Chap 21 Nuzhat told everyone what Zoya did for Saving najma. Asad was shocked & angry on himself. He wanted to say sorry to her on her face. Liked the way he supported Zoya when Tanveer tried to accused her.
Chap 22 Finally asad confessed his feelings. He apologised for his every behaviour which hurts her. She saw Tanveer with imran & asad told her what happened that night. She was furious & wanted to kill her but asad stopped her. He said to her that we have to be careful regarding this matter.
Thanks for all your commentsasifiqbalsh! I'm super excited to see what you have to day about the future chapters. And I love your recapping - it reminds me of what I wrote about nearly 1-2 years ago. Very cool!
And these 2 chapters are my favorite too - I've re-written them and edited them at least a hundred times! It was very important for me to make Asad realize how wrong he'd been toward Zoya. The show never made him realize that - and the episodes where hehumiliated her and screamed at her were never accounted for - Asad never found out that Zoya went to jail becauseshe was trying to protect Najma.
I know it's easier to read these chapters on IFbecause of no gifs or pictures. On the other site I've added the gifs and pics so that they flowwith the story. I did that to bring the story to life in a graphic novel way. But unfortunately it slows the uploading process. But it's worth checking out to see how I incorporated many Asya scenes from the good old QH days to animate the confession scene in this chapter.
Will check over there later tonight. It's easy here to read bc no GIFs otherwise very heavy page which made my cell phone really heat up. Will read the updates soon Thanks
Chap 21 Nuzhat told everyone what Zoya did for Saving najma. Asad was shocked & angry on himself. He wanted to say sorry to her on her face. Liked the way he supported Zoya when Tanveer tried to accused her.
Chap 22 Finally asad confessed his feelings. He apologised for his every behaviour which hurts her. She saw Tanveer with imran & asad told her what happened that night. She was furious & wanted to kill her but asad stopped her. He said to her that we have to be careful regarding this matter.
Will check over there later tonight. It's easy here to read bc no GIFs otherwise very heavy page which made my cell phone really heat up. Will read the updates soon Thanks
I understand - some of my other readers said the same thing about not being able to download on their phones. That's why I uploaded the chapters here without any of those distractions. Take your time. I just love to read the multiple comments!
Chap 24 Dilshad saw asad & Zoya relax & happy. She thanked almighty for their happiness. Asad wanted Zoya to see him while talking but she stopped herself as she was feeling hesitant after last night incident. Asad told them to check Tanveer room while he kept her busy with him.
Chap 25 Zoya & asad talks were naughty as well as romantic. Liked the way he told her that she has all rights on him. He gave her dadi gift which she sent for her Grand DIL.
Chap 26 Zoya & Dilshad entered Tanveer room to find the clues but not successfull. Asad tackled Tanveer beautifully. Finally he told her that he love Zoya & they took the responsibility of this child as parents. On the other hand, they collected few evidences.
Chap 27 Zoya showed her receipts & he sent those to prasad for inquiry. He told her how Tanveer tried to emotionally blackmail him but he dodged her & gave her a very wealthy option. Asad saw them kissing with shock & then happy for them
Chap 28 Dilshad & asya worked as a team. She told Zoya to let them handle Tanveer & not interfere bc they didn't want her hurt. She lost her father letters & cursed herself. Asad gave her earring & confessed again. He proposed her for marry & she agreed.
Chap 29 Zoya wanted to meet rashid & dadi. Asad told her meeting with rashid. He called Ayaan. The teasing session was nice. He was happy to hear Abbu for rashid from asad mouth. He said that he will meet soon.
Chap 30 Finally they gathered the proved they wanted. Zoya & Omar as love guru. Will see jealous Ayaan shortly. She left najma with Omar & go to his partner.
Chap 31 Zoya & her antics. Najma was cute when she felt jealous. She told najma that she didn't love Omar. Najma guessed it right & teased her. Zoya teased her & saw her face paled when she told abt settling Omar with humeira. Zoya told najma abt Omar feeling towards her.
Thehre Huye, Lamhe Mere, Nayi-Nayi Gehraiyaan Le Rahe
"Happy birthday, Mr. Khan," Zoya said as she handed a freshly-fed and diapered Zaid to Asad the next morning.
Asad beamed, too overwrought to respond.
A perfect birthday gift indeed!
When the doctor had given them the tentative due date seven months ago, they'd each marveled at how close it was to Asad's birthday. "Aw, Abbu and baby will have their saalgirahs in the same month? Not fair, Mr. Khan!" Her eyes had glistened when Zoya pretended to be upset about this conspiracy against her. But when Zaid came barreling through ten days before that date, it was quite clear: mom and son were in a mad rush to give daddy the best birthday present ever.
But Zaid wasn't content to share his birthday. Nor was coming a day later much of an option.
His prenatal personality was already a family conversation piece: he kicked exactly on the dot, exactly three hours apart--not a second before and not a second later--so punctual was he that you could keep time by his in utero movements. Zoya just sighed in resignation when a smug Dilshad would grin broadly and say: "dekhna iske pait main bhi ghadi hogi!"
"Chhota punching bag dena padega iss ko first gift mein!" Najma had joked when Zoya lifted her shirt to show them the clear imprint of a fist on her tummy.
The boy's post-natal personality was bound to be just as exceptional.
Like his mom he was a problem-solver; the kid did have Zoya in him after all"by the spadefuls! But the Asad in him was no shrinking wallflower either: Zaid kept time and made his entry in this world on the dot too: the time recorded on his birth certificate was 8:10 pm.
No, Zaid would be his own star, and not have his thunder stolen from him even if his dad was the bestest Abbu in the whole world. He'd make an entrance one day before to not just greet his dad and be the ultimate birthday gift, but also to clinch his birthright: his birthday would always precede dad's by a day.
And that's why Dilshad had cried the most at Zaid's audacious pre-poning of his grand entry--and it wasn't just because she was a brand new Dadi now. Sure, these were happy tears; but she cried more because after almost two decades her son got the birthday celebration he'd long deferred and fully deserved.
Only she and Najma knew that Asad had never celebrated a single birthday after Rashid left them nearly twenty years ago.
Asad treated that day as any other day--coldly intent upon erasing its history. It was as if each birthday not marked was some kind of quiet revenge against a father who had turned his back on them. In his own retaliatory way, an eight-year old boy had decided that he would turn his back on the date he'd entered this world.
That had been the birth of the emotionally-challenged Akdu Ahmed Khan.
Only last year for the first time in so many years he'd grudgingly allowed Zoya to hold a small party--but just for family.
It had taken her forever to convince him. Never demonstrative Asad shied away from being the center of attention. She just knew he found birthday rituals of cakes, candles and songs embarrassing--her Akdu could be more sharmeela than a nayee naveli dulhan on her suhaag raat.
Well, speaking of suhaag raats ... OK, so they'd taken a luscious detour.
No big deal.
But later Zoya had framed his face in her hands, kissed him hard and scolded: "the party's not for you, it's for me, for us. I want to celebrate this day--every year with YOU. You'll do this for me--and that's final, Mr. Khan!"
Asad had given in to this bullying, "fine. Just for you, Mrs. Khan."
It did feel good to be pampered and spoilt rotten for a change. But he'd grown somber when she'd reminded him: "It's not just for me. For Ammi too. Do you realize how much you hurt her by not letting her do something special for you on each birthday?"
No, he'd never realized that. He hadn't thought about how his anger on behalf of his mother had hurt his mother the most. When he'd forbidden Ammi to make any special dishes on that day he thought he was saving them money. Why spend extra on meat and milk and sugar and expensive spices for a special feast? He didn't know that his mother would save up for days before to sneak in at least one special dish for him.
Dilshad pinched his cheek as he held Zaid now, "happy birthday, beta. Khush raho." Up on her toes, she blew the air in blessing around her son and grandson.
Asad ducked his head in apology for all those angry years and lost feasts, "shukriya, Ammi. I'm craving your phirni today. Will you make some--just for me?"
Her eyes misted as she laughed up at him. "Abhi bana kar hi aayi hoon! It's cooling in the fridge."
Snug in his warming blanket and cap and unaware of discordant family pasts or missed feasts, Zaid snuffled and sighed happily in his Abbu's grateful arms. He'd just been fed and burped and now it was time to settle in for a cozy nap as his daddy hummed to him.
Being the ultimate birthday present to the best Abbu in the world was hard work; he needed to catch up on his rest. And hadn't he heard his Badi Dadi say that babies needed all the sleep they could get: they did their best growing up then?
And he was so going to be a big boy!
But yesterday, however unfocused, it had been an unblinking stare.
