N O T E
If I am a wave then you’re the sea. If you’re a flower then I’m your bee.
I think a while ago Zaahid did really love me and he really meant what he said on that December night. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s gone now and every ‘I love you’ he has meant to say to me, feels like a lie. Those words lose their value if he keeps spitting them down the throat of every girl he meets. I feel like a fatality of his carnage of love promises; an absurd retribution of his own lifeless heart.
I smirk at the thought dishearteningly, shaking my head slightly. Somehow from the day I grew up I have been a Magnet of Bad Boys and addict of wrong things—a daughter of a Air Commodore (Ayaan Ahluwalia) for whom country came first, always; a sister of a boy scout (Raahat Ahluwalia) who was never there and a partner of an ex-boyband member (Zaahid Noori) who is still not clear with what he wants. My eyes meet his in the photograph placed inside an open cupboard, placed at an angle from me; I saunter over and wrap my hand around the cobalt blue photo frame.
The picture is of Taybah—Zaahid’s mum—Zaahid and I grinning for Delnaz’s camera for her Snapchat story on Mother’s day five years ago. I exhale loudly, my expressions uncertain. Why is it here? My subconscious sounds angry. Crap. She is angry. I open my mouth then close it and repeat the process twice, but I have been rendered speechless. I have, since my Ultimate Sing Off days, adored, admired and loved Taybah, but on that December night, I lost respect for her.
The Forbidden Awful December Night of irreplaceable memories and broken friendships was a nosedive into absolute failure. One moment I was urging Zaahid to surprise Penelope on the rooftop and the next he was kneeling down before me. Penelope, standing at the entrance of the rooftop, had trampled the roses and was breaking up with Zaahid calling him all sorts of names and in the midst of that chaos, there was Taybah, blaming me for the break-up and playing an ill-timed cupid with a poisoned arrow.
Now, Taybah comes over to Zaahid’s place for every anniversary celebration. The last three times she came over, Zaahid always called me an hour before her arrival and I was not left with much option but to join the celebration that was already going on in his living room—that was my boundary: living room.
I was supposed to come before her arrival, laugh with our friends, catch up with his family and leave after she left which would always be after an hour or so. There was no room for further interactions; no spending nights, no spending mornings. But, this time, the scenario had taken a different course. Zaahid had called me a night before her arrival and she was spending a month with us.
The Book of Proverbs says that ‘charm is deceitful and beauty is vain’ and my twenty six years of existence teach me that ‘love and contentment cannot go hand in hand.’ Any kind of love. I have come to recognize five—the love one feels for strangers, for friends, for family, for romantic interest and the kind that threatens to engulf and drown you. One love is not superior to another, each feels and hurts differently. Maybe in twenty years, my definitions and discriminative strategies for it would change but that is hard to believe, currently.
I wrapped myself in love when the loudest and brightest bolt of lighting struck my heart and tried to tear my war beaten heart. I will safely say that I have experienced all these kinds—some deeper than others—but there was one that hit me the hardest and left me crumpled under layers of blankets trying to hide from the cold darkness left behind by this one man. One man is all it takes to lose faith in love.
Love for strangers struck me the moment Venus whisked into my life on the barren streets of Newcastle. It overwhelmed me at my first theatre show, admiring the vivacity of a man acting on stage whilst doing something he loves. This current keeps the sanity in our society alive. The love for friends fuels everything I do for them regardless of 3000 miles distance or of a hallway. I felt this love when my best friend, Gia Spencer, was lying on the couch with tears streaming down her face because she caught Jeremy with another girl. I was enveloped by this love everytime Zaahid and I were behind the Overlooking the Stars Tan Couch; everytime Harry would take me to his favourite bakery in Swettenham because sometimes my tears only costed a ten Euro Chocolate Truffle cake. This eternal love strengthens when everyone gets back in town from their countless places and we all gather together to celebrate to just being together in person again.
The precious love for family seeped into the cracks of the walls of our house everytime my father would confess about his next posting, of his new missions. It broke my mothers’ heart when Raahat mentioned his wish to join the Air Force. It warmed me on nights when Raahat would let me sleep in his bed when the house was empty and especially when the two of us—behind our parents back—would order in food after collecting change from around the house and it shattered me the day he left—this boy I had just started to admire and look up to—and never came back.
