Monday. The phone begins to ring in my pocket as soon as I disembark in Karachi. It’s an occupational hazard here – people want to know where you are, how far you’ve got, how long it will take you to find them. I wonder how long I can ignore it, until I reach the baggage retrieval hall. As usual the suitcases are coming in. I pick up mine without a thought. I tell Kashiff, who’s here to receive me and texts me that he isn’t allowed into the waiting area of the building, to meet me outside. Hobbling along on my swollen ankle with a case that’s heavier than it should be, I step out into the October afternoon light; it’s hot, but not unbearable. No sign of Kashiff, who keeps sending photographs of where he is. I can’t see him. Finally, I understand that he’s beyond the precincts of the building and drag my case to where he’s waiting to greet me with two hugs. He manages to negotiate a fair price with a cab driver, as his Uber app isn’t working. In thirty minutes – one of Karachi’s advantages is that you can get to the heart of the city from the airport in so short a time, even with the afternoon traffic – we pass the familiar landmarks of my formative years, Frere Hall’s gardens and steeples and the now derelict Metropole, and at 3pm I check into the Gymkhana, where I’m staying. We order cups of tea in my familiar rectangular white room with a Van Gogh repro on the wall. I know that the following days are going to be crowded with what Kashiff calls my surprise guests.

The journey from Islamabad was short and easy. But I’d slept only about three hours: after a very long walk in the city’s Jasmine Gardens and then a search for supper at one of its numerous ‘markaz’ areas, under gathering thunder clouds and flashes of lightning, the evening before my departure, I’d sat up almost all night because of a storm, and given shelter from the rain until nearly dawn to the companions who’d taken me around. They were both on motorbikes and couldn’t ride home in hard rain on hilly paths. 

I am expecting just one visitor at 5pm, my friend Shama who wants to greet me after my thirteen months away from the city, and to run through the passages she’s going to read at the launch of my new book on Wednesday. But my friend and editor, Shahbano texts to tell me she’s approaching my club and will drop by to welcome me. I now have two guests to tea. Shahbano orders fries, which we eat while the two of them, who hadn’t expected to be here at the same time, discuss the excerpts to be read, while I listen in placid exhaustion. 

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