Shackled Exemption

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CHAPTER 49

“We have stabilized her” The doctor stood up straight after connecting a drip to Dua’s hand and faced them calmly. “But it would have been much better if you let us keep her in the hospital.”

“No” Asfand and Xian replied simultaneously and glared at each other murderously. Both wanted to throw each other out of the room. Both had reasons of their own and none of them was going to dictate it out for other.

“That’s out of question” Asfand replied briskly. “You know what kind of dangers are involved in my life. And my wife is no ordinary woman as well. There are many controversies surrounding us and it could only add to problems at both ends if media got the whiff of everything.”

“I understand but we still need to run some tests, just in case.” Asfand looked at Dua. She looked so serene as if she was sound asleep. “Your wife was suffering from high fever and hypothermia only worsened the situation.” Asfand and Xian looked at Ida.

“I had no idea about it.” Ida shook her head remorsefully. “I’m sorry Xian. If only I had paid better attention.” But Xian knew she was not to be blamed. He himself was equally responsible.

“The drop in her temperature was not normal and it needs to be monitored for time being.” Doctor pressed. “She needs to be injected at regular intervals for next twenty-four hours. Her vitamin and water level are also below normal. It could have proven really fatal if she was not given immediate treatment.”

“I will get everything needed.” Asfand replied coldly. “Set up a fucking hospital but do it from here.” Ida grabbed Xian’s hand when he tried to intervene.

“You know he is right.” Ida whispered to him. “Word cannot get out Xian. It will put her in more danger.” She patted his hand calmly.

“What about the injury on her hand?” Asfand was trying everything to control his burning rage but every time his eyes fell on Dua and how vulnerable she looked, he lost it. “You saw its condition.”

“Fortunately, there was no infection around it so it won’t spread. We have treated it. Mrs. Sherzai needs full bedrest.” Asfand didn’t look away from Dua this time. Damn this woman. Why do I have to feel this way because of her? “Mr. Sherzai?”

“We won’t be needing a nurse to attend her” Asfand looked at Xian. “Ida can take care of things.”

“But-”

“She will tend to everything.” Xian interjected. “She bears more knowledge than all of your team. Just let her know.” The doctor didn’t argue further. “No one should get the wind of things Doctor. Make sure the mouth doesn’t run where it shouldn’t.” The doctor nodded and left once he was done instructing Ida about everything.

“You need to go back.” Ida stepped in between Xian and Asfand when she saw them glaring at each other. “Xian!” She gripped his arm firmly. “You know that you have to, for her sake.” Ida rubbed his arm in an attempt to calm him. “We didn’t know something like this was going to happen. That’s why you need to go now and make everything right.”

“Call me right away Ida.” She nodded. “I don’t care how small the matter.”

“I will be here with Dua. So, you focus on other matters. We cannot let something like this happen again.” Xian fixed Asfand a hard glare and left.

“I thank you for everything.” Ida looked at Dua in sadness. “I’m indebted to you for this kindness Mr. Sherzai and I will make sure to repay you one day.” Asfand scoffed lowly while looking away. “She will need to eat when she wakes up. I hope you won’t mind to stay here until I come back? I will be grateful” Ida walked out of the room with a contented smile.

For a second, Asfand just watched the closed door before turning towards Dua with a tired sigh. He watched her silently for a whole minute. Asfand couldn’t make of anything he was feeling. She was going to be fine but he couldn’t let himself feel at ease.

Asfand walked up to their bed and sat by her side. She was too still and he was not liking it in the least. He was not liking what she was doing to him. “I’m a fool for letting you play me like this.” He twirled a lock of her hair around his finger. “And god knows how fucking infuriating the thought is making me.” Asfand pressed a kiss to her forehead before standing up. His expressions blended into coldness and after adjusting the blanket around her, he left their room.

*********

The light that was trying to pierce her closed eyelids was too bright and warm. Has sun finally risen? Dua rubbed her eyes and sat up with a low groan. Her throat was parched and she was desperate for a glass of water.

“What?” The first thing her wide open eyes landed on was the unfamiliar surroundings. Dua got off the bed on wobbly steps and looked around in bewilderment. “Where am I?” She ran towards the door and breathed in relief when it opened without any problem. “I’m not kidnapped.” Dua walked out and down the wide hallways. The place was nice and warm.

