N O T E
Sometimes I wonder if your wandering thoughts wonder about me.
Often, I feel as if the universe is against me. Over and over again it punches me in the gut right when I’m inches from standing back up. Holding back a stream of tears feels almost normal these days. Not knowing what tomorrows will bring freaks me out. Dealing with life one day at a time seems impossible. How do people do it? I’m struggling so much with not knowing what I can handle. It’s like I’m waiting for life to be ready for me as I wrap myself in warm layers of comfort and easy. With everyone telling me to focus on healing, I’ve started to correlate healing with surviving and surviving is like sprinting, slowly, on a road that never ends.
Today, I feel hollow and empty like the spaces between the stars. My thoughts are all haywire and I can’t distinguish between right and wrong anymore. It was a dream, right? Was it a dream? It was a dream. It was just a dream. I can feel my heart beating wildly in every facet of my body. It’s beating so hard I can hear it. I’m panting for breath and covered in sweat. It was just a dream. I attempt to convince myself of just that. I want to believe with all my heart that Zaahid can never cheat on me. It can’t be. But it is. I saw it so clearly. Every single memory I’ve recalled over today is coming back to me full-force. There are things I don’t want to remember. Things I wish I never knew.
Like acknowledging that I need to stop coughing up the smoke from all the deaths I’ve died at Zaahid’s hands. What has happened hasn’t been fair to me but I’ve been mere collateral damage on his warpath, a naïve spectator who got wrecked out of ratio. I also need to accept my part of the blame too. I have to be fair to Zaahid. Our relationship went kaput because of the two of us.
He’s always given me subtle hints—being available to talk to coordinate public sightings ONLY when it suited him, being MIA for days, weeks and months before the internet could dig up some update on him, news reports of him and Penelope, today mornings’ shenanigans—of him wanting and moving onto better things than me, more important things than loyalty. Everything has always been in front of me, I was just too fucked up to notice, I become conscious of it now.
Bits of moon-light trickles through the curtains and seeps in the bed exactly how I stain the floor with my blood. My love feels futile and heavy. This heartbreak is so bone-chillingly cold and unexpected. But aren’t they always? My hands are shaking and I bring them to my chest and mouth because I feel sick. I can’t breathe and it’s like concrete drying in my chest. The pungent taste and smell of blood from my hands hangs heavy in the air and it sends memories and feelings I’d much rather forget flouncing through me like a hurricane.
“Please don’t do anything stupid.” Zaahid’s voice rings within me and I look at my hands, and then at my face in every broken mirror piece. “Baby steps, Maira.” I hear his words. I tightly shut my eyes, slapping my hands on my ears. “You got this. I got you.” I shake my head. Each word I hear is interrupted by the images of the pink stain on his shirt, the cologne, the kids, their eyes, his eyes and his kiss. I feel hysterical, my face is hot and my head is pounding. I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t keep forgiving us for all the pain we’ve given each other. There’s only so many times that he can ruin my heart and one day it’ll heal with him on the outside. We had to end, but like this?
On the fourth day of my hotel stay—the day Clara understood I’m not ‘just tired’ or I’m ‘vacationing’ or even ‘sulking’ but legitimately sad and anxious and depressed—she had tip toed around the room, dusting off the dirt with utmost care and placing fresh towels drenched in lavender oil scents and making the bed around me thoughtfully. When she had finished, she had forced me to sit up in the bed, helped me to a warm bowl of soup and took my hands in hers. "Tragedy makes you wiser. It elevates you to a higher spiritual level,” Clara had said. But I now think only the opposite is true. Trauma makes you petty and spiteful. I don’t understand a damn thing about life except that it’s arbitrary and cruel and some people can get away from adultery, while others make a tiny careless mistake of moving across the world and lying to their parents and pay a terrible price.
On the seventh day, when I still hadn’t had a proper meal or left my bed and my hurt had enveloped me in a hazy darkness whose way out, I didn’t know and Clara could no longer take in the stench of the room, she had thrown open the windows. “You can take all the time you need, Maira, but sitting around here isn’t going to pay your bills.” Stripping the beds of the sheets and treating me like her own child, she had made me take a bath, wear fresh laundered clothes and sit on the living room sofa. She had fed me with her own hands. “Healing is a journey, you know?” And when time came for her to leave, “and healing will always be yours. No one—absolutely—no one can do that for you.”
