N O T E
People talk of heaven as if it’s a distant place, and I can’t help but wonder who it is they fall asleep next to every night.
“Zaahid!” I leap out, holding his shoulder with my arm wrapped around his neck, gripping his collar. I know Zaahid is looking quizzically at me, thus, I shrug, trying to remain neutral. Frowning, he releases me onto the ground and I know a vindication is in order. I flush. At a loss of what to say, I stare down at my fingers. When I peek up at him, he’s regarding me coldly, and for an unguarded moment he looks, displeased. He drops his gaze, shaking his head, his expression changes.
He closes his eyes and sighs. I can hear his vaguely bitter, disgusted even, sound of ‘Maira!’ before he actually says it. There’s a warning in his voice. I blush and swallow hard, then stare down at my fingers, picking my nails. “When will you ever,” he spats out, “ever,” he repeats for extra emphasis, “learn to take care,” he shakes his head, agitated and runs a hand through his hair.
The words poke me completely. We gaze at each other, his eyes blazing as they stare into mine. I stand, pinned to the floor, and think of all the things I could do today if I wasn’t here. Have a long, hot bath. Watch television. Finally order my last night’s order from online food shop. Visit the gym after an hour of guilt. Proceed to eat an ice-cream to balance it out anyway. Not today. Today is not a day for the ordinary. So, it hurts to cry for a lover who isn’t coming back. I wish I could hate him for all the promises lost between ‘I’ll take care of you’ and ‘learn to take care’ but I hate that I can’t make myself hate him. Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.
“How clumsy can you be?” There’s a slight change of tone that no one else would notice. A subtext. How clumsy can you be today, of all days? I want to continue to hear him but my thoughts have tuned me out, I’m considering my response, testing his words, weighing its nuances, its meaning.
I want to shake the truth off of my permanent feelings for a temporary person. I can’t believe that I’ve been this blind. How did I go so wrong? Why did the things that I reached for in life, hoped for, dreamt for, never reached back? Why did all of the hearts failed to appreciate the home I made for them inside me? Why did they choose to break me, ruin me, make me less worthy? Or, look how they built me, shaped me, challenged me, guided me to the person I was always meant to be.
I’ve reached a crucial point in my life that, now I have aspirations and plans that only involve me. Only, I get to decide where I go from here. I can shift cities, disappear from the face of the earth, travel the world or live on a stranded island and wear coconuts and leaves, just because I can. I am ready to re-discover myself, live a life full of beautiful memories with new people, but I cannot afford to fall in love again. I cannot bear the injuries of trying to keep someone else and their happiness above mine. I was taught that relationships should be healthy; should allow every individual involved to grow independently, but I never saw it happen.
I had to learn to navigate through life’s exciting opportunities and devastating disappointments independently, early and when a man would decide to join me on that journey, I learnt the secret of being prepared if he ever left. However, I was neither geared up for the soul-crushing heartache that followed nor for the gold imprint they would leave on my soul. I’m twenty six; I have too many stupid decisions to make before I fall in love again.
“I’m sorry,” I allow, my voice quiet. His eyebrows move fractionally, registering his surprise as if he hadn’t expected this answer.
“Are you?” He bumps his shoulder with mine and walks past me. From outside the room he drags an old large suitcase in. It’s haphazardly clean surface glisten under the late afternoon light. Zaahid attempts to dust off the suitcase by beating its surface. He rotates it, and I can see the line of postcard stickers I had once stuck on it.
“No,” I mutter after a pause. With outstretched hands I almost touch it. I almost touch the suitcase I carried from India to Newcastle six years ago. I almost touch a world, snatched away from me.
It was Logan who had packed all my things after the Birthday Bash The Noori’s threw. On our drunken unofficial first encounter, he had tried to placate me by packing up all the hurt in a tattered grey suitcase. “It was your father’s car.” Logan had sat beside me on the floor, in front on the bed. “The cameras show he was driving in the wrong lane.” I had let out a stifled cry. I was frozen. Not wanting to hear, but compelled to listen all the same.
He had found a facebook page—Hashtag Justice For Maira Ahluwalia—owned by Wafaa Noori (which I got to know later on) from which he was reading the little facts known. What Wafaa was meaning to achieve from it I still don’t know, all I know was Taybah tried to shut it down by hacking into her profile, deleting the CCTV camera pictures swarming around and posting an apology to me, publically, on behalf of her daughter. “Who owns this!” I hadn’t meant to shout, and Logan had put a hand on my shoulder. I shook him off. Got up from the floor to the hall and turned on others, “Why would you do this, Wafaa?” She realized her poor judgement too late to bite her tongue.
