N O T E
Blowing out someone else’s candle, won’t make yours shine brighter.
I guess some people are just born with tragedy in their blood. They grow up way too fast, like they know ‘what we allow, is what will continue.’ They know things too soon and there are too many things they don’t know about, like they don’t know ‘their sadness is not beautiful. You have to be your own hero.’ They miss a lot of smiles while they’re busy trying to discover answers to questions that don’t have answers because some things unravel with time and they lose a whole lot when they try to rush through the days.
When I start to act like President of Unfortunate Casualities, I deal with it by reminding myself that everyone is dealing with messy emotions and it doesn’t give me the liberty to be mean or thoughtless or disrespectful. It should further motivate me to ‘send healing’ towards them. Zaahid has wrapped a protective arm around my shoulder, shielding me from the unwanted touches of the media and it’s making me harder to breathe. I am silently panicking. I’ve never felt anything like this moment—so ugly and painful. He will not lay a hand on me. He cannot. He’s nothing like a vicious partner. This is not an abusive relationship. I want to believe that this, like all those rare incidents with Zaahid, really was an accident. I don’t know what’s happening to me.
“Zaahid, Maira! You both look lovely tonight!”
“Maira, the concert last night was out of this world. When is the next album coming out?”
“Zaahid, you are art.”
“Maira, you inspire me. That saree suits you! You’ll always be the desi girl.”
“Denise turns three?”
“Zaahid, when’s your album coming out?”
“Very soon,” Zaahid rasps, snuggling me against him as we walk through. He murmurs something in my ear then, his lips dangerously close to my earlobe. I stop breathing, I think. I inhale sharply when a waft of Zaahid Noori reaches my nose and I can almost taste him.
“Zaahid is it true that last night you were seen going to Penelope Evans’ place?”
“Maira, what do you think about this?”
“Maira, Logan Heath, last night made a comment on Ultimate Sing Off season 11 about you two having a thing. What would you like to say to that?”
“We love you guys so much!”
“Maira are you dating Harry?”
Zaahid’s arm comes around my waist. I squeeze my eyes shut, momentarily, picking all the pieces Zaahid is being aggravated by. I am not sure how intoxicated he is or isn’t. I try to pull away from him, but he has such a tight grip on me he doesn’t even budge. That bastard! My subconscious yells, knowing exactly what initiated these rumours.
“Harry! Take them down!” I don’t give him time for greetings. We were well past that. It’s the middle of the night and my phone’s on fire because Harry Stupid Spencer decided to reveal about a project he wasn’t supposed to. Is he drunk?! My subconscious is mad.
“I swear, I did not post them.” Harry’s voice is groggy like I woke him up. “Trust me!” A beat. “Am I hacked? Wait, I’ll take them down while I still can.” But its too late now.
“Only the crew can have the access to these, Maira.” Harry is fully awake now. “I will take this to the court!” Usually Harry Spencer is really thoughtful of his words and actions but now the last thing he probably wants is for people in the world to consider him a cheater when his wife is seven months pregnant.
“No!” I tut, “you won’t, I will.”
Apparently, an unsolicited anonymous crew member had posted through Harry’s facebook page, teaser shots, from the wedding photoshoot for a brand, last month. The rumours did begin from the second I knew him but these images just stirred new gossip. The pictures were not from the final cut. The project was not even made public yet. The same night I got around people using for the very first time my celebrity status, to get my hands on the sole copies of the shoot—soft and hard. Then, Harry, earlier this month, in order to calm the fire, tweeted about the project. Last night before the stadium show, they got delivered to me when I was moving out to go to Zaahid’s. This is going to be a big one for me to simmer down.
I am about to say something but Zaahid presses on his hold. The look in his eyes is a little dangerous now. He is reminding me that everyone on the internet today has an opinion—you will get misquoted; you will be the face of absurd rumour and you will have to learn to either ignore it or a have really thick skin. The security guards are telling people to back off and a no for pictures but the paparazzi isn’t budging. When Zaahid and I finally make it through, I request, “It’s a private event; please don’t spoil it for us. If you love Harry, please leave.”
I don’t know how to answer that. I see it happen. I watch Zaahid’s concern vanish as he darts his head towards me. Rage. I can feel the rage come off him and he starts to move to the door. I grab his coat in my fists. The security manages to make the media leave. The growing awkwardness in the air between Zaahid and I fog up my clarity. The only thing on my mind is ‘Zaahid was seen with Penelope,’ ‘last night,’ ‘at her place,’ ‘he returned at five in the morning.’ Until now, for me it was a possibility. Now, its actually true.
