N O T E
You are the perfect mix, of everything I have ever craved.
“I can expect her any day or any hour now,” I hear the door being closed, the background music blaring from Oliver’s cars’ speakers fading away. “Maybe not today, but tomorrow morning—early morning, I don’t know, I—we—just have to be prepared.” Zaahid speaks picking up the dishes. Then he glances at me, nodding his head to indicate that yes, Maira, mum is coming over and this pretence is very important.
“How do you want to do this?” He opens a chest of drawers and pulls out a worn out page. He scans the lines and I assume this is his ‘List of things to Set Up for Mum.’ There is no hesitation now. I don’t have any questions lingering about the validity of Zaahid’s call. There is no ‘what if she doesn’t arrive,’ no insistence that I should go back home.
“Hang on, I’ll make notes,” I pull out an imaginary pen and notepad. “Sorry—I just don’t do this a lot.” I pretend to write. “Deceiving, you know?” The comment is sarcastic, and I can see hurt in his eyes, but I’m past the point where I can calm myself down.
“Ah! Of course, how did I forget,” he claps his hands, the paper between his palms. He takes a step towards me and whispers, “You only excel in leading people around and,” he tears the sheet in two, bumps his shoulder with mine and continues to walk,” “leave them stranded.” He gives me a look and I bite back a further retort. Bickering won’t help. He doesn’t kiss me as he goes and I don’t blame him.
My half of the sheet flutters to the floor. I read that he’s given me the study, tad bit adjustments in the bedrooms and the bathrooms, the hall and to replace the flower vase on the landing. His part would have the office, his art room, the kitchen and the attic. Accordingly, I move to the study. A dirty study would have easily blown off our act because I loved books and when I was ‘home’ I usually spent my time in it and I had been ‘living’ in this ‘home’ for four years now. So, you get the hang, right? With hopeful eyes I move forth to brush off shelves and wipe the study table. Surprisingly, my four year old dog-eared-free copy of And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini sat neatly on his table.
There isn’t a speck of dust on the table or on the chair or on any of the shelves. Plus, the new box set of A Song of Ice and Fire I had ordered a day before I had to abruptly leave his house—four years ago—is tidily placed in the corner of the room, still covered in its plastic wrap. WHAT? He wouldn’t have done it, Maira, definitely someone else would have. Maybe, Mrs. Khan? It’ll be all okay. You’re good. One month and you leave this behind. One month. My subconscious cajoles. My stomach lurches, a lift dropping to the ground floor without buttons pressed for pause. I’m not prepared for more suprises. I want to live the rest of my life knowing what is happening each hour, each day.
I take a careful step back and bump into the magenta recliner, it rocks and slides down a new copy of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Following the shifting book’s trail I notice the half filled black coffee cup on the floor. A cream-off-white coloured photopaper looks out of place, peeking from the edges, marking a page. Out of curiosity I pick up the book and pull out the makeshift bookmark—a polaroid.
When did the book fall from my hands, I’m not sure, all I know is that it is a picture of us, not collecting dust in the middle of a book I will never open ever again—we look so happy. The pixels of the photo enlarge and I can see it being taken before me. “Moons and stars, highs and lows,” Zaahid clears his throat, “rivers and streams, mountains and” he tackles me and crushes me with his heavy arm, “valleys,” he grins and pouts as soon Gia holds up the camera at a sleepover in a hotel room—part of the tour which is my short collaboration with Zaahid’s band and Gia is my plus one.
We pose like teenagers, kissing and pouting, being silly and I smack my face and laugh hard. The coke cans topple from the table and stain the carpets. The sheets and duvets are on the floor and Harry is noisily crunching on the crisps on them, furiously texting Natalia who is a world away in Dublin. The T.V. is playing a Russian flick and we’ve long lost interest in the game of Making Up Dialogues. Room service lady has refused to bring us more food at two in the morning. The four of us are completely out of it. I might be exaggerating. Only slightly. “Sunshine and rain,” Zaahid leaps forward takes the Polaroid after it’s barely left the camera. Shaking it wildly until the picture forms and being in complete awe of it, he exhales, “You and I.” He winks at me in a blink-and-you-miss-it.
Gia can’t stop gushing about her new skills. Harry is irritated by our banter. He holds up the pillow and throws it at us to shut up. “A picture might say a thousand words but most of them are lies.” The siblings fight over who the bigger spoilsport is. The night passes in a haze of laughter, lifetime of memories, good food and with breaking a strict rule of only ‘non-alcoholic’ drinks.
