To make a good impression was difficult but not impossible, Fahad held, assured of the fact that his father had successfully served the Rana family for over 3 decades.
It would’ve been his father, not Fahad making preparations for the upcoming dinner but his mother had been suffering from Hepatitis C and taking a rare leave, his father had gone back to their village to look after her.
This was the first time Fahad had actually been working in Rana House. All the other times he had stayed as a guest in the servant quarters and was never given any responsibility bigger than bringing packets of cigarettes or beverages from the market.
The guests would be arriving around 8.30 PM, he had been told, and it was his duty to ensure that everything went seamlessly well.
Even though there were other, more experienced servants in Rana House, the scion of the family, Rana Hussain wanted to test the son of his personal assistant. Did Fahad have what it takes to efficiently serve a family that induced fear as well as appreciation depending on who you asked?
The dinner had already been prepared, it only needed to be warmed as soon as he would get the orders to serve. The luxurious cutlery had been placed on the dining table which could accommodate up to 18 people. All the plates and the glasses had to look exactly the same and be placed in the right order. Rana Hussain was quite particular about this, making the final inspections of the table himself.
The Dhol Walas were also present at the gate, alongside two other employees whose sole task was to throw rose petals on the cars of the arriving guests.
All the lights outside Rana House had also been lit, providing more visibility on a foggy night.
Fahad wondered why the Rana family hadn’t had a proper road built that led to their house. Perhaps it was the fact that Rana Hussain’s father had consistently lost the last 3 elections, with every campaign significantly diminishing the family’s collective holdings. Or maybe it was because the family was just lazy, that was also plausible, ensuring that a good road was built took effort, and not many from within the family seemed willing to engage in hard work no matter how minute. Especially if no one got a chance to wet their beak.
Except for Rana Hussain, he seemed different to Fahad. He had been educated abroad, played Polo and frequently hosted influential people not just of Bhai Peru but also of Lahore at his family home. The entire village had pinned their hopes on him. Next time, he would contest from the MPA seat and regain the honour of the Rana family by crushing his opponents in the electoral realm.
Ensuring that everyone was prepared for the arrival of the guests, Fahad took one last round of Rana House when he received a call from Rana Hussain, asking him to come inside the drawing-room.
Fahad walked quickly inside, not stopping to wonder why he was being called.
Rana Hussain sat on the far corner of the plush drawing room which featured a myriad of sofas almost as if it was the studio of a furniture shop. Fahad did not know that Rana Hussain’s mother’s only solace in life was having a well furnished home. That and jewellery. It was seemingly enough to endure the psychopathic tendencies of her husband.
“Sit. This is 85 thousand. Count it,” Rana Hussain said, taking out a bundle of notes from his waistcoat. He was dressed in his signature white Shalwar Kameez and Navy Blue waistcoat, a sort of uniform for aspiring politicians.
“A man named Malik will come at the gate in 5 minutes. Let him in. He will give you a bag which will have three bottles. He will ask for 80 thousand but give him 85. Then bring the bottles here,” he said, flicking the ash from his cigarette onto an ashtray but narrowly missing it.
Fahad immediately said yes, though like his father, he too was a very religious man. Fahad recalled a religious saying in which it was said that the people who serve alcohol and even touch it are complacent in the crime of drinking it. He sincerely believed that his prayers wouldn’t be accepted for 40 days if he did what he was about to do but he ignored his inner voice. What was 40 days compared to a good 40 years if things worked out?
Holding 17 crisp notes of five thousand rupees each felt surreal to Fahad. Never before had he held so much money in his hands. He tried not to show his surprise and felt he had succeeded as he walked outside and waited for Malik to arrive with the booze.
He put the cash in a secret zipped pocket in his shalwar, frequently touching it to ensure it was still there. Maybe this was the test, maybe this was also what Fahad’s supposedly religious father did. He did not fully realise how flexible his father had become with morals whenever it came to the Rana family.
Looking at the Dhol Walas, Fahad realised that the 8 men with drums and other instruments would only be paid five hundred rupees each. Four thousand in total, and they were waiting since the last two hours for the guests to arrive.
Delving more into the economics of Rana House, Fahad realised that his own father, whose official designation was Personal Assistant to Rana Hussain had a salary of 25,000 rupees per month.
So his father’s entire labour for one month was actually worth one bottle of whiskey these rich people drank? Not even a full bottle. The thought was nauseating.
But the cash was in his pocket, if he wanted, he could just leave with it. No one would stop him, he would be the last person anyone considered a thief. Eighty-Five thousand was enough to buy a used iPhone or a new motorcycle, or better, to pay all of his mother’s medical bills.
