Zoya called Humaira after they returned to the hotel. She had locked herself in the bathroom and turned on the faucets in the tub.
A part of her was scared and nervous. Would she be able to talk to her? Would she resent her for having lived with their father's love all her life while she had yearned for him all of hers?
Please Allah, give me strength to ... to what?
Please don't let me hate her.
Please don't let me start crying.
Heart thudding, she punched in her number, "Humaira?"
"Zoya Bhabhi!" Humaira wailed and burst into bitter tears.
Zoya's heart melted.
"Na baby, it'll be OK." She made soft soothing sounds and tried talking her down from her near-hysteria.
"Have some water, now, c'mon. I'll wait." She waited till she heard her gulp down a few sips.
She made a soft kissing sound to encourage her, "tell mama what happened? Did you have a fight?"
"Nooo!" she started to cry again. "He won't take my calls. I don't know what to think anymore." She sniffed.
"Shh ... don't worry, Humaira. If you didn't have a fight then everything will be fine between you two. It must have been something else that upset him."
"Really? He's not mad at me?"
"No! Why would he be? He better not be, or I will kill him. I've already told Mr. Khan to whoop his ass when he returns."
Humaira sniffed. "No, Zoya bhabhi, tell bhaijaan to go easy on him."
"Why? And anyways this is now between me and Raabert. And Raabert will have to answer to C.I.D Jahanpanah."
She changed her voice and channeled some ACP Pradyuman, "Daya, kuchh toh garbad hai. Ab toh phaansi hogi, phaansi!"
"You know Zoya bhabhi, I feel so much better after talking to you. I've been so worried. First Ayaan, and now Ammi acting strange. Abbu is so stressed. He wasn't too happy with me coming to Mumbai with everyone, but Ammi convinced him to let me come."
Zoya's hand tightened on her phone. She blinked several times and shifted it to the other hand, taking a deep steadying breath in between.
"Is everything OK ... at home?"
"I don't know. Ammi too isn't taking my calls and Abbu says that she's pretty much locked herself in her room. Do you think I should return early, bhabhi? May be I should have listened to Abbu and not come."
"No ... don't ... second guess yourself like this." Zoya took another deep breath, willing her voice to not crack.
"We ... we were all so happy on our way to the airport. Inshaallah, those days will come again. Just remember that Ayaan really loves you."
"Yes! When I was teasing him that I wanted to fix you up with Omar, you should have seen his reaction."
"What was it? Tell me!"
"I said, Omar is a great guy,' and he said," and Zoya changed the tenor of her voice, " I don't care if he's freaking Santa Claus!' "
"Really, bhabhi, he said that?"
"Hmm. And then I told him, but Humaira and Omar look so cute together,' and you know what he said?"
"What?" asked Humaira breathlessly.
"He nearly bit my head off, "she's mine!' he yelled."
She heard Humaira gasp with pleasure, and smiled.
"See? There's nothing to worry about."
"Thank you bhabhi. You are so funny. You remind me of when I was young and Abbu would read stories to me changing his voice with each different character."
She rattled on, not hearing Zoya's choked gasp. Why didn't you read me stories, Abbu? Why didn't you come looking for me?
And bhabhi ...?" Humaira hesitated shyly.
Zoya cleared her throat. "What is it, swee" Humaira?"
"You know, I did something really silly, and now I'm feeling embarrassed."
"I'm sure it's not as silly as you think. Do you want to tell me?"
"Remember, the skirt and boots we tried on, and then Ayaan gifted them to me?"
" Um ... I wore those, and ... took a picture of myself and sent it to him."
"Good girl!" Zoya laughed. Her heart was light again. "That's exactly what I would have done too!"
"Bhabhi, why would you dress like that and send a picture to Ayaan?"
Humaira giggled even more.
Thank you god for that sound.
She splashed cold water on her face.
Asad was by the door when when she came out. She flew into his arms.
"All well?" he asked stroking her back and tucking her head in the crook of his neck.
She nodded. "I thought I wouldn't know what to say. I thought that I would feel jealous of her. But how can I be jealous when she's so miserable?"
"Shh..." He cupped her face, "you don't have a jealous bone in your body. And I know. I've checked every inch of this body."
She boxed his stomach.
"Oh god Asad, I would've died if I didn't have you," she hugged him fiercely.
He kissed the top of her head. "Don't talk nonsense. And Ayaan's an idiot, but he'll figure it out like me ... eventually."
"But if he doesn't, you'll kill him for me right?"
" ... umm"
"OK, I'll hold him down for you. You can kill him."
"Now that's more like my man! How would you like to be rewarded for being my knight in charming armor?"
He was already peeling off his shirt. "Charming armor? I thought it was shining."
She slithered out of her jeans. "Nah! Not when Jahanpanah charming wears it and mounts his queen!"
Hours later, in the dark, snuggled into his side with her head on his chest, she asked him, "Asad?"
"Hmm," he'd mumbled.
She played with his fingers, "you'll read stories to our kids, right?"
"All of them?"
He wiped her tears, "all of them. Even their imaginary friends."
Somehow both of them had instinctively shied away from listening to that recording from 18 years ago. It was as if each seemed to want to protect the other from what happened that day.
And protect themselves from the crimes of their fathers that night.
"We don't have to listen to it." Asad had suggested.
They were flying to New Delhi. This was a surprise for her that he wouldn't reveal till they got to their destination.
He had smiled ruefully and squeezed her hand. "If that's what you want."
"May be when we return home?" she had asked softly.
"We aren't going to be home for another week."
"All part of the surprise Mrs. Khan." He laced his fingers through hers on the armrest. "Zoya, I know you are scared to find out what's on that recording. I am too."
His biggest fear was hearing not just her father's role in her mother's murder, but evidence that he willingly abandoned Zoya.
His fist clenched.
He would pound that man into a pulp if there was even a shred of evidence that he had left Zoya to die in the factory.
"If you want, I can listen to it, you don't have to."
She had nodded her head and looked out the window. He felt her withdraw into herself and kicked himself for even bringing it up.
He absently stroked the top of her hand with his thumb.
"Zoya," he whispered seductively in her ear. "How are you going to reward me for the surpise?"
He saw her lips curl in a reluctant smile and tugged on her hand.
"Depends on the surprise. If I like it, you could get lucky," she murmured.
"And if you love it?"
She laughed softly. "So sure of yourself?"
"I aim to please."
She turned around in her seat to face him and promised breathily, "then you'll be very pleased."
"And Jahanpanah?" she continued in a hushed tone as she rested her cheek in her palm.
He looked at her expectantly, "it'll be my pleasure."
She swallowed audibly.
"But Asad, at least give me a hint, please!"
"No, not at all. A surprise is a surprise. And," he pinched her cheek lightly, "pouting those s*xy lips of yours isn't going to work on me."
"Oh really?" the dimple deepened, and she licked her lips slowly. His grip on her hand tightened and his lips parted.
"So sad that my charms don't work on you. Shaadi ke baad aisa hi hota hai."
She lifted her arms provocatively to pile her hair on her head and then shook it loose. "Ghar ki murgi, dal barabar, right?"
Next, she arched her back pretending to stretch it, and heard his sharp intake of breath.
"May be I do need to give these lips a rest. They've worked overtime these past few days, no?" She purred.
And she bit her lower lip.
He groaned softly. "Mrs. Khan, behave!"
She turned away from him in the seat, looked over her shoulder, and playfully stuck out her butt at him, "otherwise you'll punish me?"
His eyes darkened and glittered. "Koi shaq?"
"Kaneez ko deewar mein chunvaenge, jahanpanah?"
"Nahin, dil mein."
"Lekin chunva ke rahenge?"
"Ab aap aise hi kabu main aati hain to yehi sahi."
"Settle down Mrs. Khan," he teased.
She looked at him through narrowed slits and then cut her eyes to his lap, "you settle down!"
His shoulders shook from laughing. Looking around, he quickly kissed his finger and placed it on her lips. She kissed it.
He traced her lips with his thumb. So plump and soft, and damn! That mouth. Sassy as hell. And so hot when on him.
Her eyes drooped.
He pulled his hand back and both sighed in frustration.
An hour and a half later she couldn't restrain herself. "But why did we fly into Delhi to only take the train?"
Mr. Khan was being just too tight-lipped about this surprise. None of her wiles and charms and threats seemed to work on her drill sergeant of a husband.
She had given up and huffed in silence in the car ride.
"Catch yourself getting lucky anytime soon," she had muttered in annoyance.
"Oh, don't you worry, I will," he had drawled.
She decided to complete some unfinished business and channel her frustration; she texted Ayaan to give him a piece of her mind.
Asad had already texted Ayaan that Zoya was furious with him.
He had sent her a message while they were in the flight: "Kya Mona darling, you are mad at your devar for ruining your honeymoon?"
"Your brother is already doing a fine job of that, thank you very much." She had added matching emoticons to indicate her displeasure with his bhaijaan.
When Ayaan read that, he had guffawed with pleasure.
Trust them to be still fighting. She really knew how to push his buttons. Perfect jodi, he half-smiled to himself avoiding thinking about his own jodi.
He messaged Asad: "Jhansi ki rani ko sataa rahen hain Jahanpanah?"
Asad looked up sharply at Zoya. She was furiously punching away on her phone.
Ayaan's phone pinged: "Raabert, I am furious that you left Humaira heartbroken. I will never forgive you for this."
"Mona, you don't understand. I can't explain. I just had to leave."
"Typical. How convenient for you. You have the option of running away and leave the girl hanging, worrying that she may have done or said something."
"It's not because of her."
"Have you told her that? And you know what. I'm done text-talking. Call me when you are ready to talk like a man."
Whoa! His pistol-packing, cowgirl of a bhabhi was seriously pissed off.
He scratched his head. He really didn't know what to do. He was repulsed by mumani's actions.
But Humaira was innocent. Why punish her?
But how can you love someone whose mother did such terrible things? To your family.
What if they got married and had a fight, and he threw her mother's vileness in her face each time? Wouldn't that be more hurtful than making a clean break now?
He wandered blindly in the courtyard at Ajmer Sharif. In his grief and anger this had seemed the only place where he could think of bowing his head to seek peace and purpose.
But each time he closed his eyes he saw Humaira's face.
Her look of hope and concern.
Her bent gaze each time he had flirted outrageously with girls from their college. Her eager greeting every morning ...
... every memory of her pain and his indifference stabbed him.
He'd hurt her so much already ... wouldn't it be typical of his selfish attitude to hurt her for the last time?
She could forget about him, get married to a guy who really deserves her ...
Humaira was done crying.
After talking to Zoya bhabhi, she had been thinking more and more about Ayaan's thoughtlessness. If he had fled because of her, then what had she really done? And if it was because of something else, then why hadn't he told her?
She had sent him a million messages and now felt embarrassed and angry with herself.
How clingy could she have been?
Why did she reduce herself to a doormat each time it came to Ayaan?
Man up Humaira! She dashed her tears in anger.
She paced in her hotel room and wished she were home.
Should she text him just one last time?
No Humaira don't go there. You're not dumb. You're not ugly. You're not ...
She burst into tears.
Idiot! Stop it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself right now!
Ayaan had read all the texts from everyone and was beginning to feel antsy. There were pleas of worry and love from his mother and father and sisters. Bhaijaan had offered a shoulder to cry on.
There were threats of bodily harm from Zoya and Omar.
"Saale tu wapas aa, I will kick your butt from here to eternity." Omar had texted.
And then there was Humaira.
He had felt guilt and remorse reading through each of her frantic messages.
But his phone had been silent for the last two hours. He checked absently whether it was running low on battery or if he had accidentally switched it off.
Humaira's messages had stopped.
A flatline on a heart monitor.
He felt a tingle of alarm. Did something happen to her?
His fingers itched to reach out to her but then he thought of Mumani.
He flung his phone on the hotel bed.
Should he tell bhaijaan about all this?
Not the right time. May be when they returned home.
Impulsively, he called Omar.
"You bloody d*ck! I'll seriously kill you Raabert!"
"Oh really? You and which army?"
"Shut the hell up, man! What's going on? Where are you?"
Ayaan sobered up. He sighed, "Ajmer Sharif."
"We'll be there by tomorrow."
"My parents go there each visit to India anyways. And may be there you'll come clean about why you pulled this stunt."
Ayaan dragged his hand through his hair, "I can't talk about it with anyone else. They all are too close to this mess."
"I'm not. Tell me, though I'm seriously pissed at you man."
"I know ... I think that's why I called you instead of anyone else ... What time are you guys getting in tomorrow?"
Ayaan had been waiting in the hotel lobby to receive them. His face fell when he saw only badi Ammi, Nuzzhat, Nikhat, Najma and Omar and his parents.
"Where are Abbu Ammi?" he had asked Nikhat.
"They went back home with Dadi. She was not up for a longer stay away from home."
"And ... Humaira?"
"She wanted to go back home. Mumani is not well."
Nikhat had looked sharply at her brother. His cheeks were sunken and hair even messier. His eyes had searched for Humaira.
So they still weren't talking or texting. She didn't want to pester him with questions at this time.
But she was mad at him for Humaira's sake.
She had seen Humaira go from being sick with worry and fear, to numb acceptance of some doomed life sentence, and her heart had twisted for her friend.
She had seen Humaira faking cheer all of yesterday.
Bhaijaan would have to figure out this one on his own and do right by her.