I say nothing, my heartbeat a drum roll in my ears. This picture is proof that Zaahid has always had a way of making dull and dreary nights, bright and radiant, the ordinary hotel service extraordinary and the mundane tour life, magic. To him everything was adventure—from the makeup to the going on stage—and in his silly, wild presence, I always felt like every moment mattered and life could be embraced, cherished even, but not today.
At this instant, I don’t even want to touch the books lest I’d feel the echo of his fingers. I move out with a random pile. Mindlessly, I place them—one near the landline, three stacked neatly on the fireplace, one on the refrigerator, two on the bed, five in the kitchen ; repositioning a lot of the furniture. Small changes that I hope—for a while—will stop me from remembering; stop me from picturing what happened here.
When I return to the study, I lay in the magenta recliner. Exhaling a deep breath, I stretch my legs, crossing one over the other. After my debut album release, the critics had chanted like a tagline of a Disparagement of Maira Ahluwalia Cult, “Her success is due to her publicized troubles.” Not so subtly referring to an array of things and claiming me to be the ambassador of ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ As months passed, it got difficult for the media to shock me, but every now and then they would surprise me. This one piece was their successful attempt.
I absolutely abhor the propaganda, pasted on me, by the media. Yes, some things that didn’t kill me came so close that they’re still damaging. When I showcased emotion, I was called crazy. The hustle bustle of media swarming around the house that month after the Finale kept me up all night and paranoid in the day but I bled—I bled openly. For, last time I checked, I was wired by the things that didn’t kill me were the ones that made me.
The crumpled polaroid rolls off from my hand and under the last shelf. I bend down to retrieve it but my hand touches something else. My ears are alert, my eyes are wary and my heart has forgotten how to beat. I lay flat on the carpet and pull out exactly what I know is there—a diary. My diary. My songs diary. My first songs diary. As if I’m in a movie and my brain has a tape, the recording moves in fast backward motion. The reel rolls back before my eyes showing glimpses of blurry figures and stops to the week where I found my ‘happy place’ in Zaahid’s house—which later got referred to as the infamous Area Behind the Couch, and was scheduled to meet Stephan to discuss my music prospects.
My upbringing had long before taught me to embrace the darkness but seldom my imagination would supply me beasts with fantastical jaws. That week, Zaahid found out how I enveloped myself in the night, filled in a handpaper diary with the rawest proses and cowered from the flesh and blood monsters of the day and how it was my best friend—funny and smooth, cold and pleasing. A month later, he witnessed the madness of my first attempt.
Right now, I am breathing calmly, rested against the recliner. My heart sinks when my eyes again focus on the book. Somewhere inside the house I can hear Zaahid stirring something in a pot on the stove that smells delicious—our late lunch, probably? Dry winds fly in from the open windows but I still feel stuffy inside and out.
“Maira, can we have a picture please?”
“An autograph would mean so much!”
“You saved my life, thank you!”
“You’re my idol, I love you so much!”
With security leading my way, I had securely arrived at the entrance. Grinning widely, the word progress ran around my brain as I walked in the black pumps, I wore, clicked against the marble tiled floor of the office building as I had arrived at the reception and was showed my way to Stephan’s office.
But being prepared for that first meeting with Stephan was of prime importance. I had to HAVE a song. So, I had followed Mrs. Khan’s advice ‘to ask Zaahid,’ and that’s precisely what I had planned, but he was in his office, standing in the dark and in a compromisable position with his then—and present too, by the way—girlfriend, Penelope and I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I hardly escaped their scrutiny after stuttering an apology that I didn’t see or hear anything. Oh Maira, are you ever going to live this down?
Terrified of the fact that I’d runaway—a notion Taybah had bestowed on everyone ever since I went for a jog without informing her—Zaahid had searched for me behind the couch and only saw an empty cup of tea, cushions and pillows of my bedroom, the duvet, crumpled papers and pencils sharpening. In the garden, he had caught me off guard. I had barely got my bearings together when he had interrupted my thoughts. “You left this, back in there,” he had grinned wickedly handing me the dairy I might have had dropped in the office. I was aware of the shy blush that had crept across my cheeks. The moonless night perfectly hid my flaws and shortcomings, the scars burned onto my skin and all the stabs from knives left behind.