Fahad knew that Rana Hussain had given his father fifty thousand rupees and 4 days leave to take care of his mother. For that fifty thousand, Fahad’s father would have happily sacrificed his life for the young Rana but Fahad had begun to realise how meaningless such amounts were for those more fortunate.
It felt right somehow, to betray Rana Hussain and take off with his money. If Fahad wasn’t entirely sure that he would pay a much heavier price for theft, he may have actually fled but he knew what the Rana family did with thieves. They had once shot a man who admitted to stealing a cow. Fahad wondered whether that cow was worth eighty-five thousand or more.
There were some lights in the distance, suggesting that either the guests or Malik would be arriving soon. It probably wasn’t the guests since Fahad assumed that there would be multiple cars in the convoy, this one was just a single Toyota Corolla.
“I have something for Rana sab,” a long-haired man told the two armed guards present at the gate.
Fahad walked towards the car and told the guards that the man had something for him.
“So there are three bottles?”
“Yes, Gold Label, Rana Sab’s favourite. The bill is eighty thousand, only.”
Fahad smiled, unable to resist the temptation of taking pleasure out of tipping a bootlegger five thousand rupees. His phone vibrated with his mother’s name showing up but he cut the call. Fahad’s mother could wait but the deal could not.
“Here’s 85,000, Rana sab asked me to give you five thousand extra,” Fahad said, gaining shades of confidence as the deal went through.
Malik was jubilant, counting the money twice to ensure that he was getting something extra. He had travelled from Lahore after all.
“May Allah bless Rana sab. May Allah bless his parents. May Allah bless his children. Thank you so much,” Malik said, declining an offer of tea or water from one of the guards who had initially stopped him.
Fahad noticed that the convoy was nearby and that the guests would be arriving soon. He ran inside and gave the bottles to Rana Hussain who was seated in the exact same place, in the exact same posture, with a new cigarette he was holding the exact same way.
“Sir, here are the bottles. The guests have also arrived so I’ll rush back to the gate…”
“Wait, this is for you,” Rana Hussain said, gently placing a five thousand rupee note in Fahad’s hand.
Fahad resisted the tip, feeling guilty of accepting cash for what he had just done.
“Keep it. You are Mushtaq’s son after all, and my brother. Keep it. And run along now, you said the guests are here,” Rana Hussain said with a pleasing smile on his face.
Running back to the guests, Fahad noticed that everything was going according to plan. Rose petals had been thrown on the White land cruiser in the front and the Dhol Wallas were singing the special tune praising the guests who were from the Dogar family.
A fat man wearing a black Shalwar Kameez which was doing nothing to hide his weight exited the passenger seat of the big jeep and threw a few thousand rupee notes on the Dhol Walas.
Rana Hussain walked towards the fat man and hugged him as if his very sight was something he was waiting for since the day he was born. Holding his hand, Rana Hussain led Dogar and his entourage inside.
Fahad walked behind Dogar’s men, noticing that four men wielding AK-47s stayed by a Vigo pickup truck behind as the rest of the party moved inside. Two of them were also covering their faces.
Inside, Rana Hussain sat with Dogar and two other guests, immediately asking for the tumblers and ice to be brought to their table.
A server produced them in under a minute, reflecting that Rana House was still running as efficiently as ever.
The guests began to enjoy their drinks as Fahad supervised the party, ensuring that everyone was well looked after.
Never before had Fahad been in a room with so many powerful people, even if he wasn’t allowed to sit with them, he was still allowed to observe, to absorb, to learn.
Rana Hussain and Dogar were engrossed in a conversation about some government tender in Multan. Multan? That was so far away, Fahad thought, yet it seemed that the duo was engaging in some serious business there.
Fahad suddenly remembered that Rana Hussain’s mother hailed from a village near Multan so any business there would naturally make sense. Things always made sense when it came to these rich people, Fahad quirked to himself as he noticed his father calling him on his cell phone.
“Son, O my son, your mother, your mother just passed away. Janaza will be tomorrow so you will have to come back. I will tell Rana sab myself. I will now call the rest of the family. You take care and be here by tomorrow morning..” The phone call ended and Fahad pictured the face of his mother. He had forgotten that his mother had called him just a few hours earlier but he had been busy getting those 3 bottles of whiskey from Malik.
Before Fahad could fathom that his mother was no longer alive, he heard Rana Hussain calling out his name.
“I’ve been calling you for the last 2 minutes! Don’t use your phone again now. We need some more ice!” Rana Hussain said, exhuming anger for the first time in the evening.
“I’m extremely sorry Rana sab. I’ll turn my phone off and get the ice right away. My apologies once again, Rana sab.”