Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 25

Asfand leaned back in his seat with a tired sigh. Last night turned out to be something and he couldn’t get a wink of sleep. He was forced to call a doctor who sedated Dua to sleep. She was thrashing non-stop, screaming and crying and Asfand had no idea how to stop her tantrums. He never faced such situation in his life. He was not a cuddling type of man who sooth the pain away. He gave it.

Asfand had no idea what to make of things at this point. If things were complicated before, he didn’t know what to call this current predicament. His wife was victim of physical trauma and it put a serious damper to everything he had planned.

“Is everything alright with her?” He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“There is nothing serious. She is fine.” Asfand breathed deeply while listening. He was not fine with anything. Not how she was going to react every time he came close. “The way you described, it seemed like PTSD. She might have suffered or been exposed to serious sexual violence that scarred her mentally. Something she saw last night might have triggered her fear.” How to tell him what triggered her fear?

“Is there a way to get rid of her trauma permanently? You know how it can hinder our marriage life doctor.” Asfand was desperate. Not only to get rid of this unwanted obstacle but to know what caused her so much pain and fear.

“I understand your dilemma but you have to give her time.” Which they didn’t have. “Get her to trust you. Make her comfortable. Only time can heal some wounds Mr. Sherzai. Medicines can just numb the pain.” His fist clenched hard on the table. “I will check up on her again. Meanwhile give her the medicines I prescribed.” Asfand disconnected the call and cursed loudly.

“Fuck!” His hands went to his face and he dragged them down tiredly. “How am I supposed to find out?” She isn’t going to tell me herself.

“Can I come in?” Asfand straightened in his seat and gave Ida permission to enter. “Good morning Sir” She smiled his way politely. Asfand just nodded when she came by his table and placed the steaming mug of freshly brewed coffee before him. “You seem like you need it.” He just watched the middle-aged lady in silence. “Do you want anything specific for breakfast?”

“Is she up?” Ida held the tray with both hands and smiled. “I mean she was not feeling well last night.”

“She is already gone.” Asfand jerked forward at this. She was gone? “And she was fine if it put you to ease. My young miss know how to pick her pieces and move ahead. Time taught her a valuable lesson at a tender age.” Asfand chose not to say anything and watched the mug silently. “If that is all?” Ida turned on her heels to leave.

“Does she have any trauma?” Asfand looked up when the old woman stopped in her tracks. The slight shaking of her body confirmed his suspicion. “I would like you to answer a few questions.”

“I apologize sir but I have nothing to tell you” Ida faced Asfand confidently and he saw the same disapproval in her eyes once again. “Especially when you own them yourself.”

**********

Dua was tapping the smooth surface of her table continuously. She kept looking in the distance without actually paying attention to the meeting. Xian noticed her detached attitude all day but he didn’t stop Dua once and inquire. Her faraway look was enough for him to know she lived one of her nightmares.

“You are done for the day.” She snapped out of her stupor and faced Xian. “Return home.”

“Which home?” Her answer threw him off guard. Dua realized it too and immediately composed herself to neutrality. “I want to see report of Florida-”

“Dua?” Xian intervened calmly. Her eyes burnt and hands shook but she refused to show any vulnerability. “What’s wrong?”

“When is Aya coming?” She dodged his question and typed furiously on her laptop. “We cannot delay any longer. Tell her to-” Dua looked up when Xian shut her laptop.

“Did he touch you?” A single tear escaped her eye. “What did that fucker do? I-”

“Xian!” There was a silent plea in her calmness. His fists clenched and he looked away from her broken self. Xian knew what hell Dua went through after what happened with Ammara. She was too scared of them at one point. She screamed in fear and agony whenever Jahangir, Haider and Xian tried to approach her. They came to know of it too late. Of what she was forced to witness. And that too with her own sister. Xian had seen brutality but not to this extent. Not even animals do what those fuckers did to these two innocent souls.

It was Ammara who was raped but it was Dua who suffered its repercussions.

It took her a year and half before she could get past the fear of let them come close. But it didn’t come easy. She couldn’t face any physical approach from opposite gender outside them.

That’s what worried Xian. Her living in the same fear under the same roof as that man. He knew why Asfandyar wanted her. Xian knew he would pay no heed to her pain. He was an untamed animal himself. Just like his brother. And doing the exact thing Anser did to her sister would mean nothing to Asfand.

He was, after all, a Sherzai himself.