She deserved better.
Zoya squealed loudly enough to make many people around them clutch their hearts in fear for a second. But once they turned to look at her they smiled.
They saw a young woman in jeans and a kurti, hair flying, bouncing on her toes and clapping with delight.
They saw her launch herself into a young man's arms nearly knocking both of them off their feet.
He was laughing huskily and held her tight in his arms.
Aw, must be newlyweds!
"The frikking Palace on Wheels! I love it. I love it. I love it! I love you, Mr. Khan!" She twirled in front of the coach entrance, manned by highly decorated doormen in colorful pagdis and clothes, flanking the red carpet.
"Oh, did I hear you correctly? You did say you love it, not just like it, right?"
"Umm hmm," she smiled knowing exactly what he was hinting at.
She was dying to explore the inside.
"OK," she flashed her dimples at him, "I know, I should have had more faith in your super-psycho planning abilities."
Oh really? He was so going to get her for calling him psycho.
Song in Title:
Gangster (2006), "Ya Ali"
"But when did you arrange all this? Aren't they booked months in advance?" She was still bouncing off the walls, giddy with delight.
"I saw a brochure at the hotel and got my people to pull some strings."
"You have peeps! Mr. Khan, you are too good. But aren't you taking this jahanpanah thingie a little too seriously?" She teased him after having inspected every inch of their luxuriously appointed saloon. After all, they didn't call it the Palace on Wheels for nothing!
Their traditionally attired khidmatgar, whilst serving them chilled drinks, had introduced himself as their personal valet for the rest of the trip.
She couldn't stop giggling. How weird to have someone wait on you hand and foot?
She snuck a glance at her husband. Hmm, may be not so weird to His Highness here.
She had only heard about luxury trains like this. A friend's parents had taken the trip for their 25th wedding anniversary and Zoya and her friends had oohed and aahed over the pictures of the lavish dcor and lapped up stories of the royal treatment that mimicked the lifestyles of the maharajas of old.
She couldn't believe that they were actually here.
The guests had been invited for a meet and greet at the bar this evening for drinks. Thank god she had packed some formal outfits thinking that they'd be with family in Mumbai.
The train started and Zoya curled up on the window seat to see the train pulling away from the station. She saw kids on the streets playing cricket, shanties and homes gave way to fields. In the US, looking out of a train or car window, one only saw other cars or concrete structures. But here, people and animals co-habited and thronged every surface, bright eyes shining and brown hands gyrating. The vibrant and fading colors of clothes and billboards bled into one another. It was hypnotic to watch faces and landscapes zoom by.
Picking up speed, the train rocked rhythmically; the sound of the grating metal on the rails had a soothing effect.
She felt Asad sit behind her and sighed as he pulled her into his arms.
"How did I get so lucky?" she mused aloud. She rested her head on his chest still looking at the trees and houses and clouds fly by, "I must have done something right."
His arms tightened around her and she felt his breath on her neck.
Eyes half-closed, she thought about the day she had christened him jahanpanah. It had been only two or three weeks into her stay and she was bored. Flipping through channels she had come across one of Jeeju's favorite movies.
She missed him terribly.
Every scene reminded of her of what he would say, or where she'd roll her eyes, and how they would argue, and eventually beg aapi to take sides. And bless aapi's heart, even though she loved the film and the songs herself, she always took Zoya's side which riled Jeeju infinitely.
Zoya always found the jahanpanah in "Mughal-e-Azam" to be comical and way over the top. That booming voice and rocking mountain of a man she didn't diss too much; but only because he was her Ranbir Kapoor's great grandfather. But Jeeju would take off on a fangurl rant about how the film was an all-time classic, had the finest actors of the time, cost so much to make, the multiple re-takes of a particular scene and blah, blah, blah.
She just didn't get the hype. Except for a spunky Anarkali, the others were just so meh!
Spoiled rotten men from a forgotten era (thank you Allah miyan) who had it so damn easy.
And just then Mr. Khan had walked in from work. Stiff, scowling, and Allah miyan, so damned full of himself. A seventeenth-century man time-warped into the twenty-first century.
Incredibly foolish, she'd smirked to herself then, and now.
And then real life had mimicked reel life: she saw phuphi and Najma jump to attention like robots. They leaped to serve him and do his bidding as he held court inspecting smudges, straightening cushions, and commanding the women who were running around him like headless chickens.
She had looked up from the TV screen to Akdu Ahmed Khan, and then back again to the TV screen.
And her jahanpanah had been born.
In a flash, she had even imagined him sentencing her in disapproval for constantly challenging and upsetting him.
Allah miyan, the old Mr. Khan! He only looked at her in anger, nostrils flaring, teeth gnashing and fists clenching.
A fire-breathing dragon who daily terrorized and oppressed the fair warrior-maiden Zoya Farooqui.
Any moment, and he'd gladly throw her to the lions or into the Khan dungeon.
He stirred, already reacting to her body's heat.
She smiled and turned in his arms. "Asad."
"Make love to me."
He released his breath.
"I didn't know your superpowers included reading minds," he ran his tongue down the curve of her ear.
She shivered, "reading minds has nothing to do with it, apparently. It's something way lower with a mind of its own that needs attention!"
He snickered, and let out an exaggerated sigh as he pushed her hair to the side and lowered the zip on her shirt, "kya zamana aa gaya hai! Roz-roz, the 21st century jahanpanah gets sassed and doesn't even get the last word." He bent to rain kisses on her exposed back, tracing the goosebumps on her flesh.
"Aww, poor underdog jahanpanah," she rasped through hitching breath, "how about being my khidmatgar to complete your surrender?"
He was too distracted, and his mouth too busy to respond.
She laughed huskily in triumph, but was soon silenced.
Their clothes fell in a blur; their lips and hands barely ever inches apart.
A phone buzzed.
"Unnhh!" she complained coming up for air.
"Let it go to voice mail," he ordered gruffly. He hadn't even begun his inspection of the skin behind his begum's knees before they hugged his hips urging him in deeper.
"But what if ..."
"No, don't say it!"
"... it's phuphi, I mean Ammi?"
"Brilliant! Bring up my mother to kill the mood why don't you," he grumbled.
She giggled and rolled over to rest her chin in her palm. Watching him cover himself with a sheet before checking the phone made her want to really torture him out of his jahanpanahness.
But if it was Ammi on the line, then she'd better behave.
It was. She did.
For all of two seconds.
She plotted various scenes of wicked foreplay in her head. Eyes wandering, they hooded when she saw the platters of fruit, nuts and pastries their khidmatgar had left behind.
She sashayed over, yet undecided about which one to seduce him with.
The pastries of course, with all that luscious cream and chocolate. But the clusters of grapes and plump strawberries beckoned too.
Umm, a little healthy and a little sinful.
Asad's eyes had followed her and now narrowed in horror and anticipation as he watched her debating the offerings.
"Ji Ammi," he answered distractedly.
He saw her turn to him and tilt her head back. Her hair, already mussed up from his earlier ministrations, reached well below her waist grazing the flare of her hips. Her neck corded as she dangled the cluster of grapes over that sinful mouth.
A couple of grapes sank into her mouth and she crunched on them, purposefully.
He couldn't look away.
His throat was dry.
She glided over to him and popped a grape in his mouth. He tried to bite her finger but she skittered away.
"Aur Tama ...tar ...?" he swallowed and cleared his throat.
His breath caught as his eyes locked with hers and he watched her slowly dip a fat strawberry in the cream atop a pastry, and just as slowly, open her mouth, curve her lips into an O, and take a raunchy bite. Some cream smeared over her lips and the tip of her pink tongue darted out to lick it off.
He groaned and crashed back helplessly into the headboard.
She smiled and pumped her fist in victory.
He squeezed his eyes shut.
"Umm ... haan Ammi, aur aap bhi."
His eyes gleamed darkly.
"Allah hafiz Ammi."
She saw him smirk.
"Yeh lijiye, apni ladli bahu se baat kariye."
He flung the sheet away, and rose to give her the phone and wink at her.
She gulped, nearly choking on the strawberry.
Hot damn! He had just turned the tables on her.
"Hi Ammi," she watched in dismay as he inched closer, grabbed her hand and dipped and swirled her finger in the frosting. She almost moaned aloud as he thrust it deep into his mouth and sucked hard on it.
Her eyes bugged out and her knees nearly buckled.
She glared at him, or at least tried to. It was hard when your eyes wanted to close in surrender or roll back in your head.
"Thanks Ammi and ... aap?"
She shook her head desperately. No! I love her but not now, please ... "OK ... hi Tamatar!" she squeaked.
He was doing it again.
Oh really? Was there any frosting even left?
Now he dangled a maraschino cherry over her mouth. Already hypnotized by the swaying orb, she leaned forward to swipe it from his hand, but he dipped his head to wrap his tongue around it.
His nose brushed against her cheek.
"Zoya, I wish you guys were here. Omar and his Ammi Abbu know about Ajmer more than any of us. It's such fun."
Zoya's eyes now snagged on his lips. Her hand, as if magnetized, lifted to brush his mouth. His tongue snaked out, hot and firm, to tease her fingertips. Molten desire leaped deep in her ... her thighs clenched expectantly.
Chewing on his trophy he lifted her finger to once again scoop up a mountain of topping, from a black forest pastry this time. Eyes daring her to look away, he swooped to lick and suck her finger again, slowly tugging at it with his tongue. But this time he didn't swallow. Instead he knelt down before her and her eyes widened helplessly, to only close heavily.
No, no, don't you da ...
Her body jolted. Her head fell back.
... aahhh, oh god, yes ... ple...ase ... ye ...s
Thank god, Tamatar was gushing about Mumbai, and now Ajmer Sharif, and how Omar this, and his parents that.
Zoya whimpered, almost falling back. His hands on the back of her thighs and her fist in his hair were the only anchors holding her upright.
"What happened, Zoya? Are you OK?"
"Ye...s," her breath rushed. "Najma ... the battery's dying ..."
and so am I ...
She heard him laugh softly and murmur, "liar!"
She whomped him upside his head with her free hand.
And was swiftly punished for it.
Her hips lurched forward and she rocked on the balls of her feet, nearly tipping over.
She stuffed her knuckle in her mouth to keep from keening. Najma yammered on about yummy Rajasthani food.
Zoya bit down on her knuckles wiggling her hips.
Omar had an upset stomach but still soldiered on to prove that he could handle spicy food.
"Najma ... I have to go..." because your Bhaijaan is just about to make me ...
Her head jerked back; she turned the phone off, ... she hoped, and it slid from her limp hand falling with a soft thud on the carpeted floor.
Ayaan and Omar were in the hotel game room playing pool while the girls were at the spa. But the game had long been forgotten once Omar heard the details of why Ayaan had fled.
"So now what?" he asked Ayaan who rubbed his face in growing frustration. This was indeed a mess and a hard place to be in.
"I don't know man, I just don't know what to do. I don't know if I can face Humaira. I've hurt her enough already and ..."
"What are you really scared of Ayaan? That in choosing her you are betraying your father? Or that you'll hurt her, or even that she carries her parents' demon DNA?"
He clapped his hand on Ayaan's shoulder, "Does it really have to be an either-or' situation? Do you think your folks won't accept Humaira?"
"I don't know. So far, everyone from Ammi to Dadi to Abbu, has always seen Humaira as one of us. It's always been the four of us. Growing up no one ever distinguished between me and my sisters and Humaira."
"Doesn't that say it all, you jackass!" Another time Ayaan would have punched his lights out, but now he just gazed moodily at the green felt.
"Nothing else matters then. If Rashid uncle can accept her, why not you?"
"You don't get it, Omar. It does matter." Ayaan was running both his hands through his hair in agitation. "How can I forget everything that woman did to me and my family? She tried to trick me into getting engaged to Humaira, not once but two times!"
"And then I find out that she's being doing the same to my father. God knows for how long. Do you know how emasculating that is!"
Omar looked at him, feeling his anguish. It must rankle to be scr*wed over like this. He too felt revulsion for a person who could manipulate people to such an extent causing unmitigated ripples of hate and spite.
Who does that?
"Look, you're right, I haven't been through anything like this, so I don't know the sense of helplessness you or Rashid uncle must have felt. But I do know what it means to be in love and to fear the loss of that love. And somehow, I don't think anything can fix or replace the sense of that loss."
Ayaan's head reeled.
An image of his father came unbidden to his mind. He'd always known that Abbu felt immense guilt and remorse for walking out on Badi Ammi, bhaijaan and Najma.
Ayaan had felt that guilt too each time he met bhaijaan. As a teen, once, for months, he had stopped meeting bhai because of that shame: he and his family had snatched bhai's haq from him. Robbed Najma and him of a father's love and shelter from the storm and sleet of an indifferent and cruel world. He never knew what it was to grow without a father, when across town, bhaijaan had struggled daily, working twice as hard to study and help Badi Ammi make ends meet. He would save up money to buy his spoilt kid brother little treasures; cheap and inexpensive for a kid whose parents lavished him with gifts and electronics from abroad.
But Ayaan had those treasures still carefully and lovingly hoarded.
The expensive gifts and electronics he didn't even remember nor care about; they must have been passed on to servants' kids or trashed.
