update soon please
"Shut up, Mr. Khan," she muttered darkly. His cheery I-told-you-sos were grating on her nerves. He had no right to look so relaxed and fit.
Asad hadn't been kidding. She was sore. All bloody over.
"You didn't stretch like I told you to, did you?" he'd smirked through his coffee when he heard her groan and hobble out of the bathroom the next morning. That's what had triggered her grumpiness.
Her quads and glutes were killing her.
And her core?
She made a face and swore under her breath.
"Work through the core," he had kept telling her yesterday. Show off!
What was she thinking? She should have just cut the foreplay short yesterday and stuck to breaking in her new gloves flat on her back. With Asad on top. Then he could've worked his core by grinding into her--
With a soft moan Zoya flopped down on the bed--facedown. Asad's swaq switched to concern. "Aw, poor baby," he murmured and leaned over to massage her back.
Zaid raised his head. He was on AmmiAbbu bed gnawing on his teething ring.
Baby? Someone call me?
Legs tucked under him, these days he was trying to scoot forward--that was the next new mission, the next frontier. To boldly go where no Khan baby had been before. Well, no Khan baby from his generation that is. Because hello, he was the pioneer.
Zaid used his butt and knees and hands to propel himself forward; he wiggled and shimmied but nothing much happened. Nada. This made him hum in anger.
Zoya meanwhile groaned in relief this time. It felt good to feel Asad's contrite hands on her. He owed her that back rub for overworking her yesterday. So what if he'd warned her? He should have warned her better. Allah miyan, what's wrong with this man.
"I'll run a hot bubble bath for you. That'll help with the body ache," Asad offered.
She nodded, head still pressed into the bedding. Zoya sighed in gratitude as she heard him run the water in the bathroom. Aw, come to think of it, Mr. Khan wasn't such a bad guy after all.
Zaid slapped her back with soft pats like he'd seen his Abbu do.
Aw. How lucky was she? Another good guy offering more TLC.
Not to be outdone, Dobby climbed up on her back and settled down with a soft plop.
"Ahhh," she groaned.
The bubble bath must have worked its magic.
Because an hour later she was recharged enough to spar with him. Verbally.
Here's how it started: Zoya was devising unique ways of using up her potato chip crumbs which Mr. Khan had pulverized the day before. She sprinkled them on her omelet and toast in between feeding Zaid who sat between them enthroned on his high chair.
Zoya slathered her omelet pie with chilli sauce.
And then she moaned in pleasure.
Asad kicked her under the table and jerked his chin at Dilshad when Zoya glared at him. Ignoring him, she took a hearty bite, shut her eyes and moaned some more.
Asad could bear this se*xy fudging of food frontiers only so much. It was criminal the way she didn't respect food protocol.
Or stop making those sounds.
"Why must you do that?" he asked, quite patiently.
"Because it annoys you so much!" she quipped.
Just to bug him more for his strict food tehzeeb she added another layer of potato chips. The omelet was now being reformulated as crunchy lasagna.
Food fusion: 1; food tameez: 0.
And she was messing around with this"with her hands.
Zoya extended her arm. "Try it. It's yum!" she teased.
A piece fell on the glass table. Asad's eyes squeezed in revulsion.
Zoya eyed the offending morsel. She smirked. And picked it up to dump it into her mouth.
A shudder rocked through him.
Asad exhaled violently. "Aapka taste bahut ajeeb hai."
Oh no, Mr. Khan, you should not have said that. My abs are still sore thanks to you and now you dump "ajeeb taste" on me! That old Zoya Farooqui who liked to challenge a prickly Jahanpanah six packs on auto-pilot, reared her "oh really?" head.
"Yup, my taste MUST be very ajeeb! Look at who I chose to be the father of my son!"
They glared at each other.
They stabbed their food and slammed their silverware, eyes drawn and still crossed at each other.
Dilshad rose to put her dishes away and ignored the cottony tension that settled at the table.
They did this once in a while needing the silliest of excuses to needle one another and jump down each other's throats. But they'd forget it in a milli-second and be back to being shameless cotton-flossed bunnies soon. At least this was welcome a reprieve from having to play the pyaar police--might as well savor it. And she wondered--not for the first time--did she need to have a talk with them? Zaid was growing up. She hoped to god they behaved themselves--
They were adults, she told herself. It was their business.