“I-” Dua stood up and faced him calmly. Gone was the pain and her resolve burnt louder than before.

“Fear is just an illusion. That’s what you taught me, right?” Dua grabbed her phone and bag. “As long as I know this, nothing can get hold of me.”

**********

Asfand slammed the file shut. A newfound hate and rage burnt his insides, the more he rewound what he learnt just now. How could I not know? He grabbed the lamp and smashed it on the floor in anger.

Everything on his table was destroyed by his rage.

“What now?” He didn’t answer Safan. What was there to answer? “I warned you, didn’t I? But you never listened.”

“I don’t need your preaching Safan. I need a fucking solution to this mess.”

“Confront her” Asfand couldn’t decide what to make of his suggestion. Laugh on it or take it seriously. “Just ask her directly. What is so hard about it?”

“What is so hard about it?” Asfand barked a cold laugh. “I will tell you what is so easy about it. She was forced to watch her sister gang raped by my so-called cousin and his men. Do you know how old she was at that time?” Safan pursed his lips. “Need I have to remind you what witnessing a rape is like?”

“No one can know better than you Asfand.” Safan countered sharply and Asfand looked away from his inquisitive eyes. “Why didn’t you try and find out that time? Why didn’t you try to know what your uncle was doing before you agreed on doing what he wanted? Since when did you start listening to him?”

“I had no fucking idea-”

“You had to go all deft only at that moment?” Asfand snarled at him. “You are partly responsible for everything Asfand. Don’t think you can get it easy. You just want to create more mess in order to get done with your shit.”

“Safan!”

“It’s your fucking ego that is bruised and cannot digest the truth. You cannot get yourself to believe because you are so fucking doubtful of everything. You are not bothered by what happened to her. You are angry because she is meeting Sarim behind your back.”

“Shut up Safan-”

“Don’t deny it Asfand. You wouldn’t have given a dime if it was her as well who got rape-”

“Shut up, you fucker!” Asfand pressed the gun to his forehead.

“It won’t change the truth.” Safan replied calmly while looking at him head on. “Even if you shoot me right now, it is not going to change the truth that you were going to do the exact same thing. To your own wife.” Asfand gnashed his teeth at his words. “Ammara was nothing to Anser but Dua was married to you. You tried to assault her and you threatened to sell her that night. And what you are doing now is no different as well.” Their faces went blank as the moment ticked by. “There is no difference between you and yo-”

Shot

Dua was startled when she heard gunshot. From his study. But she made no attempt to go and check. She couldn’t and she wouldn’t. She was still shook from what happened last night. Asfand reminded her of Anser Sherzai in every way.

Asfand was worse than that animal.

“You want me to check?” Xian inquired but she just kept looking towards west wing.

“Just get done with everything.” He nodded and right on cue, Safan appeared in the exact hallway entrance. He seemed restless which made them look at each other in question. Safan saw Dua and a frown appeared on his face.

“Good evening” He approached them briskly. She has worst timing of all. “Not my place but it would be best if you stay out of his sight for now. Asfand won’t be coming out of his study so you can rest at ease. But if by some luck, you do end up facing him, refrain from saying anything.”

“You want me to arrange your stay in Saidpur for the night?” Xian was not going to leave her here. Not now and at any cost.

“That won’t be necessary.” Dua faced Safan with a sweet smile that could fool anyone. “Your concern is appreciated.”

“It’s not you whom I’m concerned about. You are malefic for his life” Safan scoffed lowly. “But it was my duty to forewarn since you are married to him. Rest is up to you ma’am.”

“He is brutally honest.” Dua chuckled when Safan walked away from them. “Shows his loyalty.”

“Be careful” Xian knew Dua was strong and could handle herself but still, he couldn’t help but worry at times. Because she started suffering in silence than voice her pain.

“Young miss?” Ida approached her in worry when Xian left. “Are you alright Dua baby?” Apparently everyone heard the commotion but no one dared to approach his territory. “What is going on?”

“You don’t have to worry.” Ida was perplexed by the smile Dua gave. It was too calm and composed. “Get the dinner ready.” Dua stopped near staircase and turned upon remembering something. “Ida? Is it done?”

“Yes.” A smile graced her beautiful face once again. “And he didn’t doubt me planting it.” Dua won’t need to go to Asfand anymore. Every information she need will crawl towards her on its own.

