I don't Know how U will manage and what strings U have to pull... But plzz send Asad to NY for a surprise visit...that would be lovely to read..
"You tricked me," Asad complained the next time they FaceTimed.
"What? Why would you say that!" Zoya did a quick mental database search. OK, what was it that Jahanpanah had stumbled upon? Which trick exactly was he talking about?
He didn't look too angry so it mustn't be that bad, right?
"I wasn't the first one to see Zaid crawl. You made me believe that I was."
"Umm, woh actually ..."
Asad chuckled. "Stop it," he drawled as he rubbed his tired face.
"Asad, you didn't sleep well again?"
He shrugged and waved her concern away. "It's nothing. But tell me what was the logic behind that elaborate skit? Why did you and Ammi pretend that I was the first one to--?"
He smacked his head. Of course, he'd answered his own question hadn't he?
Zoya smiled when she saw him connect the dots. "Well ... yes, actually Najma was the first one to see him scoot. And then Ammi and I watched him do it too."
She paused. "Asad you were so stressed out and down about us leaving. I wanted it to be a special moment for you ... another Zaid milestone that was for your eyes only. I didn't want you to hear about him crawling from us. I wanted you to see it--firsthand. So yeah, I got Ammi to agree ..."
Asad shook his head. Why was he really surprised? At one time, way back when, he used to worry that a certain Ms. Farooqui would be a corrupting influence on his sister.
And look at them now. Looks like she'd worked her magic on Ammi too by now. Now his own mother and sister collaborated with her to trick him into happy discoveries as she orchestrated and choreographed serendipity.
"Wait!" Zoya's head reared. "How in the world did you even figure it out? Did Ammi say something?" She smacked her thigh. "It must've been Tamatar! Blabbermouth!"
"No, it wasn't either of them. It was you. You, Ms. Farooqui, are the genius blabbermouth!"
Zoya tilted her head to the side in confusion--that frown and pout intensified.
He laughed. She looked so much like Dobby when she did that--just like Dobby trying his best to decipher human inscrutability.
Asad held up Zaid's Baby Book for her to see. A second later it dawned on her. She really was an idiot. She'd recorded the exact date and time of Zaid's first attempt at crawling in there. Asad had seen Zaid crawl four days later. Duh. Do the math, Zoya.
"Are you mad at me?" she asked after she'd given herself a mental kick: dude, you're such a dumbass.
"No, not really. What matters is what I felt at that moment when I watched him crawl toward me. It's one of my favorite Zaid moments."
Zoya clapped, immensely proud of her trickeries. "Yay," she squealed. She didn't want to tell him of her initial fears that he'd miss the big moment if Zaid had started crawling here in the US.
"That's exactly why we did it!" She went on. "And that's why, Mr. Khan, we have the full video of the event--thanks to Ammi who started recording as soon as you walked in the door."
Asad sighed. He really was Tubelight Ahmed Khan as his wife often liked to call him. He should have made the connection when he'd seen the video and shown it off to Abbu and Ayaan later. Why else would Ammi have her camera ready?
Needs things spelled out for him, Ammi had always said about him.
In the larger scheme of things it really didn't matter did it? What mattered was that Zaid was awake now after a full night's rest. He was in his usual happy-yappy mood, cooing away, touching and clutching at the screen and banging at the keypad--all at once.
And what mattered the most was that he was ecstatic to see his Abbu.
Zoya sat back, chin in her hand, as she watched dad and son have their own boys' time. They'd already jammed on their guitars, sung songs and shadow-boxed.
Zaid was now letting loose a flurry of Zaidwords to report to his Abbu on every detail of the last 30-40 hours. He waved his favorite soft toy of the day: a red and yellow and blue airplane. Anwar Nanu had greeted him with it at the airport.
Charmed, Asad watched Zaid talk animatedly of the plane ride, of finally meeting Najma Phuphi who gave him a thousand kissies, of instantly recognizing Zee Nani ... and coming to Noo Yawk--did Abbu know that it was a land of no skies? That strangers called him "hey, buddy"? That Anwar Nanu had held Ammi and Zaaf in his arms and sobbed like a baby?
The questions were endless. Did Abbu know how his ears hurt when the plane was landing ... and by the way, where's Dobby? And why must he wear so many layers of clothing when they went outside ... And why was Ammi always bugging him and not letting him crawl wherever he wanted ... Where is Chhoti Nani? Wasn't it time for his ghee-badam maalish? How would he be the world's smartest boy otherwise? Why didn't Chachu tell more Zaid Miyan and Dobby Miya-oon stories?
