*Recounted “off-the-record” by Zulfi Bukhari to our intrepid correspondent, Raja Romeo
EARLY MORNING ON EXPULSION DAY:
The ritzy guesthouse wore contemporary well: its angular bones a grabby yet understated blend of faultless copper walls and a stony facade the shade of walnuts. Rightward from the cobbled driveway lay an epic lawn aflush with potted foliage and creepers along the tall boundary walls.
Let’s make this quick before the honorable parliamentarians and their family strippers awaken. I threaded through the lawn’s knee-high lampposts fashioned after watchtowers, and toward the disklike, koala-gray platform on the far side.
Two padded loungers decked in checkerboard prints set on the platform facing each other. MPA Kardar reclined on one: her head tipped skyward and the pale morning sun glinting off her blocky shades and garish salwar kameez.
This witch gives me the jimjams. My oxblood monk-shoes clicked atop the platform and thereon I posed hands-on-hips.
She continued stargazing; her overpainted lips slightly parted and emitting rumbling snores.
The corner of my mouth dimpled in disgust. How can she peaceably sleep in such hot water? I adjusted my own blocky shades and harrumphed.
She jerked upright and her bouffant hairdo swished round like Medusa’s snakes. Then she slipped the shades up to her forehead and fixed on me with mascara-heavy peepers that must need their own chimney sweeps.
I gripped the hems of my eggshell tunic and tugged downward. “Morning, sire,” I deadpanned, and seated opposite her.
She wrinkled her fleshy nose and her landscaped brow pinched. “Well, if isn’t ‘burger’ Bukhari with his slick hipster hair. How dare you copy my style?” she exclaimed, tapping her shades over the temple.
At once I shushed her and glanced sidelong in either direction. “What part of secret meeting don’t you understand?” I hissed.
Her lips pursed into slits and she tossed her latticed dopatta over the shoulder. “I’ve had enough of meeting you and your cronies; you know what ah-meen?”
The feeling is mutual, Shrek. I upraised my open palms to the waist and met her murderous stare. “Look, just send a blanket apology and you’re golden. Is that so hard? You’re very lucky PM Khan is a most gracious man.”
She eyeballed me, unblinking. “So, I should apologize if someone steals my private conversations and you bozos treat it as Koranic evidence? Is that what ya-meen?”
Two irate clucks escaped my lips. What did Khan see in this haughty fool? Then again, how much can he really see with those peepholes-for-eyes?
I leaned toward her with a serious face. “Politics is compromise, madam. You should not have besmirched the First Lady.” I glimpsed my bejeweled watch. “Now, do we have a deal? I need to meet the PM soon.”
“No. I’m so through lying about this government and your egoistic overlord,” she said with a steely face.
Bingo and good riddance. I sighed and clasped the curvy white armrests to arise. “Well, see you around then.”
“See you on TV,” she spat back.
My chest strangled for an atomic second. “Why is that?” I asked coolly, brushing down my tunic.
She crossed her arms below the bosom and sneered. “Someone has to respond to the scandal, if you know what ah-meen?”
Tsk, always the petty victim. I snorted. “Humph, no one believes your idle gossip.”
Her face broke into an impish grin. “The media certainly will when they see proof.”
Goose pimples erupted on my nape. Bullshit. That’s not possible. My eyes narrowed. “You’re bluffing.”
She threw her head back and cackled. “When did you last check your email?” she asked gaily.
The goose pimples turned into stinging boils. I whipped my phone out the slit side-pocket and furiously thumbed its lacquered face.
My mailbox brimmed with boldfaced sentences, each containing some variation of the words scandal and comment.
A silent scream choked my throat. This can’t be true. The First Lady… I shakily replaced the phone and plonked into the lounger.
Her eyes gleamed as she voiced a mirthless chuckle. “Sonny, I’ve been playing this game since your pudgy face was snacking on poop, you know what ah-meen?”
My pulse hit Ferrari speeds and I wheezed. Goddammit, for someone who screams change, why can’t the man keep it in his pants? First, he wed a media hussy, and now the incumbent octopus has her tentacles in crocks that’ll ruin me. Should I text him my resignation and flee abroad before the BBC finds out? Or should I beg the Lyari Gang to dispatch an uncle to Shrek’s house?
Her fingers snapped twice before my face and I flinched.
She slowly shook her head and tut-tutted. “You’re lucky I’m as gracious as our dear leader, or the press would possess all the juicy bits.”
Blood crept to my ashen cheeks. “They don’t have everything?” I asked in a thin voice.
“Not the good stuff,” she said smugly. “Thing is, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the party, but you must recompense me for the mental trauma.”
Another money-grubber, typical. “And you’ll surrender the evidence?” I asked eagerly.
She hooted and slapped a knee. “The way he’s going, you won’t need it in a year’s time.”
My teeth gnashed. Everyone’s a comedian in this town. “What do you want?” I snapped.
“A chalet in the Alps.”
My jaw fell halfway to the floor. What the actual hell?
I covered my mouth with a balled fist and cleared my throat. “Be reasonable. Who would buy you that? A paid vacation is one thing.”
She shot furtive glances round the lawn and sloped toward me. “The Swiss accounts refund,” she said, winking.
My shoulders rounded as I shifted in the seat. There’s no way our Honest Abe will agree to this. But if he doesn’t, it’s curtains for his career. There’s no coming back from this muckraking, not to mention the booted They-Know-Yous do it all the time.
“Ticktock, Zulfi. I got places to go.”
My chin tucked into the chest and I clawed at my hair. “What about the media?”
She perched one arm over the backrest and flapped a wrist. “Say what you will as long as I have the ownership papers in a month.”
I straightened up. “Hold on, what’s your guarantee?” I asked, wagging a finger.
She arched her brow. “My solemn promise, of course.”
My shoe tapped the concrete as I glowered at her. “And pray what is that?”
“To not forward your salutary audio recording to the First Lady, if you know what ah-meen?”
Mother-lover, she can’t mean…#$%@& $&@#!
Simpering, I threw her a two-fingered salute. “Aye aye, captain.”
THE HEADLINE NEXT MORNING:
PTI's MPA in the Punjab Assembly Uzma Kardar has been shown the door over violation of party rules and "conduct unbecoming of a PTI member", a notification said. According to a report by The News, Kardar had made "disrespectful remarks" about the First Lady Bushra Bibi.
In a tweet, the premier's aide on overseas Pakistanis, Zulfi Bukhari, said: “One can’t expect her to understand the caliber of First Lady but it is extremely shameful of Uzma Kardar to be talking behind her back. PM & First Lady’s respect comes foremost for all of us. Embarrassing behavior from anyone who claims to be associated with the party.”
*Autocrit scores our stories against published general fiction. Here's why we decided to report these scores.