Today, trauma presents itself to me like a double-sided coin, giving me two choices—to make it a tragedy or to overcome it and become a hero. Because as Clara keeps saying, the healing will be mine because if it isn’t, an unfair circumstance will lead to an unlived life. If I don’t deal with it, my unvoiced hurt will get transferred to everyone around me and I’d be forcing them to go through something someone else has made me go through. I try to get the images of Ultimate Sing Off, of Taybah on stage, of Zaahid, of Yousuf crying, of Wafaa treating me like her BFF out of my head but they won’t go away.
Instead I recall newer pictures—of Taybah pushing me at the wall, the white uniform I found, the polaroids in my attic, of Zaahid getting aggressive with liquor and jealousy and then pure angry. I tell myself that it never happened, that I’m imagining it, but every part of me knows it did happen. Every part of me remembers why I was happy to spend some days with Annie or at Harry’s because Angry Zaahid terrified me. Every single part of me remembers Zaahid’s screams and anguish and pain when he’d rush me to hospitals or nurse my wounds or simply be present for me, so I would do anything just to forget today. I don’t want to remember but with each passing second the memories become more and more vivid, only making it harder for me to stop crying.
The blood stains my saree and little droplets of it litter the floor much like my shattered faith in Zaahid. If Logan saw me right now, he’d only keep chanting verses from the bible and reminding me to have faith in Him. But what am I being prepared for? Is this something god wants me to face? Surely surviving until now and still being able to find motivation to continue has to mean something. I want to believe that there’s a unique plan for my life, that I’m chosen for this road. I’m being prepared. I don’t know what for, but I am.
I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to take my trauma and crush it because I am special. I am beautiful, kind, smart and I deserve the world. My healing is going to look like war cries from a long battle against myself, helping me pen down my crooked smiles to songs and sunshine into new hope. I will also write about love because I find it magical how it beats even after it smashes into million of pieces and find a new love anyway. And I will be not only be an artist but a voice. I will not become a second choice or a backup plan. I am special. I am special. I am special. I am a first choice. I’m special and I’ll say it until I can’t say it anymore. If I believe it someone else surely will, right?
“Maira!” Logan shouts from somewhere in the house. I spring up from the floor. It’s as if, if I don’t move way and create the distance, the foreboding future that hands over me will catch up with me sooner than it’s supposed to do. It’s an illusion of sorts. In a way, I am running from myself. Go figure. I immediately grab tissues and towels to wrap my hand in it and then to clean off the floor and the broken mirror.
“We’re not meant to go through life unscathed, Maira.” I remember Clara saying, when I had after forty-five days decided to leave the hotel and rent out a small apartment discreetly before I bought my first home in London. “We are not meant to get to the finish line unscarred, clean and bored.” She had been so kind to even drop me off at the place. When we had stepped in, the place looked attacked by dirt and webs. As we cleaned and laughed and bumped into each other Clara would look at me again and again. Sometimes with teary eyes and sometimes with genuine big smiles. “You have a gift,” she finally spoke, “of healing—of slowly learning to see the bright side. You almost did it with your parents, I’m sure Zaahid will be easier.”
And as I mop the floor off blood frantically with tissues and throw it in the dustbin, in the back of my mind I can only hear Clara. I see us cleaning together. And I remind myself: I have a gift. I can heal through this. Plus, this doesn’t mean I hate Zaahid or that my love for him has died; exactly how a part of me will always belong to Venus and to Penelope anyway. My love has just swelled within its boundary and simply risen to be too high, too painful and too vast to be contained within a human heart. See, regardless, love never leaves or dies; it’s like a summer sun, where the hot rays drizzle parts of itself scattered across your rib-cage, leaving memories tucked beneath your skin for the cold.
