- July Sun
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[End Page 10]
Ghulam Ali pushed his way through the sugarcane. It was quiet and still except for the anxious scuttling of insects around his feet. He squatted down, and the stems closed in around him when he untied his shalwar to urinate. It was then that he heard something. The cane, [End Page 11] cracking underfoot. He stood up. In the distance he saw a shock of bright red. He might have mistaken it for a bee-eater, hovering, snapping at a dragonfly, but a light wind moved through the cane and the fabric of a red dupatta flew up.
It was a girl. Ghulam Ali flushed. He wasn’t the kind of man to leer at young women relieving themselves in the fields. He turned to leave, hoping to disappear before she discovered him, but then he heard a voice calling out. A man’s voice, but there was no one else in sight. Just the girl. He heard the man again. Where was he? Was he laughing? He stopped, reluctant to leave the girl alone, concerned for her safety now. He squinted through the thick stems. She stood with her back to him, the red dupatta skipping about her narrow shoulders. Ghulam Ali craned his neck, and it was then that he saw him. It wasn’t a man but a boy, and he was walking toward the girl. He was tall and gangly, and his long hair fell in his eyes. Ghulam Ali was surprised that the muscles in his neck felt so taut. The boy stopped before the girl and tilted his head. The girl lifted her face to him. And as their lips touched, a stillness came over them even as the cane swayed and the dupatta wrapped itself around them.
Ghulam Ali whipped his head around to see if anyone else was there, even though he knew the fields were deserted at this time of day. His face was hot with embarrassment. But then the girl turned around. He froze. Had she heard him? She scanned the grass. He blinked—was that Zeenat? It was Zeenat. He took a step back, but he stumbled, falling into the long grass. He was breathing heavily. He pulled himself up, his hands gripping the sugarcane stalks, and he looked for them, the lovers, but like ghosts they had disappeared. And he was glad as he scrambled through the field back to his truck parked on the roadside.
The empty truck rattled along the road. It was desolate here by the orange groves. A few more kilometers and he would reach the Indus Highway. He’d have to push on through the night to get to Karachi in time to collect the shipment of fertilizer and engine parts waiting for him. It would be another three days before he returned home to his village. As contracts went, it wasn’t a bad one. Better than the jobs that took him from Karachi to Peshawar, that kept him on the road for weeks at a time. Jobs he’d once been grateful for in the days after his mother’s death, when all he had to return to in the village was an empty house. But now there was Shehr Bano. Bano. Waiting for him. And he hated that he’d spent most [End Page 12] of the five months of their marriage on the road, away from home, away from her.
He glanced at his side mirror. He had put at least four kilometers between himself and the young couple, but he still felt uneasy. He turned the volume up on the cassette deck. He bore down on the accelerator and tried to put them out of his mind, but the picture of the lovers in the sugarcane kept returning. His throat felt dry every time he thought of them. They couldn’t have expected anyone from the village to see them at this time of day, in the midafternoon heat, so far from the village, or they wouldn’t have taken such a risk. It was foolish, reckless. Perhaps...