N O T E
Love is fragile.
We’re all recovering from someone, living through the flashbacks of our mistakes, our rebounds and our earthquakes. The only good moving to London brought was not only the start of a Life after USO but also of the ceasing of unwavering questions about the orphaned life I had come to witness. The facts—or their lack of—following the news were unarguable. Except that my parents were not careless or irresponsible. They were not drunk, speedster or distracted. They were the last people you would expect to give up responsibility and sense.
Despite the unbelievableness of the incident, over the years I had to learn to keep my theories to myself and not give voice to the cynicism that lay between the surfaces of my grief. No one else had doubts. No one else felt unease. But then, maybe no one else knew my parents the way I did. When all was said and done, I had to move on for opportunities were knocking on my door, work had poured in and I was drowned in commitments and agreements and in the midst of it all, I had to let it go. It didn’t mean that I didn’t miss them anymore, no; it meant I made peace with their absence.
My pain became a tragic necessity that found its way in my work. My sadness felt right. It weighed the right amount and crushed me just enough. My anger became clean and it bolstered me. Writing songs about it became therapeutic and served as the common ground where I—my story—could be connected with, where I was relatable but I never realised after my life was torn apart how awkward grief was, how inconvenient it was to everyone I came in contact with. At first, they’d be nice where my loss will be acknowledged, respected and deferred to, then, after a while it’ll be a baggage because it’ll sneak in each conversation, in every laugh and in my normal life and everyone would want to put it behind them, to get on with things and there would be I, blocking their path, dragging up histories of unfortunate deaths and betrayal behind me.
Au courant, a twenty nine year old Zaahid—an enthusiast of graphitized clothes, ripped jeans, sweats and tattoos, a person having a penchant for originality and honesty—has me cradled in his arms, seated on his lap, legs on either side of his thighs, wrapped up in Zaahid Noori. My eyes lift off to peer into his and I see the rest of my life, the beautiful vulnerability I have come to blossom and there’s nothing I can do to prepare for a love like that. He is stroking my hair and murmurs, “I got you, gorgeous.” He kisses my head and holds my hands in the warmth of his. When I thought the cracked edges of my skin and the tips of my fingers could never hold the universe in my palms, at this moment, it feels like I could, it feels like I did.
“If you ever call me in the middle of the night, I will listen to your silence. I won’t wipe your tears and tell you to get over it.” He assuages the agony within me and I can’t help but notice how much I love the sound of his voice, how my heart beats faster when we speaks. Though, I will never tell him how I always yearn for his voice when I can’t sleep at night. Oh, you will never learn. My subconscious’ disappointment slashes at my throat, leaving me unable to say a word.
Love was never a problem for us. We never lacked passion. After the Forbidden December Night #1 we were always fighting, arguing, or pretending to make love until both became the same thing, until we began hurting each other and called it love. When I started to cover my ears as if it could shield my heart from every stinging blow we threw at each other, was it love? Was it really love? I don’t remember loving him without hating him. I don’t remember what tender was like, how it felt cotton-soft on my skin. Did it even exist? What happened?
We started drifting apart after being so consistent. We found ways to avoid one another and social gatherings. We set routines until one day they became our reality. “Heck, I’ll even let you drool on my arm and I won’t make videos of your snore,” Zaahid sadly laughs, massaging my shoulder. “When your knees will fail to hold you up and you lose your voice whilst yelling, I will hold you up and yell with you.” He kisses my head, presses on my shoulders and kisses me again. “I will be here with you. I,” he pushes me away from him and looks at me, “got you.” I see him but I don’t know him anymore. It’s like there’s a picture but it isn’t quite focused.
I don’t know why Zaahid is giving me these minutes from a course called ‘The Value of Empathy in Partners.’ He doesn’t need to; his empathy was evident the second I walked through his door. Be it behind couches in Birmingham or on first nights after USO or even perhaps after the dinner with Penelope in London, he would let me cry. He would push the box of tissues before me and tell me to take my time. To begin when I was ready, and not before. And when I’d stopped crying, but still couldn’t find the words, he would tell me about the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—and I realized I hadn’t moved past first base.