Growing up, I was driven by the moon. Like her, I kept parts of myself hidden. I don’t know who or how that helped but it kept me away from a ghastly heartache for as long as it could. A ceramic plate crashes on the marble floor of the kitchen and breaks my reverie. Frowning, I turn my attention back to the study where I presently lay in. I roam my eyes on the shelves, unconsciously searching something I didn’t even know I wanted until my eyes fell on it. The Maha Mrityunjaya mantra from Rigveda.
Two weeks after my first attempt, he first brought up Raahat, but I couldn’t handle it and he never pushed. That night, he bought me the The Maha Mrityunjaya mantra engraved in wood. Its healing powers were known to be astounding and Zaahid just wanted to help. Despite the awkward silence that had dawned on the two of us, he couldn’t help but comment, “The one you’re running away from is you.” The comment had taken the wind out of my sails. It had been months since we had started sharing his house but we never brought it up, never talked about it. Until I bled out an artery.
A fridge door shuts abruptly, now, a beer bottle falling inside breaks my thought bubble. Zaahid is placing various dishes on the countertop; the microwave is humming lightly and then a quiet tick of the timer. An assortment of exotic, spicy aromas fills the kitchen, and I shift in my recliner. Biryani—maybe? Next, I hear the sharp pop of a cork being drawn from a bottle and the gentle glug of wine being poured into a glass as footsteps neared me, entering the study.
“If you are done lazing around, I’d appreciate you move to the bedroom,” Zaahid snaps, his voice tight. A moment later, he’s standing beside me, a cigarette stub between his fingers and Exton Park Pinot Meunier Rose wine bottle and glass in another. The glass is half filled with the vibrant yet delicate coral coloured delight that is scented with the likes of honeysuckle and jasmine. I flush, embarrassed. My subconscious and I breathe in a sigh of relief when Zaahid walks off without noticing the book fallen on the ground.
Moving into the bedroom, I am aimlessly flipping sheets and stashing pillows. Taking out my necessities from my bags, I have set them around the room…the moisturiser on the side table, the comb and brush on the dressing table in the ante bedroom and the makeup in his drawers. I have finally unpacked my suitcases and have hidden them in a corner of the room but I’m still not here—physically yes, mentally I am seeing myself knocking on Stephan’s office door.
“There you are!” Stephan had beamed, looking up from his desk, standing up to get the door. Once we were in the quiet of his coral themed office, he had hugged me like he utterly missed me. “I thought you’d again be stranded, but hand to god it’s such a relief to see you here and not in a hospital.” He had weakly mentioned the paparazzi ambush. “So, how’s it treating you?”
I had heaved out a deep sigh, the relapse of sleepless nights and anxious, empty mornings flashing before me, “They’re trying.” I had shrugged and pulled out a white lie. Yes, an absent Yaser, busy sisters, on-tour brother and a snooping Taybah did not qualify at ‘trying.’ It seems once you start lying, it’s easy to carry on.
“Well that’s a start,” he had taken a sip from his tea and had opened his business diary, masking the hurt he felt when he couldn’t help me with accommodation with an Indian Passport and Citizenship, tickets to go back (there WAS no going back) and a soon to expire visa. “So you have something for me?”
I had fumbled my hand in my handbag and had handed him the piece of paper on which I had written my song. His eyes had darted back and forth, from line to line, up and down, right to left, skimming through the lines. I had gulped down the lump in my throat, glanced at him through my lashes. Stephan had swallowed hard and had tightened his hold on the sheet. My subconscious had sniffed in a rather unladylike way. Trying to smell deceit? I had rolled my eyes at her. Stephan unremittingly had acted coy—going through the sheet over and over again, asking vague and unruly questions, making sure that I had written it. I knew he was gauging my reaction and I had gaped at him because that was all I could do.
“Do you even realise what you’ve written?” Stephan had mocked alarm in his voice. My face had split into a huge grin and I had jumped up and down on the spot in a moment of unguarded and unbridled overexcitement. Stephan’s expression had mirrored mine along with sprinkles of pride and profound proud(ness.) The next thing I knew was, I was sitting right across from—in a music room, might I add—Gregory and Sebastian, my, not quite at that moment, but future, music producers and audio engineers.
The duo was known for their biggest hits with the A listers of the industry. They had won the Best Music Producers Guild Awards twice in a row. Gregory was a Grammy awardee for Best Country Music Artist Male. Together they had won the American Music Award for Favourite Country Duo. Also, they had been honoured with Billboard Music Award for Top Pop Artist and they had been a favourite with MTV’s Video Music Award for Best Direction, and at that point, they were ready to train me—produce me. My music.
