“Get the car ready Xian. I’ll meet you downstairs.” Dua stood up after her meeting was concluded with Rizwan Abbas. She had struck another nail to the coffin after buying this I.T Company. All that was left for now was to wait.
For the right moment to strike the remaining pieces on the board.
“It’s an immense pleasure to do business with you.” Dua smiled politely in return and stood up. She was done for the day. “If there is anything else, do let us know.”
“There is one thing Mr. Abbas.” Dua checked the time on her watch casually. “Don’t try to double cross me.” The man paled at the warning behind her calm expressions. She said it so casually but he could see what danger her words held. “Thank you for your time and cooperation.” Rizwan nodded and wiped the sweat on his forehead once she left. He now knew why D. Sahi held that reputation. This woman was not to be messed with.
“Schedule my meeting with Khan tomorrow. Call Aya and ask her to collect the files.” Dua checked the time again as she made her way to the elevators. “There is nothing more. You are done for the day. Shaheer will escort you home Iram. You cannot travel alone for now. Be at time tomorrow.” She disconnected the call and her steps came to abrupt halt when a person came in front of her so suddenly. “I-”
The surprise was mutual for both of them. They blinked at each other twice before collecting their composure. Dua was first to step back from Asfand. Her actions only infuriated Asfand but he made no comment about it. He couldn’t because they were in a public place. Everyone in this seven star hotel knew him very well and he didn’t want to give them any reason to gossip.
But he couldn’t help the curiosity.
“What brings you here?”
“Same thing as you” his brow shot up at her sarcastic retort. “Business meeting. I’ll take my leave now. Have a good night.” Asfand wanted to stop her when she walked past him but his ego didn’t let him. It was almost a month but she showed no signs of returning. She didn’t go back with Haider. Asfand knew she won’t. Not until she was done with her revenge.
But that didn’t mean she needed to stay with him.
“Sir?” His thoughts were interrupted by his secretary. “They are waiting in the conference hall.” He stormed towards his destination at rather angry pace. Asfand could make Dua come back to him on her own in more than one ways. He was this close to torment her will to his subjugation. But he held back. After their last tiff, he didn’t want to let his anger rule his decisions when it comes to his haughty wife. He was going to make her come back to him.
On her own free will.
“You don’t need to escort me down. I need some time alone.” Dua pressed the button to the lobby and stepped inside the empty elevator. Her guards stepped back with bowed heads. It meant trouble for them but Dua needed to be alone. “Take the next elevator. Be fast gentlemen.” The door closed and she leaned against the wall with a sigh. One look at that man and she remembered everything along with her conversation with Noor Bi. A week passed and her words were still fresh in her memory.
She wanted Dua to return home. To return by Asfand’s side.
If she had been the woman of that family, Dua wouldn’t even have considered sparing a glance in her direction. She didn’t mean disrespect. Dua was taught better but it didn’t mean she will go easy on any member that bore the name Sherzai.
But there was something different about Noor Bi. The moment she saw her, she felt respect towards her. And after having that conversation, she knew why. That woman was charismatic, headstrong, willful and dignified in her own way. And she might understand why Asfand respect her as well.
She was the one who brought him up. But her upbringing was overpowered and overshadowed by the teachings of his uncle.
“Just like Dar-jee said.” A sudden jerk broke her chain of thoughts. Dua braced herself when the lift shook violently and stopped moving altogether. Lights went off and darkness engulfed her from every direction. “Shit!” She rushed to the control panel and pressed on the help button furiously. “Hello!” She banged her palms against the steel doors. It didn’t seem like anyone could hear or know what happened. She checked her phone but there was no reception. Dua cursed under her breath and looked around frantically.
It was not that she was afraid to be stuck in the lift. It was the memory. She could feel the four walls closing in on her from every direction. She clawed at her throat when the darkness choked her. She could hear their sneers from outside.
In this moment, she was not inside an elevator but that dark box full of water in which they used to submerge her for hours, just to torment her.
Dua pressed the button on her watch and linked the situation to Aya and Xian. She was unable to command orders or let them know herself. Her condition was worsening and she could barely formulate any coherent thoughts. Her system will have to do the job for now.
“Op-en th-e do-or” Her palms feebly connected with the door again but no one was here to get her out. Just like no one was there to help her that time. “Pleas-e!” Cold sweat broke through her and her heartbeat turned wild. She could feel the water filling up this closed space once again. Her phone fell along with her bag and the beeping of her watch turned furious. Someone was calling her but she was unable to answer.
