Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 39

“Like I sai-” Amber burst through the doors, cutting their conversation short and making their heads turn in her direction. “Amber?” His voice made her release the breath she was holding and she crashed on the floor in a crying mess. Haider rushed to her immediately and she threw her arms around his neck when he crouched next to her. “Everything is fine.”

“I was-I couldn’t-They said” Amber couldn’t make one coherent sentence through her hysterics. “I was so scared Haider. I thought something happened to you.”

“Nothing happened” Haider patted her head gently and made her stand after he made sure she was stable enough. “It was just a minor accident. Nothing serious happened.” Amber gave him an apprehensive look. She knew he was not badly hurt but he was still hurt. He was covered in so many bandages and all of them were stained with his blood.

He may think she doesn’t understand but she was no fool. Her husband was a powerful man from a powerful family and such people are born with enemies as a cursed gift. It was not the first time Haider suffered an assassination attack but this was worse than all. And now Amber couldn’t overlook this anymore.

“No one should catch wind of this, especially Dar-jee.” Stuart nodded at his boss. “Keep Dua out of this at every cost and contact Xian. Get done with everything before we leave for Shanghai.” Stuart nodded again and left them alone.

“You are leaving again?” Haider graced Amber with a tender smile. “But you just came back a few days ago and now you are leaving again. What is this Haider? What is going on?”

“Sshh!” Haider placed one finger on her lips and pulled her in his arms. “It’s work baby.”

“Why is it that you have no time for your wife and child anymore?” Amber pushed free of his embrace. “Is your work everything for you now? Have you-”

“Don’t start again Amber. I’m not having this conversation with you again.” Haider turned and went to the couch. Picking his suit jacket, he wore it and fixed his cuffs and tie. He knew this was coming but he had no answers for Amber. The farther she stayed away, the better.

“Not anymore Haider” Amber forced him to face her again. “You cannot do this to me anymore. I need answers from you. Why have you become so distant after Dee’s marriage? You still need to tell me all that happened that time. Who is that man? Why did he claim to be Dee’s husband and why did you and Dar-jee let him be?” Haider looked away from her but Amber palmed his face and forced his eyes back on her. “You cannot hide things from me forever Haider. What aren’t you telling me? You cannot-”

“Stay out of this.” Her hands dropped at the coldness his cold blue eyes directed towards her. “I won’t be gentle with my words next time so do what you are supposed to do. Keep our child safe while I’m away and don’t go astray behind my back.” Amber bowed her head to hide her tear filled eyes. “Don’t poke in matters that doesn’t concern you. You are my wife and mother of my child. Just stay in limit of your titles and don’t make it worse for both of us.”

“I just wanted to” Amber whispered softly, “be there for you.” Haider engulfed her small frame in his arms once again. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m doing everything for your and Rayan’s sake. Try to understand baby. My life is full of dangers and I don’t want them to befall you or our son.”

“I understand. I won’t ask anymore but please” Amber pulled away to look at him. “Come back to us soon. We need you. I need you. I miss you Haider.”

“I miss you too baby. I promise I will finish everything and come back to you soon.” Amber buried her head in his chest again. “I love you Amber. Just trust me.”

“I love you too Haider and I trust you more than anything.” Haider kissed the top of her head. “When are you leaving for Shanghai?”

“Tomorrow.” Amber nodded. “It will take me two weeks but I promise that I will be all yours after I come back.”

“That’s all I need Haider.” That’s all the time I need. Amber thought to herself as she made up her mind.

***********

Dua smiled when Yusuf sat in front of her. His condition made her laugh. He looked more of a corpse and less of a human. He barely looked like a man he was but he was far from paying for his sins. “Mr. Khan! You look sick. Are they not treating you well?”

“It’s nothing like that Ms. Sahi. I’m absolutely fine. Thank you for coming to meet me.” Dua smiled again and crossed one leg over the other. “Was the information I provided you any good?”

“More than good. You might want to see what havoc it has caused in your friend’s life.” On her order, two men walked in with Xian and fixed a large screen on the wall. “A small token of my gratitude for your kindness Mr. Khan. You might want to know what colorful days are coming ahead.” The men left once they were done with their task and Xian stood by Dua’s side. “I could have never known that someone like Yawar Gill was in his party.”

“Not many know about that kid.” Yusuf smiled in satisfaction upon knowing the beginning of Azfar’s downfall. “Not even Azfar know that Yawar is the son of the same man he killed to sit on the exact seat that is now being taken from him. If I be honest, that seat was never his. He was just a member of the party, not even significant ones but with treachery, he became who he is.”

