Delicious Ambiguity | the rainbow named trust

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Chapter 23

N O T E

Sometimes the one who loves you, is the one who hurts you the most.



My mother, Abha, would always say, ‘life can surely surprise you,’ mostly about quite unsurprising developments like the price of onions, bad weather forecasts and so on. But when she would be in the mood to have a tête-â- tête over hot ginger chai’s and delicious pakoras she would state, “You’ll have good days,” mentioning the weight she would seemed to have lost, “bad days,” she would whisper about papa’s postings, “overwhelming days,” telling how some lyrics and song melodies would pierce right through her and make her nostalgic about life itself, “too tired days,” she would tut looking at Raahat who would drag his feet from the door to the sofa after football practice.

“I’m awesome days,” she would twirl me in the garden, looking at the pink shades in the sky and rejoicing over her new dress and in a quiet voice, “also, I can’t go on days,” when amidst the happiness she would feel my father’s absence. Then, she would walk upto me, hold me by my shoulders and straighten me and speak with a confidence that would be her strength always, “and every day you’ll still show up.”

That Maira—I—who grew up as being the daughter of woman with indestructible faith and unwavering strength despite her husbands’ susceptible position always, today stands in such an upheaving situation that all I can do is stare at him like I have been knocked for six. I become aware of myself already trying to define it, to package it in a way that made it acceptable. My self loathing is about to hit. The mere though of it drives me bananas. I struggle with an almost irresistible urge to slap him across the face. Stop thinking about everything so much, you’re breaking your own heart. My subconscious fans me with her hands.

We stand shrouded in darkness. From here we can see both the living room and kitchen. “And you’re not lying?” Zaahid asks again. I want to respond. Really, I do. I just can’t. He’s in my face. He lifts his hand and brushes his thumb on my cheek. I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can’t breathe. I flinch involuntarily. It’s like a warning. The intensity that exudes from his whole existence is sucking the air out of my lungs and the strength out of my knees.

“No! Why would I?” I speak in a single breath and shake my head unconvincingly. He frowns, then pulls his hand away.

Behind us we hear the crack of the backdoor opening and before I can turn around, two cold arms crawls from behind to my stomach. “Zaah—” I scream but I am muted by Zaahid’s palm. My hands knot his coat and I jump in place. His lip barely curls up in a smile, but I notice. I shiver. A devilish grin creeps across his face when he sees me attempt to cover the chill bumps on my arms.

For a second there my heart skipped a beat. I thought it was the Penelope scare. Peek-a-boo, Maira! Zaahid is still wrapped around my finger. He loves me. Peek-a-boo! Last night was deviously delicious. Did Zaahid say he was at the studio? With my eyes closed, I see her sultry standing, I can hear the mock in her voice, and that, that, laughter that taunts my existence. But Gia’s giggles break through the voices in my head, “why are you so jumpy?”

“I guess, it’s the dark,” Zaahid smiles and puts a hand around me and presses his lips to my head. But I don’t smile. I grip my phone tightly. Why are you lying Maira? It is not the darkness. It’s him. His anger. His liquor. His grip. His burning eyes. Him. It’s all him. My subconscious is yelling from the loudspeakers, standing atop of buildings and I have no answers.

I push my elbow into Zaahid’s side. He removes his hand off me. I take fast shallow breaths to silence my heart thumping against my chest. Turning around, I hug my best friend, breathing freely for the first time after sitting in the car. Then, I look above her shoulder and then back at her. “Jeremy?”

“Oh, he,” she begins but sounds so flustered and tousled, “he had some business convention to be at.” She dismisses it with a wave of her hand. She brings Thomas before her, like a shield. I hadn’t meant to pry and I was not going to ask anymore questions but Gia still moves past us to her mother in the living room. Perhaps, she is still recovering from an adultery incidence that could have taken her marriage, but it was gracious enough to take her trust and love instead.

Denise has found the Rocky Road in the kitchen and now refuses to come out until she finishes the tub. Harry is failing at persuading her. Ten minutes later, Annie and Gia come out from the living room to meet us in the hallway—we were guarding the surprise party. Logan and his band mates follow suit with champagne and wine. Greetings are exchanged and old chats are carried forward. One of Logan’s bandmate brings Zaahid his favourite whiskey.

