Delicious Ambiguity | the rainbow named trust

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Chapter 20 {Virile}

N O T E

The way she wore the moonlight, as if, the universe, which so rarely worked in perfects, had let this moment slip through.

Virile: (of a man) having strength, energy, and a strong sex drive.



Zaahid

If this is life, then I don’t want it anymore.

As the night closes in, the autumn trees shimmer in the lasts of today’s vibrant hues. Winter is almost here. A chill creeps into the air and nips at our skin as I drive to Harry’s. I have skewness towards autumn for I find myself in the same plane as the pumpkins which get gutted and carved out every year, to portray a smile that doesn’t belong to them and having only a small flame inside to keep their dying bodies warm.

In autumn the smoke from my cigarettes blends in with the smoke coming from my fireplace, and I breathe deeply, filling my lungs before the flame flickers out. In autumn the leaves have the last shout of rebellion before they die in the cold hands of winter, covering the world in an angry fire of red, yellow and orange.

Maybe it’s not the autumn I love, rather the idea of being dead.

I’m careful on the accelerator. I can feel Maira’s tension as she sits on the edge of the seat. Her breathing is rapid and I can tell that’s the last thing on her mind. Her hands have gripped the seat belt so harshly that I know she’s scarring her palms with crescent moons. I reach over and guide one of her hands to release the belt and lay on her lap. It’s a novelty that she doesn’t flinch and allows me to hold her hand. In our innocent intimacy, we have our private conservation where instead of talking we hear each other more. We share not only the heat radiating from both of our hands but our hopes for a possible future together, dreams that may not develop, goals that would not be checked off and all the disappointments life threw at us in our time apart. A quiet calmness surrounds us.

Things will get better eventually, for her, for me, for us but not everything ever will be. Acceptance is a quiet, small room and she gives me mine as much as I give her hers. We don’t worry about each other’s judgement when it comes to being open; either of us have seen and been through enough to be better than that. Our bravery looks a lot like vulnerability. Sometimes, we step into it with both arms wide open and broad smiles crowning our faces, but sometimes—today—we tiptoe around it. I bring her hand to my lips and kiss it softly. With Maira, life seems worthwhile and we bring hope and security into each other’s lives.

She heaves out a deep breath and I intuit her tiredness—our tiredness—and not just in the physical sense. The world that we live in is an exhausting place to be. It is wearing. It is thankless. It is endlessly trying and scarcely rewarding. We’re tired simply because we live in it. We’re tired of loving too much, caring too much; to a world that never gives anything back. We are tired of investing in indefinite outcomes. We’re tired of uncertainties—tired of grey.

Maira anchors her hand to her lap again and also allows me to intertwine with hers. Over the years our optimism has been overweighed by our cynicism and has eliminated it like an irrelevant outlier. All of us have been chipped away—a broken heart here and an unkept promise there. Luck hasn’t always been on our side and we’ve lost more rolls of die than we have ever won. As if she can hear my thoughts, she brings down her other hand from the belt and rests it on top of ours. I see it is bloody red and shaking from the wrath Maira has brought on herself.

I won’t be able to refer to her as my ‘right person’ for we have damaged each other so many times to retract it all back and mould it into the shape of love. My love for her is not about certainty, or about some mythical ‘the one,’ it is because there are things that I want for her—audacious success—there are things I want with her—undeniable happiness—there are things I want because of her—unabashed love story. Mostly, I just want to be beside her always and go from there.

After leaving the band when I didn’t have a recording house or a signed deal immediately after the news broke out, it was off-putting for all of us had reached a crucial point in our careers where we were more known than most of the leaders of our country. I grew frustrated from the lack of feedback and almost tried to throw the entire attempt at a solo career right out of the window. I learnt from that experience now almost a year ago, that most of us just don’t walk far enough down our own roads to reach the point where we’re seeing those actions pay off. We want immediate results and when we see none, we give up. We are allowed to stumble slowly towards our biggest transformations. Read it again. It doesn’t always have to be a blazing, flagrant affair. Read it again.

