Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 10

“Keep your voice low” A five year old Dua giggled in response to her seven year old sister. “Kidco! Mama and papa will hear us.”

“You are such a scaredy cat Ammara” Ammara feigned to glare at her younger sister but failed to hide her smile. She can never get angry on this little bubble of her life. After all, Dua was too adorable. They marched towards their papa’s study where he was with their mother. Their father just returned from his business trip. He came earlier than expected and the girls couldn’t wait to see him.

“You can’t be like this Feroze” It was their mother, Safiya. “You can’t fall weak now.”

“Ammara?” Dua looked up at her sister who was peeping in through the door above her. “What is going on?” Ammara signaled her to stay quiet and they watched their parents who looked grief-struck. Their mother was hugging their father’s shoulders who was crying while holding a picture.

“I couldn’t even see her last time Safiya. I couldn’t even give maa my shoulder to the grave.”

“It’s not your fault.” Safiya pulled his face up and wiped his tears. “Stop blaming yourself Feroze. Please.”

“Can we never return to our home? To our country? Will our daughters never know where their roots lie?”

“It was not in our hands Feroze. You know what it means to go back. The moment we set foot in Pakistan, it will be considered a declaration to the claim over Sardar’s seat. I don’t want to lose you and my girls. I don’t want them in our lives.”

“I will never let that happen Safiya. I don’t want that. If I did, I wouldn’t have chosen you.” Feroze grabbed her hand firmly and made her sit next to him. “Nothing is going to happen to any of you. I promise.”

“I am sorry. It’s because you chose me. A lifelong friendship was severed. It’s because of me you cannot go back.”

“I don’t regret my decision. I never wanted that feudal life Safiya. I am happy and proud of my decision. And those people, they were never friends. Two feudal families can never be friends. We know very well why they held on to that façade for so long and what were they aiming to with that marriage.”

“Papa?” They both turned when Dua and Ammara walked in. “What is wrong?” both girls rushed forward when their father opened his arms for them with a smile. “Why are you and mama sad?”

“Nothing” Feroze kissed his two most precious jewels on foreheads. “Now that I have seen your faces, I am alright.” Dua leaned in his father’s embrace sleepily and twiddled with the black stoned ring on his index finger.

“Papa?” Feroze hummed when his youngest one looked at him with a cute frown. “Do we have another home?” Feroze looked at his wife who was adjusting a sleeping Ammara in her lap.

“No, my doll. We only have one home. This one.” Dua just nodded with a yawn when his father stood up with her in his arms.

“Come on, let get you and your sister to bed.”

Her hazel eyes opened to a familiar grey ceiling. For a few seconds, Dua kept watching it blankly. There was nothing she was feeling in this moment but emptiness. It has been three days and if she had to take yesterday in count, four days in total since she cut off outside world. Her phone was switched off and her servants were strictly ordered to not disturb her at any cost. She was too overwhelmed to process anything. And she needed to get in control before she stepped out again to deal with everything.

Heaving a sigh, she threw the blankets off and got up. Her eyes wandered to her bandaged arms and legs. There was no point in sitting and mulling over what has been done. There were matters that needed her full attention. She had already delayed enough.

Not anymore.

**********

Ida was surprised when Dua glided down the stairs in her track suit. She chose to wear her track jacket today in order to hide her injuries.

“Good morning” Ida greeted her happily. Dua passed her a small smile while adjusting the sweatbands on her wrists. Ida was worried sick these past days but she knew her young mistress will prevail. After all, she was strong-spirited like her mother and level-headed like her father. “Anything special for the breakfast?”

“The usual” Ida nodded with a bright smile. “And tell Xian to call Sharlene here. I would like to be briefed about work once I get back.”

“Duly noted”

“Make that two Ida” Dua stopped in her tracks when Dar-jee entered her living. It was wise idea indeed to wear the jacket today. “Do you mind if I join you today?” She nodded silently and walked out with Dar-jee. Dua couldn’t find it in herself to meet his eyes. Not after how she behaved in front of him. But Dar-jee was as kind and compassionate as ever. He never imposed anything on them nor let their parents do so. He believed in self-growth. According to him, a person learns more by self-experience rather than being indoctrinated.

“I know you like to run rather than walk but my old bones won’t allow me to compete against you. Plus, the weather is beautiful. Why not enjoy it today with your old man?”