After two drinks, I wrap my arm around Zaahid’s waist, silently telling him to stop drinking, while I still held my first half-full glass of wine. He gently pushes my arm off him. When he sees that Logan's been following our actions, he casually puts his arm around my waist. Slowly as peering eyes wear off us and murmurs linger in the air, my mind nose dives into our history. I still remember how foreign the concept of ‘love at first sight’ was for me. I never believed it could happen. It seemed too bizarre. Exactly why I did not love Zaahid the first time I met him on USO, or a month later when I moved into his house, or six months later when we were friends.

I won’t lie, I was awe-struck, besotted and enraptured when I met him, but I was not love struck. Time and again our paths would cross and I would see him, talk to him, go out on paneer tikka nights, dal makhani cravings and hot naan lunches, but I was not love sick. We were so different yet so similar. Our mix-tapes were stark opposites, he liked his pizza cold with a side of a large coke always while I liked my towering burgers and salty fries. We went to concerts, shows and even a tour together and I was still awe-struck, besotted and enraptured by him, but I did not love him.

When we got married there was a silent promise between us where we both would respect each other if not love. So, Zaahid would always meet me halfway on the bridge of relationships. He would always come/send cars to pick me up from airports or from my place or a chauffeur if I needed one. When I would be back from my tour, he would always drive to my place to help with the cooking and cleaning and the restocking on my pantry. He would make sure I didn’t spend money on ridiculous things. He would come over and spend hours with me without speaking a word, like silence was enough. He would always meet me halfway.

Over the years, it was all in these little things. I realized that maybe our love needed nurturing, a constant effort from both sides, and time to fully bloom exactly like the whiskey he is now drinking. Yes, I did not believe in the idea of ‘soul mates’ but let me tell you—give it time, it will strike you and you’ll be love-struck.

Luke’s laughter cuts through the air. Denise drops the spoon on the floor and it rings in the hall. Her nutcracker steps lead her to the hallway but the dark house hides us well. Harry picks her up but she throws a fit to be taken back to her Rocky Road and the light. I turn to look at Zaahid and when our eyes meet, I tell him to help Harry out but Gia interrupts. “So good to have you,” she holds me by my elbow and then her eyes roam over Zaahid, “both—both of you here!” she notices his hand which is around me but fails to pick up the fear in my eyes.

Gia’s indecisive to voice her thoughts. Her hands are nervously picking her nails and she looks out for Harry and makes sure he can’t hear her. “I heard your teaser. I am, like always, blown away by your art.” Gia raises her eyebrows and nods slowly as she comments.

“Thank you,” Zaahid places a hand on his heart. “Thank you so much.” He runs a quick hand in his hair. His eyes meet mine for a fraction too long and we share a polite smile. In these rare moments we appreciate that it’s harder to love than to die, especially after enduring a heartache and each other.

“Any release dates yet?” Gia questions, being genuinely excited.

“I was hoping something in March next year,” Zaahid shakes his head and a ghost of a smile touches his lips. “But I guess, I’ll have one when I am ready for one,” he shrugs.

“Fair enough,” Gia laughs echoing all those celebrations—big or small—we had together; like when she tasted her first gulab jamun, when Harry gifted him a leather jacket and his new set of his favourite paints, when she brought Zaahid customized donuts on his birthday after his fallout with the band, when she wished for us to open our own assorted bakery store because all her visits to us would always be loaded with pastries, waffles, cakes or sweets. “You look well fed, mentally stabilized and happy since the move,” she rambles, placing her hand on his arm. “Honestly, if this makes you a better person, don’t let anybody put you down. You’re going to be so great.” A wide, proudish looking smile is on her face. There is warmth in and around her.

“Thank you, Gia! Yes, I am doing well by God’s grace.” Zaahid moves to hug her. She pats his back like a proud mummy.

As they let each other go, Gia says, “And it’s totally working for you. You look more attractive tonight or maybe that’s the light.” She tries for a lewd tone.

