N O T E
You are not limited to ‘pretty.’ You are not limited to ‘beautiful.’ You are made up of too much ‘powerful’ to even consider it.
Every morning since the last three weeks, I am waking up to majestic sunrises that flush the entire sky in a reddish orange glow. It feels like the sun itself pours the golden shine and exultant smell into the air. The warmth of the light makes possibilities seem endless. But none of this makes me smile. For I am plagued by the black hole, the night after Denise’s birthday party, has become. Also, Taybah’s been here for a while, so that just makes everything better. How do I cancel my subscription of Taybah Noori?
Denise’s party was three weeks ago but it feels like a lifetime has passed since then. I remember the night in events I don’t even want to recall, but I don’t know how we got back home or what ensued. The next day, I had roused myself from a heavy slumber, in Zaahid’s bed. My muscles felt weak, just like my energy. And I had the worst hangover in the history of hangovers. For a moment, I didn’t know who or where I was. Then, everything was processed. I was in Zaahid’s house. The thing above me was the ceiling. The thing on top of me was the duvet. I had woken up in clothes I did not remember wearing. And Taybah had arrived. She wasn’t alone; she had brought along her daughters and her husband for a lavish Halloween dinner. Fuck me, NOW!
A phone rings and my gaze drops to my hand. I flip it over and see the unknown caller again. I flip it over again and slide my sleeves up. Each day that passes, the nuisance this ‘fan’ or ‘stalker’ creates, moves one notch up. I don’t know how to stop it and I’m aware that Dave has caught a waft of it and I can receive a lecture, any day now. “All okay?” Zaahid asks, looking at me and eyes me cautiously. He takes another glance at my screen and visibly relaxes seeing it’s not Harry. A flashback of Ghostly Bedroom Violence makes me shiver.
Delnaz and Wafaa had quickly left a week after Halloween for work and university respectively, but Yousuf, Taybah and Sabira had extended their stay. The AMA’s are next week, but I don’t see them leaving after that too. So, now we sit at the breakfast table with his parents and Sabira, and I don’t want to divert anymore attention to me than it already is. We have gathered around today to support Zaahid in his venture to move his music production to Los Angeles so that he can get his own creative space and release it soon and get back on board.
“Yeah, all good.” I quickly say, avoiding his eyes. I shrug. I’m not really in the mood to explain it. It’s convoluted and he’ll ask questions and breakfast is almost over. Ever since Denise’s birthday party, I’ve held Zaahid’s fleecing against him. I’m not sure how we ever got past that or if we didn’t but since Taybah’s arrival we haven’t really gotten the chance to talk—argue—it out. There has always been another (better) thing to look out for or do than have this conversation because I know once we’d be done with it, I would be done with him. And I believe, I am trying to push that away for as long as it works for me.
“Are you heading out with him too?” Taybah asks from the head of the table.
“No, I have,” I swallow my mouthful before continuing, a lot of things on my mind, “some prior work commitments.” I look her in the eye. Then I presume playing around with my cereal, “also, I recently finished tour, so the team and I are brainstorming ideas for the next.” LIE. After each release, the team takes a month or two long breaks so that everyone can rejuvenate their creative juices. I am pretending since these past weeks, to go to work. Mostly, I visit my own place to allow Clara to detoxify me and occasionally head out to the studio, lest Taybah finds out from paparazzi.
“But you should!” Taybah drops her fork loudly on the plate. Yousuf puts his hand on Taybah’s and they share a knowing look. “Sorry, I mean, the two of you make a good team.” That we do. She smiles looking at Zaahid and then at me. But I can’t keep my eyes off of their hands and elucidating that look. Somehow it alone makes goosebumps march down my spine.
“Or...” Yousuf leans into his wife, “you’d be kind enough to let us lovers have some space to ourselves!” Taybah removes her hand from under his and presses his thigh, like, she’s talking in code. Like she’s telling him that’s too much, too extra. Because if you ask me, that is SO NOT Yousuf.
I have always been able to know when I am being watched. Earlier, it was Raahat, who kept a cautious eye on me and became ten percent of the reason, why I didn’t have a date for senior prom and I had to have a girls’ night. Now, I feel like I’m constantly kept under the surveillance of Taybah and Yousuf Noori. Each time I return from work the house feels re-arranged and not that heavy kind—sofa’s and tables—but the soft kind—books, files, clothes, like someone shuffles out stuff looking for something and then replaces everything in the best of their capabilities. If I am in the same room as them for more than ten minutes, I can feel their stares.