She was once again stuck within the limbo of present and past.
Dua slumped to the floor with heavy breaths. She tucked her knees to her chest and buried her head between them to hide from her painful memories.
Xian was almost by their cars in the underground parking when his watch started beeping furiously. The moment he saw the red dot, he ran back the way while commanding orders. He knew something was bound to happen sooner or later.
He knew they were going to strike.
“Boss!” His men rushed to him by the entrance of the main hotel. The place was in chaos already. “We have a situation-” Xian had him up by his collar before he could spout anymore.
“Your duty was to stick by her side no matter what. Why did you fucking leave her alone?” The man paled at the sight of him. “Fucking good for nothing piece of shit. Do your job or get out of my sight.”
“She said to leav-”
“And you left when you clearly know what can happen.” They bowed their heads in shame. “Fuck!”
“There is a single elevator stuck on fifteenth floor” One of his men stepped forward. “There is a single jam but they are not letting other elevators to be approached in any way.”
“I know the fuck they are doing.” Xian spat venomously and his men followed him closely. “Aya!” he spoke through his earpiece. “I don’t have time to explain. Secure the hotel down to its last control room. Hack in to their every system. We have a situation at fifteenth floor.”
“Do you want me to come in person?” She was already in motion with her team.
“No, just make sure we have this building in our control.” Xian turned to his team once they reached the stairs. “Spread and look out for any suspicious activity or men. I want half of you under the route of that lift. Spread out the tensile web, just in case. Make sure nothing happens that should not happen.” They nodded in sync and dispersed. Xian looked at his beeping watch once again and ran towards fifteenth floor.
“Nothing will happen to you kiddo. I won’t let anything happen this time.”
Asfand was in the middle of meeting when Safan barged in the hall without permission. Everyone looked around with hushed murmurs and Asfand frowned at his rash behavior. But before he could do anything, Safan dropped the bomb.
“We have a situation.” Asfand scowled at him when he whispered in his ear. “It’s Dua. She is in danger.” Asfand was out of the hall in the next moment. “We don’t know exactly but Azfar is going to attack her.”
“Fuck!” Asfand got out his phone and called someone. “Call Xian right now. Just ask if she is with him.” Safan nodded and immediately got to the task. Asfand was cursing nonstop because her number was unreachable. It would have been fine if she disconnected his call. He opened the tracker on his phone and a deep scowl marred his face when the green dot showed within the hotel. Wasn’t she leaving?
“An elevator is stuck at fifteenth floor. There is only a single occupant inside. The technicians are working on it but we don’t-”
“Find Xian and see to it yourself Safan” Asfand didn’t stop to hear the rest. He took two steps at a time. He didn’t need to confirm it was her. He knew.
“Dua!” his fists banged against the closed doors. “Dua! Can you hear me?” A loud screeching sound responded in reply and his heartbeat turned wild when his ears picked a faint whimper. “For fucks sake!” he threw off his coat and loosened his tie. He was constantly banging and pushing at the doors. He needed a lever to open it fully. “Dua!”
Asfand went around the wide halls but there was nothing that could be used as a lever. He raked his hair in frustration and was about to turn when the door behind him opened and the housekeeper yelped in shock upon seeing him. He glared at her first and looked at the trolley she was holding.
“I’m taking this.” He broke the mop in half and took the iron bar with him. “Just work.” The early screeching became louder. He knew what this sound was. The lift was going to crash. He pressed the rod between the crack he managed to open and pulled the doors apart with all his might. “Dua!” Asfand yelled when he saw her curled against one corner. She was shaking badly and was constantly hitting her head against the wall. “Dua! Look at me. I said look at me.”
“Ge-t m-e ou-t. Ca-n’t br-eath” His heart twisted at her words and her scream tore through him when the lift shook again. He couldn’t go in because the opening was too small for his size. He didn’t know how delicate the situation was. He needed her to move before it fall.
“You need to get her out” He knew this voice very well. “The cablees are completely annihilated.” Xian briefed him on the situation. His hands were bleeding because the tensile wires were cutting through his flesh but he held on. He was not going to let anything happen to this child. “I can’t reach down or make any movement. Pull her out. I can’t hold on any longer.” Asfand looked up at the vent with a scowl and then down at his wife. The situation was indeed dire.
