N O T E
Now, close your eyes and please understand that you are still young, and the universe is endless, and somehow, everything will be okay.
Squeezing my eyes shut I try to regain control, because I have no idea how my life has succumbed to this and I can’t breathe. I can hear myself crying and I can’t inhale a breath because of it. I try to wipe out my tears from the back of my palms but they are already stained from another hurt. Don’t think about Zaahid. Don’t give him that luxury. My subconscious taps my shoulder, gripping me as I struggle to stand. I take shaky steps towards the bar under the T.V. to find a bottle of water. Instead, I see Zaahid’s half empty whiskey glass haphazardly kept inside.
In my ears ring the smashing of the glass, the thuds of when I was being pushed around and then the empty black silence. I tremble so badly it takes me three attempts to lift the bottle upright and pour myself a glass. As minutes pass and I calm myself down I take facts into consideration and I conclude that yes, I have overreacted but Zaahid could never date Penelope again. I become increasingly more regretful for reacting like I did and causing Zaahid to be worried about if I come out alive from the room or not. I have ZERO proof against them. Jackets and cologne can be so easily manipulated. Right? And the kids? DO I know genetics? NO.
I feel like I’m displacing my anger because I’m too afraid to bring up what’s really bothering me. Taybah is coming over. He called me a NIGHT before her and I saw an abusive, out-of-control side of him! Why? Honestly, I just want this night to be over now. I want to go back home and forget this night and the coming month between our lives. I bring the glass to my lips but I can hardly drink it since most of it spills from the shivering. I stare at it long enough in order to still it but my mind diverts to the time when I had found the Better Life Therapy Flyer.
Their successive sessions took up different topics every time but I particularly remember the one I had taken in my senior year at school. It had been two years since Raahat had left and my family had been grieving the loss of a person that was still alive. Papa had handled it by keeping himself drowned in work and mummy had avoided to stay at home—parties, socialising had become her new coping mechanism. The psychologist had walked around a room whilst teaching stress management to an audience of two hundred college aspirants. As she’d raised a glass of water, everyone had expected they’ll be asked the ‘half empty or half full’ question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she’d inquired: “How heavy is this of water?” Answers had called out ranging from 50mL to 300mL.
She’d replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralysed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”
She’d continued, “The stress and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralysed—incapable of doing anything.”
Know when to put down that glass, Maira. Today, my subconscious completes her words. She’s indirectly coaxing me to let Zaahid go for he and I don’t go like sugar and water but like sand and salt. She reminds me that sometimes ‘relationships’ and ‘love’ can be like that glass of water too. You are being too hard on him, Maira. My inner goddess—founder and chairperson of Zquad—is the first to his defence. I can’t argue her, because she might be right.
Taking deep breaths, I run my fingers through my bun and slightly pull at the roots. In my junior year at college, four years after Raahat left, I would often say while building my bubble world, ‘I’m never going to grow old and talk about what I used to be,’ because I believed the future held so much more promise for me—shiny degrees, expansive resume, a reputable job and a satistfied, content life—but with every step forward now, I realise how much more farther away I am from the end than I ever was to the beginning. I am barely twenty-six and I’ve already got decades of mistakes packed in the lines of my face and I’ve crammed an eternity’s worth of regret in the creases of my palms. I’ve had to let so many people dear to me go, to forget them and hide them all away for rainy days.
Zaahid’s napkin note floats through the wintry air and falls at my feet. I hastily pick it up. ‘Maira, please don’t do anything stupid.’ I read it again and again and again. He sounds so certain. Whenever we had an argument about a point of fact, he would always be so utterly confident that he had it right and I had it wrong. He never even entertained the possibility that he might be mistaken. It drove me bananas. I tear up the napkin and throw it in the air.
This is the problem. All his problems seem more significant now. It was one thing for a gentle, law-abiding, superstar singer and artist to have failings: a certain inflexibility that manifested itself just when it was most inconvenient, those occasional (also inconvenient) black moods, the frustrating implacability during arguments, the untidiness, the constant losing of his possessions. They all seemed innocuous enough, common even; but now they belonged to a cheater/abuser, they seemed to matter so much more, to define him.