“Aba!” Sabira fake shrieks, looking up from her phone.
“What? How do you think you came to be?” Yousuf replies, laughing. He lifts his tea cup from the table and takes a long sip.
“That’s how babies are born Sabira...” Zaahid mutters, amused. It’s one more inside thing of the Noori’s which now if I try to decipher meant, when Sabira was really young, she was obsessed with that question.
“Ew guys, I’m eating.” Sabira throws a table towel at Zaahid.
“Oh no, you’re scrolling through Instagram.” Zaahid throws a grape at her.
“I’m not, I am organizing my volleyball meeting.”
And in the midst of this harmless banter, again, the conversation steers and no one sees what I do. No one sees the subtle tries Yousuf makes to prompt Taybah. No one sees the bobbling of her throat as she swallows in air. And no one definitely sees the dangerous looks in their eyes.
“Maira, you should think about it. It’ll be a great support for Zaahid.” Taybah speaks when Zaahid and Sabira settle down. The streaks of sunlight penetrating through the window behind Taybah, blind me. My eyelashes faintly battle against my lids when I blink. I immediately recognize her cold tone and then I pay more attention to what she’s saying—no, she’s warning me. She doesn’t want me around. My eyes widen at that. I know I am flushing in pink hues. My heart is thumping against my chest. The room’s warmth has mystically evaporated.
Zaahid speaks after dunking his green juice. “Thanks mum. Yes, Maira, I’d love to have you onboard.” WHAT? WHO IS HE EVEN? Another thing that’s consuming me these past weeks is what followed the night of Denise’s birthday party and why was I in clothes I did not wear. I do remember my liquor induced bravery to confront him and I also remember getting most of my burning doubts and thoughts and questions about Zaahid off my chest. But I can’t recall how it all concluded. Fuck whiskey! Never. Again. Something HAD happened. I am sure of it because the air around Zaahid feels different. He looks at me different. And if we had walked thoroughly through our argument I wouldn’t have been still in his house.
Even though Zaahid and I aren’t on the best of terms, I know he’s a lot of things, but he’s not a prude. He wouldn’t take advantage of me. But I still fear the most of the invasion of my personal space, my rights, and my body. My body is mine and mine alone. I will dress it and decorate it and undress it and hurt it as I please and when I please. It’s the one and only possession I came into this world with and it’s the only possession I will take with me when I go. And to one day, without my permission and without my understanding, have someone touch it and own it and make it his own is the undoing of my world. For I lose the single, most valuable possession gifted to me and only me.
“I’d like that too, but I can’t.” I politely smile, looking at him. The atmosphere is crackling and I can envision objects flying across the room and heads spinning on their stalks if the Noori’s weren’t here.
I’m trying to process the shift from last three weeks to this week and I can’t get past the notion that we are being too cordial with each other. That we might just be too good. And whatever this is and whatever we’re doing seems too good and too right and too perfect and it makes me think of all the books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched and how, when things get too good and too right and too perfect, it’s only because the ugly twist hasn’t yet infiltrated the goodness of it all and I suddenly can’t breathe.
“But—” Yousuf insists, but I don’t allow him to speak.
“And I’m sorry for spoiling your romantic getaway plans.” I pick my tea-cup and take a tentative sip so that I don’t have to speak anymore. But Taybah’s undoubted intelligence makes her dangerous for someone like us. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate Zaahid and my perfection, it’s more that she’s suspicious of it.
“Ah, that’s alright, some other time then, Love?” Yousuf expresses fake dejection to his wife.
“On that note, Maira and I can volunteer to babysit Sabira, and you both can convert the Birmingham house into your romantic escape. Sounds good?” Zaahid says pointedly. His displeasure at his parents prolonged stay is evident and it is not because of either of them but because of what WE have to put up. It was one thing to do it on anniversaries or birthdays or festivals or in front of the camera and another to continue that for weeks.
Everything seems to be exhausting to me, now, no matter how much I sleep or how much tea I drink or how long I lie down, something inside me seems to have given up. My soul is tired. But it’s okay because I’ve overcome times when I would lie on the bed and stare at the blank ceiling, about to cry, because I was scared, so scared to think that I had failed, that I was not good enough. It used to terrify me that people my age were doing much better than me and I wasn’t even halfway there. Judgement made me panic.
