"Goodnight baby, sleep tight," Zoya whispered.
"Sleep long," Asad added.
Zoya shot up in bed in the dead of night. Her heart pounded and breath sawed. The moonlight streaming in through the picture window did nothing to cool her indignation. She turned to look at Asad and glowered at his sleeping form tangled in the sheet. Even the sight of the feather boa draped around his neck or the multiple lipstick stains over his face, chest, and lower ... failed to impress or appease her. She glared at the hundred rupee note still tucked behind his ear.
A dangerous huff and a puff was building inside her ...
Asad slept on unware of the coming tumult.
When he still slept on without alerting to her distress like any good husband would, Zoya boxed him hard across the chest--those few practices at his punching bag had given her a good hook.
"Uunmmph!" Asad yelped. "What? Who--?" He massaged his chest wondering if the sky had fallen. Was it an earthquake? Oh my god, Zo--
Even before he could turn to check on her, Zoya pressed her angry face against his. His eyes widened.
"What the hell did you mean by, the 'next time' I get jealous'?" Her fingers drew ominous air quotes. Asad blinked to clear the haze from his eyes. She ranted on: "What are you planning Mr. Khan? Who am I going to be jealous of next time?" Her finger jabbed him in his recently-punched chest.
"Zoya--" He tried to hold her back but between the stabbing and the air quoting it was hard to get her to be still.
"Don't you dare Zoya me! 'Next time?' Really? I want answers and I want them now!"
Ya Allah, this girl! The next time he decided to pull a trick on her he'd better think twice. He gave himself a mental slap for even thinking about a next time. She would seriously maim him. Good lord, keeping up with her mad mood swings and emotional gymnastics was getting to be exhausting.
And her nocturnal hissy fits were always a doozy. He knew that from the last time she was ...
Nocturnal hissy fi--?
Panic slammed his already-bruised chest.
Asad spluttered and gripped her hard by her forearms. "Zoya, are you pregnant?"
"What?" Where did that even come from? She shook his hands off and stuck him with a finger again. "Stop changing the subject Mr. Khan, and give me some straight answers. Who am I going to be jealous of next?"
He shook her. "Zoya, focus! What if you're pregnant?"
"What nonsense!" she flipped her hair off her shoulder and then gulped. His words had just registered. "Oh my god! Could I be?" Her eyes glittered for a second. "Nah!" she decided with a careless wave of her hand.
"How do you feel? Any changes in appetite or ..." Dang, after reading up so much about the subject when she was pregnant with Zaid, Asad suddenly couldn't remember a single thing about early pregnany signs.
"Umm ... do you feel queasy in the mornings? Tired?"
"What? Why would you even say that?"
"Because this is how you'd always wake me up in the middle of the night when you were pregnant with Zaid!" Her hormonal outbursts during those months meant that he had to add a third cup of coffee the next morning to function normally.
"No! Oh god, this can't be happening! Mr. Khan, this is all your fault--" The finger started to wave in his face again.
"What did I do?" He shut up when he saw the look on her face. "I mean, OK fine ... we can fight about that later. For now, we need to confirm if you really are."
"How? It's too late to go get a pregnancy test kit."
"You don't have any left over from the last time we suspected?" Over two months ago they'd had a similar scare.
"No," she wailed. "We used up all of them to make sure!" He'd bought several different brands just in case ...
"Jeez, at this rate we'll need to keep a steady supply of standbys ..." Asad muttered.
"Oh really Mr. Khan, you plan on us going through this anxety again? Your plan is to keep me eternally pregnant AND jealous!"
There she went again trying to pin this on him. She was doing the double-slapping thing against his chest now. Asad took her hands in his and gripped them tight. "Babe, focus this once! You're the one who must've calculated the safe dates wrong. We've been extra careful since the last time we went through this."
"That, Mr. Khan, is impossible," Zoya said with faux-sweetness. "There's no way I could be wrong. I have an app to keep track of my periods. It's foolproof!"
Fool woman. Believed more in technology than her own husband.
The discussion would've continued and he would've been gouged even more, but just then they heard a sharp cry followed by the sound of Zaid bawling.
Looks like the Dadi-Zaid sleepover had hit the skids. Zoya leapt out of bed and would've run out of the room stark naked if Asad hadn't hooked her wrist.
He threw the robe at her. Zoya slapped her head before slipping into it. Thank god for husbands! Cinching it tightly at her waist she ran out to see why her son was crying and mother-in-law sobbing. Asad was quick to don his kurta and pajama too.
Lights blazed in the living room.
"Ammi! What happened?" Zoya asked as her mother-in-law desceneded the stairs with a squalling baby. It was hard to get Dilshad to calm down too. Zaid leapt to be in his Ammi's arms. Zoya rocked him and made soft kissing sounds. Eyes squinched tight, big tears splashed onto his reddened cheeks.
"It's OK baby, mama's here," Zoya tried to hush him even as she checked for blood or cuts. "What happened to my chhota baby?" she asked as she nuzzled him.
