Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 28

Dua watched the unfamiliar ceilings, disoriented until the reality kicked back hard. She had no idea how she ended up in their estate of Saidpur but she was glad. “Ouch!” her fractured ribs hurt but she bore the pain with dignity. She was not weak. And such blows were not enough to break her already broken self.

“I see someone is up” Her head shot towards the door in shock and tears were cascading down her cheeks before she even knew it. “Hey!” Haider placed the tray on the side-table and embraced her carefully. “I’m sorry” He whispered in her hair. “I’m really sorry Dee.” Dua just gripped his shirt tight. She didn’t knew loneliness until she saw Haider. She never knew how alone she was in this world. “I should have known better than leaving you here.”

“It’s a lovely surprise.” Haider didn’t reciprocate to her smile. It was fake and he was done. “When did you come? Did you come alone?”

“I came when you were unconscious and half dead.” Dua looked away from his inquisitive eyes. “And yes, I came alone because neither Dar-jee nor Amber bear the heart to see you in this condition.” Haider passed her the soup and Dua took it silently. “Don’t worry. They don’t know anything.” She just nodded while stirring the spoon in bowl. “I must say, you gave them a shocker. Azfar and Afroz could have never expected what you did, even in their wildest dreams and worst nightmares.”

“Now they will” Dua chuckled lowly. “Even with their eyes wide open. They got what they deserved but they have no idea how much more is coming their way.”

“That Wasiq will live the hell of it. Like father like son or should I say, even worse” Dua nodded. “Men like him need to be put in their places. And what could be better lesson than giving them a taste of their own medicine.”

“He will pay the price for his deeds to the end.” Haider hummed in response while watching her close. “What?”

“Everything is understandable Dee, but not this.” She knew what he meant. “Care to explain? Why would you let any of this happen?”

“I wasn’t looking forward to it either.” Haider grabbed the bowl from her hands and raised the spoon to her lips. Dua watched him in silence before giving up and let Haider feed her.

“That’s not the point of this question Dee” He carefully put another spoon in her mouth. “Have you seen your condition? Asfand treated you worse than an animal. Why would you suffer such a thing? Why would you let him raise hand on you willingly?” Dua lowered her gaze again. “This is not going to help you. I won’t stand for any of this.”

“It’s already done Hadi.” She shook her head when he tried to feed her again. “We already knew something like this was bound to happen.”

“Something like what?” His tone was calm. “This” Haider pointed towards Dua’s injuries,” doesn’t justify anything. What were you aiming to gain by letting him do this to you?”

“You think I would purposely let him harm me?” Haider chose not to say anything. “He is a man who is brought up with a thinking that raising hand on woman or harming them is no big deal.”

“And such men can never bear an ounce of guilt towards their actions.” Dua watched him silently. “Your plan was unimpeachable but your target was not. Asfandyar is not a man of regrets Dee. I’m not underestimating you but you sure are underestimating your husband. No matter how impeccable your moves may be, that man’s acuity can see far ahead in the game.” Her fists clenched by her sides. Dua knew Haider was going to catch on everything.

Of why she purposely pushed Asfand to raise his hand on her.

One word, one sentence and that man reacted the way she expected.

Asfand played right by how she wanted him to. Why? Because guilt and regret are lethal weapons. Arm with precision and they will create puppet out of strongest men in the world.

It was a dangerous gamble but Dua was willing to raise her stakes. She didn’t bear this for nothing. She was willing to go to any length and she will. Because by the end, every action will pay a hefty price.

And she will be the connoisseur.

“What?” She inquired when Haider stood up suddenly.

“We are done” Dua frowned at his manner of speech. “You are coming back to America with me.”

*********

The corridors of haveli were silent like a graveyard. Though people lived here and there was so much hustle bustle during daytime, this seven years old kid who was running through their darkness, never actually witnessed any happiness in the walls that surrounded him.

The walls that were his supposed home.

He finally reached his destination by the far-end of this grand place and stood outside the door like always. Only one light was on inside the room. It was illuminating multi-shaded glasses in the door. Their glow and pattern always fascinated him.

But his fascination never lived long.

He pushed open the door as stealthily as possible and sneaked inside the room without making any sound. His small feet padded across the carpeted floor carefully and he surveyed his surroundings like always.

His wandering eyes came to rest on the sole occupant of this big and mysterious room.

Like always, she was sitting on the bed and looking out through the window. Her expression, position and posture was same. And it made his little mind wonder, what was she looking at so keenly and deeply.

“Maa!” Her head turned and a beautiful smile lit up her face. She looked worn out day by day but whenever her son came to meet her secretly and called her maa, every anguish and pain vanished. She spread her arms wide and the young boy rushed in them.

