Hellooo. I really hope you update sooonnn\!!!!
Chakh Le, Haan Chakh Le, Yeh Raat Shahad Hai Chakh Le
Asad came peeling out of the bathroom, face half-shaven. This squeak of hers had been particularly loud. "Are you OK?" he asked Zoya.
"No! He's biting even more while nursing. My nipples are sore."
"Umm ..." He really had no solution to offer. But just the mention of the word was turning him on.
Ever since Zaid had begun teething he'd been munching on everything he could latch on to.
Of course the mom brigade had swooped down on her to prescribe remedies and relief. Raziya and Shireen offered expert tips: pull baby in closer so it's hard to breathe and they'll let go, slide your finger in and massage the gums, stop feeding each time they try, pinch the nose, and so on.
Dilshad would rub Zaid's gums with ghee and butter for several minutes before feeding. He'd bite her too sometimes.
"Allah! Kha jayega Dadi ko?"
He'd gurgle and proceed to chomp some more.
Zoya would shake her head at the loving and super-indulgent tone Dilshad used. This was not a scolding; it was grandmotherly pride and affirmation of his monumental achievement. At this rate Zaid must think that his Dadi was saying: shabash, mera cheetah! Do it again!
Dadu too eagerly offered his own finger and knuckle to chew on not minding his grandson's cannibalism the least bit--here was another proud grandparent willing to sacrifice themselves to Zaid's growth spurts.
Nanu had bought up boxes full of teething toys which were now clogging the freezer. Zaid would get to suck on these when his gums were swollen and causing discomfort. In the meanwhile he chewed on everything he could grab in his little paws. Mom was the obvious collateral damage.
Asad picked up Zaid from her arms. But he put down the razor first--a safe distance away from his son's reaching hands.
"Zaid," he looked deep into the boy's eyes. "No biting!"
"MMmbbbAAAhh!" Zaid twisted and churned at being disturbed. Lemme go! Ammi!
Asad placed him in his crib on a time out. Zaid protested. Loudly. He was so hungry. The face scrunched up and he pulled out his greatest ammunition yet: a gush of tears and a trembling lower lip. It always worked.
"Aw ..." his mom melted and grabbed him up.
Asad rolled his eyes. "If you want to teach him then be consistent with the punishment."
"Mr. Khan! Stop being so Akdu. Ow!" she tried to squelch a cry again.
Asad had picked up his razor and turned to go back to the bathroom. He put it down again and wiped his hand on the towel over his waist. Then he brought two cushions over from the settee to place them under a feeding Zaid.
"Remember that article said that you have to elevate the the baby so his weight won't drag down on your ... umm ..." He cleared his throat. " Your, voh ... actually--"
"Oh god, Asad. Just say it. Just say the word. Nipple!"
He blushed. But then he saw her wince in pain again and reached for Zaid's mouth to slide his finger in. Detaching Zaid he lifted him again and frowned into his son's face: "Zaid, I said no biting! You're hurting Ammi."
And he replaced him in the crib. Zaid's eyes squeezed tight and the little face crumpled again.
This time when the waterworks re-started Asad held Zoya back and glared at her. "Will I have to take the day off to make sure you're both behaving yourselves?"
She pouted and teared up seeing Zaid sit up and shake the crib rails. His back was arching and he was in full-blown tantrum mode. Fat tears were rolling down that face.
"Asad, let me go, he needs me!"
"He needs to figure out that it's not right to bite his Ammi."
They watched Zaid flop on his back and thrash his arms and legs. The angry cries ratcheted up more. Even Asad couldn't bear it. He lifted Zaid out and reminded him once more: "no biting, OK?"
Zaid stopped hollering and squirmed to be with his mom.
Asad handed him back to Zoya.
He watched mother and son quickly resettle into their rhythm. He smiled shaking his head when saw Zoya's face. "Stop pretending that it doesn't hurt just because you think I'm going to be the bad cop."
"No, he's not doing it now." But she squeezed her eyes shut and gasped.
Asad knelt before her and grabbed Zaid's hand to gently nip his son's finger with his teeth. It wasn't painful but it got his son's attention.
Zaid looked up with rounded eyes and mouth.
Wuuut? Who did that!
He saw his dad's face looming over his.
Why was Abbu being so mean today? His mom was right to call him Akdu. Akdu Abbu! Akdu Abbu!
Zaid glared at his dad.
He went back to nursing in his mom's snug embrace. Ammi was the best.
Zoya hissed a couple of minutes later and Asad nipped Zaid's finger again. And again. This happened a few more times until Zaid got the message: Each time his gums itched or hurt and he mashed down on them, Ammi jerked and made a sound and then Akdu Abbu ate his finger.
He didn't like this. There was only one way to make Abbu stop. And he was so going to tell Dadi about it.
"See?" Asad said a few minutes later still watching her face. "Much better. Let's hope he remembers. And if he doesn't, then do what I did."
"Bite my son, you mean? Allah miyan, what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan?" she hissed.
"Babe, you're sore. Is it so bad that I don't want you to be in pain?"