"I think he was trying to stand and hit the headboard," Dilshad wailed louder than her grandson. "Mera bachcha, I'm so sorry. Dadi is so bad!" She took Zaid's little hand in hers. "Here, hit your careless Dadi. Khoob maro! Bad Dadi!"
Asad had come out by now and heard the details. He put his arm around his mother to soothe her as Zoya took Zaid away to feed and settle him down for the night. Thankfully there was no real damage done. And if all went well the munchkin would be too sleepy to remember the accident in the morning.
"Ammi, it's OK," Asad soothed Dilshad. "It's nothing"he'll be fine."
"Are you sure?" Dilshad hiccupped. "He'll be fine?" She tried to wipe her tears but more fell in sympathy for her grandson's. Those big wrenching sobs broke her heart. What a terrible Dadi she'd been. That too on the first night Zaid had come to sleep with her!
Asad patted her back and sat her down on the sofa before bringing her a glass of water. "Ammi, I'm sure he's fine. This isn't the first time he's bumped his head and it probably won't be the last. It's not your fault."
"Really?" Finally she was regaining some of her composure. Dilshad turned to look up at her son and snorted. And then she began to hiccup, or laugh. He couldn't tell.
"What happened?" Asad frowned. "Ammi, aap theek toh hain?" Was Ammi getting hysterical? No, that couldn't be it. Ammi wasn't the one to break down so easily. May be she really was feeling better now. But he was surprised at the speed at which she'd recovered and forgiven herself. He must have some awesome powers of persuasion. If they only worked as well on his headstrong wife.
"Nothing," Dilshad smirked. But soon her face grew serious as she re-swiped her cheeks. "I got so worried when I heard him cry. What if I hadn't woken up and he fell off the bed?" Her face crumpled again. "Asad, I'm so sorry!"
"Ammi, please that's impossible! And there's nothing to be sorry for. You're acting as if you didn't raise me, or Najma. We survived didn't we? Zaid will be fine."
"No buts. You're worrying about this too much. Here, have some water and now go get a good night's rest."
Dilshad allowed herself to be reassured and herded upstairs. Shukar hai khuda ka, that Zaid wasn't too badly hurt. And thank god for her son and daughter-in-law who were so forgiving! She'd heard from her friend, Sarita, about how her son and bahu didn't allow the grandkids to stay with the grandparents because they worried about the kids' safety. Which reminded her of Zaid again--the poor baby. What if he'd gotten severely hurt? She would never forgive herself. May be she shouldn't have insisted on him sleeping with her ... Tomorrow she would go to the dargah and get a tawiz from the Pir Baba outside ...
When Asad closed the bedroom door behind him Zoya was just placing a dozing Zaid back into his crib.
"He OK?" Asad asked.
"Umm-hmm. Just a little bump. He won't even remember it in the morning."
Zoya turned to reassure her husband and gasped. "Allah Miyan what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan! Is that how you went out in front of Ammi?"
"What?" Asad's eyebrows climbed up his forehead.
She took his hand and marched him to the mirror in the closet.
It was Asad's turn to smack his forehead this time. No wonder Ammi had burst out laughing. And no, she hadn't been hysterical either. Not only was he wearing his kurta inside out but he'd forgotten to remove the lipstick stains from his jaw and neck. Allah miyan, those hickeys ... and wait, was that a pink feather sticking out from his hair?
"Damn," he muttered, eyes squeezed, forehead pressed to the cool glass. Damn. Damn. Damn.
Zoya began giggling. She removed something from the collar of his kurta, opened his clenched palm--and placed the folded 100-rupee note in it. Asad groaned. By now he was beating his head against the mirror rhythmically.
"Oh my god, what must Ammi have thought? Mr. Khan, you are so embarrassing!"
"I'm embarrassing? This is all your fault. Look what you've done to me! I've become a bloody joker in front of my own mother!"
"Jeez, good job letting Ammi know we were doing the nasty after packing off Zaid to be with her! Mr. Khan, you're so useless!" Zoya doubled over with laughter.
"I'm useless? I'm useless! Whose handiwork is this?" He pointed at the lipstick marks and the hickeys.
"Umm please, that's not my handiwork at all. More like my lipwork!" She squealed in delight. She even did a little dance step to exult over her brilliant wit--after blowing him an air kiss.
"Whatever," Asad grumbled. He covered his face once again remembering Ammi's expression. So. Damn. Embarrassing. The money rustled against his cheek. In a fit he threw it to the floor. How would he ever face her again?
"Not whatever. Whenever! Jahanpanah ki service mein kaneez hamesha hazir hai!" Zoya bowed elaborately waving a saucy palm in front of her face.
"Jahanpanah's kaneez needs a good spanking for always getting him into trouble," he groused some more.
She turned and stuck her bum out giving it a good wiggle. The silk rustled against her skin. "Promise, you'll give me a good spanking? Should I keep the robe on or off?"
Asad gave her butt a playful whack.
"Oh really? Kaneez silence mein Jahanpanah ke zulm sahey?"
