Even though it is not yet daybreak, the dawn-like translucence of the fallen snow enables him to see clearly the person walking on the road up there, and he decides that it is someone on his way to the mosque for the day's first prayer.
Or it could be Queen Elizabeth II. Shamas smiles, in spite of himself. Once, marvelling at the prosperity of England, a visitor from Pakistan had remarked that it was almost as though the Queen disguised herself every night and went out into the streets of her country to find out personally what her subjects most needed and desired in life, so she could arrange for their wishes to come true the next day; it was what the caliph Harun al-Rashid was said to have done according to the tales of the Thousand and One Nights, with the result that his perfumed Baghdad became the most easeful and prosperous place imaginable.
Perspective tricks the eyes and makes the snowflakes falling in the far distance appear as though they are falling slower than those nearby, and he stands in the open door with an arm stretched out to receive the small light pieces on his hand. A habit as old as his arrival in this country; he has always greeted the season's first snow in this manner, the flakes losing their whiteness on the palm of his hand to become clear wafers of ice before melting to watercrystals of snow transformed into a monsoon raindrop. Among the innumerable other losses, to come to England was to lose a season, because, in the part of Pakistan that he is from, there are five seasons in a year, not four, the schoolchildren learning their names and sequence through classroom chants: Mausam-e-Sarma, Bahar, Mausam-e-Garma, Barsat, Khizan. Winter, Spring, Summer, Monsoon, Autumn.
The snow falls and, yes, the hand stretched into the flakes' path is a hand asking back a season now lost.
The person on the hill is indeed a woman and, whoever she is, she has left the high shelf of the road and is coming down the side-street towards him, one arm carrying an umbrella, the other steadying her descent by holding on to the field maples growing at regular intervals along the edges of the inclining street. With that umbrella she is a riddle personified: the solution being a foetus attached to a placenta by the umbilical cord. She would soon be near and would no doubt consider him lacking good judgement: a man of almost sixty-five years standing here with his hand thrust into the path of the snowand so he withdraws into the house.
The front door opens directly into the kitchen. One blue, one strawberry pink, one the yellow of certain Leningrad exteriors: these were the colours of the three rooms in the olive-green house in Sohni Dhartithe small place in Pakistan where he was born and had lived permanently until his mid-twentiesand a few years ago, by mixing ground-up chalk and rabbit-skin glue with the appropriate pigments, he had painted the rooms in this house with those three colours, surprising himself by reproducing the three shades precisely. It's almost as though when he stood facing a corner as a child during a game of hide-and-seek, it was for the sole purpose of committing its colour to memory, to be able to conjure it up in the years of exile and banishment.
During the school holidays he would approach the bookcase in the pink room and stand before it, his hand alighting on this or that volume with the arbitrariness of a moth, half deciding on something before sliding it back in place and moving on, as though experimenting with the keys of a piano, all briefly opened books eager to engage his eye, each flickeringly glimpsed paragraph enticing him hurriedly with its secret, and having made his choice he would drift through the house in search of the coolest spot to read through the long summer afternoons that had a touch of eternity to them, altering the arrangement of his limbs as much for comfort as for the fear that his undisturbed shadow would leave a stain on the wall.
Excerpted from Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam Copyright © 2005 by Nadeem Aslam. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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