His good qualities now seem irrelevant and probably fraudulent: a cover identity. How could I ever look at him again in the same way? How could I still love him? I don’t know him. I am in love with an optical illusion. The hazel eyes that have looked at me with repugnance are the same eyes that Penelope has seen filled with tenderness and passion and laughter as they would’ve made love. Those lovely strong hands that have cupped my face and told me to breathe and take baby steps are the same ones that would’ve held Penelope’s fragile baby daughters.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve been so enraptured by ‘love:’ that set my heart on fire and burnt it to ashes too that I failed to listen to all the goodbyes between Zaahid and I. The first would’ve been uttered right after Awful December Night, early in the morning before he had driven me off to the hotel. In our two A.M. bodies, restless, slowly inching apart towards opposite ends of the room and instead of looking into his sleep covered eyes I would stare into his sharp shoulder blades with edges crueller than a cliff’s face.
The second goodbye between us would’ve been when I’d allowed Zaahid to believe that I had made my ‘choice’ with Harry. It had been a silly deduction but I’d never explained that it’d been months since I had met Annie and Harry just wanted me around for a while after my marriage because everything had been so sudden. So, at Zaahid’s place, where conversations had once flourished, fewer words were spoken then—with pointy words sharper than spearheads. Searching for words had become agonizing and silence had soured our hearts. There shouldn’t have been a turning back for us then.
And the third and the fourth goodbye would’ve been said in our last two anniversary pretense setups. Where wrapped in white curtains, sharing a drink, he’d stared at me for just a second longer than he should and eventually we would’ve to declare the ‘love/like/love’ to be a mistake and in the next ‘act’ I would cover my love and call it nothing because it would be.
I now imagine that when Zaahid’s conscious will hold inside it more guilt than the verdict of an open and shut murder trial for what he’s done to me—to us, he would sit me down and with the trembling in his hands will speak the fifth goodbye while his eyes would scream the sixth and the ums and ahs will spit the seventh, the eighth and ninth. And I believe that when his lips at last whisper goodbye it will not pain me like it should, because his heart would’ve spoken it many times before, it was simply misunderstood.
I shake my head, looking down at the bits of paper as they fly to the ground. I snatch the water bottle from the cabinet and dunk half of it in a single breath. I open my eyes a hard ball of fury lodged at the back of my throat, as if I am choking on something. I want to ask Zaahid, ‘why me’ and ‘what went wrong’ but I can’t. I try to form words, but nothing comes out. I drop my face because my heart is breaking and the not knowing terrifies me. Regardless of wherever life takes us after tonight, I will not ask him—beg him—to stay. I just wish that it hadn’t ended like this. I wish we had more time. But so much time has gone by. I don’t really know what to do anymore.
My eyes roam around the room and in my ear rings the chimes of glass breaking. I look back down to the torn napkin bits. They appear like broken glass pieces and I can see my face in all of them. “There’s a love seat on a swing set. And a small gardenia. And Sabira’s inflatable swimming pool. It froze and became a miniature ice rink.” I dart my eyes from one piece to another and the thoughts keep pouring out. “It’s blue. Sabira’s swimming pool. And I constantly cleared the roof top because it had snowed all night last night.” I pause and try to take a breath, because the memories won’t stop. They won’t stop coming and I can’t breathe. I suddenly feel sick. I rush across the room and into the bathroom, then fall straight to the floor. The images and memories of The December Night start inundating my mind like the floodgates have just been lifted.
The old father clock in the corner of the living room chimes. Night has finally befallen us, wrapping the day in its dark blanket and filling the inky night sky with its specks of light. Today’s sun set in slowly against the slight pink sky. I switch on the faery lights decorating the house. The full moon light throws a gentle glow on the entire house. I set in their Zenelope hand made stool in the center of the living room. The walls are lined by Zaahid’s family pictures, of him and I and of his cute Zenelope couple goals.
Today, I set the premise for his bachelor’s party. Taybah tells me that it has been excruciating long years to watch him chicken out of proposing to Penelope time and again but this month, he finally did it and she said yes. Two of my best friends are getting married! It feels like a dream. Its been too good to be true, especially with Zaahid’s lingering eye.
Tomorrow will be their nikkah. Even though it’s his bachelor party, most of his family will be joining. Mrs. Khan is going berserk in the kitchen, cooking every Indian and Pakistani dish she knows. She has decided to make sure everyone falls in love with desi delights. Taybah is being strict about every detail—the lights need to be brighter, the flowers prettier and the house neater. But she’s not only playing nice but naughty too. Earlier this morning, on Penelope’s request, we’ve decided to let the two lovers meet for the last time before the wedding. Taybah truly believes in the ‘love-is-in-the-air’ aura.