In due course, he had even offered his own therapist. I didn’t go. I stopped entertaining the idea of a ‘therapist’ when I realized all the talking in the world wasn’t going to bring back my parents. You reach a point where the pain you feel inside is simply sadness. And there’s no cure for that.
Grief is complicated. It ebbs and flows and is so multi-faceted that unpicking it makes my head hurt. One moment I would be at peace and the next I would be filled with red hot fury for their carelessness. The anger is the worst part of all of this. Why did they do it? I’ve gone over the days preceding the accident a million times, and have asked myself what could have I done to prevent it. You could have called Raahat. You could have called them often. You could be more present than sending them foreign goodies wrapped in expensive Christmas paper for Diwali.
Raahat wasn’t the only boy whom I had depended on for so long. The first time I fell in “love”—junior school days—I tragically made him my life. All I did and thought about was him and for him. In my head at that time, this is want meant to be in love, but I was only enamoured by him. That one year with him was delightful but also frightening, for I had lost myself in him. When it ended and I was left with just myself, I didn’t know how to cope. For so many days I had depended on him and he had depended on me. I didn’t have the foggiest of idea how to be content with just me, how to live without him, to go from ‘us’ to ‘Him and I.’ It took me the rest of school years to love myself without a ‘boy’ loving me too—without another human being by my side.
After I finally restored my faith in love, and matured more, I vowed to never do that again. I never wanted to lose myself in someone else again. I never wanted to grow so attached to someone—Zaahid—that without them—him—I would fall apart. My life had to, HAD TO be more than just about a boy. I took an oath to be a young, independent, ambitious, curious, busy and equal woman, not loose. I guaranteed myself that from now on, I would be my own sun, my own bestfriend, mentor, therapist and hero, and I am enough. A boy cannot save you. A boy wouldn’t make you happy. That’s all up to you. It’s all up to you.
I distinctly recall the first time I ever looked into Zaahid’s eyes—on the Ultimate Sing Off Finale. They were so dazzling and wide. He had been my foremost experience on how people can be truly authentic and genuinely kind. The moment he had decided to help me on the finale, it felt I knew him from some past life. I felt liberated and in that moment anything could happen. He felt extraordinary. I realized that he would majorly affect my life. I speculated that I would and it was going to be surprisingly easy to fall in love with him. In fact, the very same day I met him, I yearned that he wouldn’t sever my heart that I wouldn’t have to deal with the ineffable torment of heartbreak. Nevertheless I kept running into him, and I knew I had grown a fondness for him immediately. There was just something about him.
Hiding behind a masquerade of quiet and ignorance he was just as vulnerable and I loved catching these kinds off guard, inching closer over a cup of chai whilst dipping the biscuit in it casually making conversation, ’so, who are you?’ Zaahid is also a voracious reader, which made him instantly likable. He wouldn’t try to oust me when I’d quote a sentence from a book during everyday life but he would have this reserved smile on his face that would say ‘he knows.’ I knew he liked his coffee black and I practically drank diabetes. I knew he went to the mosque on every Friday. I knew he jogged only on a certain track in the park and would listen to Beethoven while composing music in the studio. I knew way too much.
And so, it hurt when we stood on that roof on that December Night #1, his mother and girlfriend shouting profanities at me and he did nothing to calm down the storm I was caught in. Moreover, he agreed to the arrangement his mum made—without thinking, without speaking and maybe without even realising what he did. Once we were tied together on accounts of ‘how I owed it to the Noori’s, to his extended family and the pressing media,’ I was greeted with his cold behaviour—something I almost immediately recognised, so, I came back to my room, late night and the Zaahid I knew was nowhere to be found.
When someone you possibly love deeply refuses to stand up to you, even if it is just once it is the thing that rots your love from inside out.