And while bhaijaan had hated their Abbu, he had only love to shower on Ayaan and his sisters, not once making them feel any different from Najma. That neither Najma nor he hated their half-siblings was a testament to Badi Ammi's parvarish. And if they were all together today it was only because bhaijaan had made the effort that day to sneak into his room at night and hold him while he cried, begging forgiveness for his family's selfishness. And bhai had said through tears, "Ayaan, you and the girls are the only wonderful thing to come out of this daily hell. Meeting you just makes my day better." He had softly hummed their song, wiping Ayaan's eyes and smiled when Ayaan had wiped his nose on his pristine shirt. He'd playfully whacked him on his head and they had wrestled knocking over a lamp.
Bhaijaan had returned to their house only once since then.
But that night, a new tradition had been born: Ayaan's nightly visits through Asad's window. The windows had changed as his older brother had became more successful, but the ritual of Ayaan tracking in dirt and bhai's mock-reprimands and frantic clean-up remained intact.
Except now, Mona darling had invaded their stronghold: their man cave.
He smiled ruefully and shook his head.
How had he begun to think of all this fraught history?
Ah, yes, love and its glorious dash mein bumboo.
The two men in his life who he loved and looked up to. Thank god, Bhai had begun to open up and it was all thanks to Mona darling.
And may be now it was time to grow up. May be even let in the idea that Badi Ammi had probably been Abbu's one true love all along.
His heart jammed.
Oh god, if Abbu had felt for 18 years what he had been feeling for a little more than 18 hours, then love sure was a b*tch that ate you up inside. Would he want that for himself? If he loved Humaira would he want that for her?
Omar saw the kaleidoscope of emotions skim Ayaan's face. May be this idiot needed one last nudge.
"Do you remember that dinner when I met you all for the first time?"
Ayaan nodded, distracted.
"Remember how miserable Zoya and Asad were that day?" Though Zoya never told him, he had seen how she would look at Asad when she thought no one was looking. He also knew that she had booked her tickets to New York because she couldn't bear to see him get married to another woman. She would have even left for good, if Asad hadn't taken the first step to declare his love.
Omar laughed humorlessly. "They were that good at hiding their pain, Ayaan. But I guess, you get to that point when you don't give a damn about what anyone else thinks. And then you just take a leap of faith ..."
He cleared his throat.
He didn't give him the sordid details of Tanveer's blackmail, but projected the angst of having to sit through seeing the woman you love be hurt daily because you couldn't confess your love for her.
Omar sighed. "In fact, it was watching them that gave me the guts to put it all out there and propose to Najma. I wanted what they have now. Don't you?"
Ayaan could have kicked himself for being so blind. He thought back to the trip and how even he had noticed Zoya's silence and bhaijaan's moody reserve. He had even taunted bhaijaan for not looking ecstatic about his engagement. He had no idea all this was going on right under his nose. How could two people so in love have gone through so much pain?
Omar saw the moment it hit Ayaan. He put his hand on Ayaan's shoulder. "Would it be such a big bloody deal? Sure, you'll have problems, you may even hurt her. But can't you face this mess together, with her by your side?"
"Think," he continued, "what if you told her about her mother?"
"She'd feel terrible and never want to be with me knowing that she'd remind me of her mother's awful acts."
"Exactly! If you are so sure that Humaira will feel that way, then does she really carry her mother's dark DNA?"
Ayaan was stunned at the simplicity of these words.
If he had such faith in Humaira's reaction, of course, even in his heart he must have known that she was not her mother, nor her mother's daughter.
And may be that was his biggest fear after all: that in telling Humaira about her mother he would lose her forever. Not because he would despise her, but because she would never forgive herself for being Razia Siddiqui's daughter.
Song in Title:
Fanaah (2006): "Mere Haath Mein"
That evening in the dining car they met the other guests even though Asad was reluctant to leave their room. He relented when he saw her eagerness in wanting to dress up, go out as a couple, and be treated like royalty. "You are treated like a king daily by your mother and sister," she had sulked.
She was wearing a gift from him, a full-sleeved white suit with sharara pants and a magenta dupatta, while he wore a dark brown suit with an open collared shirt. Later, while slow dancing in each other's arms he had bent to whisper in her ear, "am I imagining it or are you commando under there?"
She had fused her hips to his and rotated them reveling in his immediate response. Arms around his neck, she had c*cked her head to the side to tease him, "that Mr. Khan, is for me to know and you to find out."
"Zoya!" he had groaned, resting his forehead on hers. "Let's get out of here."
"But I haven't finished my drink as yet!"
He led her to their table and downed the mocktail in her flute. "It's finished now. Move it, missy."
It didn't matter that the other guests heard them, or saw them unable to keep their hands off each other. They basked in a self-spun shimmering cocoon of golden desire where every breath felt charged and every movement electric.
"Oh really? Is that how it's going to be? You'll dictate and expect me to obey each time?"
"Zoya, stop messing with me. And may be not each time, but every other time, hmm?" He was already pulling her out of the vestibule.
"Nahin to kya karenge aap?" she whispered even though the corridor was empty.
He lifted her in a fireman's throw over his shoulder and carried her to their room.
"Asad!" She rained her fists on his back to no avail. Once in their room he slapped her butt, biting it playfully. She reached out to yank hard at the waistband of his briefs giving him one hell of a wedgie.
"Aaah," he shrieked.
He swatted her bottom again, "Mrs. Khan, behave!"
He let her down and pinned her against the door. "Oh god, Zoya, I can't get enough of you. I want to eat you up." He tracked a thousand kisses down her throat and up again behind her ear.
His hands touched her skin through the slits of her kurta.
Oh yes, he was right!
Bare, warm and smooth skin all the way up her rib cage and beyond.
He cupped and stroked her under the silky fabric. His thumbs beat an erotic rhythm on her traitorous skin.
"Asad," she moaned. "I love you."
He stepped away from her and sat back on the bed.
"Asad?" She felt exposed and abandoned.
"Undress for me."
Zoya blew her hair off her forehead, exasperated and aroused. Jahanpanah wanted a show?
She tugged and let the dupatta slide off into a hot pink puddle at her feet. Her nipples poked through the kurta, hyper aware of their rapt audience as she moved languidly to the desk and unclasped her kundan earrings from each ear.
One by one, slowly, she removed her bracelets and bangles. A couple fell to the floor; they spun and danced.
She felt goosebumps along her skin. Once again he had made the simple mundane act of wearing or removing jewelry, sensual ...
... and extrasensory.
Raising the hem of the kurta, she smoothly pulled it off her head and shook her hair loose.
It too joined the dupatta on the floor.
She stood before him, statuesque.
Her skin felt cool yet oversensitive; it burned under his heated gaze.
He looked at her clad only in her high waisted straight-leg sharara pants.
He sat forward now, elbows on his knees.
"Take those off so that I can find out if I was right," he rasped, unclenching his fist.
She stepped out of her heels and slid the side zipper down and shimmied out of them.
The pants rustled to the floor.
He crowed in victory.
Stepping out of them daintily, she slipped her feet back into her heels. She smiled to herself, remembering his thing for her in heels. She tipped her head back and trailed her hand from her throat to her navel and down to her thighs.
His breath caught.
Eyes closed, she slowly, sensuously continued to slide both her hands over herself. Lazily, she twirled and swayed to music only she could hear and turned her back to him. She looked at him over her shoulder and smiled at his dazed expression.
"Breathe, Mr. Khan," she said softly.
Back still turned to him, she raised her arms over her head to lift her hair off her neck and let it cascade loosely over again. Arms still raised, she angled her hip to one side and stretched out the other leg away from her, toes pointed. Bowing sideways she dragged her hand from her outstretched calf up her hip. Her engagement ring winked at him.
And she shifted to plant both feet firmly apart. She looked back at him again and winked.
Then, legs locked at the knees, she bent down at the waist, and slowly, meticulously, deliberately,
He cursed out loud and a long groan followed; she smiled to herself.
"Enough games," he growled. She felt him move up behind her. Snatching her clothes from her fingers he flung them away; his own clothes grazed against her oversensitized and overheated skin. He hauled her to the desk, tossed the chair aside and bent her over, elbows and wrists on the table. He had already discarded his suit jacket.
She heard the rasp of his zipper.
"But Asad, don't I get a strip tease?" she complained, and gasped as he took her in one deep thrust raising her up on her toes.
"Later," he grated, biting into her shoulder. His hands came up to cup her from behind.
"Promise? ... Oh ... god ..." she moaned and spasmed, biting her lip.
"Am I hurting you?"
"Not enough ..." her wail was drowned out by the shrill whistle and hiss of the air brake release.
The train swayed and hurtled through the night, shuddering and grinding on the rails.
Because they had joined the tour late they had already missed sightseeing in Delhi yesterday.
"But what about Qutub Minar and Bahai Temple and other sights in Delhi?" She was looking at the brochure she'd found on the night stand.
"First anniversary," he had promised her, kissing her pout away after another session of lovemaking. "And, may be I'll take you somewhere for another surprise after that?" he grinned smugly, pretty pleased with his model husband behavior.
"You'll wait a whole year to surprise me!" she had shrieked covering herself with the sheet in dismay.
"The Palace on Wheels has gone to your head Mrs. Jahanpanah," Asad said as he pulled on his jeans. "When will I work if I keep satisfying your diva demands?"
She saw red.
"Oh no you didn't! Na"ah! You take that back right now! A DIVA! No one gets away with calling Zoya Farooqui a diva! Specially not a prissy, pretty boy, drama queen like Akdu Ahmed Khan!"
His jaw fell.
"What the hell? ... Prissy?" he roared. "Oh yeah, I was so prissy yesterday, and just now!" he thundered as he snatched his shirt to angrily slip into it.
She turned her face away to hide a smile. Oh boy! No doubt, that chocolate and cream lovefest had been one of his finest moments. But she couldn't back down now.
She bit the inside of her cheek and covered her mouth with her hand.
He was still ranting.
Sweet, meticulous Anal Ahmed Khan. Even when he fought, he line itemized.
"And drama queen! Kahan se do I look like a drama queen?" He was buttoning his shirt furiously, and paused to dash his hair off his forehead.
"You missed pretty boy!" she muttered. Arrogant pig.
He couldn't believe he was having this conversation. How had this moment been hijacked from him magnanimously promising her another trip to being blamed instead for being the bad guy?
"I'm a drama queen?" Apparently he didn't mind being called pretty boy, she smirked.
"I think you're fixating on the queen part more than the drama," she deadpanned.
"Oh really? I am dramatic? When did I ...?" He flashbacked to almost every encounter of theirs since they'd met for the first time.
They had been pretty dramatic all right.
He tried another tack.
"Drama queen, my foot! Says she who ... who ..." But suddenly, for the life of him, he couldn't remember a single instance of her being dramatic.
He scratched his head.
There had to be so many. This was Zoya Farooqui after all. Why the hell couldn't he think of even a single one right now?
He rounded on her pointing his finger at her accusingly.
"You did something to my head right? You did some chhoomantar stuff of yours and suddenly my mind is blank."
"What I did to your head, Mr. Khan, you saw and liked very much if I do say so myself. In fact you were begging for more, yeah baby, please baby,' " she parodied him mercilessly.
He blushed. She swallowed a giggle.
She went on to snort, "and making your mind blank? It wasn't blank to begin with?"
His eyes were still unfocused.
Her voice dropped an octave, "and isn't the point of doing that special something to your head, precisely to make your mind go blank?"
He didn't even hear that part. Hmm, she was beginning to note a pattern here. He would return to it later for sure or, choose to completely ignore it. Right now, he was still stuck on something else she'd said earlier. "And you're no longer Zoya Farooqui!" he raged. He knew he was being irrational and hardass, but suddenly he was mad.
So random. Ainvaiyeen. "Oh, kissi ghalatfehmi mein mat rahiyega Mr. Khan! I so am still Zoya Farooqui whether you like it or not."
"And my mind isn't blank to begin with."
And there we have it kids, meet your Abbu, Tubelight Ahmed Khan.
He still stormed, "what the hell is wrong with you? Why are you picking a fight?"
She couldn't hold it together anymore. She rolled and roared with laughter, tears streaming down her face.
"Oh my god! Mr. Khan you are so cute."
"Cute?" He was livid.
Prissy, pretty boy, drama queen, and now cute! Not even married a week and he had already been girlified.
He clenched his fists and flexed his arms.
Aarrgghh! Next, she'd be dressing him in a tutu and putting bows in his hair.
Zoya watched him frown and grimace. He squared his shoulders, his jaw angled and his chest puffed out. Any moment now and he might just morph into an indignant, albeit well-dressed, Tarzan. Hmm, may be she should buy him him some leopard or cheetah print thongs for his birthday.
She laughed harder, almost wheezing now.
He turned to the door to get some fresh air.
Damned nonsense being locked up on a train with his mental wife. She was taking over like a body-snatcher. He even smelled like her at the moment.
He heard a thump and looked up in alarm to see her flying at him. Instinctively his arms opened wide and she was clinging to him by his neck, her legs locked securely at his waist. His arms went around to grasp her bare waist just before he toppled over backwards.
She held his face, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she kissed him. "You aren't prissy or a drama queen!" He still hadn't got his breath back but he tried to get her off him.
To no success.
"But I stiil think you're pretty and cute," she nibbled on his jaw.
She was hanging on for dear life still kissing him. But she had to slap his hands away as he tried to dislodge her again.
