N O T E
It seems to me that love could be labelled poison and we’d drink it anyways.
Zaahid’s slow, rhythmic breathing was a welcome distraction because my thoughts were destroying me. I tried not to think, but the silence was a killer too. The time didn’t seem to fly by in a haze of old faces, work to do and Zaahid Noori. 6: 30 A.M. in the digital clock, sitting on the bedside table, stared back at me. It was still dark outside and succeeding a slight brush of my hand, the laptop had sprung back into life. The name “Snuggles” was still flashing on the screen.
The anticipation was horrendous. Quiet extended like a tight elastic band. The air was hesitant, yet hopeful on the night I had first met, Snuggles.
Out of the complete blackout, I had seen him—a rather tall man—coming towards me and as a natural instinct I had found myself stepping backwards. As he neared, his silhouette became clearer. He looked just like any other guy walking down the street in his tight jeans and tailored blazer, except we were in a darkened room, in Birmingham, at nine o’clock, on my twentieth birthday party celebration day—24th July, 2013, to be very precise.
There was something a little hippie-ish about him, from the way he moved to his slightly long hair. He had looked like a bohemian model walking to his own beat, literally, like there was music playing in his head. He had come across as just the kind of person who would be the first to strip off to tight t-shirts and Bermuda shorts when summer would roll by. His muscles would have popped right out and suddenly the girls’ heads would have turned at the sight of him. He had seemed like one of those people who always returned a smile when he caught an admiring glance.
He had soft curls, the colour wasn’t visible from my position but I would have had put my money on chestnut brown. His hair was dark and lustrous and had shone like hardwood but that isn’t a fair comparison because hardwood didn’t swish gently like his hair did; swaying with the words he spoke as he had moved closer to where I stood. A soft baby curl caught slight light around it, but the darkness of his chestnut brown hair reflected all the radiance of his smile. He was two steps away from me then, standing like me—under a spotlight and I had observed him closely.
I was taken aback from his green eyes because it was the kind of green that made its way through heaps of coarse snow to remind you that spring was near. It was the sort of green that brought back life onto the prisoners of winter. The kind that whipping zealous green that the sea swings to amid a tempest. That shade of colour of the timberland after it downpours. The colour of the tadpoles making swells in the lake. It was that sort of green that would for the most part carry hope and life with it regardless of what has happened. And looking into those eyes, I could see it. And he knew that I could because a small smile had stained his lips.
He had towered over my mere five feet four frame with his six-something frame. He had the kind of face that stopped you in your tracks and left you speechless. I figure he probably became acclimated to that, the sudden pause in a person’s natural expression when they looked his way followed by overcompensating with a nonchalant gaze and a frail smile.
Of course the blush that accompanied it was a dead give-away.
It didn’t help that he was so humble with it, it made the girls fall for him all the more. Regardless of the line of celebrities he could go out with, he was a one-woman-man.
Snuggles was handsome alright, but inside he is just beautiful. The man before me back then, and now flashing on my screen was: Harry. Spencer.
I imagine that we are set into people’s lives which are as it should be. Now and then I consider how I got so fortunate and what I have done to merit a friend like him. Individuals have gone back and forth out of my life, however for reasons unknown he never left. Our friendship is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I could compose a book about the positive influence he has had on my life. His heart is one of the purest I have ever known and everyone he meets feels his spirit the second they meet him. His smile and liveliness radiates whenever he walks through a door. The love and empathy he shows for others is special. I am so grateful to be affected and influenced by him and glad at the very same time, that he and Gia could drag me down to Swettenham in my most tough and rough days. I hope that one day I could be half of the person that he is.
He believed me when I didn’t believe in myself. He loved me when I was hard to love. He listened to me when I didn’t have a voice and let me cry in his arms when I was broken. But most importantly, he never gave up on me. That was special.