Dilshad u-turned her mind to the currently redrawn battlelines. Formerly horny bunnies now morphed into thorny porcupines; still scowling at each other. Their older taunts and complaints floated up in her mind:
"Aap ko khana nahin aata hai!"
"Aap ko jeena nahin aata hai!"
"Aap ko tameez nahin hai! Clean up that mess!"
"Dekhiya Mr. Khan, main aapki kaneez nahin hoon! Don't order me about!"
"Aap careless hain!"
"Aap robot hain!"
Allah, too ziddi for their own good, these two! Patting a prickly cactus would be more fun.
Dilshad bit off a chuckle.
Because to her, when these two fought it meant that the world was soon going to right itself; retilt back on its axis. It was just a regular tune-up and mechanical servicing that their relationship demanded--just some carburetor ka kachra. An oil change, tire rotation, some checks and refills, and VROOM, they'd be back in roaring business.
A sunbeam tilted.
Asad noticed a crumb clinging defiantly, valiantly, to the corner of her mouth. He raised his napkin to brush it off.
Disarmed by that infinitely indulgent and intimate gesture, Zoya grinned at him.
A beloved dimple blazed.
Dilshad sighed. That was quick. Quicker than usual, in fact.
The eye se*x thingy and poof! All was forgotten and forgiven.
Well almost. Much later, at night, he'd whisper hotly in her ear, "Jahanpanah ko ajeeb taste ki latt lag gayee hai."
"Told ja," she'd sass before they went back to eating each other up, cotton candy, chilli sauce and all. Delayed make-up se*x was to die for. Specially when deliciously slowed-down and topped with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. Surely he didn't mind her messing with food then. Or getting her hands dirty.
Mmm, Mr. Khan, the hypocrite!
Food po*rn: 1; food tehzeeb: 0.
Meanwhile Zaid had scarfed down some of his own omelet and was now feeding his imaginary friends. This was a daily ritual. His belly was full; it was time for foodplay. There was a bite for Nemo. And Mowgli. And Captain America. Then Bagheera, and finally Baloo.
Dobby, the faithful sidekick, was parked under the high chair to slurp up all this eggy debris. He happily played all the shapeshifting roles of all the imaginary friends.
"Dobby!" Zoya shrieked as he streaked across the floor to lap up another morsel. "Shoo, idiot boy! You'll explode!"
The vet had just told Zoya yesterday that Dobby was getting fat. He needed to be put on a diet. And here he was scarfing down on table scraps.
Ayaan had laughed so hard when he heard this that he fell off the dining chair and knocked his head against the table leg. He had a gumball-sized forehead bump to prove it too.
"Motu Dobby is a mini bhains," he guffawed hard as he held his stomach. "You better put him on a diet or he'll be a total drag in the Zaid Miyan and Dobby Miya-oon adventures. A worthless huffing puffing sidekick who'll slow our hero down. Total dash mein bumboo! Isko gym bhejo! As it is you guys don't go. At least he'll paisa wasoolo!"
Oh god, he had nearly died from laughing so hard. And then from being whomped by Nuzzhat.
Zaid gurgled and burbled as his mom shooed Dobby away.
Asad had just managed to dodge his wife's food torture. But his son had better aim. A glob of buttery baby omelet landed on Abbu's cheek and slowly slid down his face. It disappeared into a waiting fat cat's mouth.
Zoya laughed and Zaid whooped. Score! He flung his tiny legs in celebration.
Dilshad whipped out her phone and took a picture of her son's stunned expression. A giggling Zoya reused his napkin to wipe his face. Bechare Jahanpanah. Itni gustakhi!
Asad remained rigid--a bristly ice sculpture.
"Welcome to the club, Mr. Khan. It's a good thing that Raaburt isn't here or this would have turned into a legit food fight between Chachu and his favorite bhatija!"
Dilshad rushed to release her grandson from his high chair before his father detonated.
But Zaid lunged to be in his Abbu's arms instead. He had apology-kissiyan to give and fresh DNA to transfer.
And of course Abbu melted. Like a hot knife through butter. Father and son played rocket ship and then took a gud-gudi break--after a careful swipe with a napkin on Khan chins and cheeks, and after an omlettey bib had been discarded.
Baby squeals and daddy cheers filled the room as Ammi and Dadi smiles slow-danced.
"Daaa bbbu!" Zaid shrieked as he thumped his palms on his dad's shoulders.
Plates and silverware clattered on the dining table.
"Did he--did he just say his first word?" Zoya cried. It must have been! Her son had finally strung two syllables together, hadn't he?