“Mera bacha” She kissed his head and cheeks and hugged him again. “Let me look at you. Oh!” A lone tear fell from her eye when she gazed at his innocent face tenderly. “You are so much like your father” she kissed his forehead again. “I pray you become a man like him in every way.”

“Where is he?” His innocent question pierced her already stabbed heart. She has no answer to it. Not when the answer can prove itself to be a nightmare for her son. Her only reason to bear through this pain. “Why doesn’t he come to us? Maa! Ask abbu to take us with him. I don’t want to live here. They don’t let me meet you.” She hugged her son tightly and sobbed loudly. “Why do they hurt us maa? Why do they hurt you?”

If only she could tell him why?

“You need to go” She pulled away from her son suddenly and wiped her tears. She can’t let those beasts take away her son as well. “Stop coming here. If your chacha found out, he will hurt you.” The boy watched her mother silently. “I know beta. I know but I cannot help it. I don’t want them to hurt you.”

“But they hurt me all the time. Look” he raised his sleeve to show her the fresh wounds of sticks. Her heart clenched and she pulled him in her arms again. “Why do they hit me maa? It hurt so bad every time chacha beat me. I never do anything but he still hit me. My back hurt so much.”

“I’m sorry beta. I’m really sorry.” she rocked his tiny body back and forth in her arms.

“I will take you away from here maa. I promise.” he looked up and wiped her tears. “One day, these sufferings will remain no more.”

The door banged open and in walked the nightmare of their lives. The boy cowered in his mother’s lap when he saw his uncle. He never saw devil but he knew he might look like this man who was sneering at them.

“There you are my little nephew.” The closer his wobbly steps brought his drunk body towards them, the stronger his mother shook in fear. “What did I tell you, huh? I told you not to set foot in this part of the haveli.” Their breath hitched when he stopped by their sides and looked down at them with hunger filled crazy eyes. “You mother/son never learn.”

“No!” The woman screamed when the man snatched her son and threw him on the floor. “Please, don’t hurt him. I beg you. Have mercy on us. Please!” She was bowing to his feet and the little boy was looking at this scene through hazy mind.

“I like it when you beg but not for this” His uncle dragged her up by hair and threw her away. “I will teach you a very valuable lesson today woman but first” he turned to the small body cowering away in fear on the floor. “Let me carve in you to never disobey me.”

He saw the whip in his hand and next he heard strong lashes coming in contact with his tender flesh that was already bloody and bruised.

“Please, no. Have mercy. I beg you, please” His mother was crying somewhere but he couldn’t see where. “No!”

“M-maa” the little boy reached out towards his mother feebly who was crying with blood in her eyes upon watching his little body get mutilated so brutally.

“Asfand!”

“Asfand!”

Safan entered his study after a brief knock. He didn’t bother looking towards Asfand. He knew what sight his eyes will welcome.

Safan was still shook by everything that occurred a week ago. Not that he expected any mercy from this man but seeing him raise hand on a woman and that his own wife, was not something he expected. No matter how much hate Asfand bore towards that gender, Safan knew there were certain lines he would never cross.

But that night, he proved him wrong.

“They couldn’t locate their bodies.” Safan loosened his tie and leaned against the table. “The explosion was nasty and it’s source couldn’t be determined as well.” Safan observed Asfand closely. He looked like a mess. His hands haven’t recovered. If any, he could see fresh blood on his bandages. I guess he mutilated them again.

Asfand hasn’t left his study over days and was drinking nonstop. Safan knew he didn’t need to worry unnecessary about their work. Even if Asfand planned on ruining himself in the moment, he had everything under control.

It was his own being Safan was worried about.

This man doesn’t let anyone know what goes on in his top floor. And leaving him alone now gave birth to a different kind of fear within him.

“Are you listening to me?”

“I’m listening to you” Asfand poured himself another glass. “So shut the fuck up.” His voice was raspy. “I don’t care about their bodies. You don’t have to care about their funeral as well. Just prepare for another take-over.”

“Fucking get your shit together Asfand.” A shattering noise echoed through the silence. Every bottle was now lying on the floor as Asfand stomped over them to destroy other things. Safan heaved another sigh and watched him raise a hurricane on himself. He has completely lost count of the number of times they got him and his study fixed.

“She is fine” His hand stopped midair. “They took her to their estate in Saidpur. She has been living there and she sustained no serious damage. Your wife is one tough woman.” His hand fell to his side animatedly which made Safan chuckle.

“What’s so funny bastard?” Asfand didn’t turn but Safan knew he was glaring murderously at the floor.

