The sky was crowded with kites. The rooftops were packed with enthusiastic boys and laughing girls, attired mostly in yellow, shouting at the top of their voices over the blaring music. Zoella, however, heard all of it as a faraway din. She saw the colorful kites and everyone else as a mere backdrop to the delicious-looking Fardeen. The music, cries, and laughter did not distract her one bit. Her concentration did not waver. Her eyes were firmly fixed on Fardeen.
With bated breath, she waited for the miraculous moment when angels would trumpet their silver bugles, flowers would bloom in deserts and Fardeen Malik’s eyes would finally meet hers. The realization that the love of his life, Zoella Khan, though unsophisticated and from a modest background, had been right under his nose all this time would hit him like a bolt of lightning. Overcome with passion, he’d fall to his knees and declare, enraptured…
Salaar’s yell invaded her ear-drums and Zoella’s imagination crash-landed back to reality, back to the rooftop of Swaba’s parents’ friends in the old city. Half of Lahore had gathered there to celebrate the advent of spring with Basant: kite-flying, food, fun and flirting.
“Take that, you pretty boy,” laughed Salaar as he gave Fardeen’s kite-string one final tug with his own.
“Tsk-tsk, such gross insults. On losing your own kite too!” Fardeen replied. Giving Salaar a mocking smile, he clarified, “That’s not mine little brother, it’s yours.”
Zoella looked upwards at the sky. Indeed, Salaar’s flamboyant red kite was now floating down the busy skyline mournfully. Boys hooted and girls tittered. Ignoring Salaar’s groan, Zoella let out a small sigh of longing, eyes back on Fardeen, who stood a full two feet away from her, skillfully steering his own kite towards another prey. A big green one.
That was Omer’s wasn’t it?
“Swaba!” called out Fardeen. “Want to see me humiliate Omer or Salaar again?”
Zoella’s best friend, who was sitting on an old stone bench sulking, glared at her brother.
“I hate Basant!” replied Swaba. “It’s a stupid festival and we have to dress in this stupid yellow, which is highly unflattering to our skin tone, and watch stupid boys fly stupid kites…”
“We get the picture,” said Fardeen drily. Turning towards his younger brother’s friend, he said cheerfully, “Watch it Omer, fair warning.”
Salaar threw frantic instructions at his best friend, as Fardeen tugged and pulled at his kite-string.
Omer pulled on his string, tightening his grip.
“Not that much!”
Omer let the string loose.
“This way, this way!” yelled Salaar. “Left, you idiot! That’s my left! Leave me alone! Fardeen Bhai….”
He stopped short as the big green kite began drifting away towards the boys on the neighbor’s rooftop, who were yelling, dancing, hooting and throwing loud insults at them cheerfully, having poached Omer’s kite.
“Pitiful,” said Fardeen looking mockingly at Omer.
Omer glared at Salaar and stomped towards the pile of brand new kites, looking shamefacedly towards Swaba.
“I don’t know why they think they’ve been castrated every time their kites go down,” Swaba whispered to Zoella.
“Interesting choice of words,” Zoella whispered back.
That made them both laugh. Zoella’s eyes gravitated towards Fardeen again.
But no matter how many times she looked over at Fardeen, his sculpted face never ever turned her way. Ever. Angels had better things to do than blow trumpets for her. The earth continued to rotate on its boring old axis, following the same well-worn orbit. God was not in His heaven, all was not right with the world. Fardeen was still not hers, nor ever likely to be.
Zoella’s defeated sigh originated all the way from her coral-tipped toes.
“Nice job, you!”
“Thanks! Just let me cut my brother down to size one more time before we go on to the Gardezi’s,” Fardeen said smiling, eyes firmly fixed on the sky that seemed to be throwing up kites.
“I’m not the only one with a kite here, am I?” Salaar snarled.
“True,” grinned Fardeen.
“Well then? Go alpha on someone else, will you?” Salaar almost whined. Almost.
“Aw…is that a tremor I hear in your voice?” Salaar harrumphed.
Zoella was holding the big pinna, the spool of string of his kite for him. Salaar had already cut his fingers twice on the string, which was laced with ground glass, apparently all the better to cut other people’s kite strings with. All the boys had Band- Aids on their fingers and each had a girl standing a few feet away from him, holding his pinna, trying to keep up with his frantic requests—‘loosen it’ or ‘back, back’ or ‘roll it’— and standing by for a defeated, ‘yaar!’ or a victorious ‘bo kaata’. Usually it was the girlfriends, or fiancées or wannabe girlfriends who liked to do that sort of thing. Zoella, however, had offered to hold Salaar’s string-ball and be his spool-girl so she could watch Fardeen without interruption.
“Aaaaaaannnd, done,” announced Fardeen, as Salaar’s second kite, a beautiful black and red one with a big tail, came gliding down.
“Bloody hell, Bhai!” Salaar glared at his brother.
Fardeen laughed heartily as he walked towards Neha.
Zoella let her arms fall. The pinna consisted of a heavy wooden rolling pin, with two big discs on either side fitted with handles. Her arms were aching. They’d been at it for hours.
“Just…you’ll see. I will crush you…and—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Fardeen said. Looking at Neha, he shook his head in disgust at his brother’s performance. She handed him a glass of lassi. Fardeen took it with a salacious wink and then as he sipped, he turned and said, “Salaar, kite-flying is an art. It’s a legitimate sport. You can’t just hold a string and say you’re flying a kite. This is Lahore, not Karachi. The three years in IBA took their toll on you. I’m afraid you’ll never be the same again. You’re damaged goods.”