50 Shades of Cray


*Recounted “off-the-record” by Section Officer Bittu to our intrepid correspondent, Munna Manhoos.

AN HOUR BEFORE THE FUNCTION:

My grandfather once told me a centenarian snake turned human and avenged himself on anyone who crossed him as a critter.


But who knew a hundred-year-old politician shape-shifted into a flamboyant panda?


Minister Mazari appeared a Lilliputian in her king-size swivel chair as she peered over the rim of her scarlet laptop lid with a stony face; her burned doughnut eyes twitching in time with her flared nostrils.


As usual, she’d dressed appropriately for a deranged voodoo shaman: wisps of her tomboy hair streaked violet over a frumpy tunic sporting kaleidoscopic flowers. And on her chunky digits she flashed a flea-market worth of thick-banded rings.


Is her fashion sense a new torture technique? Astagfirullah, she’d compel the blind to rip out their peepers. Calm down, Bittu, it’ll be over soon. You’re just here to take notes.


My cheeks dimpled from my wide-lipped grin; taut and quivering from prolonged fakery. I fidgeted in my seat and swapped my folded legs before they melted into mush.


Her airy office was a similar travesty of colors: white-and-pickle green walls rounding a tortilla-brown tiled floor and rightward, an aluminum double-door that someone ripped from a high-school cafeteria.


She slouched behind a titanic wooden desk you could remodel into a swimming pool if it didn’t transform into Optimus Prime first.


“Why’d they send a suited flamingo to do a man’s job?” she said in her trademark sandpapery croak.


My fist knuckled as I tipped toward the desk; my unibrow arched. “Were there any errors in the Kashmir report, ma’am?”


“Where’s my hair dye?”


Behind her, the wall-mounted portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah wore a wry smile.


What is she blabbing about? "Pardon?” I asked delicately.


She sat upright and her lavender lips squiggled. “My office sent you foreign office flunkeys a memo last month asking for a special hair dye. Seaweed green for Independence Day celebrations. Where is it?”


The corner of my mouth drooped and I tugged on an earlobe. “I’m not aware, ma’am.”


Her chair creaked as she threw her hands in the air and noisily sighed. “Why can’t you people do anything right? I instructed you to fly in a few boxes from Burkina Faso.”


The sudden urge to tinkle pinched me, and I pressed one leg tighter atop the other.


Burkina Faso? Is that a new style of burka? Figures, the director sent me in his stead to play the punching bag. These people are all the same; treating civil servants as personal gofers.


“No worries, ma’am,” I said good-naturedly. “We’ll get it to you in time.”


She grunted and a spear-like pencil whizzed past my forehead and pinged against the tiles.


I jerked sideways and goggled at her. Mother-lover, is she high?


“Hip women don’t risk new shades on D-Day, you dimwit. Pish, what would a fugly know of fashion,” she snapped.


I couldn’t agree more.


“You’re not fugly at all, ma’am,” I replied, simpering.


The desktop thumped from her potato-thick fist and her face crimsoned. “I mean you, idiot!”


I should leave or she’ll have me demoted to peon. If PM Khan can defend the toady running Punjab, he’ll for sure guillotine me for annoying his bestie here.


I shot to my feet, flattened my arms against the sides, and profusely bowed as a chicken pecking at a corncob.


“A thousand pardons, ma’am. I’ll update you within the hour.” I reset my chair before her desk and readied to flee.


“Hold it,” she hollered. “What dye did I order, hotshot?”


A hiccup caromed round my chest, ready to erupt. Crap, what was it again? Something about Independence Day…


“Burial shroud white,” I said with authority.


A festive paperweight zinged past my kneecap.


I flinched and stumbled onto the floor.


“Nonsense,” squawked Minister Mazari.


She arose with a mighty clatter and scowled at me. “What slummy college let you graduate, you scatterbrained duck? Seaweed green. Seaweed green, for the love of God.”


What's wrong with this overstuffed pinata? I staggered upright, terror-struck. “S-sorry ma’am. I won’t forget now.”


Her head shook at a snail’s pace as she tsk-tsked. “You lot are a disgrace to the foreign office. Can’t even find a measly hair dye for me.”


Best appease her lest she unleash a belly flop next and crush my lungs.


I clasped my hands at the waist and hung my head. “I didn’t know, honest. The director just told me to get your feedback on the report,” I mumbled.


“No ifs or buts, mister,” she said, upraising her palm. “I’ll deal with that dung-brain later, but right now I need guarantees you’ll deliver the dye by tonight. I don’t want to doll up for India’s big day now, do I?”


Hah, only Satan would allow dolls like you. “I’m not sure I can guarantee anything, ma’am.”


Her hands set on her hips. “Then what use are you? Maybe I should have PM Khan reassign you to garbage collection.”


A sudden chill racked me and I mopped my clammy forehead. I should’ve known hard work gets you nowhere in Pakistan.


“I’m handy with party tricks,” I suggested with a nervous chuckle.


Her chin slanted to one side and her brow cocked. “Go on.”


My hands lifted to my ribs and I knotted my fingers into the shape of a squirrel and then a moose.


“I can make wicked shadow puppets,” I said cheerily.


“Can you do voices too?” she asked coolly.


“Yes, ma’am.” I moonwalked over the tiles while cackling as Woody Woodpecker.


Her expression unkinked and she crashed into her chair. Then she reached for a notepad on the desktop and scribbled.


“I will book you as lunchtime entertainment for the next parliament session. Allah knows we’ll strangle the Kaptan if we have to sit through another one of his annoying pep talks.”


I paused and shot her a quizzical look. “What about the report, ma’am?”


“Who cares?” she said, still scribbling. “You twits aren’t making any headway. Let the Kaptan feel important if it’ll keep him from throwing tantrums.”


I must have imagined it, but Jinnah face-palmed.


THE HEADLINE NEXT MORNING:

In rare rebuke, Mazari says Foreign Office 'let Kashmiris, PM Imran down'

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, in an astonishing rebuke of the Foreign Office said that it had "let Kashmiris and Prime Minister Imran Khan down" in their struggle for the Kashmir cause.


Addressing a function in Islamabad, Mazari said that no matter the world's politics, had the Foreign Office taken action, the world would certainly have listened to Pakistan on the issue.


"But our diplomats chose leisurely hotel stays, dressing in three-piece suits and heavily starched clothes and speaking over the telephone," she added.


The human rights minister questioned how a country like Burkina Faso "has more diplomatic clout" than Pakistan, as it managed to get a resolution passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council against police brutality in the United States.



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