Zoya laughed. She knew Asad was dying to reach out and wipe his son's chin. "Why does he drool so much," she remembered him asking. "It's because he's trying to speak up a storm," she'd reassured him.
And boy, was their son talking up a storm! Hurricane Zaid had blown into town and made the cutest landfall.
She didn't dare wipe Zaid's chin because that would break the flow of his conversation and concentration. Asad didn't dare blink or he'd miss the climax of the most interesting story he'd ever heard in his life.
Surely this was one of his most favorite Zaid moments now?
Asad recalled some lines from a poem that Zoya had scribbled in the Baby Book:
"The angel forces open my hands
And in the palms
Leaves her footprints."
Forces open my heart ... it should have said, Asad thought. This angel leaves tiny footprints all over my heart.
He had been reading and poring over the Baby Book cover to cover these days; he breathed it in when he woke and traced its heartbeat before he fell asleep ... He touched the hair clippings from when Zaid was 7 days old and rubbed the stamps of his tiny hands and feet when he was just 5 days old.
Asad watched a chattering Zaid intently; he made encouraging daddysounds and asked his son a billion questions: How did you like Najma Phuphi, did you show her your boxing and Taekwondo? He smiled when he got detailed answers with gestures and claps and lots more drooling.
There were some Zaidwords that sounded a lot like dhishoom and bam and pow--Ayaan Chachu would be proud of his champ.
This time Zoya stepped in to wipe his chin and Zaid let her. She offered him his sippy cup of water which he drained gratefully. He was thirsty!
She picked him up to place in her lap. "Abbu has to go to work now, say bye."
"Baaah," Zaid called out with lots of air kisses. He snuggled in his mom's arms and got ready for his night feeding.
"Say, I love you," Zoya encouraged.
"Laaa yuuu!" He was getting sleepy and fading fast.
"I love you too," Asad whispered. "Good night, sleep tight, tiger." He touched the screen. Zoya pressed Zaid's fingers against his dad's.
"Naaaiii ... "
"Asad promise me that you'll eat well," Zoya said after tucking in Zaid tighter to her. "You know how you get acidity and a headache if you skip a meal!"
"... OK ..."
"Mr. Khan, that was not convincing at all! Promise me, or I'll tell Ammi. You don't want her to worry, do you?" A girl had to resort to blackmail once in a while.
Asad exhaled. "Promise. Is Zaid OK? No upset stomach or cold or cough or anything?"
"He's fine!" Zoya patted her son's back softly. He was this close to dropping off to sleep. "With all the daily kala teekas and duas would upset tummies and colds even dare to come close?"
"Why's he so tired, then?"
"Must be jet lag. Babies get it too. Asad seriously, don't worry. He was fine all day. Besides, the whole Ammi army is here to protect him."
He smiled. "True. And his Chhoti Nani is protecting him remotely, by long distance telepathy."
Zaid had FaceTimed with everyone else at Siddiqui house too: Nanu, Chhoti Nani, Ayaan Chachu and Dobby.
"Aunty's planning a Quran Khwani as soon as you all come home."
They spoke softly now as Zaid fell asleep. She eased Zaid down between two pillows on her bed. They had moved her bed closer to the wall so that the little tyke wouldn't roll over.
"Promise me also that you won't be the lone wolf or try to play a hero?" Zoya reminded him about their conversation when she'd left home.
Asad nodded absently as he watched her cover up Zaid. He didn't want to think about work. Or talk about it.
After their last fight he'd sat her down and talked about the recent developments at work"some of it she already knew but he'd gotten a more detailed report from Rakesh this time.
A much clearer picture was emerging.
For months now the storm clouds had been gathering. The national housing bubble was stretched tight, and the pendulum was all set to swing the other way.
In many major cities this meant that builders were getting antsy about the downturn and super-vigilant about protecting their turf--and bottomlines.
Recent government polices were already tightening funding loopholes in the construction industry. Everyone knew there was an inventory glut ... and everyone whispered about black money being held to tighter, microscopic scrutiny.
The pressure was mounting; so was the finger-pointing.
Farmers weren't happy about shady land acquisitions, workers weren't happy about the slow-down, homebuyers weren't happy about the delays, and the general public wasn't too happy about the cozy relationship between high-powered developers and politically-juiced government officials.
Everyday the media cheerfully bleated about scams and scandals.
And here is where their company came in, Asad explained.
The local syndicate in Bhopal was feeling the squeeze and crunch too. And they were lashing out against mavericks--like him.