"He said Abbu!" Asad whooped and swung Zaid in the air. "Say it again," he begged his son. "Say Abbu again!"
"Mr. Khan, he said Dabbu, not Abbu!" Zoya teased.
"But he clearly meant to say Abbu!" He missed her little pout and crumpling lips.
She had so hoped that Zaid would say Ammi first. But he had said mamm maamamma so many times--may be that counted?
But that was so generic! Every baby's first syllable in the world was "ma," or some variation.
"Ammi, he said Abbu right? You heard him?" Asad asked Dilshad who was filming this scene. She'd never seen her son this excited as he spun in circles with Zaid held high in his arms. Even Zaid was looking at him funny. What had happened to his Abbu?
He held his father's face in his hands. Are you OK?
"He did," wailed Zoya. "You're right. He said Abbu and not Ammi!"
"Aww," Asad loped over to draw her to him and Zaid.
Dilshad snorted, "It's obvious that it was a combination of Dobby and Abbu!"
Zoya wailed louder. Not even second. Now her son, flesh and blood of her loins, would say her name after Dobby? Stupid fat cat. He was not only going on a diet--no, a fast--but he was going into solitary confinement too.
Dilshad couldn't help laughing. The more her daughter-in-law cried the more she giggled. Allah, what was happening to her?
"Mammmam maaammm," Zaid soothed his Ammi by patting her head. Why was Ammi crying? And why was Dadi laughing?
His head moved from Dadi to Ammi.
Ammi to Dadi.
He couldn't make up his mind. He wanted to laugh like Dadi. But his lip stuck out. Why was Ammi crying? He leaped into her arms from Abbu's and blubbered too. He slapped her cheeks with pudgy hands. What happened? Tell meee.
"Aww, my baby," his mom whispered, blown away by her son's teary concern. "You're so sweet."
"Mmm meee," her son cried.
"See?" Asad squeezed Zoya's shoulder. "I think he's saying Ammi."
"Really?" Zoya asked in wonder. He wiped her tears and Zaid's with his handkerchief.
"Really. I'm sure of it!"
"Yay," Zoya cried and kissed her little scamp a hundred times. "Say Ammi, say Ammi again! Amm--mmi."
"Aaa mmm muumuum."
Zoya sighed. Oh well. It was close enough.
And so it was that Zaid Miyan was able to trick both his parents into thinking that he'd called them by their names. But was he really calling them Abbu and Ammi? Who really knows.
He wiggled restlessly, wanting to be on the floor to play with Dobby. His job here up in his mom and dad's arms was done.
He had adventures to go on. Music to play on his red guitar. Fat cat whiskers to pull.
Besides, they had already forgotten him.
Abbu was murmuring something soft and soothing in her ears. And they were back to playing that no-blinking eye-to-eye game again. Aw, c'mon AmmiAbbu! Dude, get a room already.
"Yes, please," she begged.
It was his nightly ritual to read to Zaid in the rocking chair just before they put him to bed. The boy would gaze up at his Abbu solemnly, eyes tracking his dad's lips. His fist would clamp around his dad's thumb.
Abbu read to him softly. Calmly.
It was hypnotic. Mesmerizing.
His voice rumbled in his chest and Zaid could hear it against his ear just like he could hear Abbu's heart drumming--dhak-dhak, dhak-dhak, dhak-dhak. He didn't make the crazyass sound effects like Ammi or Chachu.
Zaid would stare into his dad's eyes rewebbing and retrieving their kayanat connection. And slowly, softly, his lids would droop and whisper close. And slowly, softly, his Abbu would kiss him goodnight and place him in his crib.
Hibernate mode complete.
"Please," Zoya begged some more. "He loves it!"
Asad sighed. "I think you love it a little more than him," he muttered.
He had just read them the story of Rani Laxmi Bai yesterday. It was from the book that would be bundled with the Jhansi ki Rani doll from their collection and Zoya could not get enough of it. It even had a dedication from the writer and illustrator: "To all the Jhansi ki Ranis of kal, aaj, aur kal."
Zaid perked up too. This story Ranjshi kRani was fun because his mom would act it out with him. As Abbu read she would make him ride on her back and swish her lightsabre and Captain America shield--single-handedly. He'd hang by her neck and gurgle and together they'd kick some British butt. Sometimes he got to swing the lightsabre too. She'd help him hold it and wave it about. The green light would glow and buzz.