"Good. Then do as I say!"
"Ji, Jahanpanah," she sassed behind his back and made a face.
He had to reapply the shaving lather because the previous one had crusted thanks to his conflict-resolution services being needed elsewhere.
He turned when the door opened and Zoya walked in.
"Zaid, OK?" Asad asked, face angled as he began shaving.
"He's with Ammi and biting her fingers. Obviously it's hereditary."
Razor raised, he looked at her, head tilted to the side. "And?"
She blushed. "Umm ... since you're such an expert coach and problem-solver, I thought you'd have a remedy to relieve the soreness ..." she moved closer, unbuttoning her shirt. "In my nipples."
Her shirt and bra fell to the marble floor. Asad couldn't take his eyes off her bre*asts. Shaving would obviously have to wait. He hooked his finger into her jeans waistband and dragged her closer. His hands cupped and lifted those delectable bre*asts higher. He bent his head to swirl and lave the tips with his tongue.
Her head fell back; she hissed and half-moaned, fingers spasming on his biceps.
"Does it hurt?"
"A little." Her fingers slid through his hair as her back arched in heated response. "Do it again."
He did. He tried a tentative suck and she quivered. He lifted her up to place her at the counter. Asad ran the cold water faucet. And taking a handful of water he dribbled it over her bre*asts. The cool water soothed the burn. When he took a nipple in his mouth and fluttered his tongue over it she forgot the soreness and reveled in the burn.
Her legs squeezed him to her and her grip on his hair tightened. Asad released her bre*ast and as she got ready to protest she felt him blow gently on her nipples. Oh god, that felt so good! He splashed more cold water on her and then blew again.
Before retaking a nipple in his mouth he whispered hoarsely, "come back tonight and Dr. Asad Ahmed Khan will apply ice to the sore areas and give you a deep tissue massage."
She thrashed under him. "No!"
He lifted his head. His eyes looked drugged, "no?"
"Can it be ice cream instead?"
"Mmm, exactly what the doctor ordered," he muttered and continued to feast on her.
Unwrapping her legs from his hips Zoya tugged at the black towel at his waist; it fell to the floor.
So he would be late. But his healing powers were needed here. Zoya hopped off the counter to slither out of her jeans.
"Take me right now," his wife commanded.
"Jo hukum, Mrs. Jahanpanah." Asad leaned his butt against the counter and lifted her up to straddle him.
As his tip nudged and brushed against her entrance, their heat-seeking bodies clung; she dug her nails into his shoulders craving his slick homing in, "hurry!"
Zoya bit him when Asad dared to chuckle at her impatience.
Her eyes drooped when he entered her but then she saw her reflection in the mirror behind him. He pulled out and she mewled in protest. As he buried himself deeper, Zoya's eyes widened at the expression of raw abandon on her face. She watched herself buck and writhe in the mirror as Asad held her by her waist and jackhammered into her. The muscles in his shoulders and neck flexed; they corded. She watched, hypnotized.
Yes ... yes, she wanted it like this right now ... fast, rough and ... wild ... Her arms wrapped around his neck to anchor herself as she started to fragment ... dissolve.
She couldn't look at herself then. She couldn't bear to.
His hands kneaded her butt to rock---
"Oh god, oh god, oh god---!"
His mouth covered hers to swallow her scream.
When she opened her eyes to look at herself over his shoulder she saw what Asad often said afterwards: "your eyes, oh god, those ... f*uck-me again bedroom eyes!"
They were hooded ... her eyes looked as if they'd roll to the back of her head in a swoon any second now ... Her face glowed in the stillness, a telltale marker of their synced blood rush ... or may be from the whisker burn of Asad's unshaven face.
It was Sunday morning.
Zaid miyan worked on his frozen teething toy with a vengeance. It made his fingers cold and numb but it felt so good on his gums.
He liked it in the car.
He could see trees, buldings and buses go by saying hi and bye. At the red light a nice girl on the back of a bike waggled and waved her fingers at him. He grinned and covered his eyes when she blew him a kiss.
The same red box building flew by. Oh, they were going to Chhoti Nani's house. He wiggled and thrashed in his car seat. Hurry, he wanted to tell his Abbu. But Dobby came up to sniff his face. The baby giggled.
Dadi pushed him away. "Hatt, Dobby!"
Dobby ignored her and set up camp in Zaid's lap. Zaid giggled. With his free hand he tried to push the cat off.
Zoya turned around to watch him from the front seat. She winked at her son and he tried to do the same. He blinked both his eyes.
"Awesome! Good job, Zaid," his mom said as she clapped for him.
"What'd he do," Asad asked.
"He's trying to wink but does it with both eyes shut."
"Please. Are you trying to teach my son how to wink? Do you want him to grow up and be beaten up by girls and their brothers or fathers?"
Dilshad chuckled. Koi haath laga ke dekhe mere bachche ko!
"Mr. Khan! If he winks at other girls I'll beat him up first! He's only allowed to wink at his mama, hai na, baby?" she looked back at Zaid who was now looking out of the window. They were stopped at a red light again and Zaid flapped his arms at a little boy at his door. Balloons!