“Luck seems to favor him I see”

“Not luck Ms. Sahi.” Yusuf scoffed. “If not for Afroz, he would still be rotting somewhere. But his cup is full now. Talk about karma paying you a visit in the most brutal way.” Dua watched him silently. “His party members agreed to overthrew him willingly?”

“Nothing what a few pennies cannot do” Yusuf nodded in understanding. “I suppose no one is honest when it comes to politics. You always feed off the strong.”

“That’s the game Ms. Sahi, unless the strong can’t provide them anymore.” Dua mused over his answer. “He is still not weak. Not as long as Afroz back him up. And Afroz’s strongest card is Wang family. Kuo Wang favors Azfar a lot because of the black platform he provides him through his power. We need to break them apart. If one end is broken, they all will fall.”

“You don’t have to worry about that Mr. Khan.” Dua stood up and Yusuf followed suit. “That back up will back out soon. As you said, you feed off the strong and what will Afroz Sherzai gain when Azfar will be left with nothing on his name but ridicule and humiliation.”

“What do you intend to do?” Her smile made Yusuf uneasy.

“You will know soon Mr. Khan and prepare to leave this hideous place as well.” That turned the wheels in his head to opposite direction. “Once your statement is out, this door will open to your freedom.”

“I am ready whenever.” You are bound to be ready.

“Right time Mr. Khan. Right time.” Yusuf nodded enthusiastically. “I’ll see you soon and I assure you, I will be here to see you being set free.” Of your life. Dua stepped out of the cell and walked down the cold hallways with Xian and the officer IGP Ashraf assigned for this task.

“How many doses left?” They left the main prison and came out to the front where her cars were parked.

“Two” Xian opened the door for her. “We have located Wasiq.” Dua looked at Xian after sitting in the backseat. “Once that document is signed by Azfar Baig, we-”

“We will wait for the hammer to strike Xian but make sure they are heard loud and clear. But first, I would like to have my lunch.”

***********

Eight Hills was a high class known for holding most extravagant and important occasions around the city. And right now, the place was the center for the campaigns of ongoing elections. This period was considered a golden period by the hotel staff and owners because such events only made the repute of this place stronger and more expensive around the country.

“What would you like to have ma’am?” Dua placed the menu down and leaned back in her chair. She was in too merry mood today and she was sure nothing could spoil it.

“Coffee for now. Cappuccino.” The waiter noted her order and looked towards Xian who said the same, “Make sure you balance the cream and sugar with its bitterness. I don’t like unbalanced things.”

“We will take care of it. Let us know if you wish to order something else as well.” The waiter left and Dua looked around the grand hotel in mild amusement. It was state of art in it’s design. Too expensive to even look at.

“Yusuf still had a gem left.” Dua chuckled lowly.

“It’s not under his name anymore. He sold it before he was caught.” Dua looked at Xian. He knew the question her silence was asking but he was sure she was not going to like the answer. “Yawar said the meeting will start in an hour and once the reporters came, he will proceed as planned.” Their coffee came and Dua stirred the spoon in her cup.

“Are you sure those political dogs won’t turn their faces? They stayed loyal to that monster for this long.”

“It was not their loyalty but someone else’s power and fear.” Xian knew where her head was turning. “It’s not Afroz whom Wang is fond of. Someone else was backing up Azfar all this time.”

“Was?” Xian nodded. “Interesting. Let’s see what that someone do once Azfar face the traitorous wrath of his own hands.” Right on cue, a swarm of reporters rushed through the hallways. Cameras were furiously clicking and questions were being shot like grenades but the person on whom all this was directed to remain silent. “Just in time to make the coffee taste much better.”

“What do you have to say about the evidence Mr. Baig?” No answer. “You are clearly defining how power is abused. Why the silence?” Another one asked. “Why did you make deals with Kuo Wang? Is this true that you were making illegal trades in black market and laundering money under his name?”

“Get out of my face.”

“What do you have to say about Zafar Gill? Did you really murder him to get to the seat?” Azfar was red in face with all the humiliation he faced nationally. “Did you always knew Yawar Gill was his son? He was working in your party all these years and you even mentored him. What do you have to say about your party choosing him instead of you for the elections? And your son-”

“I said get the fuck away from me” Dua smirked when Azfar finally exploded. The clicking became furious and despite the failed attempts of his assistant to make him shut up, he didn’t. “I am not inclined to answer any of your fucking questions. Do you hear me? I won’t. Fucking playing with me. All of you.” he pointed a finger to them. “I will see all of you traitorous bastards.”

