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High on Pakistan

Picture it, Pakistan, 1991: I was a young boy of 12 when I first visited the capital city of Islamabad. It was March 26th, a day past Pakistan Day (essentially, Pakistan's Independence Day), when my family decided to leave the capital city and head south, to the coastal city of Karachi. Islamabad was an interesting place, but Karachi was the jewel in Pakistan's turben. Behind Mumbai, India, Karachi was the world's second most populated city. The other City of Lights, as it was known, was the perfect place for my family to sell its wears. My father, a tall, greyish, but burly man was seeking new work at one of the city's many cement plants. It was simple work, but my father was a simple man, and the fact that he spoke English and Pakistani meant that he could easily find work as a foreman in one of the more international companies.

We were riding south, camel-back, on our several-day trip from Islamabad to Karachi when we stopped at a small village, approximately 100 miles from our destination. We were tired and sore from the ride, and our camels, while sturdy and healthy, were stubborn and demanded a rest. My mother was happy to stop and see the sites in the small town of Hyderabad. The city is known as the City of Perfume, mostly because in years past, the city would wash its roads in perfume daily. It was also the city where most Pakistani bangles were made, a piece of jewelry for woman, not unlike a bracelet, save for the fact that bangles are not flexible.

My mother, always the shopping sort, took me on a jaunt, me my 11 years, eyes wide open at all of the new sights and sounds. We were in a crowded marketplace when I saw a small shop selling all sorts of candy. Being young in years and mind, I crept over to the store and grabbed a handful of mint fennel candy from one of the outdoor barrels. I stuffed some in my pocket and others in my mouth. I saw my mother, bangle shopping, a few storefronts away. I called to her as I tried to move in between the many shoppers out for their weekly provisions. But as I neared her, I felt an arm pick me up and sweep me off my feet. Another hand came over my mouth, and I was pulled into a small alley by a short man with thick arms.

"Quiet now or I kill." The man's broken English told me he was a local. His smell of piss and body order told me that he was probably one of the lower class of Pakistani, likely from the nearby Umrani tribe of Pakistan's impoverished Baluchistan province. "I saw you steal and you are coming with me."

He pulled me into a room, little larger than a walk-in closet in a small door by the alleyway. There, I found four other men seated around a small table. One man in particular looked different than the rest, cleaner, but not quite clean. I also noticed the contents of the table, notably, the pile of Rupee bank notes, the many colored clay discs and the deck of cards. I didn't know what was going on, and I had heard that other foreigners had been abducted before on the streets of Pakistan. It was also during the Islamic religious observance of Moharram, when hostilities seemed extra intense. But I had to think fast. I saw the players deal out 5 cards each, and then, to my amazement, after a round of betting, draw. I seized the opportunity.

"I want in," my 10-year-old voice squeaked. The men turned to me. One, the seeming leader, laughed. I guess he saw something in my eyes, because he moved his chair aside and told me to come join him. I stood next to his side and he lifted his cards, three of a kind, 3s. This, normally, would be a decent hand in a single draw 5-card game, and he bet with a flourish. The man to his left (my left, really) was a fat man with a stack of chips. He folded, though, and we turned our attention to the man across from us, the well-dressed man that seemed out of place with this group. He reached for his chips, hand shaking, and threw them into the pile, a substantial raise. The man on our right folded, and the Boss, or at least who I assumed was the Boss, started to reach for his chips. I gently put my 9-year-old hand over his cards. "Fold," I suggested. I saw that the clean guy had something he wanted called. But Boss didn't take my word. He called, and lost.

After that hand, Boss and I went on a tear. I guess he saw that I had some knack for the game, because he began to follow my, well, 'suggestions.' Soon, we had all of the chips on the table, and the cleaner man looked very upset. With my limited Pakistani, I had some trouble understanding what he was saying, but I could tell he needed the money for his family. He looked desperate. The Boss, the man I would hopefully win my freedom from, decided to up the stakes. "Your daughter" was all I understood, but once the cards were dealt, I think I understood all too well.

Boss was dealt two Queens, and four spades in total. Clean guy looked at his cards and placed one down, for his draw. At this point, Boss started to prepare to draw three, clearly under the belief that our opponent was drawing. "No," I gently suggested in my weak 8-year old voice, "He has three of a kind. He is making a play." I don't know what it was that spoke this to me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was watching the cleaner (but not quite clean) guy all too well, and I began to get a feeling for what he was up to. I think he was trying to bait us into making a bad play with a single pair. Boss looked at me quizzically. Perhaps it was the faith I had earned over the last hour of play, but I suppose it was as much the thought that he had all the money and little to lose. He drew one.

At showdown, the cleaner man laid out his hand...three Kings. We laid out ours, a Queen-high flush. After that, there was a flurry of activity. From what I understood, the "daughter" was only 1. Boss had no use for an infant, apparently, so he told the man to go, but expect to pay up later. To my surprise, when the clean guy left, Boss looked down at me and smiled. He tussled my hair and then said something foreign. My abductor openned the door. Boss said in English, no less, "Good job, boy. Go." I didn't take a moment. I was out the door in a flash.

My mother and father found me five minutes later, a scared 7-year-old in a different and exciting place. I told them of my adventure, and they seemed relieved as they laughed. I guess it just sounded like the kind of hyperbolic story only a 6-year-old could make up, but it was all true. They were glad I was safe and we resumed our trip to Karashi.

I haven't thought about that day a lot. Sure, on a random night, when I'm lying in bed, the thought of what could have happened will play through in my mind, but as time passes, it all just washes away. But I guess while the story ended for me, it didn't end for everyone else. For it has come full circle, and as I perused the news this morning, my memories came flooding back.
For the epilogue of this story, ENJOY!

posted by Jordan @ 9:43 AM,

2 Comments:

At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your blog; I wish I had time to read them all.
I have a book being published in April by Midnight Ink, called Dead Money; it's a murder mystery set at a poker tournament, with an emphasis on humor.
If you'd like a free copy to review, contact the publicist at alisona@llewellyn.com.
Either way, keep it up!
Rudy Stegemoeller

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger TripJax said...

Some people just link to a story on their blog. No sir, not Jordon. That mofo writes a story and then gingerly leaves the link at the end.

Beautimus dude. Nice one.

 

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