N O T E
And her heart was the best part; it would calm the storm for those who were afraid of a little rain.
Zaahid has laid out a variety of fresh fruits on the table. He is filling his second glass of canned juice. He’s here with me, in sight, but forever out of reach. Picking up fruits, he’s smelling them as if he can’t decide if he wants the raspberries in his fruit bowl or not, if the peach would be a bitter mockery of Maira, if the orange is sour. A decision maker is certainly something he is not; or perhaps he is and he just decided to not choose me. Yes, that makes sense.
For three years after USO I nurtured the absurd thought of ‘there is not one reason to be alive,’ ‘something was wrong with who I was,’ ‘I was too much and too ugly’ and ‘that the world would be a better place without me.’ Zaahid made things worse on the Forbidden December Night #1 and I had pledged that I didn’t deserve to be here—I lost everything, had a fall out with Venus, with Penelope AND Zaahid. I felt I would be doing the world a favour by disappearing for Friendship and Family couldn’t hold hands and walk through Maira’s existence. It couldn’t get worse. I attempted suicide twice the year after I got married. I still can’t believe how I was capable of something so unforgiving.
By that time Harry had started to fill in the void Raahat left behind. There had been no news about him. Was he alive, was he dead, we didn’t know. My father’s intelligence team had refused to provide information lest Raahat was on a secret mission or something. Annie, in Swettenham, found me after my second attempt and we haven’t talked about it ever since—it’s our little secret. She reminds me everyday, “You’re enough and you matter.”
The day of her Divorce Party (a celebration she envisioned to use her voice and speak about her truth) she gathered Gia, Harry and me in her kitchen and almost made us believe that we are allowed to be immense, unapologetic, loud and uneasily defined. She had hugged me the tightest because seven months prior there was supposed to be no tomorrow for me. The years, Annie and Harry taught me that pain is necessary for growth, the heartbreaking loss of friendship and love help in making space for the most wonderful people and what looks like a curse might be a—must be a—blessing in disguise. Monthly, Annie sends me the best collection of fortune cookie fortunes, each emphasizing: whatever you’re battling with will pass; you will make it out to the side other. You made it this far and you will make through whatever comes next.
Now, three years later, sitting on a kitchen stool across from the love of my life and always healing I will tell you that the bitterness and despair I once felt didn’t matter when I stood under a single spotlight in a stadium full of people, it didn’t matter on clear mornings and nights when I shared stages with celebrated people—those who I’d looked up to growing up and sang along with, it didn’t matter when I sipped on tea with Zaahid under the warm glow of the sun and it doesn’t matter as my King-of Hearts whisks the cream madly.
He takes a large sip from his juice before carrying on again. His sinewy figure is working rigorously. The faint saccharine scent of vanilla and strawberries waft under my nose, teasing me with promises of a decadent dessert. His face is powdered with flour, his hands sticky with dough and a cheeky grin tugging at his lips. He is leaving a sweet-smelling mist in his wake. While in the oven, the dough is slowly rising in the subtle, dim lights of the oven teasing my tongue and testing my patience.
When you’re in your head as much as I am in mine, you’ll recognize how hard it is to not go back to episodes in the past and dig until the fog fills your lungs and makes you feel dizzy, disoriented and abandoned and then there is always something building and falling and climbing and collapsing and breaking and tearing and lashing in you and the fog is rising rising rising oh god what do I do what do I do what do I—
Jonathan had gone on with his usual ‘hosting banter’ at the Finale until the room had filled with loud rounds of applause and amidst the applause and appreciation there had stood a woman in the audience desperately trying to say something. A woman in her early fifties had dazzled in a sea of ordinary men and woman, adorned in a royal blue salwaar kameez. The first thought I had was that mummy was here, but then as her yells had momentarily made the live telecast camera man shush her and eventually Stephan looking over at her, a spotlight had fallen on her as well and I had closely observed her face. Nope, not mummy. My subconscious had pretended to sweep all the hurt and hope under the living room rug and displayed me her brightest smile like mummy’s ‘no call’ phase wasn’t a biggie at all.
