Tamara got out of the car and she recalls how hard the pavement was, hard and clean unlike the dusty streets of Karachi. She looked up at the house that stretched before her.
Number 110 Alma Road. It had white walls and a wooden front door painted black with stain glassed window at the top of the door. To the left of her as she stood facing was Number 100, Samir Uncle’s house.
In front of the house stood, his whole family to welcome her, her mother and her brother. Samir Uncle’s wife, Nadia Aunty as Tamara was told to address her was a tall and very beautiful woman.
She was like most Punjabi women (as Mrs Alvi, Tamara’s mother used to say) very brash and ignorant of how women were supposed to be. Which according to Mrs Alvi was softly spoken in male company and someone who knew her place.
Beside Nadia Aunty was her son Mamoon who was 19 years old and her daughter Sabina who was Tamara’s age perhaps a few months older than her.
Tamara remembers seeing Mamoon’s grey shirt and brown courdroy trousers. His dress sense looked so dull compared to the orange coloured dress she was wearing. Tamara was impressed though with Sabina’s pink dress though. She loved the white lace on the edges. Later she found out that Nadia Aunty had not made it like her mother made her dresses, but had bought it from Mothercare.
Sabina smiled at Tamara as she got out of the car and Tamara smiled back, feeling the warmth of a friendship that was going to blossom.
Mamoon also smiled at Tamara and although he towered above her because he was tall like his mother, bowed his face towards her and touched her cheek with his finger and remarked
“Hello doll!” Tamara did not know what to say but blushed. Tamara could feel the excitement and warmth of this family who her mother had described to her at length when reading her father’s letters to her when they lived in Karachi.
Even before she met them, she felt like already knew them due to the detailed description her father gave her mother in his letters. The details included the good, the bad and the ugly. More about that later.
Mrs Alvi hugged Nadia Aunty like they were old friends. Nadia Aunty who was a few years older than Tamara’s mother took her by the hand and said she would give a tour of the house while Mr Alvi and her husband who she referred to as Khan Sahib or Mr Khan got the luggage out of the car and brought it into the house.
Seeing her mother lead Mrs Alvi inside the house, Sabina followed in her footsteps and extended her hand to Tamara
“Let me show you and your brother round the house too and you just have to see the garden” Sabina said this to Tamara in English as Sabina did not speak Urdu only Punjabi.
Tamara did not understand every word but recognised the word house and seeing her hand took it. She said to her brother “Kareem chalo mera pheechay ghum nahin hona” in Urdu meaning Kareem come keep behind me so you don’t get lost”
Kareem who had slept during most of the car journey rubbed his eyes and just responded automatically with “Gee Aapi” In Urdu Gee is the politer form of yes reserved for elders and Aapi being the term you address an older sister.
Tamara was faithful to her other two companions, her doll and her book and took them with her inside the house.