"You are so bad!" he chased her to the bed. "And there's more of where that came from, Mrs. Khan!"
Oh, what the hell. Ammi had already seen him at his most incredibly foolish. Might as well put it to some good use to punish his wife.
He tugged at the belt at her waist and snaked it out of the silken loops the next second. And before she could gasp he had her hands tied behind her back with it.
"Ooh Mr. Khan, looks like you have some wicked plans for your kaneez! Deewar main chunvayenge kya, isse?"
He placed a finger on her lips to shut her up. "Worse," he drawled. Her eyes widened at the threat. The robe spilled away from her shoulders and tangled with her tied hands behind her.
"Jeez, great job not taking off the robe first," she said softly going for a playful tone but alerting to the intensity in his eyes. Her mouth went dry. She licked her lips.
Asad outlined her wet lips with his thumb. "I do have a master plan for you, kaneez." He kissed her hard before bunching the robe in his hand to draw its hem over her head and eyes. Zoya's mouth rounded in shock. She felt him tie the two ends behind her head. Zoya heard the lamp click off. Darkness blanketed her; she quivered in anticipation.
She felt his hand squeeze her throat. "Jahanpanah is very angry with you for being too saucy for your own good," his voice rumbled near her ear. "And for getting him into trouble."
Ooh, she loved it when he role-played. He refused to do it often but when he did, her husband outdid himself. Zoya wiggled in pleasure even as her heart thundered in her ears. Should she be sassy or submissive tonight? She felt his fingers dig into her scalp as he yanked her head back and bit the shell of her ear. She grinned through the gasp of pain. OK, Jahanpanah was giving her clues about what he wanted from her but when did she ever listen to him! She would be submissive but only after she'd had her fun with him first.
Zoya wrenched out of his arms. But he seemed to anticipate her disobedience; he roped her right back in slamming her against his chest. Roughly. She struggled against his embrace, against her restraints and felt herself being lifted up. She expected to be dumped on the bed. But no, Jahanpanah had other plans for his errant kaneez. He sat down and laid her face-down across his knees.
Zoya felt disoriented. She couldn't tell if they were on the bed or the settee. A jolt of awareness scorched through her making her wet. She writhed some more unconsciously grinding her [email protected] into his thighs but stilled when she felt his finger trail down from her skull to her nape over the gathered silk ... and then langorously over her spine all the way to her lower back. His finger feathered over her butt crack. Zoya shivered. She spread her legs inviting a more intimate touch. But he stopped just short of doing her bidding. His fingers drew lazy circles on her ass cheek before kneading it. And as she wriggled and mewled he spanked her.
"Asad," she moaned in surprise.
He grabbed her hair to pull her head back. "You're a simple kaneez. You don't get to call me by my first name."
Oh really, Jahanpanah! She bit his thigh through the thin cotton of his pajamas.
Asad snickered as his grip on her hair tightened. The woman was irrepressible and he loved her the more for it. He lifted her up on her knees by her hair to face him and she fell upon him--growling, gnashing her teeth and spitting fire. She was a glorious sight to behold. A writhing, naked Jhansi ki Rani with her head and eyes hidden in a silken turban. The restraints on her hands made her mouth the only weapon she could attack him with. And she did after initially bumping her head into his nose. He grunted as she knew he would. He saw her teeth flash. Homing in like a warrior, Zoya pressed her mouth to his, sinking her teeth into his lower lip. As he groaned she drew his lip into her mouth to suck on it.
She tasted blood and triumph.
Asad fell back on the settee taking her down with him. His arms came around her to steady her before he rolled them on her back to drag a ripe nipple into his mouth. She was panting. That harsh tug made her wetter still. And wilder. Her arms were still trapped behind her and her eyes still blindfolded. Zoya swung her legs wide to scissor him between her thighs. She ground her hips against his. Her body wanted release, it craved his touch and thrusts. But she encountered hurdles.
"Why are you still dressed," she panted in frustration.
"Because you are still disobeying me and being badtameez as usual," Asad retorted as he stood back.
Zoya shivered from the sudden chill. She sat up. "Asad, I need you."
"Need me to do what?"
"To rub me, love me. Make me come."
"Shh." His finger came up to shush her again.
Zoya's tongue darted out to lick it and draw his finger into her mouth. "Please," she begged. "I'll suck you down. Like this. I'll make it so good."
Asad snorted. Of course, she'd make it good. Did he not know that aready? He peeled the kurta off, nearly ripping the seams. She heard the rustle and sat up straighter to root at him.
Fingers at her chin he guided her mouth to the drawstring at his waist with his thumb. "Undress me," he ordered.
"But my hands!"
"You don't need your hands for this."
It was hard to do without sight or her hands. With her eager tongue she tried to find the string's end. Watching her tongue dance around and nick the goosed flesh at his waist made Asad groan out loud. That groan made her feel powerful. She temporarily forgot her mission. Bolder, she trailed her tongue over his skin above the waistband. She knew exactly where his scar was; circling the bump with her tongue she sucked on it. She heard him inhale sharply and remembered to use her teeth to tug at one end of the drawstring. It caught. Asad felt too impatient. He offered her seeking mouth one of the ends of the string and winced in pain as she bit down on his fingers.