I think I knew I had to walk away then, but I didn’t. Despite the itch in my soul and the very question that had hollowed my bones quietly, I did not leave Zaahid. I could see my tired soul in the mirror and how my heart wasn’t being held but for so long I had equated fighting with loving. I show up to battle every single day for the last four years even when I don’t want to, even when everything inside me is asking me to retreat, to rest. The lesson I’ve learnt so forth is ‘give yourself the permission to walk away.’ I know, I did not, but I should have for it didn’t mean our friendship failed or I failed, it meant I gave everything I had and now I must go.
It was nasty of him to leave behind his books in my room on my desk, and the stale black coffee on the bedside table. I had pushed off the books from the table in my haphazard and emotional state, tossed the cup from the edge, pushed off the glass of water and smashed the photo frame on my desk. I tore the room apart. I feared that night he was going to hurt me. I figured that it was going to take me a ridiculous amount of time to get over him, this friendship and to trust someone ever again. In a way I wasn’t mad at him, I was furious with myself—how young and naïve could I be throwing trust around like confetti, believing forevers and friendships and Zaahid. Love was our fire—never warming our hearts but always burning down our houses.
I hate having to see him because he is a living reminder of my anger and betrayal. Still, I do enjoy the subtle occasions where we have to meet, longing look into each other’s eyes for the cameras. I know he sees the passion and the staggering beauty my soul has to offer. In those moments, my devotion towards him doesn’t feel futile, and I salvage my power.
“Long time no see, eh?” He asks with calm eyes and a firm voice. “Been very busy?” He dryly laughs. “Can’t even pick calls or keep me in the loop.”
“Uh…Yeah,” I utter, looking somewhere right through him, ignoring how relatively new we were to this Dodge The Question game. We HAD to align. It has only been a year Maira!
“Did you miss me?” Zaahid jokingly asks, his friends in earshot especially Nolan who is pretending to not hear and is sickly pleased with the act.
“Maybe,” I break character. Instantly handling the situation, “yeah, yeah I did. Did you?” I play along, without looking at Zaahid.
He stirs his whiskey and nods a reply. We awkwardly stand in silence for the next five minutes. The air in the room feels suffocating and too heavy for me. I want to get out of his house. Sipping on my martini, I feel numb; regardless I can see and feel everything. The Polaroid pictures being taken, the screech of chairs being pulled out and the babbles over food and wine at our anniversary party, the voices behind us as we stand in a corner close to the windows. This winter feels coldest than ever. The view outside consists of a sea of snow, haphazardly parked cars and a small trail of snow free stones for people to trudge on. The music system playing a Kygo song that was once in my playlist too does little to ease the tension between us.
Taking a long, slow sip of his glass he looks at me, like he wants to talk but can’t find the right words. It is hard to relax under such scrutiny. His eyes don’t leave me and the silence between us is louder than a war cry, battling emotions, agony and loss of respect.
“Do you still love me?” I finally break the stillness with the only question, I believe, he was hoping, I wouldn’t ask. Not because he did not want to answer me, but because he expected that I would already know. Don’t I always know?
“I still like you,” he admits—just a vowel away from the truth.
The colour that rises to my cheeks is unmissable. I want to escape into the ground. I vaguely look over my shoulder, making sure if Zaahid’s playing or does he really mean it. My world is spinning and my heart is rattling. Just as the song is coming to an end, he intertwines his fingers with mine. The martini glass in my hand is shivering. Nope. It’s not me. I give him a weak smile, fighting for control but he only tightens his grip.
His hand feels different—more calloused, more robust, more home. I can feel his thumb dancing on my wrist, dangerously close to my pulse point. The world has stopped moving. Right now, only he and I exist. “Err…I should get going,” I begin, a touch of impatience in my voice, like I have better places to be, albeit I had blocked today for him. Giving him a courteous smile, I say, “It’s getting late.” As a response, Zaahid continues to look at me, still genuinely smiling and I slump back against the wall. The offwhite coloured curtains engulf us. When he does that—gives me one of those supernova smiles—it feels like everything that’s good and beautiful in the world is happening all at once. And I want to cry.