“She just wanted to support me, am I right?” I had whirled around, searching for support in the faces around me, and then fixing my gaze on the suitcase Logan had dragged behind him. I wanted to snap back again, but I had looked at Taybah, leaning into Yousuf, moaning softly. The fight left me. I was hurting, but Taybah was hurting more. I had crossed the room and knelt besides her, reaching for her hand and feeling tears wet my cheeks even before I knew they’d left my eyes. The last picture Logan was talking about contained my dad’s tan leather wallet and his mobile phone. Out of nowhere I thought of Raahat always saying he’d one day replace his faux leather wallet with our fathers’, and for a second I thought I was going to burst into laughter. Instead I cried, and I didn’t stop for three days.
“As usual,” Zaahid remarks, now, about my lack of apologetic stance. After splaying the suitcase open on the carpet, he looks up at me and finds me regarding it cautiously. “I know,” he pauses, “but, please don’t freak out.” He joins his hands and pleads, “We HAVE to stage our act well.” He doesn’t wait for my response and starts to unpack some clothes. I can’t find it in me to stop him. When I attempt to hold his arm, he spins around and says, “Please be careful of what you say around Logan. I’m starting to feel, he knows or,” he holds his head, clearly agitated, “is very close to the truth.”
“I feel it too.” Despite our careful plannings and calculated public sightings, Logan had caught us red handed, first, two years ago. It was just after New Years, Zaahid had been laying low for months and I was to return from a solo, private vacation (officially with my husband.) An award show had nominated me and Gia had confirmed my invitation when I was away from cellular network for two weeks straight. The day I was supposed to fly back, was the day when it was being filmed and Zaahid had to take the first flight to L.A. We had reached the venue five hours apart and had fumbled to be each other’s date on the red carpet. Out of practice, we erred and much to our annoyance, Logan had witnessed it all. “Like he knows something but he would never press for information.” I say, now, “No, that’s not Logan.”
“Alright!” Zaahid shuts the cupboard door with a bang. I realize he isn’t pleased with me backing up Logan. “Let me put it this way,” he walks up to me, kicks off the luggage to the side, it hits the door frame. I can feel his anger upsurge and I want to run away from him but I also want to witness if he would ever lay a hand on me. “Maira,” my heart is in my mouth. I’ve clenched my shorts in my fists, “My reputation is at its worst right now,” he says each word slowly, making sure I register them.
I’ve taken back steps before I know it. Zaahid moves forward. “And I cannot,” he holds me by my arms, “cannot,” he puts pressure on his hold, “afford to have it more tarnished by being in the papers against their favourite headliner,” he shouts, and roughly pushes me at the wall, “which is you!” and leaves. My breath stops short in my chest and I am at a dispute with myself whether I should be glad of our first ever marital fight or hold back the tears he has caused.
“Did you change the display picture and post the throwback picture?” Zaahid inquires irritatedly on the phone. It’s been an hour since our argument. He has dragged me from sulking in his bedroom to the kitchen, to change the soiled bandages. An untouched plate of biryani sits next to the first aid kit. A coaster covered glass of water and the painkiller tablet are the perfect muse for the flat lay pictures of Instagram.
“Mum just because you know all of our passwords, doesn’t mean you go all out and make changes without my knowledge!” Zaahid is very angry—at Taybah’s actions and the repercussions he would have to face for its aftermath. Being active on his socials would lead his followers to believe something is happening soon, while in reality that is an eternity away for the time being. This is a weird flex the Noori’s have—the mother has the authority to login to whomevers account she pleases. When I was asked for my passwords, I gave them to her without a flinch—for I was still trying to be accepted in, but that very same night I changed all of them. Raahat was never my brother brother, but his teachings were still blood.
“Yeah,” he listens closely to whatever she is saying, “please don’t undo that!” He holds his head in his hands and the bandage he is holding rolls off to the floor. “Just don’t do anything anymore.” He fumbles and I can feel his anguish—how hard he’s trying to keep control, how fiercely he is trying to prove himself to everyone. “Please keep off from my accounts.” He cuts the phone and is about to smash it at the table but then his eyes find mine and he puts in his pocket.
“Eat,” he commands, wrapping the edges in tape. Then tries to guide a spoonful to my mouth but I resist, “please,” he implores and I can feel the suffering, the burden, he’s been carrying around eversince he walked out of his band and I comply.