The glass pieces clink as they fall into the dustbin. I try to smudge some left-over scraps into the cracks of the wooden floor. I see Zaahid has done the same. Next, I rush to make the bed. “Maira?” Again Logan, but he’s closer to the room now. Oh, God. I press the palm of my hand to my burning cheek. I feel the wet splotches of blood. I try to keep myself calm. I can heal through this. I’ve been through worse. I can heal. I keep reminding myself that maybe I am being prepared to be extraordinary. That I’m given this mountain to show others it can be moved. That it’ll make sense soon. That maybe right now, my journey isn’t about love.
“Maira?” There’s a knock on the adjacent room’s door. It’s Denise’s. I hear heels walk past the room. Logan isn’t giving up. If I hear hard enough, I can hear his harsh breaths. “Natalia!” A beat later, “Natalia, did you see Maira? I think I saw her coming upstairs...” The nervousness already planted in my stomach intensifies and I hold my breath. I tip toe towards the washroom. A rare wave of fear washes over me, as I turn to look at the bedroom door. I cannot bear for someone to barge in. I suck in a breath and squeeze my eyes shut, wanting the memory of Hysterical Taybah and Angry Zaahid to go away. The memory grabs hold of me like a web, and I can’t break out of it. A warm tear trickles down my face and I wish I had convinced Zaahid better. I should never have agreed for staying the night at Zaahid’s or even meeting him again.
“Please God no! Ugh...are Zaahid and Maira doing it on MY bed?” Natalia sounds alarmed. I fumble with my makeup as it falls in my hysteria. I have one foot in the washroom and one in the bedroom. Maybe you should confront Zaahid. You should have clicked a picture of them, idiot! My subconscious passes a thought. And then what? I ask, picking up the pencils and now broken compact. We break off our arrangement of six years and leave a lifetime of memories behind and move on? Sorry, I am not wired like that. Plus, real relationships fix things when something breaks; they don’t throw it away. I spiral down a Jack Pearson path but quickly recover because there isn’t a Milo to fangirl over and this isn’t another episode of This is Us.
“Maira!” Natalia’s voice makes the hair on my arms stand on ends, like they’re saluting her. I lock myself in the washroom. I splash water on my face once, twice and a few more times until the cold water makes my hands numbs. I keep thinking about as Clara phrased, a second chance to re-discover things that dip my bones in feelings and to create songs that speak to me. For a week, after I moved into the apartment, Clara visited daily to cook for me. She’d chant that I had a hope to reclaim my joy and I should allow it to drip down my chin and bloat my words and thoughts and tears. I just had to believe that I was worthy of it—because that’s the only way to rebuild, mend and heal.
I close off the tap. I can hear muffled voices of Natalia and Logan. “Natalia, no, Zaahid is downstairs with Connor.” Logan’s voice masks his irritation. With trembling hands, I re-do my makeup. No, Logan, Zaahid is making out with Penelope. I swipe the kajal too hard and it makes my eyes water again. You’re being challenged to learn to be your own savior. You have to find hope in vacancy and in the quiet too. “Anyway, I’ll check the roof. She’s fascinated by the moon and today’s it’s a full moon night.”
“Okay, I’ll see if Denise is asleep...” I hear Natalia’s heels click again and then there’s silence. Maybe right now, my voyage is about being alone. Where I am being shown that I’ll be okay even on my own, that I can trust the person I’ve become and that peace will always be within me no matter how life tries to weather me.
Five minutes later, when silence is all that I can hear. I check my appearance in the mirror for the last time. I ensure the room looks alright and my hand is nicely wrapped in bandage. I’m not sure what excuse I’ll make for a missing vanity mirror—but then again no one needs to know I’ve been here. When my hand is on the door knob, I hesitate. I reach for Zaahid’s half empty whiskey glass and dunk it, followed by two—no four—more. I barely taste it. I need just another second or two to myself before I can face the real world again.