From best he could tell, the builders' association was getting jumpy about the recent real estate slump and was warning outliers and rebels to fall in line. They had laid down the law: don't rock the boat, no price cuts for new homes to move stock, and under no circumstances any innovations of green infrastructure that could change the landscape of their domain.
The freeze was rippling out--relentless like a tsunami.
Suppliers, truckers, sub-contractors and most materials' vendors had already been bullied into submission: stay the course or face blacklisting.
Any independent builder or smaller real estate outfit (such as theirs) bucking the diktat was going to be punished. Asad's company was one of a handful of firms not feeding from the black money trough. He had maintained strict standards about not over-extending into new projects before completing older ones. This meant that their growth had been slower than others at times of mega economic boom but also steady enough when the bust cycle came around. And thanks to this conservative policy they had a comfortable cushion and didn't need to participate in the consortium's manipulation of the market.
And this made the powers that be frantic.
The recent crises of sabotage and dharnas and blockades and mini-accidents were just gentle reminders of the don't-mess-with-us-or-else variety. It was standard intimidation procedure: play by our rules or you don't play at all--because we own this city.
And it was a warning that would be best heeded. For now, at least.
Dark rumors were swirling about the recent deaths of a journalist and a couple of whistleblowers and activists who were supposedly working on an expose of the industry. Despite curbs on it, black money was still flowing and greasing palms, still blocking transparency ... still erecting an invincible wall of corporate self-defense and immunity. This was the state of the Vyapam scam after all. The death toll from that racket was still fresh in people's minds.
"So they're like a mafia? Is it the same sand mafia that--?"" Zoya had gasped in alarm even though some this had kinda confirmed her suspicions.
"We don't know for sure. But it's serious enough ..."
"They're like a cartel, right? Oh my god, Asad! That's so much worse than I'd imagined."
As an American the word cartel brought to mind dangerous drug gangs that controlled multi-billion dollar empires with law enforcement agencies on their payroll. These guys didn't bat an eyelid ordering swathes of assassinations in brutal spectacles of raw power ...
By now she'd also read and heard about the growing muscle of the sand mafia in India. And c'mon, Bollywood had made enough movies on the rampant corruption and violence in the construction industry--building moguls who were the mighty sugar daddies to powerful politicians ... who flaunted open ties to the underworld ... who swatted police and investigative journalists away like flies.
Oh my god, Allah miyan! If this was the world Asad was dealing with, she'd rather have him back away completely. The sand mafia was already being linked to brazen assassinations and slayings in other cities too.
"Zoya, I'm telling you all this because we had a pact about being honest with each other. I could very well have hidden this from you." Asad grew more serious. "I know you're up to something behind my back. That you're somehow plugged into this with Rakesh. Just stop, OK? It's too dangerous."
"That's exactly what I've been trying to tell you too!"
"Fine, I'll back off but only if you do too. Deal?"
No! How could she give up on their grassroots investigation? Fine, they weren't getting the quickest results but at least they had momentum going ... they had solidarity with the workers from the factories. They were united against the bad guys and making tiny inroads ...
Zoya had tried using all her wiles, all her tricks and tools from her arsenal to dissuade him.
But Asad hadn't budged.
So in the end she'd said yes, OK, and fine.
And she hadn't even crossed her fingers behind her back even though she was dying to do so.
Because this was dead serious and too damn important.
But she felt angry on Asad's behalf.
His company was doing good work"they were partnering with local farmers in negotiating an agricultural buffer. He had future plans for affordable housing co-ops and was hoping to inaugurate urban infill and retrofit projects ...
Besides if they gave up, then what about the current project and buyers who'd be stuck? Common people, middle-class families who'd scraped and scrounged money to buy a piece of earth to call their own? What of their lost savings and hopes?
Zoya knew that Asad hadn't forgotten his earlier days of struggle and deprivation ... Ammi's hard work ... the vow to himself to pull them out of hardship and make a safe home ...
It wasn't fair that good will could so easily be halted. That hope could be so easily snuffed by cynical politics. Just because a few crorepatis felt threatened by time's shifting sands--?
It made her so mad. Why was it so hard to do good in this world and so easy to do bad? Why was the system rigged to be broken?
"Allah miyan, what's wrong with this world!" she'd cried in frustration.
Asad had looked at her, head tilted, and she'd sighed.
A promise is a promise is a promise, right?
And if it removed Asad from the path of risk this was all worth it. Wasn't it? They could be superheores another day.