"Stop, it, stop it Mr. Khan, or this time I'll really be mad at you! And I said I was sorry!" She still laughed.
"Really be mad? That wasn't real? What the hell was that stupid fight about then?" She rose to sit astride him but he rolled over to pin her under him.
She smoothed his forehead, "I miss us fighting. We haven't fought for so long."
"Genius! Just genius," he muttered.
She nipped his nose. "I wanted to see your nostrils flare, hands saw through the air like a stiff drum major and your eyes get purple with rage."
"My nostrils don't flare! And purple eyes, stiff drum major? What kind of a cartoon character have I become? Did you have bhaang pakoras again?"
She whacked him across his chest. "They do so flare when you snarl like a gorilla! Ooh, nice idea, let's order pakoras from room service?" He rolled his eyes, still miffed. He was convinced now that his wife had ADD. Now he had gone from being a pretty airhead to a gorilla!
His stomach rumbled.
They both burst out laughing.
"With bhaang?" he teased now.
"Nah! I want to remember this time." She pulled his face down to plant a kiss on him.
"What name are you going to call me now?" he asked warily.
"You're no cartoon character." She stroked his jaw and rubbed her knuckles on his stubble. "You're my superhero!"
He flashed his dimples at her, very pleased with her hero worship. "Finally you're making some sense! Which one?"
She grinned. Aw, the ego needed some massaging after all that pranking. "Umm, the Mighty Mukka?"
He shook his head.
"How about Super S*xy Khan?" She tried to wiggle out from under him.
She could tell by the wicked gleam in his eyes that he liked that one better.
Oh really? Sucker!
She was almost free of him and casually rose to her feet.
"So Mr. Super S*xy Khan?"
He beamed up at her like a Cheshire cat. A Cheshire cat that had swallowed a canary after an entire bowl of cream.
"What color chaddhis are you going to wear over your tights?" And she ran and locked herself in the bathroom.
"Zoya!" he bellowed and rattled the doorknob.
The train traveled at night and each day they awoke in a new city where an air-conditioned bus would take them on a guided sightseeing tour and a 5 Star hotel for lunch.
But thanks to their faux fight and real make up after, they missed the deadline for the guided tour to Jaipur. But at least now her Mr. Khan didn't care what everyone would say about their absence. After a leisurely soak and pakora breakfast, they hired their own private car to make their way around the Pink City. Asad insisted on posing her artfully under the chhatris at Hawa Mahal for some still shots. She complied only because she'd exhausted her quota of making fun of jahanpanah today.
Poor thing, after a lifetime of taking himself so seriously, he needed to be eased gently into the Zoya zone.
Too soon, and he'd run screaming.
Like a little girl.
She was entranced by Amber Palace, but the elephant ride Asad just plain refused to do. "It's dusty and gross, god knows how many people must have sat on that seat."
"Mr. Khan, you're so mean!" She was mortified. Poor Gauri, the elephant, richly adorned in velvet and gold trappings looked so beaten; her tear tracks glistened and her wrinkled hide puckered as she lumbered, still chained to her post. Zoya stroked her trunk looking into her huge eyes. She had chatted up the Mahaut and asked a hundred questions about her age, diet, sleeping habits, parentage and siblings.
Asad sighed. "Do you really want to ride?"
"No. It's just so sad how she's tied up and all she does is carry people here and there, and then someone comes along and says she's gross."
"I didn't call her gross!"
"Still. And that's what I meant by the nostrils flaring."
"Zoya, you better not think of adopting her and taking her home with you."
"Can't we? Every Jahanpanah needs an elephant."
"Are you mental? And stop chatting with him, He thinks he'll get a big tip from a memsahib who really likes his elephant. Let him fleece firangis."
"But I am a firangi!"
He rolled his eyes. Now who's a drama queen. He pulled out some money and deposited it in the Mahaut's greedy palm.
She smiled and took his arm. "Very. Told you, you are my superhero."
Title in Song:
Sarfarosh (1999), "Hoshwalon Ko Khabar Kya Bekhudi Kya Cheez Hai"
Aapi and Jeeju had returned from Lucknow to join the party at Ajmer.
"Are khala and her family doing OK?"
"Haan sab theek hain. They've sent a gift for you and Naseema will email her college application essays"just proofread for her na."
"Sure, no probs. I'll call her too."
"Zoya, tum Asad ka khayal rakh rahi ho na?" Aapi asked anxiously.
Zoya frowned. "Aapi, what about me, why didn't you ask if he's taking care of me? Ladkiyon se hi umeed kyun rakhi jaati hai ki woh apne shauhar ka khayal rakhen?"
"Ya Allah! Yeh ladki! Bechara Asad," she lamented. But her voice softened. "I didn't ask about you because, one, I know you can take care of yourself, tum supergirl jo ho. And two, I've seen Asad around you. Main jaanti hoon he'll take care of you! I'm just worried that he won't know what hit him."
Zoya laughed. "Aapi! I love you so much. Aap janti hain na ki mujhe aapko satane mein kitna maza aata hai? I'm the same with Mr. Khan."
"Jaanti hoon, tumhe bhi, aur tumhare Jeeju ko bhi. Main hi ek mili hoon tum dono ko satane ke liye. But now at least Asad will understand what it's like for me to live in a paagalkhana," Aapi harrumphed.
Zoya snorted, "very funny Aapi. Chutkule maarna seekh hi liya aapne in my absence."
Aapi ignored her. "But anyways, tell me, tum logon ne kya kya kiya?"
If there was a cord on the phone she would be winding it on her finger right now. "Aapi," she teased in mock indignation, "sach mein bata doon humnein kya kya kiya."
Her laugh bubbled up and over. She wasn't sure who shouted loudest, or was more outraged, her Aapi or her Akdu.
Razia was weak with pain. Every labored breath reminded her of that horrible day.
And then to see Humaira's face.
What had she done? It had all been for Humaira's birthright and happiness, and now both were doomed. For so many days she had seen her daughter radiant and glowing. She had felt so smug about her success. Her ploys to push Humaira in Ayaan's reluctant company had paid off finally.
And to now find out that it had been overkill. She had been tripped up by her own micro-manipulating. Rashid was already straining at his chains, and now his combustible son to handle.
"Ammi?" She looked up at Humaira and her heart wrenched. Desolate eyes shadowed with dark undercircles gazed at her as she tried to smile bravely.
"Is it OK if I go to spend some time with Ruby khala?" Razia knew why she was asking. The kids were returning tomorrow. At least Ayaan hadn't told Humaira that her mother was the reason for her heartache. For that she was grateful. Allah, yeh kya kar diya maine! Was this god's way of punishing her? Through Humaira, her one and only weakness?
She raised her arm and winced. "Theek hai beta, jaisi tumhari marzi."
"But Ammi, I don't want to leave you like this. Why haven't you called Dr. Rizvi? Saara din aap room mein locked rehti hain. Na khati hain, na soti hain. Kya haal kar liya hai aapne? How can I leave you like this?"
Oh my sweet baby! Razia's eyes blurred. "Na beta, tum meri fikr mat karo. I think it's just hormonal issues. I have already talked to the doctor. You just go and have some fun."
It was imperative to have Humaira stowed safely away before they returned. She didn't know how she would face Ayaan tomorrow and knowing his impulsive and volatile nature, he could blurt out anything, anytime.
And she was in so much pain right now. She wanted to be alone.
Taking painkillers dulled her senses and made her groggy. If she slept, how would she plan her next escape?
How she craved sleep and its cloying oblivion though.
But closing her eyes brought other visions.
Was she beginning to lose her mind?
In whatever sleep she was able to snatch, she would have suffocating nightmares about dolls being sliced by knives. Mile high flames seared dark factories and bright bathrooms. And it would all spin around a screaming Humaira slowly being swallowed up by blood-soaked quicksand.
"Bachao Ammi, Ammi bachao!"
She would wake up, gasping for breath, heart racing, and every pore sweating.
Oh god, no!
The girls were worried for Humaira and Ayaan. Moody and sullen, he kept to himself. Omar hadn't told Najma everything about his talk with Ayaan. "Let him tell you all," he'd said to her.
Back in Mumbai, he had initially comtemplated some violent retribution for his chhota saala's disappearing act. Without Zoya and Ayaan, he had felt rudderless. The girls had been pensive and no fun at all. How he had longed to take Najma dancing but that hadn't happened, thanks to Ayaan.
But now he understood a little better. My god, thank goodness he had Najma, and their love story hadn't been this traumatic.
Tonight, he'd asked permission from her mother and taken Najma out for dinner.
Now, if Nuzzhat had the old Ayaan Bhaijaan on her side, then the three of them would have definitely piled on to rain on his parade. But with a morose and preoccupied Ayaan, she was grossly outnumbered.
And Nikhat would never intrude on the lovebirds; in fact, it was her idea in the first place. "Ask Badi Ammi and take Tamatar out. Don't you want to start making fun and romantic memories to tell my nieces and nephews?"
He had hugged her sideways and teased, "Nikhat babes, you are the bestest saali a guy could ask for!" Of all of the siblings, he loved Nikhat the best. She had Asad's seriousness, without the steel, tempered with a kindly wit, and none of the mad hatterness of the other three. He had convinced himself, if he had a sister, she'd be exactly like Nikhat: serene and charming, just like his mom.
And having so many siblings, and now their spouses, underfoot, sure was fun. Growing up as an only child had its drawbacks: no patsies to divert your parents' helicoptering. If something broke in the house, it could only have been you, if you stayed out too late, no sibs to talk down the hyperventilating folks from calling every friend and ex-roommate at 2 am.
Ayaan was beside himself with worry.
Humaira refused to take his calls or answer any of his texts.
His heart caught; this time he'd driven her away for sure. In the past, she had never been able to resist his puppy dog apology face for teasing and tormenting her. But now, when he pined for her, she had shut him out. For her to go completely silent like this meant that she had given up on them.
And that she was punishing herself more than him.
He was itching to get home right away, but they were only able to get tickets for tomorrow. Once home, he would be able to worm his way back into her favor, he was sure of it. But for now, every moment reminded him of his selfish cruelty.
Watching Omar and Najma make goggly eyes at each other and hold hands under the table made him want to kick himself for having thrown away his chance.
Omar was right. He'd have to be brave enough to risk losing her. Abbu was doing things his way to make things right; it was his turn to face up to the aftermath of her finding out why he left.
The more she thought about it, the more ashamed she felt. Not that there was much time for her to think on her honeymoon. She suspected Asad kept her busy and wrapped up, just to keep her from gnawing over the incomplete details of her off-again-on-again quest.
May be she just needed to give up her obsession with her father. After all, he hadn't bothered to look back.
She suppressed a pang.
Asad squeezed her hand and she rested her head against his shoulder gratefully. In the bus rides between the attractions in each city, she would play devil's advocate when not planning how to ambush her husband.
The two people who had given her everything they had, and everything she wanted, had been there for her, all her life. Was it really so important to know or meet her father? Did she need to know the man who may or may not have had a hand in her mother's death? Her mind refused to even consider his foreknowledge of her being at the factory that night.
She could always get to know him vicariously though Humaira.
Stupid gadha Ayaan, making her cry like that.
Jeeju had been her real Abbu all these years. Why had she wasted her life pining for a man she didn't know, who probably had forgotten her and moved on, a long time ago?
Jeeju had read her stories and even played house, dress up, and tea party with her. Once, when they had run out of apple juice, he had given her real black tea and she had sputtered all over her princess costume in tears. He had hugged her tight and made her laugh by wearing her tiara and feather boa.
For the sixth grade father-daughter dance, he had clumsily fumbled his way through, just for her. They would still watch the school video sometimes for the belly laughs.
He was there at every graduation.
When she went to high school he and Aapi had sat her down for the "talk" about boys.
"Beta, they only think of one thing."
"And what's that Jeeju?" Aapi and she had laughed through it mostly, while Jeeju had turned red with embarrassment, but still, he had valiantly soldiered on.
Sometimes it was easier to tell him stuff because he wouldn't freak out or have a cow like Aapi.
See? She really hadn't missed out on having a father. She had the best dad in the whole world already.
Her eyes misted and she sniffled.
The next second, a snowy white handkerchief appeared under her nose and she smiled.
And the best husband. Thank god for Asad. Shucking her shoes off, she tucked her legs under her and shifted sideways to snuggle into her husband's comforting side.
She closed her eyes.
If there's one thing you did for me Abbu, it was bringing me to India, thank you for that. And Allah Miyan" "what are you smiling about," Asad whispered over her head interrupting her reverie.
Eyes still closed she replied, "I'm thanking Allah for sending you to nearly run me over seven months ago." He gasped softly, and then chuckled, gripping her fingers more firmly, "not once, but twice."
"Totally! Because obviously, one signal from above wasn't enough for you, Tubelight Ahmed Khan."
"Hey! Watch it. That's what happens for walking in the middle of the street. It's a wonder you've managed to live this long." His heart stopped; he bit his tongue. He suddenly remembered that she almost died 18 years ago. His hand squeezed hers painfully.
She pulled him to her by his ear, "can you believe it? It never happened before that, or since. Why was I walking in the middle of the street just on those two days, just when you were speeding up to run me down?" She had seen the sudden pallor of his face and knew what he was thinking.
Stroking his cheek with her other hand she whispered, "what is that sher about ishq and aag ka dariya?"