“Aren’t you going to scold me for my impertinence? I shot a bullet at Hadi.”

“Did I ever?” Dar-jee replied calmly. “And that boy asked for it. Why did you miss? I thought Xian trained you precision. I am going to have a word with him.” Dua chuckled at his laid-back response.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have acted the way I did. I was just-”

“Do you hate your name that much?” Dua looked at Dar-jee in surprise. “Dua. Your name. Do you hate it?” She had no answer. “Do you know why Feroze and Safiya named you Dua?” She couldn’t get a chance to know. “Because you were their prayer, answered by heavens.” Dar-jee patted her head with a smile. “Safiya faced some critical complications during her second pregnancy. Doctors told your parents to abort you but your mother didn’t agree. You were born in eighth month Dua. And doctors clearly told them what complications could arise during and in later stages.”

“Safiya prayed day and night for your goodwill and health. She bore all that pain and at last, her prayers were answered. In your form. A little prayer. A beautiful Dua.” Her eyes began to burn with dry tears. “She couldn’t become a mother ever again. But that didn’t matter. Only you and Ammara did. To them, you two were their whole world.” Dua couldn’t bear to hear anymore. It was doing nothing but tearing open wounds that never healed.

“Then why? Why do you hate what they loved the most?” Dua had nothing but the pain she bore as her only answer. She never told Dar-jee and never let him know of what she was doing. She doesn’t know what could happen if he asked her to stop and forget. Which she clearly can’t do.

Not now. Not at all.

“I’m sorry Dar-jee but I have no answers for your questions.” Dar-jee watched her carefully. He knew of the anger that kept brewing in this child over years. She never forgot. She was still stuck in that moment.

They might have removed the thorn but the wound became a blight because Dua never let it heal. It pained him to watch his child going astray on a path that held no future. There was nothing else he could do but pray. Nothing could equate to what she bore in the period she was being held captive. He only knew but she bore and witnessed everything. Including the demise and death of her loved ones.

“I might have gotten old Dua but I am no fool.” They began walking back to her villa. “But I will give you one piece of advice. May I?” Dua nodded slowly. “Anger and revenge go hand in hand bacha. One will always fuel the other but” he stopped suddenly and turned to face her.

“In the end, it destroys the one holding the hose to their survival.”

**********

Haider was standing by the window of his study when Amber entered. He has been avoiding her since that day. Not that it was her fault but he was sick of her naivety towards thing that were clearer than crystal.

“Haider!”

“Not now Amber.” Haider didn’t want to be mean to her. Especially when she needed him the most but she left him with no other choice. It was high time Amber got out of that so-called self-made bubble of righteousness and obedience towards the so-called norms of her society that did nothing but ate away the happiness of people.

“Haider please” Amber grabbed his arm pleadingly. “You didn’t even give me a chance to explain. And you were so rude to khala.” There she goes again. “Do you even know how hurt she was? She just gave Dua-”

“Dee” he turned to her with a glare. “Her name is Dee.” Amber nodded feebly under the feral look of her husband. “And your khala” he scoffed and pushed her hand away. “Don’t even make me start on her. You are not that stupid Amber that you cannot see what kind of person she is.”

“Haider!”

“Do you really respect her or is it because you don’t want to be labeled a bad person? You always want to be goody-two-shoes. But you know what darling” He sneered at her wife while leaning against his table. “We are just humans. We can’t be good.”

“Stop it Haider. Do you even hear yourself? You think I pretend to be good?”

“Do you remember what poison Safeena fed to you about me and Dee when you first came here?” Her downcast eyes were answering on her behalf. “Do you remember what kind of name she gave to our relationship and what kind of drama she tried to put forth?”

“I-”

“I love you Amber but I won’t stand with your ways anymore. This kind of second-hand attitude and mindset was never entertained in this family and never will be.”

“It was just a dupatta Haider. What was so wrong in giving Dee a bridal dupatta?” his fists clenched by his sides. “And even if she didn’t like, she could have told it off nicely. What was the need to react the way she did-”

“Shut up Amber” his voice boomed in the study. What does she know what that piece of cloth meant for Dua? “Not another word or I will forget you are my wife. You crossed the line this time. I always neglect your mistakes as your innocence but that doesn’t mean you can disrespect my family.”

