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Sure enough, in the evening as we settled into a nearby pizzeria, Comrade gave me the rundown of his past few years: “I went to Multan to live with my maternal uncle. There I met Nuzhat. She was back home for vacations. Nuzhat was a widow who worked in a church cum museum in Rome. She was almost double my age. She lived with a small girl adopted from her sister. Despite having passed her golden age, she had maintained her figure. She looked more graceful than beautiful, I would say. She needed a young Pakistani companion. Since I had always dreamed of living in a foreign land, our needs soon converged into a marriage.”
So he had been living for five years with Nuzhat. “She cannot bear a child, but she has taken great care of me, got me a job in the tourist company, and she managed to get my two younger brothers into Italy. Life is good,” Comrade concluded as we finished our pizza napoletana and gulped down our last sips of Barbera wine.
Next day I left Italy and did not keep in touch with Comrade after that.
But after another five years I had chance to visit Oslo in Norway to attend a week-long international seminar. Marathon sessions went from mornings to afternoons. I had nothing much to do in the evenings. I looked for someone who could show me around the places. As I was looking through my old soiled diary, I came across Yusaf’s number that he had handed me during my visit to Italy. Not sure about its accuracy I just punched the number just to say hello to somebody, even if he was in Italy. It was promptly answered. As luck would have it, to my shocked surprise, Yusaf was in Oslo!
My next five days in his company were memorable. We went on long drives, sailed a ferry in the North Sea, visited the Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum, and the Vigeland sculpture park, besides having snacks in a 200-year-old restaurant in the Holmenkollveien district.
One evening, as we sat in a downtown Oslo pub for a couple of beers, Comrade told me the story of his coming to Norway: “In the fifth year of my stay in Italy I met Neelam. She was co-driver in the same tourist company I worked for. In her early twenties, five and a half feet tall, Neelam was recently divorced. Her youth, refined manners and pleasant nature attracted me towards her. After a couple of months we got into an intimate relationship. Meanwhile, Nuzhat suspected something. She started checking my moves and phone calls. So Neelam proposed to me: ‘Let’s move to Norway and marry there.’ I had no option other than agreeing to my sweetheart. Now here in Oslo I run my own cab. Neelam is a homemaker and works part-time in a Montessori. Life is good,” he concluded. And as we finished our last mugs of Iceland lager he added, “I am an active member of a welfare organization committed to promote awareness against underage relationships and problems faced by teenage mothers.”
I remembered all that now as we sat in his pink living room back in his home village, under the large portrait from his student days and I was served with lassi (a traditional yogurt drink), followed by a delicious lunch comprised of corn bread with home-made chicken curry. In the afternoon we rested. In the evening a cool breeze started to blow, softening the mood further. Now Comrade began telling the story of his returning to Pakistan and his settling down.
“This year,” he said, “when I came home for vacations, my mother told me: ‘Look son! Don’t abandon me in my last days. Get settled down here. I don’t know how much time is left for me. I wish to have a grandchild from a local daughter-in-law. Marry my niece.’ Submitting to my mother’s desire, I wedded Mona, her sixteen-year-old niece. Mona is in a family way now and soon will give a grandchild to my mother. I divorced Neelam last month.”
I was stunned. “But my dear Yusaf, what happened to your slogans against underage marriage, teenage mothers and women’s rights?” I was struggling to consolidate my thoughts.
“Dear friend! Sharia law does not restrict me from marrying a girl even forty years younger! Mona is only twenty years younger than I. Having a young wife is keeping me young too. Life is good.”