But she felt selfish thinking this way ... She knew Asad did too. In order to do good, you needed money, and in order keep money flowing why did you have to give in to cartels and mafias? That was just wrong. So wrong. It shouldn't have to be this way.
"Asad ... it feels so wrong. I mean ... I know that I want you to be safe above all else. But ..."
"I know, babe. But at this point being safe also means feeling guilty." He felt like a coward and hypocrite though ...
And she knew it.
"Then at least add a Part II to our deal ..."
"What do you mean?"
"Promise me that when I return and when things stabilize a bit, we'll revisit this issue. That we won't close the chapter on this. That somehow you'll find a way a go on with the good work you started last year?"
He smiled. "Even if it puts us in the path of danger?"
Her smile wavered. "Oh god, no!"
Asad had pulled her into his lap and hugged her tight. "Let's wait and see then. I know, I hate it as much as you do."
She'd smiled weakly. It was the only option.
Back at home in New York Zoya'd taken Zaid to visit her own pediatrician. After much oohing and aahing over how time had passed (how she had come here nearly twenty years ago and now look: A baby of her own!) she asked Dr. Rodriguez what she really wanted to ask: nut allergies.
The doctor carefully explained genetics, immunity and variables. It could be inherited but it didn't have to be. Zoya grew more and more hopeful as she concentrated on snippets of info:
"No conclusive proof."
"You didn't have to stay away from nuts during the pregnancy."
"Careful exposure under supervision is OK."
"So we can try to test him?" But then Zoya turned pale. Visions of needles and blood tests nearly had her hyperventilating. My poor baby! No needles, please! It would hurt so bad. She always had to look away when Zaid got his shots. His little face scrunched up and it took a full 2-3 seconds before he let out a mighty bellow. But those shots were absolutely necessary. Was this?
Dr. Rodriguez laughed. "Still hate needles?" she teased. "Same old Zoya!" The girl had come into her office with broken bones and skinned knees, a swallowed dime and a bead up her nose but the sight of a syringe still made her weak at the knees. Every flu season she'd ask: "Do I have to get a flu shot? What if I don't get one this year? Aapi, nothing will happen to me!"
No, Aapi would say. Hold out your arm and look away, Aapi always said. But at least she always got Cold Stone ice cream every blasted flu-shot day.
"Don't worry. No needles, I promise," Dr. Rodriguez said. "We could do a patch test or just monitor him in a controlled environment, right peanut?" The doctor tickled Zaid under his chin. He ducked his head into his mom's shoulder, shy all of a sudden.
This time Zoya laughed.
Dr. Rodriguez called her little patients, peanut. She'd called Zoya a peanut till she was 4. Then at 5, Zoya had put her foot down and declared that she wasn't a peanut or a nut of any kind. That she was Zoya Farooqui who crushed peanuts. The doctor had laughed as she examined her ear. "That's my girl," she'd said and they had high-fived.
When Zoya was 15, Dr. Rodriguez told her that she loved watching her patients rebel against being called peanut. For her it was a personality test: how soon did a kid develop their fighting spirit and find their voice?
Zoya looked down at her son. Ironic, right? Allah miyan, I hope my little peanut isn't allergic to peanuts! She wondered what Asad would have to say about trying to get Zaid tested.
"Should we?" she asked him when they chatted later that night. Zaid had already talked with him and let him know what he'd done all day. He'd gone swimming with Nanu and then for a ride on the carousel at the mall. A big Winnie the Pooh balloon swayed in the corner of the room. Tomorrow they would go see Stachoo of Wibety. Had Abbu seen it?
Worry lined Asad's face as he considered her question. In a flash he relived the convulsions and swelling that had choked his airway when he went into anaphylactic shock the last time.
What if Zaid--?
Zoya too remembered Asad flailing and passing out ... The attack was swift and visceral. In just seconds he was gasping for breath and--
She nearly burst into tears.
He could have died! No way in hell did she want Zaid to feel even a nanosecond of that pain and breathlessness. What if his attack from the induced allergen was more severe?
"No, no it's OK. We don't need to do this!" she choked out. Zoya hugged herself wishing Asad was there to hold her, to pull her into his lap and kiss her better. "I couldn't bear to see him like that, Asad! He's so tiny--"
"No, wait," Asad interrupted. "Let's think more about it. Don't rule it out it completely." He took a deep breath. "We found out about my allergies the hard way because we didn't know I had them. I remember Ammi getting so panicked ... no one knew what to do."