The fleeting love of romance knocked on my door over dinner of our third anniversary by candle light. That was the moment when I realised that I loved Zaahid. Romance is not linear, it’s a complex trade off between forever and rational sense. You choose a complex algorithm and the models predictability power reduces. This love twirls its fingers in your collar and pulls you in—like an ocean. This love walked with me when Zaahid and I hiked up a mountain and watched the sunrise in the cold summer morning. I felt this love when he held me as I cried when the pain within me was too loud to quieten.
The love that threatens to engulf me and drown me is what I experienced for one and a half years. I can’t put this feeling into words. It exists with the person—Zaahid—who you can love as though you are friends, family and a whirl of romance. It had engulfed me in its ferociously wonderful waves. I felt it in our pillow talks when he wanted me to make a list of important things of one—me. I felt it when I threw a pillow at him and screamed at him to leave on Dark Nights #9958 (give or take) After USO, but he stayed anyways because he knew. I sensed it when I held him in my arms when his father was in the hospital. Hyper Hormonal Teenagers and Amateur Love Gurus Who’d Really Benefit If They Did Their Algebra Homework Right on Tumblr suggest that this is True Love. No love is more important, but this love. They sign off their “prescriptions” with “Don’t let this love go because this love will never let you down.”
In Zaahid’s Penelope Dating Days, four years back, some transitory moments would make me stop and think late in night and wonder (overthink) if I had mistakenly fallen in love with him or if he was falling in love with me. When that thought would cloud sagacity, I had to remind myself that he was in love with her and I was too stubborn to fall in love. Yet today his sleepy voice, lazy smiles and messy hair silently question, “How did we never fall in love?” Oh how we could have been. I close my eyes as an incomplete desire unfolds throughout my body.
After our third anniversary celebrations, when it was time to leave, I felt like I was abandoning a shadow of myself at his place, as if I existed in a Looping World of alternative and infinite universes where Zaahid and I could coexist and not cause an explosion. With one foot in the car, I realized that that shadow held my glee, my heart and the one person I fiercely loved.
Today, the candles on our third anniversary cake dissolves before me into a black and white themed room, the dining table is taking the form of a rosewood cabinet and the smile I had on my face after we had cut the cake, seems to have been saved in a snapshot that now hangs in a photo frame on the off-white grey walls. All my efforts to resist the flashbacks fall apart the moment I see the four sketches hanging in a row on the black wall.
“Zaahid, I’m tired, how much more time?” I whined, stomping my foot and tilting my head back.
“Why did you move?” his tone changes, becomes accusatory.
“I have been sitting on this stool for two hours! I am tired.” I whisper, ashamed, and shrug apologetically.
“Maira give me five more minutes and I’ll be done with this,” he says, his voice emphatic as he resumes moving his hands around with charcoals and white chalks, on the black sheets.
“Remind me to never again agree with being your afflatus.”I mutter and he looks up at me. He does not take his eyes off me. I am the first to crack, breaking eye contact, and picking up the glass of water kept on the side table and taking a large gulp. I barely taste it.
“What the f-” he says quietly.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, suddenly feeling stupid.
“Why don’t you let Penelope be your model for sketching, she’s ever ready you know?” I cock my head to the side, straining my neck so as to look over the stand that held the sheet of paper.
“With you, I can add a “desi” touch to my drawings,” he narrows his eyes, probably concentrating at a detail, as he utters.
“Liar! You don’t let her because you can’t boss over her.” I use all my strength to stifle a grin, biting my lips, and trying to look confident. Zaahid looks up at me from the paper, glaring. He brings his instasey finger to his lips and says, “shh...I prefer to work in silence.”
“Admit it, I know you way to well, Cream.” I chuckle, raising my eyebrow and cocking my head to the sides. Intelligently I pick his name from the only dessert we both could remake—Peaches ‘n’ Cream
“Another word from you and I won’t let Mrs Khan cook dinner for you, while I would be enjoying a hearty meal with Penelope. I heard Mrs Khan was planning on making pizzas.” His tone is placating as if he’s talking to a child. His gaze is distant, probably imagining the dinner with his fiancé, then he warns me, playfully of course. I sigh in agreement, blinking up at him.