“Dua! Look at me.” her head shot towards him reluctantly. Asfand felt as if someone ripped him from inside when he saw the fear and helplessness in her eyes. “Come here. You need to move. Just take my hand.” She was crying silently and it was enough to fire his rage. ”Janaan! I’m here. Nothing will happen. Just take my hand.”
“I can’t breathe.” She choked on her words and looked at him pleadingly. “They won’t let me out. I can’t breathe. Please! Help.” Both men were seething with unadulterated fury. What the fuck did they do to her? “Help me.”
“Dua!” She looked up when she heard Xian. “I’m here. Nothing will happen. You are brave, you are far above this. Get up and go to him. You need to be strong kiddo.”
“Xian!” He nodded down at her with tiniest of smiles.
“Remember, fear is just an illusion and choice is always yours.” Asfand was not liking their interaction, but anything at the moment was better to get her out. “He is here for you. You need to go to him.” Dua looked at Asfand.
“I am here to help. Just take my hand.” Asfand extended his arm further down. “You can trust me. I won’t let you get hurt. Just come to me.” Dua looked at him for a moment. There was something in his very presence that gave her the courage to get up.
“Keep your eyes on me and come.” She nodded absentmindedly and rushed to grab his hand. Certain calm washed over her hysterics when she felt the callousness of his palm in between her soft ones. She looked at Asfand in question. “You are not a coward and I’m not letting anything happen to you.” He pulled her up and out just in time.
The lift crashed the moment Dua was in the safety of his arms. Asfand couldn’t believe the sheer luck of this moment. His mind was still trying to comprehend what just happened and what could happen.
Asfand steadied Dua to her feet and before he could have stepped away, her arms came around his torso in an iron hold. He was stoned to shock when Dua embraced him so suddenly. He could feel the tremors of her body, her rapid heartbeat and shallow breaths. His own heart turned wild when she buried her face in his chest.
Her frightened state kicked off a protective instinct within him. His hand went to her head involuntarily and he snaked other arm around her back to keep her from falling. She was badly shook from this incident and the way she behaved, he knew it triggered an event from the past.
A memory that was tainted by cruelty.
Asfand didn’t try to comfort her by words. He couldn’t because he didn’t know how this thing worked. He was going to let her calm down on her own and he was just going to be a wall on which she could lean. For now.
Seconds stretched to minutes but Dua didn’t pull away from Asfand. Her heartbeat and breathing turned normal and she felt in little control over herself. But she didn’t move back from this armor that was engulfing her whole. She was feeling safe in an inexplicable way and she didn’t want to let go of this anchor.
But reality was not going to let this dream prolong any longer.
“Dua!” Xian rushed to them with Safan. Her eyes opened and focused on the firm chest of her husband. She could feel his eccentric heartbeat. It was on par with hers. His arms were still holding her in place against him. Holding her close like she belonged where she was currently residing. She could feel eyes on them but all she could see were his green forests. Their intensity made her breath hitch for a whole different reason.
But the moment he blinked, this dream was broken as well.
Dua pulled away from Asfand and turned the other way. Xian saw everything that transpired between them. Safan too. How can they not? Their silence spoke louder than words but these two turned the deaf ear to it.
“Are you okay?” She nodded at Xian. Asfand hasn’t torn his eyes away from her. Not even once and his presence was overpowering her in so many ways. It was choking her for a whole different reason and she just wanted to run away.
“You need to be more prudent” Asfand smirked at her tauntingly. “You are not the only hunter in this game anymore.” He grabbed his jacket from the floor and hooked it over his shoulder. “The remaining players are not going to make it easy for you. They have now affirmed your intentions and unfortunately, not everyone possess the dignity to attack head on.” Dua didn’t break away from their stare contest. “Safan!”
“Saeen!” Asfand walked away and Dua watched his retreating back silently until Xian cut in her line of vision.
“Find me the name.”
“You need to kill me.”
“I can’t bear with this anymore. Just take my life. I’d rather die at your hands than theirs.”
“Spare me of this lifelong despair. I don’t have much left in me.”
The gun was aimed on her forehead. She was smiling at him even though he was watching her with dead eyes. She knew she was responsible for everything. Because she didn’t have it in her. She just hoped this will free him of the fate that meant nothing but death.