He looked away weighing their options. He had the same fears but--
Wouldn't it be better to know in advance? To be prepared? Ammi was a wreck when he'd had his first attack--her anxiety levels were off the charts. Luckily they were at a relative's house and there were others who were able to act swiftly.
Not testing Zaid now would mean not knowing ... not knowing till it was too late and Zaid was in the throes of anaphylaxis if he did indeed turn out to have the allergy--chances of kids inheriting allergies from parents were high.
Asad knew that this ignorance wouldn't be bliss"it would be corrosive doubt in fact. They'd always wonder, what if ...
"Do it," Asad told Zoya.
"Zoya, think about it. You trust this doctor, right?"
She nodded. "I've known her most of my life."
"And if, as she says, it'll be in the controlled environment of her office they'll have emergency measures and trained medical professionals if ... if anything happ--I mean if he had a reaction."
"Asad ... I'm not so sure. At least if you were with us ... but not--"
Asad leaned forward. "I know babe, I know. But think about it. I still remember how hyper Ammi used to be when I was small. If she couldn't be with me, she wouldn't let me go to birthday parties or school trips or anything. I wasn't allowed to share lunch with anyone at school."
"But, Asad ..."
"Look, it wasn't fun. And it was stress that Ammi didn't need at that time," he added.
"But what if we find out he is allergic?"
"So what? We'll deal with it. We'll know what to do!"
"So ... if Zaid does test positive for food allergies ... you're saying that we'll know what to expect. We'll be in more control that way?"
"Exactly. No hyperventilating about what ifs and if onlys." Asad's hand sliced through the air decisively. "We'll know for sure and do what's best."
Zoya was still thinking it through. "I know that some people wear a medical alert bracelet that let's people know if you have some disease, allergy or disorder so that they can get prompt medical attention ..."
" ... in case of a medical emergency." Asad completed her sentence. "Think, this way we could make sure that he's still safe and not go crazy with worry every time he's away from home. We'll be prepared."
They looked at one another.
"Really? You think it's the right thing to do?" Zoya still dithered. The vision of Asad's attack still wouldn't release her from its haunting grip.
"Yes, I do." Asad reminded her. "The more I think about it the more I think it's the only thing to do. We're grown-up, smart parents. We can't rely only on duas and kala teekas alone to keep him safe. If we can find out in advance and take precuations accordingly, then that's what we should do."
"I'll try'n get the earliest appointment. You're right, it's a no-brainer."
Asad smiled. There she went with her Americanese again. She'd be spouting more of it now that she was back at home base and docked at the mothership ...
The motherland ... or was it, Uncleland--it was Uncle Sam after all, wasn't it?
"Isn't it weird that I'm being the cautious one this time and you're all Jhansi ki Rani all of a sudden?" Zoya teased as she finished adding a reminder on her phone calendar.
Asad laughed. "No, it's not weird at all. Looks like one of us has to be the Jhansi ki Rani in this relationship! It's what keeps us going, I guess. It's our trademark!"
Indeed. Jhansi ki Rani had become their beloved symbol of strength and resilience. She'd brought their signature dolls and graphic novels as gifts for Aapi, the girls, and their in-laws. And already Facebook was bulging with new images of these dolls, and already there were inquiries about how gorgeous they were and where could one buy them.
Zoya grinned at him. She felt relieved that he'd taken the decision about Zaid's testing. May be if he'd said no, then she'd have used the same logic to convince him ... Who knew. But for now she was glad for his take-charge attitude.
"I can't believe how scared I felt," she said later. "I was fine at the doctor's office thinking about talking to you about this. But then I remembered your attack and it freaked me out thinking about Zaid like that ..."
She shuddered. "Asad, your last attack was because of me ..."
He sobered fast. "Shh, stop thinking about that. It wasn't your fault."
"But it was! If only I--"
"Zoya, you have to let that go. You didn't know--it's as simple as that. And you're the one who keeps telling me, 'it doesn't take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.' Just let go."
"But Asad, it's not easy! You could've--"
"I didn't, because of you, remember? You found the Epi-pen and gave me the life-saving shot. And if we're going to be playing the self-blame game then I should feel much worse for sending you to meet that weasel Akram ... or for Mangalpur. I put you in danger, nearly walked away. You could've--"
"Shh, I didn't, because of you. You came back for me and fought for me."
"You took care of me. Both times, remember?" She added.
"Exactly! That's what I'm talking about--fighting for each other. And remember, you're allowed to freak out about Zaid--you're his Mom. I've seen Ammi, Zoya. Motherhood makes the strongest women vulnerable. Sure, they're tigresses when their kids are in danger ... but most of their lives they live in terror of losing them ..."
