It was a lovely summer day. The breeze was delightful, the sun was welcoming, the birds were out chirping away and the world seemed at peace with itself. Pashtoona hurried towards her school, not noticing any of this. She was determined to be the first to arrive at the Annual School Market to set up her stall. She had no way of telling whether she was late, early or on time, since she had no watch. With six siblings and a one-income household it was hard to get clothes, never mind a watch.
She had been up all night putting the finishing touches to some of the pieces she would have on display. Her friends all said that she was talented but she felt otherwise. She was just doing this to get through this year and then she was off to University. It was that big grown-up world of bigger books, bigger homework, bigger people and bigger demands. It was even co-ed, which she was a bit anxious about. She had never studied with boys before.
Today, though, she just wanted to get through the day. She arrived an hour before she was supposed to and noticed that her friend Zeba was already setting up. That girl never rested. Her teacher called her an ant because she worked non-stop and achieved so much. Zeba was Pashtoona’s best friend in school and a great inspiration.
She hurried to give her friend three kisses and a hug as was the tradition. They both helped each other decorate their stalls and display their wares. Zeba was a talented artist. Her depictions of village life had won her many accolades and awards in school. Pashtoona admired and respected her friend’s work. On the other hand, her own work was not something she was proud of but something she did to get good marks.
She knitted and sewed anything that she liked in the fashion magazines that her father would bring to her every month. She had just finished her best work yet, or so her mom had told her, a beautiful light pink silk lingerie set, that was mixed with black lace and felt like soft cashmere on the skin. She didn’t like it much but as soon as she took it out of the bag her friend dropped what she was doing and immediately came over to feel the fabric and admire its silkiness and its silhouette.
Zeba declared that this piece would be the first to sell at the market that day since it was so sensual and beautiful. Pashtoona scoffed at that. She just hoped the piece was good enough that her teacher would pass her. She had much higher ambitions that this little school market and a piece of lingerie. Zeba, though, was excited and couldn’t wait until it all started. She was happily chirping away about rumours of who would be attending the school market – including the royal family.
“Why would the royal family visit a small school event?” Pashtoona asked.
“Well, because it is part of their obligations as rulers of this land to encourage youth enterprise, and it’s a photo op. I cannot wait until her majesty comes to my stall and I show off my depiction of the Kuchi girl,” whispered Zeba, as if the walls had ears.
The day began slowly. A few parents strolled through, looking at the work of their children and looking around to see what all the other girls had on display. Most of the stalls had things for sale except for Pashtoona’s stall. Whatever she had knitted or sewn would go to her six siblings. She waited shyly and anxiously. She was not the social butterfly that Zeba was; she was the quiet one in class and in life in general.
An hour into the market, there was a great commotion as the teachers rushed in declaring that her majesty Princess Zahra was coming in to admire the works of the students. This put Zeba in hyper-attention mode. She could not sit still or stop talking. Her excitement transferred to most of the students who had things on display and soon there was an air of jubilation in the school.
Her highness entered from the main doors with great determination and a sparkling smile. Pashtoona had never seen the Princess in person but had heard a great deal about her beauty and generosity. She was a great patron of the arts and enjoyed encouraging unknown artists all the time. Slowly but surely, the Princess made her way towards Pashtoona’s and Zeba’s stalls.
Zeba was beyond repair at this point and could not control the shaking in her hands. She was babbling away, and the teacher had to intervene to ask her to calm down. Princess Zahra made her way towards Pashtoona`s stall first as something caught her eye. She was looking at the winter coat that Pashtoona had knitted. It was long, luxurious and snow white. Everyone had thought she was crazy knitting a white winter coat but that is exactly what the Princess wanted to look at.
Pashtoona showed it off with pride in her eyes, and was amazed when the Princess wanted to buy the coat. But Pashtoona had made this coat for her eldest sister, Zia, to see her through the harsh winter. What to do? She did not want to insult the Princess, upset her teacher nor disappoint her sister, but she couldn’t, simply couldn’t sell it.
At last, she simply explained that the coat was for her sister, and the princess immediately agreed that the coat should go to a family member who needed it. She gave Pashtoona much praise for her bravery to speak the truth and for her generosity to give the coat to her sister.
The Princess was turning away when she noticed the pink lingerie. A gasp of “Oo” and “Ahh” escaped the Princess`s mouth. Her eyes spoke what her mouth did not say: she wanted the lingerie.
Pashtoona looked over at her teacher. Her eyes were already bulging from Pashtoona’s refusal to sell the coat. And her friend Zeba looked like she was about to pass out from all the excitement. Pashtoona did not know what to do. She hadn’t planned to sell anything, but on the other hand, none of her siblings had claimed lingerie.
The money that the Princess offered was beyond generous. Pashtoona was a bit embarrassed that the Princess would give such a sum for such an amateurish piece of work but accepted because she did not want to insult the Princess any further.
Zeba finally passed out and had to be carried to the nurse`s office. Pashtoona followed her out and could not celebrate until Zeba woke up. Once her friend came around, Pashtoona quickly told her what had happened. Zeba let out a scream of excitement, and did nothing but laugh and giggle with Pashtoona all day.
With the money from selling the lingerie, Pashtoona bought herself a watch to make sure she was never late. She still has it today.
Hangama Ahmadzai is an instructor at Ryerson University. She enjoys photography, writing poetry and has recently branched into writing memoirs.
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