He cleared his throat, "umm, ye ishq nahi asaan ... bas itna samajh lijiye, ek aag ka dariya hai, aur doob ke jaana hai."
She looked up at him, "see, hum aag ke dariya mein doob kar aapse miley."
"Zoya, don't even say that!"
"Then stop tormenting yourself about something that you had no control over."
"You're so crazy."
"Unh hunh." She played with his fingers, "was that Ghalib?"
"I'm not sure."
"Mr. Khan! I thought you called yourself," and she made air quotes, " a real shayari enthusiast!' "
"Aapki wahiyat shayari ne humein sab kucch bhula diya!"
For someone referred to as Mukka Ahmed Khan by his younger brother, he was sure getting walloped a lot since he confessed his love to her.
They were returning from Ranthambor National Park and Zoya was ecstatic at having spotted live tigers. The stuffed trophies at the various palaces and havelis had depressed and angered her. How cruel.
But after about 15 minutes he had to snatch away her iPad. "Watch them for real, not through a camera lens."
Relaxed and grateful for the reminder, she had gloried in just watching the noble beasts roll, stretch, scratch, swat flies, yawn, and god knows what else. "Look at the size of those paws," she'd marveled, eyes bright with mischief. "Do you think it's true about paw size and ...?"
"Zoya!" He had looked around them in embarrassment hoping no one had overheard this shamelessness. And great, now he couldn't stop thinking the same. He looked down at his own feet and blushed bright red.
His wife was a terrible influence on him.
After a while he had just watched her changing expressions of wonder. This was one thing he had begun to cherish about her: she never complained about the heat, dust or the smells. She only noticed the fun and the colors and the noise and the people.
In passing through Rajasthan she had soaked up its language, calling out "Khamma Ghani!" and teasing him by calling him Jahanpanah Sa, or Hukum, now. She had even noted some recipes and had chatted up rickshaw wallahs, street vendors, folkdancers and anyone else who would bother to answer her eager-beaver questions. And like an idiotic vazir or chamcha, he had handed out money to everyone she interviewed, since she was possibly keeping them from their business. At least, that's what she told him, before moving on to the next beneficiary.
He had imagined all NRIs as snotty, whiny complainers; but he'd begun to realize shamefully, that he was the more finicky, nitpicky and critical between the two of them.
Now he gratefully rested his cheek on her snoozing head thinking how they had nearly missed today's tour too. All Mrs. Khan had to say was jump,' and her besotted shauhar would pant out, how high?'
That morning, freshly showered, she had surprised him in faded denim short shorts paired with an undershirt. Wait, wasn't that his?
And of course, nothing else.
He had nearly choked on his coffee. Damn, this woman had no mercy on him. And then she had come and crawled into his lap, under his arm and burrowed sleepily in his chest.
"Asad, can't we stay in today?" Oh, madam was feeling lazy, hence the wardrobe assault.
"Where did you get these?" He'd asked through gritted teeth.
"Why? You don't like? I've had them forever." She pretended to pick imaginary lint off them. "I used to wear them all the time in New York."
"You went out in these skimpy shorts?" His blood boiled but his hand inadvertently ran up her bare skin. How many men had seen those legs? "How could you? Do you know how many men must have lusted after you?"
"What nonsense! No one was lusting. And these are so comfy."
"Comfy my foot! They aren't comfy for me!"
"Hain?" She'd looked at him with bleary eyes. "Why would they be? You aren't wearing them."
"But you are!"
"Mr. Khan, stop shouting. And how does my wearing them make you uncomfy."
"Really? Suddenly you are the blushing virgin who has no idea of the effect those will have on a full-blooded male."
"What full-blooded male? Where, I'd like to see? And why is that so bad?" She sat astride him thrusting that flimsily clad chest into his face. All his life of wearing these utilitarian white cotton vests, and he didn't know they could be so deliciously translucent, barely hugging such succulence. His head had dipped like a hopeless moth to a flame.
"Stop glowering at me like that! Can't a girl have a fantasy of tormenting her husband once in a while." And she'd added a butt wiggle to that.
"Humph! Once in a while, not every two hours!"
"Oh really? Fine!" She had got off him in a huff. "And here, I don't want to wear your lousy baniyan either!" It landed in a heap on his face and slid down his front. She stood glaring at him, nude, except for those damned shorts, thumbs hooked in the belt loops which dragged them down her hips.
He'd gulped. Adam's apple bobbed.
She turned on her heel and he groaned just looking at the curve of her bottom peeking out from under the frayed edge.
She was muttering to herself, "Zoya, you married the wrong guy. You're badtameez dil and this pappu can't dance saala."
She was lifted up from behind and dumped unceremoniously on the bed. He'd unbuttoned and unzipped the useless patch of denim, dragging it roughly down those sinful legs. "Pappu can go to hell. Jahanpanah Sa will kick his scrawny butt." He'd pinned her arms over her head and threatened, "this one doesn't count. When we come back, you will keep on my undershirt longer. And these wicked shorts too, you hear?"
She'd flashed a victorious dimple, and damn, he'd made it count.
Song in Title:
Main Hoon Na (2004), "Tumse Milke Dil Ka Hai Jo Haal"
He just couldn't believe it. She had gone!
He'd sent Nikhat to Mumani's room to casually find out where Humaira was. There was no way he was going to face that blackmailing witch! He might just break something.
They hadn't seen Humaira when they came back, and the servants just said that she had gone to a relative's house. The girls had texted Humaira and she had responded briefly by saying that she needed to get away and think things through.
She wouldn't take their calls.
"Mumani refuses to say, and even told me not to disturb her." Her voice dropped, "she looks really sick."
Ayaan slammed his fist into the wall and roared in pain and frustration.
"Finally!" she muttered looking at the caller ID. "Ab akal aayi hai mahashay ko."
"Bolo Raabert, how can Mona help?"
"What?" Zoya nearly jumped off the bed in panic. "Oh my goodness, she would never run away. Allah miyan, kidnap ho gayee woh?"
"Mona, stop. It's not like that. She's gone to her aunt's place somewhere. I just don't know which aunt. And before you jump down my throat, we tried to find out from her parents but they refuse to tell us."
Zoya began pacing in the tight space. "See how it feels, Raabert? To not know where she is or why she left? Serves you right."
Asad signaled her to put the speaker on.
"-"I know. But now I don't know how to find her." They could both imagine him dragging his hand through his messy hair.
"So you've decided to explain to her why you ran away in the first place?" Zoya asked crossly.
She handed the phone to Asad and stared into space while the brothers talked.
"Bhai, what if she won't forgive me and hates me?"
"She'll forgive you. And I don't think she can hate you," he rushed to reassure Ayaan.
"How do you know?"
"I just know." And also because she's Zoya's sister.
"But Ayaan, why did you run?"
Zoya jumped up and snatched the phone from Asad. "Ayaan, if you really want her back, you'll have to work hard for it."
"I'll do anything."
"Then listen. Zaroor Humaira ke parents ki koi purani address book hogi kahin. If the relatives haven't moved over the past 10-15 years, then the address and phone numbers may still be the same. Start calling everyone."
"A long shot, but something's better than nothing," Asad added.
"Mona darling, that's genius. OK, mission address book starts now. Nikhat and Nuzzhat can help me too..."
He hung up without so much as a bye.
Zoya and Asad looked at each other. "You could never keep him down for too long," he smiled. "Like someone else I know ... and love," he swung her in his arms.
She fiddled with the buttons on his shirt when he set her down, "I wish someone had chased after me like that."
He tucked her hair behind an ear and held up his balled fist, "good! I better not catch anyone chasing you. Ever!"
He tucked her head in the crook of his neck, "I was completely against the chase and vowed never to fall in love. But then you kept falling in my lap each time I turned around." Tilting her face up he planted precise rows of soft kisses along her jawline. "You challenged everything I thought was right ..."
He tightened his arms around her, "but trust me, if you had left me, as you were planning to, I would have followed you all the way to New York."
"Really?" Her eyes shone bright.
He sealed his assurances with multiple kisses and lifted her up in his arms to sit on the couch.
"Asad, you have to come to New York with me once. Either fall or Christmas, or even spring. It's gorgeous!" She went on to excitedly plan their itinerary. "And then we can visit Tamatar and Omar in San Francisco and go down to Disneyland. It'll be such fun!"
"Omar will still have a job in San Francisco at the rate he keeps extending his leave?" he teased.
"Asad! That's so mean!"
She turned to him even more excited, his ironic comment already forgotten. "We can ask Ayaan and Humaira to join us." She squealed louder, "Of course Ammi will already be with us, but Nikhat and Nuzzhat too. And Abbu and Chhoti Ammi. Travelling such a long distance might be too much for Dadi, no? But she'll be fine in first class." She frowned and quickly added, "but winter may not be a good time for her."
He loved that she constantly thought of including his family in every escapade, and of everyone's comfort. How had he even allowed himself to ever think the worst of her? Without her, every memory of the other house had mostly brought pain and rancor. He loved Ayaan and the girls, but every thought of theirs was suffused with some bitterness toward his father. But now he was surprised he could even look forward to having fun with the extended family.
"So the whole Khan circus will relocate to the US for some time. That'll keep the FBI busy."
"No? I thought I read that the FBI had bugged every mosque in New York!"
Her face fell. "You're right. There's still a lot of prejudice and profiling. And don't even get me started on the lunatic right-wing nuts!"
She shuddered, but warmed up to the topic, "when 9/11 happened it was as if suddenly the oxygen had been sucked out of our lungs. So much fear ..." Her eyes widened, "We had an Iranian friend whose birthday was that weekend, and hardly anybody came! Can you believe that?" She shook her head in disbelief.
"That one day and everything changed forever." She went on to muse after a long sigh. It was as if he had touched a raw nerve. He watched the play of emotions on her face ocassionally feathering her cheek with his knuckles.
"I was still a kid then, but Jeeju tells me that the suspicion was so horrible. He says in those weeks, Indians and Pakistanis finally felt what it was to be black in America."
She shook herself and smiled, "but we started speaking up; my friends and I joined protests against the war and the torture, and we even rallied for the Islamic Center at Ground Zero."
She had left him speechless all over again. He had just made a flippant comment to tease her. But her serious response and activism sobered him.
"So if I had paid closer attention to those protests on CNN I might have actually seen you on TV?"
"You bet! I even participated in some Occupy rallies. Such fun."
"Did you ever get arrested?"
She looked at him, and raised an eyebrow, "not in the US, no." She said, too softly.
He looked at her quizzically, she c*cked her head to the side and mock-glared at him, waiting for the coin to drop.
"Zoya, I'm so sorry, baby. I was such an ass." He covered his face remembering his fury at having to bail her out when Najma's college principal had had her arrested. He was livid. Mortified then.
But even more so now.
She kissed his hands and pulled them off to kiss him on the mouth. "Asad, it's OK, I was kidding." Then recalling something else she continued their previous discussion as if nothing had happened. That was another thing that amazed him about her. She didn't hold on to grudges or anger for too long.
"Remember when Omar was telling you about how I entangled with that bully in school?" Her eyes got squinty, "that ignorant ass had called Omar a terrorist."
Asad gasped and held her tight. "But my sherni kicked his butt right?" She nodded, "umm hmm, it was easy. He had a crush on me!"
He burst out laughing, "of course, who wouldn't!" He stroked her arm and went on somberly, "it's not exactly a bed of roses for Muslims in India either. Every cricket match between India and Pakistan is a powder keg."
"How wrong is that!" she sat up indignantly in his lap. "A game should bring us together not rip us apart, right? Morons! And cricket! C'mon!"
"I know." He re-tucked the errant strand of hair behind her ear. With her so close, it was hard for him to resist touching her animated face. "But why didn't Omar defend himself?"
"Because uncle and aunty had drilled it into him: people will say cruel things, don't react, and absolutely no fighting; it'll just make things worse, may be even give narrow-minded people an excuse to suspend or expel him."
"And Aapi and Jeeju forgot to tell you that?"
"I think in those days every Muslim kid in the US got told that. They did too."
"But you didn't listen. Because Zoya Farooqui kissi ki bhi nahin sunti!"
She slapped his arm, "it's not funny! We got called to the prinicipal's office and nearly got detention."
"Why didn't you? And why do I get the feeling that you must have spent half your school life in detention!"
He got swatted again.
"Jason was already embarrassed that he got beat up by a girl, and I told Mrs. Peters what he'd called Omar. She was furious with him and told him so. Then I turned to him and yelled, RACIST!' "
She scrunched her eyes shut and then opened one sheepishly, "he started crying."
Asad started chuckling, "shabash mera cheetah!"
She snuggled in deeper. "Anyways, Mr. Khan, speaking of cricket..."
"Boliye, hukum," came a martyred sigh.
"Can we please, please, please watch a live cricket match with Dhoni?"
"Not Dhoni. Anyone but Dhoni," he teased. He didn't want to spoil the surprise. He was already planning something that would make her very happy.
She chose to ignore his anti-Dhoni talk. What match would even be worth watching without Dhoni?
Baat karte hain!
"We can all go, haina? Omar, Najma, Ayaan and Humaira will be fine by then, Nuzzhat and Nikhat. Would Ammi like to go?"
"Why does the whole family have to go everywhere with us?" He muttered. "Dargah, Honeymoon pe, Disneyland bhi, ab match bhi. At this rate we'll probably never have kids!"