Zoya's eyes stung. She knew what he was saying. Single mothers like his Ammi lived in mortal terror for their children and their wellbeing. But wow, Jahanpanah was on a superhero roll here. Proactive dad and super-supportive husband! She loved him like this! Zoya clasped her hands in silent gratitude. Thank you, Allah miyan.
"Promise me one thing," Asad said.
"That you'll still be my Jhansi ki Rani and not let any fears for Zaid weaken you or make you doubt yourself."
"Promise me that you'll always be you."
Zoya beamed at him. Jahanpanah wasn't just asking her to be strong. He was actually giving her permission to be a bit of her usual mental self.
"Be that same girl who drove you crazy for days on end?"
He laughed. "Umm hmm, that same girl. Be her. Don't ever change." He didn't worry about her leaping before looking any more. He knew the protective instincts that drove her now; they were his own.
She no longer drove him as mad as she used to.
Well, she did. But not in the same way.
"You're sure you'll be able to handle this badtameez ladki and Musibat Mohatarma as you used to call me?"
"Please. I've handled her just fine so far, haven't I?"
"Oh god Asad, I miss you so much! I miss holding you, touching you."
He raised an eyebrow; she blushed. "Yes, and that too. I miss that the most!"
Their gazes snagged as if they were already in each other's arms ... like the thousands of times before.
0 to 60, and VROOM!
They weren't parents or superheroes any more. They were just Asad and Zoya. The same Zoya and Asad who couldn't keep their hands off each other when within a foot of each other. The same ...
But their hands came away empty this time; their solo breaths remained unpaired ... and lonely. An entire universe gaped between them. But she'd promised herself that she wouldn't be a Debbie-downer with such thoughts. She wouldn't bring Asad down along with her. He could do with some cheering.
"And I miss Rumi. Give me a little Rumi," she begged.
He exhaled. "I knew you'd ask."
"And I knew you'd have something special waiting for me!"
"I wanted to do something more special--like you did for me when I went to Hyderabad. I was thinking of leaving surprise notes for you to find each day ... But I had no time!" He pounded his fist on the cushion beside him. He nearly flung it away. But this was Asad. He carefully patted it and placed it a sharp 90-degree angle against the back.
"Asad c'mon, I totally understand! Don't beat yourself up about it. Of course, you didn't have time. I was there, remember? I saw how crazy busy you were. That's what our last fight was about ..." She grinned at him and a half-smile tugged at his lips.
"I was my usual Akdu self that night too, wasn't I?"
"Umm," Zoya let her head fall to the side; her eyes drooped, her hand rose to stroke her throat. "I've always loved your usual Akdu self! May be that's what makes our marriage tick: you being Akdu and me being badtameez!"
"That night though, I was rough--"
"On some rough days Mr. Khan, rough is good for the soul. We needed rough that night to put us right, to put us together."
"Zoya, you're crazy."
"And you love me more for it! Hey, you already knew you'd signed up for crazy."
"I sure did. Who knew that I'd grow to love crazy? That I'd crave it! Wait just a second," Asad went over to the closet to retrieve her love notes from his trip to Hyderabad.
"What's that?" Zoya asked.
"Your notes. I put them back in my wallet to read through them whenever I get a break."
"Aww, you liked them that much?" She'd never get enough of hearing him say that.
"I loved them! And I'm kicking myself for not doing something similar for you."
"Asad you can always live-recite Rumi for me whenever you feel too guilty. Besides, I brought your postcards with me to re-read. So we're even."
"You did? Good girl! Do you remember long ago when you dropped off flowers at my office in disguise? This is the note you'd left me then."
When I'm with you,
We stay up all night.
When you're not here,
I can't go to sleep.
Praise God for those two insomnias!
And the difference between them.
Twin insomnias haunted them even now ... Zoya thought. No, she wouldn't look into that abyss nor drag him down with her.
"When I'm with you again, we'll stay up all night, OK? We'll put this beghairat and awaara insomnia to sleep!" She coaxed a smile from him.
"And this one?" Asad showed her the most recent note. "You dropped it into my coat pocket at the airport, right?"
Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes.
Because for those who love with their heart and soul,
There is no such thing as separation.
Zoya nodded. It had been murder walking away and leaving him behind that day.
She'd wondered when he'd find the note and why it hadn't been sooner. Mr. Khan must be losing his edge not cleaning out his coat pockets the moment he took it off! But she knew why he'd lost his edge these days. He was missing them that badly.