I quietly sneak into the kitchen. As soon as I step inside it, I gasp for the air my lungs have been begging for. Fortunately, Annie is with Gia in the living room. Harry is attending to guests leaving and Jane escorts Penelope and her family to their car. The alcohol burn is helping me forget the one in my heart. I munch on the left-over food. I pick up Zaahid’s laugh from somewhere near, then, like the calm before the storm, my eyes catch glimpses of him talking and laughing with Lily’s kids. For just a moment, my heart fluttered at the sight of him, but then the images of him kissing Penelope echo in my mind, and my fluttering heart shattered.
To keep myself busy or contained I begin to set the plates in the dish washer. “Maira—where have you been?” Logan’s voice makes me jump. But I calmly move to rinse off glasses. “I barely saw you here tonight.” I lift my head over my shoulder to meet his eye. Worry, sketches over his features. He runs his eyes over me, looking for a bruise, a damage, something—anything—he could ‘fix.’
“I—I helped myself to a second serving.” I can’t meet his eye. My voice is erring. The alcohol has acted faster than I thought it would. “And now, I’m just trying to be of help to the Spencer’s.” I turn the water off and wipe my hands on the hand-towel.
“But you weren’t here a minute ago...” Logan’s eyebrow shoots up. A questioning look is on his features. He’s trying me, I know. He is testing me as too how far I could go to hide and lie. I fill a fresh glass with whiskey from the cupboard and take a sip so I don’t have to answer.
“Whiskey and you?”
“I don’t really have a preference for my choice in poison.” I manage. I am quite proud of the way that came out. My voice didn’t shake and I didn’t hesitate. Bingo!
He shakes his head. I know he isn’t buying any of this. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Logan is too adamant to deflect easily. He always has been. No. “Maira—”
“Yes, I’m good, thanks.” I sound angry even to myself but I can’t bear people questioning me, right now. I don’t want others to guide me, to hold me down. I am a free fire and I want to burn even if that means I want to consume my own self. I am livid and annoyed by Logan, without a notice. It’s his fault to not woo me enough to agree to be with him then I wouldn’t have to be with Zaahid. It’s his fault that he couldn’t entice and flatter me like Zaahid could. Why did he not have Zaahid’s charm? WHY IS HE NOT ZAAHID? I am anguished and torn.
“Maira, I left like five messages and three missed calls and you didn’t even bother to pick up or—”
“My phone’s dead,” I move past him. His concern is breaking me down and my façade of a strong girl is slowly peeling off. “Did something happen?”
“No, I just wanted to have you around more. I’m leaving for Melbourne tomorrow,” sincerity drips from Logan’s eyes as he speaks.
“I’m sorry—it’s just a lot of things are happening right now...” My voice threatens to break. I shake my head to clear my thoughts. I cannot tell Logan about Zaahid right now. I can’t see what rage looks like on Logan. Moreover, my hurt is a spider web, intricate, yet strong. I know in time it will pass and the sun will regain its warmth, but the joy from my heart is gone.
“Are you seriously okay? You do not look good at all. Is everything fine between you and Zaahid?” Logan persists. My heart clenches as a thousand questions run through my head. Is he asking me because he’s genuinely curious, or because he knows and wants to hear me say it? How many other people have looked at us and knew the answer?
“Yes, totally. Zaahid and I are happy. Okay?” I lie. My stubbornness wins every time. There’s no way I’m telling him how much I hate today or how bad things are, despite the fact that he would never say, “I told you so.”
Logan washes his hands in the sink and then smiles at me. “I don’t believe it but I’ll still give you your space.” He picks up fresh wrap and starts to put the extra food in the fridge. “Also, if you ever need an ear, I am a call away.”
We share a moment of silence. A moment of silence for our shared past and for my secrets. A moment of silence for what could have been between us. And a moment of silence for whatever was ahead on the horizon.
“Is your nana okay?” I finally speak. I don’t want any conversation right now and I don’t know what I am doing. Maybe it’s the alcohol.
“Oh yes, don’t worry. I’m just going over for a light holiday.” Logan dismisses it with his hand. “I might ask Jane to come along?” He winks and normalcy returns in the air around us. He begins to head into the living room but I call out.
In a moment of sheer, whiskey induced impulse, I say, “Hey Logan, can you please ask Zaahid to come find me in the garden when he’s ready to leave.” I lift a full whiskey glass from the island and take steps towards the garden.