We are both breathless, secretly eyeing each other doubtfully. We are still and silent for several beats. ‘Loyalty’—a poignant question hangs between us.
“Look who made it!” A heavy Australian accent exclaims from behind us as we ring the bell. At first glance, Logan would seem like the guy you hire to kill your husband: black leather jacket, baggy pastel tshirt, lip piercing, tattooed sleeve, a black shiny car. But that’s not the man I know. My Logan’s smiles were brighter than the sun and you could feel it from across the Pacific, my Logan could host ‘living room concerts’ at six in the morning, my Logan’s sky blue eyes sparkled with infectious laughter, my Logan is capable to take a ‘no’ for an answer and still be best friends with me.
I release a quick breath, and then drag in more air. I’ve never felt happier to see Logan before this. “Surprise, surprise…” Zaahid huffs sarcastically. Why is he so cold? I don’t want to dwell on that subject, instead I want the thorny subject of Logan to be over. They greet with a hug which is quick and heavily imposing, as if they are forced to do so. Neither seems to be happy in each other’s presence and I can’t seem to pinpoint why.
“So, apparently we have dated,” I put air quotes on dated. Scrunching my nose in disgust I add, “When?”
Logan does a quick one-over at me, “ahh, you look so beautiful munchkin.” His husky Australian accent is poetry to my ears. But there’s also a ring of cautiousness in it, like he’s inquiring.
“That’s not my answer,” I shake my head playfully. His grin is rubbing on me.
“I was ambuscaded with questions and then one thing led to another—” There’s a scandalous look in Logan’s eyes. He squeezes his eyes in mock guilt and pulls me in for a hug.
“On national T.V!” Zaahid interjects, we immediately break off each other. His voice is spiteful and harsh. I sense that tonight will not be easy for either of us. I hold my phone closer to me. I peer over to Logan.
“Sorry…” Logan holds back his tongue. I know how much he’s itching to hit back at Zaahid. Right away, I am in awe of him. I respect him and it has everything to do with him valuing people, with moments when our pens want to free the world inside our heads, with him teaching me to rub the sleep from my eyes when my midnight thoughts are too colourful to be missed.
Moments of quiet dance between the three of us when Harry opens the door. He’s charmingly dressed in a floral maroon suit, something which only he can pull off. His eyes first land on Zaahid, then Logan and then me. He taps his wrist like there’s a watch there, “How funny!” he walks towards Zaahid, “you are actually true to your words.” The sarcastic iciness doesn’t go unnoticed. Harry looks at me as they oblige for a handshake. I shake my head; my eyes are pleading for him to stop.
Harry moves to Logan and engulfs him in a warm hug. “Logan! Natalia tells me that Jane just broke up with her beau…” there’s a smirk plastering his face, “I have put in a good word for you.” Logan bumps his fist in Harry’s shoulder. Their bromance lasts for two seconds.
“You’re looking like a snack!” Harry comments, giving me his dimpled smile. He takes a step forward to engulf me in his bear hug—warm, sweet and adorable but nothing compared to Zaahid’s. Zaahid! I lift my eyes to his and we share a moment. In the coolness of the evening moon, I feel giddy and bold. When I look back at Harry, there’s something vaguely unsettling. A knowing look creeps into his eyes. I release a deep breath, looking at the ground, blushing at our understanding. He knows. He’s heard it too.
Taking things in my own hand, I declare, “We are dating.”
“Umm…I usually prefer to go on a dinner and I would have really appreciated if I wasn’t married…but with you, well, yeah, we are dating!” Harry cheekily grins.
“Maira, who cares?”
“I do—” Zaahid speaks. “I don’t think its good for either of yours, public reputation.” His voice is arctic and acidic. My eyes flick up to his. There is a fire blazing in his. He tilts his head and gives me a look that lets me know how I much I disgust him. It stings deep in my gut. I hear the ring of breaking glass and envision bloodied hands.
“Zaahid Noori,” Harry says like it’s an abuse, “saying words like ‘reputation’ doesn’t sound right.” He gives Zaahid a sharp look. Zaahid stiffens momentarily. A parenthesis-shaped piece of hair manages to fall on his brow and eyes, ever so gracefully—too gracefully, perhaps. I notice that he never bothers to fix it.
“He was never the right one,” Logan adds in, laughing under his breath. I slowly bring my hands to my mouth, not sure how to stop the men. I just want to excuse myself from what I know is about to become a less than stellar conversation.