"You are so wicked," he murmured. He held her hair again with one hand as he stepped out of the pajamas and kicked them away. Her skull throbbed with the painful tugs so far. But she could only think of one sensation right now. She heard a soft thud on the floor and the next instant she knew what that was.
"On your knees now," he commanded and she complied quickly sinking down on the cushion he'd dropped to the floor.
Still functioning on pure instinct she turned towards the heat and scent of his body. Zoya nibbled the skin at the base of his thigh fully aware of the erection bobbing against her cheek and chin. Then she slowly worked her way up from the root to his tip. Her tongue lingered over each veiny bump under the velvet skin. She drew the beaded moisture at the bulbous head into her mouth.
"Zoya!" he bucked hard when she took him in deep in her mouth to graze her throat. His hand came to cradle the back of her head--to guide and control, to slow her down and speed her up. She hollowed her cheeks to suck him off; with a growl he threw his head back and reared.
He couldn't take too much of her hot mouth on him. He would explode. Pulling out Asad lifted her off the ground and carried her to the console table by the window. It was only then that Zoya realized they'd been on the settee and not the bed. Spinning her around her bent her at the waist and pressed her face against the table. The cool wood against her [email protected] made her shiver. He kicked her feet apart to widen her stance.
Zoya waited for him to take her. She squirmed restlessly. Why was he taking so long? She felt his breath puff between her thighs and nearly came apart as she felt his tongue lick her with firm strokes. Arms helpless behind her, cheek and torso plastered to the console table she could only pitch her hips greedily to steal her pleasure. Her breath grew harsher. She squeezed her thighs even as he spread her legs wider.
And just when she thought she was close to exploding he withdrew.
Zoya hissed in fury. "Mr. Khan, you are killing me on purpose."
"That's exactly the point, Mrs. Khan." He pressed a hand to her upper back and nudged her with his tip; Zoya moaned.
"I want you moving inside me. Right. Now. I want it hard. I want it deep." She bounced on her toes in frustration. Her hips writhed in need.
"Babe," he sighed in surrender. "Jo hukum." And he thrust into her waiting softness, hard, lifting her clean off her toes. Feeling that he still wasn't deep enough he grabbed her thighs to straighten them and bury himself deeper. Fingers digging into her flesh he hammered and plowed his way through till they both came calling out each other's names.
Asad nearly yelped out loud when he saw Zoya's text the next afternoon at the office. By now he always made sure to never open her texts in company--god knows what her texts would say and only god knows what his reactions to her daily insanities would be.
Today was no different.
"My [email protected] feel so sore. Do yo think I could really be preg ..." Multiple question marks followed. Then emojis with confused faces. Red and green faces. Cringing faces. Good god, trying to decode those emojis was giving him a mini stroke.
Yes, the soreness was one of the surer signs--he remembered it clearly now from the time she was pregnant with Zaid. She wouldn't let him near her [email protected] in those early days. The night when she'd been so sure she was pregnant, they'd made love. And Zoya had trapped his hands. Sucked and bitten his fingers as she rode him. But she wouldn't let him touch her. Or lick her. Or suckle. It had been frustrating and se*xy as hell.
"But the tests were negative," he texted back in mild exasperation. Why were they still having this discussion? This morning he'd dashed to the nearest pharmacy to stock up on a few pregnancy kits. The woman would kill him one of these days with the weekly heart attacks.
Or the nightly capers.
Asad blushed. He still didn't know what had come over him last night. He'd been a beast trying to tame its mate. But the way their bodies combusted together and reacted to each other, reversing sub and dom roles, reveling in pain and pleasure, tenderness and torture ... meeting and mating as the equals they were ... it made him hard just thinking about it even now. Things were never straightforward or by the book with his wife. She was hardwired to defy rules. It drove him insane; it made his blood sing.
"The tests were kinda negative, but what if they're wrong?" Her text brought him back to the current discussion. "Pick up another kit when you come home," she ordered. His wife was hardly the one to be subordinate for too long--he remembered in the nick of time.
Asad sighed. At this rate he'd need frequent flyer status at the chemist's. Or one of those punch cards--buy 10 pregnancy test kits and get the 11th free.
"Fine. Or you could just go to the doctor," Asad offered. But he knew why Zoya was dithering on that step. So was he. Because going to the doctor would confirm it. Set it in stone.
A second baby. Could it really happen? Were they ready for it? He remembered Zoya's words from a few months ago. She didn't want another baby for another couple of years. "I want to enjoy Zaid," she'd said. "Focus all our attention on him." Would Zaid get jealous of the new baby?
He's just a baby! Babies don't get jealous.
But then he remembered something. They used to laugh at how during the saas-bahu yoga sessions Zaid would not just mimic his Dadi and Ammi but also try to displace Dobby from Zoya's stomach during the shav aasan pose. Both of them fought for the same seat in the house. Just this morning in fact, there had been a minor tussle and then Dobby had put his nose in the air and marched off to sulk at the Bhaijaan-bullying. Zaid had climbed up on his Ammi and lay down on her chest babbling sounds of triumph.