“It’s a full moon!”
“Got it.” He salutes with two fingers somewhat like high schoolers these days and leaves.
The moon has risen, the birds are not singing yet but the harmony crickets are out. A cloudless night makes the stars twinkle. I didn’t account for how could it would be outside. It’s not unbearable, but it isn’t comfortable either. Dead parents and questionable husbands don’t feel so awful when the night sky is clear enough to literally make me feel the grandeur of the universe. I love it when the sky makes me feel insignificant and tells me that the dust in my bones are a piece of the same spell bounding, infinite universe. It quietens my soul and pulls me away with toxic questions, wants and longings. Longing to know, longing to long. Longing to know, if he’s longing too.
With a shake, I clear my head. I just want to get in the car, go home, and sleep this awful day off. All my vague, inarticulate thoughts hopes have been dashed. He clearly doesn’t want me. What was I thinking? I scold myself, gulping down half of the glass.
A hand snakes around my waist and pulls me into their heat. My lips part as I inhale sharply. Zaahid’s thumb rhythmically strokes my back, sending delicious tingles down my spine. My body contracts. This is becoming unbearable. I am stunned and revolted that even now, my hormonal self has the audacity to yearn for him. I am disgusted with myself. Zaahid is in his character and when I look behind us to see who our audience is; my eyes fall on Logan—our audience of one, standing in the kitchen window. On being busted, he leaves.
I am staggered in this moment. I don’t know what to do anymore. He and I are such an almost it hurts. We are like the sun and the moon—lovers who rarely meet, always chase, and almost always miss one another. But once in a while, when they do catch up, and they kiss, that’s when the world stares in awe of their eclipse. I try to lock eyes with him, as if the strength of my gaze would bring him back from wherever he’d gone. To her.
You’ll never be her. For me, tonight a chapter closes. Finally. An illusion broke and all the what-ifs disappeared. There is no confusion anymore. Penelope is THE love, while I’m just the in between time. I’ll never be enough. You don’t have to be pretty like her. You can be pretty like you. My inner goddess offers her commiseration. Oh please. My subconscious is screaming; I slap it down instantly, mortified that my psyche is having ideas way out of its league. Looking into the steely depth of his eyes, a memory replays in front of me.
“You’re my favourite,” Zaahid says offhand. The sun—a rare occurrence—shines through the curtains and falls on his face. He looks godlike—even God perhaps.
“Favourite what?” I wonder aloud, sitting crossed legged on the floor. It’s a cool winter morning. Our coffee mugs are in our hands and we sit across each other at the brown stool, we have recently built. An old Bollywood movie plays in the background.
“Oh, well,” he stammers. “Well, just that, my favourite pairs of eyes to look into. My favourite name to see appear on my phone, my favourite way to spend an afternoon. Fill in the blank, beautiful...I left it at favourite for a reason.” Zaahid winks.
“That’s exactly what you say to her, got it?” I quiz while a sentence arrives from below my medulla oblongata, where my subconscious resides, and it says: you’re my favourite too.
“You’re my favourite too,” I whisper out loud this time, tonight. I literally hear my heart shatter in my chest, sending shards of glass all over my chest and stabbing me. I am in real, physical pain.
“I wish you said that, four years ago.” Zaahid’s voice breaks my charm. The colour from his face drains but he doesn’t seem angry so much as utterly stunned. Then again, he has always found a great sense of liberation in silence.
“And I wish you’d be atleast loyal.” An overwhelming sense of dread fills me and my whiskey induced impulse evaporates. You’re drunk! Stop talking now! Don’t say anything in your drunken state that you’ll regret later in your sober self. I emphasise ‘loyal’ as if it’s a dirty word. My eyes well up and there’s a crack in my voice that makes me sound pathetic. One part of me still wants to start a rebellion, because I’m done being nice and mannered and sweet and considerate. What has that brought upon me, huh? A shattered heart, a broken faith and an anguished spirit to show for!
