Sajeda & Ashiq
April 14, 2018 § 2 Comments
It’s Saturday morning. Sajeda and I are lying on our backs in the front room. I’m demonstrating some simple exercises to strengthen her core. These had been given to me by my trusty physiotherapist just four weeks ago, when my back was so sore I could hardly move. I’m sharing them with Sajeda this morning – hoping that by modelling the process with her it will help. So I’m demonstrating the leg slide and trying to explain the importance of tightening up her core muscles as I’m doing it. So to explain further I kneel up beside her and feel her either side of her pelvis, deep into her muscle. This isn’t too easy because Sajeda is rather on the large side. Small and round. I explain that she has to tighten her muscles and keep feeling until she does this. Good, I praise her – she smiles. I place her two fingers of both hands in the same spot. She is then ready to do the leg slide slowly, breathing in and out appropriately. I model and demonstrate three different exercises.
I hear Ashiq padding down the stairs. His hunched form peers around the door as we’re lying on the floor. ‘This is girl’s stuff Ashiq!’ He gets the message and pads into the kitchen with a smile on his face.
Sajeda and Ashiq arrived here just over a week ago. A taxi dropped them off – Ashiq’s sister was also with them and I was a little confused about why she was there and never caught her name. The taxi driver assured me that they were ‘very lovely people’ as he hauled their suitcases out of the taxi. Ashiq’s sister discreetly pressed a note into the driver’s palm and he proceeded to take all the cases up to their room.
The couple are some of a host of Airbnb guests to have crossed my threshold. When the request came in I wasn’t sure about hosting an elderly couple from Karachi, but the length of the stay meant that it was easy to be seduced by the money which would flow into my bank account.
I was unprepared for the endless barrage of questions Ashiq would fire in my direction, and my willingness to respond. Although he told me he was 66 – and I can’t remember in what context, it’s fair to say that he appears to be far older. Perhaps that’s because in Pakistan the older generation adopt a wiser and more authoritative demeanour than I fear I have managed – and in fact my family and friends have also failed to acquire .
The first bit of information he got out of me was about my children. He wanted to know exactly where they all lived, importantly whether they were married and whether they had children. I responded gracefully to his questions and asked some back.
Sajeda said very little, but appeared to nod in the right places and I soon realised that in fact her understanding of English was good, and that given that Ashiq did a lot of talking – she naturally took the back seat. She wasn’t asking the questions, but she was very interested in the answers. There was an odd sense of not wanting to disclose any information that he wouldn’t like to hear – or that I thought he wouldn’t like to hear. So when he asked me about my husband I had to think on my feet and produce a suitable response that didn’t include not having one and being twice divorced! Oh, I said – he works away at the moment. From there on in – for about 10 minutes the questions and ensuing lies fell off my tongue like dribble. After that session I had to take refuge in the garden for a bit of a talk to myself about why on Earth I felt the need to lie to someone I didn’t know and would probably never see again.
My 32 year old son James also enjoyed some interactions with Ashiq. But I should have got to him before Ashiq did. I’d already told Ashiq that James works down in London quite a lot – to explain his frequent nightly absences. How could I admit to Ashiq that James was spending the night with his girlfriend? The embarrassing moment in the kitchen when Ashiq asked James how his trip to London had gone – and my bumbling interjection to James that I’d explained to Ashiq that he spends a lot of time working down there.
Going up to bed and finding Ashiq on the landing saying that I should be in bed by now – and having to explain that I always go to bed late when I’m on holiday.
Every day I took them to his sister’s house just 10 minutes away in the car. I didn’t have to do that – and don’t really know why I did, except that they were such a sweet couple and Ashiq in particular really made me laugh.
‘You should be a salesman not a teacher’ he said to me during one of our car journeys. When asked why, he pointed out that I am always on the phone. ‘You’re talking until late at night and then you start talking as soon as you wake up.’ Oh dear me, how it feels to be observed and indeed, he was right, I had been incessantly talking over the last 24 hours – but this was mainly due to the fact that we were busy finalising the sale of our father’s house and at the same time putting my own on the market – so there was indeed plenty to be talking about.
During another journey, he asked me how much money my father had left when he died. ‘Ashiq’, I laughed, ‘I can’t possibly tell you that!’
Sajeda was in pain with her back and I’m particularly sympathetic – so gave her a heat band remedy which she loved – and bought a whole load more to take home with her to Pakistan. What I really wanted to say to her was that she should lose weight and exercise because I know this is a sure way of improving back difficulties.
There were times in the kitchen when Ashiq was pontificating about this and that – and in particular one day when he was attempting to analyse my life through numbers. He explained that he was interested in numerology and had this book and everything it had predicted had either happened, or he believed it would happen. He told me that I’d had a difficult first 40 years. I told him I hadn’t. I turned to Sajeda and asked her if she believed this too. She started to giggle and said no. Then we both started to giggle.
I’m not sure how the next random conversation happened, but I was sitting in the kitchen putting on my boots – Sajeda was cooking and Ashiq was waiting for his food at the table. He looked worriedly at me and leaned forward slightly and in a low voice said : ‘Do you eat pork?’ In a second, I wished that I could have been transported anywhere and I could feel myself about to lie again…..I didn’t quite lie – but as near as damn it. ‘only sometimes’ I replied, aware that the colour in my face had probably changed. ‘Don’t eat pork’, he said, ‘it will make you sick – like red wine.’ By this stage, my boots were on and standing up I told him that I don’t drink. This is partly true also – but not completely true.
I’m searching my soul to know why it is that I felt I needed to lie about things. I really have no idea. Perhaps it is the subconscious need to be acceptable, or accepted or about something entirely different. I’m definitely not ashamed about eating pork – sausages are probably the single most loved item of food in my family.
During the week that Sajeda and Ashiq have been staying with me, I was showing people around the house. I was careful to time the viewings for the afternoons because there were one or two adjustments I had to make to the upstairs before people came round. The first was removing Sajeda’s large knickers from the heated towel rail in the bathroom, and the second was removing Ashiq’s ‘arrangements’ in the toilet. I never really got to the bottom of why there was a full jug of water and a full bottle of water in the loo. It was always there, and always freshly placed. Google told me it was about a strict washing regime in Islam – I started to read it but soon stopped: there was just too much information that I didn’t feel I needed to know.
Tomorrow Sajeda and Ashiq will leave for Pakistan and I have to admit that I will miss them and their funny ways – but I’m so glad that I shared these days with them – it has added to the richness of my life!