The silence that surrounds us in the car is equal parts deafening and calming. The ghosts of our younger selves have caused a racket inside. If I turn around I can vividly see the road trip Maira, Gia, Harry and I went on, between tour dates, in New Orleans, obsessively trying to find the vampire clan—or as Maira would put it, “Here, ONLY for Paul Wesley but Joseph Morgan would do just fine too!” Harry would clap his hands at that and look pristine in a man bun and just a simple pair of vogue glares despite the heat. Taking a large swig from his coke he’d offer it to the girls behind us.

“Damon Salvatore still wins babe.” Gia would comment and make Maira make an annoyed face. She would stand up in the convertible, holding onto the back of my head rest so hard that her nails pierce the cover and lets the wind take over. The smell of that summer still lingers in the air, not more than, Maira’s bright red bandana and the baby pink scoop neck strappy top over light denim shorts.

A blink later, I can see her falling asleep in the backseat after I pick her up from airports, and having karaoke sessions without The James Corden, and laughing on inside jokes till we cry with happy tears and having mini meals in the front seat just before an appearance, and mostly sitting in the car and listening to the rain patter down on us. There’s too much history between us. Too much to forget. Too much to relive. And in all of these moments, before the sunrises and after star lights, she would love me twice more than she ever did Harry.

When Maira made her silent choice between Harry and me, leaving me didn’t hurt as much as I expected it to, what pinched me was how one day she made me so damn special and the next day I was made to feel so unwanted. She made her choice not in flashy ways—like most teenagers do—but by silently, slowly losing interest with me. I could feel her getting further and further away but still standing beside me.

One day, months after Maira and my fallout on Forbidden December Night, she had knocked on my door. She might have waited for a few minutes when I hadn’t answered the door, so she rung the bell again. I had been scribbling on notepads and taking drags from my cigarette. Mum had long before gone back to Birmingham and I was a mess. I had heard the bell again and assumed it was just one of those days where Mrs Khan had misplaced her pair of my house keys, but being cautious of my position I still had looked through the peephole.

My heart had stopped beating in my chest. Maira was looking down, but I’d know her brunette hair anywhere. I had looked away, resting a hand on the door. Her untimed and uninformed visit had shaken me and that was when I decided to plan our visits before things got out of hand. Collecting myself, I had opened the door.

“Hi!” came out of her mouth before I even had a chance to speak. Her breathing was short and laboured. Her cheeks were red and her hands were shaking.

“Well…hi,” I managed, not knowing what was supposed to be said. She was there—on my doorstep. After all the time I had been so stubborn to reach out to her—she was always the more level headed one. I had been so stupid to let her go and my second chance had just knocked on my front door. I couldn’t help the smile that crossed my face, “What brings you here?”

Then, she told me about Harry wanting to take her to Swettenham for a while, about their growing closeness—“friendship” of course. Dating, Maria, that’s called dating. About how he’s been there all this time. Of course he has been. About how she wants me to tag along so the tabloids wouldn’t start off another rumour—we were still together according to the media. About how Harry could spare a room in his place for me. She told him the truth. He knows now. My subconscious had noted the details as she spoke. Anger was brewing within me.

I had nodded and smiled, telling her congratulation and that I was happy that she was happy. But when she left, I had closed the door and had sat on the couch, and I realised that I had waited too long. I had expected her to show up one day—even though it was me who had sent her away—and say that’s she missed me, that she loved me. But that only happens in movies. Losing people happens in real life.

Later I sat on the cold bathroom floor in the dark, that day, and I knew I had lost her but I didn’t want to accept that—not then, at least. But when you are certain you lose certain things, they never come back. A sensation had spread through me like a warm feather gently shivering across my belly, my limbs, making me wonder why the hell I was not enough and why I couldn’t make her stay.

My senses have stopped registering the noise of traffic or the background hum of the car air conditioner or Maira’s occasional deep breaths. A dark mood is gnawing at me. I inhale a deep, purifying breath. The moment I saw Maira in a different light—more than a friend—is so vivid in my mind that it almost feels like yesterday. It is one of my favourite memories of ours from a spectrum of many others and it can crush me so hard that it takes the life out of me.