After Raahat left, I made it a point to keep saying that I’ll make it. I had a feeling in the pits of my stomach I would, and then I did. I just had to keep finding the person I wanted to be and I was and remember that we’re all on our way. And everything happens, in its own time. And if you are reading this, I hope you find strength and courage to continue on and know that you haven’t failed, you are just on your way.
“No!” I grip Zaahid’s wrist, first trying to prevent him to not spill the beans and then to stop Taybah to return to Birmingham before I had a chance to visit it. “I mean why do you want to relocate for a few days? You have the entire place here...” I overcompensate the shrill in my voice by acting normal about it. I meet Taybah’s eye, showing her that I won’t be scared stiff. “Zaahid leaves tomorrow and I can definitely stay out of your way by being more at the studio and err,” I scratch my head, “Sabira’s a smart girl, she knows when to close her eyes.” I wink at her so that I can keep my cover up homourous.
There’s a lot on my mind since Halloween—sorry, scratch that, since Zaahid’s phone call about his mum coming. A lot of my doubts have become my worst nightmares and a lot of truths have surfaced and I need to go back into my cave and research. While I do that, I want no one to fidget or cause more trouble. I want to keep an eye on everyone—especially on this wanky old lovebirds Taybah and Yousuf. For once, I want to stall time to watch and not to be watched.
“Okay, if you say so...I’m sure Yousuf was just pulling your leg.” Taybah laughs lightly, looking at her husband. She pats his arm softly.
“I was actually.” Yousuf sits up straighter. His expression doesn’t change. If anything, it grows even bizarre. He leans forward a few inches and lowers his voice when he speaks. “I didn’t know Zaahid wanted us to leave soon.” He dejectedly picks up his tea cup and finishes it one go.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat and clear my throat. “I’m sure he didn’t mean that.” I can’t say any more, and we sit quietly for a few seconds, the air between us thick with awkwardness. I steal a glance at Zaahid, becoming aware of all the time we’ve lost and opportunities that’ve fretted away. The wall clock ticks silently as time passes. But then the silence passes, as all things do. It passes. I gather courage to slice through the tension between the father and son and speak, “Zaahid, Thankgivings’ a big celebration in the States, how about I maybe join you then?”
“Yeah, sounds like a plan.” Zaahid immediately agrees. His voice is cold and hard. I glare at him to stay in character. Also, because he’s all over the place. He never misses a beat in this ‘game.’ When our eyes meet, he is again a devoted, kind and loving husband. Under the act, I feel like there’s some sort of huge confession that he’s refusing to bring up. I don’t know what I expect from him, but his attitude right now is more than likely going to end up with him getting slapped, rather than with me covering up his mess.
“And—and if somehow that doesn’t turn out, please excuse me, but I will definitely be present when you do the project reveal.” I press his hands.
“Oh, come on!” Taybah voices her annoyance. “Don’t be so hard on my baby.”
“No, seriously. Near New Years’ you said?” I talk loud and clear so that Zaahid’s attention shifts to me.
“Yep.” He nods his head. “Which brings me to the point,” he clears the plates from in front of him and puts it on the side. He holds out his hands for his mum, “I’d love if you all can join me there. We can celebrate the new year together...” He glances at his father, vying for his approval, and then his sister, “although nothing is finalized yet, but I like to keep that as a tentative date.”
“Wow! Congratulations.” Sabira jumps from the table and comes to Zaahid’s side to hug him.
“We are so proud of you my sonshine.” Taybah smiles.
“Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’d like to roam around the city and get your mother the Hermes bag she’s been pestering me about.” Yousuf throws in the tea towel a bit harshly on the table and gets up and leaves. Taybah follows suit, trying to simmer down the anger dripping out of him. They walk out of the house and drive off.
Sabira excuses herself too and at once leaves for volleyball practice. “Wow, Zaahid. Well done!” I sarcastically comment and get up from the table. Zaahid closes his eyes and faces forward, setting his elbows on the table. His palms press against his forehead and he inhales a long, deep breath. I’m not sure if the breath is more for a soothing affect, or a distraction to keep him from screaming. He runs his hand through his hair and grips the back of his neck.
“Shit!” Zaahid says. His voice is harsh and it causes me to flinch. He stands up and walks away unexpectedly. My eyes follow him as he continues across the hall without once looking back at me. He slaps the wall of the hall, on his way out.