Hesitantly she had looked over at the Judge’s table. There was something so magnetic about her and her attire and her eyes that once found me, didn’t leave me. I had taken a deep, steadying breath. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe, it had felt as if someone was choking me. My heart was racing and all I wanted to do was curl into a ball. I had fidgeted in my place and had shifted my weight over my legs. I had adjusted the dress I was wearing, trying to grip a stray thread of cloth that wasn’t even present. I had looked everywhere I could, except at her. Who is she? My subconscious had asked absentmindedly, distracting me. I had shrugged in a response and I was as intrigued as she was to know about that woman, because something was definitely amiss. Honestly. Imagine having the kind of power to halt a live telecast on a national television!
The salwaar kameez was bold against her white skin and I could see her in jeans and a t-shirt, feet up on the coffee table, painting her nails. She had an aura of grace and elegance. Everything about her had screamed ‘money.’ Without losing eye contact, she had stared at me with a quivering lip and brimming eyes. “Oh wow!” Stephan had smiled at her. Then suddenly Zaahid had stood up and ran to her, pulled her out of her place while the teen-y girls around in the audience had desperately tried to snatch him. He had hugged her and mumbled a few sentences to her—all quite inaudible from my position—gripping her arms and looking all over her face as he tried to make sure whether she was okay or not.
He had put an arm around her and led her towards the stage and that’s when I heard, “Ma, you never told me you were coming. Oh! Now, I get it, you’re the surprise Delnaz was talking about!”
That was how I had first met Taybah Noori. I am saying ‘first’ as if she had a second or a third, no, that is when and how she entered my life and vouched to stay forever. Back then, I hadn’t been chary about people and I had most definitely not learnt how looks could be deceiving especially with woman like her—where skin is marble like dusted with gold, where bronze hair float in the wind like autumn leaves, where grey winter eyes look like love and safety and the full lips curl into mischievous grin every time they capture prey. I didn’t know how she could keep me still and hold my beating heart with her gaze—I didn’t know her love was danger; her safe arms were poison and her beauty, deceiving.
I haven’t always been this pugnacious about Taybah; there have been some days where we had been well, where her obsequious words got me through days, where we had more fun than Zaahid and I could ever hope for, where our laughter was genuine, where she was my partner in crime, where we planned pre-wedding surprises and didn’t curse each other on a very cold December Night.
Two mornings after the Birthday Bash Noori’s Threw, I had decided to go on a jog—yes, me, Maira Ahluwalia, the first of her name and the Queen of House Lazyville, under the holy alliance of crown and faith had decided to go for a jog—at five thirty in the morning. The coolness of that early morning was deceptive; the sun had barely risen so it had been as black as the night; only by the clock could I tell the difference between the time to sleep and the time to rise. In the previous four days, Zaahid had hinted about leaving for London with me and a usual brown family persistence at the breakfast table had led to me living with him until I found my place.
I had spent days hacking and contacting family and friends but to no avail. Various conflicting questions had befuddled me and I needed clean, fresh air to pour my thoughts out onto a page, reorganise, prioritise and pack them back in again. Dawn had lighted my way first in monochrome and then with subtle hues of pastels. After USO it was the first morning that wasn’t grey but soothing lavender and peach and in its calmness I had questioned the bedroom in the attic, the new clothes in the cupboard and had given Taybah the benefit of doubt about ‘renovating’ an entire attic into a modern chic bedroom, making arrangements for clothes in two days. Oh, you silly, silly girl. My subconscious shouts at me today, making ‘silly girl’ sound like an insult.
On my return from the jog, Yousuf, Zaahid’s father was leaving for his board meeting in the States. Turned out, the Ultimate Sing Off Finale was his first time witnessing Zaahid in all his glory of a celebrity. He was giving Zaahid a chance to prove himself and I had blown it apart. Following USO I’ve always conjectured that twenty percent of Zaahid’s resentment towards me arises from friendship with Harry, December Night #1 and the other eighty percent was a secret reserve stored for stealing his thunder; his one moment before his father. His one chance at approval.
The very same day, Zaahid, Delnaz and Wafaa had gone to London for Zaahid’s last of recordings with Collins Telefilm and Music Productions for his approaching tour and the next album while his sisters made the last of arrangements for Delnaz’s salon and website setup and would have returned by dinner. Sabira had trotted off to deliver the food Taybah had prepared to a local primary school. So, by noon the house was eerily silent and Taybah had expressed how perturbed and distressed she was at the first thought of me running away—a doubt that blossomed when she couldn’t find me in the morning. In a nervous laugh she had asked me, “Where had you run off?” Then sitting on the diwan in my attic room she had commented, “Always leave a note behind, okay?” Her Irish-North England accent shining through.