Almost like home.

Her pace slowed when the thought crossed her mind and she stopped altogether. This time her eyes caught the similarities they failed to notice before. Her heart jumped to her throat and eyes burnt with unshed tears.

“Dua?” A voice called out to her and Dua followed it down the stairs. “How long are you going to sleep? Wake-oh! There she is.” Dua had to brace herself against the railings. “I was on my way up to drag you down.”

“Ammara!” She smiled. “You are here.”

“Where else would I be?” Ammara walked back with a wink. “Mama has been killing my ears because you were not waking up.”

“Dua! Ammara!” Dua couldn’t even blink when their mother appeared around the corner. “What are you two doing here?” She scolded them. “You can fool around later. Come in the dining area for now. Your papa is waiting. He has to leave for work.”

“She is here” Dua couldn’t find the strength in her legs to walk after her. She wanted to go and touch her mother but she couldn’t.

“Where else would she be Dua.” Ammara laughed heartily. “Papa came back last night and he brought us a lot of souvenirs. Let’s hurry or we won’t be getting anything.”

“Ammara! Don’t go” Dua yelled when she ran ahead and disappeared around the corner after their mother. “Ammara!” Dua tried to run after her but her legs gave way and she fell to the floor. She was suddenly so weak and short at breath. “Get up” Dua gritted lowly with closed eyes. “I need to get up. I need to g-”

A scream followed two gunshots.

Dua pushed herself off the floor and staggered towards their kitchen. Her vision was getting blurry because of dizziness and tears. Her heart starting thundering in her chest when she neared the dining area. It was too dark and the atmosphere was too cold. All the light and warmth that was surrounding her moments ago dissipated and disappeared into a cold void of darkness.

“No” Her steps halted when her ears picked faint sobs from inside. “I don’t-No-” A painful gasp escaped her lips when she saw their annihilated place. Everything was smashed, torn and covered in blood. “No!”

“Dua!” Dua pushed herself against the wall. “They took them away.” Ammara was standing across the center isle and staring at her emptily. She didn’t look like her sister at all. Her eyes were hollow and complexion was ashen. She looked like a corpse with all the blue and black bruises. Bruises that Dua clearly remembered.

“Amm-ara!” Dua tried to reach out for her.

“It is hurting Dua” Ammara looked down at her lower abdomen where her bony hand was covering a bleeding wound. “It hurt every time.” Dua stretched her arm out for her sister. Something was holding her back and it made her cry loudly. “It still hurt so much.”

“No!” Dua watched her disappear in shadows. There were no familiar faces snickering at her but the dark silhouettes. “Don’t! No! NO.” Dua screamed in agony. “Don’t take them. Please-”

“You will never know” Dua shut her eyes and shook her head violently but the voices stayed.

“Dua!”

“Dua-” Dua bolted up with a loud scream. Her head crashed against Asfand’s shoulder and she sobbed loudly.

“Don’t go. Don’t go” Her arm was still stretched and her closed eyes were shedding tears nonstop. “Don’t take them. Don’t leave me alone.”

“Dua bab-” Ida rushed inside the room. “Oh!” She gasped and staggered against the door when she saw Dua screaming for her parents and sister. “Dua!”

“You need to get a hold of yourself” Asfand snapped angrily which was enough to snap Ida out of shock. “Her temperature is rising.” Ida nodded and rushed out of the room.

“Killed them” Dua hiccupped lowly. Her arm dropped and she fell limp against Asfand. “Killed them.” Without knowing his own actions, Asfand embraced her tightly. “They killed them. They killed them.” Dua started sobbing again.

“Sssh!” Asfand kissed her temple. “Just sleep. Just go back to sleep janaan. It’s alright.” He cooed in her ear softly and continued peppering kisses from her temple to her cheek. “It will be alright.” Asfand steadied her in his arms and wiped her tears reluctantly. The warm wetness on his fingertips made him feel weird.

Asfand laid her back carefully and adjusted the blanket around her small frame. His jaw locked in anger when he saw another tear slip out of her eye. Damn you! Asfand got up swiftly and called Safan while facing away from Dua. He just couldn’t bring himself to see her like this.