For another two hours (give or take) we stand there, talking about his recent world tour with the band, the new marvels he witnessed during travel, my new music and making small talk about the unabashed glittery couture dresses his sisters were wearing. Taybah’s gemstone heels reflected lights from the chandelier that falls on Zaahid’s face. It’s the perfect Instagram worthy light and face. We laugh as the reflection spike him. He questions about my vacation in Paris and we talk in a faux French brogue for the next fifteen minutes—giggling like teenagers. A Lady Antebellum has started playing, now, and it is my favourite. His father is guiding guests to the Maira’s Special Menu Table—an assortment of Indo-chinese dishes at the end of the hall.
Just when the song is coming to my favourite line, Zaahid eyes glisten and for a minute I think he winked at me. Regardless he doesn’t let go of my hand and I, his gaze. And what feels like an eternity later, we stand there, just looking at each other and comprehending that he has been right all along—it never needed any saying.
Today, I would have given up anything for that twenty eight year old Zaahid—distressing over the music his band (which he was a part of) was producing, experimenting with his hair, swooning over new leather jackets he had bought, a heavy smoker, the artist who had hidden some sort of treasure in his art room and constantly worrying about his future—to not show up, care for me and be the president of Damage Control. It’s terrifying to see Zaahid switch emotions at the drop of a hat. One minute it’d be a sweet, ‘I love you’ and the next, a rude, ‘we’re done.’
We weren’t supposed to fall in love. I wasn’t supposed to find home in his arms, I wasn’t supposed to only find comfort in the smell of his cologne, I wasn’t supposed to spend countless nights sleeping in what was once our bed, I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with him, but I did. I fell in love and now that we’re over, I haven’t felt at home in weeks.
After Zaahid, I used to tell myself, ‘it’s his loss,’ but in reality what did he lose? Did he lose the girl who had an obsession with henna, chai addict and hoarded jhumka’s or did he lose the girl who can cry during any movie? How is any of this his loss? He didn’t lose anything, he was finally set free. He taught me how it takes years to build trust and an hour of a cold evening to destroy it. He taught that families aren’t biological and that you should always leave loved ones with loving words. It may be the last time you see them. It may seem funny, but people you aren’t related to can take care of you and love you and teach you to trust people again.
I know he is livid about how the unfortunate December Night progressed and how he will always blame me for our destruction but I left because I saw a life with him, not in that lovey dovey romantic way but in a way where I saw him in my future, seated at my couch, talking over a Netflix show and whining about his worries for the 100th time whilst having cheetos in milk. I saw us on a rooftop, dangling close to the edge when I am confessing, ‘those stars may be brighter than anything on this planet, but you, are the brightest star in my universe.’ He wouldn’t believe me at first, but then would have the brightest smile in all known and unknown universes. I saw us loving platonically, simply.
So, to have him tag me as the girl who walked out on him, absolutely breaks my heart, for we both HAD to see this coming, for I started noticing how he hid something. We weren’t together, yes, but he used to tell me everything even before I asked, even if I was not asking at all. I told myself that maybe he’ll say it the next time we’ll have a serious talk—but he didn’t. I felt that he was starting to like someone—besides Penelope. Through our late night talks about the world and our plans to conquer it, he would talk more about her smile lighting his world, rather than doing things that could build his.
I caught his lingering stares and the subtle comments and how he stopped talking about ‘when’ he’ll meet the love of his life. In that moment, he already had. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He was engaged. I saw how he tried to force something on me I didn’t want to be a part of and how he kept getting hurt in the process—silently blaming me for not reciprocating feelings that I didn’t harbor in the first place. I ripped him off like a wax strip because I’d rather hurt him then and have him move on in due time, as opposed to not at all and also because I was toxic, I loved toxically and I would cage him forever. I turned sad awfully young. It’s how I was born. I could bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I said, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I hate myself because even after everything I had figured out, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him. Sometimes, I wish I could, but I couldn’t.
So, I broke his heart for his own good.
“It’ll get better,” Zaahid mumbles, rocking me like a baby. He is a sunshine I don’t deserve. He makes good days even better and bad days barely matter. The easy way out I forged a month after our marriage was to get divorce and lead a separate life but the repercussions of the questions that would have followed, the shame that would have shadowed his and my name and the very fact that the Noori’s had planted fresh, blooming flowers in my once dead garden—metaphorically—held me back.
