Previous Chapter: 141269877
Itti Si Hansi, Itti Si Khushi, Itta Sa Tukda Chand Ka
It was Asad's turn to wake up with a start this night. Zoya would have continued sleeping had she not had her palm on his chest.
"Asad?" she whispered shaking a strand of hair off her face. "Are you OK? What happened?"
His tense silence made her shiver and she gathered the comforter more securely around them. Asad shook it off.
She sat up too massaging his chest. "Asad?"
"Hmm?" He seemed disoriented.
"What is it, baby?"
He looked at her then. But in the dark he could only make out her silhouette. Asad took her hand and squeezed it tight. "Nothing. Everything's OK. Go back to sleep."
When he'd spent a good ten minutes tossing and turning she placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. "Enough, already! Spill it. Tell me what's bothering you."
"That's OK. Nothing wrong with being silly. I'm queen of silly, but catch me hiding anything from you!"
She detected a half-smile in his, "hmm."
"Asaadd," she coaxed.
He exhaled. He may as well tell her. She wouldn't back off from any mystery; Asad was sure her spidey senses were already dancing.
"I hate the idea that when Amna or Nilofer grow older they'll have periods. What if they are really painful? Or they get sick? What if I can't do anything to protect them from that?"
An explosive giggle rumbled through her. Before he could duck his head in embarrassment Zoya scooted up next to him and pinched his cheek, hard. "You are so cute!"
Asad grunted in protest. He knew she'd laugh at him.
Zoya half-rose to smother his face in kisses. "That's the sweetest, most darling thing I've heard from you yet, Mr. Khan! Keep being you, OK? Never EVER change!"
When they'd settled into a somewhat comfortable pose she tired to calm his fears.
"I know you want to protect everyone you love but you do know that you can't completely keep them from being hurt, right?"
He huffed. Of course he knew that. Theoretically, that is. Most of his life he'd grown up being extra vigilant about Ammi and Najma. Zoya knew too. That's why he'd earned the nickname Jahanpanah from her. Most of his adult life he'd spent being a growly warden of the women who doted on him.
"No matter what you do you won't be able to make the pain or hurt go away entirely," Zoya said softly.
Asad sighed even more heavily. He knew that now much better than two years ago. He'd tried so hard to keep Abbu from hurting Ammi. But no matter what he did he couldn't stop the hurt. He'd built the strongest walls, the highest fortress but pain seemed to seep through from under the cracks, through ghostly crevices. The air heavy with sighs, remained still and stale. On that one day, the day of her phantom wedding anniversary, Ammi would shatter all over again. He would feel helpless as she wallowed in grief. And even worse when she tried to hide it from him. She'd secretly visit the Dargah, and he would make it a point to take time off from work to escort her, to ensure that she didn't bump into his father "accidentally" ... but more to make sure she had a firm shoulder to cry on.
But all that hard work and unscabbed anger was for nought.
She still hurt even after all these years. Only acceptance and openness had erased some of that pain. Forgiveness had helped gutting the walls to let the sun and breeze in to breathe new life. "Tum ayee, toh zindagi aa gayee," Ammi had once said to Zoya. Yeah, Zoya--zindagi had more than helped! How many times had she reminded him of the meaning of her name!
Asad knew that now.
With Najma too he'd tried to be over-protective. But she had tried to sneak behind his back whether it was to go to the mall, or watch films or matches, or to try western clothes or hairstyles. What was the point? She wore western clothes now and the world hadn't ended. What mattered was that she was happy.
But his daughters would be so tiny and defenseless. How could he not think of dying inside if they felt even a prick of pain?
Zoya turned his face around. "Remember I told you, you aren't Superman. You're Batman sure, but you can't solve every problem, you can't make every little thing right."
"Just trust us," she added. "We're strong. We'll get through it. Whether it's Ammi, or Najma, or me. Or even Amna or Nilofer. Our pain is ours. We'll fix it our own damn selves. You can help by just being there."
Just trust us.
Well, that's where he'd gone all wrong, hadn't he? He hadn't trusted Ammi or Najma to know or do what was right for them. He'd assumed he knew better. Because he was a man? And just because they let him get away with his alpha male routine didn't mean that they believed he was right. No. They'd let him be an overbearing, obnoxious, pain in the butt because they loved him. Plain and simple. Controlling their lives had allowed him the fantasy of walling out pain. The irony of it all was that they carried the pain around within them. The walls became a gilded tomb ... with them inside, forced to live out some ancient fairytale curse.
Zoya was right to call him Jahahpanah. And Akdu Ahmed Khan.