A minute after we smack the plate clean, he picks up his car keys. “Are you going somewhere?” I ask. When he stands to get his coat from the rack, I notice him wearing his light blue jeans and the classic white t-shirt and the shades hanging from the collar.
“Yeah, to pick up Denise’s gift.” He rubs a hand on his nape. His eyes are burning with a grave intensity, but his general expression is completely unreadable. “You hang in here, okay?” He walks up to the end of the hall, stops abruptly and turns around, “Oh and get to the flowers on the landing and the hall.”
“Anything else, your majesty?” I pout.
“No, that’s all for now.” He chuckles. “And if you’d need help, obviously, you will,” he leans back at the door, putting a hand on the doorknob, the soft clinks of metal hitting wood, echos in the hall. A beat. “Not be calling me up,” he finishes, cocking an eyebrow up.
“Never,” I cross my shoulders with a bogus seriousness. He walks out and I’m not sure if he’s keeping out the trouble or locking it in.
The garden glistens under the fading suns lilac intensity. The air feels heavier as I pick flowers for the landing. Before going back inside, I take a long look at the fallen rose petals. I feel a vacancy I haven’t felt in weeks, which is silly, for I am the first to acknowledge and find comfort in solitude, but today ‘being alone’ feels like a slap across my face. The onset of winter always seems to have that effect on me.
The landing is just a ‘T’ point between the hall and the corridors for the bedrooms. It hoards a large vase his sisters gifted us as our wedding present and an assortment of pictures from another life. I sloppily place the flower sticks in and begin to wipe the photos clean. A nebulous, but familiar chasm tweaks my heart. Oh fuckity fuck, my subconscious whispers as my scalp prickles.
A stark silence stretches before me. I reach over for something—anything—to bring my erratic heart rate under control. Then bile rises to my throat as I realise the implications. Rapidly, I dismiss them from my head but the damage has been done. My mouth is dry. The picture hanging on the wall is of the Noori’s and me on Love Let Me Behind’s single release, back in 2013. How many times must I retell these stories before you learn to stop grasping at the remnants of our history? My subconscious snaps and I can’t even slap her down.
I had been waiting for its release for so long that I could barely believe my eyes when the moonlight had faded out and the early sun rays were trying to filter in. I had been a chaotic mix of equal parts restless anxiety and excitement. It was a morning full of phone calls and congratulations and meetings and last minute preparations. Everything had hinged on what I did at noon EST, and once done it couldn’t be undone.
I couldn’t think straight that morning; I had put my phone in the wrong pocket and had then panicked when I couldn’t find it. I had Stephan in conference calls with Gregory and Sebastian to newly made friends—Harry and Gia—congratulating over the release to my social media accounts blowing up to another round of haters giving me a glimpse of themselves on my Instagram feeds. I had tried to busy myself in daily chores but the antique clock in the hall only seemed to confirm that time was slowing down, my stomach had knotted up.
The release happened six months after I first met Stephan in his London office. It had been a long enough time to make the house entirely mine as Zaahid had been away on tour. That evening, the Noori’s (his sisters and mother) were coming over to publicly stand by me as they—she—had openly professed on live television, a while ago. I knew there would be love and warmth in the air. Yaser had been on a work schedule and would be on the plane to States as the event would have unfolded. For most part of these past years—he always has been. I can’t really remember him playing a significant part in Zaahid’s career or mine, besides silently supporting me more, that is.
Each time Zaahid had a theatres to play in, Mr Noori was at work; when Zaahid prospered to arenas, Mr Noori had been in Japan on an international meeting; when Zaahid started playing in stadiums, Mr Noori had been in Australia—super busy to even congratulate his only son on his progressing career. On nights when Zaahid would wait for his father’s call, there would always be a look on his face. A look that told you more than the novel of words he could say or write—an absolute convey for the manifold of ways in which the heart can break or a soul could dissipate. They would carry a shatter onwards for days when the call wouldn’t come.
Amongst the vexing activities and exhaustive wait for the event, Taybah had stood in the hall opposite me, cooing assurance and confidence into me and swaying me with promises—blunt ones, might I add—to bright future visions. The Noori Sisters had planned to play ‘Let’s Make her a Barbie Doll’ with makeup and Taybah was counseling me with falsehood—as always and in the end it was the false that made me suffer.
“You do realise all that you’ve achieved until now, don’t you?”
“You’d do nice, great actually!”
“This will be the best debut single ever; you should take me on that one.”
“Your voice is my aesthetic. It’s unbelievable and you have no right to put yourself down, do you get it?”