Our plan is simple: I will arrange for Zaahid to go on the roof to talk about sudden changes in his wedding plans, because abruptly in the midst of friendships with Penelope and Zaahid, I also part-time as a matchmaker. On the roof, I will hand over the roses to him to be given to Penelope who will be sneaked in by Taybah. Thus, since morning I have cleared the roof’s ice twice. There’s a beautiful love seat swing set in one corner of the roof, in the gardenia. I have enveloped the poles with rose garlands and changed cushion covers to bright red kissy faces. On the other end of the roof is Sabira’s inflated swimming pool which is now frozen. If they want to ice skate—only about tw steps of it—that’d do it for them.
As the evening progresses, I pray for it to not snow tonight. It’s been a very cold winter this year. At around eight, the old father clock chimes and the moment arrives, I hush over to Zaahid, pull him by his elbow and tell him, “There’s something you need to know about tomorrow. Hear me out? Umm…let’s go on the roof. It’ll be silent there.” I suggest. Zaahid easily nods, holding a glass of whiskey. It’s his second. I’ve been counting. I couldn’t let him get drunk before my plan—gosh no! Without a word he moves before me and is on his way to the roof. From a safe distance from him, I give a ‘thumbs up’ to Taybah who is across the hall from me and I follow suit with a bouquet of roses.
Upon reaching the roof, I see Zaahid looking around and studying the love seat. My heels click with the floor and he turns around confused and frantic. “Where’d you disappear?” he questions, walking towards me. He can’t even meet my eye. It’s like he’s holding something back and is scared to tell me. Something which I’ve been feeling for a while especially from when he acted like he had found his girl.
“To get these,” I lift my arms, holding the bouquet. He takes note of them. A frown is setting on his features but he is quick to whisk that off.
“And these are for?” he takes a moment before he asks.
“You!” I chirp.
“Ahh, I see where this is going…” his tone changes, becomes factual.
“You do?” I squeak. Well, that saves me a lot of time that I’d banked for explanations. My subconscious thinks. It’s been my first ever “premeditated” sneak out arrangement for someone else and up to this point of time, it is going well—beyond well, perhaps. Too perfect, indeed.
“Obviously,” he manages. I sense his uncertainty. He finally looks up at me. He does not take his eyes off me. I am the first to crack, breaking eye contact and picking at the ends of my dress. I take a deep breath. Vague thoughts are forming in my mind as to what Zaahid is doing but I dismiss it and try to keep my mind numb and as blank as possible.
“Give these.” I begin to assert, pushing the bouquet into his hands, when semblance returned. “And say, ‘I love you’.” I look up at him when he holds the bouquet. His eyes amplify fleetingly as if a dream has fulfilled before his eyes but then that notorious look is back. He is again mystifying, unsolved and dazzling.
“Get down on your knees and propose maybe, maybe not,” I continue, running a hand through my styled hair and close my eyes briefly. I swallow. “But please say, ‘I love you’….” I am almost whining now like Zaahid would forget the biggest and the most important detail of the whole act. “Penelope!” I add the name, nonetheless, lest Zaahid forgets to mention it. This was no F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and he was no Ross Geller but Penelope had definitely taken a leaf from the impressive repertoire of Emily Waltham.
“Your ‘would be wife’—that’s the one.” I give him a short nod, confused as to why he questioned me. I glance at the love seat behind him then at him.
“Right,” he can’t help keep the sarcasm out of his tone. That tone is completely unexpected, throwing me, and then there’s that string of alphabets, with the big name and meaning, hanging between us. I imagine us on the make-shift ice rink. The thought initiates a shock wave within me. This is wrong. Zaahid is not mine. He has a girlfriend—a fiancé—no, by tomorrow evening a wife.
I take a step back from him, ready to walk away and let Penelope handle her man. I cannot read Zaahid at this point. He is acting weird. Turning around I take mere two steps away from him when he grabs my hand and turns me around and looks at me in a way no one ever has and the next thing I know is, he is giving out those roses to me. Oh crapola. My subconscious is gaping at me, blinking a couple of times, her expression unreadable. And I get THIS feeling…ugh…I don’t have words for it.
My eyes widen. For a minute, I feel as though Zaahid’s playing me. This is a joke. My subconscious suggests and I so want to believe that even if my inner goddess is rejoicing. I take in deep breaths and then forget to breathe out. Fear surges through my bloodstream. My heart is pounding, trying to leave my chest. I can hear my blood thumping in my ears.
Zaahid opens his mouth to say something but closes it then. He does that twice and then rubs his nape, still down on the ground. I am tensed now. “Maira…I don’t know where to begin,” he asserts. I blink at him and his eyes glitter with uneasiness. I pale, bristling with barely contained anger. I glare at him. THIS IS NO JOKE. “Maira, last few months have been harrowing for me.” I’m too scared to even ask him why or what it’s about. He might be honest about it…but his answers terrify me more than asking the questions. I take a step. We’re both quiet and I’m wondering how we even got to this point.