“Make sure” Dua stood up at last once the swarm left with its hive, “the news reach the ears it was meant for.” Dua grabbed her bag and shades. “Spare no one.” Xian nodded. “Wait for me in the car.” She went towards the restroom but her steps came to a halt when her senses caught upon something. Her hands fisted upon the sight across the glass.

Why? Why is he with her again?

She was not supposed to feel this anger yet she couldn’t stop herself from smashing her fist in the mirror on the wall next to that glass partition of the restaurant.

The mere sight of Saba holding his hand made her want to rip her arm off.

Dua was appalled by the thought yet she couldn’t deny it. Blood seeped down her fingers and painted the carpet beneath her feet but she paid no attention. Her heart and mind was raging in a different kind of fire right now.

Dua turned on her heels and left the way she came. She was blinded by hatred and something much more potent right now and just the feel of not knowing it made her angrier.

“We are leaving.” Xian looked at her expressions and then at her bleeding hand. “Right now.” Before he could ask, she got in the car and slammed the door shut.

***********

“Return as soon as possible Safan. We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass. Azfar is done for and I don’t want him to have any chance on the escape. That fucker has played the nasty for too long.” Asfand rushed through the living and up towards his room. “One more strike and his kingdom will fall forever.”

“Don’t be too hasty in your actions man. You need to be extra careful from here onward. Your wife might be destroying them but it’s you who is paving out the way for her.” Asfand looked around their room at the mention of Dua but there was no sign of her. As usual. “I’ll let you know further.”

Asfand disconnected the call and looked around the room once again. But the little tigress was nowhere to be found. “Where are you hiding love?” He tapped the phone on his palm impatiently while surveying the dressing area.

Lately, Dua has been avoiding him and the hide and seek worsened after that night. He had no idea what got into her tiny wife so suddenly. She never reacted to his presence before but now, she was making sure her hostile aura was all around him. As much it amused Asfand, he was also curious what made her react this way.

“Saeen?” Asfand turned to Shafiq. “Noor Bi asked for you.”

“Is Dua home?”

“She is with Noor Bi.” Asfand dismissed him and went to meet Noor Bi. He knew she was about to leave in a day. It made him angry that she didn’t tell him but he knew why. Once that man came into picture, nothing could be said or done.

“Aslam-o-alaikum!” Asfand bowed his head in respect and Noor Bi patted it like always. He watched Dua from his periphery but she paid no heed to him. She was too busy with Ushna or was pretending to be. Her ignorance was so obvious but more than that, the bandage covering her hand made him curious and furious. What did she do now? “You called.”

“Yes, I did. I wanted to have tea with you three.” Right then Ida came with trolley and began serving them. “It is so difficult to get hold of you two and now I barely get to see your faces. What kind of work is keeping you two this much occupied?”

If only, she could know. This was the thought Dua and Asfand had simultaneously.

“Don’t be mad now Noor Bi.” Ushna smiled at Dua brightly. “We should make the best of this moment.” Dua returned her smile meekly.

“Yes, we should.” They looked at Noor Bi. “As a matter of fact, I have been waiting on getting hold of you two for quite some time. Ushna, bring me the list.” Ushna jumped off the bed happily to get the list from the drawer. “No need to look so confused. It’s nothing serious.” Noor Bi took the paper from Ushna and handed it to Asfand who read the contents with a frown. “And before you say that you will send someone to run this errand, I want to tell you that I want you to go personally.”

“Bu-”

“And take Dua with you.”

“What?” Dua looked at Noor Bi in surprise. Her eyes flickered towards Asfand but she looked away immediately when she found him already looking her way.

“I won’t” Asfand refused blatantly. His attitude made Dua fume inwardly and she looked away bitterly. “I will get to it right no-”

“I said I want both of you to get these things for me.” Noor Bi interjected calmly. “If you won’t take her along, then no need to go at all.” Asfand groaned in annoyance and his behavior made both girls and Ida confused. “What is the big deal Asfand?”

“Like you don’t know.” He scoffed mentally at her fake oblivion and put the list in his pocket. “Fine. We are going but I want you to know that this was not fair play at all.”