“I’m sorry” she whispered when a single tear fell from her eye. “I’m sorry that I was not strong enough.” The safety was unlocked and the finger held the trigger.
One bullet will end this forever.
“Remember one thing, even in your death” he whispered coldly, “you are the very reason of my hatred.”
Asfand woke up with a start and looked around his room after sitting up. This was third time he woke up from his sleep like this. Not that he was sound asleep to begin with. He checked the time on the dial and rubbed his face with a groan. There was no way he could go back to sleep and there was no way he was going back to sleep.
Throwing the blanket off, he got up and made way to prayer room. It was time for fajr prayer and he knew Noor Bi will be there reciting Quran or praying nawafil. She was religious person and as long as Asfand could recall, he has always seen her on prayer mat.
“Can you recite this verse for me?” Asfand stopped outside the door. It must be Ushna. But when a soft and sweet voice filled his ears, he frowned.
It was not Ushna.
Curious to know who owned such angelic voice, Asfand walked inside the prayer room without knocking. He froze in his steps and watched the scene before him with wide eyes.
“Do you know what this verse means?” Noor Bi asked Dua affectionately. “If you take revenge, then do so in proportion to the wrong done to you. But if you bear it patiently, that is indeed best for those who are patient.” Dua listened to her silently. “Every matter should be left to Allah, for he is the best planner and avenger.” She smiled at the young soul.
“We humans think we know everything because we are made superior to other creatures. But that doesn’t elevate us above that one force who is the core of our existence. We might forget but he doesn’t. He is the best forgiver, the most affectionate but when it comes to injustice, he won’t spare a single sin unturned.”
“Dar-jee used to tell us the same thing when we were young. But, it still didn’t stop us from fighting over the last piece of our favorite cake.” Noor Bi chuckled mirthfully at her answer. She was indeed impressed and surprised. Dua was not what she thought her to be. When she made that request, Noor Bi was sure that Dua was either going to mock or turn her down blatantly. But she did neither. Dua came back to her home and she won her heart completely just now when she recited the verse from Holy Quran.
Being brought overseas, Noor Bi was expecting Dua to bear no knowledge of their culture and religion. But the young woman was full of surprises. It just showed how good her parents were and how greatly Jahangir Shah fulfilled the duty as her guardian.
But it was still not enough to stop her heart from losing its way to the sordid path of revenge.
Where Noor Bi was impressed, Asfand was awed. He couldn’t tear his eyes off her wife. Who was this creature really? She wasn’t looking anything like the Dua he knew. Dressed in a simple blue dress with a white dupatta wrapped around her head, she looked anything but the epitome of innocence and purity.
“I’m glad to see you here but not in the way you came.” Asfand tore his eyes away from Dua and looked at Noor Bi in question. She was looking thoroughly amused. “The first time he came in here on his own and that without a shirt. What has happened to the children of present?” She tsked while keeping a straight face. Noor Bi knew Asfand was totally knocked off his feet by her wife. Who won’t? Dua was such a beauty with purest of soul.
Dua looked at Asfand in silence. She could see the questions burning in his green orbs but she was not obliged to answer them. Not when she herself don’t know why she took certain decisions.
“I was going to wake you up but then I saw Dua. She was returning from her morning jog. So, I asked her to join me for my morning prayer.”
“When did you come?” His tone was so formal and curt.
“Last night. You were asleep.” So was her answer. Dua got up and pulled the dupatta off her head. “I need to get ready. I’ll see you at breakfast.” Noor Bi nodded with a smile and Dua made her way to the exit. She stopped by Asfand. Their eyes met for the tiniest part of second and then, she walked away like nothing happened.
“Can I say how proud of you I am feeling right now?” Asfand came inside the room. “For the first time in life, I can say you made a right decision. Though the path you chose was wrong. But what can we say in Allah’s matter? Only he know what he is doing.” Asfand mentally shook his head at her optimism.
“Do you want me to take you back to your room?” Noor Bi knew he wanted to avoid her questions. For how long? You will have to give them to me.
“I want to stay here some more. You should go as well” Asfand watched the old lady in silence. “There is still time and you look exhausted. I will see you at breakfast.” Asfand knelt before Noor Bi and held her hands to his mouth. “Stay blessed, stay happy and stay prosperous.” She kissed his forehead.
“But in your pursuit and prospect to become what you want, don’t forget to be who you really are.”