“You both have your entire lives to be a jerk. Why not take today off?” I throw my hands up. I purse my lips together and wrap my arms around my chest. My statement seems to release a little of Zaahid’s tension.
“Don’t bother Maira,” Harry dismisses me with a wave of his hand, “also throw away that phone of yours. None of my calls are getting through.” He changes conversation easily, like the conversation—argument—we were about to have was every day life.
“Harr—” I take a step towards him. I know Zaahid is today here not for Harry, not for Harry’s daughter, not for me but for his reputation and ‘our’ act. The next two seconds go unnoticed by everyone, but they play out in slow motion to me. Zaahid looks me in the eye. At Harry and Logan snickering. Back at me. I see the roll of his throat as he swallows. I see his fist curl. His jaw hardens but he says nothing as we walk behind Harry. Shit. Shit. Shit.
“Come Logan, I think Jane’s waiting for you.” Harry wiggles his eyebrows, a smirk lines his mouth and there’s a scandalous look in his eyes.
“If you like having secret little rendezvous, baby I’m perfect.” In a sing song voice Logan follows Harry’s lead. It’s a moment of ‘if you know you know.’
Zaahid and I straightaway move upstairs to Denise’s room. He doesn’t speak to me the entire time, like he’s not ready to hear my explanation yet. I have entangled my fingers with his as we walk, allowing him to experience that holding hands isn’t about possessing or contact but saying ’I want you with me, please don’t go’ without words. The past six years with him have taught me that I will never be able to check things off a list for ‘the one,’ because one: ‘happily ever afters’ are a lot of hard work, and two: it’s about undivided loyalty. It’s always about meeting your partner in the middle. I’m not sure where Zaahid and I stand on that bridge.
The door is ajar and Zaahid knocks on the door before he peaks inside, “Dee?” The room is filled with drawing sheets littering the floor. Crayons litter the bed. A furious Denise is feverishly colouring one of the sheets.
“Daddy, if you haven’t got my cake, I don’t want to talk to you.” Denise throws the sheets around her at the door. Under Zaahid’s arm, I see they are all cake drawings.
“Dee?” Zaahid again calls out. He is absolutely brilliant with kids but Denise isn’t some random kid, she’s Natalia’s daughter and that is a task.
Denise looks over shoulder. Her curly brown hair is made up in space buns and there is a tinge of pink on her fair skin. “Uncle Zaahid?” She runs to her favourite Barbie Dollhouse player (over the years Zaahid has had to come along with me to Harry’s and now he is very familiar with Denise. He sometimes can handle her better than Harry himself.) “Did you get my cake?”
Zaahid crouches to her level and cups her head, “Will your favourite Rocky Road ice-cream,” her eyes gleam, I crouch down as well and rub her back, “and Lemon Meringue pie,” she starts jumping in her place, giggles are about spill, “make up for it?” Zaahid puts a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“YES!” She launches herself at Zaahid. “That’s why you are my favourite.”
“Am I? Zaahid grins, kissing her forehead. “Wait, wait, wait,” he pulls away from her, “before we forget,” he looks at me, puts an arm around my shoulder and I have to lean into him to maintain my balance in heels, “Happy Birthday Denise!” we both hold each of her tiny hands. Denise laughs and dances and laughs some more.
While Denise rejoices, Zaahid turns his head to whisper in my ear, “Quick, text Harry to arrange the pie. He doesn’t know about it.” His stubble tickles my cheek. My eyes widen and for a few seconds I’m stunned speechless. He’s deifintely one to make false promises. “It’s our thing.” He points his thumb at Denise. His coat shirt rides up a little and I see his tattooed arm. There used to be a time where they would talk about all the battles he has lost.
A clap. Denise stops twirling and runs to Zaahid as he walks up to the bed. Space dust envelopes the two of them and for a minute I believe the stars are shinning in the air around them and not on her ceiling. Zaahid gives me an anxious look like for once he might not be able to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. I grab my phone and drop in a quick message Harry but the moving dots just won’t deliver. I open another chat box till then. There is a string of messages from the same unknown number. You know it’s me. Talk to me. Can we talk? Now, this was getting on my nerves. This could practically be anybody on the planet where one: I did NOT know them and two: NO, we can’t talk. I’m just glad I didn’t go to work today, otherwise Dave would not have shut up about this. It’s about your security Maira! Give me the phone let me get you a new one? I grin at his voice in my head.