"Mr. Khan, hurry! Buy up all his balloons."
Asad rolled his eyes. Of course she hadn't got her wallet with her. That sequined purse was barely large enough to hold her phone. Which was probably not even charged. He threw his wallet at her and with Dilshad's help Zoya managed to get the balloons in the car a second before the light turned green.
"Aww, the girls will love these," Zoya mused. She meant Humaira, Nuzzhat and Dadi.
Zaid batted at them. Dobby tried it too. Dilshad grabbed his paw before he burst one and scared Zaid.
"Ammi, you know what the surprise is, right?" Zoya asked Dilshad for the hundredth time since that morning.
Dilshad's smug smile didn't budge. Of course she knew.
"Tell me, na! Please, please, PLEASE!"
Dilshad sighed. "You'll find out in two minutes. Sabra karo beta."
Zoya smacked Asad's arm when he snorted. Sabra, and his wife? Incredibly foolish.
She glared at him. "If even you know what the surpise is, then I'm not talking to anyone today!"
"No, I don't know what the surpise is. I'm just as much in the dark as you are. But I do know how to be patient," he teased.
Zoya pouted. Allah miyan, what's wrong with everybody!
"Dress up. No jeans today!" was all that Humaira had told her. "Aapi, behave OK," she'd added when Zoya had begged, cajoled and threatened to know why.
"Dress up Zaid miyan too in that sherwani and topi that Ammi gave him. The blue one, OK? He's the guest of honor after all."
"But he looks like a dork in a topi," she'd complained, momentarily forgetting about the guest of honor tidbit of information.
"Aapi, how can you say that! He's adorbs, topi or no topi."
When they reached the driveway of the Siddiqui House everyone was already out. A dhol wala? Why? What was going on?
As Asad held an animated Zaid in his arms, Ayaan, Humaira and Nuzzhat dragged them out and danced in circles around them as the dhol played that familiar hypnotic beat. Zaid clapped. His Chhoti Nani came up to apply kala teeka behind his ear. He lunged to be in her arms.
"Aa ja, mera bachcha," she crooned.
Raziya laughed at Zoya along with Dilshad. For someone who was dying to know about the secret and surprise, she had very quickly forgotten her non-stop questions as she danced away. They all knew how much she loved the dhol. She grabbed Asad's hand and held it high as she twirled under it. He was forced to sway to the live music as she danced around him. Index fingers raised, shoulders lifting to the bhangra beat they let loose. Ayaan made Zaid point his fingers to the sky and danced with him.
Such fun! But Zoya still had no clue about the surprise as she led Dadi out and made her pirouette and dance.
Some time later a breathless Dadi fanning herself announced, "ab bas! Let's go inside."
"And get this party started," Ayaan whooped.
"What party?" Zoya asked.
"Brunch party!" Nuzzhat stated in a hushed tone.
"But why?!!!" Zoya cried in frustration. She stomped her foot and everyone turned to look at her.
They may as well tell her now, or her sister knew that Zoya was this close to exploding from angry curiosity.
Humaira had grabbed up Zaid in her arms now. "To celebrate Zaid's first bite of solid food!" she announced.
She pointed at the dining table. It was elaborately staged with flowers, gifts, fruits, snacks, and colorful tableware. Zoya saw Ayaan attaching the bunch of balloons to the back of a brand new high chair at the head of the table.
"What? But I thought we don't do anything special for this."
They had been discussing feeding Zaid solids for weeks now. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone wanted to do it first.
"So, we're starting a new tradition!" Humaira declared as she secured Zaid in the seat of honor. He beat his palms on the tray tabletop. This was new. But why was everything pretty and interesting so far away from his fingers. He tried to reach a gaily-wrapped package.
Zoya lovingly touched the brand new high chair. She looked at her father who was beaming. Aww, he was wearing the muffler she'd knit for him!
"Abbu, did you make this?"
"Me and Rashid worked on it. The girls helped with the staining. Look closely, they've all carved their names on it. Even Nikhat."
Asad came over to trace her name on the tray table in front of Zaid. Nikhat too had left to start a new life in the US. And they all missed her terribly. Zaid caught his dad's finger and tried to gnaw on it. Asad dodged the payback and nudged his son's cheek with a knuckle. Ayaan meanwhile snatched his nephew's fist and pretended to eat it up while making chomping sounds.
Humaira watched them play, very satisfied with her plans.
She lifted Zaid out of his chair and deposited him in Rashid's arms. One of the reasons why she and Dadi had ganged up and organized this little celebration was because she wanted to cheer up Shireen and Rashid. Her mother and father-in-law had gone dead quiet in Nikhat's absence.
Humaira also felt guilty on some days. She got to stay close to her parents, see them everyday, live within touching distance, but Nikhat and Najma were flung so far away from them. Oceans and continents and time zones lay between them now. And soon Nuzzhat too---
"Bahut na-insafi hai," Shireen had complained just yesterday. "Why do daughters have to go so far away from their parents? Kisne banaya aisa bakwas rivaaz?"