Inevitably my name had been embossed with his, our histories were combined and whatever was left, the internet did not show mercy to feed on it. Other idea I entertained was to leave the stardom and return home, but I had fought so hard to be here and lost so much on the way that going back was not an option anymore. Failing to separate myself from Zaahid, my sadness lay like dirty snow over every other emotion, greying my spirit, tainting all that could bring me joy and relief. That year, I made two failed attempts.
“It always gets better,” Zaahid continues to rub my back and stroke my hair. He loves me, he loves me not? I ask my subconscious but she rolls her eyes at me, moving to the window of her own Red Keep and jumps off the ledge just like Tommen Baratheon. His arms are too comforting to not fall asleep. Slowly, I lose consciousness as sleep begins to cuddle me.
A warm kiss on the forehead and a, “I love you,” is all I hear before drifting off to neverland.
Cigarette scent and a warm mix of his Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch cologne wakes me up. In a daze, the first thing I see is Zaahid sitting on the floor uncomfortably close to the couch I lay on. Blinking in the dim glow the windows of the living room casted through, I see a half eaten plate of chowmein, a stale black coffee mug and a half burned cigarette suspended from an overflowing ashtray.
“Rise and Shine Sleeping Beauty!” he says, sounding so cheerful it appears forced. When he looks over his shoulder at me, I see his sea battered eyes. Dominantly hazel, they sometimes look reflective brown and sometimes like the waves of a sea green and blue ocean. He instantly gets up and walks to the kitchen.
“Rise and Shine,” I repeat after him with a straight face, sitting up and watching the warm quilt fall down from my body. In the time I administer how the morning had passed, he is back.
“I made you something extra special,” Zaahid begins, passing a hot bowl of soul. “From Noori Kitchenette,” he finishes whilst rubbing the nape of his neck—a habit that accentuated his nervousness and restless state.
I don’t have to look at the soup to know what it is. Its aroma is distinct and I’ve had this before. It’s a cruel déjà vu. Our eyes meet and the same memory replays in front of us. This is the same soup he had made for me when I had been attacked by fans, six years ago. I take a spoonful of the soup and it still tastes the same—even better if I am being completely honest. My eyes glitter dangerously. “Cream,” I whisper with a cold edge to my voice.
“Peaches,” he stares at me. He slowly licks his lower lips.
“Thank you,” I asseverate, looking down at my hands as a dry laugh shadows my face.
“For?” Zaahid raises an eyebrow, questioningly. I shrug. For everything. And just like how he understands me and my pain, he also understands my silence. Being with him I’m not only giving him a place in my heart but also I’m letting go of something, I may not be able to exactly point out what that is but it is something—to coin an expression I would say my insecurities, my fear and the feeling of being unloved.
“Anyway,” he bumps his shoulder with mine as he sits next to me. The soup dances so close to the rim of the bowl that I have to pay extra attention to it. “You’ve decided on any gift for Denise?” he casually changes topic, taking out his phone. All anger he has had towards me is non existent in this moment. Zaahid has always had a better heart than me. He’s different in this haze, softer and goofier. I can’t tell where we are but that doesn’t matter now, none of it does.
“Yes!” I set the bowl on the floor, almost behind its front leg, without losing a second. “I saved this necklace online…” I say, mentally remembering if I had brought the phone from the kitchen this morning. When that thought turns out negative, I prepare to stand up. “If you’re okay with it, we can place the order and collect it in two hours or so…” I see my phone on the coffee table before us.
Brushing off the absurdity, I unlock it. The first screen that comes up is Harry and my text messages from six months ago. My jaw tenses and my eyes harden. Internally, I scowl at Zaahid. He looks up from his Instagram dash at me, “Okay.” I hide my disappointment and not anger and it’s honestly worse. It flows in waves—first comes the anger, then the sadness and eventually the numbness that works as an after balm.