"You'll have to let the kids make their own mistakes, you know. Just because you did things one way and they do it another, doesn't mean they'll be wrong," Zoya tried to make him understand the shades of parenting.
Funny, Ayaan had said something similar to him yesterday.
Asad shifted to draw her closer and tuck Zoya's head under his chin. She loved the feel of his stubble against her temple. He ran his fingers down her scarred arm. "You know, for someone who seems so wise about these things, you try to fix things too all the time! I remember a girl who tried to fix me with green tea and dark chocolate once."
Zoya giggled remembering her many misunderstandings of an inscrutable Mr. Khan from the past. She'd thought he was in love and depressed. He wasn't. Instead he'd been livid at her typical "be-akal assumptions."
"This girl tried to fix my relationship with my father,"Asad went on. "She even fixed an ambulance ride so I could meet my brother. All to make me smile, and be less angry."
Zoya sighed with pleasure. Now which girl wouldn't like her husband singing her praises? "Be less akdu actually. Umm, Mr. Khan, I'm usually right, remember? No, cross that. I'm always right! Besides you needed a special kind of fixing! You stomped around in an armor of thorns wrapped in poison ivy!"
Asad snorted at the mixed up gardening metaphors. "So you decided you'd prune away the brush?" Why was he getting the sense that she was spinning some Beauty-and-the-Beast kind of tale here?
"Um-hmm. It was easy. You were like a pineapple hard and prickly on the outside but sweet and mushy on the inside."
OK, scratch that. This was no Beauty and the Beast. Mrs. Khan was headed in Spongebob Squarepants territory apparently.
"Please, I'm no pineapple!"
"Am not!" Asad groaned. "Wait, don't tell me you're craving pineapple now?"
"Mmm, pineapple milkshake!" She made satisfied slurping sounds.
"And where in the world am I going to get pineapple milkshake in the middle of the night?" Would his daughters have similar nonsensical cravings? Simple. He'd stock up on every bizarre food combination there was.
Zoya pouted meanwhile. "I guess I'll just have to make do with Jahanpanah pineapple for now. But you owe me one later OK, Mr. Khan?"
An hour later and he still couldn't sleep. Something he's read during his research was still bothering him. Zoya ran her fingers through his hair. "Still can't sleep?" she whispered.
She scooted closer to kiss his back. "What's it now?"
He turned to her. "At what age did you start your periods?"
Oh god, Jahanpanah's needle was still stuck on one topic. "I think I was around 13 and a half. Why?"
"So young? But I read that girls are starting their periods at an earlier age now."
She nodded. She'd heard about that too. "Yes, I've heard some girls are now getting their periods at 9."
"What? But they are still babies at that age!" Asad tried to think of what he was like as a nine-year-old. He was already a Bhaijaan to Ayaan and Najma by then. He tried to act like a little man then but he still liked to play cricket, catch frogs, prank Ayaan ... race on his bike. He'd skinned his knee that year and Ammi had nearly fainted at the sight of blood. A cricket ball had nearly taken a tooth out ...
"It's not fair to be a kid and to have adulthood forced on you," he brooded.
Zoya nodded. He'd been forced to be all grown-up in his childhood too. "I know. I hate that too." It bothered her even more to think that when girls' periods started within a year they stopped growing in height. The earlier they started, the shorter they'd be. How unfair was that! To be smaller, more petite, and therefore more vulnerable ... But she better not tell her husband. He would never sleep for the rest of his life!
Zoya sat up to rub his chest in circles. "Do you want me to get you some hot milk? It'll help you sleep better."
"No, I'll be fine."
"I don't mind. You sure?"
"Hot milk and you--the perfect pineapple milkshake?" She waggled her brows at him.
Asad smiled and shook his head.
Zoya ran her hand over his stubble. "Asad, we won't be able to protect her completely but I know you'll try your best and that's all that matters, OK? You're the best dad to Zaid, you'll be the same to the girls." She was pretty sure Najma and Ayaan would agree he was a better dad to them than their father. Mr. Khan's daddy instincts were hard won. And spot on.
She placed a firm finger on his mouth. "Can you stop the sun from rising?"
"Would you want to, if you could?"
" ... No." He didn't get the point of this discussion. But his wife had some torturous ways of making sense.
"You're our sun, remember? Mine. Ammi's. Zaid's. Have you forgotten that quote: 'When it was dark, you always carried the sun in your hand for me'?"
He remained thoughtful.
"What does the sun and the moon have to do with anything?" Asad asked finally. She was taking too damn long to get to the point.