Asad covered his face in embarrassment. Good god, this morning had been rough. First, he kept avoiding Ammi's glance. He hid behind the newspaper most of breakfast. The hickeys were tucked out of sight under the collar and tie and the lipstick stains had been scrubbed off, but still. He was still mortified by what Ammi had seen last night. And then there was his swollen lip where his feisty wife had bitten him later last night. He should probably leave town for a while so he wouldn't have to face Ammi and have her burst out laughing at her se*x-addled son. To top all that humiliation, he'd spied the bruises on Zoya's wrists and blushed as scarlet as her shirt. He'd been careful not to tie her hands too tight last night. But the squirmy and impatient little diva that she was, her constant resistance had resulted in some bruising. Asad had been extra tender with her later, massaging her back and arms, spooning her against him, dropping gentle kisses and caresses till she fell asleep. But the guilt stayed put.
He glanced down at the phone in his hands. Zoya's words "pick up another kit," preoccupied him. Asad was in a fog of conflicted longing most of the day.
A second baby. What if it was a little girl this time? Amna. His heart surged. Tiny, delicate little hands and feet. He'd paint her mini nails now that he was such an expert. Tie up her hair in a neat pony tail. He wouldn't let any one talk him into getting her ears pierced too soon--she could do it when she wanted ... As more experienced parents they would certainly be better at changing diapers this time round. But Zaid. What about Zaid? Would it be fair to him?
Asad bumped into Ayaan in the afternoon. He stared at his younger brother for the longest time. Did he resent Ayaan or Najma as an older brother? Certainly not. Zoya loved Humaira just as much. Did these sibling-loving genes pass down to Zaid? But Zaid was just a baby himself! To expect him to be noble and welcoming to a brand new sibling was terribly unfair to him.
Back at his desk his eyes were dragged to the slideshow on his digital frame. Every other picture had Zaid in it. Zaid as a new born in the hospital--closed eyes, tiny fists curled. That little rooting, rosebud mouth ...
Pictures of a one day-old Zaid snoozing at his daddy's birthday celebration. The khajur-tasting.
Growing older, weeks by months.
Eid celebration--tiny kurta-pajama set and topee that Ammi had bought him. Zoya's birthday portraits with the whole family. Pictures of Ayaan and Zaid. Zaid with Abbu, Siddiqui Saheb and Aunty. Zaid in New York waving to the Statue of Liberty ... With Aapi and Jeeju. With his Phuphis. A picture of him with his guitar and toy truck. Another one capturing him mid-sneeze.
Asad couldn't focus. The last meeting had been a blur. Thank god Ayaan had taken the lead. By 4 that afternoon he'd had it.
"Be ready. I'm coming to pick you up," he texted Zoya.
"Why," came her usual sass.
"We're going to Dr. Sharma to confirm once and for all if you're pregnant or not." Asad slapped his laptop shut, neatened the already neat table and was about to push his chair back, slip into his coat when--
"Oh. I forgot to tell you. False alarm. Just started my period."
Asad's head fell back against the chair with a dull thud. He wished it was concrete he'd slammed his head against. At least that way he would have a legitimate excuse to get his head examined.
He squeezed his forehead. Deep breaths, take deep breaths he told himself.
His wife must take a special kind of pleasure in driving him mad. She had a doctorate in tormenting him. A Ph.D. He should start calling her Dr. Zoya from now on.
He remembered her posing as a doctor and ambulance driver once, a long time ago ...
It was confirmed. She was the doctor of meddling, infuriating, crackpotted, havoc-wreaking, ball-bustin--
His phone pinged. Did he dare look at it without smashing his phone against the nearest wall? And how many phones had she helped destroy--
This time it was emojis with sunglasses. Five. He counted five of them. Then came the dancing girls. Three of them. "We're safe! Isn't that awesome? Especially given how we've been going at it like bunnies!!!" Winky faces. "Aren't you relieved? When're you coming home? I love you!"
She was lucky she was cute and that he was madly in love with her.
"But all that soreness ...?" he asked in his next message feeling surprisingly mellow for someone whose blood pressure had just spiked to off-the-charts, ambulance-necessitating levels.
"I get it once in a while when I'm PMSing. Don't you remember?"
Don't I remember? I'm supposed to remember? Mrs. Khan, you are a total head case. And I'm one too. For letting you get away with murder.
Another ping. Now what?
"Why? Were you hoping I was pregnant?"
Asad looked at the screen for a long time. He had no way of knowing that she was looking expectantly at her phone too a few miles away.
Zoya held her breath as she saw the bubble hover on her screen. He was typing. But what was taking so long for him to finish?
"Let's just say I was looking forward ..." He erased it. What? Looking forward to meeting Amna?
"I'll miss Amna ... and Zaid being bhaijaan for now." He typed. "But we can wait. Because I won't miss the morning sickness. Or the soreness in your [email protected]" But he would miss the rounding belly. Feeling the baby kick.