When first setting eyes on his dad, Zaid had gazed long at him: so this was the face of the voice he'd heard so often. It was the voice he'd heard clearest, closest; his mom's voice came from a distance--a bright, pealing and gurgling sound. But this voice was deeper. And steadier. It told him stories and sang songs, it shared special secrets and promised him the whole wide world.
He hadn't needed to look too much at his mom.
The touch, the smell and the cooing sounds were enough to tell him everything he needed to know.
The other voices were familiar too. He'd heard them before.
Each pair of hands that had cradled him at his birth was accompanied by a pair of glistening and dripping eyes. It would be much later that Zaid would figure out that not all eyes are naturally wet all the time.
And also that if those eyes weren't dripping then it was clear: he wasn't related to them.
Eyes had dripped across the oceans and continents on Skype and Facetime too. Zaid was oohed and aahed over by admirers across the US. His green card carrying Phuphi had sobbed.
"Phuphi loves you sooo much!"
"Phupha too!" Omar added. "And just between you and me, I'll let you call me Oompa Phupha--after I've shown you Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' It's tradition." He was already planning what he'd do with his nephew when Zaid visited America. "I'll take you to Disneyland and Legoland. And we'll formally make a Jedi out of you!"
Omar looked at Zoya and said in his best Yoda imitation: "the force is strong with this one."
"Thanks Omi-Wan," she replied.
The Indians scoffed at this Star Wars nerd chat. Only Ayaan knew what they were talking about and smirked broadly in approval.
But thanks to its American ambassadors, the Star Wars lore was slowly becoming more familiar in one corner of Bhopal. When they'd brought the baby home he wore the same pale yellow onesie his Phupha had sent a long time ago--with the same words written across the front: The Force is Strong with This One. Omar had already commented on the picture Zoya sent him with a caption under it saying: "thanx Omar Phupha! May the force be with you."
"I wish I there to hold you, you are so sweet!" Najma gushed. "Ammi, he looks just like Bhaijaan's pictures from when he was a baby, hai na?" She pressed her fingers to her lips a thousand times and then to the screen when her nephew was held up for her.
Zoya had expected Asad's relatives to say that the baby had taken after his father. But she pouted when Anwar and Omar said the same thing too.
"Yep, chhota Mr. Khan," Omar had teased holding up a thumb and forefinger close together.
And Asad had blushed crimson--that quip about chhota Mr. Khan had brought dangerously erotic memories to mind.
"Great, I do all the hard work and Mr. Khan gets all the credit," Zoya muttered, unaware of the heat that flamed on her husband's cheeks.
Thank god, Asad breathed easier. He had to say this for Zoya: she almost always got him into trouble by frying his circuits but she always helped him out of it too!
So he'd come to her rescue as well: "But I read that babies' faces change. And Zaid's eyes are just like Zoya's," Asad hurried to correct everyone else.
Aw, her Akdu was trying to make her feel better.
Zoya gazed fondly at him.
If they were by themselves she'd have planted a big juicy smooch on his smacker.
Asad blushed upon reading her mind.
They couldn't look away.
"Ahem," Humaira cleared her throat noisily and Zoya and Asad's gazes unlocked. Reluctantly.
"Haan haan, kyun nahin, Zaidu has Mona Darling written all over him!" Ayaan teased his Bhaijaan. Teasing Zoya was an added bonus: one teer and two nishanas was always MA.
As expected he was slapped upside the head by both his wife and sister-in-law.
Omar held two thumbs up in approval.
"Raabert! Please do NOT call him Zaidoo!" Zoya threatened. "Jeez, you may as well just call him Jadu like that alien in the Hritik Roshan film."
"Hey Jadu was pretty cute!" Nuzzhat piped in.
"Please, he was pretty blue," Zoya countered.
"How about Zee?" Omar suggested. "And he can sign off like Zorro!" He made swishing signs and sounds.
"Except here Zee will be pronounced as Zed," Asad reminded the Americans. They made a face--alphabetic patriotism kicking in on auto-pilot.
"And in Mumbai it'll be Jhee or Jhed!" Ayaan crowed and leaped far away to pre-empt being slapped upside the head again.
"But why would you even shorten Zaid to Zed"wouldn't that be redundant?" Nikhat asked serenely. "And in Mumbai, even Zaid will be Jhed!"
Everyone roared with laughter; the Americans didn't get this joke at all and frowned at being excluded from the desi humor. What the heck was this Jhed business about?
"Guys," Omar couldn't stop himself. "What's this Jhed stuff you're yakking on about?"
The Indians laughed again.
"Omar Jeeju," Humaira told him. "We sent you an Indian translator and culture interpreter. Free mein! Ask her."
"Stop all this all of you," Dilshad scolded. She didn't like them making fun of her grandson's name. It was the best name for the best baby in the whole world.
"Besides," Zeenat added. "When he goes to school, Zaid's friends may call him ZAK."
"Zack? Why Zack, Aapi?" Zoya asked.
"Simple! Because it's the acronym for his initials--Zaid Ahmed Khan--Z-A-K!"
"Cool! I wish I had cool initials like that," Ayaan muttered. He looked at Asad and ran a hand through his messy hair. "An acronym for our initials sounds like someone saw a spider and made a terrified sound--AAK!"
"At least it's better than our initials," groaned Nuzzhat. She looked at a nodding Nikhat. "Our initials sound like someone trying to stop a sneeze!"
"And not succeeding," her sister added softly.
Ayaan and Nuzzhat rounded on their parents and cried in dismay, "Allah miyan, what's wrong with you people? Why would you give us such uncool acronyms!"
Meanwhile the unaware subject of this discussion and debate was passed from grandparent to delighted grandparent before making it back to his proud papa; the gifts that his grandparents and uncles and aunts carried were piled high on his Najma Phuphi's bed. A million duas were whispered over his little head. Taawizes thick with Quranic verses were pressed to fervent eyes and slipped under his sheet.
The crib had turned out beautifully--after all it had a rich legacy to support as the first way station for many a Khan-Siddiqui baby to come. It would soon be marked by tiny scratches and nicked by baby teeth; but for now its rich dark wood stain glowed from having been planed and polished to perfection by Zaid's Dadu and Nanu.
Dobby had already been trained to keep away--with the squirt bottle that now showed some bite marks from when he had tried to murder his nemesis.
Introducing the baby to Dobby had been a brief moment of tension. No one knew how he'd react to a brand new person who would be hogging all of Zoya and Asad's attention from this point on.
Zoya handed Zaid to Asad and picked up the cat to prevent a jealous episode. She stroked his fur and kissed his nose. Then she held him close to the baby and everyone held their collective breaths.
This would be the test to decide Dobby's fate--whether he'd stay at the Khan or the Siddiqui house.
Would he be a good boy and share his parents' love with a mini human?
Dobby's eyes widened when he saw the baby; his head tilted to the side and the tail twitched in confusion.
And then he sniffed some more.
He sniffed the baby from head to toe.
Then he got bored with this bundled up hairless thing.
Not another kitty? Good. The smell was familiar. Better.
Just stay off my bed, OK? Mi casa, es NO su casa! Capiche*?
Dobby meowed and wrapped himself around Zoya begging for a belly rub.
They all exhaled.
For now the peacefully co-exsting Dobby would be staying.
Once they came home Zoya finally understood what Raziya had meant about her body becoming a machine.
She had no memory left, nor any sense of personhood. She was spoonfed highly-fattening and warming foods to enable muscle repair and milk production, brutally massaged and encased in strips of tightly-wrapped cloth around her waist to bring her body back to shape; Aapi oiled and lightly combed her hair brooking no dissent; and Dilshad forced reinforced liquids down her throat every hour or so.
Zoya would soon grow to hate zafraan and ghee.
And, ya Allah, those saunth laddoos! Foods with unheard-of ingredients she couldn't spell or pronounce were her daily regimen. "Fayeda hoga, beta," she was told to shush her fussing. Centuries of tried and tested cultural customs were crammed down her unwilling throat. All of her gripes and attempts at independence went unheeded; for once Zoya Farooqui kuchh bhi nahin kar payee.
She was wrapped up and smothered in a bossy maternal cocoon of old world wisdom. The moms knew best, she didn't as yet, but would slowly grow into it--it was as simple as that.
The baby was brought to her only when he needed feeding. During the day she had no idea who changed, bathed or massaged him. A friend in the US, also a new mother, would tell her how lucky she was. All she had to do was rest to recover from the exhaustion of childbirth.
Not so in America.
"So zip it, and enjoy it all you can," her friend advised. "And Zo, don't tell me how good you have it there. I hate you; I'm so jealous!"
How good she had it? Really? Allah miyan what's wrong with everyone!
"No head baths."
"No vigorous brushing of the hair."
"No brushing of the teeth."
"No chilled water or drinks."
"Nothing spicy or gassy."