Without wasting a single minute, I rush to freshen up and get dressed. I haven’t gotten many opportunities since Taybah’s arrival where the entire house is left unguarded so I’m going to make the most of it. Plus, since Denise’s birthday, I have been wanting to take a trip down to Birmingham and to my attic. There are too many unanswered questions and thoughts and doubts. I’ve been snowballed with too many fragile, personal catastrophes these past weeks.
It all started on Halloween. Upon their arrival, things were civil. After greetings exchanged and everyone caught up with everyone’s lives over breakfast, Taybah and Yousuf settled for a quiet afternoon. Whilst they rested Zaahid, his sisters and I did some Halloween cooking for dinner later that night. Wafaa had kneaded the pastry dough, Sabira rolled a white fondant on the cutting board, and Delnaz who’s five months pregnant with her third, cut bats out of black papers to decorate the house.
Once we sorted dessert, later in the afternoon, Taybah took over the kitchen to cook dinner. Wafaa, who’s an adhoc professor at the university, settled down in the library to prepare exam papers for the term. “Wafaa! It’s a holiday. HO-LI-DAY. Rings a bell? Come, do it later or tomorrow.” Zaahid had teased her but she’s determined and totally my unbiological twin—she’s tenacious, intelligent, creative and honest. She wants to give up the “Noori” of her name one day, because that inadvertently connects her to her famous brother and his riches and she wants nothing of that. There are many ways in which Wafaa Noori is a better person than me; fearless just happens to be one.
But Sabira had different plans for her. She had called in Wafaa’s best friend, who now I know is Venus’ younger sister and that is why she’d seen me in ‘plaid skirt, white shirt,’ at Venus’ dinner get-together before classes started. I had faintly smiled as I recalled how on my 20th birthday I couldn’t recognize her in my cloud of grief. Together, the trio had rushed to the market to do some last-minute shopping—no, ‘thrifting’ that’s what indie people say.
There was an India Vs Pakistan cricket match airing that day and for once, Zaahid and Yousuf, surprisingly, sat before the T.V. and agreed on the same thing. I had loitered around the house, entertaining Delnaz’s boys. Mostly because I did not want to be with Taybah or with Zaahid. Delnaz had busied herself in touching up my modern jasmine’s blue bell-bottom pants. Apparently, the fashion and beauty blogger has always taken up the responsibilities for Halloween costumes. She had taken care of Sabira’s cat outfit, Zaahid’s Aladdin inspired white suit, my Jasmine’s crop top and pants, her own Tigress outfit and Wafaa’s Khaleesi dress—the mother of dragons, the breaker of chains and the long list of all that she’s achieved from the Game of Thrones.
When I walked upto Delnaz after enough ‘trick or treat’ practice questions with her kids, I saw that she sat on the bed of the guestroom, surrounded by cloth scraps. I could see the entire spectrum of colours—starting from ravenous reds to youthful yellows to blissful blues. It felt like somehow had sprinkled happiness all over the white sheets. I was so attracted to the colours, I couldn’t help but pick each piece and feel it between my fingers.
“I think, this is the heaven everyone keeps talking about.” I had smiled, holding the yellow scrap. It was long enough to be tied like a bandana. I tried it on and checked it in the mirror.
“Aha, artists like you always fall for these. Some of it is mum’s collections.”
“Really? From where?” I had turned around to face Delnaz.
“Don’t you know about her obsession for dresses since Zaahid made it in the industry?” She had looked up at me from the pants she was embroidering on.
“Err...I might have missed that,” I had walked upto the bed and picked another navy-blue scrap. It wasn’t long. It was as long as my index finger. I had wondered from where did that got left off.
“That one is from mums.” She had looked at my hands and then met my eye. “Too small isn’t it?” She had shrugged her shoulders and then continued with her stitches. “She’s like always on the phone designing dresses or telling people to get the job done.” Delnaz had graciously chuckled.
“What are you talking about?” I had asked, running my hands on the striped navy-blue on sky blue scrap. It felt so smooth and so known.
“I mean, I may sound paranoid, maybe it’s the hormones,” she kept the pants aside and had shifted closer to me, “but I definitely overhead her the other day. It sounded like an argument but I don’t know could also sound threatening to some. Brown family mum’s default sound is a yell, so I can’t really distinguish.” Delnaz laughed at that. I had joined in.