Zoya watched him read her more Rumi. Some lines he knew by heart. Others he re-read from her anniversary suagat: the Jahanpanah-nama.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They are in each other all along.
Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
From my heart to yours.
From this window like the moon,
I keep sending news secretly.
Later Asad flipped through her notes as he spoke softly from memory. "OK, here are some more lines from Rumi I was thinking of today on my way home." He took a deep breath.
"There's nothing worse than to walk out along the street without you.
I don't know where I'm going.
You're the road, and the knower of roads,
More than maps, more than love."
She sighed and closed her eyes. "Mmm, that was lovely ... you're my road, Asad--at my feet ... as well as the North Star above me. You're my map too like my body is yours. I don't need maps or compasses when I'm with you. You're both. And without you, I'm lost. No GPS or nav. system would help find me."
Asad watched her face in repose. Her eyes were still closed. For all the fun he made of her Americanese, Allah miyans and silly shayari, she still managed to surprise him with the depth of her longing for him. Had she been next to him he would have kissed each quivering eyelid softly.
She sensed his yearning as her own.
Zoya opened her eyes and reached out her arm to him.
"Asad ... My 'knower of roads' ... walk with me and tell me more. Take me away with some Ghalib now."
Asad leaned back against the cushions on the settee and closed his eyes too.
"Unke dekhe se jo aa jaati hai munh par raunaq,
Woh samajhte hain ki beemaar ka haal achcha hai ..."
"Mr. Khan, don't you dare be beemaar!"
"I already am."
"Zoya, it's no use telling me not to feel miserable. I already do."
She got her bag and pulled out the postcards from Hyderabad. "It's uncanny. Your last postcard was a verse from Faiz:
"Raat yun dil mein teri khoyi hui yaad aayi,
Jaise viraane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaye,
Jaise sehraaon mein haule se chale baad-e-naseem,
Jaise beemaar ko be-wajhe qaraar aa jaaye."
"Don't be beemaar, please."
"Till I see you in front of me, I won't be beemaar. But till I don't hold you it's like going through withdrawal symptoms ... like someone turned off my oxygen supply and I'm gasping for breath underwater"
She groaned. She felt the same way. But she sure as hell didn't want to dwell on the image of him gasping for breath. "Remember in Hyderabad I said I was your asli Epi-pen!"
"Hmm, my life saver. Life-saving-shot-giver! Iss beemaar ka karaar ...
Nothing's changed since that trip except for the fact that you're away from me for a longer time now." Asad continued. "The only bright spot in my day is talking to you both."
"I know, me too."
"When I'm awake I think of you sleeping at that time--too far away from me ... I pray that you're sleeping well because I sure as hell am not. When I'm asleep, if I sleep, I dream only of you ..."
Hah, like she slept well at all! But he didn't need to know that. Zoya's hand flew to her mouth as she bit off a sob. "I shouldn't've come. I miss you so bad and I hate what you're doing to yourself!"
Asad's eyes darkened and his breath caught. "Zoya, babe don't ... You did the right thing by going. I just need to stop being a baby about it, I guess."
"Aww," she cooed.
"I'm just counting the days till you return, the day that my family will be intact in my arms. And that day I promise you, I'll get a full night's rest."
"Asad, honey, please try to get some rest. You know I'll be miserable here if you don't."
"I'll try." He pointed to the stack of albums, the Baby Book and the Jahanpanah-nama on his night stand. "These keep me company when I can't sleep." Asad couldn't believe how fast Zaid was growing up. He was so much tinier just a few months ago--that teeny foot had been no bigger than his dad's thumb.
He cleared his throat. "Some of the pictures and notes have come loose in these because I've been going over them again and again ..."
"No worries. I'll fix it all when I get back."
"Get back soon and fix me too."
She smiled. He teased her about being Ms. Fix It so many times.
"Hashtag Ms. Fixit," he'd put down next to her picture in the Jahanpanah-nama.
"Hey, you get a goodnight's sleep too." He'd seen her cover up many a yawn and knew that she was cheating sleep too.
Her eyes drooped. "Make love to me," she whispered.
He stilled then cleared his throat. Desire curled and coursed through him. He thought she'd never ask.
"Close your eyes," Asad said after staring at her for a long time.
"Now touch your face, softly ... slowly. Feel your fingertips on your eyelids, your cheeks. Your lips ... feel how full they feel. How soft. Trace them with your finger for me. Lick them." His voice had roughened.
Asad couldn't bear to see her this close and not be able to touch her. He couldn't look away. He would've used his thumb across her lips. His knuckles to brush her cheek and jaw ...