Mrs. Daria Khan, the housekeeper, cook and caretaker of Zaahid supported him through out his struggle period in London. She was there when I first stepped foot in the house and she was there at our first anniversary celebration. I haven’t seen her since. Now, looking at the four ébauche’s he made of me in the two years of friendship we had, I understand what he meant by adding a “desi” touch to his drawings.
The first esquisse was when I had “unfortunately” agreed on being his muse. It was my first month in London after USO. I had returned from a business meeting and was sat on the living room couch, sipping on chai and writing the minutes of the meeting when Zaahid had strolled by with a heavy looking box of papers, charts, clips, various sizes of paint bottles and a very messy palette and dirty brushes.
“If I am not interrupting something, can you lend me a hand?” He had asked, instead of walking past and ignoring the discomfort of Unlucky Fate of a Really Popular Handsome Boy Who Goes to Tour in Five Days for bringing us together.
“It’s the least I can do!” I had chirped, referring to carrying the box and to Being Grateful for Giving Me a Place to Stay in London after Awful AWFUL USO Finale Night (later on that!)
What I didn’t calculate was that he wanted me to model and not play Esteban Ramirez from Suite life of Zack and Cody. Hence I was sat on the stool of his Only VIP Access Art Room which was dimly lit by a chandelier, with my eyes downcast as Zaahid drew. Later when I saw the design, he had added a “bindi” on my forehead.
The next sketch happened after he briefly returned after completing Northern Hemisphere tour dates and was supposed to accompany the band for the Southern Hemisphere tour dates. He had a flight to catch at eleven. Eight merry months had passed and a haze of friendship loomed over us which definitely included giving each other cliché nicknames. Zaahid turned out to be a listener, unshakable support, music inspiration, good friend who always carried me to bed if I slept on couches while watching movies and the Innovator of World’s Best Hot Chocolate. That morning—at five—his inspiration had struck and I was deported from my warm bed to The Stool. He had brushed my bed hair with his hands—roughly, might I add—and tilted my head here and there, lifting my chin up and down until he got the “angle” he was looking for as light dawn rays fell on us.
My heart jumps to my mouth as I observe that Zaahid has added those huge, heavy, big-fat-Indian-wedding danglers to my ears whilst capturing a side pose of my face with my hair dancing with the wind.
The third croquis was made after a well established friendship (full of hair pulling, food fighting, clumsy kitchen mess making and binging on Game of Thrones) of a year and a half which supposedly had won over Jealous Girlfriend and had made us all a content pack of three. Somehow Jealous Girlfriend and Future X (still trying to define X) hung out together. But remember the thing about Romance and Contentment, both are temporary? Zaahid and I witnessed it the moment he nonchalantly blurted out before Penelope that he wanted to sketch one of those Kendall Jenner poses he saw in a Vogue Magazine with me. Not her. Nope.
Penelope was dead furious, as any girlfriend or fiancé for that matter would be, and she immediately stood up, glared at Zaahid, and left, pushing me off to the side of the door and spilling the dish I had volunteered to carry to his room made by Mrs Khan, in her flustered state. I am pretty sure she hadn’t even noticed me standing at the door. Zaahid being Relentless Zaahid still drew the sketch two days later with a very tired, angry model—moi—despite of Jealous Girlfriend. The moment of revelation showed that he had added a nose-ring to the sketch. I was more than happy with the drawing but at that point I had to push him out of the room with a rose to say sorry to Penelope.
Zaahid has a really untimely flash of motivation. It can happen anytime, anywhere, with anyone. I know this sounds like a prude NSFW tumblr ban, but its worse. The last ébauche was drawn while I was in the middle of lunch—stuffing my mouth with paneer tandoori and butter naans. At that moment Heart Throb had imagined me as one of those actress of Kal Ho Na Ho and for the very first time had drawn in the living room. I was twitchy whilst he sketched—always whining or sipping onto water just to irritate him. This was also the sketch when he warned me not to speak if I wanted to finish my meal and food always did the trick for me. Zaahid drew me like a bride—grinning and radiant with a “maang-tika” decorating my forehead, right above my eyebrows and my hair styled like one done by professional hair-stylists.
Sniffing on dry tears I pull off my gaze from the black wall. Why hasn’t he rearranged the room? My subconscious catechises and I have no answer to that. I look around nervously, afraid that I might recognise something and I would have to face the turmoil afterwards. But alas, there wasn’t a thing in the room that didn’t bring back memories.