And he would be one with the force. He would be Zaid Skywalker.
Asad would shake his head at this daily drama. All this excitement--the baby would take extra long to sleep because he would be too wired.
All thanks to his hyper Ammi.
But truth be told, he never tired of this scene. Aapi and Jeeju had already told him how she acted out her favorite stories as a kid complete with dialogues and expressions. This was just a re-enactment of those glory days that Aapi never got the chance to record. Asad on the other hand did remember to record these scenes. Aapi had cried a little bit on seeing that old Zoya with a new live prop--apna Zaid Miyan riding piggy back and slaying bad guys. Oh my god, why hadn't she recorded a young Zoya fifteen years ago!
So Zaid was already a Jedi in training. But did you know he was also a mini white-belt Taekwondo trainee? His Khala made him do the kicks and strikes each time she massaged him. Khala moved his legs and arms and taught him blocking techniques as she stretched him out.
"Ki-Hap!" she'd yell and his eyes would get dinner-plate sized.
"Kaa kaa maaamm umm baaa," he'd imitate her. Hey, did anyone notice that Zaid was dividing his syllables into words these days? Whoa, he was speaking entire, whole sentences! Why didn't anyone notice?
He was already close to graduating to the next form--he'd soon be earning his gold stripes. His Nikhat Phuphi had even sent him an appropriate uniform for these daily exercises.
But whenever Khala did his maalish and Chachu was around she could barely get a "Ki-Hap" in; on weekends Chachu would take over and make their other favorite sound effects.
And Zaid's little mukka would fly. "Ka-Pow!" "Phshoow!" "BLAM!"
He would giggle so much that his stomach hurt. He would dribble so much that his chin would glisten.
Ayaan loved that Zaid was such a happy tyke. "He's laughing Mukka," he'd tell Humaira and Zoya and whoever would listen. "Must've got it from me!" he'd boast not noticing the sisters grinning behind his back, shaking their heads and mouthing, "no!"
But the other day Humaira had to remind Ayaan: "stop with these silly sound effects! As it is Aapi is freaking out that he's not speaking properly and it's probably your fault for teaching him these nonsense words and confusing him."
"Please. He'll speak when he's ready," Ayaan dismissed an aunt's guilty worries. Dadi said the same thing and he'd rather trust Dadi's instincts over Mona Darling's or his wife's.
He'd tease Zoya too: "I thought you claimed to be a warrior not a worrier! Kahan gayee warrior sahiba?"
"Hey, once a warrior always a warrior! But still ... what if he's late--"
"Don't worry, he's Chachu ka champ!"
"That's exactly why Aapi's worried," Humaira teased him and winked at Zoya.
"Humaira begum, your General Jeeju has spoiled you way too much!"
"That's what Jeejus are made for! Those are the cosmic rules, Ayaan. RTFM!"
"What did you say to me? What did you just--" He chased her down with Zaid Miyan riding on his shoulders. Zaid's tummy hurt again from laughing so much as he bounced up and down.
The grandparents smiled at that combination giggling and cooing. What a sound that was. Bells in a temple or the breeze of a Sufi Dervish's dhikr.
Ayaan halted at the panic in that voice.
"Haye mera bachcha!" Raziya fussed and charged at him. "Put him down! All this running around--you'll bump into something ... What if Zaid gets hurt? Main bolungi toh bologe ki bolti hai ..."
She rushed to grab Zaid away from his careless Chachu. And she checked him for bumps and bruises worriedly massaging his back. Zaid patted her cheeks and babbled. She wiped his chin with her dupatta unable to resist kissing him.
Ayaan sighed. He could never catch a break. His mother-in-law still treated him like the bratty prodigal son. All the hyped up damad-respect and bhav went to Bhaijaan.
Here he was just ghar ki murgi. Plain old dal and roti.
But Bhaijaan was all Shahi Toast and Murg Mussalam.
Ayaan grinned shamelessly at Raziya. It was awesome! Two or three years ago he wouldn't have imagined this possible. But today?
Today it was as it should be.
"Zaid's a tiger," he reminded his mother-in-law. "He's my babbar sher! ARRGGH," he roared.
Zaid clapped his hands. "AAARRR," he agreed.
"Aur issi baat pe ek sher ..." Ayaan continued.
Groans and sighs rose around him. Shireen would have been offended but she was too busy these days preparing for the US trip--making lists, shopping, bugging anyone who would listen to enquire about airline baggage weight limits.