He takes a deep breath, then looks up at me. He pulls at my hands and the abruptness of it all makes me bend forward, resting my hands on his shoulders until my face hovers over his, dangerously close. “But now? I have my answer. It’s like I am finally set free.” He slips his hand behind my neck and I gasp quietly, willing my heart to remain within the walls of my chest. He kisses my cheek and I can feel his hesitation when he reluctantly pulls away.
“Zaahid, what are you doing?” I question. He looks up at me from under his lashes. He gazes at me as if he can’t comprehend what I said. I glare down at him. My heart is racing as fast as if I had just run three miles. Except right now it’s racing because I’m so incredibly pissed.
“Maira, please don’t freak out,” he starts to unveil and puts a hand on my shoulder. His voice is wary. He frowns for a moment and seems to be engaged in some kind of internal struggle. Then his expression relaxes, a decision made. “Just hear me out…I feel so strongly for you…for us.” I am incapable of speech, now.
“What?” I yell. He slides his hands down my shoulders and grabs my wrists, trying to shove the flowers in my hands. His other hand is in his pocket. NO. This cannot happen.
“I haven’t been chickening out to propose to Penelope. I didn’t want to. Since you became a part of my life, I’ve felt so strongly for you,” He places both of his hands on either side of my head, and looks up at me. I can feel the coldness of the ring against my ear. The thorns of the bouquet are piercing my heart. “Your smile lights up my world,” he laughs and I think of all of his lingering stares and the subtle comments and how he had stopped talking about ‘when’ he’ll meet the love of his life; because right now, he believes, he already has. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. “But I was with Penelope—” he speaks.
“You ARE with Penelope.” I emphasize. Zaahid is still on his knees and he’s pulled me down with him too. Penelope would be here any minute so I have to act fast if I don’t want this to go down the wrong way.
“That relationship was long dead Maira. It has always felt like a burden, but today you—giving me these roses—have shown me a way out. A way out with YOU—”
“Those roses are for Penelope.” WHAT THE HELL DOES HE THINK HE IS DOING?
“But I gave them to you,” he peeks up at me with a slight glimmer of hope in his eyes. I am too stunned to say a word. In my state of antagonism, aggravation and perplexity, I throw those roses on the ground, push him roughly and stand. He falls on the ground, but quickly recovers the fall and is back on his feet. He is abruptly astounded by my boldness I perceive.
“Zaahid, just stop,” I slowly but clearly say.
“I’m a mess of a person, Maira, but I’m loyal—I” He catches my arm and pulls me towards him, capturing me in his grip by his hands on my waist.
“ZAAHID. STOP!” I yell. This couldn’t be happening right now.
“Maira, I like you—no, I love you.” He slowly drops one of his hands and brings it to my face, then traces down my cheek with his fingers. I try not to shudder under his touch, but it’s taking every ounce of my willpower not to appear completely flustered right now. “I’ll love you with everything I have.” His eyes follow his hand as it slowly moves down my jaw, then my neck, stopping at my shoulder. He brings his eyes back to mine and there’s an undeniable amount of lust in them. There...his secret is out. Spoken.
I open my mouth and almost tell him that I don’t love him, admire him, yes, but not love, no, not a drop there because I know I am posion the way I love and I get clingy and I see a life with him and I am not sure what he wants, at this moment. But I don’t. I suspect there are many ways in which Zaahid Noori is a better person than me. Courage is just one of them. “Zaahid this is wrong. Please stop,” I urge anxiously. In my mind the clock ticks but Zaahid only holds me tighter and I quietly gasp at the peacefulness that consumes me, being wrapped up in him like this. He kisses me on top of the head.
“No, Zaahid—” My brain freezes, stunned into inactivity by this admission. I look back at him with a confused expression.
“I know you love me, Maira—” He cases my face in both of his hands and tilts my face up toward his. He brushes his thumbs back and forth along my cheekbones and I can feel the rapid rise and fall of his chest against mine. The cold engagement ring slips down to my neck.
“WHAT THE HELL?” another voice behind us screams and we immediately move apart. The ring falls on the floor and a clink rings in the air. Penelope is standing at the entrance of the roof; a glare and fire is raging through her. She doesn’t wait for explanations, or words or an apology. Her judgment is quick: I am a whore, a home-wrecker. She is screaming and yowling at the top of her lungs, ready to snap my head off my body. “You had an eye for him all along, didn’t you?”