Rashid had nodded. This was not a custom he was fond of either. Siddiqui Saheb was lucky to have both his girls close by. But thank goodness his girls had married into loving and caring families. What else could a father hope for? When he thought of what could've happened--with Nikhat married to that snake Imran--?
Faiz had shared Nikhat's homecoming video with them. The reunion at the airport, the hugs, the flowers, the laughter ... the teasing ... blushing ...
There was snow!
Nikhat's eyes had lit up in wonder--a thousand lamps couldn't have been brighter. Rashid had loved to see his daughter's shy smile as Feroze refused to let go of her hand. His son-in-law had kissed Nikhat's hand openly in front of everyone several times ...
"Hamare zamaane mein aisa nahin tha," Dadi said wistfully. They had already watched the video more than a dozen times.
Rashid looked at Zaid who was babbling away in his arms. That scrap of sunshine warmed his heart every bit more; those twinkly eyes banished the remaining wintry gloom. And why was Dadu moping anyways? He had just talked to Nikhat and Feroze, and of course, Naz.
"We're having a reception for these two, end of next month. I've given you all enough notice--you have to come! We'll have Sangeet, Mehendi, DJ and everything!" Naz had commanded. "I'll send rest of the info. You guys start looking for tickets. I'll be the super-evil TV saas otherwise!"
Nikhat's voice full of merry glee tinkled in his head.
Rashid thanked their lucky stars yet again. His gentle girl deserved a playful saas like Naz who just happened to love Indian dramas, not the stereotypical saas in those shows like Haseena Bi. They were blessed to be rid of all those villains. So what if Nikhat and Najma were a world away; they were happy and loved.
"See, all iz well," Ayaan said afterwards. And so it was, now that he held Zaid in his arms and gazed into those bright eyes. Asad laughed and tossed his head like that as a baby too. Rashid laughed, not realizing that his son and grandson got that signature toss from him. He felt light; he felt alive.
"Abbu, give him to me," said Nuzzhat at his elbow.
"No! I barely got a minute with him," he complained. Rashid had seen Zoya sing the "head, shoulders, knees and toes" song to Zaid many times before. He was just getting ready to try his hand at that.
"No, Zaid's job is done here. It's time for him to cheer up Ammi now."
Rashid surrendered his pint-sized therapist. Very reluctantly. He'd have to get in line for the next appointment.
After his healing duties were done, Zaid was replaced in his high-chair. About time too. He was so hungry. If Dobby knew about the chuhas in his tummy ...
He was served in a silver bowl with a silver spoon. Chhoti Nani, at Badi Dadi's instructions, had mashed up the dates wali kheer.
Of course there had been great debates and discussions about who would feed him first.
"It should be Dadi," Nuzzhat had declared very seriously. "She's the one who gave Asad Bhaijaan and Ayaan Bhaijaan their first bites." She said it as if she'd been there as a witness.
Dadi had nodded with pleasure. But then she'd shown why she was everyone's bestest Dadi.
"I've had my turn. Let Dilshad be the first one to feed her grandson."
And so Dilshad got to do the honors.
Zaid beat his palms on the table in excitement. Something big was happening. He knew it in his tiny gut. He was wearing a brand new bib that his Najma Phuphi and Omar Phupha had sent. It said, "I'm a Jedi like my mother before me."
Zaid tried to snatch the bib off. Why was his tie so much wider than Abbu's?
When Dadi moved the spoon to his mouth Zaid gripped her hand and shook it. Hurry! What's taking so long? Some of the white stuff fell and his Abbu squeaked before rushing to wipe it up.
Everyone was watching. He was used to having so many cameras aimed at him. Zaid clapped looking up into Asad's face. They were back to being best buds again. Dilshad popped a bit of kheer into his unsuspecting mouth. Zaid's eyes widened at this new taste and texture. His pink tongue darted out to lick up the treat. And everyone cheered and clapped.
It was official. The baby loved his first bite. He loved it even more when everyone gave him a bit one by one. Ammi did it, then Abbu. And everyone else.
There was a repeat telecast of the peanut allergies wala discussion. Would Zaid too be allergic like his daddy? Should they even try? What if he had a deadly react--?
Na baba. We'll try it when he's older.
Chhoti Nani was the last to feed him. She was trying to mop up her tears in her dupatta. "Kitna bada ho gaya mera sher," she said like a million times.
Zaid agreed. He was a big boy now. He even had his own tie like Abbu.
"Later, I'll do your ghee and badam maalish and Nanu will read--" Chhoti Nani was crooning to him as she fed him tiny spoonfuls.
"No!" His mom shrieked suddenly.
Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at Zoya.
"Umm, I think my nose might be allergic to the ghee-badam maalish," she said guiltily.
"Hmmmph!" Chhoti Nani said. She turned back to Zaid. "And after the maalish, together we'll kheencho your Ammi's choti!"
Zoya couldn't resist.