She had brought in a big box of Zaahid’s novel collections for me. “Going through your Instagram I supposed you’d like these.” She had murmured, lest she revealed too much about how she had stalked my bookstagram and my life from Facebook and Internet—our friend and foe. I should have guessed that she would be my malediction. But then there had been this image—Mrs. Taybah Noori: popular and gifted than most woman her age. Having shunned a high-flying career in favour of working as a halal chef in the kitchen of a local primary school only made her shine. Before Zaahid had made it big in the industry, she didn’t have an uptown apartment or a fancy car and she had no more friends than she could count on one hand; but she was happy. She still is. After Zaahid’s breakthrough, she still lived in her small house, because it was eclectic, vibrant and all hers. She had the freedom to create entire worlds within those familiar walls.
Picking the books, she revealed how Zaahid always used photographs as bookmarks. Five of them were still half read and had pictures from another time. She had babbled over her memoirs of her children’s childhood, to voyaging over her own and finally peregrinating over mine. Then she played a small game with me, she took out the printed pictures from my childhood from her jeans pocket (like she had come prepared), of a time when I might be two or three. Then she told me stories of what I might have been doing in them—like hiding in kennels, dressed like a pirate, standing in one of my mummy’s heel.
She had held my hands while talking, sounded like a lovely and dotting mother and always made eye contact. She almost made me believe I was a part of them. I never saw through that, that game was an abridged version of Let’s Pretend and they could be just that—stories, fiction, make believe, lies. Taybah’s happiness didn’t soak into my bones; I had an ill-feeling and a disattached sense of self and an immeasurable amount of questions and doubts and no evidence to counteract against.
Happiness and Maira have never been friends, so exactly why everything I loved became everything I lost on that Ultimate Sing Off Finale.
Following Zaahid’s small rescue, pleasantries and sweet introductions had exchanged. The set had churned into commotive, dark and frightening pit. Taybah had asked for a microphone before a very attentive audience and made the music stop. Chaos had descended over all of us as murmurs and questions alike rose from the audience. Her heels had clicked as she walked towards me and had wrapped me in her arms. I was astonished not by her tight grip but by her Chanel scent. My subconscious recognized my great-grandmothers’ and following the lineage, my perfume. Holding me tighter, she had kissed my shoulders and then the side of my head, “Oh my darling, what a lovely girl you’ve turned out to be.” Her proximity was overwhelming and exhilarating.
I had bit my lip, helplessly. THE Zaahid Noori’s mother is calling me her “darling!” This. Is. Surreal. I had dramatically chanted the words inside my head. My inner goddess had back flipped off the podium and was doing cartwheels around the stadium. It hadn’t just been me. Peeling her off myself I had moved to thank her for her kind words and I had almost bantered out my “winning thank-you” speech when she held my hands and gently shook her head, “Your voice is great, but this isn’t what this is about.” She said in a small voice. What? My subconscious had nagged, pursing her harpy lips together. My inner goddess had narrowed her eyes and looked thoughtful. We needed to work on that. I had made a mental note of it.
Taking the microphone from Zaahid, she had said to the judges “I hate doing this before the results, but after that there will a haywire of media.” Reading my hesitation and over enthusiasm of Penelope right behind her she had asked me, “Can you please come home with me after the show?” My initial response was, ‘WHAT?’ to a nonchalant ‘sure—why not?’ but then she moved a step forward to hold my arm and the cologne was too striking to not be careful. I had politely declined. As if I was being irrational and a difficult kid, she had run her fingers through her hair as she closed her eyes, sighing loudly. “Maira, we REALLY need to have a talk.”
“About?” I had casually questioned. A celebrity mother was trying to take me home this doesn’t get weirder than this. My subconscious had cringed. Taybah’s face was of utmost confidence as if she knew I’d react like an airforce brat—composed and careful. Her eyes read whatever she had in mind, she wasn’t accustomed to lose. “The radio silence of your phone, for starters,” she had whispered, folding me against her. I was in shock; my breath had refused to leave my lungs. I could hear my heartbeat. Requesting to replay my last performance video of Homesick, she had gripped my arms as everyone gaped at the song. She put the video on fast forward and after a particular point in the song made it stop and then had rewinded to one of my childhood pictures.
