*Recounted “off-the-record” by Sheikh Rashid Ahmad to our intrepid correspondent, Munna Manhoos.
AN HOUR TO DINNER:
Sigh, why must I always nanny this bonehead? The stodgy oaken door clicked shut behind me and I swished my red patterned scarf over my Indigo-blue jacketed shoulder.
The fragrant, wainscoted bedroom was the size of a public hospital ward sans the missing light bulbs and the stink of industrial strength barf. And on the edge of a palatial, yacht-wide bed perched PM Khan wearing the face of death who’d been denied its nightly hunt.
Clad in a lithe sable sherwani over starchy loose trousers, he'd raised his eggplant-thick fist to his waist, half-cocked, and glared at it as he mumbled.
My ulcer twinged and I held my portly gut. Is it something he ate for lunch? If he bitches and pouts throughout dinner, the hellish Mengals and Bugtis will raise war cries. There goes his government and my hard-earned perks.
My embroidered slippers lightly tread over the Yak-shaggy carpet that must double for a pet cemetery. “All good, kaptan?” I asked, halting some feet from the bed.
In slow motion his humorless slit-eyes drew toward me and crinkled. Then he flexed his fisted hand. “I’m furious,” he hissed.
That’s a face problem. A weak smile formed under my lampshade mustache. “Why? It’s your big dinner tonight.”
He upthrusted his chin and grimaced. “They’re ruining my pitch and the opposition’s killing me on TV. I’m a brilliant man stuck among smelly weasels.”
You handpicked the weasels, remember? No matter, I’m the consummate people person. I outstretched my hands in his direction and gently bobbed them.
“There, there. We’re all friends here, right? We all want a prosperous Pakistan,” I said in a singsong voice. “Now, can I get you some tea? Coffee? A whore?”
He shot upright and wagged a bony finger at me, his eyes aflame. “This is all your fault. You’re the old hand here, yet instead of setting them straight, you join their debauched nights and later defend them.”
My breath cinched and I slid a foot backward.
PM Khan folded his arms behind the back and paced over the carpet in a tight circle, grumbling.
Goddammit, they really should keep a trank-loaded blowgun ready for the gorilla. He needs to calm down or we’re all screwed.
My palms upraised and I flashed him a cheery smile. “Now, now, I’m here to help, right? Anything for you, boss.”
He halted mid-stride and turned to me with a flinty face. “Rashid, I need to punch someone right now. If I don’t, I’ll without fail throttle a Bugti later.”
My jaw slackened and I blinked on repeat. “Why?”
He sounded a bestial grunt and threw up his clawed hands. “You wouldn’t understand. You’re a chump, not a champion. Us champions crave control and I tire of punching doors.”
Humph, son, you were still bedding random floozies when I won my first election. My arms clasped over the chest as I retreated another step, simpering. “Should I call a manservant?”
He pinched his chin with a thumb and forefinger, and uptilted his head toward the ceiling gilded with cryptic symbols. “No, too easy. An eagle does not prey on rats.”
The small bones in my spine tingled. To hell with him and the Bugtis. Before he gets any bright ideas, I must flee and hunker down in the townhouse for a few days. I barely got over that blasted Corona; no sense pairing the holes in my lungs with a cratered skull.
He peered at me with gleaming eyes and fidgeted with his sherwani buttons.
My shaky fingers reached inside the jacket’s top pocket and fidgeted with the blunt Churchill.
His expansive forehead creased as he made a sturgeon face. “Say, Rashid…”
Mother-lover. A daffy chuckle escaped my lips and I pirouetted toward the door. “I’ll go find Fawad Chaudhry. That kid’s face was made to punch, right?”
His bass-drum voice bellowed my name and his sheeny Oxfords briskly tapped the carpet. “We don’t have time, you fool. Either you be a good old goat and take one for the team, or I’ll assign you to head the city sweepers.”
My lips trembled as I froze mid-twist and the rogue bristles of my mustache prickled the nostrils. Sister-lover, how much does plastic surgery cost these days? Should I bend over and ask him to sock my backside? That should be fleshy enough.
Two strides in and he towered before my face. Then he lifted his perfumed armpits and set both hands on my flagging shoulders.
“I know there’s a man deep inside you somewhere,” he said, boring into me with his beady eyes.
My ears throbbed. MAN? How else do you think I’ve boned half of Lollywood, you Neanderthal? With my big toe dipped in Vaseline?
My gaze steeled and I snorted. “Fine, but I have a few conditions.”.
He pulled away and his brow arched into an arrowhead. “Oh?”
From my pocket I plucked the Churchill and waved it before him, “No socking my nose and I smoke this first.” Then I outspread an open palm, “The sacred cows gifted you a special lighter at the dharna. Hand it over.”
He flinched, but soon rolled his head back and guffawed. “Deal,” he said, cracking his knuckles. “Mail me the doctor’s bill later. I have a dozen others to file by the weekend.”
THE HEADLINE NEXT MORNING:
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan's dinner on Sunday, hosted in honor of members of the government coalition, was a lively affair with a broad array of topics discussed, including the PIA plane crash and the performance of ministers. “If I wanted, I could have hidden many things, but I didn’t,” he said.
Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad excused himself from the dinner, citing his poor health. The AML-leader had tested positive for the deadly coronavirus earlier this month and was even admitted to the hospital as per a June 14 report. "I'm not feeling well, I wish to rest," Rashid said.
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