“You have been keeping me alive”, I whispered ,slowly looking away towards the window, “You see the sun? Is it brighter today? I can’t seem to escape its light”
“I can close the curtains”, something about her tone told me she didn’t want to.
“I am fond of light...on some days”
“There’s breakfast on the table. I made eggs today. I like to have eggs on weekends. Just a ritual that I stick to. Do you still hate eggs?”, Noor looked at me for a few seconds, as if finding something in my eyes that she had lost. Little did she know that though, things lost could be found, things buried could not be revived.
“I guess I will have eggs”, I smiled and walked towards the dining table.
“Zeba”, hearing my name in her voice was a sensation on its own. It was a sensation that I had forgotten all about. I had forgotten how rare this occasion had always been. Noor only called me by my name when she wanted to share a dark secret with me or when she wanted to coax me into telling her one.
“Did you have breakfast already?”, I turned around and asked her before I could start eating it.
“Yes. But I will have chai with you”, she brought tea in a neat white tea kettle with pink hand painted flowers on it and similar tea cups. The flowers on the tea cups were less rounded and had longer leaves. I wondered if this was a deliberate contradiction created by the artist or a forgivable mistake.
The tea. As soon as I had my first sip of that tea, I knew that Noor had prepared it. She had prepared it with the same hands that had been making tea for so long now that they smelt of it. Not exactly in the ugly manner but more in a nostalgic way. Her hands carried the same stories that all those tea cups carried. I can’t imagine how she slept with those stories so close to her, always attached to her.
“Do you like the egg? I think I might have added more salt mistakenly”
“I like salt. It’s better than pepper at least”, I laughed.
“Your taste bothers me some times”
“Does it though?”, I teased her.
“No. How’s ammi?”, she finally mustered the courage to ask the question that had led to our meeting.
“Not the same. Her hair are lighter now. She also forgets things easily now. She still deep cleans the house every sunday but she doesn’t scold any one for bringing the shoes in the lounge any more. She probably doesn’t care any more, that’s what Arman says. I think she can’t scold anymore. She wants to but she just doesn’t have the energy. Her throat hurts when she raises her voice.”
“Does she still have the plants?”, Noor had never been fond of the plants so it shocked me when she asked this question.
“She does. After her fajr prayer, she waters them and then, watch them until sunrise”
“You are staying till late, right?”
“Don’t worry, I will leave in an hour. I was here for grocery shopping so I thought I would visit you”, my answer was so unsatisfactory that even I wouldn’t believe it. I don’t know why I went to her house that day. I had known her address for almost five years then and I had visited that street every sunday in those five years. It was something about that day that dragged my feet to her house.
“You can stay if you like”, she offered.
“I have to go for lunch with some office friends”, I shrugged.
“Do you want to see the flat?”
It wasn’t a considerably large house. It wasn’t too small either. Noor’s bedroom was spacious. She had old fashioned, vintage furniture in her room. I knew that she had selected each piece of furniture very carefully. Everything in that room reminded me of our childhood house. My and Noor’s room looked quite similar to this room back then. Alaya’s room was completely different. It was modern but small. It had strawberries painted all over the walls and her furniture was white in colour. I liked the kitchen the most. It felt like the kind of place one would gravitate towards. The place that offered comfort. It wasn’t designed in the best way. Some cabinet doors were also broken but they just served as a reminder that they had been there for long. They had been used and had fulfilled their purpose many times already.
“I have something to give you”, I realised that it was time that I did what I was obliged to.
“I don’t want it”, she immediately responded.
“I know you don’t. Burn it if you want but take it from me. I haven’t slept peacefully in years. I want to be free”, I didn’t know how but I had started crying at this point.
“Why is your freedom so expensive, Zeba?”, her habit of searching for answers in my eyes was still alive and it made me look away.
“Because I pay for it myself”, I declared and handed over the envelope to her that had been yearning to reach its destination for years now and I rushed out of her house.
It was that day when I knew that I was never setting foot in that house again.