**********

The continuous knock on the door was giving Asfand an additional headache. He woke up with a groan and looked around slightly disoriented. He didn’t leave his study for whole night and drank non-stop to stop the buzzing in his head. Now it felt like million nails were drilled in it simultaneously. Asfand sat up straight and cursed loudly when another wave of pain hit his nerves. And the constant knock was only making it worse.

“What?” He snapped at whoever was on the opposite side. He was in such a foul mood that he could kill if anyone dared to approach him in this moment.

“Saeen?” the quivering voice of his butler, Shafiq made him get up and see. What’s so urgent that he couldn’t wait?

“What?” Shafiq flinched in fear. He knew his Saeen was in bad mood but the problem at hand could only be dealt by him. “Leave-”

“Saba bibi is here.” Asfand stopped midway. “She is not ready to leave unless she sees you.” Fucking great. His fists balled in anger. Asfand was so enthralled by Dua that he completely forgot about this unwanted trouble he lured towards himself.

“Is Dua awake?” Asfand inquired sternly. She needs to stay away from this. “Where is she?”

“Dua bibi has woken up an hour ago but she didn’t come downstairs. Ida served her coffee in room.” That’s a relief.

“Make sure no extra ears are around the place.” Shafiq nodded and left. The sooner this mess gets over, the better. Asfand already had his hands full with his haughty wife. There was no room left for anyone else. Never was and never will be. Anymore.

Asfand rubbed his face and combed his thick hair with his fingers multiple times to ease down the traces of his drowsiness. His steps were firm and confident as he came towards the main hall. Anger was visible all over his face and in his stance upon seeing the unwanted intruder in his home. And life.

“What are you doing here?” His bitter question made the girl stand from couch. “Leave.”

“Asfand!” His jaw ticked when Saba called him with so much familiarity. How many times he told her not to call him Asfand yet she persist. It always annoyed him. Her act of obedience. When in reality, she was anything near that.

She was daddy’s spoilt little girl who got obsessed with his charms and demanded to have him like a trophy to flaunt. And Asfand played her like a card to get what he wanted. She meant nothing for him because of the sham she posed. And now, he didn’t need this card to get what he wanted. It was bound to come to him on its own.

His queen was going to win everything on his behalf.

“How many times did I tell you not to call me that?” His brashness brought tears to her eyes which did nothing to melt his stone-cold heart. Women and their tactics. “Just leave.”

“I am not going to leave.” Asfand looked away with a scoff when she came to him. “Why did you do this to me? I gave you everything Asfandyar. Then why did you betray me?” Asfand looked at her hands on his collars. If she wasn’t Behroze’s daughter, he would have broken her hands for this disrespectful behavior. “Why did you marry that woman? When you hated liberal women so much?” Asfand was sick of her childish tantrums. She better leave before Dua sees her. “Baba told me she is from America. She is nothing like what you desire. She is bold and-”

“Your baba sure told you a lot, then didn’t he tell you why?” Asfand grabbed her hands and pushed them away. “What do you know about what I want?”

“I am what you want” His brow rose in mock at her confidence. “Just look at me Asfandyar. Look at us. We are made for each other and I am not letting anyone ruin us.” If she knew, she wouldn’t be able to look herself in the eye. “You can’t do this to me. I won’t let you leave me for another woman.”

“Another woman?” Their head shot towards stairs where Dua stood with coffee in one hand and other arm wrapped over her abdomen. She was amused by the drama unfolding before her eyes. So, he didn’t want me to find out about his engagement to this little girl. To Behroze’s daughter. Can luck be any generous? “Who is this another woman?” Her hazel eyes turned cold when she saw Saba and how close she was standing to her husband. He chose this brat?

Dua could tell Saba was shocked to see her and this brought a taunting smirk to her rosy lips. She made her way down the stairs leisurely and sat on the lush couch across them, with one leg crossed over other gracefully. Her playful smile never left her face which was acid to Saba’s ego.

Saba Behroze Alvi was so proud of her father’s power and boastful of her beauty and wealth. When she got engaged to Asfandyar, the most eligible bachelor and also her crush, she felt like she won the biggest trophy in life. She even wove a web of lies, to make herself look like what she was not. To make Asfand desire her. But she couldn’t and now she knew why.

Looking at Dua broke her every illusion. She was nothing compared to this woman. Even if she gave up all of her father’s wealth, she could never be anything near Dua. She couldn’t become D. Almas Sahi. There was certain charm to this woman that made Saba lower her eyes in shame. Saba lost without even trying.