"Eat lots of lauki, tori and yes, add ghee, ghee, ghee."
She had just three things to say about this: Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.
These prehistoric post-pregnancy rules must have been made to ruin a girl's life.
"No AC ..."
It was a warm and nourishing ... prison sentence.
"Kaley pani ki sazaa," Ayaan had joked when he'd heard her griping about it to Humaira.
If the mom brigade had their way Zoya would be a rank hot mess who was being fattened for only one purpose: feeding an eight-pounder shehzaada.
"No AC!" Zoya had yelped in dismay. "Aapi, are you shi*tting me! It's a freaking 150 degrees in here!" A true American girl at heart, she still understood hot and cold only in Farenheit.
"Shhh, stop with the bad language! It's not good for the baby to hear."
"Aapi, it won't be good for the baby to have a stinky and cranky mom either."
"Ya Allah, yeh ladki!"
"Aapi, that's just nasty," Zoya groused another time when confronted for breaking the rules on brushing her teeth.
Since the beginning Zeenat had snorted knowing full well that Zoya would protest and dig her heels in.
She'd tried to explain the logic behind the desi confinement practices: "Zoyajaani, your entire body has gone through a severe trauma--the blood loss, the muscle shift and tearing ... your organs were pushed around to make room for the growing baby ... remember how Badi bi was talking about inter-dental spacing""
"Aapi, please!" OK fine, she understood some of the wisdom behind it all--heat retention for quicker recovery--but she wouldn't be caught dead with unbrushed teeth. Or hair.
And organs being pushed around! What was her body--a room where all the furniture had been pushed up against the walls?
Zoya would roll her eyes when Raziya and Zeenat clucked and gloated: "and that's why girls spend the first post-partum month at their parents' house! You kids laugh at these old customs but there's some deep-rooted cultural wisdom to them."
Please, she'd retort in her head. Thank god I have Asad to hold me at night and make me feel human and feminine or I'd have gone batsh*it crazy with the 24/7 estrogen atyachar.
Thank god Asad had put his foot down and refused to let her be anywhere else but by his side.
Because the nights were her favorite time--free of the Dadi-Nani bossing and bullying. It was their special time together as a tiny family unit.
Asad and Zoya chatted softly over the sleeping baby scared to interrupt his spiritual trance. In synchrony they rushed to hold him when he whimpered or cried. They stroked his soft skin, felt his heartbeat race and traced his facial features with enchanted fingers. "This is Zaid's face," Zoya would croon as she circled this slice of heavenly grace.
"These are Zaid's eyes," Asad would feather his fingers over the baby's eyelids.
"This is Zaid's cute little nose," she'd draw around it. "And Mr. Khan look, did you ever see such perfect dimples?"
"And these are Zaid's lips," they'd say together as one would trace his upper lip and the other his lower.
The baby's lips would pucker in his sleep.
And they inhaled his baby scent.
They marveled at his long lashes, high cheekbones, and fluttering lids and lips. What glory did he see behind those closed lids? What cosmic whispers did he bear secret witness to?
They just couldn't get enough of those tiny fingers and toes. They rained a million kisses on the curled fists and perfect little feet.
Zaid would sleep on, at peace with the daily worship. But just when his parents would become too comfortable with the idea of him as a farishta he would wail to remind them that he was still an infant who needed feeding. And burping.
Practicing on dolls at the godh bharai ceremony had done nothing to prepare Asad for the real thing. A squirming baby is not as cooperative as a doll. And then this real-life kicking and screaming baby came with some additional parts.
A gigglng Zoya had supervised the first change in its full pomp and ceremony. The supplies had been lined up correctly but were now tipped over in the chaotic aftermath.
She'd repeated the instructions that they both knew in theory.
But the new parents they forgot one important detail.
"Damn!" Asad yelped the first time. In the hurly-burly of changing Zaid he'd forgotten to cover him with the diaper and was squirted immediately for his short-term amnesia.
Zoya laughed even though it hurt to do so.
Aw, poor Jahanpanah.
"Remember, they told us to cover his little pecker. I guess girls don't have this problem."
"Pecker?" Asad snorted as he powdered. "Is that what we're going to be calling it?"
"Pecker, pee-pee, peeper, thingie, whatever ... What name did you have in mind, Mr. Khan?"
"Chhota Mr. Khan?"
She laughed holding her sides. "Shh! OK, now remember the next step. Tuck his little stinger down so he doesn't pee out of, or over the diaper."
"Stinger?! My son is not a bee or a scorpion!"
She giggled. "Neither is he a WASP**, thank god!" Zoya joked to herself. A non-American, Asad didn't get the political dig. "I know," she soothed her husband who looked at her quizzically. "He's a Leo just like his Abbu, and I love him the more for it. But you're just trying to trick me into saying the word, right?"
"Right," Asad leaned close to kiss her nose.
"Gandi baat! Gandi baat! Gandi, gandi, gandi, gandi, gandi baat," Zoya sing-songed and flashed her eyes at him.
Asad groaned. "Don't play with fire, Mrs. Khan, or the forced se*x fast is going to be that much harder to bear."
"How much harder?" she teased as she ground against him.
"Babe," he grabbed her for a long drugging kiss. "Behave."
Her fourth night back from the hospital Asad had painted her toenails.
And that was the other reason why she was grateful that Asad hadn't let her out of his sight to spend the whole month away at the Siddiqui house. Because only Asad seemed to understand why she felt so fragile or emotional, and why an ad or a silly song could make her weep.
"Shh," he'd held her the first time it happened. She and the baby were in the back seat. They were taking Zaid to the pediatrician for his first check-up and some song on the radio had set her crying. Asad had pulled the car over, wrenched the back door open and pulled her into his arms.
Zoya'd been mortified. What if she always felt like this? What if she felt nothing for the baby? And it was as if Asad knew about her silent terrors.
"It'll get better," he'd whispered into her hair. Thank god, I snuck in a good hairwash and deep conditioning, she thought.
Asad was still trying to soothe her. "Your mind and heart are just catching up with everything that your body's been through. I can't even imagine the superhuman strength it must have taken to do what you did."
"You mean like squeeze out a watermelon from a hole the size of a lemon?"
Asad laughed. His Zoya was returning. "Babe, you're no lemon," he joked as he looked across to a napping Zaid in his carseat. "And that's no watermelon."
"No," she sniffled. "That's a miniature human being and I have no clue how to take care of him."
"We'll figure it out together. After all we have the Ammi army on our side and tons of internet research to tell us what to do, right?"
He lifted her face to wipe away the tears with his handkerchief. "Look at him. He's well-fed, clean and content--well, at least for the next ten minutes. That's why he's napping so peacefully. You're already doing a great job."
Zaid seemed to agree for a second. But then he woke up wailing and blindly seeking his mom. Zoya rushed to unbuckle him and clutch him to her.
Asad smiled. "He heard us and wasn't content to be just talked about. Or may be he objected to being called a watermelon." His heart raced at seeing her dimple. "Zaid wants to be part of the conversation. Mrs Khan, it seems he takes after you."
"Please Mr. Khan, you better not say a word against my baby. He's my chhotu Akdu and I love him to pieces," Zoya announced as she settled the fussing baby in for a feeding.
"I told you not to call him chhotu!" Asad cribbed half-heartedly.
He would never get over it. Just a few days in and both mom and son had got this routine down pat. Some intuitive wellspring drew them toward each other like a splashing wave seeking the still sho*re or the tide turning to the beckoning moon.
He would be jealous; but where was the time to look away from this vision of grace? Besotted, Asad watched Zoya drape a dupatta over her shoulder for privacy as his son suckled in the snug and sure embrace.
Asad climbed in the back seat too. How could he resist? He loved to hold Zoya from the back as she fed Zaid. These moments were precious and he'd miss them once he joined work. Asad would watch his son's tiny hand cup his mom's bre*ast possessively. And Zoya wouldn't be able resist lifting Zaid's hand to kiss it.
Those nails were now trimmed.
Asad watched Zoya lovingly trace each mini fingernail. He clamped his own hand over both of theirs and whispered a favorite couplet from Rumi:
"If anyone asks you
How the perfect satisfaction
Of all our se*xual wanting? will look,
Lift your face and say,
"Like this ..." she repeated after him in prayer. Zoya sighed as she leaned back against him.
She could already feel the tension ebbing from her. "Asad ... "
"Hmm?" he mused, still mesmerized by the sight before him. His eyes tracked Zoya shifting Zaid to her other side. As usual, the baby protested the interruption but soon latched on to continue his mid-day snack. His parents watched his face and played with his hand. Their fingers pried open his clenched fist and traced the tiny lines on his palm.
"Sing or hum for us."