He knows me to my core and that’s why I find it so hard to hide the truth of my life from him. He knows what makes me smile and what ticks me off. He can tell in an instant when I am upset and then will continue to do everything in his power to make me feel better. If I am going through something, he is the first person to text me to make sure I am okay and when I don’t reply—he’s there at my drive way, ready to drag me down to Swettenham, his home, to engulf me in the warmth of his arms, and stuff me all those baked goodies Annie, his mum, made.
When my confidence lags, he reassures me of myself. He understands my odd sense of humour, my love for sarcasm, and laughs at my terrible jokes and side comments. I have, till date, never had an awful moment with him.
Harry fills my life with immense amount of happiness and love, after all in him I found the brother I never had. I know that wherever life takes us, he will ALWAYS be a part of my life. When I need him, he is always there. He’s the epitome of a beautiful human being. I hope that every person in this world has someone like him in their lives.
All at once, I retrocede to the Ultimate Sing Off stage again. It hit me hard, hurtling at full speed, a realisation and the onset of anxiety all rolled into one. Cherry Foxes and I had stood side by side under the light blue fresnel, soft-edged spotlights, on the stage. The edge of the stage had been highlighted by the white flood lights and fog machines had added the special effects to the stage. I had gaped up at the audience as adrenaline spiked through my body anew. Overcome by fear, my legs had lost connection with my brain. I couldn’t stop my heavy breathing. Darkness was all I saw from my position despite the lighting, and my breathing had become shallower; the anticipation was devouring me from the inside out. Fear clenched my heart, my throat and suffocated me. Hysteria was engulfing me. I had emancipated deep breaths, my mouth shaped like the letter ‘o’, in order to fan my heated face. I had to recover my equilibrium.
My body had clenched at the thoughts of everything that could go wrong. I could miss a beat. I could go off-note. My voice could crack, maybe? And all of those were just the starting thoughts of my flustered state; I had merely overstepped onto my anxious side. The feeling was exquisite, and I caught my breath. My eyes flew to Stephan sitting on the Judges panel. He had frowned, I remember. Shaking his head in disbelief, he had mouthed, ‘stay strong’. The latest conversation I had with him when he made his compulsory-last-minute-visit to me after the paparazzi had interviewed me, replayed in my mind.
“Stephan, it’s almost 6:45! The show is about to start and might I add, it’s a live telecast. Please understand we can’t let you wander about. Maira is dressed and ready to go on stage. You really want to‘re-check’?” Dorothy, the shows director and the CEO of ITV—the original network of the show had said, as footsteps had loudened outside my green room.
Stephan couldn’t quite keep the sarcasm out of his voice with his next words. Dorothy had warned Stephan that they would start without him and I remember blanching at the same. Stephan had reassured her that it won’t happen and after a short silence, a pair of footsteps had retreated while another moved towards the door.
I had opened the door before he could knock on it. Immediately he had swallowed me in a warm reassuring and a you-know-you-can-win-this hug. My sheepish replies and small talks had notified him that I was a little nervous. Okay—a lot, keyword being, ‘a lot’. He had cupped my face in his hands and looked at me intently, “fear the fear.”
I had stolen a glance his way and all I could remember was about my missing valuables—about my customized robbery—and I had almost spoken out too but then decided against it. I had stared down at my hands. That wasn’t the right time. He is way too excited for you, Maira. My subconscious had nagged and glared at me.
“Tell me what? Everything is okay? All good?” Stephan had quietly asked and I had covered it up with a shitty excuse—which he fell for, which was in itself a first for me. He had appreciated something I had said and then again went along with his I-have-to-lift-her-up-before-she-falls-face-first-on-the-stage-due-to fear talks. In low voices and by emphasizing words, he was building up my lost courage. At last, I had looked up at him with hopeful eyes.
“Do it ‘now’, Maira. Sometimes ‘later’ becomes ‘never.’ Grab the chance and make the best of it while you still can,” he had finally whispered with a quick final hug.
“I’ll make you proud.” I had mumbled to him, while he kissed my forehead.