“And this,” she had looked at me. “What do you see in it?” In the blurry picture from the days of no DSLR’s or modern cameras, I saw myself in a woman’s arms while my parents stood beside her. There was a man and two other kids in the picture. This man had an arm around this woman while my dad had a boy in his arms and the girl—the other kid—had her hands wrapped around my mother’s legs.
I had uttered a blunt ‘me’ but she wasn’t satisfied. She had pressed onto for more until I told her that it was an old picture and my parents were there and maybe a few neighbours. I had shrugged. I had been so focused on calculating her connection with information on my phone that nothing else mattered. I could see no good reason why I should have been interested in who those extra people were until Zaahid had opened his mouth, “Mum isn’t that me?” Trust me when I say, I haven’t seen a theatre until now, six years after that episode, as silent as it went when Zaahid spoke. The silence was deadly and painful. It had created a lot of commotion and chaos within me. It had raised questions whose answers I wasn’t willing to find out. “And that’s Delnaz!” He had pointed out to the girl in my father’s arms.
What the freak? I had blanched. This can’t be true. This can’t be true. My subconscious had panicked. I had forgotten how to walk, speak and breathe. Think of it. How rare and peculiar—how unlikely—it is to find someone being the reason of my annihilation and shortly after embodying light, advocating the voice of hope in times of solemn need. In the background I could hear Zaahid voicing my fears. “What?—How is this even possible?—Mum, what are you trying to say?—I—”
When semblance had returned after fighting, screaming and kicking against the new bud of unwelcome self doubt that was weighing me down, I tried running off from the stage and from time—wishing for a Undo Button somewhere but I was roughly pulled by my forearm and turned around by Taybah, “Maira-Maira!—Stop, and listen to me and then you can make your decision.”
“What decision?” I said crossly.
“Come home, we’ll talk it through and then the choice is yours, okay?” She had put her hand on my back, guiding me back to the stage with a slow and sad smile.
“No—No, who are you? I met you like, what, half an hour ago? I am not going to anyone’s house—” I had snapped at her, releasing my arm from her grip I had stepped back. And almost as soon as I realized what I had said, I wish I hadn’t. Where are your manners? My subconscious makes it sound like it’s my fault.
“You have to! I’ve been looking for you the last two days!” Her patience had been drying off and I had just got started to act bratty. Go figure.
“Oh, really?” I am shocked. I couldn’t quite mask the sarcasm from my voice. “Why have you?” A certain frisson of fear had marched down my spine as a blur of white dots danced before me. The realization was bleak and depressing. My mind had run off a tangent I was too scared to even imagine. “How about you wait a little? We are on national T.V and in the middle of a Finale…” I had tried to avoid her, explaining to her the entire scenario and pointing to the judges, to the cameras and the audience.
“This can’t wait! Don’t you get it? I might not be able to reach you after the results and I need you, with me, home tonight alright?!” she had yelled at me, gripping my forearms and pressing her urgency.
“I’m sorry but—”
Then, without wasting a second, she had wrapped her arms around me again and kissed my forehead saying, “Darling, you are my niece.” I had giggled at that. The thoughts racing past my mind then had been: am I being pranked? Is this some sort of a joke? “You don’t believe me?” She took a deep breath.
Taking sharp steps away from her, I was only one laughing with my head tilted backwards in their entire room. Stephan had by that time come to the stage. Taybah’s pitiful breaths had been echoing from the microphone. My heart had been racing but I never revealed that.
“How about you tell me when did India get independence from British Raj?” She had tried to talk to me with a poorly written twenty questions. I had mockly answered ‘1947,’ trying to say ‘get-a-hint-ma’am-I-don’t-want-to-talk-to-you’ and getting a point across that if she thought I was uneducated, unaware of my history, she was wrong.
“And what has your family lineage being doing for years?” She had stood before me, too close for comfort.
“Serving the country?” I had said, proudly, remembering the legacy my great-grandfather left behind, which was taken only forwards by his son and his sons’ son. I had turned to look at Stephan to help me out, but he had shock written all over his features. He was just as clueless as I was.
