Later he would ask Zoya why she ran away from him.
All the way over on the longest flight of his life Asad had imagined an ecstatic Zoya launching herself into his arms and how he would spin her around in circles. Everyone would cheer. She would dance with him to the rest of the song because she already knew the steps. They would look deep into each other's eyes for the finale when he swung her up by her waist.
But then she'd gone and re-directed his carefully choreographed rom-com fantasy and turned his surprise upside down. Only Zoya.
Though by now shouldn't he have known better?
"For days I kept seeing you everywhere ... I thought I was hallucinating again. What if I jumped into your arms and it wasn't you?" she asked simply. "I would die."
He hadn't thought that she hallucinated too. Her actions made some sense now. He rocked her to him. "Shh, and please, I'd kill anyone whose arms you went leaping into. But Zaid cried so much too ..." Asad wondered aloud.
"He probably was terrified he'd never see you again," Zoya said softly with fresh tears in her eyes. Asad's eyes filled too. Who knew the depth of emotions babies felt? Could Zaid really have feared that?
In fact it was Zaid's tears that got the whole surprise thing started.
When Zoya told Raziya about how Zaid was missing his Abbu and how much he had cried that day, a hysterical Raziya first went running to Zainab's gravesite. Then together they hatched a plan of how to bring a smile to their grandson's face.
Raziya started off by working on Siddiqui Saheb.
"Bechara humara Zaid! Kitna roya meri chhoti si jaan!"
Siddiqui Saheb wrung his helpless hands. "My poor baby," he muttered. "Zoya must've been so upset. I wish we could do something ..."
"But of course we can! We can make both Zaid and Zoya smile." Raziya wiped her tears, sat up straight, and spoke up hopefully.
"What? How? What can we possibly do?"
She spelled it out for him. Siddiqui's eyes shone.
"So talk to Asad tonight, OK? And don't forget to call your travel agent. Abhi!"
At dinner that night she set the ball rolling. She couldn't wait for them to know, so excited was she. It was hard to sit still. She perched at the edge of the chair eager to hear their reaction.
"Asad, Ayaan, we have a surprise for you. Please don't say no."
They looked at her expectantly.
"A surprise?" Ayaan asked. "Yay!" He rubbed his hands together.
Things had really been boring lately with the girls gone and no Zaid to gallivant around with. No teasing, no horse play. Bhai was way too serious these days. Even Dobby was cranky.
It was a snoozefest.
He'd partied with friends despite Humaira's dire warnings and threats to behave himself but somehow that too wasn't as much fun. "A surprise? Wow! What is it, Mumani?"
"We know that you've been stressed about work. But right now there's a slowdown, right? Things aren't as bad any more. Siddiqui Saheb, aap kuch kahte kyun nahin! Main bolungi to bologe ki bolti hai ..." she huffed.
Dobby raised his head from under the coffee table. Something was afoot. He could tell by the exicted buzz around the table. He slunk closer and hopped up on the chair next to Asad's to butt his head against Abbu's knuckles. What's up? What're you planning? We're going back home, right? Right?
Siddiqui's eyes gleamed. He too was excited to see what his sons-in-law's would think. It was a terrific idea after all.
"We've decided that you should take a break for a week from work. If there are any issues Prasad can always let me know ..." He saw Asad's face.
"A break?" Asad's brow rose. "I don't think that's wise. Everyone's too skittish right now with how uncertain the situation is."
Dobby eyed Asad. Abbu was frowning. What happened? Tell meee.
"Things aren't going to change any time soon." Siddiqui continued. "And definitely not in a week. You can always work remotely ... stay connected through conference calls and all," he added. "I can help keep an eye on things here. And your team can take care of the rest."
"But ... I'm not so sure ..."
Dobby inched closer and peered over at the table edge to look at Nanu. His whiskers twitched in anxiety. Something bad happen? Guys? Give it to me straight.
"Asad, don't you think that taking a break would be just the sign to show your employees that everything's OK?" Raziya jumped in. "That they don't have to worry. Besides, it'll refresh you. It will help you get a clearer perspective on things. Siddiqui Saheb why don't you explain it to them in more detail?" She gripped her dupatta tight. Her fingers tapped restlessly on the table and Dobby stared at them. Chhoti Nani looked upset. He wrestled his way into Asad's lap and purred in confusion. Asad patted his head absently.
Siddiqui Saheb tried his best to persuade them by echoing Raziya's sentiments. But Asad wasn't fully convinced. Raziya couldn't bear it any more. She burst into tears.
Dobby froze. His tail rose in alarm. Guys, hello? What're you hiding from me? Is Zaidu OK? Zoya?
"Zoya had called. She was in tears."
Asad's eyes widened in fear. "What happened? Is everything OK?" Why hadn't she called him? He grabbed his phone.
He yelped the next minute.
