NEW YORK, 1982
The first time we met, you were wearing borrowed clothes. You sat there in your too big platforms, bell sleeves and a neckline that plunged sharply to the right. Your yellow jumper hung loose over your thin frame. Your head was defiantly uncovered, your frizzy hair as rebellious as your nature, your heart-shaped mouth stubbornly set. Later you told me that your friend Yasmin had lent you the clothes because your mother stopped your monthly allowance. She thought it would make you give up politics.
Your mother didn’t know you well.
Looking deceptively sunny in that blinding yellow, you smoked as Yasmin stood behind you, searching through a high bookshelf. I had never seen a girl of your stature smoke. Or sit publicly without a veil.
‘Ashtray,’ you ordered and Yasmin came running up with one. To avoid staring, I looked up at the highest shelf, my neck craning as I tilted my head all the way up, then bending as I looked down to the last. I wondered if you had read all those books.
Perhaps it was my head bobbing up and down like a duck in water that caught your attention. Sit, you gestured, and I nervously looked around for a chair to park myself on. I noticed your forehead crease in a frown as you crossed your legs like men do. You leaned back, stretching your hand over your knee and it was then I knew. With downcast eyes, I settled on the floor.
‘What’s your name?’ you asked at the exact moment I opened my mouth to say, ‘I want to be in politics.’
You pretended you hadn’t heard and I knew from then on not to speak unless spoken to. Nobody can say I wasn’t a good learner.
That much, at least, is true.
Yasmin brought tea and as she handed around the cups, you asked me again what my name was.
‘Nazneen Khan,’ I said. ‘But everyone calls me Nazo.’
You smiled and I said, ‘Madam, I am working in Aijaz Sahib’s dry cleaners. You know Aijaz Sahib from Jackson Heights? He sent me to you. He said you help people fleeing the General’s regime. My whole family was murdered in the coup. My father was a doorman at the Parliament. He resisted when they tried to break in. Later the General’s men came to our house and killed everyone. I hid under the bed … survived somehow…’ I could not carry on talking.
You didn’t offer me any condolence. Instead you said, ‘Can you type?’
And that was how it all began.
Bailiff: All rise!
Clerk: Judge Muzzamdar will be presiding over this case. Bailiff: The court is now in session. Please be seated.
Judge: Good Morning. Calling the case of Mr Omar Bin Omar versus Miss Nazneen Khan on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rani Shah. Are both sides ready?
Prosecutor: Ready for the prosecution, Your Honour. Defending Counsel: Ready for the defence, Your Honour.
Clerk: Your Honour, the plaintiff Mr Omar accuses the defendant of premeditated murder and of espionage against the state. The defendant is represented by the able and veteran lawyer Mr Hamidi while the plaintiff, being a known human rights lawyer, has decided to prosecute the case himself. Given his knowledge of law, and his closeness to the murdered politician, the court requests that his lack of criminal practice be overlooked and Mr Omar be allowed to prosecute.
Judge: Permission granted. Prosecutor Mr Omar and Counsel Mr Hamidi, please present your opening statements.
Prosecutor: Your Honour, Miss Nazneen Khan, commonly known as Nazo, has been accused of conspiring to assassinate the country’s first female Prime Minister, Madam Rani Shah. Although the body was charred in the explosion, new evidence has revealed that her death was not due to the suicide bombing as was previously believed, but by a bullet shot at close range. Almost as if by someone seated right next to her…
Counsel: Objection! Judge: Sustained.
Prosecutor: Very well. Let me start by asking a very simple and straightforward question. Miss Khan must answer why it is that she, who sat right next to Madam Shah at the time of the assassination, managed to escape unscathed, while Madam Shah lost her life. Now, Miss Khan, tell the court who sat where…