Asad exhaled. His breath fanned the hair at her temple. He didn't know if Zoya did this to deliberately include him in this intensely exclusive mother and child ritual.
But he welcomed this exquisite re-threading of affection.
Zoya loved it best when he hummed; she'd feel the vibrations of wellness gently course and rock through her as Asad wrapped his arms around her and the baby. The first time Asad had hummed softly, Zaid had paused in his feeding; his eyes had popped wide open in some psychic recognition. His fist had curled around his father's thumb and the circuit was completed.
"But how do they know?" Zoya wanted to know the day after they brought the baby home.
"They just do."
"They must have lookouts at the hospital!" she guessed.
The Hijras had turned up the next day to offer their blessings and demand money at the birth of a son. Zoya had heard about this Indian tradition once but never given it any thought.
But this live action was fascinating.
Asad had forbidden her to come out before them but Zoya was dying of curiosity. There was a whole group of them!
She could hear loud singing peppered with robust arguing.
Zoya edged closer to the door to catch a glimpse of this India. They wore brightly colored sarees, brassy jewelry, bindis and bangles ... sequins and gajras ...
They were muscular but preferred to be addressed as women. They'd named themselves after popular Bollywood heroines--there was a Rekha and a Madhubala, a Madhuri and a Shilpa ...
This was a brand new version of girl power and it was uniquely Indian. Zoya loved it!
She whipped out her phone to shoot the perfect video for her social network sites. She would have loved to interview the girls (as she now thought of them) but she knew Asad would pop a gasket and turn into angry Jahanpanah in a second.
But Zoya was Zoya. She would find a way to find out more about this community.
She watched Asad and Dilshad negotiate with them. Asad caught her eye and frowned, upset that she'd come out of the room.
Go back, he signaled her with a signature head shake.
Please, she pleaded deploying her puppy face.
Please, that doesn't always work on me, his massive eyeroll signaled.
Oh really, Mr. Khan!
Zoya heard Ammi finalize the money to Rs. 5,600 talking them down from 10,000.
Zoya joined her hands together and stuck out her lower lip begging Asad to give them a little more. Zeenat watched too and sniggered. Her son-in-law didn't stand a chance. Pretty soon he'd be soft, gooey putty that could be rolled and kneaded into any shape.
Zoya really hoped that her silent skit worked--it always did on Aapi and Jeeju. She had intuitively figured out that this was the hijras' main source of livelihood. Why not give them a little extra?
She proceeded to widen her eyes--the picture of innocence.
Asad exhaled and shook his head.
You'll spoil them, he wanted to tell her.
Please! Her lashes fluttered.
His head fell back in defeat. Asad tapped Dilshad on the shoulder and told her to go inside. He'd deal with them.
"How much did you give them?" Zoya asked him when he was done.
"Aw, nice! See, I always knew you were a softie. There's a thin line between the angry young Jahanpanah and my heart-of-gold super hero!"
Asad looked down at Zaid who was fast asleep in his crib. He leaned to stroke his son's cheek with a knuckle. "It was worth every penny. They gave him extra blessings and duas."
"And their blessings pack an extra punch, right?"
Asad laughed. "Yes, they do. Or at least that's what we commonly believe in India. I see you've been busy researching."
"It's their main source of income, Asad. It must be so hard to go begging and fighting door to door for a few bucks, to be the universal laughing-stock and so stigmatized!"
He sighed. He sensed a Zoya-Farooqui-kuchh-bhi-kar-sakti-hai moment coming. "Yeah. You could say it's the only form of social acceptance they have."
"But isn't that an excuse to not integrate them into mainstream society?"
Asad shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked on his heels. "So, I guess Jhansi Ki Rani Foundation will be doing something about this pretty soon?"
"You bet your sweet ass, Mr. Khan!"
He grunted in dissatisfaction.
My sweet ass has only one thing on its mind and sadly I'm not getting it, he pouted at the forced celibacy.
Zoya tsked in sympathy, "poor baby." And she didn't mean her son.
If the rest of the family was anxious about Dobby's reception of the baby, Raziya had been walking on hot coals petrified about her reception by the baby.
If Dobby underwent his qualifying exam and litmus test, she dreaded failing hers. Would the baby start crying if she held him? Should she even hold him? Did she have the right?
Each doubt was a sledgehammer to her brain.
Each worry a septic splinter under her skin.
She'd hung back in the hospital room. And in the glee of the moment no one noticed.
Except for Zoya.
Her antenna had picked up and registered a similar anxious tremor. She didn't know if her maternal instincts would freak out and not let Zaid be anywhere near Raziya--the woman who'd slain his Nani.
She didn't want to be that woman who nursed doubt and superstition which became toxic with each passing moment.
But she wondered about herself.
Would the baby change her feelings? Would she be suspicious of Aunty whenever she was around? Would her attachment to the baby rock the fragile peace that had been painstakingly knitted and woven over the past year?
Tanveer's hateful face flashed before Zoya's eyes. The woman was going to kill them as Asad had held a pregnant Zoya in the gudiya factory. And Aunty had thrown herself in front to take a bullet meant for the three of them. And then when Tanveer had lunged that final lunge to stab her, Raziya had again launched herself on the madwoman and killed her ...
No, the baby would change nothing ... he'd cement everything.
The baby was here because of this woman ... even if her Ammi wasn't.
"Aunty?" she'd called out to her when she'd seen Raziya hesitate in the doorway and cover her face with the dupatta.
Everyone went dead still then.
Zoya had looked at Asad and he'd nodded. Did he remember that scene from the factory too? He stroked the baby's head, then he walked to the door and gently led Raziya to the bedside.
And Zoya handed Zaid to her. "Aapne isse zindagi di. Don't you want to see his face? Zaid munna, say hi to Chhoti Nani."
Raziya sobbed as she pressed her lips to the child's forehead.
Yes, she was dying to see this face. She'd died a hundred deaths in anticipation.
This face ...
This face was to be her redemption ... or exile ... In this face she saw Zainab's face ... and Zoya's.
Strangled duas and quls spilled from her lips; she blew the air around him to ward off all evil spirits.
Chhoti Nani? She looked into Zaid's knowing eyes. Your Chhoti Nani will be your shield ... and your sword if need be. She will be the cool shade on the hottest day ... the warm winter sun on the coldest.
She laughed, guilt-free, when Zaid cried for his mom.
Handing him back to Zoya, Raziya bent to kiss her head. "Mashallah, kitna pyaara hai! Bilkul chand ka tukra. Nazar na lagey," and she rubbed kajal behind her grandson's ear in typical mom fashion. "He's just like his Ammi--100% MA."
And she wept as she held Zoya to her heart.
Thank you, Zainab.
The baby's seventh day rasms and functions went smoothly--or as smoothly as they were possible under the circumstances--a baby that woke in fits and starts surrounded by doting adults who often became babies themselves was bound to generate some dramatic moments.
The decision to have Dilshad perform the Tahneek or ghutti ritual had been unanimous. If it was true that the baby imbibed the traits of the person who chewed the date and pasted the pulp on his palate, then who better than his Dadi: the picture of pure strength and grace?
Zaid seemed to agree. His tongue darted out to taste the sweetness and his Dadi's blessing.
He was the perfect angel and slept peacefully through his head shaving. The shorn hair would be weighed and a matching amount of silver or money would be donated to the poor.
But Zoya was deathly anxious about the circumcision.
Her poor baby, it would hurt so much! He'd been kept hungry for this reason and boy, was she hurting too! Her bre*asts felt tight and full and Zoya was just a little less cranky than her son.
When she heard Zaid's full-throated wail she burst into helpless tears and ran out blindly to clutch him to her.
Her eyes blazed.
How dare they! How dare they hurt her baby? Here she'd trimmed her nails and removed her rings and bracelet so that the baby wouldn't be scratched in any way and there they were, mutilating him! And right under his father's nose too!
When Asad handed the crying baby to her she couldn't help but beat his chest with an angry fist. How could you let it happen? Asad wrapped his hand around her wrist to stop her.
He kissed her fist.
His own eyes were wet.
"I'm sorry," he whispered to both mother and son.
One hand holding the baby who had now quitened as he fed hungrily, Zoya wiped Asad's tears with the other; and he wiped hers.
They pressed their foreheads to each other.
Asad kissed her wet lashes.
"I nearly died when---" he struggled to whisper.
"Shh," Zoya soothed, her hand on his lips. "I know, baby. It'll get better soon. Ammi said so."
They'd taken their anxieties to Dilshad who'd talked them off the ledge by telling them that the wound would heal in a week and the baby wouldn't remember a thing.
"I'm sorry I hit you," Zoya added as she kissed the fresh tears away.
He laughed softly so he wouldn't disturb the baby and re-kissed her knuckles. "Only you, Mrs. Khan, are allowed to hit me. Any one else, and they'd better watch out."