The smile is gone from Zaahid’s eyes and is replaced by a very serious expression. An expression so intense, I stop breathing. He walks up to sit in the love seat. He is silent like words have died within him. Taybah rushes over to him and I see from above Penelope’s shoulder that they are talking, wildly and I am cantankerously glaring at Zaahid who sits there looking aghast. His eyes enlarge shortly after Taybah speaks, as if a puzzle piece clicks into space and everything makes sense to him.
Penelope holds me in my position for a while. I’ve never felt so helpless and out of control of myself. “You guy magnet dressing like the slut you are!” Penelope is screaming in my face. Tears roll down my eyes as fire courses through Penelope. She gives me a one-over, the kind that makes goosebumps rise on my skin. I take a deep breath and absorb her claims, careful to tiptoe around that last sentence. Words have left me. Fight has left me. I look at Zaahid again but he’s already made up his opinion about me. I can see it in his eyes. “You whore! You ruined my life.” That is the end of Penelope’s and my friendship. I am labelled truculent, boorish and tetchy.
“Penelope, I didn’t—”
“Don’t even try, Maira.” She says my name like its an abuse.
Penelope saunters over to Zaahid and starts ruining the roses entangled to the swing’s pole. “You’re a heartbreaker, Zaahid!” she screams and grips his collar roughly. She spits harsh words at him but I cannot even hear anymore because Taybah is in front of me and she has the same dangerous look in her eyes from when she pushed me against the wall. “It’s over!” Penelope officially ends them and walks out. Zaahid stands in the corner absolutely silent like he’s weighing his consequences.
Taybah drags me near Sabira’s ice rink. “You will pay for this.” Taybah slowly says with fiery red eyes. “You ruined them, you ungrateful girl!” she lashes out at me. A finger cruelly pointed in my direction. “All of this has happened because of you!” She holds me harshly by my arms. Her anger is misplaced and I cannot let this happen anymore.
I grip her wrists and push myself off her hold, letting out a scream that has been pent up for way too long. “No! I didn’t do anything.” But Taybah, doesn’t stop shouting, scowling and racketing about “my” fault. I can see what she is doing. She knows what she’s doing—she is feeding Zaahid with information, with grounds on which he can hate me and seeing the way his mouth is twisting with disgust, she’s doing a fine job.
“Zaahid will get married tonight. You wait and watch.” Taybah challenges me and I think that she’ll make it better. She’ll get Penelope back. Her seething anger towards me unnerves me and I get angrier by the second. She kicks the pool so hard that there’s a slight crack on the surface and runs downstairs.
I run to Zaahid and slap him. He barely flinches and it infuriates me. I want him to hurt like I’m hurting. I want him to feel what he’s just done to me. I slap him again and he allows it. When he still doesn’t react, I push against his chest. I push him and shove him over and over—trying to give him back every ounce of pain he’s just immersed into my soul. I ball my fists up and hit him in the chest and when that doesn’t work, I start screaming and hitting him and trying to get out of his arms because they’re wrapped around me now. “Don’t touch me!” For me, our friendship ends in this moment—the end is sudden and spineless. An ordinary moment on the rooftop, like any other, just happens to be our last.
Within the same hour, when I come downstairs, I find the Kaazi Saab ready. Zaahid is sitting behind a make-shift veil of white dupattas. The family whispers louden when they see me. Taybah walks to me and gives me her cold shoulder, “You owe this to our family for ruining my sons’ would be married life.” I giggle at her, obviously she cannot ask me to repay her debt like this—taking me in her family when I was left marooned by mine—but she is. I stand there appalled and look at Zaahid who is too stunned by my rejection. “Keeping this marriage, is my last wish from him,” Taybah presses on my shoulders when she sees me looking.
Submerged in Taybah’s timely rescue for me, I can’t argue against anyone. I am still relatively new to The Noori’s. I want to fit in but not on my self worth’s price. Before I can raise my voice, she forcefully makes me sit on the chair opposite Zaahid and in the next hour an hour we’ve been married. In her calm, comforting voice Taybah, later, states her price for the debt. She lays down her condition of ‘never filing for divorce’ because the debt I owed her was too valuable and I could never completey pay it off and I should never bring shame on their family. It is a baseless idea and an even vague accusation but that is all it takes to tip off my world again.