It was the day of her Love Let Me Behind single’s music video premiere. I had never seen a room full of the industries biggest of media and publishing houses representatives, interviewers and camera men and women, be pin drop silent on someone’s red carpet entry. Maira had been so anxious and nervous it was funny in a way. If you would have seen her, you wouldn’t even dare say that she had won a reality show recently. Mum had whispered to her then, “As long as they shall speak your name, you will never die.”

Stephan had been addressing the gathering—which consisted of the biggest of whose and who of the industry. It was a barefaced move by Stephan, I know. He has always been known for his loud and fustian celebrations. He is pontifical of sorts. There were new faces in the crowd along with veterans. It was grandiloquent a celebration for a person who was afraid to even step on the red carpet alone, let alone perform.

There was greetings and fake love thrown around by guests and audience alike. There were cheeky smiles for cameras and newspapers and magazines and promotional couples were in their best “public display of affection.” After introductions, Maira had taken over the microphone to thank everyone for the support, love and appreciation. “Thank you so much,” she had begun folding her hands in gratitude, “for taking out time from your busy schedules to be here today.” She had lifted her eyes to her audience, “I’m grateful to each and every one of you who’s made my dream a reality…”

I had observed her, for a transitory moment, I think I detected a tiny crack of light in her eyes. But then it winked out, and she was anxious again. I could see the struggle in her face and the fear too, the fear of losing everything—of the power people wielded, through their absence, to make her unhappy, to maul her open, vulnerable heart, if they chose to. “You are the reason I’m here,” Her eyes were liquid with emotion, “and I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me,” but she held her head high and I knew she would have looked life straight into the eye.

After a portentous opening of the event, the video was shown with an even grandiose affair. Maira had been on the side of the stage, witnessing the gentry admire and adore her work while she was rhythmically clenching and unclenching the ends of her dress, a habit now I know, she resorts to when she is marauded by anxiety and at a loss for an answer, when everything is blurred to vagueness and she is bowled over by a gush of disconnected thoughts, waiting desperately for the murkiness to clear.

Then, to end the event she had taken on stage to perform an acoustic version. She did so many little things and my attention was drawn towards her and not towards my band mates snickering over an inside joke, or how celebrities were hooting for Maira, cheering for her and taking pictures for Instagram and Snapchat, or over how a waiter had tripped over some very popular known blonde artiste’s red gown or how a fedora hat wearing man kept refilling his red cup. Maira laughed a little too loudly when the assemblage sang along with her. She stared a little too long and smiled a little too big when she saw the front row of her congregation knew the lyrics by heart. She altered the notes a little too much, and it was definitely working because she was crossing my mind a little too often and I was clearly falling, a little too hard.

She looked over me then. Our gazes met. She kept her eyes on me one beat, too long, and then shivered, as if shaking off a thought. Penelope had pressed on my hands then and I snapped me out of my sea of emotions, turning my head towards her. She had sat beside me, interlinking arms and leaning over to me, looking pretty and dolled up. It took a lot for making up to Penelope, if you ask me. I had angered her to no end when I had stood up for Maira on the Ultimate Sing Off Finale and so if I had to keep her by my side, which I wanted to back then, I had to make up to her.

After Maira moved to Birmingham and I went to London for a short business visit, I met Penelope too. Standing in the midst of her manicured lawns, I kept ringing her doorbell but she bluntly refused to open the door. Only after seeing the beeline of reporters behind me, she let me in. “Z, we had no choice,” Penelope had begun once my apology was clearly stated and approved and parceled and packaged to the High Septum of Penelope Evans. “Did you see the charts statistics each week? She was rising so quickly,” Penelope had whined, sipping on her tea so that she could avoid an eye contact.

“Always on top!” Penelope had emphasized. “And her support here in London?” She had put her cup down, straightened her back and faced me, “It was spell binding like that girl literally did black magic on everyone!” I had agreed to the latter part, but I didn’t dare say that to Penelope. What we were arguing about was a lost cause. I knew it. Maira knew it. She knew it.

A deep red flush had marched up my face when I had heard her confessions about the card, the bouquet, the robbery and the microphone. I realised what Khaled Hosseini meant when he said, “I know now that some people feel unhappiness the way others love: privately, intensely and without recourse.”