She punched his side. "Oh really? Haawww! Mr. Khan, you were planning to get me pregnant in Disneyland or at a cricket match!"
"Zoya! You're nuts." He covered his face and pinched the bridge of his nose.
But she wouldn't be stopped now. "Oh I know, in the Small World ride right?" She started to hum the tune that accompanied the Disneyland ride and swayed from side to side: "It's a small world after all... it's a small world after all ..."
"It's the cutest kiddie ride with dancing dolls," she explained, "but they'll be traumatized for life, and the little dolls from all over the world will go blind."
He listened, rapt. Even her imaginary scenarios got more and more detailed and involved as she proceeded, "I'll buy an ovulation kit and then we'll go when I'm at my most fertile."
She snapped her fingers and her eyes sparkled, "No! Space Mountain ride-"utter darkness. Perfect for making babies!"
He rolled his eyes but cracked a smile.
"Or when the umpire rules a four or a six ... hmm soccer would be more appropriate. GOAL!!!"
Asad was laughing now. She was too much.
"And when the umpire signals OUT,' I'll pull out," he said, blushing, but tongue firmly in cheek.
Zoya gasped with pleasure. There, the only way to shut up these Americans was to be absolutely behaya multiplied by besh*aram.
When she finally found her voice, she said admiringly, "now that, Mr. Khan, was chummeshwari!" She gave him a standing ovation but sassed nevertheless, "but pulling out would defeat the whole purpose wouldn't it?"
Forever doomed. Never to get the last word.
He shut her up the only way he knew how.
"Let's practice," he muttered later when he had pulled her down to the floor and pinned her under him, breathless and strung taut with unfulfilled desire. He had looked down at her flushed face and trailed a torturous finger from her forehead, down her nose, to her swollen lips.
Her tongue darted out to lick it but he continued down to her chin, freshly tender from whisker-burn, to the thrumming pulse at her arching throat. He dipped his head to tease the hollow of her throat.
Settling himself between her legs, he whispered in her ear after guiding her arms over her head, "Madam umpire, start counting." And he started moving inside her.
Her hands gripped the edge of the coffee table; head thrown back, she moaned out a score of each thrust. Her voice began to break and roughen as he drove harder and harder past boundaries; her heels dug into the plush carpet.
"One sixty two ..." she breathed, squirming and buckling.
"Babe," he ground out through gritted teeth, his breath hot on her ear, "let me know when I hit a six."
"One sixty three ..." went her strangled litany.
He bit down on the side of her neck, swirling his tongue down her throbbing pulse.
"Zoya!" he murmured roughly in her ear, "tell me you're ovulating right now."
Her hands clawed his shoulders, "Asaadd!" she cried out. He sucked her tears and held her shuddering body.
"siiix..." she sighed out and went limp under him.
Zoya had dropped a line or two of text to Humaira every few hours. She would name-call Ayaan, even offer to have him beaten up by her husband, and sign off with unconditional support. Or she'd randomly send some funny memes that made her laugh. Humaira didn't even know when she had begun to look forward to these messages. Since the Sangeet, she had fallen in love with the idea of Zoya bhabhi as her jethani.
She sniffed hopelessly. How could she still be on her side even though they weren't related?
But today, she had been surprised by a message from Omar. "I know why he ran. It's bad, but give him a chance to explain."
Humaira's heart had constricted. "OMG, is he OK? He doesn't have cancer or AIDS?"
"LOL, no it's not THAT bad. Just listen to him. And we all are there for you and want the 2 of you together, no matter what."
She couldn't bear it any longer and called him. "Omar you're scaring me," she spoke tearfully.
"Humaira, listen. You have every right to be mad at him, but you have to let him tell you what happened. It's not going to be easy for him to say, or for you to hear, but you must talk to each other."
She had started to sob, "that's even scarier. Something terrible has happened! Why aren't you telling me?"
"Look, he needs to be the one to tell you this, not me. But it's serious enough that no one else knows, not even Najma or Asad. He told me because I am not related to you guys."
"Does he need a kidney? Am I dying?"
He started to laugh. "What is it with you and disease or death? Just remember, Humaira, it won't be a life or death thing if you guys are a team."
"Omar! You're freaking me out! Did he have an accident? Has he killed someone?"
"Again with the doom and gloom! I want for you what Najma and I have, or what Zoya and Asad have. You both will have to fight for it. But if either of you chickens out, or starts to have some bizarre filmy idea of self-sacrifice, then I'll have to kick ass. And I have Zoya and Asad on my team so you guys don't stand a chance."
"OK," he heard the smile in her voice, "... I trust you, Omar. I know what you and Zoya did for me."
"Good girl! Now stay strong and make this love story happen. You can do it. Call me if you need to talk.
She called Zoya.
"Zoya bhabhi!" she wailed.
"Humaira! It'll be fine munna. I swear I'll kill him," she went on to mutter. Humaira loved it when she called her munna,' but right now she was scared out of her wits.
"He really loves you and is trying to find you"-"
"Just tell him I'm"-"
"No, no, don't tell me! Let him suffer a bit. It'll build character." She saw her husband shaking his head. Too bad, Mr.Khan. He may be your brother but she's my sister.
"Zoya bhabhi, you're so weird. Here I'm dying thinking that something terrible has happened." Her voice broke, "Omar called to say that it may be really bad."
"What? Omar knows?"
"Yes, Ayaan told him why he ran," she started to cry quietly. "Omar won't tell me. He says that I have to give Ayaan a chance to explain."
"Omar has good instincts, Humaira. Listen to him. Now tell me where you are."
She hung up to see Asad watching her. "What's going on?"
"Ayaan told Omar about whatever happened. And Omar told Humaira that it's serious but to give him a chance."
She saw him go pale and rushed to hug him. "Asad, it can't be that bad otherwise he'd have told us for sure. We'll go back home right now. Let's talk to Ayaan and give him her address at least."
He had her call Ayaan while he talked to Omar.
"Asad, look, I'd rather he told you himself. He plans to do so after you guys return. It's bad, but no one is sick or dying. All I can say is that it's some bad history between Rashid uncle and her mom."
Omar stilled at the silence from the other end, "Asad? You there man?"
He went on, knowing that Asad was still processing this. "And don't even think of canceling your trip. We're here with Ayaan and this will keep till you guys return. By then he may have even worked things out with Humaira. You focus on keeping Zoya happy."
Asad hung up, stunned. He hadn't even given a thought to how Ayaan or Humaira would be affected by revelations that only he and Zoya knew. Now Ayaan knew something.
But how much?
Zoya was still on the phone with Ayaan. "Drive safely Ayaan. We want you arriving there in one piece. Why must you take your bike?" she scolded. "Take a car with a driver. It's a 2-3 hour drive after all. And listen, please keep your cell charged and"-"
Asad grabbed the phone out of her hand. "Ayaan, stop arguing and being stubborn. Do as Zoya says, take the car and driver. You WILL NOT ride your bike. There are too many trucks and drunk drivers on the highway."
He scowled, "I don't care how much faster you'll reach. 10-20 minutes does not make a big difference. No. Kaha na, bilkul nahin. We will rest easier if you let someone else do the driving. Tumhara koi bharosa nahin hai, petrol raaste mein khatam ho jayega, or your phone battery will die, you could get lost."
He almost relented hearing his baby brother's whining. But he willed himself to steel his voice, "spare us more drama. If I have to cancel my honeymoon to come running to rescue you, my wife will happily kill you. As it is she bugs me daily to kill you for making Humaira cry."
He breathed a deep sigh only when he heard a sheepish, "ji, bhaijaan."
Asad ran his hands through his hair in exasperation and anxiety.
Should he call Abbu?
Zoya tugged on his arm and he let her push him down on the floor while she sat behind him on the sofa. He groaned in relief as he felt her soft hands on his shoulders, massaging the knots and kinks in his neck.
"What did Omar say?"
He told her. He also told her that Rashid was doing his own forensic accounting investigation of the Siddiquis and slowly gathering evidence to expose their shady business dealings. They would file civil charges if there was no physical evidence of murder.
She was silent for a while.
"So may be he heard something incriminating against her mom? Call Abbu. How else could Ayaan know? He must have overheard some conversation of Abbu's with the investigator or something."
"Hmm." He was beginning to feel drowsy. Her hands had started to massage his temples and she dropped a kiss on his head.
But suddenly her hand clutched his shoulder in panic, "Asad, he won't hate her for her mom's ... er ... her parents' criminal acts, right?"
"No," he spoke softly. "Or he wouldn't be trying to find her so desperately." He unhooked her stiff fingers still digging in painfully into his shoulder.
"They'll be fine."
"But she'll be all alone and this will kill her. Her entire world will come crashing down. How will she get past this?"
"She's your sister and if she's even half a braveheart as you, she'll be fine." He yanked her hand to wrap her arms around his neck so that her cheek rested against his. "And like you, she'll have her Aapi and Jeeju to take care of her. And Ayaan. And our parents."
She fluttered her wet lashes against his cheek and squeezed her eyes shut.
Sniffing and clearing her throat she said gratefully, "not fair, her Jeeju is even better than mine." She kissed his cheek, "I love you."
Hugging him tight, she went back to massaging his neck after wiping her cheeks. She applied firm pressure with her thumbpads, slowly kneading the tension away.
He struggled to keep awake. She reached out for the phone to order coffee from room service.
He was thinking aloud. "When we get home, I'll have to talk with Abbu and Ayaan about what we know."
He caught hold of her hand to place a kiss on it, and then pulled her down to join him on the floor.
"Zoya, the recording. It's time."
Song in Title:
Dor (2006) "Yeh Hosla"
The blood drained from her face.
Zoya had stoically come to accept her biological father's indifference and possible felony.
Or thought she had.
But the idea of reliving the horrors of that night terrified her. Please god, let Ammi already be dead.
She hugged herself into a tight miserable ball.
Asad watched her steel herself for the worst as he retrieved his laptop. He was glad that they were on a speeding train right now.
Safely trapped, with nowhere for her to go.
At home, he'd have feared her running away in blind despair and never being able to find her, or bring her back.
He grabbed her hand in his. "We'll be fine, I promise."
Her throat was dry, "I'm scared."
"I know baby, me too."
Knuckles pressed hard to her lips, she whispered forlornly, "I never thought you'd be scared. Why does it have to be this way? I hate this."
"Shh." He put the laptop on the coffee table and hauled her in his lap. "We'll get through it."
She raised her eyes to look at him. "I promised myself that I wouldn't cry over this anymore. I want to be strong for you, but ..."
Asad rocked her in his arms trying to absorb her fears and relaying his body heat as comfort.
"Zoya, you're the strongest person I know." He pressed his lips to her temple and breathed in her scent. "Remember the Mehendi night?"
She nodded, her hair swinging to cover her face.
"I was so scared that you would hate me. And I ended up hurting both of us. But since then we've been together and happy. Isn't that worth more than our worst fears?"
She wiped her streaming eyes.
"Thank god, I have you." She gave him a fierce hug and then nervously traced circles around a button on his shirt.
"In my head, I know you're right, but ..."
"I know. But remember I shared my fears with you that day? And together we were able to get past something that I thought would rip us apart. Think of that night Zoya, and how far we've come along today."
"And then we'll put this behind us just like that night?"
He smiled. "Insha'allah! And just remember," he crooked a finger under her chin, "you're my strength."
"And you are mine," she spoke softly with a half-smile. She held his face in her hands, "Mr. Khan, you're no less magical you know that? We make a great team don't we? Super jodi Zoya and Asad!"
He stroked her cheek, pleased that her smile and spirit were back.
He laughed softly as she shook her head stubbornly.
"OK, how about this? You tell me your worst fears and I'll tell you mine."
He felt her withdraw into herself again.
She nodded and squeezed her eyes shut half-afraid to vocalize her worst fears. As if saying it out aloud would make them even more real.
Her playful and content expression morphed into one of pain.
Dragging a long breath she stuttered, "I'm scared ..." Her voice betrayed a distinct tremor. " ... that ... I ... I'll hear Ammi's screams."
Stumbling over the words, Zoya broke down.
Oh god, he hadn't even considered that. He wouldn't put her through that. He held her for a long time. "Zoya, I'm so sorry." He whispered into her hair. "I wish I could make it all go away."
When she had wrung herself dry, she rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands deciding that she was done and ready to face the worst.
Her hand lifted to wipe his cheeks, "your turn now."
"I'm scared that I'll hear your screams," he convulsed with pain.
"Asad!" she cradled him to her.
"Even if we hear my screams, I'm OK and right here, with you."
And somehow, just knowing his fears were for her, made her feel a little better. He was right. They had each other. The worst had been admitted, and it shimmered between them in the open, in each other's eyes and hearts. Letting it go from the frantic clutches of her mind and putting it in his hands for safekeeping, made her feel braver. Less desperate even.
She could do this.
She clutched his hands, soaking up the strength and warmth from his grip, and went on, "you know, I am also scared that this might be concrete evidence against your Abbu." She self-consciously tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, "I really, really hope that ... they ... that we can find something to use against ... them."
He knew then that she had given up on her Abbu. Her sense of innate justice and mercy floored him. She would not confront that man's delinquent paternity to spare his sorry reputation, but would go up against him to fight for what was right.
His heart ached for her.
And yet, she didn't hate Gaffoor Siddiqui. He had hated his father for 18 years for abandoning them.