“What about you? You are disrespecting my aunt-”

“She was going to sell you Amber. She sold you to that man for a few pennies.” Amber shook her head in denial. Haider knew he shouldn’t but she needed to know. “Your aunt was the one who defamed you Amber. She was the one who ruined you in order to make you submit to her will. She was the one who humiliated you in front of everyone. To make you agree on marrying that old foul in name of saving her so-called respect. ”

“No” she shook her head while crying loudly. “This is a lie.” All that humiliation she faced. How can it be her khala? She loved her, didn’t she?

Did she?

Amber remembered all those times she bore with her brutality thinking it will melt her frozen heart towards her. When in reality, Amber knew her khala never loved her. Amber was a burden that got imposed on Safeena after her parent’s death.

“Safeena insulted my sister and I can never forgive this. Either you wake up from your obliviousness towards the world or-”

“Hadi!” Dua watched a hysterical Amber with pity and turned towards stoic Haider. He was not in the bit fazed by the pain he was causing her. “What do you think you are doing? Do you even see the state she is in or are you too thick-skulled and blind?”

“She needs to wake up Dee. The world is not all roses and rainbows.”

“But you can make one for her.” Dua retorted calmly. “Amber! Look at me” she tilted her chin up to look at her tear-streaked face. Her eyes were red and swollen. “Stop crying because of this fool. You will get sick and it will hurt the baby.” A wave of regret washed over Haider when he saw Amber crying like a child. He couldn’t bear when she was hurt and he himself ended up giving her so much pain.

“Amber! I-”

“Don’t even dare Hadi. You were supposed to take care of her, not hurt her.” Dua wiped Amber’s cheeks. “You listen to me. Stop crying first.” Amber was hiccuping while looking at her in remorse and it only made Dua feel bad for the poor soul. Amber really didn’t deserve all this. She gave Haider one more glare before walking Amber out of his study. “Come on! You need to breathe some fresh air and soak positive energy.”

**********

“What about this one?” Dua watched the yellow baby jumpsuit and hummed thoughtfully. “I like this color. It is so fresh. It will look good on the baby. And the fabric, it is so soft.” Amber’s face was beaming with happiness while surfing through baby clothes. All her early dilemma and pain was forgotten when Dua brought her to the mall for baby shopping. “What do you think Du- Dee” Amber corrected herself immediately.

“We should buy it.” Dua replied with a smile to ease her discomfort. “Are you done or do you wish to buy more?”

“I think it is more than enough. It’s like I am giving birth to a whole army with the amount of things you and Haider have bought.” A sad expression crossed her beautiful face upon the mention of her husband. Dua knew how much Amber loved Haider and Haider knew it too. He loved Amber as much but always ended up making her cry.

“Are you hungry?” Dua guided Amber out of the store after paying the bill. “You haven’t eaten anything since we came.” She turned to her when she didn’t reply. “Amber?” Dua nudged her shoulder gently. She was looking too deep in thought. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry Dee. I didn’t mean to-” Dua grabbed her in time when a man pushed past her roughly, making her fall forward.

“Is he blind or what?” Her anger flared and she made an attempt to go after him. “Stop, you-Amber’s scream stopped her dead in her tracks. Dua turned pale when Amber fell to the floor while clutching her womb. Oh no. “Hey! Deep breaths. Deep breaths.” Amber inhaled and exhaled while watching Dua. “I am going to help you up and then we are going to the doctor. You with me?” Amber nodded feebly. “Okay. Come on! You can do this.”

“Dee!” Amber whimpered when another wave of contraction hit her hard. She stumbled back to her feet and leaned over Dua for support who was talking to Haider and telling him about her labor. “Dee I-” She looked behind her shoulder and froze in fear. “D-Dee?”

“What?” Dua turned and noticed a masked man standing a few feet away from them. Shit. She couldn’t move away from Amber. And she didn’t bring their men along because she wanted to make Amber feel at ease.

“Dee!” Amber screamed when the assassin threw a dagger towards them. Dua buried Amber’s face in her neck to keep her from watching this grotesque scene. She didn’t even blink while watching death coming her way. A smile crept to her lips when a shadow came in between out of nowhere and grabbed the dagger midway.

The person flipped on her feet with grace and threw the dagger towards the man, hitting him square in the forehead before he could even think of countering the attack by pulling his gun out to shoot them. A small scale commotion broke in the mall when his body fell but her men were swift to take action, making a circle around them to keep people from rushing forward.