“It was THAT bad?” I couldn’t lift my eyes off to meet hers. I sat there entrapped with the navy scraps.
“Oh, VERY.” Delnaz had murmured. “I hadn’t seen her that pissed since Sabira failed Home Science class. She kept going on and on about how could they spoil her plan. How they had ONE job to do! How they need to keep track or tabs, I can’t clearly recall.”
The striped cloth didn’t even feel like scraps. It didn’t even strike me as odd. It felt known, like I had seen it before. Like I could recognize it. Like I—Collar Tags. Collar tags of a shirt. This was it! But how do I know? How do I know if I’ve never seen them before? I knew them because I had seen them so many times on my—on my, OH. MY. GOD. I had winced when I realized the eagerness in my stomach suddenly started to turn into dread. And nausea. And fear.
“What plan?” I was genuinely intrigued. My heart was racing and my breaths began to come in short gasps. Tears stung at my eyes as I couldn’t bare to hear more words from Delnaz. I kept my composure still, but I squeezed my eyes shut. I could feel the answer coming to me. I knew what it meant and I knew what came next. I could feel my heart breaking and hurting and I knew I was about to bawl over.
“I don’t know, maybe it was about the dress she’s going to wear at the AMA’s.” Delnaz had muttered. “This is just between you and me, okay?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll just see if phupi needs help,” I had managed and left the room and ran to the space behind Zaahid’s tan couch. My lips began to tremble when I thought about it all. I tried to think of something to take away the fear, because this was so absurd and so random. How could my dad’s collar tags of his uniform be with Taybah? I tried to see the evening sunset and the sky and how beautiful it all was, attempting to ease my panic.
You’re just crazy. This is not even possible. Unbidden and unwelcome tears had pooled in my eyes. Why am I crying? I was angry at myself for this senseless reaction. I had hugged myself tightly. I wanted to make myself as small as possible. Perhaps this nonsensical pain would’ve been smaller, the smaller I am. Eventually, I had convinced myself out of it, enough to at least stop crying then.
At dinner, I kept stealing glances at Taybah while she kept subtly taunting me about my wifely duties. Zaahid never left my hand the entire time we sat with his parents. He would cautiously murmur ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘please let that one go,’ at every taunt Taybah would serve my way. For fleeting moments, I would think, he loves me, he’s showing up for me. At once my subconscious would then remind me of his cheating scandal and the splurge of false promises he had made to me. Promises in love have led to too many heart breaks. I don’t want any more words; I want actions that prove them and love that actually stands for me.
Since then, I’ve been bugged by that thought that consumes almost seventy percent of my attention and which leaves the rest thirty to seemingly trivial matters like Zaahid cheating, the aftermath of Denise’s birthday party and to The Noori’s snooping behavior. In that moment, I again started raising questions and tried to find answers. I was motivated by a clarity that made me make sense out of the haze and look straight at the truth. Still, it feels like I can access it but its not quite in my hands yet. After Halloween, I felt I had gone mad, like I was living a lie. I wish I could make you see, what I see. I don’t think I am making sense. I don’t think anyone will pay attention to this.
I take my car—because it has tinted windows—and drive straight off to Birmingham. I have kept my jeans and sweatshirt casual so that I could blend in with the general public. Hoods really can make all the difference. I’ve told Zaahid that I’m going over at Gia’s. I know he would never recheck and if I take time, he’ll defend it by just saying, “women and their gossip.” My phone’s ring cuts through the air and spoils the vibe spotify’s music playlist had created. It’s Dave, my security manager.
“Is there something you should be telling me about?” Dave gives me his best dad voice.
“Hello to you too, Dave! What a pleasant chilly day!” I chirp. This is about the unknown number, I know it.
“Is there something—”
“Yeah, yeah I heard you the first time.” I roll my eyes at Dave. “What is this regarding?” Unknown number.
“I don’t know,” he speaks, I can visualize him shrugging casually, trying to keep this conversation light. “Maybe you need to report some threats or stalking or weird behavior...” Yes, totally about the unknown number, I knew it.
“Um...no, I don’t. Why do you feel something’s odd?”
“Apart from the number you’re being incessantly called from, being registered under some Ahluwalia, nothing really is.” He tightly answers.