Zoya giggled as she shifted the baby to the other side. "Exactly! Nobody better mess with my Akdu. Not if they want to get cold-co*cked, they don't."
His lips quirked in mischief; Asad stroked her cheek with a finger. "Babe, I thought we weren't going to use those kind of gandi-baat words."
"M I S T E R KHAN!"
*Mi casa es su casa: Spanish for "My house is your house."
Capiche: Italian for "Do you understand?"
** WASP stands for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant and is a term used to refer to the ruling class in the US to indicate the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few white Americans.
By the end of the second week the cracks were beginning to show. He was being a total bear and he knew it too--a moody bear that hadn't gotten lucky for a good fortnight or more.
The frequency of the cold showers had gone up.
How many tantalizing glimpses of bare bre*asts and flashes of lush nipples could a man withstand before cracking! In fact these days he often left the room softly swearing under his breath when Zoya was feeding Zaid.
He'd taken to running in the mornings and going savagely at his punching bag in the evenings.
Zoya wouldn't even tease him any more so miserable did Asad look. He exhaled so often that it was almost embarrassing in public. When she held his hand in sympathy he dragged her to him for a quick nuzzle and then pushed her away roughly.
That permanent scowl, his trademark from the good old Akdu days, was in danger of making a full-blown comeback. But she didn't have the heart to scold or glare at him. She felt the pangs of forced virginity too. This must be what makes husbands jealous of infants, she thought.
He loved Zaid, there was no doubt about it. But did the kid have to be so clingy?
"Mr. Khan, he's only 17 days old," Zoya reminded him one day, very patiently.
"I know," Asad covered his face in shame. "I'm such a jerk."
"Aww baby, don't feel so terrible. It's OK to feel neglected," she rushed to comfort him knowing that he felt guilty about his crankiness.
"I can ... you know ... help you take care of business," she said softly on the 27th day after he'd emerged cursing under his breath from a particularly long cold shower.
Asad groaned, hand pressed over his eyes. "No, I can hold on ... I think. You've been through so much and I've done nothing but sit on my hands basically! I feel terrible just wanting you so bad and for even thinking of se*x when your body has barely recovered." He held her by her shoulders, "and get this, I want us both to be able to enjoy our reunion se*x and not just do it because of my needs or urges. But very soon I may just have to take you up on that offer!"
She laughed. "Any time Jahanpanah! I miss you too, you know?" Zoya went up on her toes and kissed him.
"You do?" He asked in guilty wonder.
Asad was seriously terrified that childbirth would have put Zoya off the magic of se*x for a long time; and he wouldn't have blamed her. The power and endurance of the female body floored him. And why would it even want to please the male body in the aftermath of such a marathon trauma? He felt ashamed for even thinking of se*x and not realizing the heaviness his repressed desire placed on Zoya. And come to think of it, he was just surprised that women didn't undergo PTSD in the wake of birthing. Or may be that's what post-partum depression was all about.
"I do," Zoya sighed. "I miss you so bad!"
She had her own fears. When would her body return to shape? Would Asad be repelled by her? Why did he leave the room whenever she fed Zaid these days?
"Thank god! But babe, in the meantime you've got to let me rejoin work or I'll just spontaneously combust into a pile of horny ashes."
"No!" She looked at his face--it was taut with tension. "OK, fine," she pouted, not even momentarily amused by the image of horny ashes. A part of her quailed--was she being too clingy? Did he not want to be with her and the baby?
"But start small--half a day, hmm? Baby steps."
"Half a day of sanity and then a half-day of being a se*x-starved saint? I'll try." He leaned in to kiss her after fingering the infinity and Yin and Yang charms on the slender chain around her neck. "I love you," he breathed.
Zoya started to cry.
"Zoya? What happened? Are you OK?" Asad swept her into his arms and carried her to the rocking chair. She clung to him as he held her in his lap.
Dobby wandered by and hopped up to perch by his shoulder. It gave him the perfect view of all three of his favorite people. Yes, he'd come to love the little hairless bundle that mewled and sighed and made interesting sounds and smells. The first time he'd heard the baby cry, Dobby had run to hide under the bed. Subsequenty he went closer to sniff and do a thorough inquiry. He seemed to like what he saw.
"What is it? Tell me," Asad asked dropping kisses on her head and tucking her hair behind her ear.
"That things will somehow be different between us now ..."
"I'm scared of that too."
"You are?" Zoya's eyes widened in panic and she sat up straight to look at him.
Oh my god!
Asad played with her fingers. "I'm scared that you won't enjoy se*x as much any more."
"What? Why wouldn't I?"
"It's arrogant of me to even think of it when you may not be emotionally or mentally prepared for it. What if you hate me for putting you through all this?"
"Asad, are you crazy? Both of us wanted this. And I could never hate you! I never hated you even when you were the emotionally-challenged Akdu Jahanpanah to me in the beginning."
"You mean we'll be OK?"
Fresh tears pooled in her eyes. "We will ... if you aren't revolted by my body."
"What? Why would I be revolted?" Asad asked in confusion.
"I feel flabby and saggy in places--they're stretch marks. It'll be a while before I get my pre-pregnancy body back. In the meanwhile all I've left is a mom bod."
And you've been avoiding me, pushing me away. Now you want to cut your leave short and go back to work.
"What's a mombod?"
"A mom body that's forced to wear mom jeans because nothing else fits," she grumbled.
"I love your body, mom bod or pre-mom bod," Asad nuzzled her neck. He shifted her so she could straddle him. His hands ran down her sides greedily and feathered under her shirt.
Zoya hissed; her blood heated. Asad's hands grew bolder. They snaked up to undo her bra and cup her. His thumb skittered across a nipple and she moaned.
"You're my goddess, my wonder woman, and the mother of my child. That whole package is se*xy as hell!"
"Really!" His hands slid down and dug into her butt to drag her against his hardness. "And that mom bod made your bre*asts even more glorious. Why do you think I have to leave the room these days when you feed Zaid? It's because if I don't, I'll rip him away from you and take you right then!"
"Asad!" she moaned in shocked desire.
"Umm hmm. It's pretty crazy, right? I sound like a total monster."
"No, you don't. I was the one freaking out that you no longer found me desirable."
"Babe, is that even possible? I'm dying to touch you, to taste you, take you. The things I want to do to you!" He ran an impatient hand through his already mussed hair. "I found you desirable that first day I saw you. Even when you bit my head off!"
Zoya batted her lashes down at him and undid the first button on his shirt, "Mr. Khan, you're lucky I never bit your head off," she drawled.
Asad threw his head back and laughed. "Thank god for that!" He looked across at the crib where Zaid was sleeping. "Or, how would Zaid have blessed us with his presence or kept us miserably apart?"
Zoya parted his collar and nibbled on his collarbone. He buried his face in her cleavage.
She took his hand in hers and sucked hard on a finger. His head fell back as Asad groaned. "Zoya ... don't baby. I'll die right here." But his other hand crept up her bare skin.
"Good. Then I'll be right here to hold you in my arms. You've taken such exquisite care of me all these days. Let me love you back, Asad." She slithered down on her knees.
"Shh ... "
Ha! She'd actually managed to close the snap on one of her looser mom jeans. Thank you Allah miyan! May be that cloth-corset thingie the Ammi army strapped her into daily had its benefits after all.
Mom wisdom ki jai ho!
Come to think of it, all that fattening food was going straight to the baby and not her as she'd dreaded.
She looked down at Zaid napping in her arms. He was plumping up nicely, reacting to his surroundings and responding to voices and hugs. She still couldn't get over how tiny he was or how perfect. He'd begun to track her and Asad with bright eyes and made the most wonderful cooing and gurgling sounds. Yes, he cried. But that was just his way of telling them: feed me, change me, I feel gassy, I'm sleepy.
She touched his hand and Zaid's fist clamped around her finger.
Zoya's heart swelled.
His dad did brag about his son's power grip and call Zaid his little tiger. It was a powerful grip indeed.
She'd take a mental picture of this moment for her mental scra*pbook. Click.
But she took real ones too to post for Jeeju and Najma--Zaid's biggest overseas fans.
Zoya hummed softly to him as she walked around the room. She'd read him Dr. Suess later. He'd look at them intently, without blinking when they read, "Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?" Sometimes his lips would pucker up at each sound or his eyes would widen. But pretty soon he'd fall asleep after going through the list of all the mooing, meowing, bow-wowing, chirping and clip-clopping sounds.
Ayaan Chachu called him his little Squirt or Chhota Sher depending on his mood"and because Zaid had also squirted him the first time Chachu changed him. His Phuphis and Khala called him Golu-molu despite frowns from his dad; when he wet his pants they called him Gilu.
