N O T E
She is not your typical anything, but somehow uniquely everything.
Do you do it too, expect something, and anticipate about it so much that unconsciously your actions sooner or later lead to it? My first love had broken my heart so gloriously that all the love songs were about him. After him, in senior year and in university I would wait for the next heartbreak to happen, in fact, with Zaahid somewhere I knew, I was creating that heartbreak myself.
“This would be lovely!” Zaahid reaches over my shoulder to pick out a black saree with authentic silver embroidery on it. I nod, looking at him over my shoulder and taking in his attire. He is dressed in a black suit. What do they call these? Marc Jacobs? Tom Ford? Michael Kors? Yves Saint Laurent? Louis Vuitton? Givenchy? The white shirt underneath brings out his abs and the fitted coat showcase the cuts on his arms. “We’d be colour coordinated,” he scoffs, “it will do us good.”
I want to roll my eyes at him for always playing ‘Fake It Till You Make It’ but before I do any such thing, he successfully smacks me in the face with the saree. “Whoops!” He trills in a sing-song voice. When the blow fades out, I’m staring eye-to-eye at the fawn gown. My heart drops. I’m in a high alert mode with an endless chaos within me. I hear it speak softly of old hurts and fondly of past loves, demanding anxiety to resound throughout me in multitudes. Zaahid follows my eyes and declares, “Okay!” dragging me away from the cupboard, “enough of that.”
I can no more look up at him without feeling sick. Unknowingly or knowingly Zaahid had effectively placed my USO Finale gown from the tattered grey suitcase into the cupboard. That piece of clothing became so much more after the Finale—I had cried in it when Taybah dropped the ‘D’ bomb on me, I had entered their Birmingham house for the first time wearing it and I had almost drowned myself in it until Delnaz came inside the bathroom, closed off the tap, lifted me off the bathtub floor and helped me out of the gown. I was finally calm after a morning full of wallowing and now my mind is in riots again. I trace the gowns fabric with my eyes. It almost speaks to me, “Are you truly happy now, with the way things have ended?” I bow my head and shake it lightly, in an attempt to ward off tears but mostly to not think about how the lace would still feel soft and smell of broken promises.
The living room was the first room you’d enter from the front door. The Noori Sisters had led the way and made a quick pit stop for elaichi chai. The room gave away more than they meant to. The side tables had their framed wedding pictures and small momentos from Zaahid’s tour days probably. On the side wall was the mantle, littered with pictures of an elderly woman, deceased most likely, given the neat placements of white candles around it. On the back wall, there was an array of pictures of the Noori’s, birthday parties and the likes. A corner of the room was dedicated to postcards mostly international and almost all signed off, “Love, Dad.”
After chai, Delnaz had showed me the pull down ladder behind the staircase, which led to the attic. “Wow,” she had gasped when she switched on the night lights. The modern chic looking attic had come off as much as a surprise to her than to me. “Mum can be really persuasive when she needs to be.” She had tried to explain her staggered expressions and confused looks upon opening the built in cupboard filled with pristine, laundered and pressed clothes.
Subsequent to helping me out of the drenched gown, she had left, allowing me some space. The minute she stepped out, I had curled up on the side table farthest from the door. The tears had been unkempt, unruly and unstoppable as questions ensnared me. The thought of living with myself among wretched memories swirling around in my head, made my heart break. Why did you want to move across the world for a freaking post graduation?! Who even got you Ultimate Sing Off auditions? Are they gonna take you home now Maira? Better yet could have just washed dishes at home and made a living! My subconscious had reprimanded my choices the entire time.
That day was when I had first met Delnaz. She is the most cynical bastard that ever breathed and I love her for it. There is honesty to her. She never sugar coats anything that isn’t edible. If you want straight facts she is your go-to girl, for anything else it is just better to stay away.
Now, she’s thirty one, a mother of two, Delnaz is happier than ever. She has never boasted about her makeup skills, never resented the money her website is earning, despite being The Zaahid Noori’s sister. She has lived a peaceful life with her husband and has paid every month for her bills, raised her children and sent two of them to primary school while being five months pregnant with her third. But all most people know about her is that she is fat, very fat, morbidly obese. Her friends, those fortunate people who had not been so prejudice as to snub her, are fiercely loyal and in the end it has made all the difference in her world.