"In that case Mr. Khan, you may want to stock up on more pregnancy test kits. For the future."
Asad smiled. Always keeping him on his toes this woman. No rest for the weary. Or for the horny--as she always liked to add.
He leaned back in his chair and spun to look out of the plate glass window. He never could explain it but a tenderness overcame him whenever he found out she was on her period. She didn't have the terribly achy and back-breaking kind of severe periods that many other girls had. "Just once in a while I get sore. I'm so lucky!" She'd say breezily. But he would notice her wincing or clutching her back. He was extra careful to touch her during those days. Soft cuddles, back rubs was all he allowed himself even though he wanted to suck hard on her oversensitive, dusky nipples that were off-limits at this time.
Well, mostly he tried to be strict about touching.
Because sometimes she was at her horniest during her periods and that got him hard enough to drill to Alaska.
"Are you OK?" he asked calling her.
He needed to hear her voice. He needed to hear the million giggles in that voice.
Zoya's breath caught at his tone. "Um-hmm," she answered softly. "Why?"
"Good," he said because he knew about the second days being worse than the first.
On some of these days she craved American fried chicken with a passion. He detested KFC but obliged her. Once they'd even tried to make some at home on a Sunday and it had turned out pretty decent. Even after the fights they had about the ingredients.
"You cannot be serious about using whole wheat bread crumbs for fried chicken, Mr. Khan! That's just nuts. It's not even legal."
Or she craved loads of Nestle cookie dough. She would eat spoonfuls of it--kachcha.
"Zoya stop it, you'll get salmonella poisoning if you eat it raw!" Did she listen to him though? No.
"Why do all your cravings have to be for junk or fast food? Why not crave fruits or carrots?" he had asked earlier on.
"Allah Miyan, what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan! I'm not a rabbit or a hamster! I'm a full-blooded woman."
Didn't he know it.
Zoya had shrugged another time, "I don't know why I have these weird cravings. May be I need extra sodium or something during this time."
Asad had tried to research sodium deficiency and the effects of junk food on menstruating women. He'd even rattled off the results to her. And she'd predictably rolled her eyes even as she dug into her tub of dark chocolate ice cream alternated with over-salty potato chips. By now he'd given up. When had he ever been able to change her mind anyways?
"Want me to pick something besides the kits? And please don't say pizza or diet Coke. You just had some yesterday." Sometimes the cravings came even without the periods.
"Hmm. You know today I'm craving pasta! Something spicy, cheesy and garlicky." He heard her smack her lips. "Soft, and gooey, and melty ..."
"Umm babe, stop, or I'm not going to be able to get out of my office."
She giggled. "I could 'come' to your office Mr. Khan, to keep you decent as the 'upstanding' 'member' of society that you are!"
There she went being bad again. The emphases in that sentence charged the simplest words with se*xual frisson.
Barely two weeks and this new kid Amit was getting on his nerves. Asad sighed. It was bad enough that he'd taken to Ayaan like a duck to water. Of course, all the slackers and fun-lovers had to gang up on him. It had taken Asad months, may be even over a year, to nudge Ayaan into some form of respectability and decorum in the office. And here came a kid who was close to foiling all that hard work. Now instead of one, two voices would quip: "aapka dil dariya and dash samandar hai," or "dash mein bumboo."
Once again deadlines were being ditched, memos ignored. Laughter, loud backslaps and hearty guffaws echoed way past lunch-time. Asad had to often leave his office to glare them and other hangers-on into silence. Weird hand-shakes, fist bumps and swooshes ... What nonsense had suddenly sprouted in his office?
"Bhai!" Ayaan would smirk and brush a careless hand through that untamed mane whenever Asad showed up in the doorway of the break room. No one, not even Asad had been able to talk Ayaan into cutting his hair short or gelling it down or doing anything that could restrain it. On some days he deigned to tie it back into a ponytail but that was it. "My hair is my shaan, my signature," he'd tell Humaira. To his brother he'd say, "aap naam se sher hain, main baal se!"The commotion was the same today. Asad's forced class-monitor visits were becoming a major dash mein bumboo.
"Sir!" Amit jumped up, straight as an arrow mimicking Ayaan's tics.
"Amit, Gupta and Sons called. Did you drop off the updated blueprints and brochures?"
"Umm ... ahh ... Sir ... I ..."
Asad crossed his arms and waited.
Ayaan saw the gathering scowl and steel. He knew Bhai had mellowed a lot these days but incompetence or compromising work was still not acceptable. If Amit didn't watch it, he'd get his ass handed to him. "Bhai, my bad. I stalled him. He was just about to leave."
Asad said nothing but waited for Amit to gather his backback and the roll of prints. He turned back to raise an eyebrow at Ayaan when a shame-faced Amit disappeared from sight.
"Ayaan, my office," he nodded and was gone.