I see the yellow and red lights of cars blinking and the low noise of traffic, now, as I drive, turning over to a left. We have halted at a red light now. The car behind mine is honking impatiently. On my left is my bodyguard’s car. Today, I know the myriad consequences of what I set into motion on that Ultimate Sing Off Finale night. I took solace only in hope. Hope that wherever Maira would go further the show, she would find peace, grace, love and happiness as this world allows. I’m not sure how much that has followed through.

On the very same Awful December Night, when mum had hurriedly tied us together, with tradition, no less, I had tried to take a miniscule step back and wanted to talk to my best friend about it but she had hurled accusations at my feet and wrapped guilt around my throat like a noose just so she could look me in the eye as she kicked the stool. I stood outside the door in the shadows and heard her tear the room apart. One of the books she threw from the table landed near my feet. I silently threw the Chocolate Truffle cake in the bin, gulped down the shame weighing on me and left. I had to be sorry for feeling and doing things Maira claimed I did.

I look over at Maira, clenching and unclenching the saree, looking outside the window and hiding the unwept tears that roll down her face. The history, the scars is all I have of what time has done to me—to us—and it reminds me: on some days I am the fire, and some days I will be burned, either way I have survived walking through the flames everyday.

At the kitchen table, on her first morning in Birmingham, staring outside the window, silent sobs had escaped her. Her face had been slightly pink and her nose, a cherry red. Maira’s lower lip had trembled as she tried to control herself but those tears fell as fast as rain and she had snuffled to take a breath. All her defences washed away in those salty tears. Mum had rushed to her side and rubbed her back while Wafaa held out a glass of water. She sat there like a delicate baby, shaking and terrified and strangled by the air around her, never reaching out for comfort and not being moved by soft words.

Mum had pressed her head against her chest and rocked her until the cries quietened. Sabira had wiped her own eyes when dad whispered to us, “Don’t do it.” Delnaz had started clearing the table. “Not right now,” he had requested, quietly, sipping from his tea.

“I know everything is so new, so raw,” Mum had hummed to Maira, rocking her back and forth on the kitchen stool, “but if I can, only,” she had pleaded with her, “take care of you, treat you better,” she had pulled her away from herself and looked her in the eye, lifting her face up, “it will be my honour. Please?” She lifted a plate of sandwiches to Maira. Maira complied for half a sandwich.

Half an hour into breakfast and the family had started to get restless. Everyone kept looking at one another and it was only time when they blew the whole thing up. I know why Maira had stood up to leave soon after, because one, no was talking, two, no one was fidgeting, three, the kitchen had been pin drop silent and the air inside discomforting inept. Dad had repeated, “Don’t do it.”

Maira had almost walked past me when I had grabbed her wrist and stopped her. Sabira had murmured, “Hurry up,” to Delnaz, walking to the fridge. It had been too late to stop then.

“Hurry up!” I hear a faint voice, whining at first then it grows louder and louder and I find myself sashaying out of the past. The hum of the car air conditioner is more prominent now. The noise and buzz of traffic on the roads is clearer now. I am driving and Maira is beside me, whining. She has repeated the same words for a third time, yet they haven’t fired up the cells in my body to build a reply. “Hurry up.” Then, she flings her arms around and her right hand is about to collide with the steering wheel of the car but I grab it just in time.

“Watch out!” I snap, glaring at her. I grip her wrist tightly and push it off from my side of the car. She looks shaken, massaging her wrist, easing the pain. She blows lightly on her bandaged palm, slackening the shock of what it could have endured, what could have happened on the road and if history would repeat itself a generation later.

“I’m sorry,” Maira says in a small voice. Her brow creases and I cavort from the present to the morning of twentieth July, 2013.

“I’m sorry, please,” She had mumbled as I held her wrists, “I need some time to myself,” with each stride I allowed her to take towards the doorway of the kitchen her words became more clear, more resolute, as if the growing physical distance between us and her had then become an emotional chasm. She had turned around with her eyes closed and took a steadying deep breath, “I appreciate you,” she looked mum in the eye and then found dad’s, Delnaz’s, “all, so much, but I’m so so sorry.” Like an inherent habit, she had steeled herself before us in seconds. She looked more in charge of herself, more in command of her thoughts and ready for a future only she would have moulded, built and directed.