"Dieting karaiye akal ko, akal hui hai moti,
Dieting karaiye akal ko, akal hui hai moti,
How will you kheencho that, when there is no choti!"
"Baahhbbaaddaa," Zaid agreed. But was he agreeing with his Chhoti Nani or his mom?
Zoya rubbed her palms together. Finally, she had the time to do what she'd really wanted to do. Find out what the hell was going on with Asad at work. She re-checked her mental list: Preoccupied when at home. Clipped conversations over the phone as he walked away from them for more privacy. Coming home even later everyday now. Being crazy stressed for the last couple of weeks. More phone calls late into the night. Grim lines around his mouth and the return of the perpetual frown.
"Mr. Khan, have you heard about something called work-life balance?" she'd asked one frustrated night snatching his laptop from his hands.
He'd shrugged and gone back to his brooding.
But Asad's dour mood had never deterred her in the past, why would it be any different now? In fact he'd become an interesting research subject once again. She had misdiagnosed him a long time ago--trying to convince Phuphi and Najma that Mr. Khan was in love with Elena from New York. He'd huffed and puffed like a surly dragon then. Did that deter her then? Nope, not at all. So what if she was wrong? Thank god she was wrong!
So she tried to ply him with relaxing chamomile or green tea which he spluttered at in disgust. Her research on relaxing foods had told her to add honey so she did. He'd made faces and stuck with his black and bitter coffee.
Still she didn't give up.
She found new ways to break his pensiveness. Zoya would pop nuts or dark chocolate into his mouth as he worked at his laptop. At least he didn't resist this too much. He crunched on them in moody distraction, and sitting by Asad's feet under the settee, Dobby's eyes would glisten hoping for a crumb to fall.
"It'll help you relax," she would say when Asad swatted her hand away, eyes glued to the screen.
She harrumphed and kept up her dogged efforts. But looks like Mr. Khan wasn't ready to tell her what was bothering him. As yet. He'd grunted and dodged all her questions with monosyllabic answers once too many times.
And Humaira was pretty much saying the same thing about Ayaan.
Zoya's spidey senses thrummed in restlessness. Something was up and Jahanpanah was being a super-secretive. Allah miyan what's wrong with him!
She rolled up her sleeves. Jahanpanah, I better not find out you're having an affair because then you'll have only the six packs left.
She knew that wasn't it though.
When they made love these days there was a rougher intensity in him. He took her as if he'd been coiled hard all day, craving volatile release and needing to sink into her to empty his mind. He dragged her hair back and marked her wilder; he bruised and bit her harder these days.
His kisses were more teeth than tongue.
Sheesh, between her husband and son, she sure was a sore mess. Gee thanks Jahanpanah, teaching Zaid to not bite aur khud---?
So yes, basically, Asad was asking for it: he needed an intervention. It was a silent cry for help, Zoya decided. And who better to engineer it?
She brushed an impatient finger under her nose. Zoya's hands bunched up at her waist--the signature frown emerged along with its sidekick: the pouty lip.
About time she got to the bottom of this. Not that she minded the rough se*x. It had spiced up her love life some. But Jahanpanah couldn't be allowed to fly solo. He couldn't be allowed to turn into that old-timey, dark and angry Vampire Ahmed Khan who went on pissy Akduthons and armageddons.
And of course it was her job to talk him down.
She re-bristled at his typical don't-tell-Zoya-anything protective mode. Didn't he know what a super detective and crime fighter she was? That she'd do in one what he would do in five days? Motherhood had NOT dulled her spit-fire edge one bit, thank you very much. No way. He better not think she'd gone soft. And, he better not think now that he had the girl wedded and bedded, she'd be the quiet tehzeeb-e-afta homemaker who needed to be kept safe and uninformed.
Na ah. Not her.
Zaid was gainfully employed entertaining his Dadi right now. He was playing the sit up-roll over and be applauded game with her and Dobby. They played that a lot. And there were longer breaks between his feeding schedule now, so she had some time on her hands. She looked down and sucked on her bruised knuckle. Last night she'd banged it against the side table when Asad'd gripped her hands to drag them over her head and---
He'd pressed her hand hard against the table's edge and its side had bit into her. He'd been unrelenting; his thrusts fast and strokes furious. She'd flown apart with a wild cry and he'd buried his face in the crook of her neck. His harsh breathing echoed in her ears; his pounding heart ricocheted off her.
Yup. Time to do something about it and find out what was eating her Jahanpanah.
Zoya settled down with her iPad in the rocking chair. She flexed her fingers, cracked her knuckles and got to work. The local business news would be first. May be she'd find a hint here and then dig deeper. Thanks to Zaid and the factory launch she really hadn't been paying attention to current affairs. Had she missed something important?
Her fingers flew across the screen, madly scrolling up and down. Her frown deepened as she read articles, clicked on links, occasionally googling acronyms, titles or jargon she wasn't familiar with. She moved on to her laptop and got a spreadsheet going to organize her research.
This was weird.
She knew that Asad's company was testing out greener building technology for their new project--solar power, rain harvesting, waste sorting, reimagined greywater infrastucture and so on.