“Excuse me?” Zaahid questions calmly. He tilts his head to the side, bemused by my lack of sense. His eyes blaze and wild anticipation emanates from him. And like I am not talking sense, he pulls out a cigarette from his pocket and lights it, sending puffs of smoke dissipating into the air. A moment passes between us.
I try not to answer because the alcohol has made my thoughts blur and my steps unsteady. In the moment that Zaahid studies me with his cold eyes, nausea fills my stomach like a balloon with too much air. Eventually he steps forward towards me before sniffing the air around me; his large hand grabs my upper arm and pulls me into him; all compassionate and I want none of him. “Wait—Maira are you drunk?”
“You’ve been the cynosure of all my dreams.” Have you lost it? STOP IT MAIRA. His entire demeanour changes as if I slapped him. To prove him right, I lift the glass to have a big mouthful because when chaos meets alcohol, no war or lover can ever match the destruction.
“Stop it! How many did you have?” Zaahid wins in muscle power and after an irrelevant tiff, he succeeds in snatching the glass from me. But I take a wobbly angry step towards him and drop the glass from his hands onto our clothes.
Zaahid’s concern just seemed so preposterously irrelevant, like those times that Wafaa would ask me to help her in her trigonometry assignment just when I would be smack bang in the middle of some computer or plumbing crisis. My whole life had just imploded! “Why did you do it, huh?” I give him a push, creating distance between us. “Don’t you see, for you I’d cross oceans and hang the moon on your wall. I’d always try for you.” My slurry words are trying to align with the rythmn of my heartbeat. I don’t know. Seems possible. I’m too drunk to make sense.
“Maira, we’ll talk when you’re sober—” Zaahid uses a particular masculine, reasonable but authorative tone in his office when he wanted things to be done a certain way. He’s using it now, as if it were time to get things under control. He attempts to steady me but I remove my arm from his hold.
“And everyday that passes, I tolerate the hurt you deliberately give me because I hope one day, it’ll ache a little less. I hope, it’ll give me strength, help me make it through.” I hate the imploring tint in my voice but Zaahid isn’t even paying attention. He’s too busy trying to shut my mouth and preventing me from falling down like a house of cards. “I truly hope that the tears you left behind dry off. I WILL let you go.” My tightly close my eyes. I cannot bear him near me anymore.
“Maira, let me help you sit down or...come let’s go home.” Zaahid says without any censure in his voice, just a soft, desperate pleading. Home? There’s no home. Plus, I cannot stomach that he’s trying to make me look like the villain here. Like I’m the one who has gone mad. Like I cheated! The almighty towering injustice of it tears and twists my heart like contractions.
“Stop it!” I shout. I walk towards him and grab his collar. I try for rage but all I can part with is tears and frustration. I can’t bear to hear him talking with his usual hopeless optimism about how he’ll make it all okay and how I was ‘broken’ to be fixed. As if his Infidelity Kiss was something perfectly ordinary to savour like a freshly baked casserole of French toast.
He doesn’t speak. He takes a step back from me to give me space to breathe. Another minute later, he speaks, “okay,” gripping me as I unsteadily move and lose my self control. “Okay.” But nothing is okay!
“No, nothing is okay! You are a cheater.” I yell. There is so much anger inside me. “Your mouth is full of lies and every word you spit out is laced with deceit.” I snatch my arm from his grip and push him.
“And I still want to believe you—believe your words—even if you have reduced me to a useless pawn with a torn heart. I still seek your cold, death like soul.” Another push. I am not controlling my thoughts anymore. It’s the alcohol.
Another push. “How can you mean everything and nothing to me all at once, huh?” Another push. I poke his chest with my pointer finger directly on his heart. “Too bad, you’re still a cheater.” I begin to push him again but Zaahid grips my wrists and pulls my hands behind me, locking me in his arms.
“And YOU are drunk!”
He never made sense but neither does love.
“When I woke up this morning, you were so far away from me. And I knew it was a warning of an empty space in between. Feeling free when I’m with you but knowing I’m not far away from home now what am I supposed to do, when the answers all come out wrong. You treated me like a goddess, when we were around everyone else. How come you couldn’t notice me, when I was standing by myself.” Song: Sleep by Meiko
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