being with her allows me not only to be in, to live in, Pathan society, but to live within it in a way I never imagined possible. As my capacity for the language grows, so does my involvement.

Until the nuances of a language are known, you can never do more than scratch the surfaces of a people's culture. You can only be an outsider, living in a make-believe world of your own concepts of what you want a people to be. Sometimes I wonder if that stage of innocence is a better way to experience a culture? To become so involved in a culture definitely has it's painful moments and revelations. And it's many unfolding wonderments.

Mine may only be a rental romance, but then aren't they all? Isn't this a rental world? Nothing is ever really ours.

Every visit to Lahore, every time I see Nasreen, I become more Pathan, more Pakistani, making firm emotional roots inside me in this country. Slowly I dig up the roots I formed since first going to Afghanistan in 1975.

My American roots? In many ways they are an unfathomable distance away in my mind. This relationship is such a powerful transition period. To what, I do not know. I am being forged on an anvil of intense emotions of longing, fullness, and emptiness.

Also, of course, it is a wild adventure. To get to the heart of a creature like Nasreen is so incredible. She thrills me and excites me with her simple, yet so sharp, uneducated outlook on life. She is truly alive and vibrant, concerned with the fundamental aspects of living. She's not all wrapped in phoney fashions and outdoing her neighbors materially. God, and her family, take preference. Work is something she was born into, and she seems to handle it well. A mixture of self confidence and raw animal energy.

If only my Pashtu was stronger. Even simple conversations are slow and wearing. I can only digest so much Pashtu each week. My progress is good, and I am happy with it, but the desire for full fluency is so strong.

"Saber trakha da, kho da mewah dera khoga da" - Patience is bitter, but its fruits are very sweet (Pashtu).

Can I wait? What is my choice? Maybe my progress is at just the right speed. Enough to get by, but not enough to get into trouble. Ummm, aren't I in trouble already? I can't breathe without thinking her name like some hidden mantra implanted in my heart be some hypnotizing tantalizing guru.

Is it right, or is it wrong? The romance and love is overriding the pain or the wrong. What about this husband? Is this really only business as he makes it seem, or will I end up on the wrong end of his gun barrel? Can she relate to my kind of love?

She is so alien to me, - her thoughts, her actions, her upbringing, her life style. Well then, I am rather alien myself. I must be, to feel so totally in place in all of this. I am surprised at how natural all this seems.

Yet Juma to Juma, I can't believe the bottom won't drop out of all of this. Where is the bottom? Is it only a case of my soul eventually falling through the hole in my heart? I never know what I will walk into when I round the corner on her dead end street, when I knock on her door. Is it just an imagined picture and the situation I am in love with? Or is it her? I just don't know. All I know is Nasreena. Is it a beautiful desert oasis that draws me with its sweet smelling flowers, or a haunted empty mirage? The vision draws me on. Am I the only one who has drawn it?

I arrive at her house. A girl I don't know lets me in. We pass behind the curtain which blocks the view of the inside garden courtyard from passersby on the street.

"Nasreena, your Kabuli Jan is here!" the girl shouts toward the back of the house. I chuckle at the girls unknown play on languages and words. Kabuli Jan is a term applying to people who are from Kabul, Afghanistan. I, of yet, have not become so Pakistani that I've shed my Kabuli style turban. I think of another meaning for the phrase, chuckling inside, Kabuli john.

I cross the yard and see the husband. We greet.

"I'm here to see Nasreen." I tell him.

"That's fine. Welcome."

"No problem?" I ask.

"No. Why?"

"She says she is your wife." I say.

"She's not my wife." he says.

What to believe? God knows I want to believe him. That they are only cousins, that they are not married. But inside, I don't think she's the one who is lying to me.

We are in the back room, just sitting together, looking at photo albums I have brought from Peshawar.

Pictures of Los Angeles, my family there, and the house I used to live in. My house in Peshawar and some of my local recording sessions. She sees a picture of me playing rabob, taken in a recording session in Peshawar.

"Can you sing?" she asks.

"Sure." I tell her.

I hum a few lines of a song I have been writing for her.

"Shhh!" she hushes me, "They are reciting the Holy Quran outside on the veranda."