Especially those tears that were not stopping. Just the sight of them was enough to spike his hatred and boil his rage to surface, to the point that turned him blind to every rationality.

“Mail it” He commanded coldly. “Right now.”

“Are you insane?” Safan yelled angrily. “This is enough. You are being unreasonable Asfand. Everything is in your palms right now. Do you even know what it-”

“I don’t give a fuck. Do it and meet me at the office.” Asfand ended the call and cursed under his breath while pinching his nose. What am I doing? “Fuck!”

“Sir!” Ida came inside the room after knocking. She went straight to Dua and got to work. All this while Asfand stood behind them with arms crossed and dark expressions.

“The guards are stationed below the room and around the whole estate.” Ida looked at Asfand in question. “I know you people are not taking any chances but I’m just doing it for my own peace. I know what troubles your young miss is carrying on her delicate shoulders.”

“Are you going somewhere?” Ida stood up and faced him.

“You will be safe” Asfand looked at Dua briefly before looking at Ida. “Not that you need my assurance but you can rest at ease.”

“When will you be back?” Asfand stopped and turned to the old lady again. “She-”

“Doesn’t need me.” Asfand interrupted her bitterly. “But if you still want to know, it might take two to three hours.” Ida nodded with a smile. “My return is not guaranteed.”

“I will stay here until you return” Asfand scowled at her hopeful smile. “I will keep her safe.”

“I didn’t ask for it.” His bitter words were not enough to make her smile fall. “Whatever” Asfand muttered under his breath and turned towards the closet area.

“Asfandyar!” Asfand stopped dead in his tracks when Ida called him. “Thank you.” Asfand gave no response to her and went straight inside the bathroom. He closed the door with a bang and leaned against it with closed eyes.

Thank you.

Memories started pouring back against his will. His head was pounding so much that he thought it was going to explode. He could feel the bulging veins in his temples. That was how much he was angry right now.

“I’m going to regret this like a fuck” Asfand cursed at his reflection while taking off his clothes. He hopped in the shower and turned on the cold water. He was desperate for the numbness and he needed to cool his head before he made any more decisions.

“Fuck!” His fist collided with the marble. What he was going to do could be considered equivalent to shooting your own foot. He was going to dig his own grave. But Asfand was feeling no reluctance in doing it. “I’m going to fucking kill you for this.”

*********

Dua was lying in the same position when Asfand came back to the room while fixing his tie. He was not in the bit ready to leave but he had no other choice. With a deep sigh, he climbed in the bed and pulled her in his arms, careful of the drip on her hand. Her heartbeat and breathing returned to normal but the fever still needed to drop. Asfand pushed the hair back from her face and caressed her cheek softly.

“I wanted to take her to London with me.” Asfand was having great difficulty in speaking. This was the first time he was talking about his mother. Not that he wanted to but looking at Dua right now compelled him to. “I was four when I came to know of her. The woman in the old haveli.” A dry chuckle slipped past his lips. “And with the knowledge of her identity came the knowledge of the horrors she was forced to face at the hands of my uncle and cousin.” His arms tightened around her small frame and he breathed deeply.

“No one knew because that man never let anyone know. He forced my mother to cut ties with everyone. She refused her own family when they tried to take her and they never came again even after knowing. She stayed there even when baba saeen asked her to come back to the main house. The reason was me.” Asfand looked at her closed eyes.

“Afroz threatened her with my life and she gave her own without a thought. Because she wanted me to live, she suffered everything at that tyrant’s hands who felt no mortification in exploiting his own relations.” Bitterness and venom was evident in his tone as he reminisced the ugly events he was forced to witness.

“Afroz used to rape my mother.” Asfand gritted lowly. “He brought his associates and friends to haveli and let them force themselves on my mother for his own gains. Everyone in the haveli knew but no one dared to tell baba saeen of this injustice. They turned blind and deaf to her pain and tears.” Asfand looked at Dua somberly. “Not that they could have done anything to help her. They knew they would be dead before they even raised their heads.”