When I heard the knocks and the silent click of the door, I hadn’t dared to look up. Taybah had walked over to where I sat in careful staccato steps, with Zaahid behind her, and had enveloped me in a warm fuzzy blanket. As if I was fragile, she had gently picked me up and made me sit on the bed. “If there is anything that I can possibly do—” She had urged me in her best ‘mummy’ voice, keeping a hand on my face but never forcing me to look her in the eye.
“Is there a computer I can use?” I had asked in one breath, without a crackling voice and that itself said so much about me. The loss was mine and mine alone plus there was nothing anyone in the world could, ever, do to lessen it.
“I’m not sure Mai—Maira,” Taybah had whispered, trying out my name a few times, “if that’s a good idea. You should rest for awhile.” She had looked over at Zaahid for support but he had already left the room for the laptop. “Take it easy, even. Cry, before this builds up inside you.” The power of speech had deserted me.
“This should be fine,” Zaahid had handed me the laptop, unlocked and wifi connected.
“But—” Taybah had been relentless in her disapproval but Zaahid somehow managed to get her out of the room. “Call out for me if you need anything, darling.”
I spent the first three hours of the night searching for news, update and trying to connect with extended family and friends. I had logged into my social media accounts with sky scraping hope and lofty expectations only for it to plummet into pieces when I had clicked on names and “error 404” or “user not found” or “this users account is private, send in a request to follow them” or “this user is not your friend, send a friend request if you know them outside of Facebook” had popped up on the screen.
I had only one phone number of Raahat’s from when he left home—years ago—and I had hoped my hardest that he hadn’t changed it. That night I broke every grudge and swallowed down my pride when I dialed him up, a thousand times, I’m not even exaggerating, before my eyes couldn’t take anymore of the sharp laptop screen, bright lights and lost hopes. I had profusely cried for hours when Taybah came in around four in the morning, pulled out the laptop I had been hugging, replaced it on the study desk and sat beside me silently. There were no questions asked, no sympathies given, just a comfortable quietness and a warm arm thrown over my shoulder. I had never expected the silence; I anticipated the consoling words, actions, virtues and sinful lectures going back and forth. I had imagined she would leap into the skirmish—fists first, war ready.
When my sniffles couldn’t be ignored, she had cooed softly, the entire night, into my hair, stroking my back, my head, “Honey, you’re so beautiful and talented the way you are, don’t let this put you down.” If I had been twelve and not twenty, I would have smiled so bright at that because growing up it was clear that I had to be beautiful for my desires, thoughts and actions, to add significant value to the world and there was Taybah calling me ‘beautiful’ not once, not twice but more times that I could ever count.
But in junior year I had participated in my first music competition and discovered my passion and reclaimed my power. I was no longer comforted by, “you’re beautiful the way you are,” because I had realised till then that I didn’t need to be beautiful.
That night, sleep never came to me. I had unwrapped myself from Taybah, careful enough to not wake her up in the early morning rays when the world was as silent as if it had ended in the night. Mine surely had. With swollen eyes and a heavy heart full of longings, I had wanted to get away from everyone. On my own whim, I had walked downstairs to the living room and sat behind the sofa overlooking a window. I had drawn the curtains and had stared outside blankly. I might have fallen asleep for an hour or so because when I woke up, I had witnessed a sunrise.
Brilliant orange had poured out of the sun and across the horizon. The sky was a bloody red. The furrowed clouds were every shade from palest pink to deep crimson. Gruelling burdens were tugging on my shoulders, that morning. Silently, in the lone, dark corner, I had wept, a trait I have since then acquired. When the sun was overhead, Sabira had peered over the ledge of the sofa and yelled, “Mum I found her!”
“Where—where is she Sabira?” Taybah had sprinted from the rooftop stairs.
“In the living room,” she had hollered. “Behind the sofa?” she had whispered to herself, “I’m not sure why a fourteen seater sofa wasn’t enough room for her...” Her judgement for me was written in her eyes.