The confidence, strength, grace and attitude Dua bore while sitting so casually in nothing but a plain t-shirt and palazzo trousers stood no match. No make-up and hair thrown up in messy bun whereas Saba was dolled up and dressed immaculately to belittle his new toy. To prove she was best match for Asfandyar and no one else.

But she ended up making a joke out of herself.

“You can’t do this to me Asfandyar” Saba tried desperately one more time and her desperation made Dua nauseous. “I-”

“I am not your father’s property Saba and you are not a child anymore who cannot understand what this means” Asfand pushed her hand back that tried to grab his arm. “I never wanted to marry you. It was just a fucking business deal. Stop humiliating yourself and leave.”

“You are not being fair Asfand.” Dua didn’t like it. Saba’s familiarity with her husband. “I came in your life first. I was engaged to you. You cannot give my place to anyone, just like that. I won’t let you do this to me. You can’t leave me for this second woman-”

“Daddy dear forgot to educate you completely Saba” Asfand interrupted her with a jeer. “Dua is not second woman. You are.” Her eyes widen in shock and Dua felt tad bit bad for this poor soul. But she asked for it. “I have been married to her for seven years. I just got my wife back.” Dua looked at him silently. His words surprised and shook her a little.

Dua couldn’t understand Asfand. Not after living with him these past days. She thought she knew Asfand but it was just an illusion of the image she bore of him from past. This man before her was same yet not at the same time.

This man before her that she wasn’t able to understand.

This man who claimed her as his wife yet he almost tried to rape her twice. This man who is so proud to claim his title on her yet he was ready to sell her after their wedding night.

This man...

Saba didn’t want to believe it. She was not going to believe it. If it was not for his eyes that declared his claim on Dua so boldly and loudly. Asfand wanted her and no one else. There was this fire in his eyes that burnt with untamed passion whenever he said her name. Saba never saw or felt same for herself in the period she was engaged to him. She never felt any closure to him that she felt between these two in this fluctuating moment.

Asfand was never hers.

He was always Dua’s and he didn’t even know it.

Sometimes, a harsh slap of reality is necessary to dissipate the dulcet concept human build.

Saba ran away in tears but the couple felt no sympathy towards her. They didn’t look or say anything to each other. They were not going to. Dua looked in time when Asfand finally faced her.

There was no question in her silence and no answer in his eyes.

The moment stretched but neither blinked nor moved. It was a silent battle between their egos that none was going to prevail or yield.

“I love weekends” A small smile graced her lips when she got up. “They always bring something peaceful.” Dua grabbed her mug and went towards the media lounge. Her statement didn’t sit well with Asfand. He knew what peace meant for Dua and this set alarms in his head. His feet carried him towards her on their own.

Something is coming. He could feel it. His phone buzzed and Asfand answered it at the same moment Dua switched on the smart t.v.

Multiple explosions at Marwa Oil Refinery has shook the business world overnight. Three internal explosions are reported last night at main plant in Mouza Kund, Balochistan.

According to one witness, main control room caught a small fire that ended up destroying major part of the plant. No loss of life could be reported so far along with what could have actually ensued this mishap.

Billions invested in the extension for Gwadar project have put Mr. Behroze Alvi in serious quandary. We tried to get hold of him and his business confederates-

“My deepest condolence-” Dua sipped her coffee leisurely when Asfand switched the news off. Her head turned and a taunting smirk appeared on her lips when he leaned over her by placing his hands on headrest on her either side. “-for your weekend.” Asfand gritted his teeth in anger when she didn’t blink away from him in fear. Like that night.

Damn this woman. He miscalculated her moves. He thought she was targeting Yusuf but she fooled them all. She fooled him. Asfand knew what this explosion was going to infer. Not only for those old geezers but for him as well. She played them in a web where one pull is going to bring death to others. This game was worse than Russian roulette.

One of them was definitely going to die by the end.

But which one?

“You are a cruel woman.” Her smirk turned to a poisonous smile that aroused Asfand. Her darkness was such a tease that he wanted to plunge deep within it. “So, this how you are going to execute your dissension?”

“Not even close” Asfand smirked in response. “There is a limit to it but not to revenge. You have to break the brink. And I am not even halfway through.”

“Is that so?” Asfand stood up straight and watched her face carefully. She bore no malice in her expressions or appearance yet her very existence was vitriolic.

She is going to be death of me.

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