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Of Pakistani Bangles
"Mom said Mariya wanted red." Nida's voice was so close, it nearly made me jump.
"She did?" I asked breathlessly. "Have you been following me?" My home was far, and I had walked a long way, but hers was farther off, and I knew she must have walked an even longer way. But her hair whipped her face, and the wind was strong and, as we walked on, we both forgot the many steps we had covered to reach the market.
Eid. Christmas comes once a year, and takes over December, but the Eids come twice, and they take over everything. For once, there is no war. Pain and tears are, suddenly, a thing of the past. New clothes rain in, hand-made, hand-stitched, hand-designed. And, for a girl, henna-laden hands are all the rage.
Bangles. They come in all shapes and sizes and forms and colours and, from Karachi to Islamabad, Eid brings an onset of them that no other event ever can. I am not aware how they went from tradition to addiction, and addiction to necessity with passion but, somewhere around the decades, they did. For a girl, a new set with each suit on Eid is a must. And, if you don't have one, you're a loser. Big time.
The young looking salesman offered us his customary smile when we stepped inside the store. "And what may you be looking for, young ladies?"His tones were congenial. Nida immediately took up the place of spokesman, pushing me aside. "Just looking for the bangle rack."
Of course. He led us there, and I held back an immediate gasp of awe. I have been doing this ever since I can walk and, yet, I can not cease to feel mind-blown every time I see a rack of bangles. Four shelves, one over the year, and perhaps hundreds of bangles, sets in circles, sets in flames. Cheese yellow gave way to cerise, the newest dash of cherry to rhenium shadows. Sorrel wed with lime, mustard ran through violet.
Besides me, Nida was already engaged in the examination of a heavy, plastic set. But I - I was at a loss for words, suddenly. The first set I was handed, without invitation, took my breath away. Tongues of spark seemed to rise in the midst of skies of fire, cascades of multi-coloured endlessness in amaranthine flow.
"No." It was a wonder I was speaking without looking like I had lockjaw. "My dress -" Within my bag, I fumbled, like a tiny ping pong ball wending its route through years of labyrinth constructions. I found out the tiny piece of cloth in the end, pink and silver and white, and passed it to the salesman. "I need bangles to match. Is there a set in these particular colours?"
Apparently, there was not. "But don't worry, miss," came the reply. He made his quick way towards the nearest glass display, and returned with several boxes, lifting the lid off one. Inside ran seven circles of pink bangle. Whether each began where the other ended, or ended where the other began, I knew not; all I knew was that I existed, and they existed, and the universe was within my hands, a globe of ruby-studded eternity. And then a single, pink hoop was in the salesman's hand.
"This colour, madam?" he queried.
I barely nodded. Before I knew it, he had found white and argent, and settled the pink in their midst. The pattern was lovely: a silver bracelet, lucent studs running through its metallic equatorial plate, a pink bangle, two white, one pink, two silver, one pink, two white, one pink, the bracelet - repeat, repeat, repeat. Beauty. Joy. Infinity.
"Golden," I said quietly. "It needs golden."
And it did. The aurum bangle looked solid gloss: pools of glitter blended in each glass bead embracing them, sparkles of eternity seemingly etched in each particle of luminosity. Then the salesman stated the price; suddenly, I felt as if someone had forcefully knocked the air out of my lungs. Impulsively. I turned to Nida. "What do you think?"
"Buy them," she adviced."Some things are above price tags."
"She means you should sell them for free," I joked. The salesman chuckled; he lowered the price.
"That means I can buy some for Mariya," I told Nida, a bit overly excited, I admit. "And mum. And Liz. And -"
"And dad?" Nida shot exasperatedly. I fell quiet.
We left the shop an hour later, laden with huge, pink shopping bags, like curls of candy floss and curls in curls, violet and indigo and navy. "Did you buy the cone? Of henna?" Nida asked me.
"Yeah," I replied.
"How much did it cost?"
I stated the price.
She stared at me, open-mouthed. She struggled, but the words did not, would not come out. I think she wanted to say, "You fool! It cost that much, and you bought it? Are you out of your senses, you idiot?" But she didn't - Because I shut her up before she could.
"Some things are above price tags, cousin," I pointed out delightedly.