Late last night I was sitting in my friend’s flat in Islamabad, minding my own business and thinking it might be time to go to bed, when my phone rang. It was Moin, whom I hadn’t seen since I left Lahore, over two weeks ago.
“Emily! Where are you right now? I’m in Islamabad! I’m coming to pick you up! I’ll be there in ten minutes!”
This is exactly how Moin rolls. True to his word, in the time it took me to change my clothes and neck the vodka-and-orange my flatmate had just poured me (not wanting to drink in front of Moin, who’s a teetotaller), he was standing outside the house, chatting to the guards and yelling at me to hurry up. It was wonderful to see him again. Somehow, he had acquired a pretty respectable beard since I left Lahore. I guess everything happens more quickly when you’re Moin Khan.
“We’re kidnapping you”, he announced, with a grin, and bundled me into the car, introducing me to yet another of his neverending supply of cousins who was sitting in the drivers’ seat.
Moin handed round a packet of cigarettes and explained that we were on our way to his grandparents’ house, where he and his mother were spending the weekend, and another side of the rambling Khan family (which seems to populate half of Pakistan) was looking forward to meeting me.
“And we have a surprise for you!” he added, gleefully.
“What now?” I asked, my head starting to swim as the vodka hit my bloodsteam, and my eyes stinging as the car filled up with smoke.
“You’re not going to like it,” he continued, just as gleefully.
I gave him a Look. Moin is extremely fond of practical jokes, and last time we’d been in a car together he’d told me all about another cousin of his, who apparently looked “like a frog” after being horribly disfigured in a road accident, losing an arm and suffering third degree burns all over his face. We were on our way to pick this cousin up, and Moin thought it only fair to warn me in advance about his hideous appearance. Moments later a tall, elegant, impeccably handsome young man got into the car, and couldn’t understand why Moin instantly collapsed into uncontrollable giggles (or why I started hitting him). I wondered what the joke would be this time.
“You remember that jumper we couldn’t find when you left Lahore?” he asked.
I did. It was an almost-brand-new merino baselayer, and had been a Christmas present from a very good friend. Moin’s mother and I had scoured the house for it the morning I left, but it seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth, to the dismay and embarrassment of guest and hosts alike. I would liked to have just let it go, but for various reasons it was extremely important to me – not least because my wardrobe is very limited these days, and the two other baselayers I have with me are literally falling apart at the seams (and everywhere else, for that matter).
Needless to say, the Khans were extremely embarrassed that this garment had been lost while I was staying in their house, and I was embarrassed to have made such a big fuss about it (or even mentioned it), knowing that they would blame themselves. It was awful. So in the end I rode off without it, and tried to remind myself that it was, after all, only a jersey – although I couldn’t stop wondering what on earth might have happened to it.
“Well, we found it!” beamed Moin.
“Really?” I was delighted.
“There’s a BUT…” he smirked.
“The dogs somehow got hold of it when it was drying,” he continued. “And, umm, they’ve ripped it to shreds.”
He paused to let this sink in, enjoying himself no end.
“There’s another BUT though.”
And he explained that his mother and sister had picked through the shredded remains of what was once my jersey to find out what brand it was, scoured the internet to find out where one could be procured, and then managed to find someone who was travelling between London and Lahore and could pop into Evans Cycles and pick up a new one.
I was speechless.
“There’s one more BUT,” he grinned.
“We didn’t know what size you were. Anushe reckoned you’d probably be a Medium.”
I’m usually a Large. But I’m not one to look a gifthorse in the mouth.
“Let me try it on when we get there, and we’ll see how it fits.”
And then we drew up at his grandparents’ house, and I took a few deep breaths (not wanting to breathe smoke at Moin’s mother, who’s asthmatic) and plunged into a new maelstrom of Khans. Moin’s mother gave me a long and heartfelt hug, and then introduced me to her parents and brothers and sisters-in-law and nephews and nieces as her new daughter, and I was settled into a chair, handed a bowl of ice cream, and bombarded with questions by the five or six children who were still running around in their pyjamas, far too excited to go to bed. The remains of my jersey were produced, amidst great hilarity and apology, and I was presented with its replacement, which turned out to fit just fine.
And I remembered just how much I love being in the middle of a big, loud, friendly, chaotic family, being talked to by four people at once, and being surrounded by arguments and laughter and overexcited children. Pakistan has made me feel simultaneously more at home and more homesick than any other country so far. Perhaps it’s just as well that my own parents will be here in a couple of weeks, to join in the fun.