“Nothing.” Safan shook his head in amusement. “When it comes to you, nothing could be funny. You don’t even know the meaning of joke. But there is something you need to know. A joke.” His head tilted over his shoulder. “You thought your wife was playing you behind your back?” Now Safan got Asfand’s full attention. “Unfortunate for you but there was nothing of the sort. That army brat was practically begging for her attention. Alas! He couldn’t get any.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Sarim tried to turn Dua on you. Army doubted that explosion of Ismael’s deployment was your doing. He has been stalking her like a psycho this past month. When she didn’t listen to him, he turned the bullet to you.” Asfand scowled at him darkly. “He knew what mentality you bore and he hit the bull’s eye. Your wife bore no knowledge of what that fucker was doing. He just manipulated you into his bidding and you did what he wanted, like an obedient dog.”

“Safan!” His fists balled in anger. His hand was itching to reach for his gun and shoot Safan to mock him so openly.

But he was right.

It was not that he believed Sarim. That fucker was nothing to him and he knew Dua was not entertaining him either. That woman wouldn’t even consider that pest in million years. Her agreement to marry Sarim was just to get what she wanted. What angered Asfand were her words and how she saw him. He lost his cool on that single word he never wanted to hear from her mouth.

But the damage was done.

Before he knew it, he raised his hand. He forced himself to believe that he was not ashamed of his action but there was this prickly feeling that was not leaving. And with each passing day, it was growing without his consent and he was hating it.

“Haider is here” Asfand slumped in his chair. He knew it was bound to happen. They were keeping eyes and ears on everything that was going around their precious Dua.

“What does it matter?” Asfand was not worried about what Haider Shah will do. He never worried about what any of them will do. “It’s not like he could do anything.” He opened the files Safan brought. “What?” Safan was jeering at him again.

“That’s where you are wrong again man.” Asfand couldn’t get what Safan meant and Safan didn’t give him the opportunity to understand as well. “He is taking her back to America.”

*********

Their throats hurt because of their screams that reached no ear. They could barely stand but there was no other choice. Everlasting darkness surrounded them as they counted their breaths to their demise.

“Jalal?” Behroze rasped while trying to keep his feet steady. He knew what a blink in wrong direction could bring to either of them. “Can you hear me?”

“Where are we?” Jalal breathed heavily. “What the fuck happened?” His feet staggered and a painful grunt broke through Behroze when the choker blinked red and cut his air short. “Sorry”

“Don’t move too much” Behroze could barely keep his balance and he didn’t want to die. Not like this. They could barely keep up with the reality. They were constantly slipping in and out of consciousness because of the damage they sustained from their accident. Their wounds were still open and bleeding and their current position was only making it worse.

All they remembered was the accident, explosion and this dark room that was worse than a grave. They couldn’t even see each other. It put them to ease that they were not alone but this solace was going to become their biggest distress in coming moment.

“We-”

The door opened and a flicker of light entered the dark room, illuminating the shadows and silhouettes of people that poured in. Their footsteps were calm, steady and their echo was making their heart beat furiously in fear of the outcome.

A chair screeched to a halt and next, the dark room flooded with light and forced them to close their eyes at the sting it brought. Behroze was the first to notice the person sitting across them on the lone chair leisurely in this big black room with lone door.

“Me. Yes, Mr. Alvi. No need to be so surprised.” Dua smiled and crossed one leg over the other gracefully. “Even I have to pay a reasonable price to everything I am bound to claim.” Her fingers grazed the white bandage around her forehead casually. “Careful” Jalal stopped moving. “If you move too much, your accomplice is going to meet death.” Her eyes focused on Behroze once again. “I can see it Mr. Alvi” Dua chuckled and leaned back. “The fear and desperation behind the failing bravado and anger.”

“You remember everything” She just smiled. “You fucking bit-”

“Careful” he grunted in pain when the choker tightened around his neck. “It doesn’t only react to your movements but also to the language.”

“What do you want?” Jalal choked on his words. “What do you want from us?”

“What did you want from us?” Her calm expressions clearly gave away the raging storm inside her. “I want all of that.”

“We don’t-”

“Don’t be too conceited Mr. Alvi” Dua chuckled humorlessly. “Don’t think so low of me. What I desire is far above your wealth.”

“Just let us go.” And the pride finally crumbles. “We never wanted to be part of any of that. We never thought Afroz will stoop so low. If we knew he was doing all that for revenge on your family, we wouldn’t have become part of it.”

“Is that so?” Dua watched her rings casually. “Then why didn’t you stop them or backed out?” They had no answers. “Why did you watch it happen to the end?” Her inquisitive tone turned harsh and cold when she stood up to face them squarely. “Why did you stay to laugh at the pain being inflicted on those innocent lives?”

“We had no choi-”

“Let me guess the rest. They threatened our families. They forced us. etc. etc. etc. If there is something new, do grace us with the knowledge.” She looked towards Xian when he stepped next to her. “Before the time runs out.”