“Excuse me?” I chip in, pushing Zaahid behind me and standing between them. Zaahid chuckles at that. He brings his arm from behind and cups my shoulders, planting a soft kiss on it. I lean back into him.

“Ooo someone’s being possessive…” Gia swings her arm with mine like we are little school girls.

“Ooo and someone’s being a dick.” I stop the swing and whack her arm off mine. I cannot anymore bear the thought of Zaahid with someone else. In my ears rings the squish squish of the bed. I imagine white tshirts with lipstick stains lying on the bedroom floor. The familiar ache swells inside me, and the profound sadness I hold in my heart for Zaahid seizes me once more.

“You sure know how to keep friends around.” Gia cocks her head to the side, thinking. Releasing a deep theatrical breath, she straightens herself. She pulls out her phone and does some mental math staring at the calendar. “Five weeks!” she hushes when Harry comes out from the kitchen and gives her the middle finger.

“What?” Zaahid arches an eyebrow, intrigued.

“Your wedding anniversary!” Gia playfully smacks my arm. “Can I again please plead to host this time,” she holds my hands, then glances at Zaahid, “only for the approval to be rejected.” Zaahid squeezes my shoulder. I swiftly steal a glimpse at him. He flashes yet another fake loving smile at me. It strikes me how unsure he is of situations sometimes. I suspect that he’s always been like this, but has just hidden his uncertainty beneath an intimidating exterior. Shit. I gape at him. This is not a joke.

“Err…” I scratch my head, easing out of Zaahid’s embrace. “Are you sure, Gia?” I ask in all mock seriousness. “Do I have to remind you of the Reception Party Harry and you co-hosted with the Noori’s?” I don’t think I have ever grinned so hard.

The Absurd Reception Surprise Party for Zaahid and I was held after two days of The Disastrous December Night. An official statement had been released that morning, guests were invited and social media was abuzz with curiosity and grieving over Penelope’s loss. Both of us had been reeling with the consciousness that no amounts of self awareness, lies, self help knowledge, love poetry and heartbreak stories could compensate for the lack of our acceptance of the truth and of living in-congruence to our values. The party was an unplanned debacle.

Everything from the decoration to catering to us was a steep descent into fiascoes. Delnaz and Wafaa had handled how I looked or probably makeup was too generous a word for the number of products on my face to hide my puffy eyes from copiously crying. Sabira had led us to the wide but untidy and crammed basement (store house for their Birmingham house in London as their attic was now my bedroom) and locked us from outside. Gia had planned a grand entry for us from the basement up to the garden with a canopy of fairy lights and mirrors. The theme was erroneously black and white when Zaahid and I were dressed in blush pink and under the bravura of gathering and the occasion, no one had accounted for if the lights went out.

For a full forty-five minutes Zaahid and I had loitered in the basement kicking, scratching carton boxes and not talking at all. It was a complete blackout. I was scorching with anger at everyone. For me, Zaahid’s stubbornness had won and I had lost my self worth—something which I had waged deeply for every ounce of it. Above us we could hear people murmuring, the chaos of paparazzi and the outside traffic. When my knee legit hit a tower of boxes, it knocked over and I had to use my phone torch to see.

Under my phone’s light, the hovering dust had shone. When I had moved my phone to the ground, there was a litter of old toys. Broken rattles, dolls with eyes missing, naked, ragged and amputated, old puzzle boxes which had then been splayed on the filthy basement floor, a ruined dart board, worn out rackets and a torn scrabble board. Tattered sky-blue paper shreds had floated to the ground forked with a wilted dart. Before I could put everything back in place my attention had turned to the flickering bulb above us following the approaching footsteps.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Gia had run down the stairs, unlocking and entering the basement with her own flashlight. “There was a power cut.” She had explained scratching her neck, “But I guess you would have already known…” A beat later she had knotted her arm in mine, “We are now ready!” She had led us to the garden entrance. I had been trembling, my legs had refused to take steps forwards. When Zaahid had held my hand, guiding me forward, I had swallowed. I had never laid a hand on anyone besides Raahat but in that moment I had wanted to punch Zaahid quite badly.