Zoya huffed. Yup, Ammi was right about Mr. Khan. He needed things spelled out for him every now and then. No emotional shorthand or poetic symbolism for her husband even if it was the freaking middle of the night. And maybe she didn't know where she was going with the analogy but did he have to ruin a sweet moment by being so logical and precise?
"It means that things will happen that may be beyond our control. But for things you can control, I know you'll do everything in your power to protect us. So stop doubting yourself. Even if you can't do everything, I know you'll die trying and that is all that matters."
"Really." She couldn't believe how often he'd spin himself into a self-doubting frenzy when it came to the people he loved most. Her husband was terrified of being a terrible father and she couldn't blame him. For a man who had lived more than half his life trying to prove and define himself as the opposite of his father it was hard for him to come to grips with the vulnerabilities of fatherhood. For a young boy who had lived at the sooty edge of sunlight, being a good dad was his biggest challenge. He really would die trying.
"You know, dads don't have to be perfect to be the best dads in the world." Zoya cupped his face.
"No. And who knows this better than the two of us?" She added after a pause. Zoya rose and padded over to Zaid's crib.
She brought over a sleeping Zaid and placed him next to Asad.
"What're you doing?" Asad asked.
"Let him sleep with us tonight. I think he'll be the best therapy for you."
Asad's palm fluttered over Zaid's chest. He kissed the tiny forehead and breathed in the baby scent. He couldn't resist raising Zaid's foot and kissing it. It was getting warmer so no more footy pajamas. He used to recite Allah's name over his son in the womb and out of it. Yes. This was heaven. How often had his mother and wife reminded him to enjoy the present instead of overplanning or stressing for the future? Give thanks for the small miracles, Zoya would spout some new agey crap as he mentally rolled his eyes. But it made sense right now.
Right now, right here. Cherish this. Take a mental picture, Mr. Khan. Click.
Asad laughed softly.
"What?" Zoya demanded as she re-settled on her side. She hated it when she wasn't included in the fun.
"You just can't help yourself either! Typical Ms. Fix-it," he said. "You just tried to cure my restlessness by bringing Zaid over," he teased.
Zoya smiled. "Well, of course! If something can be fixed I'll do it. As will you. But you seem to worry about the unfixable things, Mr. Khan!"
"Why did you have to tell Amit the whole story about how we met? Must everyone on the planet know?"
Typical Mr. Khan! Change the subject when she diagnosed him right and he couldn't shut her up. "Yes Mr. Khan, they must. In fact, there's going to be a test on it."
He snorted. "Really? A test?"
"Of course! For instance, if I ever stand for election what will my election symbol be?"
"Easy. Pepper spray!" He was the one who'd teased her about this a long time ago.
"Ding, ding, ding, ding, correct! OK ... umm ... What color was I wearing on our second meeting?"
"Royal blue." He didn't take even a fraction of a second to blurt out the answer.
"Good job, Mr. Khan! You even remembered the shade of blue--so detail-oriented my Jahanpanah is. Now, how many runs did Dhoni make in the match that Najma and I went to see without your permission?"
Asad was smiling by now fully aware of what she was up to. "67, not out."
"Nice! Do you remember that first night when you sent me flying from the bed to the floor? What did you say later to insult my sense of direction?"
Asad laughed even as he covered his face in embarrassment. God, how angry had he been at this woman all those days! But she had been totally impossible in those days. "Hmm, I think I said something like: aapko right and wrong mein fark toh pehle se hi nahin pata tha, par ab right aur left mein bhi--' "
Zoya did little golf claps to applaud him yet not wake up Zaid. "OK, last question for one million dollars! Once, I misplaced my chocolate sauce. Where was it?"
She heard the smile in his voice. "It was on the side table in the living room and ended up on my hands."
"Perfect score! Now tell me Mr. Khan, when you went to wash your hands that day, did you secretly lick the sauce off your fingers?"
"No." He had dashed to grab a million napkins to wipe the offending sauce instead. "But now I wish I had."
Their fingers entwined.
"I always wondered about that," Zoya's voice dipped.
"Maybe next time you can lick it off my fingers."
She had. Many times over. But they could rinse and repeat, couldn't they?
Zoya said nothing. Because she'd fallen asleep.
Asad smiled again. She had stayed up with him to fix his fears, soothe his doubts of fatherhood and then teased and tested him into wellbeing. As he drifted off to sleep an old image of hers stuck in his mind: her first few weeks in the house Zoya had wanted to install a security system to protect her precious Phuphi. Her protective instincts were as hardcore as his. He still remembered blundering into the millions of wires that snaked around the living room. He had lost another brand new phone that night thanks to a meddling and irrespressible Ms. Farooqui ...
