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07 - 13 Apr , 2012
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THE ORCHARD ON FIRE
FICTION

Of Dreams And Day DreamsYou see, I was fully aware of the hidden eyes peering at me from behind the brocade curtains, their owners apparently pushing each other to get a better look at the glorious apparition who, unbelievably, just might become a part of the family.
Please do not get me wrong. I am not boasting. I am just explaining how easy the conquest was.

The dinner that followed was almost out of the Arabian Nights. During the seventh course I had made up my mind to consent.

My good host arranged everything.
He had told them something of my predicament, but only to the extent that my father had run into certain AND THEY LIVEDpolitical complications, and was unable for the moment to dispatch the sum I required for my fare. I discovered they did not know anything about my father, which was lucky considering the latest news.

Ashiq, before he returned to his hometown, did me the favour of inventing a string of impressive qualifications for me, which must have set the girl's family drooling.
The girl's family could hardly be expected to demean themselves by broaching the all-important subject of marriage, even if they killed themselves with suppressed desire. Chacha Jan ended their misery, after sending over some ladies of his own family to meet my bride-to-be.
Chachi said she did not really get to see her, because they had dimmed all the lights. Female relatives buzzed around her continuously and diverted the attention of the visitors most of the time with lavish hospitality.

Neither side wanted delay. I, of course was in a hurry to get my hands immediately on the promised funds. They had without embarrassment given a list to Chacha of the huge sums of cash they would give me, since I had declined to accept the valuable
pieces of property they had kept aside for each child. Also, they provided a detailed account of the girl's fabulous jewellery and dowry, most of the latter being in cash, seeing that I could not take back furniture or crockery with me. Despite this, they did press some rare family antiques on me, the excess luggage charges being tactfully paid ahead by them.

The nikah was an extravagant affair. My overawed bride and I spent the night at a royal bridal suite in the most posh hotel of the city. Next morning, we were to leave by road for the city from where we would AND THEY LIVEDcatch our train to Bombay, and from there travel by air to Karachi.

They all wanted to accompany us to the station, but I told my kind new in-laws that I would like a chance to spend more time alone with my bride. They were disappointed, but agreed, and in fact appeared very gratified that I sought the company of the somewhat overblown woman (I cannot really call her a girl) who was now my legal spouse.
Now comes the interesting part. Listen carefully.

I led my veiled bride straight to the First Class waiting room. I paid and dismissed the chauffeurs and servants, giving them lavish tips. I had taken a stout large leather bag with me, in a secret compartment of which I had stowed the cash I had received, including half a million I had received as salami and the half million they had given their daughter in lieu of her dowry. I had had these converted into our own currency.

"Look, my dearer-than-life Begum," I bowed down to where she was sitting heavily veiled, and said very lovingly and tenderly, "I believe you are carrying a large amount of money. I do not want you in any kind of danger, as you mean the world to me." I could see her squirming and blushing with pleasure, for she had uncovered part of her carefully made-up face. "I feel it would be safer for you if I were to carry that money instead for you."
"You won't be in any danger?" she asked.
"Oh, don't worry about me," I said gallantly. "In fact," I continued, "I was thinking that all the heavy jewellery you are wearing right now may attract the attention of robbers who could consider you an easy target for an attack. I do not care if they take away all of your jewellery or your cash, but if they were to so much as lay a finger on you, I would kill them instantly. And then what would become of you in such a situation?"
"So what should I do?" she gasped.
"You can give them to me for safe keeping." I said with great show of concern.
She slipped off from her wrists the heavy diamond and ruby encrusted bracelets, then removed the dangling matching earrings. One by one she took off the five necklaces she had around her thick neck, and then the numerous rings on her fingers.
"Can I keep my wedding ring on?" she asked in great embarrassment.
"Of course. That is a sign of our union."
"I shall wait outside, for the train is reputed to be generally late. You need not tire yourself waiting out there. When the train comes I shall first locate our compartment, and arrange our luggage in there before taking you out of this room."
She could not even lift up her eyes, brimming with adulation.

I strolled on the platform till the train was announced. It was, as always, perfectly on time. The station master, impressed like everyone else by my personality, rushed to show me to my air-conditioned reserved coupe. He cautioned the porters to be very careful in handling my luggage.
The leather bag with cash and jewellery I kept in my hand.

I arranged the suitcases and bags to my satisfaction, disposed of the porters, stretched my long legs, and settled down with a large Scotch and soda.
The whistle sounded. And I was off.

My bride's tickets were with me. She had no money with her. She did not have either my personal phone number or that of my house. All her family had returned home. She had no means of contacting me, or of reaching her home. Nor would she be able to take in for a long time what had happened to her.

"That means," he concluded his shameful tale with a hideous cackle that contorted his normally handsome face into a fiendish looking one, which made me shiver all over with horror.

"That means, for all I know, she is waiting there still!"


 
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