For the past forty days, since Baba's death, an old woman has been reciting the Quran Sharif at the house. It is sacrilegious, there can't be any music in the house. But they work. I guess it goes under the category of necessity. Sin if you must, work is work.

She takes down a pile of assorted photos from a shelf over the door. We sit together pouring over them, laughing at the amusing ones, her explaining others. It so nice to just be doing something normal with her.

"You can take one of these old pictures," she offers, "but only one, or they will notice."

"Do you want a picture of me?" I ask.

"My husband would hit me, if he saw it."


"He is my husband."

"And the presents I bring you? Do you keep them?"

"He takes most of them. He is my husband. I must. Some I keep, others I hide." she tells me, smiling.

"How long have you been married?"

"Since I was small."

"How small? How many years ago?"

"Maybe twelve years." she offers hesitatingly.

"Was it business, or a family marriage?"

"Not business," she insists, "he is my cousin."

"How old were you when you came to Lahore? To this house?"

"I was small. Maybe fourteen years before."

"How long have you done this work?"

"Maybe three years."

"How old are you Nasreen?"

"Oh, I don't know. Leave it!"

In a largely illiterate country such as Pakistan, it is common to run into people, maybe the majority, who do not know their own birth date, or even their exact age.

"I love you." I continue. "When I first met you I didn't know you were married. I wanted to marry you. I still do."

"What is this talk of marriage? Leave it!"

"But I love you. Your's isn't a proper marriage. What kind of husband can sit in one part of his house and be selling his own wife in another room?". I've never proposed to anyone's wife before, especially with them sitting in the next room, but under the circumstances why not try?

"My niyat (intension) with you in my heart is clean." I tell her. "Do you understand that?"

"Your niyat with me is clean." she repeats my words.

"I'm happy just to be with you, to see you, to try to talk. I don't care about the work you do, I care about you."

We lean back on the couch on which we are sitting. I put my arm around her slender shoulders and pull her toward me. She lays her head on my shoulder. Her hair is soft and fragrant in my nose.

"I'm unlucky." she whispers on my shoulder.

"Maybe sometimes, not all the time."

"No, I'm unlucky."

"Come with me. I'll take you out. We'll change your luck. I have enough for two."

I don't even know if I can believe myself. Sometimes I've barely had enough for myself.

"I don't like this work, Noor Mohammad. I am compelled." She looks at me sadly. "What can I do? I must."

I lift her face in my hands. Her luminous eyes are moist. I kiss her eyes, they taste of salt.

Oh, Nasreena! Do you know or guess how deeply I've dreamed you? You can't! I can't! What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What do you see when you gaze at yourself in the glass? You are you. I am me. We are what we are. It's not easy.

Is it my love for her that is causing me to want to save her? Is it just my concept of save? Can she be saved? Does she even want to be saved? Can she bend so much? Or should I accept where she is at? Should I try to change her? Can I? Who am I to try? Am I right? Do I think I am some saint? This is a staggering development. Is it just an excuse to play a new life play?

I'm not sure of anything anymore. I don't feel it's a game. All I know is Nasreena!

I want to get her to stop working, even if it means I can't have her. I want to help her get clean. Does she want to get clean? Is it just my concept, my love distorted dream? Is it for the benefit of my conscience? This does infringe on most of my past morals. But as I told her, in my heart, in my intention, I feel clean. Doesn't Islam reaffirm that intention is more important than the actual action?

Let Allah be the judge of true intentions.

It is difficult to change the patterns of our life. Even for me, brought up in a free society, at times it has been so difficult. And it hasn't been anything I have consciously tried to do, just natural progressions. But change is necessary for growth. And growth is necessary, isn't it?

Is it possible for her to conceive of such a thing? Maybe love is clouding my reason? Who am I to change her? Am I just another client? She is playing along with me. Can I judge what is right anymore? What is wrong? Who am I not to try to save her, though?

At times I despise this husband for the way he uses her and treats her. It kills me to see her act like it is all so perfectly normal and that is just the way it is. Is that my western side reacting? I want to plow into change and advance. At least take the chance. Maybe I haven't become as Asian as I think? She is so complacent as to where Allah has put her. It is something inherent in Islam. From earliest imprints Muslims learn to accept their fate. God knows better.