“I almost thought she ran away!” Taybah’s tone had been tense, terrified.
“No mummy, the poor girl just probably needed some air.” Delnaz had helped me up and onto the sofa. “Relax.”
I had glanced at Taybah then, myriad emotions across her face, none of which I could place, but she had settled for anxious. “We had been wondering where you had run off too!” She had explained like I was dumb. I had apologised immediately. What for, I’m not quite sure. All of us stood in an uncomfortable silence and awkward air.
“You’ll get used to her, you know,” Delnaz had pressed my arm as she murmured, leaning towards me on the sofa, “bouts.” She had smiled softly. She meant to say ‘paranoid.’ As seconds passed, they had begun to get on my nerves because everyone was conducting themselves in such a restricted way that I was feeling more out of place than ever. It was as if I was ‘Deja’ and everyone was an extended version of ‘Beth and Randall’ and that was an episode of This Is Us.
“Also our mum’s breakfast,” Sabira had begun to declare, “your mu—your…your—” she had given up to make my relation, for one, I didn’t have one besides a history I was not a part of and memories I don’t remember, and two, I just didn’t fit in.
“Phuphi—it’ll be phuphi.” Taybah had interjected, explaining how she will be called ‘phupi’—the sister to my father, in Urdu. My life was changing from that point on. I could feel it; my patience and my calm were being tested in every way possible. I knew the time I’d burst open like a volcano was nearby.
“Right.” Sabira had commented. Taking a steadying breath she had continued, “So, your phuphi’s breakfast is undeniable so come on help yourself.”
“I’m not really hungry…”
Yaser had come out of the kitchen and greeted, “Asalaam Walaikum.” He had walked up to me, placed a warm hand on my head and said, “You wouldn’t mind sitting round with us, would you?”
I had begun to decline politely but Sabira pulled on my sleeves and I agreed, “Please Maira Didi.”
Walking towards the kitchen, Taybah had kept a hand on my back and suggested, “It’d be lovely if you could also pick up these little nuances of our house. Yeah, darling?”
The proposition was kept before me very subtly. She would have appreciated if I would start picking the nuances up. All of my warning signs were before me. I was just so stupid and enamored to notice. I think today.
Presently, Sabira is twenty and high on life. She has developed brilliant excellence in science and is majoring in the same while being a part of the volleyball team of the university she is studying in.
“We have a—” Sabira had been irkingly extra excited for breakfast. The minute I sat on the kitchen stool, she had wanted to babble but Wafaa gave her death glares and she quietened. I wasn’t a Noori; the explanation of everything was as simple as that.
“I’ve heard food in your stomach can—” Yaser had pushed a plate of sandwiches towards me in his best ‘Daddy’ voice.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do this. I just can’t.” My tone was harsher than I had intended it to be. I didn’t mean to bang my hand against the table either. “I’m sorry?” The apology came out as a question more than a request to be left alone. I was in midst of utter chaos and confusion. I had taken a large gulp of water from the glass before me. Somewhere down the line, I was hoping all of this to be just a bad dream—my worst nightmare.
A feeling of jealousy had rung through me, not the good kind, mind you, as soon as I saw the Noori’s sitting before me. Something as simple as a ‘family’ was then a luxury, one, I couldn’t have had afforded even with the entire wealth in this world. That, had been the magnitude of my loss, it still is. My wounds were being sautéed in salt when I saw all of them together that morning and they had no clue that rather than building me up they were further breaking me down. A hot flush had marched down my body and I had been embarrassed at the waywardness of my thoughts.
My eyes had brimmed at the thought of my parents whilst I had tried to stare out of the kitchen window. I could feel it, then, building like an unstoppable snowball in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t concentrate on anything that I was doing—holding onto the glass of water, that is. The next thing I knew was my heart had begun beating faster and harder, the adrenaline levels had raised; the pain had curled up in my gut and had crawled up inside my body.
Sweat had covered me; the negative thoughts kept coming to me like waves on a rock. I had started to tap my fingers rapidly and irrationally. The arguments—the ones I used to have with my parents—inside my head had gotten so fast and so disturbing that my brain had shut down my body. I was completely breathless while my heart felt like it could explode. The onset of a panic attack shook me and a few silent sobs had escaped my mouth.