“The crowd is going to love you so much for this.”
I had needed a more qualified assurance and thus I had casually glanced at Zaahid whose eyes had already been on me. “The single looks fantastic. Gregory and Sebastian have done a fantastic job with the video and so have you with the song.” Zaahid had poised me, nodding in agreement. I had questioned when he saw the video and he had mentioned Stephan showing them the video on the flight from Gothenburg, Sweden—where he was until that morning, on tour with the band—to London, Britain.
A small part of me then felt calmer, stronger and more resilient because he was there. Within each moment I had looked at him, my resolve grew stronger. My writing mentor who-had-no-idea-he-was-one had appreciated my hard work. My in-and-out housemate who has seen me break down and get up had valued my music. That was all I ever wanted to hear. I had nodded my head, unable to say a word. The unwavering smiles on the faces before me were pure, raw and honest love. Overcome with emotion, my anticipation was unbearable and I had been swept away by gratitude I felt towards each one of them.
“Thank you so much for coming.” In the heat of the moment I had babbled out ‘thank yous’ while embracing each member present in a warm hug and embellishing them with elegant kisses. Over his shoulder, with eyes wide open and arms tightly around his neck, I had grasped my mistake. My inner goddess had thanked the Faceless Gods and The Lord of the Seven Kingdoms above at that. I had pushed myself off him so hard that I tripped on my own steps from that movement alone. Eyes squeezed closed in guilt, embarrassment even, my fist had mentally banged the air as if an invisible table was present. Oh crapola.
Zaahid’s gasp still rings in my ears. Words had left me as I tried to collect my scattered thoughts. Still with a deep flush colouring me red, I broke the icy silence, “I’ve to get dressed for the event,” in a single breath. Making sure I avoided Zaahid’s eye by all means I hadn’t dared to look up. “If you’ll allow me,” my eyes betrayed me and my heart had fluttered at the sight of his tight jaw and pink neck and ears. Sabira had cleared her throat, nodding.
Hastily latching the door and hiding my face in my hands, I had sunk to the ground behind my bedroom door. My icy cold hands had soothed the heat that radiated from my face. Minutes passed as I regained my lost composure and without wasting another second I had gone for a quick shower. Drying my hair and styling them in a messy bun and putting on light make up (stylists are for super famous people, you know, and this is me beginning my career days) I had then struggled with a black and white palm tree print dress with contrasting skater style at the front and sweeping jacquard train to the back. I had finished the look with a black ankle strap court shoes.
The dress had a “zipper” and had to be zipped up from behind but I noticed the “zip part” of it after I was half way inside it. Only thirty minutes were left until I had to leave with-or-without the dress if I had to be on stage, on time, and there I was, twisting my hands against the natural laws of anatomy set up in biology for mankind in order to zip up my dress. “Maira, we need to—” Zaahid had walked in on me and unwisely I had turned around, clutching the dress in my hands. What the heck? I had locked the door! My subconscious had expressed her horrors. I had then peered over to the lock on the door which I had presumably latched—a bag’s strap hanging on the latch had been moved all the way up to the lock. Unreasonable haste is the direct road to error, I learnt that day.
“Wha—wha—what are you—you doing her—here?” I had gasped, unable to form a comprehensive sentence. I could feel the heat growing in my cheeks, making them beyond attractive and making me feel like all my insecurities were splashed across my face.
“Oh, I’m—I’m sor-sorry,” Zaahid had hurried on with a hot flush.
After a moment of thick awkwardness, awareness had seeped into him and he had continued, “Oh right…I—I came here to inf—inform you that you’re getting late. Y—You should leave.” He had shifted on his feet, rubbing his nape, eyeing almost everything in the room, but me.
“So do you,” I had murmured, my voice harsh and low.
“Of course,” Hurriedly, Zaahid had turned around, ready to dart out of the room in lights speed. With fervent ardour he had taken his first few steps towards the door.
“Zaahid?” I had called out, then. WHAT? DO YOU REALISE YOU ARE INAPPROPRIATELY DRESSED AT THE MOMENT AND IN THE VICINITY OF A STRANGE MAN? My subconscious had roared at me, glaring.
“Yeah?” Zaahid hadn’t turned around; he just turned his head to the right to hear me better. I had stared at him in admiring wonder, tightly gripping my dress.
“Is anybody out there? I think I need help,” I had quietly questioned, making sure that I didn’t meet his eye. It was unsettling, and plainly thwarting. I had turned around noiselessly.