At first she didn’t notice it as we hopefully had looked at her. Then, a few teardrops had appeared in the corner of her eyes and we knew she figured. For a full minute she had stared at the countertop—taking in the cake shaped in the number 20, the blue, sea green and white fondant decoration. Her expression and features gave nothing away. We didn’t know if she liked it or not, if it were okay to bring in a cake or not, if it were okay to celebrate her birthday or not but we knew that a memory was playing before her eyes and there was a distant look on her face.

Eventually, she snapped out of it and a dry smile that didn’t reach her eyes, escaped from her mouth. That was our clue. A chorused “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” had rung in the air and a small, crack of a genuine smile had managed to sit on her face. Sabira had popped the confetti cannon and Maira was drenched in glitter. “Thank you’s” never seemed to end rolling off from her tongue and a small smile sat comfortable on her face then. I could see it on her face, the struggle to smile and the pain. She was a duffel bag of mixed emotions. Yes, she was pleasantly surprised by our gesture, in spite of everything it was under the surface, mixed with some sorrow, some pain, and some sadness. Hugs and love had drowned her.

Dad and mum had gifted her perfume and a bracelet saying, “You’ll be in our hearts forever.” Delnaz and Wafaa had arranged a dress for her while Sabira had made her a card. I had my doubts about what Penelope had done to her on Ultimate Sing Off and also, how when she wanted to call her father, she didn’t have a phone so accordingly, I had ordered one for her. It was supposed to be arriving in the evening of that day.

The day had swept by us. Maira had been putting on a brave face since morning, keeping herself busy with the phone that had arrived an hour ago, then. We all could see through her smile now. It pained us. It pained her. Dad had taken it upon himself that day to “talk her out” and hence by evening we were all in the kitchen once again, sipping teas and coffees, munching on the left over cake and cookies. Dad had held her hand and had talked to her with such sincerity that even our eyes were liquid with emotion. “Darling, trust me, it’ll get better.”

“The world will try to crush your spirits, do not let it. You’re going to rise and shine so bright; all the stars will align to your gravity.” Maira had cleverly faked a smile at that, nodding in assurance. But dad didn’t realise that he had lost her, that her thoughts had already shifted course like windblown leaves. She was again suffering and making mental notes of the fact that it was HER pain and HER loss and HER grief and no one could make it better by giving an hour long lecture on “how it gets better with time.”

“Here’s to new beginnings,” mum had interjected in, breaking the dull mood of the kitchen by lifting her mug high in the air. My sisters had followed suit and I did too. Dad had held Maira’s hand, and guided her mug towards the group. A fresh batch of tears had rolled down her cheek as she repeated. Beginnings of a family atmosphere had begun to set in at that moment. Maira was a little more comfortable than she had been in the morning; she was trying to be part of the conversations in the kitchen and she was always teary eyed whenever someone made her feel important and loved.

Dad had cleared his throat and stood in his best ‘announcemnt to be made’ stance, “Since, it’s Maira’s twentieth birthday—the first of her twenties and the birthday that bids farewell to her teens—I have decided that we will…we will host a party for her!” Dad had looked at Maira from over his glasses and smiled warmly as if she was one of his children. In that moment, regardless of Maira’s stature in our house, she had made a place in my father’s heart and for which I am forever jealous.

I hold out Maira’s hand, now. On each birthday, thereon, she dies a little. She is incapable of selecting a pretty dress from her closet, on her birthdays, because all she has ever wanted to do was to throw herself on her parents’ grave and stay there forever.

Yes, the repercussions of loss will pass, and it will get easier but we do ourselves and each other a disservice when we try to minimize the pain. It hurts because it was real and it truly mattered and that’s an important thing to acknowledge. But that also doesn’t mean that it would not end, that it won’t get better, because it will.



NOTE

I saw you and I knew that I was going to do something really stupid to keep you around.

“In the palm of your hands, you can make me dance, spin me around in circles till I’m wrapped in string, you keep on talking sweet till your fingers bleed but don’t you dare ask me how I’ve been. Now only you know the strength of your teeth the wash in the weight of your pockets, so deep and lonely. You’re a world away, somewhere in the crowd, in a foreign place, are you happy now?” Song: Happy Now by Zedd

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


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