The gasps that we had heard next was from the onlookers. Eyes had roamed over our dresses and the décor and then at Gia. We were still settling the commotion amongst camera shutters and expansive gathering when catastrophe number three and four had hit the night. The caterers—Harry’s responsibility—had brought in some other party’s food menu and our ‘reception cake’ was essentially someone’s 23rd birthday cake. Achievement Party Wrecked had been unlocked!

The house phone rings, startling me out of the past. Harry walks towards us with Denise on his hip, “The pie is here…let’s eat some pie now!” Gia leads our small troupe to the living room with staccato steps. Zaahid and I scuttle in the dark of the hallway, allowing Harry and Denise to go in first.

The growing familiarity of the room with the Birthday Bash the Noori’s Threw on my twentieth makes me uneasy. Do you also perform autopsies on memories you feel you had lives ago? Or is it just me? The shadows encapsulate me and merge with the darkness of the night of 24th July, 2013.

Stephen’s driver had driven me to Birmingham. The minute I had stepped onto the driveaway, the whole house lit up like a Christmas tree. Colourful fairy lights hung onto the surrounding trees, down the roof, framing the windows, it had looked like an elegant—British—version of the Rash party of sigma alpha mu’s college fraternities in the West. My heart beat had gone double time. The main door had been ajar, casting a white beam on the floor. I had called out but there was no answer. I had pushed the door and it had swung open with ease, a blast of air-conditioned cold had streamed past me and some light jazz had drifted from a room out of sight.

The sinister darkness was eerie. I couldn’t even make out the furniture. You do not go inside houses this spooky, remember? My subconscious was a reality check for me. I was about to close the door and leave but a ray of white light had fallen on me. I froze in place, wide eyed—aghast. My mind kept asking just one question, do I have the wrong address? My hands had begun to get moistened while my heartbeat was in a marathon run competing in the Olympics. I hadn’t dared to move; I hadn’t dared to even breathe. A musical melody had then sliced through the air. There was no stopping now for me, I had made up my mind. Run Maira Run. But then the spotlight had moved around me and out of pure inquisitiveness I turned with it.

My bag fell from my hands, the hollow hall had exaggerated the sound and taking in a sharp breath I had flinched. On the wall opposite me a projected video was being played. Staring isn’t quite the word for what I had done though I’d fit the dictionary definition to a ’T. I hadn’t recognized the song. My eyes had been as fixed as the rest of my face, as if something like that was impossible to absorb any faster. I was frozen for maybe three whole seconds before the corners of my mouth had resumed their usual softness and my eyes had quit staring. Random, silly pictures from my childhood and Ultimate Sing Off days had been piped in to create the video.

Out of the complete blackout, I had seen silhouettes of people walking towards me. One of them was rather tall and was for every millisecond blocking the spot light. As a natural instinct I had found myself stepping backwards. I had counted days on my hands as to when was Halloween and going by the numbers, it wasn’t anytime soon. Jai Hanuman Gyaan Gun Sagar, Jai Kapis Tihun Lok Ujaagar, Ram Doot Atulit Bal Dhaama, Anjani-putra Pavan Sut Naama. My subconscious had began chanting to ward off the evil. Seconds after my eyes had adjusted to the dark I recognised The Noori’s, Harry and Gia in front of me. A chorused, ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung whilst confetti fell over all of us.

When my eyes had drifted over the gathering, I had been extremely disappointed. Standing in the middle of the hall, like an odd one out, of their opulent bash I had expected The Noori’s would tone down the celebration, understand my state of mind, my situation, exactly how they’d expected me to ‘get-over-it.’ It wasn’t a house party. All of whose and who of Zaahid’s contacts and family alike were present. If I listened carefully, I could also hear the commotion of the media. I can’t really recall when had I stopped saying a ‘thank you’ maybe that never happened?

I had drifted to the desserts table but every minute I would bump into someone and their pretty faces, eyes laced with sympathy would give me polite smiles. It had chagrinned me, with every second on the clock my heartache had been unbearable. It had become the outcome of a great orchestra. At times my heartache would be soft and let me operate—like a soulful piano—at other times the melody of the violins would drape the sadness around my shoulders, and then at other times the drums would escalate to a crescendo and the anger would burst from my chest in a vicious shout of anguish. “What flavour can I get for you?” Wafaa had asked, who had been serving at the ice-cream table. At that moment, a saxophone had played in my ears and my sorrow had taken me on a joyous ride. Go figure.