I don’t want to be numb to the world, but it is the direction I think I’m going in. Zaahid’s lack of trust has allowed Disappointment to invite himself and cave in my world on me. ‘Forget and forgive’ is a phrase that looks good in books only, in reality I have to let Disappointment remind me often to be careful with my heart and emotions, to be careful who I let in because anybody can disappoint me.
Even I can disappoint me.
“Yeah, okay,” I hold out the phone at him, showing him the saved page, keeping my glossy eyes low. It’s true that everything terminates: fire dies, ice melts and love ends.
Zaahid is undoing my bandages, taking my hand in his, pretending nothing has happened. “That is bloody brilliant,” he says, nudging me to pass the first aid kit. After redoing the bandages he takes my phone in his hands and places the order.
The moment we just shared has ended but we still pretend nothing’s wrong. He crushes me with his arm, pulling me against his side. He kisses my hair, rubs my arm while I rest against the human form of Goddess Aphrodite. I take in deep, heavy, calming breaths. I have to suppress the impulse to run. I want to run fast and far away. I have an overwhelming urge to cry. I just need to get away from all this fucked-upness. Oh, when will this month pass by and I will return to my house?
After Venus, Riya and I became inseparable. She had to fill in a person’s absence and that was too big a responsibility to maintain. Since our tween years, she would say that she’d marry her best friend and I hoped I would live by it too, for they’d know so much about me. They’d get me. But now, after actually marrying mine, I’ll just let you know that life isn’t Disney Channel. Everything doesn’t work out the way we had hoped for and it is so much more than just understanding someone. It is a complex trade off between compromise and consequences, a byzantine hyperplane studying how to handle people with respect and grace. It’s building a bridge for them, knowing you may not cross it with them, and in the end, it is giving and giving and giving and hoping they give in return.
He kisses my hair again and I steal a glance at him. He looks pensive for a moment and absentmindedly, he begins to trace my collarbone with his finger, distracting me. Then, five minutes later, he stills, bends forward, too close for comfort and in a strong voice says, “Oh hey Missus might as well finish this,” pulling out the soup bowl I had oh-so-cleverly sneaked. His eyes are warm even though he doesn’t mean them too and my heart flutters wildly.
My stomach had enough of fasting period and on cue, grumbles loudly. We both grin like lunatics. Amidst his idiotic grin he says, “I’ll get you the chowmein. Anything else, you want?”
“You,” I blurt out without thinking. I’m so done with you! My subconscious comments walking around me in a circle, hands crossed behind her back. Neither he nor your relationship is possible for him to provide.
“You—Are you sure your mum is coming?” I cover up in the worst possible way. Maybe it’s not a cover up at all. It’s a hole I’ve dug for myself. I slurp the soup loudly.
He only raises his eyebrow like he can’t comprehend I just asked that. I know he’s itching to say something mean. His lips are twitching and I can already hear his voice in my head, ‘You think this is a joke?’
“Nevermind,” I wipe my face from the back of my arm, avoiding eye contact. Zaahid’s anger is bringing colour to my cheeks.
“You think this is a joke?” He finally speaks. “All of this—” he cocks his eyebrow at me, amused. He is snarky and snappy, eyes and hands darting around the room fervently. “You staying at my place…the crap of anniversary drama I put up every year…to mum coming over for a month?” he barks. Boy, he is mad. I shake my head like an obedient five year old.
“Jerk,” I mutter under my breath.
“Don’t talk tosh,” he challenges, barely hearing me. I hold my hands up in the air, surrendering. Picking up the bowl and his half eaten plate and mug, I walk towards the kitchen.
“Wait, I’ll take care of this,” he holds my arm, referring to the dishes. Handing them over he reminds me to eat the chowmein this time. Walking out, he calls out to take the painkillers only after eating.
Regret is funny like that, the minute you will try your hardest to let go, that moment it’d demand your attention. A pricking pain in my chest easily brings me to tears.
Love me when I least deserve it, because that is when I most need it.
“I can’t go back to the places we knew because they ask me if I still think about you. Only all the time.” Song: Think about you by Kygo.
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