“No, actually they are all waiting for you in the car; we thought you’d be ready until now,” he had explained and I had nodded my head in an answer. Again, silence had ensued for a brief moment until he proposed that he could immediately call for someone. I had lifted my eyes to the wall clock and it emphasised that I had to leave in a less than five minutes if I didn’t want to be late on my own song’s premiere. I had to decline Zaahid’s offer. He supposedly left without another word and I carried on fiddling with the zip.
Out of the blue, I had felt a hot breath on my bare skin. In the mirror before me, our eyes met. He had gazed intently down at me, eyes dark, dilated. “May I?” he had asked and I was lost and he had barely touched me. I had nodded in a trance called Zaahid Noori, closing my eyes involuntarily. He had stood behind me, exuding his intoxicating sensuality as his deft fingers made quick work on the zipper. He had to clutch the dress tightly to zip me up while his breath incessantly fanned my bare back.
I could hear my rugged breathing and I was sure he could do. I had blanched, as the idea rung through me. I felt as if the constellations had lit up the skies spelling his name with the stars. Zaahid had stepped back when he had finished, and echoes of his touch had quivered across my delicate skin only to disappear into the breeze until there was nothing left to remember of him.
He had leaned in forward then, a bit too close to my ear to be considered friendly, and whispered, “You look lovely, tonight,” accompanied with a peck to my cheek. I had been admiring the dress hugging my body at that time and had instantly lifted my eyes, our gaze again meeting in the mirror. A hot flush coloured me pink. I stared at him with wide, horrified, embarrassed eyes. “I’ll be waiting in the car, if you’ll allow me,” Zaahid had thrown my words at me, with a sly, salacious grin sitting proudly on his face.
Right now, I am staring at the picture of The Noori’s and me on the Love Let Me Behind’s premiere night, hanging on the landing, with a mouth full of bitter flavour of reminisces and recollections. Up to the minute, I am governed by my feelings and the only thing I know is: the people, who don’t express their emotions, show their love in quiet gestures like sharing an umbrella with you in the rain, leaving you the last slice of the pizza, throwing their arms around you when you’re afraid. It is these people who teach us that love does not have to be flamboyant or loud to be present. I think Zaahid is one of them.
Footfalls of combat boots become louder as they near, I hear the jingling of keys as they are probably stashed out from the pockets to be thrown into the bowl near the door, the shuffling out of a coat and then silence. “Maira—” Zaahid walks in on me and in the reflection of the photoframe, our eyes meet. We both stand unguarded, plagued by the early blooms of our now long lost love.
Feeling extraordinarily brave, I force a small smile, “You got it?” He pats his jeans pocket, and then bows his head to rub a hand on his nape, unable to say a word. Both of our hearts are breaking, yet we can’t vouch for it. The memories of us are resonating in our minds and we’re wrapped in a series of wayback whens. Hiding our true emotions behind steely exterior poker faces, I speak, “I’ll go get ready then.”
Walking into the bedroom, I stand there in the middle of it. Huffing out a large breath, with hands of my hips I’m staring at nothing. Zaahid walks past me to grab his clothes from the cupboard. The air is still lingering with the scent of his cologne and I find myself inhaling it in. He removes his tshirt in a quick move, with his back to me. Wrapping himself in a towel, he undresses his jeans and walks into the bathroom. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
For months after we ended on the rooftop, I too blamed myself for our loss. I had been showcased as the ‘bad guy’ in our story and I had been too hurt to see clearly. Once that cloud drifted away, it became clearer by the day that we were both at fault, we both lost a relationship, we both hurt each other and we were both hurting. So, I immediately stopped holding that burden alone and started accounting him as a defaulter too. It took me two years to understand the time lag between this blame game and another to fall in love with him.
I lagged because I crushed on him for so long that I truly understood only a small percentage of his entire being and rest I made up myself—imagined him as what I wanted him to be for me, desired for him and created little fantasies of him. When that image broke on a cold December night, our relationship failed; my lies about him unraveled and for me Zaahid became unrecognizable. And what a terrible shame it was. It took me additional three years to value him and when that happened, I was a-girlfriend late, spending a month in his house, prepping for fake anniversary parties, into our relationship.
My advice: be aware of the intricacies and the nitty-gritty of people, you will realize that the cosmos is a great deal more breathtaking an author that you can ever intend to be.
We’re getting too old to be teaching people how to act right.
“All I needed was the love you gave, all I needed for another day and all I ever knew, Only you. This is gonna take a long time and I wonder what’s mine, can’t take no more.” Song: Only You by Enrique Iglesias.
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