Ah, the names a kid could pick up!
And the grandparents?
Just waiting in line everyday to spoil and coddle him! Because like his parents Zaid had superpowers too. Don't believe it? Then why was he wearing this onesie today that read: I can melt my grandma's heart. What's your superpower?
And why wouldn't he have superpowers? Having a Teflon armor from eight grandparents' duas and tikas and having them tell you how perfect you were, could give a kid wings. No Red Bull needed, thank you very much.
Asad and Zoya wanted to take Zaid to the dargah"so many red strings to untie--but no one would let them.
"Don't take the baby out, nazar lag jayegi," was the loudest refrain.
And may be even this maternal wisdom was not wrong: infections, germs, bacteria, viruses, cooties, buri nazars ... who knew what was lurking out there to sneak up on our Zaid?
But he did need his first immunization shots after the first month.
And Zoya wanted one other place for him to visit: her mom's resting place. But there were fresh worries and debates. "No, it's not proper to take a baby there ..." "What if ..." "Ask Maulvi Saheb ..."
Many family conferences later with renewed negotiations and signatures on dotted lines, they finally had their permission from the mom council. "Avoid crowds," "don't let anyone hold the baby, or touch him," "stay away from sick people," "cover him up," and other motherly cautions followed them out to the car and echoed in their ears till they drove away. After Zaid had been protected with multiple Dadi-Nani kaala tikas of course.
Siddiqui Saheb and Raziya were to meet them there for more grandparental protection.
"Aw poor Jahanpanah," Zoya teased as Asad held an umbrella for shade over her and the baby. "Reduced to being a chhatriwala mulazim!"
"What if he gets sunburn?" Asad said. He tried to peek at Zaid whose face was covered by his Ammi's net dupatta. "You know the moms will kill us."
"Please, babies look delicate but they can be resilient too. And I already put some baby sunscreen on him, so no worries. But thanks! I sure appreciate the shade." She reached out to pinch his cheek. "You're the best Jahanpanah ever and together we can take on any Ammi army!"
Asad grinned. "Yeah, we'll just hold up Zaid in front of us like a shield and they'll melt like butter left out in the sun."
"Aa gaya mera bachcha," Raziya cooed when they reached them. She proceeded to tuck Zaid into her arms, kiss him and blow the air around him as well as put a kaala tika on him. Asad looked at Siddiqui Saheb and smiled. Raziya had just met them in the morning--and done these rituals already.
Zoya laughed as she saw the look pass between her husband and father. "At this rate, saare Bhopal mein duaon ki kami pad jayegi if Zaid keeps hogging all the duas! And there'll be a kajal shortage too."
"Never!" Raziya exclaimed. "Hamare Zaid ke liye kabhi duayen ya kajal kam na padein."
She looked down at the baby. "Hai na, chhota baby?"
Zaid gurgled happily--he'd been fed, burped and changed and was now content to look up into yet another pair of adoring eyes. "Come Zaid, we want to introduce you to someone very special. Your Nani has been waiting to bless you."
Raziya had brought a phool chadar and cloth inscribed with holy verses that they would drape over the memorial. They spread the red and green gold-edged cloth over the stone and had Zaid bump the fabric with his tiny fist. For a heart-stopping second his hand seemed to get entangled in the phool chadar.
Fragrant petal wisps clung to his tiny fingers.
He babbled in his Nanu's arms as everyone kneeled and bowed their heads to offer prayers. Siddiqui's eyes misted and his glasses fogged over as Zaid looked at him directly in the eye. He'd felt that stab of guilt every day since he held Zaid for the first time in the hospital.
He felt judged by those eyes.
I know, I wish I had held your Ammi too like this in my arms when she was this small. I might have even been blessed and lived a spiritual life--and been closer to Allah.
He felt anger at himself and hurt on Zoya's behalf.
But he'd also promised his daughter that he wouldn't wallow in regrets. "We have today, and so many tomorrows to make up yesterday's losses," she had reminded him again and again.
He removed his glasses. "Insha'allah!" he whispered as Siddiqui held up Zaid and brushed his old eyes against the itty-bitty forehead.
Before leaving, Zoya held Zaid's hand in hers and together they touched the warm stone. The baby cooed and the birds picked up the cue; they twittered and flew into the setting sun.
"Say bye, Nani," Zoya said.
"Mmm baa aaa," chirped an animated Zaid.
And his besotted mother was convinced that her son had actually said bye. And only her husband would believe and agree with her.
On the 43rd day the gods, no goddesses of female body systems and maintenance smiled down on her.
Zoya texted Asad.
He should be the first to know after all.
But all of a sudden she felt shy and just a little insecure. So she just sent him a selfie. He'd get the message. That look said it all, right?
But of course this was the day that Mr. Khan had taken his stupid pills. The gods of male body reflexes were on strike.
"What's that face," he texted back. He was distracted, preparing for a meeting with a new client and glaring at Ayaan who was making paper planes.
Zoya nearly died.
Really, Mr. Khan? I have to spell it out for you now? Does se*xual telepathy no longer work on you? Have you become immune to THE Zoya Farooqui and her puppy face?
But her heart skittered in alarm. Are we done being Zoya and Asad? That heart-stopping chemistry is now history? Are we just going to be Ammi and Abbu now?
"AM, what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan!" she texted back after only a minute's hesitation.
Because here's the other thing: Zoya was fairly immune to self-doubt and insecurity--ain't nobody's got no time for that!
And she'd married and bedded the one guy on the planet who could make her feel even a smidgeon of uncertainty about herself. A minute is all her nature allowed for self-doubt. Then it just naturally bounced back like a crazy ball.
Her phone rang. Aha, so Mr. Khan was smartening up. Good Jahanpanah, even though he was a Tubelight Ahmed Khan.
"Zoya?" he thundered. "What the hell was that?"
No, that second part wasn't meant for Zoya. He was actually yelling at Ayaan who was balancing on one of the chairs and had tipped it so far back that gravity had to step in and do its thing or no one would take it seriously any more.
Ayaan slammed to the floor, arms and legs in the air--as dignified as a turtle flipped on its back.
"Mr. KHAN!" Zoya growled and hung up on him. Here she was, horny as a monkey in heat and there her clueless husband was actually yelling at her.
You're not gettin' any, she screamed in her head. You can take a bajillion cold showers and stay celibate for all I care. You can become a goddamn saintly Peer Baba who dresses in green and blesses random strangers with peaco*ck feathers at dargahs because you'll be so fu*cking celibate and I still won't care.
Damn you, Asad.
The steam coming out of her ears was making her hair frizz on end.
This is what she had primped and preened herself for? She'd been sneaking in little beauty makeovers all week--a mani and pedi, facial and hair, threading and waxing--so that they could have the most perfect post-baby se*xy time.
And you pull this punk-ass stunt?
Damn you, Asad.
He was smack dab in the middle of the meeting when the bulb went on in Asad's head.
He did the math; he pulled up her picture on his phone. Yep, her message was pretty clear.
He groaned a monster groan.
Everyone stopped to stare at him.
"Sorry," he jerked out. "Stomach cramps," he added quickly, belatedly remembering to hold his side.
Stomach cramps? Where did that excuse even come from? Was he a little girl starting her period? God, his brain cells were fried thanks to forced se*x fasts.
And given his current slow reflexes, that se*x fast just got longer.
He sighed. The real cramps were a little more south of his stomach but no one had to know that. And thank god the lights had been dimmed for Ayaan's presentation or everyone would have seen his face turn red, and then a bilious green.
Because he'd just replayed the phone conversation with Zoya and his exact words.
His wife was going to kill him. Asad almost grabbed his head in his hands.
He glared at Ayaan so hard that Ayaan stuttered mid-sentence. He saw the Mukka Ahmed face and stumbled backwards. In his brother's eyes he saw his limbs being torn from end to end and Ayaan grabbed a glass of water to gulp down his panic.
And he didn't even know what he'd done wrong. But it must have been some mega sh*it for THAT look.
Ayaan dreaded the end of the meeting. After that signature Mukka Ahmed Khan glare he'd limped through his presentation with one eye on the closed door.
And he'd come up with a plan.
He'd run out the moment everyone pushed their chairs back and before the handshakes began.
And he had the perfect excuse too. He'd just yell, "family emergency!" and dash out. Once he returned an hour or two later, Bhai would have cooled down.
But Ayaan was left cooling his heels when the moment the first chair in the room was pushed back, his Bhaijaan leaped up, yelled "family emergency!" and dashed out the door.
Wait, what? Oh my god, something terrible must have happened and that's why Bhaijaan was giving him the death stare.
He ran after Asad. "Bhai! What emergency? What happened? Is everyone OK?" he called after his brother and jammed himself into the closing elevator.