“Yes, and that was what your great grandpa—my grandpa—was still doing even eleven years after independence.” She had said, taking my hands warmly into hers and make the right amount of eye contact. “I am a rescue English child—born out of war.” I stood there frozen. She had brought up so many people from my past that I wasn’t able to distinguish the right from wrong. I had stolen a glance at Zaahid but he had stood aghast, as if he didn’t know his mother’s history, as if he didn’t know the woman of the hour.
“At age 10, in 1968, when your great grandparents couldn’t hide my obvious inheritance from the society that was still angry about a war that costed them their country, culture and wealth,” she had continued as if stopping would break her woven stance. Her eyes had reflected warmth and love, a kind I thought only the sun could give away. “They had shipped me off to your great grandparents’ colleague in Britain for safety, for education and for living a better life—one I had a fair chance at.” My father’s picture album had ingrained in me that I had never seen my great-grandfather and my great grandmother passed away when I was two. So, the people Taybah had been mentioning were a fog for me and were being rewritten (re-sketched) by her enticing and grasping words.
My mouth had run dry and I was silently promising myself that I won’t believe her—what source is she even? Where has she been all my life? She had continued when I didn’t protest, “I often tried to contact Ayaan, to reach out to your dadi jaan, but the danger that could’ve followed them was too crucial to risk.” I had remained tight lipped. I didn’t exactly know what to say. She had brought up my father, she knew his name, she talked about my grandmother, and she knew I called her ’dadi jaan.’ It felt then for a millisecond that it wasn’t make believe—this is not a prank. This is as real as it gets.
Given a chance I would have ran away from her because she was saying things no one else knew about. She had done all the talking while I stood mortified, listening, reading her body language and following her eye. Then she had asked me the perfect question at the perfect time with such an innocent tone of voice, like she genuinely just wanted to know. “What should have I done, darling? The world—India—was evolving, but not quite. I couldn’t reach anyone. The numbers had changed, the addresses were new, the emails were unavailable and my British guardian was dead without an heir and his wife had sold off the house before I could search for his diaries.” As if she had come prepared, she didn’t skip a beat to answer.
In the pool of light that had shed onto her by the spotlight, an exquisitely manicured hand had guided a stray hair from my face to behind my ear, occasionally pausing to brush her fingertips along the frame of my face. She had then stopped talking and I glanced at her. Her distant gaze looked like she was reliving a sacred memory. “At my job, I met Yousuf. Friendship turned into love and we wanted to get married. I was twenty nine, by then, and had lost hope of ever contacting my family.” She had looked at me impassively, reconfirming if I was listening. I had nodded, unable to murmur even, as the tension would have been loud and clear in my voice. “A year after marriage I was blessed with Delnaz and two years later, Zaahid was in my arms.” She had looked at him then with trembling hands she had held my face, “A year before Zaahid, I saw a newspaper article about Ayaan in the Global News section, it had his fax number. I reached out and then the rest was history.”
Moving her hands along my arms, she had squeezed it with emmaculate pressure. My diaphragm had moved rapidly with each shallow breath, my body was rigid and a tension was radiating off me in waves. I was all too much, too rehearsed, too sad, too overwhelming to be true. I was not the kind of person this happened to. Or at least I thought I wasn’t. My life was a fairly structured one—with a high ranking military father, a socially amiable mother and a cadet brother, life was good. I was well fed and educated. I had a respectable name to prove, a big reputation to maintain and a legacy to carry. Taybah had exhaled loudly, folding her hands, “When I visited, you were two, your great grandma had passed away and your grandparents had bashed me for marrying a Muslim but Ayaan?”
She had looked back at the photo of him for emphasis, “Ayaan welcomed me with open arms. My elder brother took care of everything,” She had smiled loving at the picture, “He kept us in his cantonment until we returned to Britain for Yaser and I had our jobs, our lives savings here.” Taybah had looked over her shoulder and we had stared at each other, some unspoken communication passing between us. I was listening and not listening to her, I could only hear the ringings of phones, the half hearted talks, the way I would cut calls off, my mother’s voice, my father’s urgency and my brother’s absence. In a haze of faces, I saw theirs, their white dots being crazy weirdos but being mine and then like an ‘eeeep’ of a straight line ECG the roars of a silent phone. I had found myself thinking that the coincidence was uncanny and then squashed the thought.