"Arz kiya hai--"
Hurriedly Raziya dumped Zaid in his Chachu's arms--it stopped all the shayari. Thank you Allah miyan!
Chacha bhatija zoomed off--ghodon pe savaar. Their plan had worked as they knew it would.
Dobby tucked himself tighter under Siddiqui Saheb's chair. There was so much napping to catch up on. His stomach rumbled. He eyed the biscuit in Dadi's hand and watched her dunk it in her tea.
No worries. A quick trip to the kitchen just as everyone rose to leave would keep him going till they got home. Wajid always saved a treat for him as he pretended to shoo the cat.
Asad couldn't believe he was having this conversation again. Though he should have known that it would come back to haunt him.
"Everyone's going," Zoya informed him very reluctantly. A part of her wanted to go too. So bad. But--
This time Asad knew it would be harder to say no. But this time there was also Zaid to think of.
"Please, Mr. Khan. New York isn't some third world country!"
And there it was. That same argument.
"But the plane ride ..."
"The whole family will be there!"
"Not me! I can't afford to go what with all the issues at work!"
Zoya sighed. She knew he'd say that. She slipped her arms up his chest from behind saying nothing. Zoya leaned her head against his back.
Asad lifted her palm off his heart and kissed it in defeat. All these days he knew this day would come.
And he still hated it. The tickets were being finalized. She dithered, wanting to go ... to stay.
"You go," he murmured. "As much as I wish I could, I can't."
She knew that too. She wouldn't even ask him to consider it. Things really hadn't settled down at work. Everyone still walked on eggshells. New worries still poked the fires of the old. Uncertainty lurked and mushroomed. Would the project fold? What would the fallout be? Would there be lawsuits and stay orders?
There were queasy rumblings and uneasy rustlings. And they seemed to get louder with each passing day. A dharna last week. Protests by local farmers against illegal land acquisitions yesterday. Legal notices were dogging them. But they'd got all the permits and clearances, then why--
"It's like being in a sniper's cross-hairs," Zoya had muttered one night. Asad just nodded. It drove her crazy. Not being able to do anything about it drove her crazier.
It all made very little sense. But it made very big dents. Had it been in the US, they'd've been talking layoffs, downsizing ... But Asad wouldn't even--
She couldn't keep up with the research on the shady happenings. And she couldn't leave him in the middle of a fight. Because these guys were fighting dirty. New groups and fronts kept changing guard every day. Of course all these efforts were co-ordinated! It had to be. But they still had no answers for that one question: why? Or the second one: who? It felt like a conspiracy--but that stuff happened in films and bad shows.
She had tried unorthodox means to bust the conspiracy--and hidden them from Asad. For now. It was on a need to know basis only. He didn't need to know. Because, of course he would kill her. When she had concrete results she'd tell him. He had enough on his plate.
In the process of hiring and recruiting for the factory she'd made friends with some of the transwomen in the Kinnar community. Ever since she'd seen them perform and negotiate at the house the day after they brought Zaid home from the hospital, her curiosity about the community had deepened. They'd even offered employment opportunities and quotas at the factory.
Zoya loved their attitude--they were bold and sassy. No one dared mess with them. They always spoke up loud and clear--silence was not an option. They even joked that making dolls was the perfect symbol--without overt private parts every doll was a Kinnar, wasn't it? They'd hooted and slapped their thighs at this. The other women had covered their faces, giggled, and gone, "haaw!" And every doll was meant to show empowered girls and women--that was part of a brash Kinnar manifesto too, wasn't it?
It was a win-win. Some of them were even teaching the other women how to walk and strut so that if they were mistaken for being a Hijra on the street, no one would bother them.
Zoya was really pleased with the modest advances they'd made at the factory. It was so cool that she was getting to put into practice every idea of empowerment and progress she'd ever imagined. They were still not completely breaking even but hey, so what if the experiment failed? They'd still have some great victories to show for it.
After initial threats by some local gangs they'd begun self-defense and yoga classes for the women in the mornings. And surprisingly that had been Asad's idea. He'd said something about women needing physical confidence and knowing the power of their bodies. Women worked with their hands, walked miles for their families, went through the pain of childbirth--if only they knew that these same things--hands, elbows, knees, heels, fingers--could be effective weapons. She'd been so proud of her Jahanpanah that day. And of course Humaira was put in charge of teaching the workers how to S-I-N-G-H.