The family rejoices thinking he’s married his best friend but I know now, he doesn’t even look at me kindly anymore. The same evening Taybah quietly sends a picture of us to local newspapers, captioned: Zaahid Noori ties the knot with best friend Maira Ahluwalia in a close private affair’ and hushes up the entire fiasco. Zaahid disappears into night. When the gathering leaves for the night and only the family remains, I return to my room, frustrated and beyond mad because the one person I thought who’ll always have my back couldn’t even guard his own.
It seems like the coldest of cold London winters. My snowy white study table is ice cold and under the black lamp sits my fresh grey bowl of jasmines. Earlier today, I’d added floated candles to the bowl to add warmth to the room. I splay open my hand drawn mandala cover notebook on the study table to calm myself down but words have abandoned me tonight. I see a glass of water and push it to the ground—it falls with a muted sound due to the carpeted floor.
I notice Zaahid’s cup of stale black coffee has stained my table and I tip it off the edge. His stack of favourite novels is neatly placed on my desk but I can’t bear to look at it anymore. So, I push it to the edge of the desk. I pick ‘our’ photoframe. It’s my favourite picture of us but not anymore. I smash it on the ground. I open and close the desk drawers to eliminate Zaahid from my life but like an ink stain he remains. Tears keep rolling down my face and vehemence takes over me.
Two days later, when the news was not new to the world anymore, Harry and Gia had co-hosted the reception party with The Nooris. Once Zaahid’s family had left and the world had moved onto better things like Andrew Scott and Phoebe Waller-Bridge on a cold wintry day at the end of the very same month, he had driven me off to a hotel. Since then, I became a tragedy with a pretty name.
I will never get over that. Ever.
Then in the following years when Zaahid and I started getting out of sync we started the playacting. Every anniversary party was to please Taybah. Every public sighting was to save our individual reputations. And in the middle of it all we started to actually care for each other even if we have a century’s worth of misunderstandings and miscommunication between us.
This morning when I found him reeking in Penelope’s cologne what terrified me was not him moving on but the thought that every future relationship, I would have would be tainted by whatever it was between us. I spend so much of my time in everyday life surrounded so many men around me but only Zaahid makes me feel so vulnerable, so passionate, and so alive. I am petrified that there will now always been some songs and places and things and instances that I’ll have to avoid because they will be a constant reminder of everything that I’ve lost.
Savouring a moment or two to myself, I get my bearings together. I spash water on my face, once, twice and then gently go outside the bathroom to pick up my phone and purse. I see a missed call from Ashton Miller, my management head, genuinely this time. Without a second thought, almost robotically, I fix my make-up and then walk downstairs. I can hear Harry talking and taking the audience with him. He’s engaging. I know everyone just wants to listen to him even if he makes no sense because he’s THAT charming.
Zaahid is standing by the end of the stairs, onlooking the ongoing party in the hall. I hate that there are so many sides to Zaahid that I don’t understand, and I don’t know if I even want to keep trying to understand them. There are parts of him I love, parts of him I hate, parts that terrify me and parts that amaze me. But there’s a part of him that does nothing but disappoint me…and that’s the absolute hardest part of him to accept. Intuitively, I find my hand interlocking with his arm. “What’s wrong?” Zaahid brings his hand to the top of my head and presses his lips into my hair. You’re not mine and I’m not yours but I wish you were and I wish I was. “Maira, are you feeling better?” He puts a finger under my chin so I meet his eye.
His arms begin to shake and he’s holding me with such intensity and desperation that it becomes heartbreaking. My chest heaves and my cheeks burn and the only thing stopping the tears from flowing is the fact that my eyes are closed so tight, they can’t escape. I can’t take the silence anymore, and if I don’t get off my chest what I absolutely need to say, I might scream. I know my voice will be layered with heartbreak and sadness and I’ll barely be able to speak while attempting to contain my tears, but I take a deep breath anyway and say the most honest thing I can say. “I am not okay. Can you please take me home?”
Before Zaahid can even answer it, Harry exclaims, “Maira!” He walks towards me and takes me back into the hall. Most of the gentry has left and only few people remain. Jonas Blue’s What I Like About You plays and Annie, Gia and Harry dance to its beats whilst cleaning the room. The Spencer's have grown up in a household of people who danced. Music was on from first light to last. In a way the music and dance flowed through them and between them too, creating bonds stronger than the walls of the temple and where people were loved more than the rising sun.
Just like masquerade masks in theatre, I put on a smile and twirl with them. I can feel Zaahid’s protective eyes on me. I see it in the lines of his faces how he’s silently praying that I don’t do anything stupid and how terribly sorry he feels for bringing this on me. My eyes meet Penelope’s in the next twirl and at once I feel I’m under-the-weather. It’s true when people say: some names will always taste bitter. Gia sees me and walks me over to the dessert table. We keep dancing and cleaning.