“And one night, I saw it with my own eyes. He forced me to see after beating me to death because he came to know that I knew who she was. That I sneaked out every night to meet my mother.” Asfand looked at the ceiling emptily. “That was the night I saw my mother for the last time. I saw the loath, anger and hatred in her eyes for herself. That was the night my hatred developed. For women like her who were educated and headstrong but still bowed to cruelties because of their emotions.”

“I don’t know what happened but baba saeen came in the morning. The way he looked, I knew he might have come to know what uncle was doing behind his back. He was furious because I saw him raging on uncle. It was a matter of family’s name and if people got wind of what uncle did to his own sister-in-law, they would be losing more than just respect.”

“But that man was not in the bit ashamed.” Asfand sighed loudly. “I was sent to London and when I came back to Pakistan again, I was fourteen. Time taught me a lot of things before I was of age janaan. Before I knew it, I became someone whose name people feared to even call out behind closed doors.” His fingers touched her lips softly.

“I knew baba saeen favored me over Afroz and his son and I used it to my advantage. I did everything to win his utmost trust in me. I became someone he couldn’t deny no matter what. And that time, I was aiming to take my mother along with me. As much as I hated her, I wanted her out of that place. I didn’t trust my uncle. I knew he would have done or will do worse now that his position was in danger.” Asfand grabbed her hand and held it over his heart. “But I was not ready to witness what was lying in wait for me.”

“Turned out my uncle didn’t spare my mother even after baba saeen intervened. He tortured her so much that she completely lost who she was.” His grip tightened on Dua’s hand. “I regretted it, leaving. When I saw her again, she was nothing like the woman I remembered. He killed her mind and soul with all the awful acts he did to her. She was nothing but a body. A body that was mutilated beyond repair.”

“She was sitting naked on the floor when I entered her room. Her eyes were fixed on the wall and when she looked at me, there was nothing but hollowness in them.” Asfand buried his face in her hair. “She just got up and laid on the bed. She couldn’t even recognize me Dua. She couldn’t even tell his son apart from those vultures. Even when I called out to her, she didn’t respond.”

“I hated her in that moment. I hated my father for not doing anything to change the future. I hated that fucker Afroz Sherzai. But above every fucking thing, I hated myself.” Asfand looked at Dua. “If I was never born, she might have been spared. I hated her for becoming weak for me. She should have been selfish and saved herself but she chose me. She fucking chose me and ruined herself.”

“It took a week to kick some sense back in her. She was not the same but she finally recognized me. It was fucking relieving to see her behave like a human. I didn’t talk to her much but I didn’t stop her from talking to me or coming to me whenever she wanted. I could see the love in her eyes and it made me angrier on her. She knew but she never complained. She was too contented and calm as if the past never happened. As if her life was not ruined.”

“That night, we were supposed to leave for London. I was on the call when she came to me, draped in a heavy red shawl from head to toe. There was this calmness surrounding her that gave me an unsettling feeling. And I was forced to look away when she let it fall. She was naked beneath it and at that moment I knew nothing could fix her. I was so angry that I could see nothing but red. I was going to kill everyone but her plea turned everything cold in the next instant.” Asfand became silent.

“Kill me, that’s what she said while getting on her knees.” Asfand muttered lowly. “I could do nothing but look at her vacantly. Nothing was going to change that has been done. So, I did what was the right thing to do.” Asfand looked at Dua darkly. “I released her from the hell. I shot my own mother to death and you know what the worst part of it was.” Asfand caressed her temple. “I didn’t regret it. My hands didn’t shake. I felt nothing when I saw the bullet pierce her heart.”

“I was labeled a rapist and murderer of my own mother. People who feared me before couldn’t even stand where my name was taken. I was the new name of terror and disgust and this earned me a position far above everyone else.” Another pregnant pause followed.

“She was smiling in contentment when she took her last breath. I had never seen her smile so beautifully before. She was happy and I could not have hated her more than I did in that moment.” Asfand gritted lowly. “She thanked me. She fucking thanked her own son for taking her life.” Another moment of silence stretched between them.

“She should have hated me but she didn’t. She never did.”

Asfand pressed a soft kiss to her hand and got off the bed. He wore his jacket and buttoned it up while facing away from Dua. His expressions were neutral and eyes were blank. Giving one lingering glance towards his sleeping wife, he walked out of the room.

And right when the door closed, her eyes flew open.

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