Billy was served at lunch today and while he was a truly petrifying sight and not very nice to me, I must admit that it broke my heart to see him sitting in gravy on the placemat in front of me. Nazir, employing my boneless chicken logic, had very kindly taken some of Billy’s meat off the bone, shredded it into bite sized pieces and placed it in a little bowl with some gravy near my plate. Sadly, I am not big into mutton, least of all mutton that comes off a goat I know, saw, named, owned and walked hours to see, so there was really no way I was going to eat Billy, but in the spirit of qurbani, sacrifice and the essence of it all, I had some of the gravy, concluding that it contained some of the meat’s juices and therefore basically equated to eating the actual meat.
It seemed weird going down to the bakarwals in the afternoon because there was no Billy to visit, but I didn’t think Billy would have wanted me to sink into a depression on his behalf and so I went anyway. Afroza was playing with a chipped ceramic bowl on a mat dangerously close to the fire her mother had just started and they seemed genuinely happy to see me which never failed to amuse me since I spoke no bakarwali, the mum spoke no English and Afroza, well Afroza didn’t really speak much of anything. Either way, there was something about the ritual of our failed conversations over the past month that both entertained and cheered me.
The mother grabbed a blanket from the back of the tent for me to sit on and placed it near the fire, just as she always does and after some polite refusals, I made my way to the warmth of the fire, as I always do. Generally the half an hour that followed was filled with attempted conversations and misplaced smiles at awkward moments of misunderstanding, but today the conversation progressed shockingly well.
She told me the story of the leopard that had almost attacked the sheep the night before and showed me where it was when she had started screaming, no more than 20 steps away from their tent. She motioned to the two big bundles on the side of the tent and told me they would soon been leaving for Jammu with the sheep, where they would spend the rest of winter. She admired my chain and tried to take a picture with my camera pendant before realizing it was no more than I shiny piece of metal, laughing to herself and diverting her attention to my actual camera.
She enquired how many cameras I had. I replied that I only had one. She took it off the floor and held it in her hands, carefully inspecting it before telling me that I should leave it with her. Not knowing exactly how to respond, I replied that it had cost a lot of rupees and was a gift from my dad. She didn’t dwell on the camera for too long and shortly after, asked where my phone was. I told her the battery was dead. Why didn’t I charge it? She asked. I replied that there was no electricity. She asked if she could have my phone. I smiled and continued making weird faces at Afroza, pretending not to have heard.
Undeterred she moved on to my chain. She pointed to her neck, at the beaded chain, from which two keys hung and said we should switch. I would have, and I probably should have, but I figured I’d see them tomorrow and take her a beaded bracelet I’d brought from South Africa and so before she had the chance to ask for anything else I had on my person, I left her and Afroza with a chocolate each, promised I would see them tomorrow and left.