At the ice cream parlour I stand with hands spread over the chilled glass like dark sea stars. If there had been three choices, I would have picked one long ago, but the array has put my mind into a happy tingle of possibilities. There aren’t just all the flavours, but all the possible combinations.

At least the choice of cone is simple enough, a waffle cone dipped in chocolate with sprinkles. It doesn’t come cheap of course, but then reaching your fourth birthday is a reason to celebrate. After a few more moments I turn around to my father, “Papa, what should I get?”

He smiles; it is hard even for him to know what to choose.

“Well,” he says, “chocolate is always my favourite, perhaps with some pistachio and sauce on top?”

I nod, my grin instant.

The nausea had swirled unrestrained in my empty stomach. My head had swum with half-formed regrets. The bright colours of the party had appeared dull to me, the Bacardi party music akin to noise and the celebration a brutal reminder to what I had lost. But then there was Wafaa with her almond brown eyes and caramel freckles, who held my waist with an unexpected warmth. There was respect in her eyes. From behind her back she pulled out a munificent slice of truffle cake loaded with chocolate and vanilla ice-cream, sprinkled with sliced pistachios. “I may or may not have stalked your instagram from years ago,” her voice was playful but her heart was pure. I know I had heart eyes.

Giving me a sugar rush, she had for the first time talked to me about anything and everything. I think we both were a little diabetes intoxicated and weren’t even making sense but having found a common ground of Irrefutable Sugar Love was reason enough to continue the blabber. She had given me an ear which was absorbing my words rather than waiting to reply. With each minute passing, she was giving me small reasons to trust humanity again. There was something in the way she had smiled, her warmth, her genuineness and a softness of spirit that I couldn’t pass. In her I was discovering a new friend I’d needed for so long.

Wafaa never left my side the entire night even after her best friend had come in and she had introduced the tattooed girl with numerous piercings. She had looked familiar but then I had to remind myself I was in the same room as about 75 celebrity guests. “I think we’ve met before,” her friend had said, holding out her hand for me.

“I’m sorry, I don’t recollect.” I reluctantly had oblidged for a handshake.

“No, I am sure I’ve seen you at a party…” she had clicked her fingers, closing her eyes, “plaid skirt, white shirt?”

“Sounds like something I would wear but I don’t know…” I had shrugged, not caring if I came off as rude.

“Are you okay, love?” Wafaa had softly questioned, when the awkward air became to congesting to breathe in. I had faked a courteous smile and nodded. My unhappiness was choking me. “Happy to hear it. Now maybe when I ask you again tomorrow, you’ll tell me the truth.”

.

An hour later, seated on the floor, Wafaa and her friend had been munching on cold pizza and I was internally sulking under the stairs. “Ahem,” Someone had cleared their throat, “can Our Lioness spare a moment for us?” Recognising Riya’s voice I had sprung up so fast, so hard that my head had bumped against the wall. Taybah had called in Venus, Craig and Riya as my present. Finding familiar arms, I hadn’t let go for five minutes straight. The celebration had gone on into the night; everyone had been dancing like they’d forgotten how to stand still. Craig was moving like his limbs had been made of spaghetti and Venus’ face had been an epic picture of pure excitement. I guess it is human nature to love things you can’t make for yourself. The celebration had been a riot of colour; everyone was a little more hyped up than they should be.

“We’ve an important lecture tomorrow morning…” Riya had said biting down on her chocolate dipped churrors. “We’ll call you tomorrow!” The call never came exactly how they’d—especially Riya—never offered me to go with them. It was the worst feeling wherein I had expected someone who has indulged themselves in my good, to be there through my bad, but only I’d let myself down in the end. When they had driven off, I had stayed a while on the driveaway, kicking stones and eventually looking at the stars. My thoughts were haywire and hazy and all I could think about—imagine—was what my parents would have experienced.