Hands on his hips, lips pulled down in a grim line, Asad glared at him.
He took deep breaths to decelerate the impending explosion. He didn't want another catastrophe on his hands. One trainwreck was enough.
If Ayaan only knew the control it was taking his big brother to not rip his head off ...
"Umm ... woh ..." Asad's impatient hand brushed the back of his neck.
"... actually, main ... woh ..."
"Bhai! Sab theek hai na?"
"Ye ... es. Everything's OK," he managed to say through clenched teeth.
"Then why'd you run out like that? Did I do something wrong?"
Asad exhaled. Yes, but--
"No, you did great in there. I just have to go, OK? I just remembered something important I have to take care of."
"Great! But you're sure you're not mad at me?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"And Zaid and Mona darling are fine?"
Mona darling ... not so much.
And if I stand here chitchatting with you I'm dead meat. Dead horny meat.
"Just check on the client and do some hand-holding and damage control for me," Asad called out over his shoulder once the elevator door opened.
He sprinted off to his car and peeled out of the parking lot before Ayaan could blink.
But if he thought he could rush home, jump into his wife's bed and get lucky then he had another think coming.
Zoya was in the mood for some Jahanpanah mincemeat today. And she would slowcook it too on a medium flame to make perfectly juicy keema out of it before molding it into seekh kababs and roasting them over an open flame.
Of course she wasn't taking his calls. Or answering his texts. Asad slapped his forehead as he wove through traffic and got honked and cussed at. Did a year and half of marriage and marital fights teach him nothing?
"Arre Asad, good you came home early," Zeenat welcomed him at the door. "Go and freshen up, we have to go to Siddiqui Saheb's house."
He groaned on the inside but pasted a smile on his face. "Sure, Aapi. Woh Zoya ...?"
"Oh didn't she tell you? Ya Allah, yeh ladki bhi na! So scatter-brained this girl is. She's already there with Zaid. It was her idea to have the party in the first place. And you know how Siddqui Saheb and Raziya Bi can never say no to her ..."
Aapi went away mumbling about spoiling grown kids and giving into each ridiculous whim of theirs. Just wait till she told Anwar ...
Asad hung his head in despair.
OK, so act one of his punishment was becoming a little clearer to him. There was going to be an audience.
He knuckle-dragged his way to the bedroom, the closet, and then the bathroom; he was ready to go in 20 minutes but not his mother or mother-in-law.
"Itni jaldi kya hai?" Dilshad asked. "We'll go at 8."
Asad shoved his fists in his pockets and rocked on his heels. Three whole hours of slow roasting?
He'd make some phone calls.
"Ammi, I have to pick up something ..."
"Why waste petrol? That's what Zoya would say, ha na! We can do it on the way. I love how Zoya makes us think about ways to conserve more energy," she told Zeenat.
Zeenat beamed with pride.
He hissed with frustration. Asad's body vibrated with the effort to hold himself back from pacing or roaring. Or banging his head against the nearest wall. The energy radiating from him could power the house right about now. And may be even the whole street.
Chilled water. Yeah, he should have some of that. Because he knew it in his gut. The torture would only get worse from here.
Asad knocked back two glassfuls.
He wasn't a drinking man. Or he'd have himself some of that stuff too. He'd be needing it.
The whole damn family was here decked out in their colorful best. Some of Omar and Feroze's relatives as well.
Great. Just bloody great.
Silks and sequins, gold and diamonds, music, food, chitchat, laughter and all the symptoms of a successful party were on full blinging display to tighten the screws.
His mouth twisted.
Hell, this was going to be hell.
And then he saw her.
So this was how she planned to kill him.
Asad was close to mimicking the hangdog expression of cartoon characters.
And Tom was this close to jumping Jerry's bones and carrying her away to a corner for a curfew-breaking three-alarm tryst ...
She flicked her hair off her shoulder and his head nearly fell off his.
Zoya wore a black saree and a matching backless blouse with sheer sleeves. It had been a gift from him. That expanse of creamy naked flesh called out to him to brand her ... He wanted to lazily trail his fingertips over that luscious back. Asad knew she loved that. She seemed to have dozens of erogenous zones on her back each more sensitive than the other.
May be he'd thumb the ridges of her spine. The goosebumps would flare up on her skin and her nipples would perk right up begging to be----
Those slender strings begged too ... they begged to be undone slowly to let him plant open-mouthed kisses on that bare back and let his hands slide up to cup her in the front. He'd flick her nipples with his thumb and squeez---
His dehydrated tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Zoya turned to adjust her palla and his breath caught at the quick flash of a thin black strap hugging her high on the waist. Was it his imagination or did she just deliberately snap her thong band at him?
His eyes nearly rolled to the back of his head. Asad clutched the bouquet of red roses to his front even more tightly.
She had her back to him but she knew the exact second when he walked in. Her antenna vibrated and that traitorous nervous system jangled to notify an alert. She felt goosebumps pucker up across her back.
And then Humaira piped up too, "look Aapi, Jeeju's here!" so there was no pretending that she didn't know. So yes, she had just hiked up and snapped the strap for his eyes only. Take that Jahanpanah and drool your little eyes out.
The girls swarmed around Asad and oohed at the biggest bunch of flowers. "All the local florists love you, right Jeeju?" Humaira teased as she raised a mocking eyebrow at Ayaan.
Ayaan spread his hands in confusion, "what did I do?"
Terribly self-conscious of everyone watching them, Asad walked over to give her the flowers.
Zoya's lashes swept her cheeks.
Despite that brazen hussy act she felt shy and insecure now. When she'd arranged this revenge blitz and dressed to kill she'd been ultra confident of her saucy dominance and stealth campaign. But she didn't take into account his revenge. He had no right to look that damn good.
She'd dressed very carefully tonight, slashed on several sweeps of mascara to elongate her lashes and glossed her lips into a perfectly arched and pouty bow. For a second she'd debated the thong versus going commando. The thong had seemed like the perfect counterattack.
But now her eyelids felt weighed down by sandbags.
So fine, he knew she could just eat him up alive in a suit. But to don a dark suit tonight? With a tie? Oh no, no, no, Mr. Khan, that was him just trying to slaughter her. Right here.
She saw Asad extend his arm out to offer her the flowers.
Zoya transferred a dozing Zaid to Raziya's eager arms and accepted the roses. Asad's fingers brushed against hers; he let a finger linger on her hand. Zoya couldn't resist closing her eyes and burying her face in the flowers to hide her response.
"Thank you," she whispered. Thankfully, the others melted away to admire the baby.
Asad bent his head closer to hers, "I'm sorry."
She kept her nose glued to the roses and lashes lowered to her cheeks. Zoya wanted to sass him back. "Why? What for?" she wanted to taunt. But no words came.
"I'm going to put these in water," she edged away.
"Zoya!" he croaked.
She turned on her heel and he bit back another groan. When in god's name had she picked up these peep-toe fu*ck-me-hard heels? He'd never seen her in those. At least four inches if not five, they added an extra sway to her swinging ass as she walked away from him.
He couldn't bite back that low growl. Asad's hands balled.
Ayaan loped over and began talking about stuff that Asad had no interest in listening to or talking about. He had just one thing on his mind. And Ayaan was getting in the way.
Over his brother's shoulder Asad saw Zoya return from the kitchen and slow-walk towards Raziya. The saree pleats swished from one side to the other with each step. Did she know that he was watching her? Did she register the effect she had on him? Measure the magnitude on his pulse's Richter scale?
He watched her take Zaid into her arms and settle on the sofa. As she crossed her leg, her saree rode up just a bit to reveal an ankle ... circled by a silvery anklet.
The raised foot rocked hypnotically. The red and black stiletto perched precariously on the arch of those delicious toes and swung left to right.
Left ... and then right ...
Left ... right ...
He watched her bend over Zaid and play with his hand. She kissed it and held it to her cheek.
Asad couldn't resist this radiant vision of mother and child.
Leaving Ayaan talking about ... about something, Asad hurried over to their charmed side. He sat down next to her and bent his head over Zaid too. His hand played with the baby's as well.
"I wasn't yelling at you. I was yelling at Ayaan."
Still she said nothing.
Oh god, she was this close to giving in. The flowers had started to melt her and then when he came up to sit next to them and take Zaid's hand in his, she was all but done. She loved to watch his hand dwarf Zaid's. And that "Babe," in the soft growly voice was enough to make her want to drag her husband away and launch herself in his arms.
"Zaid," Asad called out to his son who was wide awake now. The baby's eyes tracked his father's face. He smiled a toothless grin--or may be it was just gas.
"Tell Ammi I love her." Zaid raised his hand to flick his dad's cheek. Asad kissed it. "And tell her that Ayaan Chachu was being a goofball that's why I yelled."