“Okay, and this is threatening to my personal security because?” I don’t even give an ear to Dave after that. It has happened countless times since he took over office, where every Indian origined number or name was somehow ‘threatening’ for Dave. So, he’d get me SIM and new phone and change contacts and it would be just too much effort for something as nonsensical as that caller.
“I said Ahluwalia, Maira. A-H-L-U—”
“W-A-L-I-A. Yes, thanks for reminding me how to spell my name.”
“You’re not taking this seriously—”
I park the car outside Zaahid’s Birmingham house and get out of it. “And you’re taking it WAY too seriously. It’s just one number and I haven’t even picked up, so I can’t be traced. See? I’m smart, I’ve watched too many CID and NCIS Los Angeles episodes.” I shuffle with the house keys and then enter the house.
“Maira, this could be dang—”
“We’ll face that storm when it arrives. Okay, Dave, gotta go, talk to you later.” I put the phone in my back pocket. By the door, I remove my shoes and overcoat. I am not sure why I am making it look like a crime investigation. It isn’t, really. After Ultimate Sing Off, I came in this house. My life changed in this house. Taybah lives in this house. So, I wanted to come here. Maybe I could find some answers here.
Amalgamation of happiness, anger, frustration, lies and deceit all rolled into one swarm in at me when I open the door to my bedroom in the attic and stand still for several seconds. Yes, the furniture is moved around and maybe they’ve replaced my decorations but all in all not a hair is out of place. I walk to my wardrobe and open it. I see my spare clothes, salwar kameezs that rarely get a chance out in the sun, lehengas that I am saving for Big Fat Indian Weddings and my transparent jewelry box in which I collect jewels from around the world. I take a step back and breathe deeply. I now realise that I don’t even know what I’m looking for or what I’m aiming at.
But I’m so motivated by this weird feeling since I saw those collar tags that I don’t stop. I rush downstairs and start picking through the life The Noori’s have had in this house. I don’t like it. I want to stop myself from knocking the wind out of the house but my feet, like having muscle memory, lead me around. I look for suspicion in the kitchen and in the hall, vying for some spare keys that maybe lead to Narnia, I don’t know? This is WAY TOO absurd and I am definitely paranoid.
When I enter the three bedrooms the family of five have, I touch the walls and knock on it, hoping for some secret passage or room, I don’t know. I really need to limit what I watch on Netflix; I make a mental note of it. I hear the silence in the air for some clue, because I am now VERY desperate. I start opening drawers and holding up notebooks and books and boxes of photographs. It frustrates me that I have zero idea what is happening right now, because if I can’t make sense of this how will I handle what comes next? How do I know something comes next? See! I have this unnamed, inarticulate feeling/thought that makes TOO much sense to me and nothing at all at the same time.
I make myself a cup of tea and sit on the sofa in the living room. Holding my head in my hands, I take deep purifying breaths. Still, every now and then my eyes search for someone or something in the house, like someone might lunge at me from the dark saying, ‘How you doin’?′ It infuriates me that I feel watched. That maybe someone out there knows so much about me when I know nothing about them.
I decide to drop the subject on basis of NO evidence and COMPLETE madness on my part. Still I don’t want to go back too soon to Pretentious Reality, so I divert my attention to new pictures on the wall and the new dinner set Taybah’s displayed in the chestnut cabinet. I sit on the carpet in front of it and take out the plates to admire the pristine work on its edges from up close and amidst all of it, I, for the very first time, notice the drawer at the base of the cabinet. Out of absolute fascination, I kneel on the carpet and pull open the bottom drawer. It comes out with more force than I expect and I fall back, the drawer on my lap.
Taking a minute to ensure the crockery isn’t spoiled, I gently laugh at my own clumsiness. The drawer contains only two photo albums named ‘Zaahid’ and ‘Delnaz.’ I open Zaahid’s and sift through. And as I turn page after page, I find some of his pictures missing. Especially only his childhood ones. I don’t take The Noori’s as photo-journaling or scrap book keeping type, so this really appears odd. I lift my hand to run my fingers on some handsome pictures of his but something holds me back, mostly his adultery.
I lift the drawer to slot it back into the cabinet, but something stops me. I see something. I set the drawer to the side and reach a hand into the base of the pedestal. I look back at the empty house to check if someone’s watching. My eyes widen when I pull out a small wooden box. It holds only my USO pictures—when I was singing on stage, in greenrooms, and pictures I used in my USO videos. I pick them up gently and feel it in my hands. It transports me back to another time, another place, where the warmth of the sun on my face and the chatter of excited voices were things, I took for granted. I close my eyes briefly, remembering the life I used to have.