Slowly one song after other plays and now it’s my favourite Kygo song playing. My eyes search for Zaahid automatically, but he’s nowhere in sight. A certain mystique still surrounds his name. Annie leaves us to go check on Natalia. Logan and Gia are imitating professional ‘So-You-Can-Dance’ moves and Harry’s taken out his camera. Picture perfect memories are about to captured for a lifetime.
My chest grows heavy with questions and it takes an extreme amount of effort to continue pulling breath into my lungs. I nod my head slightly when Harry looks at me. It pisses me off that I want Zaahid here with me so much more than I don’t. Gia links her arms with mine and pulls me in for a picture but then she catches my eye. I smile my brightest and widest smile and all is well again.
As the lyrics take hold of the room, I keep thinking about Better Life Therapy classes. They once enunciated life lessons using force is mass multiplied by velocity equation. Telling brilliantly that falling never broke any hearts, it’s the times your heart jumps and comes down uncaught. I am not sure what Zaahid is going to do next or what Penelope will claim as hers, next. The only thing I’m certain about right now is that after today, I will never be the same. I know by the way Zaahid’s existence is like a magnetic pull on my heart and that I can spare him only one or two more chances more.
My phone rings and it’s the same unknown caller, calling for a hundredth time today. I excuse myself and walk outside to the garden to finally pick the call. I can mentally hear Dave shouting at me ‘have you lost your mind?’ ‘why did you give away your security like that?’ The loose strands of my hair which were supposed to be tied up in a loose bun, whip into my eyes carried by the brisk autumn breeze. The air already has a tinge of cinnamon and warm spices into it. In five tries can I finally slide the answer screen. “Hello?” I ask but the wind is too loud. Leaves rain down from the trees, creating a warm blend of red and orange.
“Hello?” I speak again but either my phone has lost voice too or this person is not speaking. I think I will put my money on the former. A vague disappointment hits me when I almost think of changing my phone. My current phone was Zaahid’s gift on my twentieth birthday and it has held too many memories; not only pictures that tell my story but in texts that I never sent, voice memos I have saved, but most of all the silence it has endured between Zaahid and I.
I hear someone clearing their throat in the phone. I shiver. I turn around and look for someone—anyone—because this is not cool. I rub my arms but the air, the setting, the garden lights and even the silence feels too spooky. Too Halloween ready. “Umm…hello?” I speak curiously, just waiting for an excited shrill of a fan to tear my eardrums but there’s a room which opens in the garden and some bizarre noises are coming through. Or I am too dazed. Yes, that must be. The person in the phone does it again and its a thick-tongued noise. Like they make to convey indecisiveness, and the irritated rolling of the eyes and dusting it all off my saying my name with authority. But how do I know this? How do I know if I’ve never known this person?
I shake my head at the absurdity of it all. The wind picks up again and its too cold now. I regret not bringing a coat with me. I turn to move into the house when the person speaks something but I can only hear static noises. I am right before the window looking into the room. I check what’s wrong with my phone and realise my phone is now officially dead. I take a quick step towards the house but my mind is too stunned to cooperate now. The world has fallen at my feet again. What I am looking into has completely captured my brain, rendering any logical thought or conclusion impossible. It never stops hurting, does it? Giving someone the best of you and watching them choose someone else. My subconscious explains the scene before me.
My eyes widen and it takes approximately one point three seconds to realize that Penelope is kissing Zaahid and a further three point eight seconds to realize that he’s kissing her back. But everything is too dark and I am standing against the light again. The room is dimly lit and it hides Zaahid’s countenance but his silhouette is easily recognisable. It is definitely Zaahid. Unexpectedly, his hand drifts to her hip. It settles there and pulls her closer. I cannot make out their expressions but I can see from the way she’s moving against him that she’s in pure bliss. Zaahid begins to nuzzle her neck with kisses and I think I can even see her tremble.
Zaahid holds her gently, cupping her face and leans in to kiss the tender area at the base of her neck. Penelope gazes up at him, thrilled beyond words to be the recipient of his affection. He draws back again and spends a moment studying her face. He tilts her head again and leans in for a deeper kiss. All hell breaks loose for me. Like magnifying glass fires, this burn is aimed, tamed to be direct. No. No, Zaahid wouldn’t do that! My subconscious is denying every ounce of proof. I so want to give her the green light today but I know better. I feel a wave of heat roll up my neck, and beads of sweat break out on my nose. It’s a stab in my heart to see how quickly we—Zaahid and I—fell apart and a punch in the face how quickly I’ve been replaced.