Dobby had dug his claws into Asad's thigh. He didn't mean to hurt Abbu; he just couldn't help himself. Some serious sh*it was going down and suddenly everyone was keeping secrets from him? Nobody was telling him anything? Since when did they not tell him or consult with him? He had noticed that all these stupid things had started happening when Zaid and Ammi went away. Incredibly foolish.
"No, no, it's not like that. Nothing's happened." Siddiqui rushed to reassure Asad. He hushed Raziya, "kyun darati ho bachchon ko!" She sniffed. Siddiqui turned back to Asad. "It's just that Humaira's Ammi has been upset since Zoya told her that Zaid has been missing you a lot."
Asad knew that. But Zoya hadn't told him about how Zaid had sobbed for his Abbu at the Statue of Liberty because he missed him so much. She didn't want to make Asad feel bad. She only told him about the family singing for Zaid to cheer him up. She'd even sent him the video of that moment.
Raziya wiped her eyes with her dupatta again. "She didn't want me to tell you. She knew how upset you'd get. Bechare mere bachche. Zeenat told me that Zoya was heartbroken when she saw Zaid crying. She's not been eating well ..." She inhaled and then squared her shoulders. "Bas, bahut ho gaya! I don't want to listen to your excuses any more. I may not know anything about business but I do know this: You must go. It'll just be for a week. They need you. And that's final!" She knew she was being bossy but the moment called for it--if she left it up to the men nothing would get done. "Work can't be more important than family. Go, please."
Asad protested. Though only half-heartedly. After hearing about Zaid's tears and Zoya's hunger strike the idea of a break to be with his family was beginning to sound better and better. He stroked Dobby's back. Besides, Aunty was right. A week wouldn't hurt. And didn't Zoya always tell him to not be such a control freak all the time? "Have you heard of this word, delegate?' You'd be surprised how well things can go on without you, Mr. Khan," she would tell him every now and then whenever they discussed him overdoing things at work.
May be it was time to find out if she was right.
"Can you imagine the looks on their faces when they see you! Allah miyan, they will be so happy! Mera Zaid khushi se jhoom uthega!" Raziya went on as if she hadn't heard a word he'd said. "I already bought him a beautiful white sherwani that he can wear for the reception." She continued to outline her plans to no one in particular.
But she hammered in her point home with the piece de resistance: "Don't you want to see him trying to stand up? Dilshad told me that he's--"
"But even if we decide to go it's not going to be easy to get tickets at such short no--"
"We've taken care of that." Raziya went over to the console and withdrew an envelope from the top drawer. Dobby's anxious eyes tracked her. "Here. Your tickets are already booked. Now there's no way you can say no."
Asad and Ayaan looked at each other and grinned. May be this was exactly the nudge they needed. Ayaan jumped from his chair with such velocity that it went flying behind him. Dobby yowled and fled from the room.
"Woohoo!" Ayaan whooped and for the first time in his life he lunged to hug Raziya. He twirled with her in circles.
Asad laughed at the expression of shy pride and embarrassment on her face.
Siddiqui patted his arm. "Don't worry about anything here. My office will stay in constant touch with your's. Any problem and we'll let you know immediately. But I have a strong feeling that everything will be OK."
But was it going to be OK?
When their connecting flight got delayed by three hours at Istanbul Asad had felt a moment of doubt and then rushing panic. They were to land in New York on the day of the reception. If the flight got any later, what if they missed the whole event? What about the surprise that they'd quickly cobbled together?
Back in America only Najma, Omar and Faiz knew about the surprise.
Najma had championed Raziya's cause with some major long-distance needling of her Bhaijaan--on a daily basis. But no one else knew. Even Feroze was kept in the dark. When he made that announcement at the party about the last performance of the evening he had no clue that his brother-in-laws would be stepping out from the purple fog--apparated all the way from Bhopal like some Potterverse wizards. And of course, Omar and Faiz, the eternal pranksters and American coordinators of the plan, couldn't resist one last act after the "Jogi Mahi" repeat performance by Asad and Ayaan and their begums. These wannabe Weasley cousins had nearly disrobed and mooned the audience, loudly proclaiming: "Jahanpanah, tussi great ho. New York ka tohfa qubool karo!"
Naz had chased them off the stage midst the raucous laughter and wild applause. As Tamatar turned redder, Asad had thrown his head back and finally laughed in relaxed abandon.
Najma and Omar had picked them up from the airport and pointed out various landmarks along the way. But instead of looking at the city around him, Asad had looked more at his watch. Tension knotted his insides. Why had he agreed to this surprise nonsense? He couldn't bear to not meet Zoya and Zaid for another two hours. Thank god he'd remembered to give Aunty's sherwani for Zaid to Najma--she would make sure that he wore it for tonight.
Ayaan had convinced him to repeat the dance they'd done for Nikhat's wedding. What an entrance it would be! The steps were already familiar--they could watch the old wedding videos and quickly re-learn them. They wouldn't even need too much practice. It was much better than learning something completely new. And once the dance began Zoya and Humaira would jump in at exactly the right time with their steps and it would all be M.A. Asad had groaned inwardly but hadn't objected too much. At least it gave him something to do. Or he'd go stark raving mad waiting to be re-united with his family.
