Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 33

For a few moments, Dua just lay still and watched the person lying beside her on the bed. His eyes were closed and no scowl or glare was adorning his face for a change. He was truly handsome and it was not just his looks. It’s the very way he existed. A small smile crept to her lip unknowingly, the longer she looked at his face that bore no hostility in the moment.

He looks peaceful, almost angelic.

Dua blinked once, twice and finally registered that it was not a dream. Asfand was indeed lying next to her, too close than she would have liked. And she was sleeping while holding his arm. Dua bolted up with a jolt and scrambled away from Asfand like he actually burnt her. She didn’t stay any longer and after changing into her jogging gear, left the room to free her mind of the plaguing thoughts.

She jogged longer than every other day and faster than normal. By the time, she was out of steam, every insane thought departed her as well and she returned to his estate and straight to his room.

Dua was surprised when she found Asfand still asleep. She looked at the time and frowned at the sleeping figure on the bed. He was a giant, took two-third of the bed which made her glare at him for no reason. Asfand was always awake by the time she returned from her jogging. He had a routine of his own and he was very strict about it. So, finding him in bed was a little off the track for Dua because they have always been acting alternative to each other.

“Maybe he came in really late.” Giving him one more glance, Dua went to bathroom. She took the shower, changed and was almost ready when their door knocked. She answered without leaving the dressing and Shafiq came to her with bowed head.

“Aslam-o-alaikum Dua bibi” She greeted the old man in return. “Noor Bi has asked that you wake up Saeen for the breakfast.” Dua looked at him silently. “I can wake him up for you.”

“It’s okay. We will be down shortly. Thank you.” He nodded and left as quickly as he came. “No point.” She got up and went back in their main room. She stood by his side and watched him for another minute. His back and the marks it bore. They were still a mystery and some part of her wanted to know what and who gave these scars to such daunting man.

Dua raised her hand but stopped. It felt odd to her, to wake him up. Maybe, I should have taken up that offer. But it was too late. Shaking her head, she lightly shook Asfand by shoulder. He didn’t budge. “Asfand!” Dua leaned over him a little and shook him a little harder. He just groaned and buried his head in the pillow. He is a heavy sleeper. “Asfand! You need to wake up.” Dua tried again but he didn’t budge. What is this man really? So stubborn. “Asfand! Noor Bi has asked for you on the breakfast.”

“Let me sleep Dua.” Her heart skipped a beat at how rough his voice sounded. Her name rolling off his tongue sent an involuntary shiver down her spine. He has a way of saying her name and it always made her heart either jump or skip a beat. Her hand reached out for his hair but she stopped midway. Dua couldn’t believe her course of action just now.

I wanted to touch his hair.

She stood up straight and turned to leave but Asfand grabbed her wrist. He pulled her over him and caged her under his body with a smug look on his face. “Here I thought you will put a little more effort in waking me up.”

“You were awake?” Dua was flabbergasted and flustered by his actions. She was squirming under his hold but he didn’t move back or let her move away. Why would he, when he want to hold her closer than this in more than one ways.

“The first time you touched me janaan.” He gazed over her face. Asfand was very much awake when she woke up in the morning. He was awake when she shuffled closer and snuggled in his arm when he laid next to her in the bed last night. He was very much aware of her every little action but his precious little Dua was not.

Asfand hadn’t seen her this close and properly in over a month. He was starved on her presence and he was going to avail every chance he could to bask in it.

“You look fresh and smell amazing.” Her heart was beating furiously at his proximity and it was enthralling him very much. She is affected by my presence after all. Good or bad, he liked it when her heartbeat and breathing quickened because of him and a blush tainted her soft cheeks.

“Because I have just taken a shower. So, stop infecting me with your germs.” Asfand smirked. “When did you come?”

“Three days ago” Dua looked at him surprised. “I had to go to Karachi. Work needed my attention. I just came back last night. Why? Missed me?” Dua scoffed at the absurdity of his thoughts. Even though, he didn’t shower yet, his scent was still alluring and tantalizing. Her hands were pressed flat against his firm chest in an attempt to keep him from crushing her completely. So warm and strong. This man was strong but not warm. And he will never be.

“Why would I miss you husband? You have done nothing that should make me miss you. It’s all scars that beg to differ.” Her bitterness and hate was not enough to dampen his mood. “Let me go and get up as well. I don’t want Noor Bi to send me up again to wake you up.”

“Are we playing house?” Asfand mused at her glare. It was cuter than scary. “Because you are being too obedient to Noor Bi. What happened to the fierce woman in you? I thought you didn’t bow and hated everyone that bear the name Sherzai.”

“She is not a Sherzai and I respect her for who she is.” Asfand watched Dua in silence. “As much as I hate you, I will never disrespect her wishes. She never forced or blackmailed me and she won’t ever ask me to compromise or sacrifice over something that I don’t wish to do. She know what it feels like to cage someone against their wishes.” They watched each other for a minute long, without blinking. “Can I get up now?”