The fancy sum-up of an ‘accident’; the accident that had wrecked my present and my future. I never knew that, That Night would become the first few of (many that would follow soon in the future) those nights, that I was not altogether sure that the accident did really happen. In the Indian newspapers, internet niche there were no photographs, no headlines, no page 4 news report, no receipts to follow a trail from or no scrawled journal entries. My father was the Indian Navy’s Air Commordore but the misfortune that had befallen me felt like a story sitting in my mind, like a half-blown dandelion, waiting to be fractured, dismembered; waiting to disintegrate into nothing.

When I had closed my eyes, the pictures had played like a blurry pastiche. I could see them driving to the airport, until the street signs grew less familiar—the flickering lamp lights giving away to stars. Then sitting beside papa my ma would have pushed the take-away coke papercup, reaching for my dad’s hand resting on the gear. The conversation they might have had about everything and nothing and that would have distracted papa to not notice the truck that was coming on the wrong side of the road. My eyes had opened immediately. Papa was never careless on the road. He would always turn down the volume of the radio to see better on the road. My subconscious had divulged, nodding her head to weird brown dad logics.

I feel too much and I think too much and thus in my mind there is absolute madness and chaos that by equal parts terrifies and overwhelms me. So, that night in the driveaway a fire had burned within me, which if not put out in time, was capable to burn down the Earth and glow in the skies. My subconscious had rubbed her hands on my back. Please drink water, love. Soon, you’ll get better. Running back into the house I had picked up a random glass, taking a huge sip. The water had burned my throat. And that was it—all my quandaries had mounted on me so high by that point that my endurance fell and I had cried as if the ferocity of it might have brought my parents back; as if by the sheer force of my grief the news would be undone.

The music had been loud and I knew I would have blended in well but Zaahid had heard my screaming sobs and had tried to hold me back, to calm me, even as his own tears fell thick and fast but, in my hysteria, I was too strong and too wild. On the walls were their family pictures and all mine had showed me what I’d lost. Unable to embrace the torment I had tumbled out of his grip and had ran through the hall. Finally, I had sunk to the floor behind the couch.

“Sharing your burden can lighten your soul,” Luke had stood at the end of the sofa, asking me to talk about it but I just couldn’t find the right words—they had left me like everyone else. I did not know him back then and I did not know that we will soon meet again in a café where I would spill coffee on him and on mutual consent, we would consider that as our first meeting. My sadness had flowed through my veins and the grief had come in powerful waves, drenching me with each. When someone’s playlist played Echo by Jason Walker, Luke had thought better to take me to my bedroom. There again sitting on the floor, he had told me what he had heard about the accident and the facebook page Wafaa owned.

I had run down the stairs and into the hall where the party had almost ended. I had harshly turned on Wafaa eventually leaning in mourning Taybah’s lap. For me, it was cruel of the sun to have risen that morning, that I had to welcome a day devoid of my mother’s laughter or my father’s sarcastic retorts and complains alike. I had desired to hear my mother snort at something stupid I would do or fart and blame it on the dog that we didn’t even own. I had craved to hear my father’s heavy footsteps, his disciplinarian stance and how we would always argue about giving me permission to go downtown on my own, i.e., without having a hovering Raahat’s convenient protective trait to pop up.

Sitting there at Taybah’s feet I had believed that one day I would be able to go back home and, in the house, into their bedroom and I would have the knack to clear out those antiques and artworks that lined their cabinets which would have been festered with moulds but I didn’t know then that a year later I would fly back but will not be able to even face the house. Taybah had put a loving hand on my head, patting my hair and in that rare moment of ‘belonging somewhere’ I had closed my eyes.

The next morning, I had woken up in Zaahid’s room, in his bed, fully clothed and untouched. Besides me had been Wafaa who had given me aspirin and lemon water for my hangover telling me how Luke had to peel me off Taybah’s lap to the nearest bedroom. That also has to be the night since when Zaahid has banned me off ‘vodka’ because apparently that night I had gulped down vodka and not water.