Taybah had regarded me warily as a dark thought had flashed across her face. “Since then we had always been in touch, we sent each other monthly postcards too.” I had done a double take at her then, postcards? No, my father didn’t do postcards; he wouldn’t even tell us his location for his missions. But Taybah sounded so convincing, so true, and so sisterly that I even doubted knowing my father. “You and Raahat never knew about this because Ayaan mentioned you both were such tattletales and my parents were still fiery mad. Ayaan didn’t want bad blood in the house.” She had smiled at the memory, coming over to me, cupping my face and kissing my hair.
The anxiety, the dread and the danger had been so thick I knew I was about to cry. But I didn’t want to cry. It angered me that a woman who I met an hour ago was capable to shake the anchors of my existence. That she had hit right where it hurt. I had snatched her hands off me and distanced from her, scrambling and shaking my head as I had gazed at the roof of the set of Ultimate Sing Off. The lights were twinkling, blinding me and I had returned to give her my most dead-pan look, “Why were you trying to find me?” I was reading her hesitation just like how a military troupe would return with bad news. My subconscious had nodded savagely, a you’ve-finally-worked-it-out-stupid look on her face.
She had started crying then and launched at me with such force that Stephan had to hold us both lest we had a bad fall. I had tried to act passive, in control, with a strained jaw and eyes in strict check. With an incoherent voice she had bawled in my neck. I had tried to take a step back from her but her grip had tightened. The blood thumped so loudly in my ears that I almost didn’t hear her broken words, “Car crash” “coming to the airport” “parents” “passed away” and “trip to Newcastle.”
“WHAT?” I had shrieked.
She couldn’t say a word after that and I had needed no other explanation. She said it then, and all I could concrete on at the time was to get rid of this woman. All the warning signs were there, I was just too clueless and too enamoured to notice. Like a whirlwind, my life had been shaken and within a matter of seconds, I was shattered. I felt like laughing at my nervousness, but maybe I had every right to be trifle scared. In a conversation that lasted close to an hour, with a stranger, sprinkled with a goody-goo story and uproar from my side, I had been officially declared an orphan.
I was not sure what the universe was trying to tell me by taking the young years from me and handing me that kind of grief, but here’s what I learned over the years: No one can put a price on losing everything except Taybah Noori. And another thing: all your future histories can be destroyed in a single moment.
I was raging and I hit Taybah the hardest. Taybah’s tolerance had dried off and she commented, “Maira, I haven’t given you an ‘explanation’ I am telling you the truth, but if you don’t believe, why don’t you go make a call?”
“What—you are challenging me in front of all these people?” I had disbelievingly snapped at her. So, it went back and forth like that—her pushing my buttons to call home and my disrespecting her each and every word. Defying every moral I had based my life on.
She had made her final blow at me with, “Maira, you’re trying to hold yourself. Don’t do that. You have every right to cry and mourn. Darling, no matter what happens tonight; you’d always find me by your side.” I till this date absolutely abhor the word, ‘darling.’
I had flown off like a bird, pushing Taybah to my green room. The blood had drained from my face and bile had risen in my throat. With a blurred vision I had searched the room for my phone, my hands fisting my hair. I had groaned loudly, closing my eyes, and tipping my head back, moving the stools and chairs around carelessly and throwing the makeup here and there. I overthrew the couch. There had been an urgency and hurriedness in my ways, thus after a small jiffy, my big toe and my instasey finger had hit the legs of a stool. I had winced in pain, but didn’t stop. I had taken a deep breath straightening up, flinching only slightly.
Further, I had run off to my room in the judges’ house while I had heard footsteps behind me. The stillness of the room had been stunning compared to the speed at which my heart was whipping against my chest. On that very occasion I was struck with the realisation that earlier that morning, due to my well placed stars, I had been robbed. I had exploded around the draining, soul grabbing reality of my life that left me spent and exhausted. Stephan held out his phone the minute he saw me in the room overpopulated with Taybah, Zaahid, Jonathan and Caitlyn and a stressed Megan trying to keep Cherry Foxes girls and Symphony Thrill boys at bay.
