Her sister is still trying on perfumes in the duty-free shop. From the empty row where the girl sits, she can see her progressing through the stands, the same performance for each scent: she pulls up the sleeve of the new kurti to squirt her wrist, breathes in the smell, then cleans it off with a face wipe from one of the packs that she has collected from the cheerful vacant pair handing out promotional samples by the Sunglass Hut.
The girl looks up at one of the muted television screens. Subtitles roll across the bottom of a breakfast programme, but she does not read them. Her father wanted to get here this early. He is sitting with her mother over by the window that looks out on the ramp, reading his magazine, and he will remain in this position, she knows, for the next two hours.
Her sister is speaking to one of the sales assistants. She is showing something to the woman that at first appears to be one of the perfume bottles, until it becomes evident that it is in fact the new kurti. In the bright shop lighting the embroidery twitches like a restless aquarium fish. Her sister has been going on about this trip for the whole of spring term. ‘Going home’ is what she has been calling it to her friends. Even though she was not born there. She is going to watch only Lollywood movies, she says, all the way to Lahore. The girl does not know what she will do herself on the flight. Sleep, perhaps. Avoid Lollywood movies. Try not to think about the cousin’s wedding.
The wedding begins in a couple of days, in the gardens of some grand hotel. Four days of celebrations. Four hundred guests. A rumoured elephant. Her sister has been asked to hold the scarf above the cousin’s head at the Mehndi. She has been practising her posture in her bedroom, with their mother, in the new dresses that their father bought for them at Emerald Silks Boutique.
The girl has tried on her own Mehndi dress once, alone, in her room. Fishtail. Maroon. She will sweat in it, she is certain. The forecast on the internet says thirty-four degrees. When they came into the departure lounge and her sister and her parents went to occupy themselves, she had gone back to the face wipe pair to get a couple of packs, and quickly stashed them in the bottom of her bag. Thirty-four degrees is nothing, according to her sister. She has been there in the heat of summer. The monsoons. When she was little she and the cousin once got lost during a dust storm and almost fell into a river.
Her sister has gone into a coffee shop. The girl thinks for a moment about going to join her, but decides against it and instead gets up and walks over to the window.
She watches the baggage handlers at work under the belly of the nearest plane, pointing, calling, laughing. Further out on the tarmac, she recognises by the airline logo the plane that will be their own. A dark blue van is moving slowly towards it. It arcs round to the back of the plane and stops beside the rear staircase. A woman and two men in blue uniforms get out and then, from the far side of the van, a figure in a dark hijab becomes visible. From the unspeaking, attentive way in which the three guards begin to escort her to the steps the girl takes her to be somebody important, or the wife of somebody important. But then it appears that she may be boarding early as she is unwell – because the female guard darts to take her arm, one of the men the other arm, and they support her onto the steps. Gingerly, they move up them, one by one. The third guard follows behind, watchful. They are about halfway up when the woman in the hijab stops. She looks downwards at the tarmac for a few seconds, then wheels around, catching the female guard by surprise and unbalancing her. There is a struggle. The third guard moves forward – but the other two have her securely, grasping high up her arms, under her armpits, and they haul her upwards, step by step.
At the top, the woman turns her head towards the terminal. Her face is partly discernible through the hijab. She looks, even at this distance, younger than the girl had thought. She seems to be shouting, but there is no sound, only the departure lounge’s low hum of people and instrumental music.
Ross Raisin is the author of two novels: God's Own Country and Waterline. In 2013 he was named one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists, and is presently at work on a new novel, set in the world of lower league English football.