At the base of the box is a postcard with Venice’s Canal. My heart is hammering so hard, it is horrible, scary and painful. I can barely breathe. There’s an agonizing crushing sensation at the centre of my chest, as if someone is strangling me. The postcard is addressed to me, dated three years ago. Precisely, the date is my anniversary. It has six words written hurriedly on the back. “Be safe! Get away from her.” It doesn’t have a signature, but on the very bottom on the Canal’s a number is scribbled in blank ink. It blends in with the postcard colours so it takes me very long before I make it out. When did this come through? Why is it here in Birmingham when the delivery stamp is from London? Who is in Venice? Who wrote this? Who is ‘her?’ My curiosity peaks and somehow, I have a premonition that nothing is going to be normal ever again now. I steel myself, knowing that digging in Taybah’s house is like sealing my fate like an envelope.
Why are these pictures here? Did they fall of the drawer’s ledge? Are they hidden? Who even had access to my USO stage photos/videos? Am I overthinking this? Do I need help? Questions ambush me again and I know I have to get out of this place before I go madder than what I already am. I replace the box and the drawer the way I found it and I put the plate back and I made a run for my car with my coat and shoes in my hands.
The entire time I drove back to London and took a detour to a local bakery for a large slice of chocolate truffle pastry I made sure I did not think about what I found, because wasn’t it normal? Don’t families hold pictures? I mean, yes, that box was an odd little, suspicious thing but who knows it might have fallen off? Or kept hidden? My subconscious speaks while pacing the room.
But as I parked the car outside Zaahid’s house, I consider each new fact that I’ve found in the Birmingham house.
The navy-blue striped light blue cloth straps—collar tags—that I saw in Delnaz’s Halloween costume junk.
The missing photos in Zaahid’s photo album only from his childhood days. And the hidden box behind the drawer that held my photos from USO.
The postcard and that strange six letter warning.
Taybah and Yousuf’s nosiness. Yousuf’s guilt all that while ago? Taybah’s harassing looks especially since I dug her garden? Her irrational abuse?
The white uniform Zaahid and I found with a ‘J’ embroidered on it. The photo of a class I have saved in my own attic.
The broken dart and sky-blue ripped photo I saw in their basement the day of our reception party.
The pristine attic bedroom Taybah had readied for me.
It is all so strange and worrying, but there’s something beneath it all that is not actually unpleasant, that is in fact giving me a mild sense of anticipation. A hope. I don’t want the memories to keep coming, because with each confusing memory comes an even more confusing question. I don’t understand why am I being bothered by some collar tags and boxed photographs. I don’t understand why I feel like only now I’m waking up from my half-dazed state. I don’t understand why in the pits of my stomach I feel the truth has been hampered with. That I need to again rethink what happened to my parents. Why would Taybah even need to lie to me about it?
Everything I thought I understood after all these years is unraveling, revealing things that I didn’t know, I needed to know. And if I’m being lied to, I’m terrified to know what it is that everyone’s trying to keep from me. I stand outside the house for what feels like forever, attempting to sort through this alone when I have no idea what it is, I’m even trying to sort through. I need to talk to someone who has only good intentions at heart for me—like my parents or my brother! The world of glamour and fame I live in is full of too many people trying to bring me down. Today, after all this time, I can finally see through the façade. I’m emotionally spent and have had all the revelations I can take for one day. I just want to go to bed. I need to sleep on this before I go deep into my own personal investigation.
“I need to get to the roots of this.” I determine, knowing what is giving me that little blip of pleasure. It is because I have made a decision. Something is clearly not right. I have a moral obligation to do something immoral. It is the lesser of two evils. I am justified in every action or step I take next.
Some memories never leave your bones. Like salt in the sea, they become a part of you. And you carry them.
"Drinking without you, doesn’t fix me but it kinda helps. Oh, I still wish we could go back to where we started, when you left your T-shirt at my old apartment. Have you ever wondered if you loved me harder, where we’d be, where we’d be now? Yeah, we got so close, so close to love, but you had to go and mess it up. Was it all too much or just not enough? I never noticed; I was busy tryna work this out. Why was I holding on, when I knew you’d only let me down?” Song: So Close by NOTD, Felix Jaehn
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