“You are being over dramatic, that’s all.” Noor Bi looked at Dua with a smile. “I know I might be troubling you but will you do this favor to me?” Dua stayed silent. “It’s not that Asfand cannot do it alone. It’s just that he is a man and I know how he is going to go through this list.” Asfand shook his head in disbelief and Ushna muffled her snickers. “Will you go with him?”

Dua didn’t want to but she couldn’t refuse Noor Bi. Her act was so obvious but she just couldn’t spoil this little attempt of her happiness. She nodded silently and a million dollar smile appeared on Noor Bi’s face.

“Thank you so much child. I am really grateful.” Dua got up and walked towards Asfand. Giving him one lingering glance, she walked out of the room. Asfand was not liking it one bit but he was left with no other option but to comply. He turned to leave as well when Noor Bi stopped him. “Take care of her.”

“You should have thought about it before sending her to this market.” Noor Bi pursed her lips at his nonchalant response. “Besides, she doesn’t need my care.”

“Asfand!” He groaned at her apprehensive tone. He nodded in defeat and left after Dua.

“Do you think it will work Noor Bi?” She looked at Ushna. “Their relationship. I mean their hatred is so obvious. I am worried for them. I like Dua bhabhi a lot and I want Asfand bhae to stay with her always.”

“It will work beta” She patted her cheek softly. “I know what you mean but you cannot see what I can see.” Ushna opened her mouth but Noor Bi silenced her with shake of head. “Let’s just pray Ushna.” Noor Bi looked towards the door with sigh.

Dua was almost to their door when Asfand caught up to her and before she could have set foot inside, he got hold of her arm.

“What?” Dua jerked it free and stepped back from him which didn’t sit well with Asfand. But now was not the time for their bickering and confrontations. It was already late and delaying this trip further was not going to benefit them both.

“Cool it.” Dua looked away with crossed arms. “Take a dupatta with you and make sure its big enough to cover your whole body.”

“What?” Dua snorted bitterly. “You-”

“I don’t have time to explain this and clarify my mentality to you.” Asfand checked the time on his watch. “If you want to avoid unnecessary situations, just do as I say” he walked past her, purposely brushing her shoulder with his. “For now. I’m waiting by the car.”

***********

“What is this place?” Dua looked around the night market. The narrow streets were twinkling with lights and bustling with people of every age group. “It’s a night market?”

“The oldest one” Asfand turned off the engine after parking their car. “But not the safest place to be.” Dua got out after him. She was having great difficulty in keeping up with the dupatta around her body. It kept falling again and again and it was annoying her so much. “Bear with it.” Dua looked at Asfand in surprise when he fixed it around her. Her eyes were hooked on his face in a trance and though Asfand was aware of it, he showed no reaction.

“Why did you ask me to wear it?” Dua asked softly which made Asfand look up and in her eyes. They were twinkling beautifully with curiosity and it made Asfand smile.

“This place is not what you can call safe. I know you are brave and can handle any situation but let’s just say that it is still not safe for you to wander on your own here.” Dua was surprised when he entwined their hands firmly. “Don’t let go, at any cost.” Dua nodded and let Asfand lead the way. “What happened to your hand?”

“Nothing that concerns you.” Her response made him angry but he swallowed his anger like a bitter pill. “This is something. I never thought a market stays open this late here.” Dua was awed by the place.

“They close at four in the morning.” Asfand chuckled at her incredulous expressions. “It’s a night market. It’s different from how usual malls and shops work.” Dua got what Asfand meant. It was so different from the normal markets, malls and food streets she has ever seen or visited. The shops were so small but there was so much rush over them. There was even a small shrine by the entrance of this place and that place was flooded with people.

“What did Noor Bi want from here?” Asfand looked down when Dua grabbed his arm with her free hand. He looked at her but she was too busy to look around. Too busy to notice her actions. Asfand chuckled which made Dua look his way. She couldn’t make of his musings and he was not going to ruin it for himself.

“There is an old shop here. Noor Bi likes the kundan they sell. We are here to get that and a few other things.”

“What’s kundan?” Dua asked curiously and moved closer to Asfand when someone passed by them in a hurry, almost bumping into Dua. But Asfand was fast enough to act. He shielded her with his arm and once he was sure, she was fine they started walking towards their destination.

“It’s an old form of gemstone jewelry folded in raw gold foils. The cuts are what make it desirable and this shop do all the work by hand themselves.” Dua nodded slowly.

They reached the shop and Dua was once again impressed by the antiquity of the place and things they were selling. Asfand didn’t take long and they were moving to next shop.