My Western upbringing played with me in another way. I'm not so complacent. Who is right? Is there a right? I just drive along as fast as I can go, my foot to the gas pedal. Insh'Allah, I can handle the curves. Can I find a break pedal?

I do see something soft in her when we are alone. Is it professional coyness? No, I think it is real. My love is real, isn't it? I feel something for her that is more than just external. Outside her movements flow and she is so sleek, like a fox. Smooth, easy, even slick. Yet she still maintains that certain demureness that makes all Pakistani women so feminine.

Yet, I still have so many unanswered questions. Do other men love her? Does she love another man? And what is it with this husband? Is he really her husband? Do other clients treat her so intimately, so kindly, so loving? Do they bring her presents? What do they tell her? Has she heard it all before? Does she have any special feeling for me, or does she think I am just some crazy?

Maybe I can win her if I am persistent. What would I do if I got her, anyway? What am I doing? I am hypnotized, in her spell. I feel so much for her. I love her spirit. I see something so pure in her, yet such a renegade. I love the renegade spirit in her, yet with it runs a corruptness that pains my heart and soul.

Do I want this because it is so different from anything I have ever been involved in before, or just because it is so damn impossible? That I do not know. Now it is irrelevant. A risky ridiculous rental romance. Impossible?

Most people would say so. My logic says so. But my heart is finding it difficult to hear the word impossible. I think of persistence. Persistence can push a blade of grass though a stone in the desert. Enough drops of water make a hole in a rock. The Grand Canyon? How many drops can I spare?

One morning I arrive at her house at 9 A.M. Nargus, the girl who had been with my English friend on my first visit, lets me in. I don't see Nasreen. Then I notice the back room door is closed. Can she be working this early? Why not? It is business hours. God, it can hurt, though I did know from the start that this is the way it was.

In a couple of minutes she comes out and crosses the yard to the bathroom, to wash. I know the trip too damn well. The john comes out and leave while she is still in the bathroom. He could be the man who sat next to me on the Flying Coach down from Peshawar, or someone from the tea house earlier this morning. An ordinary anybody. At least he isn't hanging out at the house like me. An ordinary in and out customer.

Finally she comes out of the bathroom and over to me, shyly smiling. She gives me hand to shake. My heart feels cold and closed. She seems embarrassed that I arrived while she was working. I can't believe how easily she melts my heart, how fast I open to her. Just to simply see her, just by a touch. All other impressions are swept away. My anger, jealousy and frustration disappear in my love, and in the heat of her smile. What right do I have to be jealous?

Later I'm sitting on a charpoy with Saira, a new girl. She's young and pretty, and wearing a very stylish Punjabi-cut turquoise satin shalwar kameez. A filmy transparent white dupatta is draped over her shoulders. She's very friendly toward me. We sit and share a cigarette and some juicy sweet gandari. I see Nasreen work twice in one hour.

I watch my watch. The five minutes it takes for her to get it over with seems an eternity. I look at Saira. She warmly smiles at me as she licks the sweet sugar cane juice from her fingers with her pink tongue. I consider. I want to pull some reaction from Nasreen. Maybe if I choose to be with Saira this time, it will draw some reaction from her? My body could, but my heart isn't cold enough for this method of attack.

It is her work. It isn't against me. It's against herself. How could I be so cold and uncaring as to punish her for it? I did know about it from the start, yet that didn't stop me from falling so deeply into her. But knowing that it is just work doesn't make it any less painful. This relationship is hard, but do I have any choice anymore? She's compelled to work, it's her caste. I am compelled to love her, it is my qismet. I can't forget her, can't get rid of her. Don't know how I would replace her?

Saira looks in my eyes and softly sings a snippet of an Urdu song to me. Her golden nose ring and earrings glitter and jangle in the warm sunlight. Her eyes are very dark with surma. Nasreen comes over occasionally, giving Saira the eye when she flirts too heavily with me. Is she jealous? I can only hope. She can't sit with me now, like Saira. Saira is just sitting, waiting for a customer. Nasreen has work to do around the house. Cleaning, washing, cooking, sweeping, negotiating. Basically she runs the establishment.

Nargus comes out of the back room and crosses the courtyard to the bathroom to wash. Saira hands me the fresh cigarette she has just lit,

"I'll be right back." she smiles.

