Uttara and Shazia attended middle school and high school together. Then Utta went to Montreal and Shazia remained in Toronto. They stayed in close touch and met every time Utta was in Toronto. Growing up Shazia was the most beautiful of Utta's friends with her large eyes, chiselled features and a svelte figure, long limbed and proportionate. She was funny, intelligent and a veritable tomboy. She and Utta walked home together from school since she lived two doors from us and they hung out together a lot at our home. Her parents were progressive and unlike Utta's other Pakistani friends did not try to get her married soon after graduation. She had a loving home and everything appeared to be going well for her as she studied to become a Pharmacist and secured a plum job within a large Toronto hospital.
These last two years Shazia had grown quite thin and Utta and her friends started to worry about her. She said she was feeling fine and was just very busy. She lived by herself in her Toronto apartment and worked hard at her job. She came to her parents home in Markham over the weekends. Last summer when Utta met her over dinner in a favourite Markham haunt she said that Shazia had grown even thinner and barely ate half of her salad. She also told me that she felt like a giant next to her and for the first time noticed people staring at them when they walked together. Two days before she left for London Utta met Shazia again, this time for coffee and a chat. She said Shazia insisted they park their cars a few kilometres away and walk to a coffee shop in Unionville. Utta found this strange but went along because it was a beautiful summer day. When Utta gently broached the topic of her weight and health, Shazia shrugged it off saying she was extremely busy and missed meals because she had no time to eat. Utta gave her my number to call if she needed help with anything. I did not hear from Shazia.
Early this morning Utta called me from London wailing that Shazia had been found dead in her apartment and the funeral was today.
I made my way to the mosque on this bitterly cold day, the mercury showing -25 degrees. The place was milling with people. A young death. On the third floor, the Namaz e Janaza prayers had concluded by then and they were bringing the body down to the ground floor where I was, to take her to the burial ground. Her parents were inconsolable in their grief, holding on for dear life to the plain wooden casket, covered in green velvet cloth with gold Arabic inscriptions. They wanted to see her face one last time. I was there when they opened the casket and uncovered the milk white cotton cloth that they had wrapped her in to just reveal her face. The smell of incense assaulted my senses and forever etched in my memory is that same beautiful baby face that had once brimmed over with laughter, now lifeless and pale. I kept thinking they are going to lay Shazia in a hole in the ground on this bitterly cold day. I left there wondering how her parents would have the courage to do that.