Denise is on Zaahid’s lap now eating directly from the bag of Smarties. There are two—no five—wrappers of Hersey’s bars on the bed. The open cupboard drawer has a bag of Walkers pouring out and that is exactly where all the sugar is coming from. Zaahid begins to take one but Denise is bowled over by indecision. Her hands are a bit hesitant when they roam over Pringles but she eventually gives it to him. In ten minutes, both of their hands are covered in chocolate and grease.
Zaahid grins at me giving me the would-you-mind looks, pointing at his coat pocket. I move to sit by him, unbuttoning his coat and taking out Denise’s gift from his inside pocket. We chorus a happy birthday as she looks up from attempting to open a fizzy drink. She drops her drink and comes to us to trace her fingers on the glittery wrapping. Her eyes shimmer. Zaahid helps her open the box and take out the ‘we’ll love you until the end of time’ bar pendant necklace.
“Thank you,” she manages to say between squeals and jumps. She pulls both of us over her shoulders wiping her hands on us. “Thank you. Thank you,” she keeps on repeating and stomping her foot in Zaahid’s lap. If he’s hurting, he doesn’t show.
“Can I use your phone? Mine’s not working…” I whisper to Zaahid as he lifts Denise with himself to go wash their hands. I raise my phone, giving him proof. He nods quietly directing me to take it out of his pants pocket.
By the time they return I have disabled the phone with wrong touch ID attempts and now it can be opened only by the passcode. I tap the phone against my hand, looking at Zaahid as he pulls out wet tissues from the bedside drawer. “Err? 2 0 9 3,” Zaahid answers whilst looking flushed. His eyes waver to mine, cautiously as if I’d pick on the catch here.
He walks to stand behind me with the tissue and due to the tension that crackles between us, I overthink about the numbers. 2 0 9 3. The numbers sounded familiar—very familiar, perhaps. 2 093, 209 3, 20 93. Is it a safe password? Is it Zaahid’s bank balance? A code? A lock numbers? A—IT’S MY BIRTHDATE! Of course, it is and of course, it’s Zaahid phone password. My birthday is his password. WHAT? I think I have forgotten how to breathe.
“I want to wear it,” Denise pouts cheekily, tugging at Zaahid’s shirt. “Come on,” from her tiny fingers dangles the necklace. I hastly drop Harry a message.
“Just a minute Dee,” Zaahid wipes my saree with the tissue. “See you spoiled Maira’s dress.” His bitter tone surprises me but I am sure he never meant it. When he’s done, he bends down in order to be the same height as Denise but even with his knees touching the ground, he is towering over her, “come here.” And in the same breath he manages to convince her to wear her shoes as well.
“Now, I’m ready to eat some cake!” Denise jumps. I can’t stop smiling, because this is so silly and so great. Her happiness has no bounds and isn’t going to die down anytime soon. I hold her wrist, walking towards the door.
“Wait!” Denise shrieks, running back into the room. What now! My subconscious is losing patience now. I can’t believe I am not better prepared to handle a toddler. What more can excite a three-year-old than sugar goodies? “Won’t you click my photo? I’ll put it on mum’s Instagram.”
Zaahid smiles knowingly, like it doesn’t surprise him at all. I glance towards the door, knowing that we should go down to the party. He takes out his phone but Denise has persuaded him to hold the phone, so in her tiny fingers she is struggling to keep the phone still. She rests her head on Zaahid’s chest, sitting comfortable on his lap as they click selfies. Zaahid has wrapped his arms around her body like a drape. He rests his chin lightly on her head, kissing her hair time to time. They are using filters now and Denise seems to have never seen anything funnier than Zaahid on an Olaf filter. Are you kidding me? I. Am. WONDERFUL! I have always wanted a nose.
Then, Zaahid gets up from the bed and turns off the lights and flicks on the fairy lights. Keeping Darcy in the middle of the bed he clicks her photos. Darcy seems to be elated by being the cynosure of his attention. In the dark, a naïve thought pops in, he’ll be a great dad one day. I instantly regret thinking that. I blow out a breath. This is all so weird. A month Maira. A month. Thirty days. My subconscious is saying. Heartburn. I think I have heartburn. For Stupid Feelings or whatever reason, a huge tear falls down my cheek. A huge, pathetic, what-the-hell-this-wetness tear.
In my lifespan of twenty-six years, I have come to witness three kinds of fathers. One is my own father: a proud man, strict, disciplined and of high principle. He was short tempered and wore his pride like a parapet. I didn’t know if it was to shield him or not let anyone in. His judicious intellect, precise eyes and impetuous anger led to a profoundly tarnished reputation amongst his distant relatives. Also, in his career he did something wrong, I don’t know what, but he was not a bad man. From my memories of him, I can still feel his leathery hands like it had seen more distress than happiness as if he had been fighting with life, all his life. He had the resounding presence of a fiery Phoenix and was a very ambitious man with firm roots to his past and great ties to his land.