And the idea of dipping into a strengthening information network had come from the Kinnars. In order to protect themselves they already crowdsourced Whatsapp alerts to let their people know about safe and unsafe zones or where to assemble for protests. Like the app Safecity.in* they too mapped areas in the city to show violence targets and triggers against members of their community.
Zoya and Humaira had asked the workers to keep their ears and eyes open and report on any chatter they heard about the recent hijackings of construction materials at some sites or dharnas and protests at others. The Hijra community had diversified their income sources--they didn't just appear at doorsteps to celebrate weddings and births, but they also gatecrashed groundbreaking ceremonies at construction sites.
Thanks to some of their workers, information was starting to trickle in: they found out that the protesters at the recent dharnas at one of Asad's company sites had been trucked in from neighboring villages at least a 100 miles away. They'd been handed banners and signs, and promised a daily wage and a meal. But they didn't know any names of the organizers.
Rakesh's team had filmed all the protests--the same faces kept showing up in many screen grabs. This was a flourishing business it seemed--protesters for hire, a rent-a-crowd scheme to create a staged ruckus. They were still trying to work their way into finding out about who hired them. It was slow going though. Apparently there were many such outfits and each was pretty cagey about any details leaking out. These companies had hired goons and security personnel--not something they wanted to mess with at this point. Besides, if Asad found out he'd--
"Then I'm not going either," Zoya announced. "I'd feel too bad leaving you behind to face this--this stupid mess that we can't seem to pin down. I feel so useless!"
Asad tugged her by her arm to turn and face him. "Babe, not on my account. In fact I need you to go."
Zoya's eyes rounded; her forehead scrunched up as she got ready to protest and argue with him. He held her face in his hands.
"Right now at least they aren't targeting the family and the house. I'm worried ... At least this way I'll have one less worry."
"No buts. It kills me to say it, but just go. I'll breathe easier knowing you all are far away from this madness, and safe."
Zoya touched his face. He was right. It was killing him. To be away from Zaid for the first time. He didn't say it but they both knew that if Zaid didn't begin to crawl in the next few weeks then Asad would probably miss that because it would happen in New York.
Asad kissed the corner of her mouth. "Though how I'll breathe with you gone, I don't know."
"I mean it." That tightness he'd felt in his chest all those days nearly two years ago returned. Recalled belts of fire lashed his rib cage again. She was going to leave for New York even then. He had stared into a dark moonless night. A million stars had looked on and heckled him.
"Mat jao, Zoya," he'd recorded--inadvertently, unintentionally that night.
But had it really been the stars' doing?
He gathered her to him now. Tight. Tighter than any bands of starry bleakness that could have scorched or strangled him that night.
He gave thanks.
Stars. What did they know? What did they know about love reaching up to pluck them from a smug sky and flinging them to the ground? Fallen beams that created craters on the bedrock--punchdrunk stars cracking open scars on the surface of the earth.
Asad's fingers and thumb traced the galaxy of scars down her arm. His remembering fingertips re-scanned them onto his heart. She was the shooting star, he the astrobleme--the star wound on the earth. (Her science nerdtalk was obviously rubbing off on him. She'd just told him about this word some weeks ago. "Such a cool word, no?" she'd gushed.)
"Don't worry, I won't say mat jao, Zoya' this time around," he murmured into her hair.
A soft gasp escaped her lips; her eyes stung.
"I want you to go. I never want to hold you back. The last time I had to say it because I couldn't live without you. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't let you walk away and never see you again. I would burst if I didn't say it. The pain was too great. But now? Two weeks? Three? It's nothing. I'll live. I'll survive."
"Asad, you're killing me, you know that right?" she cried. "How can you say something so tragic and so romantic at the same time? And why are we acting as if this is the end of our love story? You're scaring me ..."
He chuckled. "But that's what I'm trying to tell you--there're no fears any more. No more pain. And no ending of our love story. Ever. We may be miles apart, sleep in lonely beds continents away--"
Oh god, this man was so going to kill her. She had to shut him up before she became a soggy, sobby mess because her Akdu had suddenly become a romantic oracle.
"Allah miyan, what's wrong with you, Mr. Khan! If you mention miles and oceans and lonely beds one more time, I swear to god I am going on a se*x fast!"
Yup. She knew that would do it. Akdu needed his scr*ews tightened. A good scr*ew was all he needed.
His soft laugh was balm. He kissed her hand. He wanted to say it; he didn't. I'll miss you.