But she just accepted? How?
And she wanted to still protect his father who had given her that scar?
Asad felt humbled, and his eyes stung again.
His face twisted and his hands blindly reached for hers to place kisses on her knuckles, "Zoya ... I'm scared and furious that we'll find out that your ..." he cleared his throat, "... that he ..."
Asad couldn't resist pounding his fist on the table as he spat out, "that man knew you were there all along and did nothing."
Her head spun.
Hands suddenly clammy, her fingers seized.
She wanted to bolt.
No, she wanted to hide.
To hunker in blackness.
Her arms shot out and flailed, and she blindly thrashed to struggle out of his arms.
"No!" she panted repeatedly through hoarse cries, trying to slap his hands away. "Let me go!"
He felt the coiled frantic energy surge from her legs but pinned her down, his arms steel bands around her.
She was panting, straining to free herself.
She was a retching, clawing, caged animal, that would gnaw its leg off to free itself from the biting maws of the trap.
But Asad wouldn't let go.
He couldn't let her get lost in some dark place from where he couldn't bring her back.
He had nearly lost her once.
He would claw his way into the earth all over again to keep her with him.
"Zoya," he whispered, torn. "Don't go so far away that I can't bring you back. Come back to me, please. I love you so much." He crushed her to him, her temple against his cheek.
His hot tears mingled with hers.
"Please, Zoya! I love you."
All the fight drained out of her.
She deflated and collapsed in his arms. Breathing heavily, as if she had run a marathon.
All that was left was a shattered rag doll with glassy eyes.
Asad panicked. She felt as lifeless as she had, so many months ago, in another town, on another crusade. She had been unconscious then, but even fully conscious now, she was catatonic: buried under layers of abject grief and pain that he couldn't penetrate.
Her pulse was weak and erratic, her breathing shallow now.
He carried her limp body to place her gently on the bed and tucked her in. He switched off the bedside lamp, knowing she craved obliterating darkness. Her eyes were still unfocused and dry, her breathing still labored.
He stroked the hair away from her ashen face. His ears still rang with her wounded whispery cries.
Each papery rasp stabbed at him, "... should've died ... he never loved me ... I'm nothing ... nobody ..."
His blood ran cold.
His hands fisted.
It was late. But he didn't want to wait a whole night.
Ayaan texted Humaira. "Please meet me. I am outside by the swing. I love you."
Not a minute later she came flying out of the house straight into his arms. "Ayaan!" She touched his face, shoulders and chest. "Are you OK? Is everything alright?"
Once she had ensured his health and safety, she felt anger bloom up inside her. She pushed him violently away from her. He fell on the swing. "Humaira? What the hell?"
The swing still swayed and creaked.
"What is your problem?" She hissed. She wanted to yell at him but didn't want to wake up the whole neighborhood.
"Kyun Ayaan? Why do you do this? Why do you always torment me? You know I love you. Does that give you the right to walk all over me?"
"Humaira, please just listen to me. I love you too jaan, and I'm so sorry." He went down on his knees and held both ears.
She crossed her arms not wanting to give in but unable to resist the face, the messy hair, the kneeling, the remorseful holding of the ears and that plaintive voice.
"Humaira? C'mon yaar. Ab murga banoon kya?"
She nearly burst out laughing.
"Haan!" The old Humaira would have given in a long time ago. But the new and improved Humaira, glowing from the certainty of his love for her, wanted to show him who was boss now.
He stared at her in disbelief. "Kya? You really want me to be a murga?"
"I'm waiting Ayaan," she folded her arms and tapped her foot impatiently.
And he did try his best for her.
But the nearly four hour-long car ride must have made him stiff. He could get his arms under his legs but couldn't bend down enough to the hold his ears. But even he knew he was doing a half-assed job of it. Any minute now, and she would relent and have mercy on him.
She always did.
He was sure he wouldn't really have to go through with it.
Not this Humaira.
She pressed her hands on his back to help him. "C'mon, stretch just a little bit. You're almost there."
She was dead serious. He may as well do as she asked or he'd be here, in this position, all night long.
Panting hard, hair falling over his eyes, he heard the click of the phone camera.
"No!" he roared and lunged for it. But tripped because his arms and legs were still wrapped around each other.
She held up a finger. "Stop right there. This is my wallpaper from now."
He groaned miserably. "Don't be so mean Humaira begum." None of his usual charms seemed to be working today.
"Sit," she ordered him. He sat on the swing. She still stood in front of him, her duppatta rustling in the light breeze.
"Ah ... woh ..." he ruffed his hair uncertainly. "... actually ..."
"Humaira, this is really serious," he pulled her to sit down next to him, "... and really hard to say."
He held on to her hand. "It's about our parents."
"Oh my god, is someone sick or hurt."
"No... It's Abbu."
"Aaahh!" He jumped up and roared in frustration. "This is so hard to say... umm ... he doesn't want us to get married."
Her heart lurched and hands chilled. "Why?" she asked in a subdued voice. He knelt in front of her holding her hand in his.
"It's not because of you jaan; it's ... your mother."
She guiltily recalled her mother's humiliating actions from months ago. She was mortified. Did they find out about Ammi's trickery in trying to force Ayaan to get married to her?
Oh god, Ammi. What have you done now?
Ayaan stroked the back of her hand and even dropped a kiss on it. "Just remember that I will still marry you no matter what anyone says or thinks."
He hesitated. "But ... But it's not going to be easy. Things are too messed up right now."
It was her turn to grip his hand reassuringly, "It's OK Ayaan, just spill it. I know it's something terrible. But Omar told me to trust you, and to trust us." She wiped her eyes, "and I do, I will."
He dropped another kiss on her hand and took a deep breath, "remember when Abbu was in jail? They were torturing him there, Humaira. And bhai wouldn't help. I needed money to pay off Feroze, Imran's mamu. I needed Rs. 1 Crore."
He jumped up and started to pace before her in agitation. "Mumani heard me talking to Abbu's business associate and offered to give me the money."
Humaira knew that this was tip of the iceberg. She cringed in shame and self-loathing knowing exactly what her mother must have demanded in return.
"And Ammi said that she would give you the money if you promised to marry me?"
He nodded glumly and rushed to her side. "I'm sorry baby. But there's worse stuff."
Humaira stiffened painfully. Ammi! What else?
"Oh god, Ayaan. I'm so sorry. May be your Abbu is right and you shouldn't marry me." She nearly passed out with the stab of pain she felt at saying this.
"NO! Don't even go there." He knew she'd say that. He hugged her tightly to him, dreading the next few words, already knowing their effect on her fragile state of mind.
"If you're going to talk like this, I won't tell you the rest," he looked at her earnestly, pleading silently to not forsake him.
She nodded her consent and promise.
Letting her go, he began pacing again, nearly pulling his hair. Slowly, haltingly, he recapped the overheard exchange in that fateful hotel room.
She sat mute, turned to stone.
Asad held her long into the night as she stared stonily at some faraway point. Her eyes had only closed out of sheer exhaustion. But her body was still rigid and tense; pulse thready and breathing still choked. She held herself too tight, her joints locked, almost arthritically. She still uttered fading and broken whispers, calling out to a dead mother to hold her.
He had read about returning battle-weary soldiers and this felt like a PTSD episode. The nightmares had become waking flashbacks, and she was locked in a world of endless repetitive battle.
He kept massaging her back and shoulders knowing that they'd be stiff and painful when she woke in the morning. He wanted to make love to her to bring her out of her stupor, but feared that she would balk and flail like a startled colt. He kissed down her throat and murmured words of comfort. He let his hands caress her, willing her body to remember and react to the familiarity of his touch.
He undressed and joined her under the covers.
"Zoya," he breathed. "Feel me." He ran her hands on his chest. "I love you," he repeated again and again, placing her palm on his heart after kissing it. He unbuttoned her shirt and pressed his lips to her collar bone and ran his tongue down to her cleavage. Her body reacted, but her eyes were still glazed.
"Come back to me baby," he implored. "Please." He bit the column of her throat sharply and her pulse leaped. He began undressing her and dropping kisses on her shoulders. He bent his head to suckle her hungrily, inflicting pain, and finally felt her come alive under him.
Her hands rose to comb through his hair. "Asad!" she cried.
She was crying again, "Asad, make me forget, please. Stop it from hurting so much."
He kissed her and swallowed her sobs. As he moved to gently and tenderly love her, she gripped the hair on the back of his head with both hands. "No," she said through quickened breath. "take me hard, without mercy."
"Zoya, no! I don't want to hurt you."
"You won't. You could never hurt me." Her nails gouged his shoulders and she moved restlessy, "I trust you. But please," she begged, "I need you to mark me, Asad. Make me yours. Brand me! Make me forget."
Her raw tone flamed his blood and his body jerked inexorably to do her bidding. He hooked her arms over the headboard making her firmly hold the edge as he roughly bit and seared his way down from her lips to her throat. His hands kneaded and dug into her flesh painfully; his mouth ravaged and branded his way further down.
She thrashed and whimpered under him, tight and swollen.
Resisting, complying; avenging, reveling; defiant, melting. They dueled.
Her arms would lower to fight off and guide him, but he would force them back up to demand unrestricted tormenting access.
They clashed and warred; sighed and cussed; hurt and healed.
The hurtling metal capsule was rife with their steamy war cries and groans of surrender. He gripped her hair, yanking hard at her scalp, and bowing her body backwards as he blitzed his way in. Her body thrummed at the onslaught, and his name wrenched from her ravished lips. The torrid slaps of heated flesh against fevered nerves reached a thrashing crescendo of violent and grateful intensity.
Her name ripped from his victorious throat as he collapsed against her, beaten.
He held her.
Her body now boneless, she finally relaxed enough to fall into a sound sleep.
Thank god the nightmares spared her tonight.
Anger tore at him.
He closed the bedroom door softly behind him. He would hear the recording on his own and if it didn't have her mother's screams or father's incriminating words then she could hear it too. He'd burn it and expunge it otherwise.
Settling down, he cracked his knuckles nervously before clicking play. As it started, he heard scratchy noises for some time.
It felt anticlimactic. Was there nothing on it after all?
"Sandy, have milk now!" suddenly came the clear sound of a child's voice.
"Zoya, drink up your milk," came a female voice in the background. Oh god, the doll had been Zoya's?
"No, no, no," the child countered defiantly. "Eew! Yuckkky!"
"Ya Allah, ye ladki! Iska main kya karoon!"
"Ya allah, kya kawoon," mimed the imp.
Some sounds and thuds followed. She had probably tired of the doll and moved on to torment another toy perhaps.
"Insy weensy spider went up the water spout ..." She sing-songed and lisped along with her mom.
Asad smiled through his tears. She must have been adorable as a baby.
But his heart hammered.
He knew what terrible things were going to happen this child.
There were other scratchy sounds, "Whewe is Zoya's Abbu?" she whined. This was followed by some more snatches of phrases and sentences by Zoya talking to her doll or someone, probably her mother, scolding her or cuddling her. His favorite part was when he could her voice, clear as a bell, instructing the doll, "say hi, Zoya," "say bye, Zoya," "I love you, Zoya."
"Meet Abbu!" she squealed a little later. Asad had almost forgotten the purpose of listening to this, so engrossed had he become in getting to know Zoya as a child.
He thought he could hear the familiar music from her cherished music box. "Yeh tumhare liye. Maine apne haathon se banaya," came a distant male voice. He knew that was her father. So she had met him once, and at least he had acknowledged her then. He felt waves of rage nearly choke him.
He heard her cries. "Ammi, Ammi," but these were not the cries of a child in pain. Thank god. Just the cries of a child scared or missing its mother. Asad's heart began to beat painfully.
There was silence and then some indistinguishable sounds. A scuffle may be? A muffled conversation. He heard a grunt, he thought.
Then a wail.
He turned it off and buried his face in his hands. He knew he would return to it, but right now it felt too raw to go on. He stole back into the room, leaving the door open and watched her sleep. The faint light streaming in from the other room allowed him to gaze at her lashes fanning her cheeks. The regular breathing, the hair falling over her temple gave him the much-needed courage to go back and listen to the rest of the recording.
He came back later and drew the curtains to gaze at the passing lights through the window. He sat there for hours, finally falling into an exhausted sleep.
Song in Title:
Fanaa (2006) "Mere Haath Mein, Tera Haath Ho"
When a dizzy Razia nearly collapsed in the bathroom she knew she'd have to go to the doctor. There was just no way out of it any more.
She hobbled out and lay weakly on the bed.
Her phone rang and she groped for it blindly.
"Hello," she squeezed out painfully. She hoped it was Humaira.
"Did you get the money?"
Her blood curdled. The call she had dreaded all these days. She turned the phone off and smashed it on the wall opposite her.
What was the point anymore? Let her do whatever she wanted. It was all over anyways.
Humaira hadn't called. It had been nearly a day and a half since she heard her voice.
She knew. He had told her by now.
Razia could feel it in her punctured gut.
Rashid had taken his family and left yesterday. No words, no note, just silence all around her. More servants than family in the house now. A gilded rotting mausoleum.
Another wave of nausea hit her and she nearly passed out. Why wasn't she getting better? She had broken down and finally started a regimen of self-prescribed painkillers. But they were playing havoc with her mind. Or the pain was making her delirious.
She just couldn't tell anymore.