I could barely contain my excitement. Ultimately, we had discussed the song—it was basically me trying to impress Gregory and Sebastian, with my capabilities to play various instruments or by the fact that I had already chalked out the chorus on the guitar. I had just wanted to make them believe that I was someone worth investing in!
“What’s the story behind it?” is a million dollar question I was first asked by Gregory and subsequently in many future interviews. It is like wanting to know about my line of thoughts, trying to capture a streak of me that I might have spilled along the way. This is how time turns table. Love into hate, affection into aversion, friends into long term enemies, and fans to cyber stalkers. You always have to be brave in the end. Only the brave princess gets the love and recognition when the movie ends.
We have to walk away from things that don’t grow us in a positive and a healthy manner. It’s always going to be hard to leave someone who you’ve loved with all your heart but that doesn’t make you a better person you want to be when you see down the line. Pushing wrong/ unhealthy people away is the best thing you can do when you don’t feel good about yourself. Your confidence is everything. Every step you take should calm your soul down. Move away and live a better life.
Is it too late for this? For us? Have we squandered away too much for too long, Zaahid and I? Part of me thinks it is better to go on as we have, to act as though we don’t know how ill suited we have been for each other. It’ll probably be less painful that way, perhaps better than this belated offering—the photograph between the book, my old bedroom, him remembering my sorrows. It is a fragile, trembling little glimpse of how it could have been between us. All it will beget is regret, I tell myself, and what good is regret? It brings back nonentity.
What we have lost is irretrievable.
Mistakenly—the very first and the last—I had shared with Gregory a piece of my heart—raw, undivided and pure. Never again. My subconscious chants today. I sat up immediately, alarmed. They had startled me, caught me unprepared. “Well....it’s a story my parents told me when I was like seven or eight...though they told me many stories but, this was something that always stuck with me,” I had mumbled, scratching the back of my head, walking towards the guitar in the corner of the room.
“It really fascinated me and err?...and it really stuck with me in a way that no other story had stuck with me.” I had added, leaning down towards the neck of the guitar, setting my fingers. Sitting on the head-rest of the couch in the room, with legs bent at the knees, the guitar balanced on them and my feet rested on the couch, I had glanced up at them anxiously, and then with a sly smile I had played the introductory chords. C G Am F.
“It was a story about these two teenagers who fall in love with each other over summer,” I had murmured. My pulse had quickened despite the fact that almost two weeks ago I had won a reality show. Sebastian’s lips had twitched in amusement. I had played an open note. “And err?...the thing that really got to me was that the story ended in a fairytale romance.”
I had adjusted the capo at fret number two. My face had warmed. “So, when I was eleven I wrote a little something…” a wave of strange homesickness had drenched me and I could barely hold the crack of emotion in my voice, “and then a week before, I wrote this song and I decided that I would change the ending.”
I had pursed my lips as adrenaline coursed through my body and my heart had leapt into my throat. Without another word I had played the chords again. Chord C, if love seeks a home, may it find you. Chord F, for you share a legacy with the sky and both of you; Chord Am, carry unanswered prayers; Chord F, and some unshed tears and only; Chord C, if you could get a little bit love from yourself.
“And I called it Love Left Me Behind.” I had smiled broadly at them and then I had played the song. A month after that meeting, I had successfully managed to release a ten second audio trailer for the song on my social media websites. They had caught fire within hours and I could say that I did have a nice support from fans, back then too. The day Love Left Me Behind actually released, all kinds of success heights that could be possible in the virtual world of internet had been reached.
There had been twitter trends, to Instagram follow trains, to billboard rankings to the number one song in the UK. A week later it had been the song of the week and I had by then probably celebrated that achievement almost every day. Two weeks following that, after a long board meeting with Gregory and Sebastian, the day for the music video release was dusted and done.
I can hear the sound of naked feet padding the wooden floor above me, now, while I am running my hands around the bed sheets, tucking them under the mattress. An annoying buzzing noise has managed to push my idle mind away and now I am completely aware of my surroundings. I see a vacuum cleaner in my hand, mindlessly running along the rugs.