“It-what?” She peeked into the list with a frown. “What are these things?” Asfand mused at her expressions. Her nose was scrunched cutely as she focused on the paper in his hand. “This is so weird.”

“Itar.” Asfand told her. “It’s perfume in small bottles but its more potent.” When they entered the shop, Dua was taken aback by the strong scent. It made her head pound and she started sneezing nonstop.

“Can we leave?” She sneezed again. “I’m not liking this trip very much.” Her continuous sneezes were worrying and amusing Asfand simultaneously. But his attention inclined more towards worry this time. Asfand wasted no time in getting the desired items and they left for the last shop.

“What is next on the list?” Her hand moved up his arm and she clutched it tightly. Completely unaware of the effects her unconscious actions were having on Asfand. His grip around her hand tightened and he guided her along the narrow streets more carefully.

Asfand was very much aware of certain eyes following after them. This was why he didn’t want to bring Dua to this place. This place was den for hooligans and thugs. For them, beautiful women from rich family were food. And Dua was on a whole different level. He saw how many heads turned and whispers passed when she got off the car.

That was exactly why he asked Dua to cover herself. It’s not that he couldn’t deal with such trivial matters. He just wanted to avoid it with Dua. But that was not going to be possible. They were not aware of his identity yet and Asfand wanted it to stay that way. Because once they realized who he was, a new gate to hell could open. He just hoped they left before anything could transpire.

“Asfand?” He looked down at Dua with a hum. “I asked where we are heading next.” Asfand didn’t reply. He just kept looking at her face, kept looking in her eyes. Her eyes that were finally looking his way. There was so much going through his head right now but his tongue was not ready to cooperate. There was so much he wanted to say to her right now, ask her but he couldn’t. All because of this single gaze that made him forget everything. “Asfand?”

“Dua?” She nodded and waited for him to continue but he just watched her silently. “I think we should leave.” Asfand pulled her close suddenly and fixed the dupatta around her properly. Dua couldn’t make of the sudden shift in his behavior. The way his body tensed up and the way he was glaring over her head, she knew something was wrong.

And all her doubts cleared when his men rounded them out of every corner. People literally shuffled away from them in fear upon recognizing who was standing amidst them.

“We are leaving right now” Asfand turned but Dua grabbed his arm to stop him from doing so. Asfand glared at her halfheartedly. “Dua!”

“We have just two more things left Asfand.” Dua tugged at his arm calmly. “Don’t ruin it for Noor Bi.” Asfand opened his mouth but Dua raised one finger to stop him. “I don’t like to leave things midway.”

“This place is not safe.” He looked around in warning and caution.

“I have seen worst.” His eyes focused on hers once again. “Let’s just get done with it. This thing has started to annoy me now.” She pointed to the dupatta around her body. Asfand smirked at her aggravation. He should have known better that she would sense the danger from afar. It was no feat for D. Almas Sahi.

“You knew?” Dua just smiled a half smile in response. “No wonder.”

“Is that why you asked me to take this?” She pointed to the black dupatta draped around her. “I don’t know what to say Mr. Husband.”

“Then don’t say anything at all Ms. Wife.” Dua looked down when Asfand took hold of her hand once again. “I know you are capable to handle yourself but there are certain situations that you need to avoid rather than confronting.”

“Like?” They reached the last shop and Dua looked at all the pieces of head-wears and dupattas. They were colorful and hand-crafted with different shiny stones and laces. Every one of them was refine piece of work down to last stitch.

“Like having lecherous eyes leeching after you.” Asfand draped a red dupatta around her head. It was not heavy like others and was sprinkled with bronze colored star-shaped little flowers. It was delicate and simple yet strong and graceful. Like her. “At my watch.”

“What does it matter to you?” Dua didn’t look away from him. A storm started stirring in her heart and she just couldn’t rein it in. Not anymore. “Why?”

“Izzat ho tum meri (you are my honor).” Her heartbeat shot in pace when Asfand stepped closer to her. He completely forgot where they were standing right now. Not that it matters to Asfand in the first place but the whole situation was making Dua a mess. And the more she looked in his eyes, the more trapped she got until she could see nothing but him.

“Aur meri Izzat ki tarf koi ankh utha ke dekhay (and someone look at my honor with evil eye).” Asfand caressed her cheek softly with his knuckles. “Ye mujeh na manzoor hai, na bardasht (I will neither accept it, nor tolerate it).”

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