A balloon bursts near my ear and my abstraction is broken. Denise’s cake has been cut and people are parading and dancing around her. The confetti still continue to fall over the group while I regain my alertness. Someone runs up to me now, but I can’t really hear them. I am trying to clear the fog. Give me time and let me be…It’s Harry. He holds my hand and drags me further into the living room, towards the black leather sofa; I see a silhouette of a lady sitting on it. I don’t look at her just yet. I am still processing things in my mind. Harry, let me be.

“Oh Zaahid!” Natalia exclaims, getting up from the sofa, “so good to finally have you here,” she holds him by his upper arms at an arms length and then pulls him for a hug. I blow out a breath. Why is everyone so touchy today!? In my ears ring the clatter of metal bangles Penelope wears hitting the floor, the dim lights and the rasps from under covers. I silently gasp, picking my blouse’s neckline.

“It was about time to meet Denise,” Zaahid laughs softly, helping Natalia to sit on the sofa, “I guess.” He adjusts the cushions behind her and asks her if she’s comfortable. Harry pulls out a chair for me so that we don’t crowd the sofa.

“I’m sure Denise was elated to see you,” Natalia makes Zaahid sit beside her and holds his hand. She doesn’t acknowledge my presence. I am right in front of Zaahid.

“Sure was! That fashionista of yours,” Zaahid says looking at Denise running around, “under my watch,” he places a hand on his chest and bows, “is on a chocolate high!” There is admiration in his eyes. Zaahid reaches out and puts a hand on mine.

“If the dentist reports to me of any cavities, my lawyer will be talking to you next.” Natalia jokes, patting on Zaahid’s knee and leaning into him. Zaahid lets mine go and pats her arm.

“Did you see today’s newspaper? They’ve idolized us again,” Harry shakes his head and looks at me. He pulls out his phone and shows me the article. My eyes widen for a fraction of a second. It is about the photoshoot. I cannot comprehend why Harry would bring this up in front of everyone that ever mattered. My eyes lift off to Zaahid. He sees me wincing and clutching my phone and purse closer.

“Can I—” Zaahid begins.

“What happened to your hand?” Natalia cuts through and the attention diverts.

“She just had a little accident in the kitchen,” Zaahid speaks for me, holding my hand and pressing on it. I know what he is trying to say without trying to come to out and saying it. He wants to see it, now. His curiosity is perked up.

“Are you okay, love?” Harry rubs my arm, gently. “Can I get you some herbal tea?”

“No, I am fine,” I smile, “thank you.” Then my eyes meet Natalia’s, “How have you been?” I ask out of courtesy. I remove my hands from Zaahid’s grip and move a stray strand of hair fallen on my face behind my ear.

“I am,” Natalia holds her stomach, “am good. Harry makes it better,” she looks at him lovingly, “Maira.” She curtly nods in my direction, taking in my presence.

“Good to hear! Because that glow on your face is amazing. You make pregnancy look easy. Is it?” I’m not sure if I’m asking to extend the conversation or if I am genuinely curious. There’s always been an unspoken ache around it.

“I’m not going to lie, it has been a roller coaster ride—the morning sickness, fatigue, tenderness, contractions,” Natalia takes in a deep breath, as if in a minute she has relived her eight months pilgrimage. “But yes, it’s an experience not everyone can have.” The words hold the subtext taunt. Her voice was brutal. She doesn’t take her eyes off mine; she knows what she is doing.

Heartburn. I have heartburn. I place my hand on my chest and nod. My power of speech has left me. I can only hear and see the headlines of entertainment times of newspapers and online articles accessing my reproductive capabilities, never Zaahid’s. Harry inches closer towards me and put an arm around my shoulder, “I know one day you’ll be the best mum in the world.” His eyes are soft and he too can read through Natalia.

“Absolutely!” Zaahid’s voice is higher than he probably intended it to be. “Right now, we have too much going on to plan for a family.” He puts his hand on my knee, rubbing it slightly. “Or you can say I want to have her for myself for a few more years,” he laughs and the couple follows suit. Harry and Zaahid have broken the ice and at this moment are again happy and grudge-free like in the band days.

Natalia holds her back and blenches, “Harry could you run up and get me some Tylenol?” She interrupts their healing and undeniable growth that can come for communication and the closure, each need.

“Let me,” I immediately stand up.