“Are you asking nicely?” Dua gave him a smug look. “You can, janaan." Asfand rolled on his back and Dua jumped off the other side of bed at the speed of lightning. “You are always so eager to run away from me. I am waiting on the day when you will run in my arms at the same speed. Or maybe, even faster than that.” Dua threw him one acid glare and stomped out of the room, leaving him hollering in laughter after her.

Asfand folded his hands beneath his head and hummed to himself. He was in too much merry mood and he believed nothing could soil it for him. Not today. Not at all. “That was some start to this morning.” He chuckled lowly. “A really good start.”

***********

Dua was happy until Asfand made his appearance in the dining hall. Her mouth turned down and she focused on her plate when he sat on the head chair. But not before greeting Noor Bi in the same manner she first saw. It made her curious as to why a man who hate everything that belonged to the female gender was so respectful towards this one woman.

Her displeasure didn’t go unnoticed by Asfand. Her fuming expressions over his presence put a teasing smirk on his lips. For him, anything was better than indifference from her.

“Now this place looks like a home” Noor Bi smiled at Asfand affectionately. “Because you have returned.” Dua watched them interact silently. “How was your trip, mere chaand?”

“It went well.” Noor Bi nodded and the breakfast resumed without further delay. This was the first time there were so many people on this dining table and because of Noor Bi, the atmosphere was pleasant than ever. Dua wondered how it will be once she left.

“I have a request to make.” The children looked at her simultaneously. “I want to go to Bari Imam and I will like it if you three can accompany me.”

“Not again.” She glared at Asfand in a motherly way. “I don’t mean to disrespect your wishes but I don’t understand why people are foolish as to bow and beg before a human? They act like those saints are god. Isn’t it shirk or whatever you call it? Praying and bowing to anyone else besides Allah?” Dua was surprised by Asfand. She didn’t peg him to be a realist and his conversation did catch her interest.

“I find it strange as well Noor Bi.” Ushna joined the conversation as well. She was much at ease around Asfand than before and judging by Asfand’s expressions, he didn’t hate her either. If Dua would have to make a guess, she would say Asfand loved Ushna as a sister. But his ego refused to admit it. “You visit these shrines round the year but I never saw you entering their burial room ever. Why?” Noor Bi laughed merrily at their questions. It reminded her of the time when these two were little and away from the evil clutches of their blood.

“Some people are foolish to make them equivalent to Allah. It is kufr to pray and bow before any deity beside Allah. But it’s their approach and we can do nothing about it. Those saints never asked to be prayed and begged to. They just want people to acknowledge them and pray for their forgiveness before Allah. If mosques are built on their shrines, its so that people could come and remember Allah in their stead but humans are to be the foolish creature.” Noor Bi hummed thoughtfully.

“They keep on forgetting the truth and weave a world of lies around them. But that is not the point of this conversation and my visits. I go to those shrines because I like to pay respects to those saints. They deserve to be pardoned before Allah. Those people spent their lives while praying to Allah and trust me, you will feel their essence in the very place they are buried.”

“I still don’t support the notion” Asfand grumbled under his breath. “When do you want to go to Bari Imam?”

“You are not coming with me?” Her face fell and this forced Asfand to grunt in annoyance again. On contrary, Dua was finding the whole situation very comical. “You don’t have to worry about anything. I will go on my own. I know you are busy making your name as gigantic as your ego in the world.” Dua coughed upon hearing this and Asfand glared at her as she tried to hide her musings. “I will take the driver. You don’t have to come as well Ushna. Sleep all day because that’s the best you can do.”

“Noor Bi!” Ushna gaped at her solemn expressions. “That was mean.” She just hummed and looked at Dua with a smile. Her mood took a complete turn.

“I won’t force you beta. I know these things might be confusing you right now. But, at least you were not rude to interpret my plans to your advantage.” Dua lowered her head to keep herself from laughing when Noor Bi glared at Asfand like a child.

Seeing Dua like this brought a smile on Ida’s face. For years, she watched this child live like a corpse. Dua smiled but it was never real. She interacted with people around her but one could see the hollowness in her approach. She was close yet so far away. Looking at her now, being so carefree moistened her eyes.

Even if it was for a short period, Ida was glad this child got to live the normality. She was sure her parents and sister were smiling as well while watching her being alive for once.

At first, Ida didn’t like Noor Bi because she belonged to the family who destroyed this child. But the woman was complete opposite of them. And after knowing her truth and interacting with her on personal level, Ida was praying for this woman with all her might. She possessed a charisma and if she could make Dua come live here once again, Ida hoped she could bring her a change of heart.

So, she prayed with all her might that Noor Bi could make Dua see what others couldn’t. She didn’t want Dua to pursue this revenge anymore. She was what left of her late family and Ida didn’t want to lose this child.

“No need to be so dramatic Noor Bi. Just give me the day and time.” Asfand stood up and fixed his cuff-links. “We will accompany you.” He bowed and Noor Bi patted his head with a bright smile. “I’m off.” Giving one lingering glance towards his wife who was watching him silently, Asfand left.

“He might appear crude and hard but my Asfand is a big softie at heart.” Noor Bi chuckled and looked at Dua with softest of expressions. “Just like his father.”

