‘Aisha, come down the serve tea to the guests’, her mother called. Taking a deep breath and fixing her veil over her head, Aisha slowly went down the winding staircase. The guests were sitting in the small room which served as a TV lounge and a room where visitors were entertained. Greeting the people sitting on the faded, blue sofa, she rolled in the trolley laden with tea, samosas and sweetmeats and started serving the guests. When she reached the man with the yellow shirt, she raised her eyes to catch a quick glance and was presented with a dark, fat man with oily hair who was looking at her with leery eyes. Aisha quickly averted her eyes and finished serving the guests before sitting down next to her mother. The question asked by the man’s mother were the same as always! How old she was, what had she studied and what was she currently doing. Aisha answered all queries politely and upon reaching the last, she looked up while answering, hesitant and nervous of the reaction.
‘I’m an air hostess with a private airline’, she volunteered.
As she expected, the mother glanced at her son to see his reaction. The man in the yellow shirt flinched a little but continued to sip his tea. The conversation tapered off and as soon as the teacup was empty, the man stood up and taking their leave, the family left.
This must have been the umpteenth viewing arranged by the marriage bureau lady over the course of the last two years, thought Aisha as she collected all the utensils and rolled the trolley back to the kitchen. Each time she was perplexed at how the family never contacted them again. Was it her dark looks and plump constitution, her easy-to-forget house in the back alleys of Old City of Lahore, or her job being an air hostess. Muddling over the inevitable answer, she started washing the dishes while hearing the hum of worried conversation in the drawing room between her mother and invalid father.
Her mind flashed back to the day of the car accident, when her dreams of becoming a well sought out fashion designer were all shattered. It seemed like yesterday that on her way back from a College event, the truck driver in front lost control causing the truck to crash on the passenger side of her father’s car, crushing his legs and rendering him paralysed for all times to come. Life for her family spiralled out of control as expenses escalated through the roof and her brother Samee slowly bent under the weight of unpaid bills, until he became a shadow of his old self. One night at the hospital, Aisha saw an advertisement for young girls to apply for the position of air hostesses in a newly launched private airline. In normal circumstances, her parents would have never permitted this line of work as it was considered adverse to cultural and social expectations, but seeing the condition of her father, the stack of unpaid bills, and the worry in Samee’s eyes, her mother agreed to let her apply.
The selection came through and Aisha started her training at the airline’s Head Office in Karachi. The two months spent at the Training Academy were long, rigorous and tiring, but the possibility of a permanent job with benefits kept her going. Upon completion of the training, Aisha went on her first flight and their financial worries eased a bit. Travelling to different cities was exciting and Aisha enjoyed the travelling, sightseeing and socializing with her new friends. But despite the enjoyment of these exciting days, she looked forward to her off duty time at home when she could help her mother look after her invalid father and do chores around the house. Though she was contributing financially to the household and bearing more than her fair share of responsibility, she was still riddled with guilt knowing that her father had not wanted her to go for that evening event in College the day the accident took place.
In this cycle of on-duty and off-duty, the months passed and slowly turned into years. Though the worry for her marriage was hanging suspended like a dark cloud in her house, and Aisha could sense her parent’s eyes following her with unsaid words, but her fate had not changed. The viewings had reduced substantially since she had joined the airline, and deep in her heart, she knew that these would further taper off in the near future seeing that she had crossed her thirties, an age where the death of marriage proposals is unavoidable.
This morning Aisha woke up feeling confident, and ready to face the world where a financially independent woman could cross over to the other side where being married was not the final destination. As long as she was earning, her family could be assured of a comfortable living without financial worry. The loud honking outside the gate snapped her out of her reverie, and rolling her travel case behind her she went out and sat in the airline coaster. After a long and circuitous route, the coaster turned the curve to the airport smoothly and came to a quick stop near the curb. The crew all stumbled out and convened near the boot of the car to collect their travel cases. Putting on a brave face, Aisha collected her case and wheeled it towards the entrance of the airport, ready to undertake yet another journey, this time flying to her favourite city Karachi, the city of lights!