There is a new Thai restaurant in town called “Mango Tree,” and I tried it for the first time on Friday night. I didn’t go there though: I invited a few of my closest friends over and had the food delivered so we could sit in a cozy room, spread the feast out over a long table, fill our plates, loaf around on the sofas, and catch up. Delivery is called “takeaway” here, not take-out, one of those sneaky remnants of British culture that linger in Pakistan like driving on the left side of the road and the popularity of teatime.
We had satay and green papaya salad and tamarind red snapper and curries and noodles. We had chocolate cake for dessert and I steeped a pot of hibiscus tea from Vietnam, the tight buds turning into loose, floating flowers in the hot water. There is only one other Thai restaurant in town, and it is at the Marriott, which has good food but lost its atmosphere after the bombing in 2008. We exclaimed over the peanut sauce, decided we ordered way too much, and pronounced Mango Tree a success.
There was one thing we keep saying as we ate: how long it had been since we had seen each other. Obaid, still a newlywed; Umayr, gone to Canada for a few months; Fahim and Natalya busy with work and salsa dancing lessons and the million other things to do in this small, supposedly sleepy town. If you don’t do it, plan it, make the time, these nights don’t happen. You become engrossed in work, flop on the couch afterwards, get lost in the routine, skip the important things.
A friend who used to live in Islamabad asked me recently what three things I would do right now if I knew I was leaving Pakistan soon. One of the things on the list was to spend more time with this particular group of friends, this special group of people who make this country feel like home, who tell me the truth, who I trust absolutely.
When I do leave here, I want to take these times with me. I will remember nights in like this one, taking the back gate into the French Club, our bumpy drive to the highest plains in the world, a brilliant thunderstorming night high on a hill in Nathiagali, lounging on red cushions on my terrace.
After my friends left, I packed up the leftovers, put them in the fridge, making a little stack of perfect boxes you could take on a picnic, on a drive, up a mountain, to a party. I always want to take things with me, but that is so seldom possible. You can only call your friends over, ring up for some food, spend the night laughing, and eat as much as you can.