“Arbaaz Uncle?” Noor Bi nodded without tearing her eyes away from Dua. Her eyes were telling Dua a different tale about her child. But Dua refused to look beyond her beliefs. Noor Bi was aware of the cruelties Asfand inflicted on this delicate flower. Unintentionally. But it was not his fault.

If a human is brought up by a wild animal, he will adopt to become the same thing.

Noor Bi tried her best to teach Asfand the right but in the end, Afroz overshadowed his heart and mind in the worst way possible. She didn’t lose heart though. Asfand might have never been under the shadow of his parents but they lived within him. And Noor Bi was sure that he will be their reflection.

She believed that if he can show respect and love to her, he was capable of loving and respecting someone else on deeper level as well.

“Would you like to accompany me?” Ushna looked at Dua in question. “I’m going for shopping. And I have been noticing that you don’t go anywhere. You are young Ushna. Girls your age don’t waste their time sitting idly. They waste it on shopping. Would you like to join me?”

“Me?” She looked towards Noor Bi, perplexed who smiled in encouragement. “But Noor Bi, if baba-”

“Forget about your baba for a change and go out. You need to see the world as well Ushna and not everyone is waiting to jump you all the time. Stop being afraid of everything so much.” She just nodded silently. “You have my gratitude beta, for taking out this kitten.” Noor Bi knew Dua tried to stir away from them all the times. And this one step meant a lot to her. “I hope she turns into a ferocious cat upon return.”

“Pleasure is all mine Noor Bi” Dua smiled at Ushna. The same smile that was a call of storm. “You don’t have to worry for her safety.” She stood up and Ushna followed suit. “I will make sure this day becomes memorable for you in every way.”

***********

Asfand closed the files after he was done and looked at Safan. So the dead were finally found. But that was not his main concern. His main concern were those plants and Jalal’s land. “Did their lawyer say anything?”

“Which one?” Asfand looked at him calmly. “A day before their accident, both parties were called by their lawyers. Their real lawyers. The wills were handed over but the course of action remain unnamed. But you know what is more surprising?” Asfand continued tapping the crystal ball under his fingers. “We can’t access those files anymore. They have disappeared into thin air and those lawyers are nowhere to be found.”

Asfand was not bothered in the least bit. All those assets slipped away from his grip and he was calmer than ever. And his calmness only added to Safan’s agitation.

“What do you have to say about Yusuf being the one behind their murder?” Asfand chuckled and Safan fumed. “It’s just a speculation Safan. Why the anger?”

“Because you already know the answer to your own god darn question.” Asfand hummed thoughtfully. “Your humor will land you in big shit Asfand. Why are you not doing anything?”

“Because I don’t need to do anything.” Asfand slid the files towards Safan. “Why would I need to when my wife is perfectly capable of handling things on her own?” Safan stayed mum. “I’m going to be that ideal husband who supports her wife through thick and think. Let’s make an example for the world to follow.”

“She took back the investigation you filed on her assassination.” His hand stopped on the paper-weight. “That woman is suicidal Asfand. It doesn’t mean anything for her if something were to happen to her along this dangerous pursuit of hers. She doesn’t care for her life.”

“Neither do I” Asfand looked Safan in the eye. “I just want power and control. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t want to know who tried to kill her. It’s her problem, not ours. What we need to know is whether she hold those properties in her name or not. It should not matter to you as well if she ends up dead in the process. It’s not our game to join.”

“Whatever you say boss.” His jaw twitched at Safan’s sarcastic remark. “I’ll keep that in mind and save you from unnecessary trouble.” Safan smirked when Asfand looked away with muttered profanities. Saying one thing and doing opposite.

Safan could clearly see and tell how much it didn’t matter to Asfand. When it comes to Dua, Asfand has become very overprotective and possessive and the asshole doesn’t even realize it.

His obsession was not a mere obsession anymore.

After that elevator crash, Asfand was on constant watch for her. Safan couldn’t count a minute in a day where Asfand didn’t check up on her well-being while he was gone. He still remember how furious he was when he had to go to Karachi right after coming back. That woman was making a place in his life, mind and probably heart as well but he was not even aware of it.

His obsession became his addiction and it won’t be long it took the color of love and affection.

Asfand wanted to deny the truth and Safan was not going to persuade him at all. Realization was an amazing thing like karma and Safan was going to wait until it struck his asshole of a friend hard.

“Azfar and Afroz won’t make it easy anymore.” Safan smirked inwardly at the course of his conversation that took u-turn to his wife’s safety. But Asfand remained oblivious. It won’t be long. “They already doubted Dua and they won’t hesitate to take her out. We can’t afford-” His phone began to ring furiously and Asfand answered the call without checking the i.d.

He was listening calmly at first but the next moment, he was storming out of his office at angry pace. Safan was constantly asking him but he didn’t reply. He was so angry and all this anger was directed to one woman in his life that has sworn to make him do shit.

The woman who is hell bent on digging her own grave.


Shirk-Polytheism

Kufr-Blasphemy

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