Ayaan's head fell back. Sh*it. Bhai was in that Akdu mood of his. He'd seen that familiar nerve ticking in his forehead"he hadn't seen that in ages. Ayaan slouched into Asad's office and hung his legs over the arm of the easy chair he'd just settled in.
"Ayaan, you're letting him get away with not doing much around here. If this continues I'll have to separate you two like kindergarteners."
Asad held up a hand to forestall any interruption. "Either you'll be spending the whole day on one of the sites. Or he will. You can decide who goes with a coin-toss. Or rock-papers-scissors, or whatever." Americanese had slyly crept into his vocabulary too. Zoya used this game all the time especially when she disagreed with him over something and tricked him into caving in. Zaid was in formal rock-paper-scissors training these days.
"Come on Bhai, that's not fair. I agree I've been too relaxed with him but he's just a kid." Ayaan saw too much of himself in Amit even though Amit wasn't the flirt or daredevil that he'd been in the good old days. The kid was shy and tended to space out now and then.
"I was a kid too when I interned. I worked my butt off. If Amit doesn't shape up, I'll let Ms. Dutt know and he can go intern somewhere else. This is not a babysitting service. Now, can you handle delegating him work or will I have to be the bad guy?"
"Look Bhaijaan, I understand your frustration. But not everyone is as driven as you. I wasn't either. We're all different. We all have different strengths."
Asad grimaced. "I can't bear to see people waste their potential. Look at Shikha who joined last year. Fresh out of college, takes initiative, puts herself out there to learn and grow her skillset ..."
"Bhaijaan, Amit's not an employee like her. She has a strong personality, knows what she wants. She's a go-getter, a self-starter--" just like you, Ayaan thought to himself feeling glum all of a sudden.
"That's what I like. I can see her getting a promotion by next year."
Ayaan was getting worked up too. He didn't know whether he was defending his own old ways or Amit's. But he did know that he didn't agree with Bhai on this.
"Bhai, you and I are related by blood and yet we're complete opposites in so many ways. I love you, respect you, but even I don't do things the way you'd do them. But I get them done, right? I had to find my way and you were a great mentor. So be a mentor to Amit. But don't expect him to be exactly like you."
Ayaan sagged further in the chair. He wasn't sure about the "hmm." Was it a "fine, let's try it your way," or was it a "shut up and leave," wala hmm? Yikes. A firm and no-nonsense Bhaijaan was a total killjoy. If he played the bad cop to Amit, the poor guy would probably kill himself. Why couldn't Bhai see that Amit wasn't a bad kid? That he was in complete awe of Bhaijaan and tended to freeze up whenever Bhai was around. He had already asked a million questions about Mr. Khan this and Mr. Khan that. How did he start out? Where did he go to college? Where was his first office located? When did they move to this building? Which were some of his first projects? Can we go see them?
If Ayaan didn't know any better he'd have thought Amit had a man-crush on Bhai. But then Amit had seen Zoya when everyone was invited to the Khan house to meet the new intern.
It's not that Amit had fallen in love with Zoya. No, it was more complicated than that. Amit had fallen in love with both Mr. and Mrs. Khan. As much as he admired him, Sir seemed remote and unapproachable. Often testy. But Ma'am was the exact opposite. In Zoya he found a lot of answers to so many of his questions about Sir. Zoya too had loved a new fan who listened to her sagas about Mr. Khan.
And then Amit had asked that question which delighted her most of all: "how did you two meet?" It endeared him to her forever.
"We didn't meet." Zoya answered, eyes dancing. "We collided. Three ... no four times. And we hated each other for the longest time!"
Amit's mouth fell open. No!
"Yes," Zoya nodded, dimple blinding him. "I was the shooting star. Mr. Khan, dark matter. In fact, a black hole." She'd glanced at her husband then and Amit caught Sir looking at her with a micro-smile.
Zoya stroked the shooting-star charm on her bracelet--a present from her husband to commemorate the second anniversary of the meteor shower night.
"I was sugar and spice and everything nice, and he was black and bitter coffee!" Zoya continued. They all turned to look at Asad who was holding his black mug.
As Ayaan slapped the table in glee, Sir's smile deepened as if he'd remembered a fond detail from the past.
Ahh. The rest of the evening Amit sat saucer-eyed in front of Zoya and lapped up the entire prem kahani and its many mushkils. Humaira and Ayaan filled in gaps and blanks making each detail juicier. This storytelling lasted so long that Asad started to scowl at them from the living room. Once he even came over, a wiggly Zaid in his arms, to tower over them at the dining table and ask in a tight voice: "does everyone and their mother need to know this story?"
"YES!" Zoya and Humaira had chirped loud and clear and high-fived each other. Amit and Ayaan grinned too and Zaid felt left out of the racket. He stretched to be in Chachu's arms. Ayaan sat him on the table where Zaid began to grab the salt and pepper shakers.
Asad walked away muttering "incredibly foolish" under his breath. His own son conspiring against him was the final straw.
And if Amit had fallen in love with Mr. and Mrs. Khan could he resist Zaid? He was smitten with the tiny hands and feet. For someone who hadn't even glanced at babies all his life he seemed enthralled by this miniature human being who was simply perfect--down to each toenail. Because only when he played with Zaid or lifted him high in his arms to fly like an airplane did Sir look at him with a smile.