She goes into the back room with a john, closing the curtain, and the door. She comes out in a few minutes and goes to the bathroom to wash. The john comes out of the back room and he leaves with his friend. Saira comes back to me and sits on the edge of the charpoy. I hand her back the cigarette, which I have been smoking, a few last puffs remaining.

"Fast work." I laugh. "Fast, fast, finish . . . Khuda hafez.

She smiles and picks a fleck of lint off my shirt.

"Where are they?" she asks Nargus.

"They went."

"Fast, fast . . . Khuda hafez." I repeat. They laugh.

Nargus tells Saira how I keep coming, but only for Nasreen.

"That is the decent way." Saira says. "One man, one woman. This is right."

I give a sad laugh, knowing the one-sidedness of that for me. Saira leans close to me and whispers, her breath moist and warm in my ear,

"I was with my own boyfriend last night. We were watching Indian video's on the television. We didn't sleep all night." she shows me a hickey on her neck.

"Yeah, I noticed it." I say. We laugh.

A dola comes into the yard. The regular shifty junky type.

"Who brought you?" he questions me. "Which dola? Give me some money!"

"I don't need a dola. I'm my own personal dola." I tell him. "You give me some money!"

The girls chuckle.

At her house I spend much time sitting on the charpoy on the veranda, between the back rooms and the garden courtyard. It is very interesting to watch this unusual bordello go through it's daily routines. Also, I get to see Nasreen. Painfully, it is sometimes to see her work. At least they're quick ones. But they are always an eternity to me. At times it doesn't seem strange this is my girlfriend's house and her work. That I can sit here, while she's in the back room with some other man, and talk with her husband.

People here don't distinguish much between her profession and the entertainment field. Musicians, actors, dancing girls, and prostitutes are all dumaan. A low caste - the performing arts. Not exactly looked up to in Islam, though a necessary part of life. I suppose I've just fallen into caste - a rabab player and a prostitute/madam.

The joy of watching her brush out her pretty, luxurious brown hair. I'm stealing her in every glance with my eyes. Talking and hanging out with the working girls at her house, waiting for their tricks. Playing with the children. Occasionally talking with a john, a pimp, her husband, other family members. It has taken some time to become accepted as more than just a customer (am I?), though I have forced myself on them. I refuse to be treated as just another customer. I refuse not to be friendly with everyone in the house. Just as I refuse not to love her.

Saira and I are talking in the back room. Four johns enter. Nasreen comes in the room to run the show, followed by three other girls. Her hair is out, down and wavy. Her smile enticing, inviting.

"I'll take you." I joke with her.

"Please sit outside and wait, Noor Mohammada." she tells me.

She takes my cigarette from me as I pass. I brush her satin covered hip with my hand. I sit on the charpoy by the door. I mentally check off the girls as they come out of the room. Only two remaining. Then Nasreen comes out. It is still a relief to see the curtain close with her on this side. I do know both sides of it.

One girl goes out, followed by her john to the front room. The other girl is doing her work in the back room. These are the only two rooms used for business. The other girls and the next two johns sit on the veranda with me. Their friends finish quickly, as usual, and they all leave. The other two were only waiting. It all feels so normal. What am I doing here? Maybe I should try something easy, like climbing K2? It seems so foolish, so impossible. But, then, lovers aren't known for their sanity.

What can I say to her husband?

"Do you love her?"

What kind of western question is that?

"Will you sell her?" Ah, now that's more Eastern.

Will he sell her? As a friend in Peshawar pointed out, for him she is a money making machine.

I hate seeing her there. I want to take her out. Is she ready? Does she want it?

Am I ready? And then, when you pick a beautiful sweet rose and remove it from the bed of thorns it grew in, even if you put it in the most fantastic of vases, give it the purest of waters, doesn't it eventually wither and die? Is that where we're at? I can't believe she enjoys her thorns. But is it a question of her enjoying or not? Is this just what I believe?

I don't know what I believe anymore.

I don't know what she believes.

Are birds ever free of the chains of the skyways?

