Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 35

Dua was going through the information IGP Ashraf provided her on Azfar Baig. The files were loaded with living proof of his every hideous crime, yet no action could be taken against that vile being. He misused his position greatly.

“No wonder his son behaved like an animal so openly.” No wonder Afroz was willing to slaughter his own daughter for his gains. He went as far as agreeing to marry her to that rapist who harassed her as well. Azfar Baig was his trump card and Dua had seen it herself. Others might have been in on everything they did, but these two were the root of everything. They have the power to do as they pleased.

And she has the power to overthrow their kingdom.

“This man is spawn of devil Hadi. His crime records can over-weigh combined crimes of the world.” She closed the files once Ayn scanned them for transfer to Haider. “I have sent you a copy but don’t you think you have jeopardized uncle Ashraf by involving him in this matter. It could cost him his hard earned respect and position.”

“Nothing of the sort will happen Dee. Not until we move each piece stealthily” She nodded in understanding. “Have you seen what havoc you have created in their lives by your recent action?”

“Is it that interesting?” Dua mused darkly. “I enjoyed a live show Hadi. I don’t need to see a repeat telecast with added subtitles.” He chuckled. “Those NGO’s I support worldwide are not a joke. It’s not some petty issue anymore and I’m sure many well-wishers of Baig will be changing sides soon.”

“You are ruthless Dee. Too much cold-hearted for being a woman."

“It’s the game of survival Hadi. I’m just bidding my part.” Dua raised her hand to see the ring on her index finger. “It’s not going to be as sweet as they expect.” Her head shot up when Aya and Xian entered the glass room.

“Yusuf is willing to cooperate.” Her smile darkened further. “And Azfar is looking out for your neck.”

“I’m glad about it.” Dua leaned in her chair and turned it to left. “Did you make the layout?” Aya placed three large blue prints of the jail before her. Where Yusuf was being kept. “You will need one more hand to go undetected.”

“I will send Stuart.” Haider spoke up. “You need to keep as many eyes open as possible. It won’t be easy from here onward. It’s only going to become nasty. Exposing Aya too much will put a reverse effect to everything. You want her to be a phantom with a face, let her be.”

“They will come after you” Dua nodded and Aya folded the blue-prints once she was done surveying them. “You know what happened last time. I don’t want Dar-jee, Amber and Rayan involved in any way Hadi.”

“Don’t create a weakness Dee. It will plunge you down the hole.” Her hands fisted and she glared at the screen. Haider was being too passive about the complexity of the outcome and sometimes, it unnerved her. “I won’t let anything happen to my family Dee. Do what you have to do and I’ll do what I will have to.”

“We need to drag him back.” Haider didn’t answer. “I always found it weird how he could move around the globe undetected. Our answers lie in these files.” Dua tapped at them slowly. “He is being a broker for Baig in black-market.”

“His front won’t last long Dee.” Haider replied coldly. “The next your victim fall, Anser Sherzai will be back in Pakistan...willingly.” Dua had no doubts. She didn’t need to question what Haider was planning on. Time will reveal the answers themselves. “You need to call home. Dar-jee is worried for you.”

“I will” There was slight hum on the line. Their watches beeped and Dua was the first to answer. “Yes?”

“Mr. Azfar Baig is here.” Dua looked at Xian and he left. “Ma’am?”

“Xian is on his way Iram. Just get back to your work.” She disconnected the call. “I have an unannounced guest to attend Hadi. Aya will handle further instructions from you.”

“Be careful” She stood up and fixed her suit.

“Always” Giving one nod to Aya, Dua went back up to her office. The moment she sat in her chair, the door opened rather loudly and Azfar walked in with his guards. This made Dua smirk. The coward lack the backbone in every way. Xian was already by her side, ready to take action if needed.

“You think you are very smart little girl?” Azfar snarled like an enraged bull and his condition only amused Dua. She wanted to laugh at his desperation which he was masking with lame fury. But, it was too soon. He has yet to shed blood tears for his every act. “Don’t think I’m a fool like Yusuf. I know you and I know your game. I assure you Ms. D. Almas Sahi, you will regret coming back and messing with me.” Dua scrunched her nose in a no and chuckled. Men were so easy to rile.

“You need to do better Mr. Baig.” Dua stood up and rounded her table leisurely. “I see you like to live in old times but” she leaned against her table and spun the crystal ball coolly. “Old is not always gold.”

Her calmness gave Azfar a palpitating feeling. He wiped his forehead wildly. Her unfaltering gaze and the way she was spinning the paper-weight under her palm spiked a certain kind of fear in Azfar. The longer he looked at her, the harder he felt her aura that was too dark and intimidating.