I realize I have unknowingly walked into my “own” bedroom—the one Zaahid gave me when I first moved in. The picture on the off-white grey wall was of Zaahid and I having the time of our lives at the Christmas Party at Harry’s place. It was captured by Harry himself. Harry had caught me bending low, clasping my hands, laughing like a clown while Zaahid had a wide grin plastered on his face, looking at me from under his eyelashes, placing his hands on his knees probably over some stupid joke he cracked.
“I absolutely abhor fake candids so you both might as well pay attention!” Harry instructs whilst fiddling with the camera settings. After a successful fourth world tour, the band is home for holidays. The air smells of cinnamon spice and plum cakes. Taybah and Annie are roasting the spiced beef in Harry’s backyard. Gia discovered holly shaped paper cutters at the store yesterday, so the entire house today looks attacked by crepe paper.
“Oh yeah? I’m definitely giving Kendall Jenner a run for her money with a mouthful of pudding.” The skepticism in my voice cannot be missed.
Zaahid snorts on his mulled wine glass. Harry looks between us wanting to know the reference but then decides against it. Somewhere in the backyard Annie is hollering to come taste her cranberry sauce as Harry is trying to capture a picture. He clicks a generous amount.
“Zaahid look at the camera!” I hiss at Zaahid wanting a decent picture and not where we are laughing at inside jokes but he’s in the middle of cracking an old joke which gets me everytime because the way he animates it is funnier than the joke.
The next day, two copies of our moment was posted to Zaahid’s address. Today, the picture hangs in my room and in Zaahid’s as well.
Getting up from the bed and pushing open a window, I take a deep purifying breath. I hug myself, rocking my body back and forth; all my fury is gone, but never forgotten. Some people will only drown you in misery than bring you any good. My subconscious hangs the truth like an albatross around my neck—a painful reminder of MY loss, the friendship, family and everything in between. I am really not a girl to fall in love with, for I offer abundance in everything—time, effort, love and nurture. I can’t stand uncertainty or temporary fixes, and love is both.
I always question: Is it possible to love someone too much? For my love washed over his drought filled heart at a time when I had built my home in the wrong person. He had turned into a cold hearted man I didn’t recognize and a fragment of my soul was gone forever. We had so much left unsaid between us but we were at a point that saying it wouldn’t have made any difference at all. The day he drove me off taught me that just like a bee can drown in honey, the ones we have come to love can be poison to our soul.
For days I wished he’d call, or text or just take me back as if I was a part of him that was too precious to lose. I wished I’d cross his mind when he’d see my favourite book (A Thousand Splendid Sons) or turn when he’d hear my voice on the radio or miss a beat when he’d be asked about me, but the memories never followed him around. Our loving-each-other-till-the-end ended on a rooftop. Our half hearted drift left a heart full of memories and in them he is always mine and I am his. I close my eyes, mortified, but at the same time beyond tickled pink. MAIRA! My subconscious snarls at me. Urghh...I groan, hiding my face with a pillow. This is becoming unbearable.
“Yeah, I got issues, and one of them is how bad I need you.” USO finale is like an itchy scab that you can’t ignore. Unwelcome bitter flavours invite themselves for tea. I throw myself on the bed and my subconscious gives me a two fingered salute, takes out her umbrella and decides to go on a walk. No wonder people can’t tolerate me. Somehow after all this time, I haven’t made peace with my days and I still whine about how ‘this life is overrated.’
That day I had walked around the stage, taking careful, staccato steps when the lead dancer of my troupe, Daniel I think, had come on stage. The lights had brightened and dimmed rhythmically. The spot lights had followed our mixture of high paced jazz and slow hip hop dance routine. “Bask in the glory of all our problems, because we got the kind of love it takes to solve ’em.” As rehearsed, we did it all—the pirouettes, the lifts and the trust fall. He had held my wrist as we separated to only pull me in for his So You Think You Can Dance worthy performance (of sexy hip rolls and low dips and twists I can never do again) with me and I had blanched, glancing nervously around. “And got hands like an ocean, push you out, pull you back in.”