Zaahid is moving heavy boxes around to make room for others. Then there is a short pause—maybe he takes a sip from his wine or a drag from his cigarette. He coughs in the musky space of the attic and I immediately put my money on his smoking. Shoes shuffle on the floor above mine, and then Zaahid is walking downstairs, brushing off the dirt from the attic.
“Maira, give me your suitcases I’ll stack them in the attic. I’ve made room there,” Zaahid announces as he enters the bedroom I am presently in, not mine, that I very well know. One of his hands runs through his hair while the other holds the wine glass and bottle.
I haven’t been listening to what he is saying. My eyes are too focused on his casual hold of the wine glass and bottle. The last gulp swirling in the glass is mocking me. Everyone has a temper. Don’t they? And Zaahid is no more or less out of control than I am; no more likely to lash out than me. It is all about triggers. His shifted over the years. The first year after marriage, it was seeing Penelope genuinely happy at a music award after party with another man. He had been so riled up; he had dragged me in a corner and smashed the cocktail bottle and glass on the wall beside my head.
Zaahid was never your stereotypical clichéd drunk or a reincarnation of the Mad King. You’d never find him asleep in doorways with piss down his pants or shouting at strangers with the windows down, or getting into fights. He was a functional Madness. Smart suits. Never a hair out of place. Selling stadiums with audio teasers and having sold out merchandise the minute they launch. Later when he heard about her daughters and businessman husband, the trigger was Maira—snatching from him, his one true love. So, he couldn’t handle another man’s—Harry and Logan—presence buzzing around me.
“Tell him to keep his hands off you next time!” he roars whilst we walk along the edge of the balcony. The celebration is in lieu of his band’s recent albumn’s success and this night is our first public appearance as a couple. When I don’t reply, he is so infuriated that he breaks the whiskey glass in his hand. Alcohol and triggers due to jealousy would make him lose control. It would make him numb to the consequences of his actions. It would make his fists fly.
Over the years when he undersood that I wasn’t filing divorce papers, the triggers and the violence reduced, stopped even until he’d see a rumour or a photoshopped picture of me with other men. Now, Zaahid is in control. He hasn’t had an episode in recent times that I can recollect and that is good. He changed. He gave himself a second chance at life. Consequently, I learned from him how I had to stop clinging onto relationships that no longer served me and how—if—he and I were moving into opposite directions, leaving each other, here’s the secret, I would let him.
“Alright, they are in that corner, behind the curtain,” I point out over his shoulder and his eyes follow my finger.
“And I found this stack of your old clothes which Delnaz always wants,” I switch off the vacuum. “And this pile of books in your closet,” I dust off my hands and walk past the bed and before the cupboard. “You’ll have to for the time being put them in the attic; I need space for my clothes.” I say, turning around to take down the clothes from the top most shelves which were well out of my reach. Though I am quite proud of my five feet four frame but it is moments like these when I feel my pride evaporating.
I drag an old stool in front of the closet and stand on it. When I am comfortably shaking on the stool do I realise that I have climbed a bit too far from the stack of clothes. But being as lazy as I am I still try to reach the clothes with an outstretched hand, my fingers doing some voodoo black magic in order to make them fly towards me.
“Can you just stop? Let me do it,” He looks back from the door. “Come on…move aside.” Zaahid drops the luggage at the door and walks towards me and I give him the look—I AM doing this— and he walks to the end of the bed. Arms crossed with the attitude, he cocks his head. “I’m watching you.” His words make me conscious and my terrible phobia of failing makes a two feet height and heartbreak terrifying. It is due to my inherent fear of falling.
My pinky finger gets stuck in one of the neck of the shirts piled up and I pull wildly at it, only for the stool to lose balance and trip over to the side while my post-graduate-student-who-didn’t-get-her-degree brain comes up with the idea to move to the other side in order to balance the fall. All in all, within seconds, I have managed to slip up my leg, roll around on the stool, and pull down the stack of clothes along with the books seated beside and then I am freely falling from a nine feet tall room. It is like standing at the cliff at the edge of the world, the moment of life and death. Before I can reach the ground—filled with books, clothes and a broken stool—a pair of strong arms wrap around me.
I fall from my world and crash into his.
I miss the you I fell in love with, the you that loved me back.
“Your secret has its consequence and that’s on you, babe I break down every time you call. We’re a wreck, you’re the wrecking ball.We said no one else, how could you do this, babe? You really blew this, babe, we ain’t getting through this one, babe” Song: Babe by Sugarland Ft. Taylor Swift
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