Months ago, when she was still pregnant, they'd chatted a lot about it. She'd even researched experts and tons of literature for him. A shy Prasad and another assistant had been her gophers in those days in contacting consultants and contractors, getting estimates and making comps. It looked promising--after all the construction industry was the next biggest carbon emitter after cars, sometimes as much if not more. It made sense to try to be more environmentally responsible. Many cities across the country were innovating their way to urban sustainability. But then why was there a stream of snarky op-eds and gossipy rumor-laced columns about Asad's firm and their project in the metro busniess news outlets? And why was Asad being painted as an upstart? Why was this being touted as anti-workers' rights? Anti-environmental even? That was bullsh*it!
Was this why Asad was so tense these days?
But he'd never put much stock in rumor. And this wouldn't have been the first time that he would've faced criticism or opposition. Then what was it? What was really happening?
She looked up the bylines for the stories and began checking the reporters' bios and credentials. She filled out and updated her spreadsheet notes. And Zoya was not liking what she was seeing.
After dinner he yanked her to him and nibbled on her ear. She knew what was coming. Zoya pushed back at his chest with a firm finger.
Asad looked up at her in surprise.
"So tell me, Mr. Khan, why is some front group funding a smear campaign against you?"
Asad's eyes widened. He sighed and unconsciously swept a hand over his creasing forehead. He should have known she wouldn't be able to resist poking her nose into this. He'd hoped Zaid would have been a suitable distraction from her noticing the bat signal on high alert.
"How do you--?"
"Please. And quit stalling. You know I have my ways."
Asad's lips curved. Of course she did. So that's why she was eavesdropping on his phone conversations these days?
But he'd been pretty guarded so how had she--?
"It's nothing you have to worry about. It's just part of how things are done here. Nothing out of the ordinary about it. I'll handle it."
"Are you serious? Part of how things are done here!' So you still think of me as an outsider? Someone who doesn't understand how things are done in India!"
"Zoya c'mon, stop exaggerating. You know I didn't mean it like that. But I did mean one thing very seriously: I don't want you poking around in this, understood?"
"Oh really? So I'm not supposed to know what has you so tense these days? I'm just the wife who's supposed to sit at home, bear your kids and be your comfort woman--your little fu*ck buddy when you come home late at nights?"
"Don't you dare Zoya' me!" Oh man was she steamed. "I know what you're getting ready to say--keep your nose out of my business. That's what I'll handle it,' means, doesn't it? This is so typical of you. Even earlier you would say that I was always interfering in your family or business affairs when I just wanted to help!"
"Babe, shh," he pulled her into a tight hug.
Zoya struggled against him, really mad. He lifted her up and carried her to the settee to hold in his lap. She still stiffly rebuffed all attempts to mollify her.
Asad chuckled and it infuriated her even more.
"It's always your business' at the slightest hint of trouble. You always put up these granite walls that no one's allowed to breach--"
On and on she went.
He exhaled patiently. "You think I don't know your tricks by now? You attack me with over the top accusations so I'll back down, feel guilty and cave in. Not this time, babe. I'm warning you!"
"Asad!" she growled and tried to claw at him. He wasn't supposed to react this way, dammit!
He laughed more.
OK, so she wasn't that mad at him. And it was nice to hear him laugh after so long.
"OK, fine, you're right. I was going to say that," Asad tried another tack.
She knew exactly what. But it was another of her tricks and he didn't know about this one as yet. She made him spell things out for her in black and white, or repeat them. She'd come to realize that saying things again or hearing them out loud always made him rethink his position, see things in a new light even. Or feel embarrassed about what he'd said or almost said.
It was her best trick yet.
"OK, fine. May be I was going to say: stay out of my business."
"Mr. Khan!" She flashed her eyes at him. "Say it, say it that your business is not my business. That what happens to you doesn't affect me. Just try and say it!"
When her lower lip threatened to get rounder and heavier he grinned and kissed her.
"OK, I'm sorry, my Jhansi ki Rani. Ghalati ho gayee. Maaf ker dijiye apne Jahanpanah ko. All my business is your business! Always was and always will be, khush? "
"Hmm," she debated with herself whether to be exactly that. She wasn't one to dwell on grudges or prolong a fight. Besides, curiosity was getting the better of her. And she had never really been mad at him anyways. This is exactly where she wanted him: guilt-ridden, pliable, and willing to share what was bothering him.
"Only if you tell me everything that's been going on. From the start," Zoya wrapped her arms around him.
Asad grunted in frustration and fell back against the cushions dragging her with him. Hoo boy, Lady Sherlock was in the house, sniffing around like a bloodhound, and there was no saying no to her. "First tell me how you know? Did you talk to Ayaan or Rakesh?" But Rakesh wouldn't say a thing. It would be against his professional ethics. It must be Ayaan for sure. Just wait, I'll do dash mein bumboo to that idiot!