“No, don’t take the trouble,” Natalia crisply answers. She snaps at me subtly. Her eyes glare at me. What? Maybe she believes the media reports of ‘Harry and you,’ my subconscious offers. Yes, that is a good explanation.

“What trouble?” I say, smiling at her. “I’ll take it as my excuse to have a chance to stretch my legs.” I keep my tone calm. My inner goddess is scowling at Natalia. Rage flares briefly in my heart. I get up from my seat and begin to walk away.

“Maira!” Natalia shouts. The chatter and the music in the room amalgamates her. My mouth drops open, stunned. “Just please don’t.” She harshly spats, like she cannot tolerate having me around anymore.

“I’m just trying to help…Natalia.” I whisper, my throat hoarse and aching as it closes in, choking me with unshed tears. Zaahid and Harry stand up. Silence descends and the atmosphere of Spencer living room plunges to below zero. Zaahid takes a step forward between Natalia and me and opens his mouth to say something.

“You want to help?” Natalia mocks with a sour mouth. She holds me by my elbow and pulls in right in front of her. “How about you stay away from my husband and whore around with other men?” My eyes prick with tears. No one’s ever said that to me before, and it is as if she has laid the media’s assumptions to rest.

“Natalia!” Harry snaps at her.

“Watch your words, Natalia.” Zaahid warns her, pulling me behind him like a protective cover.

“Oh, stop it! You act as if you don’t know.” Natalia whacks at the air and says disgustedly. “You let this happen and so it continues.” She strikes Zaahid’s shoulder with her own and walks past us to her room.

I fumble with my purse and phone. I run out of the hall and into their guest bedrooms. I didn’t expect to feel this much hurt by Natalia’s words. But it’s good. It happened for a reason. Zaahid doesn’t love me. Zaahid doesn’t stand up for me. My brain lists plausible excuses to let Zaahid go, so that I can move on and find love again and maybe I couldn’t do that until I make myself free. This is good. No, I am not crying, you’re crying.

When I first went to college for my graduation, I really thought that I’d be dead before I finish the first semester but now, I am twenty-six and here is where life has brought me. I have a flourishing career and loyal friends and the weight of ‘being something’ has lifted off my shoulders. Each new day offers me to create, grow and breathe but I am not prepared to live a worthy life. The world didn’t end for me when I’d wished so hard for it to, and now suddenly I am being asked to live a life I never thought I’d get a chance to see? The thought makes me sick.

The door closes behind me and Zaahid walks towards me, loosening his tie. “Maira, Natalia doesn’t mean what—” he begins and I glare at him so hard, he stands still for two seconds. “Natalia does mean…” he lets out a deep sigh. He throws a tissue box on the bed for me. Fuck. Fuck. Fuckity. Fuck. Zaahid already believes Harry and I are dating.

He walks towards me and I take steps back because his eyes look daring. He locks me between his hands beside my head, against the wall. “You are free in this relationship, Maira. You can choose to file divorce papers.” I gaze at him. Can I believe this? My head hurts just trying to think this all through. I feel like I am being tested. Also, I will never admit that I love him and will do no such thing.

“Am I?” I look him directly in the eye and spit out. I put my hands on his chest and push, but he doesn’t even budge. “Will this not air the accusations of adultery Zaahid?” His eyes burn into me, like for a minute he thought that I’d taken up the offer.

“Depends on who’s telling the truth…” His voice derails. He cocks his head to the side and looking at me accusingly. I close my eyes and rest my head against the wall. Yes, Zaahid makes me fall in love with him every single day, but no, he’s not mine anymore. He hasn’t been for months.

“Ah yes, Mr. Zaahid Noori is an expert in relationships, exactly why his loyalty dances with every new opportunity that comes up, right?” I assert calmly, my eyes hold the usual disgust the have for him.


NOTE

I like when I don’t have to be careful what I say. That’s when you know you’re with the right people.

“I wish I could hurt you back, love, what would you do if you couldn’t get me back. You’re the one who’s gonna lose, something so special, something so real, tell me boy, how in the fuck would you feel? If you couldn’t get me back. That’s what I wish that I could do to you” Song: Figures by Jessie Reyes

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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