Carrying a huge red bag, trailing behind her husband, Zahanat walked from the back of her new house, which was the family area, to the formal sitting room at the front, the one reserved for guests. The house had three bedrooms and a terrace.
Unburdening her shoulder she let the bag fall down with a thump at the doorway. Ignoring the rest of the house, Zahanat rushed towards the terrace. The 12 feet wide and 14 feet long space over-looking the main road and a highway beyond it caught her fancy immediately. There was nip in the air and it felt cold, but this did not deter her from spending a good twenty minutes out in the open. The ‘whiteness’ of the railing and the smell of fresh paint emanating from it transported Zahanat to her childhood when her brother and she received a penny each from their father for painting the window sills. It made her feel very important, a sense of contributing towards the family in some way. The remuneration would fetch them a small packet of orange candies and a large plate of noodles garnished with fried eggs. The past really has an uncanny way of re-entering our lives, at times totally unexpected, thought Zahanat!
The next morning saw her up at six, two hours earlier than the usual. A beige pashmina shawl, gifted by her maternal aunt from a small village in Kashmir, thrown carelessly over the back, and a gold-rimmed blue porcelain cup warming her hands, the terrace saw Zahanat for the second time in a span of 16 hours. The sky was gray-yellow and certain calmness enveloped the otherwise busy highway. A solitary bird with wispy yellow wings sat in one corner of the terrace and surprisingly did not respond to her presence. The stillness of the moment and quietness made the dawn surreal. The bitter-sweet taste of the ‘Darjeeling tea-leaf’ sent by her mother from India completed the perception of a perfect morning for her. The rest of the day was spent in a nearby mall, selecting garden chairs, plants, and a bird-feeder for her morning companion at the terrace. Seeing Zahanat’s excitement for my favorite place in the house, her husband even teased her about the step-motherly treatment that the other parts of the house got.
It has never been very easy for Zahanat to adjust to a new place. However, the thought that the Sun and the Moon are the same everywhere, provided her some solace. Naturally, the terrace became her comfort zone in the new home. Household chores were wrapped up hurriedly everyday in order to spend some quality time under the moon, whenever there would be one. But, the stars never disappointed; they always appeared at almost the same time. Sometimes, she would even offer her namaz (prayer) under the sky and felt a direct connection with the maker without any hindrance.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The neighborhood dog, Maggi, started recognizing her and even wagged his tail when he spotted her reading newspaper on the terrace. In fact, this roofless space became an agent of expanding the social circle. A wave from the terrace at the old lady, Martha living next door and random questions about the weather to the teenaged boys who cycled around the corner of the block, actually made Zahanat quite popular in the locality, according to her husband. He would often be addressed as Zahanat’s husband at the society meetings held twice every month on Sundays. She even suspected that he said so in order to make her feel good about herself. But, it made her happy nevertheless; to be acknowledged is a human need afterall!
Zahanat’s habit of sitting under the Sun did not change even when she became pregnant and later after the delivery of her first child. The terrace floor was now covered with Mahim’s toys, a pink bunny with enormous brown eyes, two orange pacifiers, red and orange balls in different sizes, and countless little cars. A friend had gifted a bottle of baby oil made with special herbs and it was rubbed all over the little one’s body under the Sun. Gradually, the baby too enjoyed his time out in the terrace more than he did inside the house.
It has been six years since Zahanat moved in here, and the terrace has undergone many transformations since then. The practical green plastic chairs have been replaced by the more sophisticated cane ones. A multi-colored soft rug adorns the floor. The bird feeder has grown in size to meet the needs of seven beautiful birds who are a regular here. A copper water bowl rests next to the feeder to make the breakfast complete for the two-legged creatures. Mahim’s basket ball lying in the middle of the terrace often makes her trip and fall, causing much merriment to him and his father. Zahanat’s accidents always make people laugh, even though the best of her jokes do not evoke the same reaction from them. The lavender shrubs lining the terrace wall lend a sweet fragrance that soothes the senses. A barbeque set has been the latest addition for brunch parties. On a typical Sunday afternoon, the terrace resounds with happy voices of friends, laughter, and discordant notes of guitar by her six year old son.
Apart from just being a physical entity, the terrace has also come to mean a lot more for Zahanat over the years. It is an old friend now, who has seen her in the best and worst of moods. It has been a witness to her tears, of both joy and pain and a patient listener of atleast a thousand complaints. She has paced up and down the terrace waiting for her husband to arrive from office, when they had to catch the latest movie. It has also terrified her with its dark shadows in stormy nights. The knower of Zahanat’s deepest fears and secrets, that it will never open its mouth is a great comfort for her. Everyone needs friends like these sometimes!