"I'll miss you so much," Zoya whispered.
Tell me about it. Asad squeezed his eyes shut. Damn.
"Oceans? I never said anything about oceans," Asad kidded once he'd regained his breath after the initial threat of a forced virginity ka vrat. He didn't want them to be sad.
"Talk of continents means oceans!" Zoya snapped.
"In which Atlas? Who decided this?" he teased.
"Shut up Mr. Khan, shut up right now!"
"Thank god!" Najma giggled. She made faces at Zaid in his mother's lap. They were FaceTiming and her nephew wanted to hold the phone. How she wished she could reach out and touch him!
Zaid grinned her her, his eyes crinkling and twinkling. He recognized his Najma Phuphi now. And Omar Phupha! And he even faceTimed with his other Phuphi and Phupha. But Faiz Phupha was the coolest! He always bumped fists with him. Why didn't these people and Nana and Nani hold him? Did they all have to live in Ammi's phone? Was it like being in a crib? AmmiAbbu put them in the phone?
He patted the screen. Come out and play!
"Aww, hi mera baby!" Najma moaned in longing.
She continued talking to Zoya even as she made kissy faces at her nephew. "No really, I'm so lucky that no one's bugging me about babies. Omar's mom says it's our decision"she's in no rush to be a Dadi. Go out, have fun, she says. Isn't that so cool?"
"It sure is," Zoya answered. "But why were you even worried about in the first place? Of course it's your decision. Who else would decide?"
"Please, Zoya! You grew up here so you don't know how typical mother-in-laws will hint or openly demand a grandchild." She shuddered. She knew. She'd seen friends and cousins being blackmailed daily. If the good news didn't come in the first year then it was the, "doctor ko dikhana padega," threat.
"What?" Zoya couldn't believe it. But then she didn't need to. Her mother-in-law wasn't like that either. Not that she and Mr. Khan had given Ammi reason to complain! But was Humaira feeling the pressure? She hadn't said anything but ...
"But Tamatar, things are changing. May be in smaller towns and villages that might be the case. But girls are more independent now--"
"Zoya, you know nothing yaar!" Najma went on. "Indian women will happily tell you when it's time for baby number one and even baby number two!"
"But not younger women, surely!"
"Everyone! Younger ones will say it's time for me to be khala or phuphi.' I have a friend here and she was telling me that her little cousin used to ask her this all the time and then she got married herself."
"And then all the women in the family started bugging her!"
"Exactly! And there were some fertility issues so it got really bad for her, poor thing. She called up my friend nearly in tears. She said, didi, I'm so sorry for being the annoying cousin who pestered you to be pregnant. I had no right."
"Aww. That's so sweet of her to realize it. We're lucky aren't we? That's so embarrassing. I can't believe people will talk about something so private so openly."
"Oh god, at shaadis and functions, they are waiting to pounce on you--when will you give us good news, they'll say?" Najma's eyes narrowed. "Do you remember that horrible witch, Haseena bi? Thank god, Nikhat was saved from her! Can you imagine the kind of mother-in-law her type must be?"
The sister-in-laws shuddered. Khuda na kare! God, they hoped for the sake of all Indian girls that that woman's sons would never get married.
"You know, there's a special place in hell for those women who trouble other women," Zoya snapped. Even thinking of Haseena bi made her mad.
"Amen! I swear, the Haseena bis of the world deserve that special place and the Tanveers of the world to be their bahus," Najma joked.
"Truth! So many lives would be saved!" Zoya laughed and each of them raised their eyes and free hands in prayer. Man, they were so lucky!
Zaid fussed. Najma Phuphi wasn't playing with him any more. He wanted to be set free. Zoya laid him on the bed where he flipped over and sat up the next instant. Zoya gave him his red guitar and moved out of his way to watch from the settee. He banged on it. Dobby hid under the bed.
"He loves his guitar, doesn't he?" Najma had to raise her voice to be heard. Zoya had flipped the camera display so Najma could see what her favorite nephew was doing.
"What happened, Zoya? Why are you so quiet? Is everything OK? Did you have a fight with Bhaijaan?"
"No. But he's been acting moody ever since--"
"Ever since you decided to come here for a visit with the family?"
"Najma sighed. "You know Omar was the same when he had to leave. But I'm sure Bhai understands that you haven't been here for over two years--you deserve a comeback!"
"He gets it, it's just that--" Zoya made a face.