A touch of a hand on my cheek makes me jump out of my trance and before I know it, everything’s gone. My life shatters around it like a glass vase when it hits the floor. Suddenly the time and place I was mourning in is snatched away from me and I am transported to my present reality. The traces of the past linger in the back of my mind.
Zaahid’s warm hand again wipes away an additional tear that managed to roll down my cheek. His touch has something about it. “You’re spoiling your makeup,” he whines, his voice soft, as his thumb swipes away under my eyes and above my cheekbones. I glance at the watch that he is wearing, 7:45 PM, 30th October, 2019. I shake my head. I recall no memory of taking a bath, doing my makeup and then changing into a saree, but here I am, holding the ends of the nine yards and silently hoping that it wouldn’t slip off my body.
Zaahid takes my hand. He gazes at me, his eyes dark and guarded, giving nothing away. He shifts in his place and frowns. My lips quiver and I can feel my body shake. I am stuck somewhere between emotional and emotionless. “There’s something wrong here. Isn’t it?” He enquires after doing a one-over at me. His brow furrows but he holds his tongue and waits for me to explain.
I shake my head, puzzled. “Really, now? Then explain this,” Zaahid snaps, referring to my saree. I shrug, distracted.
“What is wrong, Maira? Don’t make me repeat myself,” he warns, his hands pressing down on mine.
“Everything is!” I cannot keep the disdain out of my voice, and I pull my hands out of his. Honestly, the audacity of this man—who has put me through hell all these years. I let out a burst of air. My hands are shaking. Heart pounding in my throat, I look past him to avoid catching his eye and push back unseen tears. The whirlwind of half thoughts spinning in my head come to a halt when I open my eyelids and Zaahid is still before me.
“Come out of it,” he comments, shaking me with a firm grip on my shoulders. I don’t want to understand that comment, but I do. I understand it all too well.
“I’m out of it,” I answer automatically, a platitude. Be what may, over the years I have been auto tuned to reply to statements like these. “You’ll get over it.”— I’m out of it; “give it time, you’ll forget it.”—I’m out of it; “’time heals all wounds. This one will soon heal up.”— I’m out of it.
And today I heard another one, ‘come out of it.’ I AM out of it.
“I mean it. You need to stop nurturing the seed of fear of abandonment. Let it go,” he scowls at me.
I say nothing. His face falls and he releases me. What do you know about abandonment Zaahid? Were you the one who was practically left orphaned in another country? Were you the one whose family broke all ties with? Were you the one who were betrayed by each and every friend and who’s each friendship turned out as a poison to the soul? Were you the one who was betrayed by each and everyone you met? My subconscious gazes at him over her tortoise framed glasses, feet tapping the floor, ready to pounce if need be. Yes, I have abandonment issues.
‘My love’ has abandonment issues. It has clamped together fists securely protecting my heart because it is terrifying to not know release. My love is desperate, never-ending and unapologetic. Except scientists can’t theorise ‘my love’ for the swelling in my chest is too big to be understood. Big enough to have its own energy and forces that on some nights—tonight—it can pull you, Zaahid, back into my arms. So, no, you don’t know abandonment.
A stark silence stretches before us. Our silence holds so much promise. He blinks down at me as if he’s finding it hard to process this energised air around us whilst I am leaning over to the man I have scribbled over him. I am hopelessly in love with a memory—an echo from another time, another place and the worst part of holding this memory is not the pain but the loneliness of it. Memories are meant to be shared.
All the time and effort he and I put into building my confidence and trust in people after USO Finale—he broke it in the worst possible way. Of all the people in this universe he could do it too, I will never comprehend why he chose me. Also, I will never be able to figure out why people choose to hurt others like this, and feel its okay to do so.
“Er? I think—I,” I change course of our conversation for there is no use to argue a lost cause. “I haven’t draped this around properly…” I mumble looking down at myself and frowning at my condition. I blush. Why is this so awkward?