Tomorrow night it would be his turn to test her. Let's see if Mrs. Khan's memory was as good ... as her other skills. Asad smirked to himself. He'd make it a game of strip poker. With each incorrect answer she'd have to shed a piece of her clothing.
But he needed to ask tough questions, not easy-peasy ones she could--
"Allah miyan, what's wrong with me?" Zoya muttered. She was unpacking her tote from the New York trip. It'd been ages since they'd returned and she'd shoved this in the back of the closet intending to tackle it later. Later just never seemed to come soon enough.
She peered in the bag and wrinkled her nose. There was a funky smell and Zoya was afraid of the ecosystem she'd unearth.
"I should keep a pair of latex gloves with me like cops at a crime scene," she fantasized, channeling her Olivia Benson-Kate Becket avatar and already distracted from the task at hand.
Zoya gingerly removed an American orange that Aapi had sneaked into her bag at the last minute as they left for the airport. It was now nothing but a puff of fungal dust. Welcome to India, little orange corpse. Jeez, she better get rid of this offending scrap of compost before Asad came home.
She wasn't planning on taking the bag but then only this one was big enough to carry her remaining samples and supplies for their meeting with the State Museum Director. They already had a full rolling case. Zoya crossed her fingers and looked to the ceiling.
Allah miyan! This contract could really be our chance to make it! It'd be MA.
Please, please, please, please, please make it happen!"
"Who're you talking to?"
Dang, she hadn't heard Asad walk in. She tried to hide the bag behind her as she rose to kiss him.
Asad's eyes narrowed.
"Aap abhi kis se baat kar rahin theen?"
"Apne aap se! Don't you already know that, Jahanpanah? I do that sometimes."
She backed away from him and dashed out of the room before he could detain her with more questions. Zoya was good at voh-main-actually dodge games but right now there wasn't any time for it. She better get the bag cleaned out or he'd have her dip it bleach. Or dump it in the trash.
Zoya ran to the backyard and emptied the bag upside down on the grass.
"Ugh," she screwed up her face again. "Zoya Farooqui, you're such a freakin' mess."
She sorted out a pen, crumpled boarding passes.
"Aww, so cute"! she gushed when she spied Zaid's boarding pass. Even though he wasn't old enough for a seat by himself he still got a boarding pass. His name in print: KHAN/ZAID made her smile.
Her eyes skimmed the rest of it. PRIORITY BOARDING.
Zoya wiped the paper on her shirt. This would go in his baby book. With pictures that they'd taken of Zaid on the flight. In Ammi's lap, fast asleep. Arching and crying in Humaira's arms because he wanted to crawl not sleep. Eating his breakfast.
Oh god, here comes Jahanpanah and she was only half-done. She used the tiny hand sanitizer dispenser from the debris and rubbed it over the boarding pass too. Zoya would joke to Dilshad that in their house they worried less about baby-proofing the house and more about Asad-proofing it.
"What're you hiding from me?"
"Umm, nothing. I was just-- Allah miyan, what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan! Why would I hide something from you?"
Arms crossed, Asad leaned against the jamb of the sliding door. He'd loosened his tie and undone the top button.
He waited for her fake tirade to end.
"So?" he asked when she paused.
"I need this bag for the meeting tomorrow. Just looking at the junk that piled up in here."
"Please tell me you cleaned it out when you got back from New York."
She ignored him. Brightening up, she ran to him. "Look what I found? How cute is Zaid's boarding pass!"
Thank god, she'd wiped it already. Asad looked down at it and smiled too. Neither commented on how the boarding pass discovery just proved that she hadn't cleaned out the bag since the trip.
"Baby book souvenir?" Asad asked.
Since his broad back hid her from Ammi's view Zoya reached up to run a finger down the vee of his shirt. She let a nail scrape his skin and grinned when he hissed. Asad trapped her errant finger.
"Mrs. Khan behave, your tricks won't work on me."
She licked her lips. "They won't?"
Asad's eyes dragged to that sexy pout. "No, he whispered tapping her nose with a fingertip. "I still remember that you're trying to hide something from me."
Zoya made a face. Asad laughed softly as he ran a knuckle down her cheek to trial it over her chin. Reflexively her face leaned into his palm. Zoya's eyes drooped.
"Fine, I'll let it go. Khush?" he said.
She clasped her hands to her front, "incandescent!"
Asad rolled his eyes. Drama queen.
She grabbed his hand and started to walk inside.
"Umm Zoya, aren't you forgetting something?"
He jerked his chin to the lawn. And that's when she saw the bag lying face down, ass up.
"Gadhi," she muttered under her breath as she slapped her head. Zoya ran back to collect the bag and its contents.