His heart lifted to see Zoya's lips curve in a smile.
"Ask Abbu to tell us what Ayaan Chachu did?" Zoya told Zaid. Her curiosity won out over her anger.
Asad's breath expelled in relief at his wife's forgiveness and renewed anger at his brother.
"He was being an idiot and fell flat on his back in the middle of an important discussion," Asad deadpanned.
"Mr. Khan! Don't call Raabert an idiot! And not in front of our son." Zoya gasped as she tried to cover Zaid's ears.
"He's my brother and I can call him anything I want."
"He's my brother-in-law and no, you can't!"
"Jeeju! You have to come dance with us," Humaira interrupted him by grabbing his arm to pull him off the couch. Nuzzhat grabbed the other one and together the girls hauled him up and away.
Dance? Who the hell invented this form of torture? And just when he was making up with his wife?
But then he saw Nikhat who looked lost. "I'm just going to dance with Nikhat and then I'm going to go back to my family," he told Humaira and Nuzzhat sternly.
"Aww," the girls sighed in approval not minding his dismissal in the least as Asad accompanied Nikhat in some half-hearted dancing to "London Thumakda."
Everyone was happy to see Nikhat dance and laugh. Zoya watched too, wistful. But she had to giggle when she remembered the dialogue from the film about ending the "virginity ka vrat"! How appropriate. Her thighs clenched at the promise. She felt the satiny texture of the petticoat against her bare legs and shivered. Nice foreshadowing, DJ miyan!
They had stolen some moments of togetherness later when swaying to some forgotten music in each other's arms. She had burned in his arms. Raw lava could have been coursing through her.
He had spun her in his arms. Their eyes had danced, their bodies sizzled in anticipation of the coming consummation.
But little did Zoya know that the ball she had set in motion would knock over unintended pins. And just when they thought they were home free.
The evening was winding down. Soon they'd be home. Zaid would be out like a light and--
The plan was to put the baby to bed after a quick feed and change. Zaid was already sleeping through the night--he was such a good boy.
And then they'd have the whole night to themselves.
There was so much catching up to do.
But then someone had a genius idea.
"Please, please, please, let us have a sleepover, please! It'll be Zaid's first night here. Please let Aapi stay here." Humaira, Nuzzhat and Nikhat had become pretty good at puppy faces too. At least five grandparent faces lit up too.
Asad could have pounded his head to a pulp. Especially when he saw Zoya's deer caught in the headlight look.
"Umm ... we don't have all the baby supplies. I just packed what I needed for a few hours," Zoya stuttered feeble excuses. She looked at Asad in alarm. If she didn't get them out of this mess soon, Asad would kill her for sure or leave her here forever, undo his tie, and walk off into the sunset.
"Oh, we have everything here," Raziya boasted. "I always keep extras for whenever you come with Zaid. I've put everything in your room"it's all in there. And we've even put up a small crib in there for just such moments! Kitna maza aayega! Shireen and I will do everything--we'll massage and bathe him ..." she gushed and planned non-stop.
"And I want to change some diapers," Rashid added bravely.
"Me too," Siddiqui Saheb didn't want to look remiss.
Zoya grasped Raziya's arm as she tried to lead her to her old bedroom. "Aunty," she hissed.
"I can't. The things I need ... you know," she waggled her eyebrows trying to make her Aunty understand, "they aren't here!"
"What things?" Raziya blinked in confusion and then her brow cleared. "Oh, but you can borrow those things from Humaira, or the girls. They won't mind."
"No! You know, MY things. My ointments and medical supplies, for you know ..." Zoya gestured wildly and pretended to exaggerate her post-partum non-recovery.
Raziya frowned. "Abhi tak? I'll take you to the doctor tomorrow. This is not right. It's been more than six weeks already!"
Ya think? More than six weeks and she hadn't had any sugar ... hadn't felt her husband move inside her.
Zoya would have used Dobby as an excuse but she'd been very particular to bring him along with her when she planned her revenge on Mr. Khan. And now that revenge was biting her back in the butt.
She could have slapped herself for being a big fat idiot.
Finally it was Asad who had to be the bad guy. He put his foot down and just flat out said no. No, he would not leave Zoya and the baby behind. There would be no sleepovers till Zaid had completed his next round of immunizations. Period.
Raziya sniffed, already making a list of complaints to tell at Zainab's side. She was only pacified when Asad said that they'd both come spend the night with Zaid at the Siddiqui house--but two weeks from now. That's when his second round of shots would be done.
"Ek raat se kaam nahin chalega, then. Be ready to spend at least a week here." Raziya demanded. "As it is he didn't let Zoya come for the pre-delivery or let us do the godh bharai here ..." She grumbled as she went to her room to retrieve the gifts she'd got for Zaid and Zoya. A bracelet of black and gold beads went onto Zaid's wrists. And he got a whole set of a silver tumbler, bowl, plate, spoon and rattle too.
"Aunty please, you just gave him so much for the seventh day rasms!" Zoya protested.
"You be quiet. This is between me and Zaid." That had been from Zainab's side. This was from her"his Chhoti Nani. She kissed his baby palms. "We'll have lots of fun when you come after two weeks. Nanu will read you stories. And I'll put ghee and badaam paste on your head."
"No!" groaned Zoya as she closed her eyes in despair. Not the ghee and badaam maalish!
The first time they'd come here and Raziya had returned Zaid to her, Zoya had nearly toppled backwards. "Ugh," she'd cried out. "What's that smell?"
"It's good for the baby," Raziya had told her smugly. "Dimaag tez hoga."
"But he stinks!" Zoya had complained, hand to her nose.
"Shh, aise nahin kehte!" Raziya had grabbed Zaid back and lovingly massaged his head with her palm. "Our Zaid will be the smartest and brightest boy in his class. Tum dekhna."
"And the stinkiest," Zoya had grumbled.
"Hush! He's not stinky at all. He smells like an angel."
"Sure, if all angels work at a halwai ki dukaan up there."
"Zoya! Ya Allah, yeh ladki!"
But that trademark stink followed Zaid home each time he came to visit his Nanu and Chhoti Nani. Everyone laughed at her sensitive nose. But she refused to hug the baby till that stench was washed out of his head. Zoya hugged him to her once he'd been slathered in baby oil and lotion. She'd inhale his baby scent deeply then.
Thanks to the rushed party Raziya hadn't managed to get her hands on Zaid for his ghee-badaam maalish today. Thank you Allah miyan!
Back in the car, both Asad and Zoya had breathed massive sighs of relief. Sure, it wasn't that they hadn't been shameless little bunnies at the Siddiqui house--the pool was a silent witness to that. It was just that home was home. And being horny little bunnies in one's own bedroom was much better than being so in a guest room.
Asad winked at her in the rear-view mirror and she blushed. She was sitting in the back next to Zaid's carseat. The baby was fast asleep.
That sleepover talk had been a close shave indeed. He couldn't wait to get home and seduce his wife out of that saree and blouse ... and thong.
And those heels.
Or may be he'd tell her to keep those on. Just those.
Sure, he had loved holding her as they danced, but that hadn't been enough. He recalled her perfumed softness as he molded her against him, her hot breath on his neck ... that soft sigh ... a bitten off moan as he'd pinched her waist--punishing her for that mouth-watering peek of a thong strap.
Mid-dance his thumb had slid under the tucked-in saree fabric to seek and dig out the strap. He'd pulled it to snap back hard at ther skin and she'd clung to him and whimpered. Their hungry eyes had held in a desperate eyelock. And he'd slowly pulled her tighter to him and ground against her.
"Asad!" she'd cried softly. "Please, please, just take me!"
Aaahhh, he'd growled under his breath. He wanted to. Right there.
Asad just hoped he hadn't made a fool of himself in front of everyone. Because once he'd held her in his arms all tehzeeb and lihaaz had floated right out the window. He may as well have been a randy teen on prom night. And for once, even Zoya hadn't cautioned him with soft cries of "Mr. Khan, everyone's watching!" or "Allah miyan what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan!" No, she'd been a silent and smitten accomplice. God, he hoped they hadn't been completely shameless.
Asad wiped his brow and checked the rear-view mirror again. He'd been extra restrained while driving even though he'd wanted to jump every red light and speed through every check post.
Thank god, they were almost home.
But soon an ominous sound intruded on their lust-fueled fantasies and se*xual haze.
Whup ... whup ... whup. Whap. Whap. WHAP!
Asad's heart sank.
He knew that sound. The car couldn't carry the weight of all that musky anticipation.
Zoya's restless eyes collided with his in the rear-view mirror.
They had a flat tire.
Song in Title:
Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein (2001): "Zara Zara Mehekta Hai"