Rage blinds me and it intensifies with every dragging step I take to move away from it all. I just need peace and quiet. Time to regroup from whatever the hell is going on with my life. I’m beginning to think that maybe I am crazy. My hands are still shaking, so I clasp them together in front of me and try to focus on something else in order to calm myself down. Black mists swirl at the edges of my mind drawing me into sweet oblivion and I stumble into the Chinaware vase at the entry of the garden. It splatters across the grass just like my heart and with it pulls down the light wiring wrapped onto the shrubs around.
I stand in absolute darkness now. The intensity of the moment causes tears to sting at my eyes. I’m not even attempting to wipe away my tears because there are too many. With every rise and fall of my chest I feel it happening again. Every ounce of me, right now, wishes if I can just run down the blade, deep enough or have the nerve to jump off from buildings or even to just stay under water and kill off the pain. Emotions are supposed to be raw. I don’t want someone to “sort of” love me. It hurts to be half loved. I want that love to be a bursting flame, not a candle. I am not his doormat.
Scuttling up the stairs, I reach Harry’s guestroom—the same one which will now be tainted in my memory forever. I clasp the door handle behind me and briefly lean back against the door. Where to go? Do I run? Do I stay? I am so mad, scalding tears spill down my cheeks, and I brush them furiously aside. I just want to curl up. Curl up and recuperate in some way. Heal my shattered faith. How could I have been so stupid? Of course, it hurts. In my mind runs a reel of events and I watch as it all goes up in flames and Zaahid’s dethroned from his kingdom of Lies and Manipulation. The cologne of a women on him, the pink lipstick stain, the ‘spent the night in the studio,’ the kids, all makes sense now. My subconscious peers over her half-moon specs. I take a deep, purifying breath, trying to absorb this new information. Slowly sinking to my knees, I place my hands on the edge of the bed.
Zaahid’s been my best friend, hero and my lover but no-one can be inflictor and healer. Trouble is all I have is him. So, while I can never give him up, never let him down, never stop loving him, I’ll eventually have to be cool while this new heartbreak mends. I squeeze my eyes shut and bury my head into the bed, grabbing fistfuls of the blanket. My shoulders begin to shake as the sobs I’ve been trying to contain violently break out of me. With one swift movement, I stand up, scream and rip the blanket off the bed, throwing it across the room. The image of Penelope wrapped around Zaahid burns in my mind.
Every piercing painful realization comes with a subtext, ‘you brought this on you,’ for my flaw has been that I never stopped putting him up on a pedestal. I always have a mini heart-attack when he speaks to me; I always gets a little red and shaky when he’s around. The feelings always come rushing back when my eyes met with his. It’s like listening to an old song for the first time in a few years. I stumble on the first few words, but once it kicks in, it all comes rushing back.
I ball my fists and frantically look around for something else to throw. I grab the pillows off the bed and chuck them at the reflection in the vanity mirror of the woman I no longer know. I watch as the woman in the mirror stares back at me, sobbing pathetically. The weakness in her tears infuriates me. We begin to run toward each other until our fists collide against the glass, smashing the mirror. I watch as she falls into a million shiny pieces onto the carpet. Every time I open my mouth to scream, I taste the salt from the tears that are streaming down my cheeks.
Time expands and falls a world away. When I am re-dressing my burnt and now bleeding hand, I realise that I have made homes out of so many people. I used to never be able to inhabit my own skin. But now, my body is a motel, and out on the lawn there’s a sign that flashes — “no vacancy.” The windows have cracks and the floorboards squeak and it is the most beautiful place I have ever been. What a monumental wake-up call. It should have been over the second Zaahid hurt me and I had apologized. Am I that easy to replace or just easy to forget? I don’t want any more words or explanations. I just want my life to go back to being okay—being anything before today. I don’t even wish so much for fantastic or marvellous or outstanding. I’ll happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.
‘Alone’ has never shouted itself at me louder than this moment. The depth of sadness in that one word is heart wrenching. I think the beating in our hearts was put there to remind us that even when we are alone in the world, we march on. That even in the enormous dark and quiet, we always have someone to lean on, to embrace and turn to. And that even when we have no one else, we always have ourselves.
I still love the people I’ve loved, even if I cross the street to avoid them.
“And heaven knows I’m not helpless, yeah. But what can I do? I can’t see the use in me crying if I’m not even tryna make the change I wanna see. All I hear is voices Everybody’s talking, nothing real is happening, ’cause nothing is new” Song: Preach by John Legend
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