Later I'm in the back room again. Nargus is sleeping on the couch. Saira is on the charpoy just outside the door, curled up and asleep under a diaphanous black dupatta. Her golden bangles, double tiered earrings, and diamond nose stud are shining through in the golden warm afternoon sunlight. Another girl is asleep in the room with us, on a charpoy, a baby suckling at her breast. I'm sitting on the bed with Nasreen. She has just washed her hair and it is still slightly damp, dark, and wavy. She's wearing cream-colored shalwar kameez with a thin gold stripe glistening through the weave. The room is warm and sultry, though the looseness of my shalwar kameez permits me to stay fairly comfortable.

Comfortable? Here I am sitting with my prostitute girlfriend in a room full of whores. Whores? They're just people and my friends. This is just their profession. Their lot in life. Sometimes life can be so strange. This feels so peaceful and comfortable, so normal.

"Noor Mohammad, can I have one hundred rupees?" Nasreen asks me.

"Is it for you, or your husband?" I ask, a little too loudly.

"Shhh!" she puts her slender finger to her lips, frowning. "No. I need."

I take out my wallet and give her a hundred rupees. Then I notice how little money is remaining in my wallet.

"Ummm. I'm not sure I have enough to get back to Peshawar, now." I tell her.

"No problem." she says, and hands me back my hundred rupees.

"Will this help?" I hand her a fifty-rupee note.

"Thank you." she says as she slips it into her bra.

"Nasreen," I say. She looks at me. "do other people come as often as I do?"

"No. Why?"

"I'm glad." I sigh. She smiles at me.

"What if I stop coming?"

"Why do you talk like this? Have you found another girl you like?"

"No. But this is so very difficult for me. I love you too much. It is not the right way for me. For you. And besides, you don't love me anyway."

"I don't?" she asks and seductively smiles.

"Would you care if I didn't come back again?"

"Yes. I would be sad. You are my friend. I like you."

"Like and love are different."

"Love? What is love? How can somebody like me know what love is? How can you love somebody like me?

"I don't know. I keep asking myself that same question. I just do. You say you like me? Why?"

"I don't know, I just do."

"Why? Do you like my business?"

"Don't talk like that. Leave that talk. People come here, they pay. Then they go. Sometimes we give them tea, or water. Noor Mohammad, you stay all day. I give you lunch every time because I like you. You have to pay my husband. He is my husband. It is our family business. I am sorry for that. I am compelled. But I like you."

"I love you, my sweet friend."

I hold her soft delicate hands. She softly hums a Pashtu melody to me. I kiss her hands. We fall back on the bed and hold each other tightly. I stroke her moist hair. She fumbles with her bra, taking out a pack of Gold Leaf cigarettes. We laugh together.

"What else do you have hidden in there?" I laugh, playfully grabbing at her breast.

"Stop it, Noor Mohammada! We are not alone. They might wake up and see."

"So what?" I say as I light her cigarette for her.

"We are still in Pakistan. This isn't Amerika."

I take her hand and kiss it again, my lips lingering on her long slender fingertips.

"Oh, Nasreena," I sigh, "I love you so much. I am going crazy for you!"

"Leave it, my friend. We can only be together this way."

"But I can't leave it. I want you so bad."

"You have me - now."

"I want you always."

"That cannot be. We must accept how God wants it."

"I cannot." I say, frustrated. "We can change it."

"No. We must accept."

I hold her closer, my lips lightly brushing her soft face.

Why can't I be so complacent and accept fate, as her?
Why do I want her so?

How did I become so consumed?


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Noor Khan01-Jul-2008 13:12
If you look at the comment I left right before yours, that is where the entire novel is.
You must be viewing this in the New Additions August 2007 gallery. Use this link
Guest 01-Jul-2008 11:59
Is it all??? or there is still to it? where is the remaining novel?? what happens next??? did u live with her? what happened to her??? i am desperate to know further. I want to know when u complete.
Noor Khan24-Jun-2008 13:18
For entire story, click 'all galleries', 'A Novel-Some Time On the Frontier' for entire story (if you are not viewing it in that gallery).
Noor Khan24-Jun-2008 01:26
It's here
Just thought I'd crop it.
Hodero01-Apr-2008 17:49
Lower jaw lowering even more....
Guest 18-Feb-2008 02:59
this is a great read and a adventure and a half. M
Noor Khan12-Oct-2007 17:16
bijakam 12-Oct-2007 13:52
i,d like have an activity girl friend,are you ready?
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