“You don’t have to make me proud. You have to make yourself proud. Grab the courage Maira. Go show them what you’re capable of. All the best!” he had finally said, like an excited teen, he gave me double thumbs up. And then, like a whirlwind he was gone.
I had remembered myself, as I stood up straighter on the stage. Stephan had continued to hold my gaze.
It was and is, rightly said that a word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success. Encouragement—it’s a big word. When you might open up a dictionary the most popular searches will be ‘noun’ ‘the action of giving someone support and hope’ ‘persuasion to do or to continue something.’
Stephan didn’t encourage me with fancy words and false promises neither did he give me high hopes which were underlined with uncertainty. He used to light a small fire in me each time I faced a heart-wrecking situation. He used to hold up a mirror for me—metaphorically. The only person, who showed me where I was from, what I had already achieved, what I had to accomplish and where I could be, was Stephan.
He might live in this dazzling world of fame and power and the money that comes along with it, but he never let that shade his views about me. If he was the one who used to remind me of drinking hot water the first thing in the morning, then he also was the first one to shout at me for having an ice-cream on a cold night. If he used to celebrate my wining a sing-off challenge by cutting the red velvet cake in his office, then he was also the first one to decline dinner to me on days I refused to follow his routine or course of action to help me win—if I have to coin an expression. If he was the one who used to leave a bowl of jasmine flowers outside the studio each day so that I would start the day on a happy note and not miss my family and lads, then he was also the one avoiding to talk to me when I had caught cold despite his warnings to wear a sheepskin or something of that sorts in the harsh London weather before stepping out to buy some utilities.
I guess that was true encouragement. The fire he kept alive in me was true encouragement.
“Are you ready for it?” Jonathan had stated calmly as the demeanour of the room erupted into another round of applause. I had heard Jonathan Keltz say his last words and take his leave from the stage.
"Do it ‘now’, sometimes ‘later’ becomes, ‘never’.”
"Do it ‘now’, sometimes ‘later’ becomes, ‘never’.” Stephan’s voice had been reverberating in my mind as I stood there.
A recap video of the completion of another season of Ultimate Sing Off had been played in the background so as to remind the audience from where we had started and where we were now. I had judged that as the best jiffy to let myself accustom to my surroundings and get my bearings together. As the vibe of the room had changed, I felt the cheering and applause to emanate the flashes of flicker of the confidence rising within me.
The video had been followed by a short progress chart of Cherry Foxes and I, the summary of which had shown that the British audience had continued to vote for me like they had been doing so—despite me being Indian and the huge cultural gap between us—for the past few weeks, back then, and their love and support was what had placed me on the number one rank, despite the Facebook posts, Twitter trends and the Instagram picture Zaahid himself had posted (I was pretty sure that was to show Penelope that he was with her) to vote for Cherry Foxes because she was Zaahid Noori’s “girlfriend”, at that time, too.
A preposterous tag to be given, honestly; it’s worthy of scorning to ponder over the fact that Penelope’s entire musical progress on the show came down to this: “being Zaahid Noori’s girlfriend”. And if we go by some known publishers, newspapers and magazines, then she’s definitely not given much respect because then she is Zaahid Noori’s new “fling” or ‘“the girl” that caught the sexy ST member’s eye or the “new eye candy” of Zaahid from Symphony Thrills. And trust me since the news of their engagement had gone viral, back then, The People’s magazine, The Telegraph, The Cosmopolitan and some others of the same stature hadn’t toned down the impugn on Penelope, she was still ‘“the hot blonde” Zaahid Noori from ST was engaged to.’
A thousand butterflies had stretched their wings and fluttered erratically in my stomach as I had brushed off my thoughts with a shake of my head and focused on the task at hand. Why was I so nervous? It’s because I had no idea what reception I would receive. My inner goddess was hopeful for one reception; my subconscious, like me, was fraught with nerves. See, you CAN win! Got it? My subconscious had dictated, referring to the statistics on the board.