She is not the girl we broke, scared and tortured. That girl is no more. Cold sweat broke through him. This woman is too fearsome. Azfar turned to leave but her haunting laugh made him stop. That sheen of sweat on his forehead and along the length of his neck became much prominent as his fear rose.

“I’m looking forward to what you have in store for me Mr. Baig.” He couldn’t muster the courage to face her and the fire that burnt in her ambers. “But I won’t assure you that the cause will be without effect.” Azfar didn’t stop and left the way he came.

“D. Almas Sahi or Dua Feroze Rahija.” It didn’t matter anymore. He was now sure that they needed to deal with this woman, as quickly as possible.

Her life meant death for them and he was not ready to join the other end yet.

Dua gripped the edge of the table firmly once the door closed. “Did you hear?” She asked Xian without looking away. Her calmness dissolved into bitterness and vengeance as she glared at the door with every ounce of venom that was thumping in her veins. “It’s a battle call.”

***********

Dua threw her hair up in a messy bun and moved around the kitchen swiftly. Today was a busy day for her. She had four meetings and two video conference with her clients overseas. She didn’t know when the day flew by. She just got back but everyone was asleep. Ida too and she didn’t want to wake up anyone.

“Let’s make something light.” Dua got the desired ingredients for her meal and got to work. It was peaceful and she was enjoying it. She could actually cook and her cooking was not just average.

But she preferred not to.

It was a hobby that she indulged in occasionally. Except for Haider and Mir Jahangir, no one has tasted her cooking and she didn’t intend to feed anyone as well. For her, it was a hassle and she wanted to stay away from it.

She was so involved with the task at hand that she failed to notice someone observing her all this time.

Asfand wasn’t expecting to find her in this situation. In fact, this was the situation he couldn’t have anticipated or imagined in his wildest dreams. He won’t deny he was not mesmerized by the sight before his eyes. It looked surreal that he wanted to step closer and touch for affirmation.

Dua was moving around the kitchen, his kitchen, fluently. She was looking so domestic, almost like a home he never had. He could even see a small smile on her lips and it forced the corners of his mouth to stretch as well.

This woman never failed to amuse and surprise me.

Be it whatever, her every action threw him off guard, once or twice.

Dua was startled when she turned. A frown appeared on her face when she saw Asfand leaning casually against the archway of kitchen’s entrance and watching her earnestly. “When did you come?” She stirred the pot one more time and covered it with lid before moving to check on her salad. She never noticed him coming and the thought made her highly uncomfortable.

“A while ago” Asfand stood up straight and walked inside. He sat on the stool on the opposite of center Island and continued observing her. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look to you husband?” Dua placed two plates on the counter and went back to bring the food. She knew he just came back and if he came straight to kitchen, means he was hungry as well.

Dua settled the food and sat next to him. She didn’t want to but she had no energy left to move the food to dining area. This will have to do.

“What are you doing?” Asfand raised a skeptic brow when she started serving him. “I’m not hungry.”

“You came to kitchen, it is enough answer.” She served him a good share before serving herself. “Besides, I made enough for two people. If you don’t eat like a hulk, this is more than enough for us.” Dua began eating without another word and Asfand watched her amused. She was something, he admit.

His something.

“You can cook?” He took a spoonful of vegetable stirred rice. A satisfactory groan rumbled in his chest when the heavenly taste of such simple dish graced his palate.

“That should be enough for proof” Dua chuckled and resumed eating. A comfortable silence fell between them as they ate quietly. There was no tension or awkwardness, just the peace.

“We are going to shrine tomorrow. Clear your schedule.” Dua looked at him over her glass. “It will take whole day Dua. Noor Bi is not just going to pay respects and pray for those saints. She is going to distribute alms as well since Ramadan will be starting soon.” Dua gathered the plates once they were done and got up.

“Noor Bi informed me already.” She dumped the utensils in the sink and started washing them.

“What are you doing?” She was startled when Asfand turned off the faucet and pulled her back. “Don’t bother yourself with such tedious tasks. Maids will see to it. And your hand” He raised her bandaged palm, “is still recovering.”

“It’s not that deep.” Dua freed her arm and got back to dishes. It angered Asfand but he chose not to voice his thoughts further.

“I would have never expected that you will be fond of such activities janaan. You sure are full of surprises.” Dua just gazed at him sideways. “You want coffee?”

“I want to sleep.” Asfand smiled and turned towards the stove.

“I have something for that.” Dua watched him candidly as he removed his jacket and rolled his sleeve before getting to work. It was weird for her to watch such a gigantic man work in kitchen and it was even weirder to see Asfand perform that task.