I dialled my father’s number first, unsure if he would even pick up but he was my best choice—mummy usually kept her phone in the living room as a display item while she binged watched shows on T.V at a volume that made her immune to her surroundings, while the brother that I had, well, I don’t think he even remembered about my existence, so picking up my call was just out of question—while gazing at Taybah, smirking, before I had tapped the call button. A method I had employed to soon prove her wrong about all those claims.
“Number doesn’t exist,” the electronic voice had declared. I had rechecked the number, it was alright, then it hit me, the pin code was wrong. After a few repeated attempts, the bell was finally ringing and I had jumped in my place, punching the air, a ray of hope was drizzling over me and I was glowing underneath it. The colourful world of my existence could see the dark greyish black clouds that were looming over my present when no one was picking up the call. My momentarily happiness had changed colours.
Then, a voice said, “hello?” it was my dadi—my grandma. Great! But wait—didn’t you call up papa? My subconscious had questioned lowly.
“Dadi,” I had stated. It was no time for pleasantries or greetings. I needed to know the truth. A dead silence had followed and I had questioned my grandma—who seemed to have declared it to the entire neighbourhood, in my early years, that I was her favourite grandchild—that could she hear me, was she even there on the line.
There had still been no reply, but I didn’t let that dampen me, I had continued to ask about my parents’ whereabouts. I had urged her to give the phone to papa—whom I had basically called, but I was still not receiving any reply. With fumbling fingers I had increased the ringer’s volume on Stephan’s phone, checked the settings of the phone and even quizzed people around me that were there a connection problem. It seemed that everything was alright. I had turned on my heel, adrenaline and anger coursing through my body, and stalked towards the entrance of the room, all flustered and worried.
The words I had heard next slipped off the ground from under my feet. “Who are you?” I had stride past the door frame, saying nothing, giving my grandma an opportunity to justify—the truth or tell lies. She made the wrong choice.
“Ma’am, I think by now you and I both know that this is a wrong number you’ve dialled. We’re just an old couple here and we won’t tolerate any harassment, so if you might just hang up…”
“Dadi!” I had hissed acidly.
My grandmother—my dad’s mother—the one who claimed to love me the most had at that very moment defied to recognize me. A perplexed, ‘what’ had slipped from my lips but that didn’t soften her as she continued, “we have got about five calls or so from this number and another one will lead you to the police. Don’t try to call again; otherwise I might just be forced to take this to the police.”
“Dadi, what are you talking about? I am Maira, your son’s daughter. I am—”
“My son is dead and so is every relation related to him.”
“WHAT? Dadi no, you can’t do this. Wait-wait wait, are you—”
The call was hung up. I was angry then, my eyes stormy and flashing, but I didn’t give a shit.
“Are you—are you abandoning me?” my sentence had been completed by Taybah, standing behind me with arms wide and cheeks stained with tears. I had run up to her and had hugged her tight—she had been right all this while. In her arms I had tried calling one of my mother’s sisters—Raahat’s favourite aunt—but the call was blocked. Soon the wave of realisation had washed over me, drenching me completely and I had understood and so had everyone around me that after my parents none of my relatives were ready to take care of me, hence I wasn’t even informed.
It’s rightly said after all, laugh and the world laughs with you, weep, and you weep alone.
Then in the midst of my chaos was Taybah. She had explained how she was informed by one of my father’s and her mutual friend about my loss and in order to save me from the ruin that would have, and indeed had, followed after she had searched down for me.
“I guess the cake is baked you should take it out...” A faint voice is slowly travelling to my ears and time slams against me. The world I was just looking into is turning black and fading away as if being snatched from me.
“Use the glove!” The voice says breezily as a glove is put on my lap and involuntarily, I place my hand in it.
“Hmm,” I hum, trying to regain my consciousness. My mind wasn’t fully awake yet, somehow, it was still stuck in the horrible past.
I open the lid of the oven and grab the baking dish. Involuntarily my eyes are welling up and I don’t know the reason behind there such peculiar behaviour, was it due to the remains of my past that still pierced my soul?
Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.
“I’m out on the edge and I’m screaming my name, like a fool at the top of my lungs. Sometimes when I close my eyes I pretend I’m alright, but it’s never enough.” Song: Echo by Jason Walker.
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