Zoya smacked her head. Moron. She could've just bullied and blackmailed Ayaan. He'd have been much easier to break than her Akdu. Thanks to Humaira and her sisters-in-laws, Zoya had the inside track on Ayaan's monkey business that his Bhaijaan had no clue about. It would have been a piece of cake. She could have spent all her spare time catching up on missed TV shows and social media.
"Rakesh knows?" Zoya gripped his hands in alarm. "Asad, how bad is this?"
He stroked her lips with a thumb. "Remember when Ayaan let slip that we were having trouble with a supplier?"
"Yeah, but that was months ago. And I told you to follow your gut." She'd been in a fog of maternal fervor in those days and hadn't had time to suss out the details from him then.
"Well, my gut told me to get Rakesh on board. We'd lost two shipments, there were some on-site clashes between workers' groups and ... But first, your turn. How'd you figure it out?"
"Research, Mr. Khan. Research on the net, poking around some secure databases and, Bam!"
When Asad quirked a disbelieving eyebrow, she sighed. "OK fine, it wasn't the most legal of searches but I have proof that someone's been paying people in the media to stir up a hornet's nest. I just don't know who or why as yet."
That "as yet," made him roll his eyes. She was not a bloodhound. She was a terrier who wouldn't let go.
Zoya twisted in his arms and slid her hands up his chest. "Asad, why?"
"We're not sure either. But my guess is that someone's not happy that we are working with new vendors."
"Has anything else happened that you're not telling me about?" Thank god, he'd brought in Rakesh.
He kissed her fists. He knew he should tell her. If he didn't, she'd go to insane lengths to find out the truth and endanger herself and god knows whom else in the process.
"Asad?" Zoya prompted him as she worked herself into a worried lather.
" ... Umm, that fender-bender the other day ..."
"What! It wasn't just a minor accident? You said a jeep nicked your car and fled the scene."
"Yeah, but I think it was deliberate."
She felt paralyzed; the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.
Zaid stirred. May be he too sensed the undercurrents of distress in the room. He fussed. Zoya rose to hush and soothe him as she still processed Asad's words. Her hands were cold. Zaid cried harder. Asad padded over to their side. He took a wailing Zaid from her bloodless hands.
"Shh baby, what is it? Are you hungry? Do you need a change?" Asad checked his son's pajama bottoms and rubbed his stomach. He hummed and Zaid began to quiet down.
Zoya still stood frozen by the crib.
With his free hand Asad drew her to him.
"It's OK. I'll be fine. Nothing bad's going to happen, I promise," he soothed her too in between humming for Zaid.
So many questions were racing and bouncing around her head. But so were terror and rage. She wanted to hold him and never let go; but she wanted to punch his lights out too.
Zaid still seemed restless. He continued to fuss. Asad tried to hand him to her. "His bottom is dry. He must be hungry."
"Oh really! Since you are such a super problem-fixer-upper, Mr. Khan, why don't you feed him!"
And she stomped out of the room.
He followed her out to the kitchen where she was taking deep breaths against the counter. Asad watched her get a drink of water.
He tried to pull her to him again.
"No!" she hissed, not wanting to wake up Dilshad. "Don't touch me right now, Asad. I might just explode."
But she took Zaid in her arms and walked back to their room to settle in the rocking chair as she began to feed him. Zoya whimpered as Zaid chowed down hard on her.
Asad was at her feet the next instant once again sliding his finger in to stop Zaid from hurting her.
"It's OK," she told him. "You don't have to be my constant knight in shining armor. I'll manage on my own. I'm a strong girl."
Asad sighed; his hand crept up to massage his forehead. He knew what that jab meant: I'll take care of myself just like you'll take care of yourself. "Zoya, c'mon baby, don't be mad at me. I didn't want you to worry."
"So the next time, I'm in trouble or stressed about something, I shouldn't tell you because you'll worry? Is that it? Is that what you're telling me to do, Mr. Khan?"
She sighed in relief when Zaid fell asleep at her bre*ast.
Asad bit his tongue. The woman was a holy terror. She had this built-in inverter or something that twisted his sensible words into bizarre combinations and improbable scenarios. And for the life of him, he could never find a logical or reasoned way to contradict or convince her otherwise. Apparently at that very moment his grey cells would decide to freeze up and dive for cover when Jhansi ki Rani went on a rampage.
Zoya was obviously not done. As she covered herself up and got up to deposit Zaid in his crib, she ranted on. "What a happy marriage we have! We'll live happily ever after because hello, we won't let the other person know about our worries and fears and failures. Heaven forbid that we find out about each other's troubles because then apparently we'll be struck by lightning or keel over from heart attacks because we'll be so goddamn worried."
Asad rolled his eyes. There she goes again. Still on a tear.
Uh oh, she was turning to him and that finger was getting ready to stab him in the chest repeatedly.
"You promised on our mehendi night, which you ruined by the way, thank you very much, and that night when you were so rough with me at Abbu's house, and the second time in Mangalpur that--that we wouldn't hide our fears and worries from each other!"
She'd stabbed him at least fifteen times by now.