“The pleats look all wrong,” he steps forward towards me, “and I think this goes here,” his hands reach for the piece of saree hanging over my shoulder when he abruptly stops, “may I?” He looks up at me, blinking, at a total loss. He runs his hand through his hair. I silently gasp, surprised by his request. A distant memory replays in front of our eyes.
We hold each others gazes for a minute too long and I give him a miniscule nod. If I have to look decent enough in this saree I have to allow Zaahid to dress me. Having sisters who run a fashion blog helps sometimes. He reaches over to unpin the saree from my shoulder and unwrap it from my frame. Involuntarily, my eyes are downcast and I find it difficult to meet his eye. My hands are twitching uncomfortably to cover my body but I knew I’ve no choice but to stand still. Zaahid’s vigilantly working on me; walking around me with the saree, draping it, making the pleats and straightening them. Then, he holds the part of the pleats which need to be tucked inside the waistband of the underskirt.
“These will go, here...” he touches my naked stomach, ready to tuck the saree but the warm touch of his fingers on my cold skin sends shivers down my spine and my body freezes momentarily and I’m pretty sure Zaahid notices that because then he cocks his head to the side and catches my gaze before removing his hand from my body. He rubs a hand on his nape.
“I’ll do it,” I speak, taking the pleats from his hands and tucking them inside.
“There you go,” he admires his art work, very pleased and satisfied with the output.
“I think I’ll need some pins.” I think out loud.
“Right.” Zaahid notes and saunters over to my makeup kit to find a box of pins. I pin up the saree and move to the dressing table to do my hair in a messy bun just because it made my swan bordered black saree look more elegant. I have never been good with makeup or fashion in general, given that I have all these years been ordered to wear this and that and almost every time a makeup artist is ready to doll me up. So, occasions where I’m left to myself to ‘dress’ are rare and troublesome. Or is it Maira and trouble are synonymous? My subconscious offers a piece of her mind. Remember when I asked for your opinion? Me neither. I slap her down.
A bobby pin I wanted to clip in my bun is troubling me, now. Time is passing by, Zaahid has already left the room and I can hear him fishing out the car keys, house keys and ordering security over call to stick close by to us, as we drive off. “How much more time do you need?” He supposedly calls out from the hall.
“Give me two.”
A warm hand wraps around mine and takes be by surprise. I gasp loudly. Looking at the mirror, our eyes meet. A fast-forward train of events plays before our eyes from the time when he had zipped up my dress. I feel his warm breath on the nape of my neck. I flush in shades of pink. My heart is thumping loudly in my chest and my breath is heavy but I can’t resist him—as if I’m in a trance. I am transfixed by magic. Maybe he is magic.
“Err? Zaahid what are—?” I try to question when normalcy settles over my features.
“We’re already late and Harry would kill us if we didn’t reach on time. I want to be the first one to wish Denis!” Zaahid explains, pinning the clip where I tell him to do. He takes a step back as soon as he finished. Our gazes meet and a slight blush is evident on both of our faces but we know how times have changed. My subconscious is a bit disappointed at the lack of “accidental” kiss. What? I don’t understand that reaction.
After an eventful dressing up for the birthday party we both head outside towards the car. A line of media reporters lunge at us from around the bushes. Cameras clicked and white lights are splashed on our faces—blindingly. Rumours and ill meaning words are thrown around for us to react on because that’s how this business works: everyone is looking for the multimedia breaking headline and since Zaahid left the band he has pretty much worked to be a charm for the big media publishing houses.
Security finally helps us make way and Zaahid and I get in the car and drive off to Harry’s place—after he opens up the door for me, his chivalry in all of its glory and I reply back a ‘thank you’, my etiquettes in full display. We are slipping back into old patterns and expected disappointments and so it is no surprise that today we are caught up in the backlash of our own misfortune; reduced to nothing more than background noise and labelled as collateral damage.
I guess that’s just a part of loving people: you have to give things up. Sometimes, you even have to give them up.
Love the unloved.
“You touch me and it’s almost like we knew, that there will be history between us two, we knew someday that we would have regrets, but we just ignored them the night we met” Song: There’s no going back by Lauv ft. Julia Michaels.
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