“Wait! Please” her brow shot up in amusement when the choker around their neck beeped furiously. It was Jalal who was thrashing violently without bothering about the outcome Behroze was suffering. “Just hear us out. Give us a chance to set this right. We want to set this right. We want to help you avenge your family. Right Behroze?” Dua kept looking at them blankly. “Please! Just one chance.”

“You know what that thing is, around your neck?” Dua pointed towards the metal chokers that were interconnected through long chains. Even with the slightest change in their motion, they get triggered to red-zone and their hold around their necks tightened with automatic shortening in the length of the chains holding them. “This is something peculiar in the way it works. Just like a garrote.” She sat back in her chair and watched them with a smile. “There is only one difference.” Both men looked at her with heart in their mouths. “It has no deactivation key. It can only come off in one condition.”

“What?” Dua mused at their impatience. “Please!”

“Death” she hummed thoughtfully at their ashen expressions. “It could be you” she pointed to Behroze and moved her finger towards Jalal. “Or you Mr. Sehgal. Unfortunate but one have to die for other to live.”

“You are playing us.” Behroze screamed. “She is playing us. Don’t listen to her Jalal. This woman is playing us.” Dua shrugged casually and looked towards the door when it opened again. Aya came with a tray in hand and stopped once she was by her side. “It was you, wasn’t it? You killed Nawab, Ismael and Thompson.”

“You are correct about two” Dua replied calmly. “But I didn’t kill Thompson. One of you got to him before I could.” Behroze gulped loudly. “Enough with dallying around. Let’s come to business. Aya!”

“Yes” Aya took the tray forward and uncovered it. Behroze and Jalal looked at her in confusion when she extended two identical black files towards them with identical pens.

“That’s the key to your survival. A signature is all it will take for this snare to come off.” Dua twisted the ring on her index finger leisurely. “I am in no hurry gentlemen. Take your time.” She leaned back in her chair and surfed through her phone casually.

It was not going to take long. One of them was bound to bend before the next minute was over.

“JALAL!” Behroze hollered when he took the file and pen from Aya hurriedly. “What are you-”

“I’m done and sick of this already.” He signed each paper hurriedly. “I never wanted to become part of this. I never wanted to become part of such a hideous crime. Yusuf was right. Sticking around them won’t bring any good. It’s-”

Shot

Dua watched amused when bullets continued piercing his limp body. Behroze didn’t even blink while killing him in cold blood. He kept pressing the trigger even when the last of bullet was embedded deep within his friend’s flesh.

“You don’t get to act righteous” he spat bitterly and let the gun drop from his hand animatedly. His empty eyes went towards Dua. “You are no less than a monster, Dua Feroze Rahija. You are no less than Sherzai bastards.”

“You created one” She stood up calmly and came to him. “You are responsible for what your eyes are witnessing in me.” She thrust the pen in his hands. “The game is not over yet Mr. Alvi. You ought to play to the end.” His hands shook when the file was opened before him but he signed his life to her nonetheless. There was no other option left. She was the puppeteer of this game.

From the very beginning.

“Does this remind you of something?” Dua looked at the metal choker around his neck. “This position. This predicament and this helplessness.” Behroze knew. He knew and he remembered it very well.

How they forced her parents into same position for days and nights before their very eyes.

But what Dua did was far worse than what they did.

In every way.

“I cannot forget it. I couldn’t forget it” She faced him again with now red eyes. “In fact, I am still seeing them. Here. In your place and do you know how that is making me feel?” Behroze was bewildered by the madness in her hazel eyes.

She was thirsty for it. Their blood and she was not going to stop until she claimed every last drop.

“I did what you asked me” he begged helplessly. He would have knelt before her if he could. But she was not even allowing him to grovel by her feet. “I will go away if you want. I will do as you say. I will become your witness against Sherzai-”

“You know” she chuckled bitterly, “others offered the same thing but you see” she stepped back and smiled that innocent smile when the choker turned red around his neck. “It got them nowhere.”

“Please!” Behroze choked. “You said-”

“I did” Dua replied without blinking away from the grotesque scene his bulging eyes, bleeding mouth, nose and ears were presenting. The choker was not a simple strangle. It was embedded with poisonous needles. They were now inserted deep within his throat to let the venom reach and melt his organs, muscles and blood vessels slowly and painfully from inside out.

“And I am doing what I promised.” The last of life left his eyes and his body was nothing more than a lump of meat. Dua didn’t blink away from them. She was not going to. “Every action has it’s consequences.” She was halfway through but the journey was far from over.

“Your orders?” Dua stepped back and turned when Xian and Aya stood by her either side.

And now this game was going to change as well.

“Make sure to light the candles to their departure.”

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