Asad chuckled. He reached down to heft Zaid up into his arms. The little guy had crawled up and pulled himself up by tugging on Abbu's pants.
Yup, this. Asad loved coming home to this.
Because it wasn't just his son or wife who created happy havoc in his life. Dobby contributed his best too. Like the time he'd got his head stuck in a bottle as he tried to get to the cookie crumbs at the bottom of the jar. Thank god, the jar was plastic and not glass! But it had taken over half an hour trying to cut if off him; petrified the cat had jumped and scratched his rescuers after bumping into various walls. Only Asad had been able to calm him down and patiently extract the little beast from the jaws of death. Dobby had scrambled to hide under the bed--to lick off his wounded dignity.
"Hey, tiger! Did you have a good day?" Asad asked his son as he buried his face in his piece of heaven tinged with familiar baby scents.
"Gud dayyy goo daaa," Zaid babbled, cheeks rosy.
Zaid was giggling and squealing as he struggled to break free. Abbu was holding him hostage and chewing his foot; it tickled like mad.
"Will you eat Abbu's face now," Asad fake-growled between tiny nicks of the perfect little toes. "Will you?"
Zaid rolled over and sat up. He opened his arms for Asad to pick him up of course he wasn't making any promises just yet.
"I missed you too, tiger," Asad said planting a kiss on his son's head.
"Ahhbbuuu bu bu," Zaid patted his face and bent to kiss or eat his dad's face. Same thing.
It was the middle of the week.
Asad had come home early to hang out with Zaid because Zoya would be out late. She and Humaira had that meeting to go to. They were excited and terrified about it. Thank god, Siddiqui saheb would be with them, Asad told himself for the tenth time.
When they were in New York Siddiqui Saheb and Raziya had stepped in to supervise the factory. Zoya and Humaira didn't want to use their Abbu's influence or contacts to wrangle this meeting but Asad finally managed to convince them to go for it.
"I know you girls want to strike out on your own. I'm not trying to be patronizing. But think of your bigger mission to create awareness for women's rights, broaden your market. With more money, you can do so much more! Things you've been putting off." He took Zoya's hand in his. "You wanted to do that prom thing for the kids at the orphanage. You could do that."
The gleam in her eyes and the stubborn set to her chin told him he'd scored. With the Museum gift shop order for historical dolls they could really create a niche for themselves.
It wasn't so hard to see Zoya work out of home any more. Though it had taken some getting used to, for sure. His Jahanpanah-mode as she liked to call it, was not easy to switch off. But not for the reasons Zoya would have suspected two years ago. Two years ago Asad expected her to invite trouble with her brazen tehzeeblessness and American chutzpah. Now Asad worried about her facing sexism and harassment from the men she'd encounter. He worried more she would trip, get hurt, not eat, get into a fight, beat up someone, end up in jail--well, pretty much the things that she'd already ended up doing. But you just never knew with Zoya. She was a musibat-magnet after all.
"What now?" Asad asked though he shouldn't have bothered. He and Dilshad looked at each other and grinned. Dilsahd was shaking her head.
"Nuffing," Zoya called out from the kitchen an entire second later. She was munching on some junk food for sure. Well at least she didn't say "negatory," like she often did when he knew she was keeping something from him.
"Hmm," Asad rumbled from behind the newspaper. Typical. Taking this long to respond she must've have bumped into or dropped something.
Initially when he used to hear Zoya yelp, his heart would stop. Asad would bolt to find out how badly she was hurt. But now? Now he just rolled his eyes. This was Zoya. She ran into things, stubbed her toes, knocked her elbow at least two times a day. How could anyone bump into things that hadn't moved for two years?
Well Zoya could.
In bed he would see mystery bruises on her arms or legs. The ocassional burn marks still freaked him out. If there was a way to burn yourself from an iron or a tava Zoya would find it.
"What happened here?" he would try to blow on it or massage the bruise.
"... I don't remember," would be her careless reply.
Asad would grip his forehead in despair. "How can you not know when or how you got hurt!"
She'd shrug and go about doing her usual thing, which meant munching on potato chips while scrolling on her iPad.
"Mr. Khan, it's no big deal."
"No big deal! You get hurt almost every day and it's no big deal?"
"Asad chill, it's nothing!" She'd show him the inside of her arm or the top of her hand. "See, the skin here is so thin, it's easy to show bruises."
"My skin is thin too on the arm, then why don't I get hurt as easily?"
That would piss her off.
"Are you trying to say I'm a hopeless klutz?"
"If the shoe fits ..."
