Excerpt from Geckos & Guns – Norma’s Cushion Story

In my latest memoir, Geckos & Guns: The Pakistan Years, I have included stories told to me by some of my expat friends. Day to day life in Pakistan was full of unique, hilarious and, at times shocking experiences. Here is one from my good friend Norma.

When we moved to Islamabad, the house the embassy assigned us was sparsely furnished. With our housing allowance, we selected some pieces of elegant, hand-crafted rosewood furniture and hired a tailor to make the curtains and drapes. Every day he would sit on the floor for hours with an old hand-operated Singer sewing machine, turning out beautiful window coverings. When he was nearing the completion of his work, he asked what I would like him to do with the leftover material. I suggested that he make some cushions for the sofas and chairs.

It was then that I got my introduction to giardia, one of Pakistan’s most dreaded parasites. For the next few days, I remained in bed, hovering between fear that I was dying and hope that I would. At one point, my husband came into the bedroom and asked, “How many cushions did you want the tailor to make?” I was close to delirious, shivering from chills, and sweating with fever all at once. “I don’t care, a few.” I answered. “How about 49?” he asked.

When I’d recovered enough to venture downstairs, I saw what my husband was trying to tell me. The tailor had made exactly 49 cushions using every scrap of leftover material. There were round ones about the size of a side plate, rectangular pillows the size of a loaf of bread, square ones that might cover a child’s stool, and many triangular-shaped cushions with a base of 20 inches and a height of five inches. Only three or four of them could be used as actual sofa cushions.

My first thought was, “What are we going to do with all these useless things?” But we found a way to use them. In years to come, we regaled guests with our cushion story” and then presented them with one.