He was already hard.
Her mouth felt dry so she swallowed and licked her lips again. Zoya smiled when she heard him groan. She opened her eyes to a slit to take a peek at him. His lips were parted, his gaze snagged at her lips, his breath erratic. Already?
He saw her looking. "No peeking. Now slide your hands down your throat." He watched her head fall back and her hair spill over her shoulders. He would have tugged at it and wound a strand around his finger. Slowly. She would've gasped and he'd have dipped his head to kiss her. "Find that pulse that I love to bite and suck when I'm inside you ..."
"Asad," she moaned as felt that familiar tug.
"Yeah baby, I'm right here. Watching you ... loving you."
When she opened her eyes again they were drugged. Her face was flushed. Asad swore under his breath.
"Take off your shirt and bra," he ordered.
Zoya did. On the plane ride over she'd imagined putting on a long distance show for him. But she liked this better. She wanted him to direct and cho*reograph her. He would demand and dictate the pace. She would follow the tenor of his voice, the tone of his ardor.
And with each husky command she imagined his hands on her, his mouth and breath on her. He told her to cup her breasts, to stroke her nipples with her thumbs. To feather her palms over them and feel how ripe and ready they were. For him.
"Take off your jeans ... slowly. Don't remove your panties as yet."
Her breasts moved as she bent and he sucked air. Slowly he made her trace thighs, knees and feet with her fingertips. Very slowly. Exquisitely slow.
"Now just as slowly walk back your fingers from your feet to your ankles. Rub your thumbs on the inside of your ankle like I do ..." She whimpered. Now drag them over your shins ... knees ... back of your knees where I love to kiss you."
"Oh god, Asad, you're killing me," she whispered.
"No babe, I'm not the one doing the killing, believe me. Now move them up your thighs ... to the tops. Small circles ... now, bigger. Good girl."
He paused. "Now brush the inside of your thighs. Soft, like a feather. Now pinch them for me. Leave marks." He watched her quiver and let out a harsh breath. "Take it off. Now."
When she opened her eyes this time his face was flushed. His eyes burned into her.
Slowly, deliberately, she stepped out of her panties waiting for his instructions. She didn't have to tell him how wet she was for him. He knew.
"Show me," he ordered.
Zoya blushed. She felt shy all of a sudden but the intensity on Asad's face made her bolder. A pulse ticked at his throat. She would have licked and nibbled on it. She knew he was hard for her. She knew his body like she knew her own.
"Suck your fingers." He would've made her suck his fingers before touching her. He watched her lift her hand and slowly suck on two fingers not breaking eye contact with him. He groaned.
"Touch yourself for me," he urged.
She gasped at the break in his voice. She knew he was barely holding on to his self-control.
She reached her hand between her legs and flinched at the ache.
Asad nearly flew apart when he saw her crying softly. "Shh Zoya, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have."
"No, I asked you to make love to me. But I didn't realize that I'd feel so hollow. I need you," she sobbed. "When I'm with you I'll do anything, everything you want me to do, but not like this. I can't bear to come without you holding me."
"I know. Me too, baby. Me too. Shh," his eyes were damp too.
Zoya wiped her tears and smiled at him--she still hadn't forgotten her mission to cheer him up and didn't want to end their chat on this note of raw despair. She pulled on her old robe. "You've ruined me Mr. Khan. I can't believe that I'm so useless without you!"
"Funny," he grinned. "I was thinking the same about you!"
"I love you. I love you so much."
She touched her lips and pressed her fingers to the screen. "I love you too. Now go and have the best day ever. Remember Rumi's words--we aren't separate. We are in each other all along. Eat well and don't drink too much coffee. I'll be waiting here when you return from work."
"Good night, babe. I'll be taking that cold shower now."
She blushed as she clicked on 'end.'
Zoya imagined him in the shower.
Shoot. She might need one too.
I love you.
She looked at the charms on her bracelet. Their initials. The cricket ball. The tiny handcuffs. The infinity sign and the Yin and Yang. Closing her eyes, she ran her fingers over them with a prayer. She remembered each moment the charms signified. Each moment he'd given them to her.
Her fingers closed around ... the boxing glove. It reminded her of--
She called him up the next second on her laptop.
The familiar tone rang and rang.
Asad, where are you?
He clicked on at the eighth ring--naked, with just a towel around his waist.
"Zoya, is everything OK?"
"Take me in the shower with you."
Song in Title:
Veer (2009): "Surili Ankhiyon Wale"
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Topic started by dixeij
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