"Do you remember when you dropped the knife in the kitchen and it fell on your foot?" He hadn't seen it happen; she'd told him about it afterward. But each time he thought of that incident he could see it clearly in his mind in slow motion. It made him crazy that she remained nonchalant.
"So Ammi and Najma have never ever had such injuries. Why's it only you?"
Other times he would laugh at her when she put her silly cartoon bandaids on--which was practically every week.
"For such a tiny thing? You're such a baby."
"It hurts under water," she'd pout that pout and he'd usually forget what they were fighting about.
But yes, their bandaid consumption had gone up since Zoya had moved in. On their return from New York last month, Aapi had pressed a tin in his hands.
"Rakh lo. I used to buy them in bulk from Costco but now we have no use for these bandages. Humari Bandaid-queen toh ab aapke ghar me gadar machati hogi!"
True. And wasn't Bandaid-queen the perfect moniker for his Ms. Fit!
"You are so impossible and so cute, I don't know what to do with you," he had said one day after another injury's mystery remained unsolved.
"Who said you have to do anything at all," Zoya groused. Trust Mr. Khan trying to make everything perfect. "It drives you crazy right, that you can't control things! Control freak!"
"I'm not a control freak. You drive me crazy!"
"You are. And good! Serves you right!"
"How does it serve me right when you're the one who gets hurt each time?" His exasperation knew no bounds. Why did he insist on arguing with her when he knew it was a lost case?
Zoya had no comeback for that. "Umm ... voh actually ..."
"Yes, Ms. Farooqui, tell me, how actually?"
"Mr. Khan, stop bugging me!"
"I'm bugging you! I just want you to be more careful, watch where you're going, heaven forbid, even look before you turn so that you don't trip ..."
Would the kids inherit the klutz gene? Asad gripped his forehead. He should probably buy stock in 3M or Johnson and Johnson.
Zaid was scolding him for bugging his Ammi too. He had just finished sharing his buttered toast with Dobby. Crumbs clung to both baby and kitty faces.
"Ammi ke chamche," Asad growled as he hurried to wipe his son's face with a napkin.
This was a bone of contention too in the Khan house. Why did Zaid insist on sharing his food with Dobby?
"It's so gross. Think of the germs in Dobby's mouth!"
"Mr. Khan, as usual you're missing the point!" Zoya corrected him.
"Oh really? And what's the point, exactly? Diarrhea? E. Coli poisoning! Listeria?"
"Allah miyan, what's wrong you, Mr. Khan! How can you even say such horrid things! Can't you see how adorable is it that Zaid shares a bite with Dobby before feeding himself? Doesn't it make you proud to see your son be so kind, so gentle? Won't he be an awesome Bhaijaan?"
Asad sighed. On so many things they were still oil and water. Chalk and cheese. Train rails that ran together but never met. So many cliches and yet not a single one to define the 4D wholeness of their relationship. Why would he even want to?
Zaid smirked a toothy grin at him clapping his grubby hands, and Asad felt a zenness flood him.
Right now, right here. Cherish this. Take a mental picture, Mr. Khan.
Asad looked around the living room. It was no longer pristine as it used to be in the old days. He used to read so much back then. Now a book on the coffee table showed bite marks as Zaid's favorite chew toy. Zaid's books were stacked on the floor. Goodnight Moon, The Poky Little Puppy series, Dr. Seuss books ... Well, thank god, his son liked books too. He liked to eat them too but that was another matter.
A few days ago he'd walked into the bathroom and done a double-take. Paint smudges and splotches on the bathtub had him clutching his heart.
"Here, Mr. Khan. Hold him," Zoya had dumped a squirmy and freshly-bathed Zaid in his arms as she rolled up her sleeves to scrub the tub.
"Um ... what happened here?" Asad asked when he regained his voice.
"Nothing happened here," Zoya called out from the depths of the tub, ass wiggling in the air. "But I wouldn't go into the guest room if I were you," she added, breathless with the exertion.
Asad gulped. And not because Zaid had yanked at his tie. The guest room aka Zoya's former room. They were planning to convert it into Zaid's room. Eventually. When they would feel that being twenty feet away from him wasn't like him being in New York.
Together the family was painting a 3D mural on an entire wall. At the bottom, there was even room for Zaid to finger paint and add colorful handprints. There would be a plane that resembled the one Anwar had given him. Elephants and horses, lions and cheetahs. Asad had penciled in most of the outlines. The paints were proving to be a challenge. So many choices. What if he messed up? He'd made his lists and spreadsheets, Zoya had made him sit through countless youtube videos.
He felt ready enough.
Ayaan wanted to add spaceships, and soccer and basket balls. Humaira had told him he couldn't have them all.