After another set of going through rules and regulations and coming back from a short commercial break, the show had finally begun.
I was standing somewhere in the corner of the stage watching Cherry Foxes unveil their priced possession: their own song—Old Love. They had won the toss and had decided to perform first. Obviously, remember, first impressions are the last impressions? I couldn’t even pretend to put an argument against that. Of course I would have started first—if I had won the toss—as long as it gave me an upper hand on Cherry Foxes.
That was the bottom line. I wanted to win. My inner goddess sighed in relief and bent forward in her lunging neck dress. I reached the conclusion that she rarely used her brain to think but another vital part of her anatomy, and at the moment, it was a rather exposed part.
Cherry Foxes’ voice was almost like angels, high notes clear like spring waters and sharp like a sword. Their graceful notes danced with the rhythm of the music. Their melody was sweet and refreshing like the first rains after hot summer months. They had reminded the old of the innocence of youth, soothing their spirits, stirring sweet memories. My inner goddess had let out a low whistle.
My subconscious had ran a hand through her hair, tying her hair in a high ponytail and tightening it a bit, radiating frustration as if waging some internal battle. Are you going to tell me the problem? Or am I going to have to dig? I had asked. She set her mouth in a hard line, and rolled her eyes at me. You need to buck up, if you want to win. They are prodigious. She had sighed again, and I sensed her frustration was directed at herself. Thanks, I suppose? I had scowled at her.
Dressed in brandy wine coloured corduroy skirts and knit mock turtleneck crop sweaters, the girls were remarkable as they moved from line to line. They were swinging their hips as choreographed, and they didn’t miss a note or a beat. Jane and Lily had strolled off towards the Judges Table, and seated themselves on either end of the table. Stretching their legs as they sang, and jerking their heads backwards as if they were the next Taylor Swift’s in town.
I had watched Lily, her slight frame had disappeared from the table as she made her way towards Harry seated on the panel, sandwiched at the table with Nolan on one side and Zaahid on the other. She had rubbed the back of her palm on his well defined jaw-line in a slow, teasing manner, while the words of the song tumbled out of her lips. She gave a wolfish grin and winked at the audience. Oh, it was deliberate.
Penelope and Jane present on the main stage had continued their dance, and to the old pedagogue every movement was full of poetry. They had advanced, retreated, and pirouetted, their arms waving from side to side above their heads, their heads swaying, their garments fluttering yet seeming to show glimpses of dark, flashing eyes beyond, yet managing to hit the notes perfectly.
Jenna and Lily had continued to flatter and cajole the Judging panel and going by the looks of the audience, I think, it wasn’t well received. Shush Smarty Pants! Remember to never reveal the mistakes of your competitors because ‘what’s one man’s meat is another man’s poison’. My bête noire had tapped my shoulder and whispered in my ears. I had perceived her winking at me as she sat herself proudly on the red couch, getting her nails painted.
The laser green lights had turned around a hundred and eighty degrees and the white lights marking the end of the stage had turned to a dim bluish colour while the flood lights overhead had turned to pink tones from the earlier yellow-greenish glow as the girls had headed to a particular marking on the stage.
While on the other hand, Penelope had walked over to the Judges table, stood beside Zaahid as he was on the corner of the table, and swayed her hips to the beats. Before singing the next line, she had bent down a bit, and left a small peck on Zaahid’s cheek.
I had flushed, and still do, at the scene before me and had glanced at Zaahid as I had squirmed in my place uncomfortably. He had given me a passing glance but stared at me for a moment too long to be considered a “passing glance”, the ghost of a smile had crossed his lips. I felt frustrated—irritable even. Jeez...get a room. Penelope had returned to join the others soon after and they had wrapped up their formidable performance.
I. Can’t. Let. Them. Win. I can do this. I had declared. “Do it now! Sometimes later becomes never!” I had heard Stephan’s voice in my head again. To motivate myself I had thought about the good thing that good happen that night: I could just be celebrating that night for the two best reasons—one, my win and two, my twentieth.
