Sehrish Ranjha
excerpt from "Zubaida"

I have things to say to her. It is better I say them now. Bibi Khala and her seven children talked of nothing else but her during the time she lived with them. They talked of how she ate and how much and what she wore and how and the way her mother left her and why. They talked in front of her. They talked behind her back. They said things that made her blush and they said things which even now make her feel a kind of hurt no one should feel. It was Zubaida ringing through their little kohti near Muslim Town. She was lucky. There are people who go through their entire day with no one saying their name. She has been spoiled.

I see the lazy way she washes the stairs, and her face blackened by the sun and freckles like the milky way on a clear night. She is deceptive being only nineteen but looking so much older. It is hard to get oneself married, and that is what she must do as she is an orphan. Bibi Khala sent Zubaida to work in the beauty parlor. Bibi Khala’s children work in the city as maids, accident-prone drivers, and bad cooks. They found Zubaida her first job when she was ten and she has been working ever since. She pretends at meekness. It comes naturally to her. It is a meekness of the small and brittle but inside she is seething and she knows they see it and the jobs end more violently these days, when she fights with other servants, when she sneaks food from the pantry to eat at night, and now she works at the parlor, the all-purpose maid of a man she loathes.

I have practiced a gentleness I abhor for her. I would say this and that but softly. I would treat her as you would a little girl who knew no better than to laze about and avoid looking you in the eye. There are girls exactly like that roaming the houses on my street—sly, little liars. No one ever bothers with them. If you’re rich, all you have to do is make it to an age you can dress yourself and afterwards life is simple I think.