"Pick one! You can't have everything under the sun."
"Fine, when we have a baby I'll decide which balls go on the wall!"
He'd frowned when Humaira doubled over with laughter.
"Humaira begum, what's so funny?"
"Balls on the walls ... " she couldn't take a breath.
Ayaan guffawed when he thought about what he'd just said. Thank god, Bhaijaan wasn't in the room. Would be total dash mein bumboo. And thank god, Mona darling wasn't there either. She'd be sure to tell Bhai about it.
Only Zaid was there, crawling on the floor getting more paint on himself. All these days he'd been trying to stand up, But he would only last a minute before collapsing in a frustrated heap.
"Aaann nnhhh," he'd rage.
"Laaa maaa, waaa!" he roared today slapping the toopid wall.
"Ayaan, I think he's trying to say 'Allah miyan what's wrong with me!' Isn't he adorable, trying to copy Aapi?"
"Please, it's his usual gibberish. You girls always imagine him smarter than he really is."
"Ayaan, how can you say that?" Humaira scolded him. "Take that back! Zaid is smart! He's way smarter than you, at least."
Zaid stood up yet again. He raised his hands to clap for himself and tottered. But this time he brought both his hands up to support himself against the wall.
Humaira and Ayaan had stopped mid-fight to watch their nephew. When this time Zaid didn't fall, they cheered.
"Yaaay!" Ayaan jumped up to scoop and spin Zaid in the air. "Mera sher, mera cheetah! I knew you could do it, champ!"
Zaid beamed. He smeared paint on Chachu's beard.
"See?" Humaira added, her fists on her hips. "I told you he's smart!"
"He is! He's my chhota Einstein. My Genius Ahmed Khan!"
"Oh shit!" Humaira slapped a hand across her mouth.
"I should've recorded him when he stood on his own."
"Look who's not so smart," Ayaan said to Zaid. "Hum shero'n se competition?"
He looked at his wife's crestfallen face. "Arre Humaira begum, don't be so glum. Chhod do saare gham, Zaid miyan dega humein lakho'n re-run!"
"Ayaan," she couldn't resist laughing at his atrocious shayari. "You're so useless!"
"I'm super useful!" Ayaan crowed as Zaid bounced in his arms. "Don't forget, it was my shayari that made you fall for me!"
She blushed. "Never!"
"Liar!" Ayaan teased. "Remember this one?
Khamoshi aapke saare raaz kholti hain,
Khamoshi apke saare raaz kholti hain,
Suniye, aap khud toh talkative hain hee
Aapki toh jutti bhi bolti hain."
"Oh god," she groaned. "Not again." She'd been really annoyed with him that day for being his flirty, arrogant self.
"Agay, agay ..." Zaid babbled, clapping some more.
"Again? See, even my chhota sher wants to hear more of his Chachu's sher-o-shayari!"
Humaira really slapped her head this time. Poor kid. Between his mom and Chachu's shayari he didn't stand a chance. Oh my god Allah miyan, would there be a third bad shayar in the family! Incredibly foolish, as Jeeju would say.
And then there were the ocassional badmash Ayaan moments that often got them both in trouble. The guy really had no censor-sensor! Like when, last Sunday, back at the Siddiqui house, Dadi was playing with Zaid?
"Mera suraj, mera chanda. Mera sona, mera chandi," she was rocking Zaid for his nap.
"Ummm mmm," Zaid felt compelled to hum in drowsy answer or agreement.
It was after lunch. Everyone else was in food coma too.
"Mera chand ka tukda," Dadi cooed.
"Itti si hansi, itti si khushi, itta sa tukda chand ka," Zoya hummed. She sang that song for Zaid sometimes.
His eyes widened and he wiggled to stand up. He loved this song and often tried to dance to it.
Humaira couldn't resist. She bent over Dadi to stroke Zaid's cheek. One second he was straining against Badi Dadi the next second he was fast asleep, petal lips slightly parted.
"My chand ka tukda too. Piece of my moon," she said softly as she kissed her fingers and touched his lips.
"Humph, moonpiece kahin ka!" Ayaan scoffed. "I could show you a whole full moon, Humaira begum," he added.
"Ayaan!" Asad had been horrified at this full-on parents-ke-samne besharmi.
But Zoya snorted and laughed and laughed and laughed. Nuzzhat hadn't heard Ayaan.
"What? What's so funny? Tell meee!"
Asad had tried to quell her with his Jahanpanah glare so she looked at Zoya for help. But Zoya was still rolling on the ground.
Nuzzhat was outraged. "I'm no longer a baby, you know! I know things. I'm even engaged." She showed everyone her ring.