A ping sound in the background brings me back to the bedroom which was now lit by the early sun rays. I am brought back to the reality of my existence. My eyes open in a flurry and dart around in the room, taking in everything about this well furnished house. Shedding the last reminiscences of my Ultimate Sing Off finale round, I come face to face with the same laptop that sat on my lap.
I release a deep breath as I realise what made me come out of my trance: a ping sound. My inner musings do nothing to cheer me. I stare out of the window and the landscape is changing. The sombre lights reflect my introspective mood, closing in, suffocating.
I look around myself to find my phone resting on the bed side table. I could have easily reached over and grabbed the phone if it had been lying on my side of the bed but unfortunately it was on Zaahid’s bed side table.
And he was sleeping at an awkward angle on the bed. I lift the laptop off my lap and place it on the bed as I reach over Zaahid to grab my phone. My left hand which was above his head balanced my entire weight as my right leg was on his side. I was practically on top of him but my left hand held me up and I managed to keep a safe distance from him.
I reached for my phone with my right hand and noticed a text from “Coffee Zombie.”
It was Gia Spencer, my manger for the past four years.
"Wish me luck! I’m on my way to meet up with Mr. Cooper to clear up the mess your ex-manager created! -G
P.S.- no kisses for you!” Delivered, 8 AM. 30th October, 2019.
Even the awkward position I was in didn’t stop me from not replying back to her. I replied back asking for the reason why I wasn’t given a kiss.
"Because it’s a Sunday morning and I am up and about early to complete YOUR work. Also, I have to prepare for my niece’s birthday party tonight.-G.” Delivered, 8: 02 AM. 30th October, 2019.
I reply back that it’s actually her work seeing the fact that she was my manager and not the other way round. As I type in the sentence I feel the bun I had made with my hair loosening and falling over my shoulder and slipping slowly. Oh, crapola. My subconscious is gaping at me, blinking a couple of times, her expression unreadable.
I look up from my screen and my eyes widen. I breathe as my fear surges through my bloodstream. My heart is pounding, trying to leave my chest, the blood thrumming in my ears. Judging by their length I was pretty sure they must have brushed his face because I feel him move under me. My subconscious was pacing the room, chewing a thumbnail, but even she stopped at that.
Shit! Please don’t wake up. Please don’t wake up. I mutter slowly as I realise that he would be awake any minute now.
“Mmm...” he grumbles and starts to move.
I don’t know what got to him but suddenly he decided to change sides and mind you not just change his position he turned around a full hundred and eighty degrees and his legs which laid between mine after I had scooted over him to grab my phone were now entangled with his as he tossed and turned in bed, causing me to fall underneath him. He crushed me under his weight. My head was locked between his left hand and his own head. I could feel his hot breaths on the crook of my neck.
Probably being uncomfortable in the way we both ended up I feel him slowly rising up. Deep in his throat, I hear a faint distressed groan, and he stirs. He nuzzles the crook of my neck, inhaling deeply as he wakes.
Maira. Do you not realise how fucked you are? My subconscious said. Fucked and dumb. She made ‘dumb’—a kid’s word—hit me as hard as if I were a ten-year old again.
Sleepy, blinking hazel eyes meet mine beneath his tousled mop of hair.
“What the hell?”
He moves slowly, unpeeling his limbs from me as he gets his bearings. I flush, but then I feel seven shades of scarlet from his heat.
Maybe we’ll meet again, when we are slightly older and our minds less hectic, and I’ll be right for you and you’ll be right for me. But right now, I am a chaos to your thoughts and you’re a poison to my heart.
“Some dreams never do come true, some love doesn’t hit the target. I’ve been wishing upon you, I’ve been wishing my hardest. You’ve got me seeing stars, brighter than ever. Shining just like diamonds do, I know that in time it could be all ours, brighter than ever.” Song: seeing stars by borns.
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