"I don't have to be happy about it," Asad had said the other day.
"It's just that he'll miss you both and be totally miserable. Awww!"
Zoya smiled. "He hasn't said it, but I know he's worried that he'll miss Zaid crawling. Or speaking." She told Tamatar about Zaid's recent attempts at saying Abbu and Ammi.
Najma tsked. She wished she could do something to help her two favorite people out. "He's refusing to come, right? Typical Bhaijaan!"
Zoya nodded. "Yeah, typical Akdu."
"I wish he'd come too. I'm so happy that everyone's coming! It'll be so awesome to have Ammi here. If only Bhaijaan would come too!"
Zoya sniffed. She wished the same.
"C'mon Zoya! May be you can do some magic or pull some trick--how long has it been since you've pranked Bhaijaan?"
Zoya's eyes shone. Her spine stiffened. Why hadn't she thought of it! That trip to Britain to watch a cricket match had been a washout thanks to that bit*ch Tanveer and her daily soap wala horror show ... May be she could really take her Jahanpanah on an overseas trip after all? But she didn't want to trick or scare him into coming--that would not be cool.
"Zoya!" Najma's shriek startled her.
"Look! He just crawled!"
Zoya's head snapped to watch Zaid. Crawled? But he was just sitting and playing ...
"No seriously, he moved an inch or two," Najma was desperate to prove that she hadn't imagined it. So awesome, she actually saw him move! She was the first.
And then Zaid scooted another couple of inches and Zoya shrieked too this time. She fumbled with her phone forgetting what to tap to set it to recording.
Dilshad came barreling into the room in alarm. "Kya hua? Sab theek hai? Zaid?"
"Ammmiii! He moved!"
"He crawled? Sach mein?" Dilshad asked in delight looking at her grandson and wanting to scoop him up in her arms. But then how would she see him crawl?
"Well, it wasn't a crawl exactly, just his butt and legs ..."
And then Zaid did the crab-like scooting again. Look mom, no hands. Just his legs powering his butt forward.
He looked at Dadi and Ammi when they squealed. Then Dadi was scolding Ammi when Ammi grabbed Dadi's phone.
"Beta, stop worrying about recording this. Just watch and savor it. Do you think we had phone cameras to record the kid's crawl or take their first step? Put it away, just slow down, breathe and watch!"
Watch what? Zaid wanted to know. He looked at them and waved his arms. Hello? Tell meee.
"Do it again," his mom said as she knelt by the bed and clasped her hands. Najma Phuphi begged too.
He played a song for them on his guitar. He frowned when his Ammi didn't clap.
Zoya opened her arms to him. "Come, come to mama."
Zaid looked at her and raised his arms. Pick me, he telegraphed.
"No, you come to me," Ammi said.
Zaid pouted. She always picked him up when he asked. Why wasn't she doing it now? He looked at Dadi and raised his arms. She held out hers and said the same thing, "Aaja mera bachcha, come!"
"Aaa bbbaaa naaa dooo mmaaa!" Zaid flapped his arms in annoyance. His face got scrunchy and his--
"Come on munna, come to Ammi," Zoya cooed at him.
"Come on baby, you can do it," Najma Phuphi crooned.
Zaid smiled. He put his palms down and dragged himself forward. He hadn't figured out that he could use his knees as yet. But he didn't even have time to realize what he'd done. Because both his Ammi and Dadi went crazy right then. He could hear Phuphi yippeeing from her phone home.
There were so many "Oh my gods!" and "Allahs!" around him as he was swept up in the air. He clapped because obviously something big had happened. He just wished that someone would tell him what was going on.
No matter. He would ask Abbu. He was the only guy who explained things to him quietly and patiently. Abbu always looked deep into his eyes and that was when Zaid stilled and really paid attention.
Abbu would tell him everything. And everything would be all right.
Because Aal iz well, like Ammi sang.
"Aaa lllaaa azzz waaa," he said. But no one understood him. Hmmpphh.
La mya, wutz rong wi dem!
Song in title:
Once Upon a Time in Mumbai (2010): "Pee Loon"
Safecity.in*I have mentioned this app in my FF before (post-Taj honeymoon fight scene)--please visit their site and help add critical details to make your cities safer for women.
PS. I'd like to thank MayurChan for reminding me about Asad's pledge to read to their kids.
Chapter 125: 133699134Edited by Klondy - 2016-05-08T20:26:09Z
Topic started by dixeij
Last replied by -jass-