"Kya badmashi kar rahein hain aap log?" Shireen asked. She was rolling paans for everyone.
"Nothing, Ammi! Nuzzhat is no longer a baby. We all need to call her 'Sabse Badi bi' from now on!"
He bared his paan-stained teeth at her.
"Uff, gross!" she said making a face.
"Shh, chup karo tum sab! See, Siddiqui Saheb has fallen asleep," Raziya said.
She was itching to get her hands on Zaid but Badi Bi also had rights after all. And at least she'd had her ghee-badaam maalish fill with her grandson before lunch. Raziya sighed. Now that he was bigger it was harder to keep him in one place. He always wiggled now and tried to sit up or crawl away.
"So Zoya, tell us more about this prom thing?" Raziya asked. Only recently had she mastered this alien word. When she first heard Zoya say the word, she'd almost fainted.
Zoya was on her knees, still trying to catch her breath. Asad went over to pull her upright. His hand lingered at her waist; their eyes caught. Dilshad coughed and they broke away.
"Umm Aunty, it's a kind of a graduation party for the seniors at a high school. There's music, dancing, food, some kind of a theme ... and yes! The crowning of a homecoming king and queen!"
"But how will you do it at the Children's Center? We have only about 9 or 10 kids in the twelfth grade?" Dilshad asked.
"That's no problem, Ammi. We'll have the party for all the kids instead. They've just finished their exams. Everyone's graduating into the next class so it's something to celebrate!"
Asad nodded. Trust his wife to find instant solutions. Ms. Fix-it was patting herself on the back too.
"Theme party ... like a costume party?" Ayaan asked.
"Not really. It's more like them wearing formal clothes and having fun. The theme could be a beach theme, or fantasy. Winter ball or a masquerade ... anything. The kids generally vote on it."
"But how will you get clothes for so many children?" Raziya asked. "For some girls, depending on size, maybe we all could donate some of our nicer suits which we've only worn once or twice. But The boys ...?"
Everyone looked at Ayaan.
"Hey, watch it," Ayaan hissed.
"We can certainly give away some of Mr. Khan's shirts and ties, but Raabert here ..."
"Ayaan Bhaijaan ke phate-purane jeans and t-shirts toh dene layak hi nahin hain," Nuzzhat teased.
"They're one of a kind! Vintage and classic," he said holding up his Che Guevara t-shirt.
"We do have some money set aside for clothes. And we're hoping for some sponsor donations," said Humaira as she crossed her fingers.
All the grown-ups talked of grown-up things and Zaid dreamed of running.
Sprinting, flying and leaping.
Far, far away from hands that wanted to hold him down and pinch his cheeks. Up, up and away from teekas and grandmotherly arms that restrained him in their doting laps.
La mya, wuts rong wi dem!
He would run and kick and hop and jump ...
But he needed to be free in order to do that. And right now, with so many grown-ups running around him, it was impossible.
Hmm, maybe he needed little pooping, squirting babies to distract the army of Khans and Siddiquis from overprotecting him when he was on a secret mission. Zaid miyan needed little-oo wingmen to divert dadis and nanis, and dadus and nanus from supervising every move of his.
Zaid's eyes popped open.
He waved his arms about wanting to be let down.
When Badi Dadi let him go he homed straight for his Chachu.
Ayaan picked him up and swung him in the air. "Hey, mera champ!"
Zaid squealed. When back at eye level he looked at his Chachu dead in the eye. He pinched his Chachu's cheeks to get the man's attention. The beard tickled his little fingertips. But this was so important!
"Zaaf! Ba ba ba baaaby!"
"Yesh, you're our baby Zaaf," Khala came over to croon over her favorite boys.
"Bay bay bay Zaaf!" Zaid caught hold of Khala's hair to tell her by tugging on it.
Khala pinched his cheeks and Zaid frowned. His expression mirrored his Ammi's: tiny frown on top, pouty lip at bottom.
"Bay bay bay BAAAY!"
His useless Chachu and Khala were not understanding his command or the urgency.
Zaid looked around for his mom. She would explain to these two: have babies right now, Allah miyan. Get this family off my back!
"Kya keh raha hai?" Rashid asked everyone. "He looks so serious."
"I think he's telling his Chachu to have babies like Zaaf," Zoya said before being hit by another giggle attack.
Chachu looked horrified and Khala fled the scene.
Zaid slapped his forehead and pinched his nose like he'd seen Abbu do.
Song in Title:
Barfi (2012): "Itti si Hansi"
Next Chapter: 144438244
Edited by Klondy - 2017-10-17T09:20:59Z
Topic started by dixeij
Last replied by -jass-