Mr. Can Dance had been so proud of me during the entire performance which was after a week of sweat, wrong cartwheels, uncomfortable splits and dread filled evenings. The microphone was broken, the monitor was missing and I had a serious case of anxiety building like an unstoppable snowball in the pit of my stomach. In the center of the stage I had fallen to my knees praying for closed doors and open windows—anything that could set me free. On the last line, I had tilted my head backwards, the harsh yellow spot light blinded me momentarily, and then I missed a lyric and then a note. And there goes the celebration, my subconscious had whispered.
So, I had sat there, hyperventilating and questioning my life choices. The thing in my chest had wanted to flip out and explode and if there was something left, my panic, my fear, my terror stricken body, didn’t back off from feeding on it.
A rumble breaks my thought bubble and pushes me into my present reality of laying on a massive bed with a laptop in standby mode. In the moment that passes wherein I mull over losing four years of someone’s life over a throwaway comment, I realize it’s my stomach. I move out of bed with an intention to feed my famished self but my eyes have found the snowy white study table, the ivory black floor lamp beside it and a grey ceramic pan (filled with freshly picked jasmines) decorated on a side table, seated below the angled window. What? He remembers! My subconscious stares open-mouthed, astonished and mesmerised.
I take guarded baby steps towards the table. The traditional mandala cover notebook is the first to catch my eye; I used to write in is still splayed open—like the way I left it that Nasty December Night #1. The glass of water I had pushed to the ground is still lying on the carpeted rug. The books I had pushed to the edge of the desk are still here. The photo-frame I had smashed to the ground is still lying near my feet. The drawers I had haphazardly opened are still half open. What the f—? My subconscious’ voice is quiet as she gazes at me impassively.
I take a step back and a Polaroid falls on my feet. To my consternation I can’t even put this into words. Words fail me. Why hasn’t he changed the room? What is he thinking? I throw out my hand to touch something, anything that’ll reassure me that all of this is a really bad dream. A single click flickers multicolour faerie lights wrapped around the ivory lamp like a poorly wrapped Christmas present. My favourite Polaroids from a time long gone hang on the lights. There’s zilch trace of dust or cobweb on the lamp or perhaps in the entire room. How? I can’t even imagine that Zaahid regularly visits this room.
I pick up the fallen Polaroid and before my very eyes, I can see a ghost of him and I standing in his cozy French styled kitchen. He has just walked in and is removing his bomber jacket. “Asalaam Walaikum,” he murmurs as he sets down his jacket on the counter. “What is my monster doing?” he says with an unflappable sincerity.
“Walaikum asalaam,” I say, then clearing my throat I retort, “Easy Peazy. Destroying!” I fake a growl with bright eyes and happy spirits. He walks over to me and playfully whacks the back of my head and then continues to eat the poached peaches.
“By the looks of it babe,” he looks around the messy kitchen, “you’ve already done that!” He laughs his infectious laugh. I feign fury with raised eyebrows and all but his laugh rubs off and I throw a blob of freshly whipped cream at him.
It misses him by a mile. He tastes the peachy concentrate from the canned packs, and then moves to find his own favourite mason jar to build the dessert in. He asks if I’ve seen his and I lift my chin in the direction of the sink. He puts his hands inside his jeans pockets after a moment of peach-silceable silence. “I’m sorry,” I say, giving him a toothed smile. Zaahid looks alarmed, shocked even. He shakes his head while throwing the broken jar into the bin.
“It’s alright, it was just a jar,” he tries to wave my lack of culinary skills off. “I’ll get another one,” he sighs and then rubs a hand on his nape. He notices the skid marks of whipped cream on the kitchen floors and the fallen fruit basket and does the easy math there.
“Did you hurt yourself?” he asks.
“I feel I have done a week’s worth of leg day workout without even going to the gym.” I say, giving him my decked up glass of Peaches and Cream. He smiles so big that I know whatever happens next for us will be worth it. Have I ever felt this comfortable in his company before? I don’t know. But what I did know was something was changing. Something big.
The laughter of that day echoes into today. I can almost taste the Peaches and Cream and smell the gulab jamuns and ice cream combos we innovated on Eid that same year, today. The ghosts of us in the present day share the same unmade beds like love and loss. Sabira (Zaahid’s youngest sibling) had clicked the Polaroid in my hand on Eid. As if on cue, my stomach roars and finally I leave the room.
