Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 6, 1987 p. 86.


Graphics file for this page
Zahida Hena

ACHILLES HEEL

Some aquamarine water is held captive in a cell of glass walls. There is sand on the floor of the cell. Sundry marine plants grow in the sand. A few moss-covered porous pebbles, of varying shapes and sizes, and a few sea-shells lie strewn about. The captive water breathes; bubbles shoot from its body, spiral up to the surface, and dissolve.

A fish swims slowly amid the bubbles. About a foot long and flat, the pale-green fish has a red spot of striking intensity on its tail and a fringe with white streaks sprouting from the base of its head. The fish's eyes are full of sadness at having been torn from its native environment of deep seas. The fish looks familiar to me. I stop short and fix my gaze on it, as one straining to identify a familiar face, to find the outline of that face in the jigsaw puzzle of relationships.

My daughter falters as she reads the name inscribed on the plaque. I cannot make out what she says, and remove my gaze from the fish and begin to read the particulars supplied by the aquarium management. Fish, too, have their own special names, nicknames, pedigrees, nationalities, their migrations from deep, open seas to glass-incarcerated waters, and the adjustments that must follow.

The moment I spot the name "Achilles Tang" I recall where and when I had first seen that fish. And with that I am reminded of Tamkinat—Tamkinat Asad—the butt of people's gossip in the city. The interesting thing, though, was that she always knew what stories people had been spreading about her. In fact she would herself relate to me those scandals, spicing them up to make them even more outrageous;

then she would laugh herself silly.

Tamkinat Asad was like a bewitching mirage shimmering across our sandswept landscape. The thirsty would see her and run after her until they would collapse, gasping for breath. She was no Sita for sure, nor a Savitri either. If anything she was more woman than most: fleshy, animated, with warm blood swirling through her veins in which swam the gold and silver fish of all imaginable pleasures. When she put on a hip-hugging sari, people could clearly see the deep whirlpool of her navel.

Her frivolity irritated me. I would reason with her. But she would laugh and evade the issue. People thought she was slightly daft, but they knew scarcely anything about her. She and I had been close friends for a long time. I know how she loved to put on appearances—of a clown, of a coquette.

My first encounter with "Achilles Tang" was in Tamkinat's bedroom. One entire room in her house had been converted into an aquarium. She must have spent a

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