“Do you even know your way around kitchen?” Dua wiped her hands clean and stood next to him by the stove. “Hard to digest.” Asfand graced her with a harmless smirk.

“I know my way around spoons and pots longer than you can comprehend.” Asfand added cream and a spoon of honey to the milk and stirred it. “My cooking skills might be on par with you or even better.” Her brow shot up in amusement.

“You speak like you have been cooking since you were four.” Asfand didn’t reply and Dua did notice the dark look that crossed his features. There is so much mystery around his being. “What exactly are you making?” Asfand turned off the stove and poured the warm drink in a cup.

“Something that will help you sleep.” He sprinkled a pinch of cinnamon powder on it and handed it to Dua. “Without nightmares.” Asfand raised one finger to stop her from talking. “Go on, give it a try.” He leaned against the counter with arms crossed over his chest and observed her silent frame.

“What about you?” He raised one brow in question. “Aren’t you going to have any?”

“I have my full for the night” he smirked at her teasingly. “How is your revenge coming along? You are moving at quite a pace janaan and in quite a way.” Dua didn’t answer. “You think you can take down Azfar by targeting his son like that?”

“Are you worried it will be your turn soon?”

“Not at all.” His cool response aggravated her. “But you seem very eager to become a widow. Do you like the idea of a colorless life that much?”

Dua chose to look at the cup instead of answering. Not that there are many colors in my life to begin with. It didn’t matter to her if another title was painted black with splatters of blood in her already dead life.

Asfand knew her thoughts but he chose not to comment on them. It was enough for one night. As much as he loved messing with his wife and riling her up, there was limit to their interactions before they turned ugly.

“Drink it while it’s still warm. I’m going to go and change.” Dua looked up when Asfand walked away. “And” Asfand stopped by the entrance and looked over his shoulder, “you might have spoilt my taste buds to your cooking. I may never want to eat food cooked by anyone else.”

“You are not that lucky.” Asfand chuckled deeply.

“Don’t take too long.” Dua looked the way he left and then at the cup in her hands. It smelt nice and different. She was cautious in taking the first sip and she almost had the thought to dump it.

Almost

“Hmm” Dua leaned against the counter when the first sip graced her taste buds. “Asfandyar Sherzai.” A small smile appeared on her lips involuntarily and she took another sip. “Asfand.”

***********

By the time Asfand came downstairs, everything was ready. Noor Bi was sitting in the living with Ushna and waiting on them. Asfand was here but Dua was still up in their room. She was not even ready when he was about to leave. And he had no doubts that she will be calling it off any minute.

Respect is one thing but her hatred was stronger than any other emotion. He highly believed she was kind enough to spare Noor Bi out of her revenge.

“Aslam-u-alaikum!” Asfand bent in respect.

“Walaikum-Aslam!” Noor Bi patted his head affectionately. “Where is Du- MashaAllah” Her happiness made Asfand turn in curiosity as well. He was frozen at the very sight of her.

And when he thought there could be no color, Dua surprised him as always. Almost knocking him off his feet in process. Just what is this woman?

“She wore it Noor Bi.” Ushna whispered and hugged her shoulders happily. They looked at Dua when she stopped next to Asfand.

“I hope I’m not late.” Dua was very much aware of his eyes on her but she chose to play ignorant.

“Not at all.” Noor Bi palmed her cheek. They are indeed a match made in heaven. “Thank you beta.” Dua just nodded. Noor Bi was unable to keep her happiness. I was right about this child. Dua possessed a heart of gold and though her being was exposed to cruelty and brutality, this kid still held the gentleness in her. She didn’t like colors but she still came dressed in clothes Noor Bi gifted her.

And she also knew how much Asfand was affected by the mere sight of his wife.

He was not to be blamed. Dua was such an adorable thing. Even with the hatred she bore in her heart, there was something soothing and positive about her presence. In her eyes, she was a fairy and Noor Bi was very happy she landed in his life. Be it by good or bad, she was going to make sure their marriage worked.

They needed each other.

“I want to ask you something.” Noor Bi nodded. “Do you mind if Ida and Xian come along?” Dua looked at Asfand from her periphery. He has yet to blink away from her.

“Of course” Noor Bi smiled at her again. She was smiling too much which made Dua wonder, what made her so happy. “Asfand?” He finally looked away from Dua who breathed in relief at being released from the intensity of his eyes. “We should go now.” He nodded and left with Safan to check things one more time.

“Pink”

“What?” Safan looked at Asfand in question but that was all that came out of his mouth. “Asfand?”

“Just make sure all is good.” Safan was befuddled by the flip of his switch but didn’t ask further. Asfand never compromised on their safety and with Dua involved, he doubled checked everything himself. He looked at Dua when she came out with rest. Their eyes met for briefest second and both looked away at the same time.

