Farah loved Anwar. He looked like a typical uncle. He was fat-bellied with lots of hair and gruffed nonsense every time he would see a familiar politician’s face on television. Farah’s mother, Shameem, disapproved of him and complained constantly about the fact that he lived inside the house with the family and slept in Farah’s bed.
“If you touch that dog, you have to wash your hands seven times, he is not sunnat,” Shameem cried when Anwar sat next to her at the dining table. He paid no attention to the woman’s frantic attempts to scare him away. Her cooking was good and didn’t cause too much diarrhea when he ate it. Also, she smelled like menses and he felt that she could use the extra company.
“I guess I’ll live in the shower,” Farah laughed. Anwar took a seat next to her and graciously accepted the curried plate of table scraps.
Farah also had two cats, Sonya and Maryam, who were named after her arch-nemesis Sonya Qari at the office and Maryam, the Arabic named for Jesus’s wife. Farah decided that the entire world knew that Maryam was Jesus’s wife but it would be too scandalous to admit that babies came from sperm of divine leaders. She did not share her findings with her mother, who was profoundly religious and prayed even if Anwar’s dog hair was all over her mat. Sonya was manipulatively playful, and kept to herself unless she wanted brief attention from a human or to swipe claws across Anwar’s face. Maryam was hardly ever to be seen and mysteriously bore kittens one afternoon when the women were at work.
Shameem didn’t mind the cats. “The cats are sunnat,” she said, taking a heap of them into her lap and cooing as they showered her with sandy licks from their tongues and brushes from tails close to their anuses. “Muhammad our Prophet loved cats.”
Anwar’s name was also Farah’s father’s name. Her father disappeared when she was young, leaving Shameem desperate and trying to raise a young daughter alone as a single woman with no education. Shameem had never worked in an office before Anwar disappeared. But since they moved to the States, and she was thousands of miles away from family, Shameem had no choice but to try. She was served with divorce papers several weeks later after he disappeared. Anwar agreed she could keep Farah if he did not have to pay any child support. The judge approved and the women never heard from Anwar again.
Anwar, the dog, was laying on the side street panting feverishly when Farah found him on her way from school at age 12. Farah, who was unaware of risks like rabies, hugged him until he agreed to walk home with her. Shameem came home later that night to a dog and her daughter on the couch watching Animaniacs.
“Ma,” Farah said. “Can we keep him please?”
“Dogs are not sunnat, he has to go,” Shameem ordered the dog off of the couch. He did so obligingly, but whimpered as he trotted to the door.
“Don’t kick him out,” Farah begged her mother. “I found him, he wants to stay, he’s not like Baba.” The child’s words stung Shameem.
Farah named the dog Anwar. Shameem was unsure if the child remembered her father’s name, or if it was purely coincidental. God’s doing, Shameem decided. “It’s a good name, no need to let it go to waste,” Shameem would say years later as she helped the big pile of St. Bernard into the bathtub for a wash. “But he is not sunnat.”
Anwar was now twelve years old and Farah had just turned 19. Shameem decided to celebrate both her daughter’s birthday and the remarkable achievement of her single mother status. These things were unheard of Pakistan.
Anwar clobbered towards Shameem as she cut into a white cake, revealing a chocolate interior with fudge layers. He rested against her kurta, a dirtied green cotton piece Shameem changed into almost every day after work. His slobber soaked into the fabric. She desperately tried to push him away.
“Chodo,” she said, turning his snout with her fingers smeared in frosting.
He did not move.
“Anwar, let go,” Shameem shrieked. The plate of cake nearly flipped as she used both of her hands to push him off of her lap. Anwar stumbled backwards and fell sideways with a loud crash.
“Ma, what’s wrong with him?” Farah said as she rushed to the floor. Anwar’s eyes were glassy and his jaw locked in a semi-open posture. He was not panting. “Ma, he’s dead!”
Shameem pushed her chair, dropping the cake knife.
Sonya and Maryam watched from the other room as the two women doted over the dead dog. It was the second time they’d see a man leave their house.