“Relax Amber” Dua watched the female turn to her with a blank face. The same woman they caught that night at Mikhailov’s den. “The car?”

“Waiting for you.” She replied monotonously. Dua gave her a curt nod and turned to Amber.

“Amber! Just breathe. You will be alright.” She guided her away. “I need a name.” She nodded swiftly at Dua. She doesn’t need her new boss to elaborate anything because this is what she lives for.

**********

Haider was pacing back and forth outside labor room. He was too restless and his fidgety behavior was amusing Dar-jee and Dua to no extent. “I should be in there. She would want me in there.”

“They will call you.” Dua replied nonchalantly. “And let’s not forget your grandiosely mean behavior towards her earlier. I am sure Amber doesn’t want your foul personality anywhere near her and the baby.”

“That is my baby too. I helped her create him and she is my wife. My responsibility. You think I will hurt her purposely?” Haider looked towards Dar-jee for help but the old man just shrugged in response. Haider was clearly on his own right now.

“And you think it was wise to tell her the truth when she was in such a delicate condition?” Haider’s shoulders fell in defeat and he slumped next to her on the plastic chair. Dua put her phone away and turned with a raised brow when Haider sighed in defeat.

“I never meant for all this to happen Dee.” He leaned back and watched the ceiling. “If it was in my hands, I wouldn’t have let any of that happen from the very beginning.” Dua knew what he was referring to. “Just when I want to protect something the most-”

“You cannot control certain things Hadi. Not everything is in our hands. Especially life, death and the outcome of the choices we make.” Haider watched her silently. “She will be alright. The baby will be alright.”

“Mr. Shah?” Haider got up immediately. “Please come.” Dua mouthed him to go with a smile and watched him enter the labor room with the doctor.

“What kind of father do you think he will become?” Dua smiled when Dar-jee sat next to her. “I am not so sure.”

“He will be a great father” Dua watched the labor room. “He is going to do an amazing job at it.”

Because a light found its way back in his life.

**********

Everyone was escalated at the arrival of new member in Shah Family. The happiest of all was Haider. He just couldn’t stop gushing over his son who was his carbon copy. And Dua was happy to see him happy. She also noticed the little gestures between Haider and Amber. It made her feel at ease that they have reconciled in a way that was indescribable. Haider needed Amber in his life more than anything. Because Dua witnessed the misery and darkness Haider pushed himself in after Ammara’s death.

Her throat began to close when another wave of memories blinded her to everything around.

“Dee?” She jerked to wake when Haider called her. “Come” She came to Amber and her newborn baby. “Aren’t you going to carry your nephew?” Haider couldn’t help but chuckle at her frozen expressions when she watched him extend the baby towards her. “Come on!”

“I-” before Dua could protest, he thrust the baby in her arms. Dua froze in her position, fearing to drop the baby. He was so small and so soft, just like the petal of a flower. “Hadi! Please take him. I will drop-”

“You won’t” Amber encouraged with a smile. “His khala will never let any harm come to him. Right?” A pact was made between them silently. Dua advised Amber to not tell Haider anything on their way to hospital. She knew it will only stir more trouble. Especially now when his son came in this world. The attack was not meant for Amber but her and Dua has an inkling about which direction it might have come from.

“Am I missing something?” Haider looked between them. “Is there something I should know about?”

“Yes.” Dar-jee replied solemnly. “His name. You need to decide his name.” Dua passed the baby to Haider and watched them discuss the name of the baby. At least, they were happy. Her phone buzzed and she stepped out of the room while putting it against her ear.

“We found him.” Xian jerked the head of his captive back. The man was barely alive in the moment. “They spat the name of the one who sent them.” A poisonous smile appeared on her rosy lips when the name finally came to light.

The name of her next target.

“What about today?”

“You won’t be surprised.” Dua heard the man groan in pain when Xian landed another blow at him. “What do you want to do with them?”

“Something very productive.” A plan was already forming in her head. “Wait for me.” She disconnected the call and looked inside Amber’s room through the glass.

Something could have occurred today which could have severed these healing bonds. Dua knew she was partly responsible for that attack in the mall. She knew people were after her but she acted careless. And her carelessness could have cost Hadi his happiness once again.

The darkness of her revenge doesn’t need to overshadow their happiness. What happened today cannot happen again at any cost. And for that, Dua knew she will need to distance herself from their lives.

Forever.

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