One can never be too careful when it came to his haughty wife who was behaving off charts these days.

***********

Dua had never been to a shrine before. She was amused and amazed by how different people were reacting to the place. Some behaved like it was actually a sanctuary of God and some just came to sit in the serenity it offered.

Dua admitted that the place was something. She watched everything in silence, especially what Noor Bi and Ushna were doing. And her husband was forced to join them. It took almost all of their day.

Noor Bi distributed alms and food to every needy person available. She was not only giving things to them, she also sat with them and talked. She listened to their worries and tried to give comfort to them however she could. Even when there was no need, she tried to help to the best of her abilities.

“This woman is something” Ida looked at Dua. “I just can’t detect any malice from her.”

“She is a good woman” Ida smiled. “You should know it better because you are here. This place does have a calming air. Maybe, because it’s sacred.” Dua just watched her surroundings silently. “How are you feeling?”

“How should I be feeling?” Ida didn’t drop her smile at how off Dua sounded. “What is with everyone smiling these days? Not that I mind but you seem pretty happy yourself lately.”

“Nothing for you to worry about young miss.” Not when her Dua baby was living her days in normality for a change. Away from every negativity and bitterness.

Away from her revenge.

Their conversation was cut short when Noor Bi came. She sat next to Dua and held her hand. She loved doing it and Dua didn’t mind. “I hope I have not dragged you in my boring activities.”

“You look tired. Your face is pale.” Noor Bi smiled. “You are over-exerting yourself for your age.”

“I can’t let it hinder my deeds. Not when it gives me inner peace and contentment. Besides, Asfand will be dragging us back the moment he heard the word. And I’m not in the least bit ready to leave right now.” Dua smiled a tiniest of smiles. “I wanted to talk to you about something.” Dua looked at Ida.

“I will go and help lady Ushna. Let me know if you need anything.” Ida knew Noor Bi wanted to talk to her alone and she prayed her talk made Dua have a change of heart towards the path she has chosen.

“I wanted to thank you first” Noor Bi looked her in the eye. “You have been going out of your way to respect my wishes and I want to tell you that it means a lot to me.” Dua listened quietly. “I know you may not like us-”

“I don’t hate you Noor Bi.”

“But you hate Asfand.” Noor Bi interjected calmly. “I know your reasons and I will never try to justify them, but I want to really ask you one thing Dua.” She held her hands in her lap. “Why do you hate Asfand? Because he is a Sherzai? Or because he married you again without your wish? I can understand rest but not this.” Dua kept looking at her.

“I know what he did. He-” her voice shook and tears pooled her old eyes, “he raised his hand on you. I know nothing can change this ugly truth and nothing can rectify this mistake. But believe me Dua, he is not an animal. My child is not a monster. He is just a victim of ill fate, like you were. Like your fam-”

“I’m sorry Noor Bi” Dua pulled her hands free. “My reason to hate him is not that shallow. I don’t care what he did or what he will do. I never cared because he showed me who he really is. Not today or a month back, but years back. When I was being chained to his name. I didn’t even know him but I knew the relation between us.” Noor Bi watched her in despair.

“I never saw him. But I knew he was someone who was supposed to be my protector against all odds. Because he was my husband.” Her voice shook a little. “And you know what he did? He told me he was going to sell me. That I was just a bride for the night. That I was just to-”

“Dua!”

“I am not nice Noor Bi, nor am I going to pretend to be.” Dua stood up and looked down at her. “Don’t mistake my actions into consideration because I won’t be considerate. Whatever I do and whatever I will do, can never be without consequences.” Her expressions turned stone cold. “I don’t want you to be grieve-stricken but whatever you are trying do will bear no fruit. I don’t possess a heart to forgive and forget.” Noor Bi grabbed her hand.

“You had love and you lost it, that’s why you understand what it means.” Dua looked in her now red eyes that were shedding tears of pain and sorrow nonstop. “But what about the person who never knew the word itself? What does such a person has to lose and feel?”

“Noor Bi?” Asfand approached them. “Is everything okay?” Dua could sense the anger in his voice as he looked her way cautiously.

“Nothing mere bachay. I was just having a meaningful conversation with Dua and my eyes welled upon reminiscing the past.” She wiped her tears and smiled. “Are you done distributing the money?” Asfand gave a curt nod. “I know you don’t like to do these things personally but I want you to reach out to those who need your help. You don’t know how much it means to some people. All it takes is a hand of trust and comfort Asfand.”

“We should leave now. It’s late and you need rest.” Her smile fell a little but she refused to give up on her hope. It was going to work. It will have to work.

She believed in her Allah and the sacred relation of nikah.

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