Asad would've bitten her finger too like he did his son's to discipline him, but her accusations were doing a number on him. He was beginning to feel guilty now. Damn, she was right, he had made her that promise. He had ruined her Mehendi ceremony for her forever, and that other night at the Siddiqui house under virtual house arrest by Tanveer, he'd been so livid with repressed anxiety that he'd almost ra--
Oh god! Was he behaving the same way even now? Was he taking out his repressed rage on her again? He was hurting her?
Asad groaned and dragged her into his arms in a fierce hug that lifted her clear off the ground. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he repeated in an agonized litany.
Zoya couldn't breathe, he held her so tight. "Asad," she croaked. "I can't breathe!"
He let her go feeling even worse. But now that her arms were free she wrapped them around his neck. Slowly, his arms came up around her too.
"I don't want you to apologize for that, you silly, crazy man! That's all water under the bridge. I just want you to tell me what's bothering you so that I don't have to go behind your back to ferret out the truth."
She continued to talk softly as he rocked her in his arms. "I know you've been shielding me from all this. But I don't want that! I want to know what you know, what you're going through. I want us to talk about the things that have you so tense. I hate guessing what might be wrong and imagining the worst. Just be straight with me, is that too much to ask?"
"No," Asad whispered. "It's not too much to ask."
"I hate that once trouble comes you go back into your hyper protective 17th century mode."
He smiled. Yup, he did do that, didn't he?
She backed up to look into his face. Zoya played with the collar of his kurta. "Umm, and I also feel bad about being excluded."
"From all the fun and action, you mean?" Asad asked with an eyebrow raised in taunt. "See, that's why I don't want to tell you half the time. Because you'll think of it as one grand adventure and go half-co*cked into your Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond mode--that terrifies me, Zoya!"
"Babe, it seriously does. Nothing scares me more than imagining what goes on in that head of yours when we're under siege."
"But I hate not knowing and when people are keeping secrets from me! It used to drive me insane whenever Jeeju and Aapi or my friends tried to throw a surprise party for me."
He sobered up fast. "This is no party, Zoya. This is serious business. And I meant it about not poking around in this."
Zoya pouted. But his tone made her thoughtful too. He would know about what was at stake better than her.
"But you can still talk to me about it, can't you? We can brainstorm solutions, try to find a way out? I can still be of some help?"
And there it was, Asad thought. That was the real reason for why she had to know. She didn't want to feel useless. She wanted to do something. Whatever, but something. Any thing to not wallow in freezing worry. She was just hard-wired to make things better, to be the little Ms. Fix-it. She came from a world where she believed that every problem had a way out. A world where technological innovations trailblazed new ways; where you didn't learn to live with problems just because it was standard operating procedure. Where you didn't challenge the system; you learned to live with it. She could never understand why someone wouldn't want to change things if they didn't work.
Asad hoped that his world would never change her.
He framed her face in his hands.
"I'm scared," she said. "I would die if--"
"Shh, don't even think it." Asad led her to bed and together they huddled under the thick comforter.
"What if--" Zoya tried again and he put a finger on her mouth to sush her.
"No what ifs. I've played that game a million times in my head and it only makes things worse."
"Then what do we do? What can we do?"
"We figure things out."
"Will you consider shutting down the project?"
He sighed. He had toyed with that idea. They'd crunched the numbers; it would cost too damn much. And a shut down would lead to more labor issues for sure.
"What about Abbu? Mine? Yours? Can't they help?"
Asad remained silent.
"Genius," Zoya muttered, pressed up against his chest. "You haven't told them, right? Two people with experience and contacts in the industry and you haven't told them because you didn't want them to worry either. Oh, Asad, what do I do with you!"
His arm tightened around her. She pressed her lips to his neck. Asad smiled. "Abbu read something and did ask, but I brushed him off. I'll talk to them tomorrow, OK?"
"Promise? You won't be Batman on your own? You'll share the fight and the glory?"
Asad chuckled. "I'd share it with you in a heartbeat!"
"Now that's my dark knight in charming armor!"
"Charming? I thought it was knight in shining armor'?"
"Oh, Mr. Khan, don't you remember? Now pay attention, I don't want to have to explain it again. It's charming because you're my Jahanpanah charming. And besides, Batman can't have shining armor. It's got to be matte finish so he's untraceable in the dark!"
"Sorry babe, looks like I took my stupid pills again."
She giggled up at him satisfied with his returning memory; she felt more hopeful now. They'd put their heads together and figure it all out. They were super-jodi Asad and Zoya after all. Zoya saw his face and her smile dipped. He'd fallen asleep mid-discussion. Allah miyan what's wrong with Mr. Khan! But she hoped he'd sleep like a baby tonight. The harsh planes of his face had relaxed, but only a smidgen. He needed a good night's rest. Tomorrow, she would show him her ideas and plans. Tomorrow they'd be cowboys and ninjas. They'd be righteous!
Song in Title:
Slumdog Millionaire (2008): "Jai Ho"
Next Chapter: 130742874Edited by Klondy - 2016-03-14T09:23:45Z
Topic started by dixeij
Last replied by -jass-