Asad had stewed that evening.
Amit making googly eyes at Zoya had made his fist twitch. Good god, he could see the exact moment the kid had fallen in love with his wife. Would he have to ban Amit from the house? Probably.
No, definitely, Asad decided when he saw Amit lean in to peer at Zoya's bracelet with its infinite charms. If the kid actually touched any of those charms he'd get punched. And good god, please don't let her go into detail about the handcuff charm!
Asad pressed his hands against his eyes. Why had he ever given it to her in the first place? Because it represents Mangalpur that's why, the alien voice in his head piped. Mangalpur was the beginning of them as "us."
If he couldn't ban Amit from the house at least he could impose a ban on his wife telling tales about how they met and fell in love. Yeah, good luck with that Mr. Khan, the alien voice retorted. Surprisingly the alien voice sounded more and more like Zoya. He was going nuts, that must be it, Asad told himself for the third time that night.
But he smirked when he heard his wife skitter and skate around Mangalpur secrets. It's a wonder Ayaan or Humaira hadn't picked up on some white lies by now. Asad smiled more broadly. His wife was the queen of white lies. Now she was telling Amit and company about the coin-toss. And she'd made him a liar too. Oh god. He hid his face in his hands again.
As usual she was mixing up the time line. "The bhaang pakoras and Operation Pyaasi Atma was before the coin-toss not after," Asad felt compelled to butt in. They all looked at him and laughed.
"What?" he asked.
"See," Zoya said, dimples deep and sure. "I told you he'd jump in to correct me. He can't ever resist." She exteneded a hand toward Ayaan and waggled her fingers. "Come on then, pay up!"
"What Bhaijaan, you just proved me wrong and Mona darling right all over again! I was so sure that you'd continue to be Akdu Ahmed Khan for the rest of the evening."
Zoya took the hundred-Rupee note from her brother-in-law and stretched it between both hands as she made eyes at her husband. He almost blushed. And Amit nearly died and went to heaven when he saw Sir's finger stroke Ma'am's jawline. Their eyes snagged and it was almost as if they'd forgotten about anyone else being in the room.
"Bbbuuubbuuu ... mmaaammaaa," Zaid gurgled and only then did his parents' eyes break away guiltily. Zaid scooted toward Zoya and flung his arms around her neck. "Mumm mumm mum mum."
"You want water, baby?" Zoya asked. He nodded, curls bouncing.
"I'll get it." Asad pressed his hand down on Zoya's shoulder and turned to get Zaid's sippy cup. When he returned with it Zaid raised his arms to be in Abbu's godi.
Amit watched the scene mesmerized by Sir's softer side. He watched Zoya and Asad exchange the baby. He watched Zoya wince in pain. "Let go of Ammi's hair," Asad told Zaid gently. "Good boy." He watched Asad hand him the sippy cup and brush his son's hair back on his forehead. He watched Zoya looking at both of them.
Ayaan nudged Humaira's leg under the table. "See," he whispered in her ear. "I told you he's completely bewitched by your General Jeeju and his family."
She grinned. Yeah, she saw it too. But then she frowned. If her mother were here there would be so many kala teekas to apply. She brushed a finger under an eye and rose to swipe that finger behind Zaid's ear.
"Laa keekaa," he cooed as he tried to grab her hand.
"Yes, kala teeka for Chhoti Nani's jaan! She sent it especially for you!"
He looked around the room. Chhoti Nani was here? Where? Zaid struggled to be let down. He needed to go find her.
Humaira went to stand behind Zoya and swiped the remaining kajal behind her sister's ear.
"Humaira, what's up?"
"Nothing, Appi. Just something I needed to do."
Asad saw and understood. His wife might not believe in nazars or evil eyes. But his sister-in-law was still conventional in many ways. Sometimes they all remembered the past and gave silent thanks for surviving the terrors of a lifetime. May be that's what Humaira was doing too. He patted her head and smiled when she looked up at him. "Good girl," he murmured.
She beamed. He leaned in closer. "Tell your Aapi to shut up about this love story business."
Humaira giggled. "Allah miyan, what's wrong with you, Jeeju! Me tell Aapi to shut up about something? Impossible! Besides, I love hearing this story too. It's so incredibly foolish!"
Asad rolled his eyes. But his irritation didn't last for long. Because soon Ayaan brought out the guitar from its hibernation. Zaid was given his. And everyone sang their song as father and son strummed for them.
If Amit had been a writer this would be the moment when he'd decide to write a fan fiction. But Amit wasn't a writer. No, he was a musician of sorts too. He wrote songs--many, many of them in his secret red diary. It was his dream to be a lyricist in Bollywood. To work with big name music composers. To write songs that heroes and heroines would sing and dance to. And in his head he was already writing one right now. Because he'd found his muse.
Title in Song:
Dilwale (2016): "Janam Janam"
Next Chapter: 143002467
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