The second father is Yousuf, Zaahid’s father. I am not sure how to describe him. He has warm eyes and a big heart. His smiles and the ‘good morning’ texts daily is my daily reminder to keep going. He is as reserved as his son and his work ethic is even better. Yousuf, is my dream human being—loves what he does for a living, travels often, is spiritually secured and is financially stable. The one thing I love about him is that as a stark contrast to my father, he is emotive and expressive. As a parent, he’s omnipresent but he is a silent supporter…for some. Plus, he absolutely loves me more than Zaahid so that’s a brownie point.
Third father is Harry who is a complex mix of the other two. I believe Harry grew up too fast. At a very early age he had to be the ‘man of the house’ after his father left and that responsibleness passed down in his character. He’s thoughtful of his actions like when he decided to purchase this house—not a medieval fortress which rich people bought when they got paranoid of having too much money. He hasn’t spent a single extra penny to anything apart from the necessary. For an outsider it might look ugly for him to not live in a modern penthouse but for him it will always have his heart. This was the first house Harry had bought from his riches and it was this house where he had decided to raise Darcy.
He treats people with kindness and his eyes twinkle with untold jokes. Harry can go on and on about the tales of his childhood, failed attempts at dancing and disastrous fashion sense but he is brave like a lion, determined and hard working. He just wants to be a loving father to Darcy and it is hard to be him; when he can’t stop pouring love on his daughter and still not listen to all her whims and desires—which at this point were to get the biggest doll house she has seen in one of the shops down the street.
The crunching of bags of crisps breaks my line of throughts. “Come Dee, now let’s get some ice cream! I am very hungry.” Zaahid requests as he lifts her off the bed after successfully throwing the crumbled bag in the bin. Darcy now obliges and we walk to the door. Zaahid entangles his arm with mine as we walk down the stairs. He guides my way by being a step ahead of me.
My heart is hammering against my ribs. I am not sure if he can feel the throbbing in my wrist, chest, toes—everywhere. My whole body threatens to stiffen. Zaahid is so close, if he turns his head a little, I can feel the warmth of his breath cutting through the cold air. And if you don’t focus on the staircase, you would trip in the saree. My subconscious refuses to look at us.
As we reach the last of the stairs, Darcy jumps from Zaahid’s arms. Zaahid removes his arm from above mine and his hand crawls to the hem of my blouse. I refuse to react, to look at him, to breathe. I am not sure how far he would go to play Let’s Pretend Happy Marriage—we have never kissed, privately or publicly, I don’t know how much longer that status would be valid for. In the shadows we see Harry run behind Darcy into the living room. Zaahid turns his head to me and his nose brushes my cheek. Breathe in, breathe out. I need a minute to regroup that. He acts nonchalantly like he didn’t just stun me into silence.
Zaahid opens his mouth to speak, but then clamps it shut again. He thinks for a bit, and then finally speaks, “is there anything I need to be aware of?” I can feel his breath on my neck and tightness in his grip on my waist. I know this is regarding Harry and the rumour. “This might be your only chance,” his voice is cold. I open my mouth to respond but his words strike me silent.
This is not the place for naked truths. We are not ready to have any conversations regarding a third. I cannot rant to him about how much I have screwed up by having an intimate, wedding photoshoot for a luxury magazine WITH Harry. But Zaahid will not let his anger go until I give him an answer so I improvise a little, “Err…media has just exaggerated some leaked photos.” He regards me silently for a moment, as if he knows there’s more to that story. But then he breaks eye contact.
I still don’t know if I can again trust him or not, if he believes me or not. He makes me feel a multitude of things each contradicting each other. I hate him. I love him. I like? No, I love him. And I love him. Plus, he also incites a hunger in me to create, to experience, to live and BE present and a man capable to do that, can easily have my heart but again the question remains, is my heart happy? Do I feel free? Love arrives exactly when love is supposed to and love leaves exactly when love must. My subconscious’s voice rings in my ears.
Very private people have mastered the art of telling you little about themselves but doing it in such a way you think you know a lot.
“Took you like a shot, thought that I could chase you with a cold evening. Let a couple years water down how I’m feeling about you. You could break my heart in two, but when it heals, it beats for you. If I could do it all again, I know I’d go back to you.” Song: Back to you—Selena Gomez
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