When she had walked out of the cabin that day she could barely hold herself upright. Thank god she was wearing red. The blood wouldn't show. She had worn it to camouflage Tanveer's blood on her clothing.
But fate loved laughing at her and her plans.
In their scuffle she hadn't taken into account the strength of a much younger woman. A much younger woman on a diabolical high. When she had killed before, she was young herself. A lavish lifestyle and lack of practice had obviously left her soft.
She had pretended to fall in the bathroom and cried out in pain. When Tanveer came to investigate Razia had smugly slammed the door shut and pounced on her.
But that wretched woman was like the lizard tail that grew back; always landed on her feet that one.
Somehow Tanveer had twisted her wrist and turned the knife into her side managing to slice through her skin. Partly injured herself, she had nearly filleted Razia.
She was that angry.
"You thought you could kill me, dump me in a bag and roll me away to decompose somewhere?" She had panted while Razia grovelled on the floor. "Oh you will pay for this, Bi!"
Opening a connecting door to the cabin next door, she had barked at Razia, "clean up this mess and get the hell out of here. I will give you a week. Get me that money or else. Next week, the price goes up by another crore." And she had slunk away leaving her weakened nemesis in the dank room, impotent with fury.
Zoya stretched awake in the early hours of the morning, replete. She could only think of how Asad had blotted the pain from her heart last night. The fresh aches and bruises had replaced that bone deep agony which had felt unending. Blushing and requited, she turned to face the window and saw him sleeping with his head at an uncomfortable angle. She knew he must have kept vigil over her the whole night.
Her eyes stung. And heart brimmed.
Thank you Allah miyan! I'll never complain again. I always fought with you for taking away so much from me. I will thank you everyday of my life for giving me so much more.
She got up pulling the sheet snugly around her, and stroked his forehead. "Asad," she shook him awake gently. He stirred. Dropping a kiss on his head she half-dragged him to the bed, pushed and tucked him in. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
As the sun climbed in the eastern sky, she rose to draw the curtains to preserve the darkness. More nap time for her warrior.
Freshly showered and fortified with coffee, she decided to poke around on his laptop hoping to hear the recording in his absence. This time she really was ready. She had her jahanpanah's strength and power coursing through her blood like a jolt of caffeine. She wouldn't let something from 18 years ago even scratch the surface of what she had right now.
It was gone.
Mr. Khan, you tricky sonova"-. OK, you sweet, sweet over-protective Akdu!
She knew she could retrieve a deleted media file with no trouble at all, but it would still take some time.
And she was feeling too mellow and lazy.
When Asad came out almost three hours later he saw her perched on the sofa gazing moodily into space.
"Hey," he said softly, leaning against the door jamb. Turning to him, her dimples deepened. She glided into his open arms. "Hey yourself," she replied shyly.
Eyes closed, she inhaled, "umm, you smell so good."
"Are you OK?" he nuzzled her nose with his.
"Umm hmm," she answered, head still bowed, eyes still closed in prayer.
"Look at me." She covered her face with her hands.
Her not meeting his eyes was because of shyness, and not because she was hiding her pain.
He wrapped her tighter against himself. "So?" he whispered hotly in her ear. "Last night? Great or greatest?"
"Asad!" she hid her face in his shoulder.
"Nine or a ten?"
"Mr. Khan! Behave yourself."
"Funny, last night all you wanted me to do was misbehave."
Her laughter bubbled over and warmed his soul. But she still wouldn't look at him.
"Six or Goal?"
"Touchdown! Game, set and match! Happy now?"
"Here, drink your coffee and give your lust a break." She broke away and sat down to pour his coffee.
"Sarey lust pe coffee phenk diya aapne."
She rolled her eyes and muttered, "not for long I'm sure."
"Lust lust na raha, pyaar pyaar na raha," he sang.
She looked up with delight as she handed him the dainty Royal Doulton cup.
A singing romantic jahanpanah was simply irresistible.
In between sips he continued, "dillagi humein tera, aitbaar na raha"
Smitten, she inquired, "isn't it zindagi'?"
He ignored her. "Lust lust na raha, pyaar pyaar --"
"Oh what the hell!" She snatched the cup from his hand, thumped it down on the table, and dragged him to the bedroom for a lusty re-match and some checkmating.
"Wait,"he protested even as he allowed himself to be led away, "I'm not done with my coffee as yet."
She glared at him and pushed him on the bed with both hands. "You're done. Enough sipping. Start stripping."
"Mr. Khan!" she roared and stomped her foot. He laughed softly, leaning back on his elbows and looking up at her with open challenge. But his smile vanished when he saw the expression change on her face. "Zoya? What's going on in that head of yours?" he asked warily.
She pivoted on her heel and disappeared into the other room.
She walked back in, carrying a writing pad and immersed in her iPad. She was muttering to herself, "no, Tu Mera Hero' isn't Akdu-worthy."
Asad was beginning to get alarmed.
Something was cooking, and he was going to be the main course.
"Ahaa!" she pumped her fist in the air and looked up and down at him. Grabbing his hand she pulled him to his feet and made him stand in the center of the room. "Stay," she ordered purposefully.
He obeyed, hands at waist, eyes following her restlessly.
She held up two pieces of paper from the stationery pad. One had a huge 9 and the other, a 10, scrawled across. "You wanted to know whether you were a 9 or a 10, didn't you?"
He swallowed noisily, and his eyes narrowed in anticipation. "Remember, Mr. Khan, the 9 also works as a 6!" And she turned the sheet upside down.
As he tried to grab her, she slapped his hands away, "patience!"
Laying the iPad on the side table she grabbed her purse and pulled out her wallet. She went to perch on the bed's edge with the hand-made score sheets and a fistful of rupees and dollars. The strains of music began, and the song "Hai Guzarish" from Ghajni floated over them.
He dropped his head back and groaned.
"Let the show begin, jahanpanah," she purred. Fanning out the money bills in her hand, she leaned forward, eyes starry with the threat of future torments, "work it honey!"
"Occam's razor." She said smugly, much later.
His forehead scrunched and furrowed. "Huh?"
"When there are two choices, go with the simpler one. When that doesn't work, try the more complicated solution."
"And how does that relate to how you got the recording to work?"
"Simple. I just texted Rakesh from your phone and asked him to re-send it to your account."
She stuck her tongue out at him.
He looked at her in open admiration. "You, Mrs. Khan, are wicked dangerous." But he sobered. There was a reason he had tried to hide it from her.
"Zoya? Are you OK? I wish you had waited for me." He wanted to be her shield against the terrors of that night.
"I'm OK now, thanks to you." she assured him, interlacing her fingers with his. "It was hard. Not going to lie. But," she rested her head on his chest. "the best part was hearing Ammi's voice."
He smiled and kissed the top of her head, "I loved hearing your voice as a kid. You must have been MA."
She snickered in pleasure.
And they both said it together: "kyun ki Zoya Farooqui kucch bhi kar sakti hai!"
Laughing, he rolled them over to tuck her under him and kiss her breathless.
"You know what? Zoya Farooqui ke Mr. Khan bhi bahut kuchh kar sakte hain." Tugging at his ear, she whispered, "you are my jahanpanah Bond."
He beamed down at her.
They were in bed entangled in the sheets and each other's limbs. Once again they had missed the tour bus. The other passengers probably smirked, thinking the newly weds hadn't even bothered getting out of bed. Little did they know about the multi-tasking victories scored that morning. The 10 on the score sheet had been amended to a 100, and the other sheet sat propped on the bedside table: a proud 6 for her man of the match.
His heady matinee debut was followed by an after-party fan #1 appreciation. The re-match victory laps had left her without a single bone in her body.
She was mush.
She looked up at him, content and supple as a cat. And then traced the scratches left on his chest and shoulders from the night before. Looking at her fingernails she mused, "do you think I still have your DNA under my nails?"
He looked down at her, devilry in his eyes, "DNA yes, but probably not under your nails."
She hooted with delight. Pinching his cheeks she half-rose to plant a kiss on his mouth. "Did you always have such a fine sense of humor ya humare saath ka assar hai?"
"Aapka kya khayal hai?"
Pushing him on his back, she kissed him again. "And the best all-rounder award goes to," she proudly thumped his chest, "Asad Ahmed Khan!"
After all he had managed to earn every bill in her hand and then some. Moneyless in the end, she had to improvise with IOU promissory notes. The score sheets had been waved enthusiastically. The stationery pad was virtually sheetless. In the rip-roaring finale, the money and IOUs had rained down on the carpeted floor and her mouth had watered.
"Once more! Once more!" his biggest fan had cheered. The rockstar had then yanked his giddy fan onto the stage, and she had gyrated and pirouetted in accompaniment to the encore performance. This time they had pulsed to "Tu Mera Hero," from Desi Boyz.
"Is this what all the twerking stuff is about?" he'd whispered in her ear, their bodies swaying in unison. She had just bent to pick up a folded 100 rupee note, expressly brushing herself against him. She rose and tucked it behind his ear. "Mr. Khan, I don't like that you know that word!" She'd huffed, scr*ping her fingernails across his chest.
"What? I read. I stay current." He had held her by her hips rolling them against his.
He moved her hair off her face and tucked a strand behind an ear. As she squirmed away from him, he wrenched her to him. Eyes locked with hers he slowly undid the top button of her shirt.
"And now that I'm a paid entertainer, I need to know the latest fads and trends that the ladies are into."
"Asad! Oh god, I've created a monster," she lamented slapping her forehead.
He laughed and snagging her hand, trailed a fiery path diagonally across his bare chest, "you reap what you sow Mrs. Khan." Dragging her to him he spun her till she crashed against him. "And you can bet the entire contents of your wallet," he grazed his nose across her cheek, "that I'm going to earn my keep." With a flick of his thumb and forefinger he unsnapped her jeans.
Resisting his roving hands and greedy mouth, she had finally managed to shush his badtameez talk and deluded megalomania. He went ramrod still, as she whispered a heated IOU in his ear, and then wiggled down to perform some previously pledged hero worship.
Right after hearing the recording, Zoya had felt a deep urge to talk to Aapi and Dilshad. Even talking about inane and routine things restored her sense of balance and faith. The world hadn't come to an end after all. New beginnings were around the corner. Aapi's love now felt a natural continuation of Ammi's blessings. And Asad's Ammi was just the biggest jackpot of her life.
Well, after jahanapanah of course.
Mother's day had just gone by, and she had been doubly blessed. As she finished offering prayer, she grinned.
Asad had teased her one night, "I'll be wishing you 'Happy Mother's Day' next year Mrs. Khan!"
Back home, everyone was running around preparing for Najma and Omar's nikaah. Zoya harrumphed in frustration, feeling left out. She wanted to be there. But truth be told, she didn't want to leave here either. She didn't want to share Asad with anyone. Just wanted him all to herself. One more day.
Ammi was the one to tell her about Abbu moving the family out of the Siddiqui house. They had moved into one of the new high-rise luxury homes built by Asad's company.
So Asad knew? She frowned. Why didn't he tell me?
She grinned. Because his mouth was too preoccupied doing other stuff! She hid her face in her hands.
"Ammi, did they tell you why they moved?"
"We haven't had a chance to discuss that as yet, beta. But something big's going on. They are coming in the evening and may be we'll find out more then."
"Tum dono apna khayal rakhna. Don't eat street food and group ke saath rehna. Take care, and ... tell Asad not to sleep so late."
Zoya blushed furiously, "Um Ammi, voh actually ... aisi baat nahin hai ... voh raat ko der se ..."
Dilshad burst out laughing.
And so did Zoya, after an embarrassed second. Foot-in-mouth disease was too funny to pass up.
She had decided to get all the social calls out of the way in the time he slept. Once he woke they could go to the Lake Palace on their own. She got the Khidmatgar to arrange the bookings for her.
And then she called Omar.
"So, did you do it?"
"Done! But the strings I had to pull! And that Prasad fellow is a major pain in the butt. Only listens to his lord and master. Kept hemming and hawing and dragging his feet. Rashid uncle was the one who helped the most."
"Awesome! And yeah, Mr. Khan and Prasad have a special thing that even I don't get into," she kidded.
"Bromance!" he nyuk-nyukked.
"Batman and Alfred!" she countered.
"Dr. Frankenstein and Igor!" he retorted.
She had to step out in the corridor to laugh her heart out so as not to wake up her Batman.
"STAAAHHP!" she wheezed. "So future B-I-L, all set to be hitched? Can I call you Billa now?"
"Sure, as long as I can call you S-I-LLY?"
"OK baba, truce. And thanks for being my wingman."
"You owe me your firstborn."
"Sure, whenever I need a babysitter, I'll call you first."
"Dude, I'm already babysitting the family while mom and dad are on their honeymoon!"
"Bye Omar, be good. No smooching or making out on the couch, ya hear! Or big daddy'll whoop your ass."
Who's your daddy!"
And now for Raabert, she mentally checked off her to-do list. He didn't pick up and neither did Humaira. Hmm, these kids better not be fooling around, she frowned.
And then giggled. PG-13 guys, please keep it PG-13.
But she so was going to talk to Asad about putting Ayaan to work. No way was her sister going to be married to a wannabe hippie house husband.
"Allah miyan! What's wrong with you? Send me progress report ASAP!" she texted her brother-in-law.
Song in Title:
Kailash Kher Kailasa (2006) "Teri Diwani"
Topic started by dixeij
Last replied by -jass-