An adequate diet looks like a luxury I still can’t afford. With a tight schedule and WAY too many commitmentsto complete, I often skip meals which is usually breakfast and if I’m in the middle of something then its lunch too. I may be exaggerating, but only slightly. Yesterday I had all plans for a hearty dinner—after my show at Wembley I would order in an authentic dish of Dal Tadka and Bhindi with stuffed paranthas and a large bowl of mixed raita accompanied with Lemon and carrot pickles from the restaurant, Taste of Nawab, but then one more song turned to two and by eleven thirty when I stepped on my driveway, Zaahid called. All plans evaporated in the air.
I had ignored the ring in my back pocket until I fished out my house keys and entered the house. Zaahid being Persistent Zaahid kept calling until I put my bag on the couch, hung my overcoat and had answered. “Hello?” he said. My regret had been immediate. No waiting for a few minutes to realize the impact of his words—his voice—that can bring back memories and feelings and that I am capable of doing the unthinkable task of possibly liking him again. Nope. On the spot and all-consuming. “I’m sending a car, you need to be home,” he had said with an edgy urgency.
I had thought the worst possibility the moment I saw his name flashing. Biting the insides of my cheek I had prayed for it to not come true, but God and I have never been on the same side. I had walked to the fridge and poured a glass of water but it wasn’t cold enough to quench the angst Zaahid had bubbled. I added in ice and had spoken with a personal detachment, “What? I—I am at my place.”
“Not your place, MY place!” he had snapped, irritated by my answer and I had barely spoken. Tolerating none of his tactics I had calmly pulled out a kitchen chair and sat there and hoped that the worst wouldn’t come true.
“Why?” I had sighed. “Is your mum coming or wh—” The ludicrous joke had died on my lips.
“Ahaan...you have the keys?” He had stated matter-of-factly. I had spurt out the water. I stood up so harshly that the chair fell.
“I do,” I had said. “But—Zaahid,” I had protested running out to the living room with my heels clicking annoyingly on the wooden floor.
“Zaahid I have meetings and early morning shoots and this is not the right time.” I had explained referring to how not comfortable I was with this idea. I had always been ushered in an hour before her. What is going on? My subconscious had run a hand through her hair. Then realisation hit me that Halloween was approaching.
“I kno—” he had begun but then he took a long pause. I heard the jingles of charm bracelets, clonks of heels against the carpeted studio, giggles and whispers. “Ummm...listen. I’ll talk to you later I’m a bit busy right now?” he had abruptly said like he wasn’t sure himself. “Oh! And I won’t be able to make it to dinner. Help yourself.” he had quickly added in.
“You mean I’ll have to make my own dinner?” I had bluntly asked him replaying our conversations where I had confessed about my culinary skills—boiling water and spreading butter on the bread and wondered how much damage had the years done to us.
“That’s exactly what I mean. Bye,” he had said hurriedly as if whatever was waiting for him after the call was too prized to not attend to and then he cut the line. Just like that.
Fuming I had pulled out my suitcase just when Taybah had dropped in a text expressing how happy she was to spend this time with us and how she has selected a dress to wear as ‘our’ date for the American Music Awards event. I had literally dropped my phone from shock. Until the AMA’s…hell no! They are scheduled for next month! Holy Moly. My subconscious had fainted and so had I.
With a packed suitcase I had entered his house at one in night. I made a dash for the fridge hoping to find a meal but all I found was fresh fruits and tons of cereals and a large stock of gummy bears. The food delivery apps had closed down and I was too tired to make an effort. I picked up a banana and dozed off after a long day at work.
Today I have to hold my stomach for it to not growl. I am hoping for Zaahid to cook or some miracle magic potion to drop in my hands which can cook itself. I have no idea why he fired Mrs Khan, or if he hasn’t, where is she? I am really expectant of that Shaka Laka Boom Boom pencil to show up at my doorstep any day now.
Learn to let go. It’s scary as hell but not cutting the ropes that hold you to a place you’re unsure you want to be at, is toxic.
“Never knew loving could hurt this good, oh, and it drives me wild. Cause when you look like that I’ve never ever wanted to be so bad, oh it drives me wild. You’re driving me wild, wild, wild. You make my heart shake, bend and break and I can’t turn away.” Song: wild by Troye Sivan.
Please drop me a comment or a vote if you think this deserves it and give me a chance to improve. All the love as always Mahak xx