It was at the Ataturk Airport that he had picked up a copy of Rumi's poems for Zoya as a gift. He'd thumbed through it and marked familiar passages. And it was while waiting for the flight to board to JFK when he'd stumbled across Kaifi Azmi's lines during a random Google search.
"Rasta bhool gaya ya yahan manzil hai meri,
Koi laya hai ya khud aaya hun maalum nahin."
It would be perfect--just the right lines to send to her before they made their grand entrance. He couldn't wait to see the expression on her face ...
However belated, he did get to see the much hoped-for expression on her face for the rest of the evening at the reception. Once Zoya was done crying and wiping her tears with his handkerchief, she glowed. She couldn't stop smiling. She didn't even need to repair her make-up to make her eyes starry or cheeks rosy. Like that song, she really could've danced all night and still have begged for more.
And surprise, surprise, so could Asad.
The DJ played songs that the old Asad would've scowled at in another lifetime but they didn't even faze him now. He danced with Zaid and Zoya in his arms to "Baby doll" and "Chittiyan Kalainyan," and "Hangover," without a single frown. The more un-Jahanpanah songs with mad lyrics like "ladki beautiful kar gayee chull," the more he swayed and smiled. But did he even know the words of the songs he was dancing to? Or care? Probably not. Besides, who could blame Bollywood for transporting them to India in the heart of New York minus the twenty-hour air travel? And thanks to Bollywood didn't some songs fit the occasion just perfectly? Like that song the DJ played which echoed that giddy bliss they were feeling ... Whether it was "zoobie doobie, zoobie doobie nache kyun, paagal stupid mann."
"Aa raat bhar, aa raat bhar
Jaaye'n na ghar, jaaye'n na ghar
Iss raat mein, beete umar, saari umar
Toh chal, chale'n, gire'n, pade'n, uthe'n, urre'n
Aa tujh ko laga dun mein mere par
Haan raat bhar ...
Thank you DJ miyan, for making it just M.A.
Though for a heartstopping moment it had seemed that they'd never be able to get together, raat bhar. Because it must've taken at least an hour for everyone to be properly introduced to Asad and for repeat requests to hear the stories and plans of how they'd pulled off their grand surprise. Even Feroze didn't know? How'd they managed that? Why did they wait so long to come? Why not come a day ahead? Aren't you jet lagged?
And through all those questions Asad and Zoya had only shared torn glances and smiled promises across the room. Not miles anymore, just meters apart.
But it may as well have been miles ...
They'd barely had a chance to say more than two sentences to each other. Barely had time to share a kiss ...
The things he wanted to whisper in her ear! It was so hard to bite back those words. So hard to not shout them from the rooftops.
And the things she imagined him saying to her!
When would she feel his breath at her ear, his warmth on her skin? Would he never get to her side so she could slide her fingers through his to hold on firmly and never let go?
Her heart flipped ... and then it sank again.
She watched Najma drag him away to yet another group of relatives.
Zoya's impatient gaze followed him from one cluster of guests to another. But her eyes softened as she watched a merry Zaid bouncing in his Abbu's arms. The nap and his dad's surprise had obviously recharged him; he waved shyly to each guest as they gushed over him. When he didn't hide his face in his dad's neck, he grinned a toothy grin and dimpled deeply--ecstatic to be reunited with his daddy.
He was never letting go either.
Zoya giggled as she watched Asad smooth the tiny sherwani. Already she could see the tail-end of Zaid's dupatta peeping from Asad's side pocket. Her eyes drank them in. Oh god, that sight was pure heaven. Their son's scarf stuffed in Asad's pocket was one of those small things she may have taken for granted if they were in India. But here, at this moment, it seemed nothing short of a miracle. It was one of those treasures that she'd promised to herself she'd take a mental photograph of.
Anwar tapped her shoulder and she tore her eyes away.
"Go rescue him," he teased when Zoya looked up at him. "He's dying."
"Anwar!" Zeenat scolded him.
"What! You know I'm right. Asad came all this way to meet Zoya and Zaid not some door daraaz ke khalu or phuphi."
Dilshad laughed softly as she watched Zoya blush. She found the mock-fights between Zeenat and Anwar hilarious. And she particularly loved how Anwar always took Zoya's side. She now understood why Zeenat complained of both Saali-Jeeju ganging up on her. How she wished Najma had that growing up--a loving father who spoiled her rotten. Who always took her side even against her own mother. Sure, Asad had been a doting big brother. But he wasn't much older himself and as much he loved her, his love had been strict and came with a heaping side of super-protectiveness. Zoya was lucky to have Zeenat and Anwar in her life.
And she and her family were lucky to have Zoya walk into their lives. It was as if they had been waiting for her to fly in from New York and yank off that dusty, cobwebby chadar of quiet despair and pain--to let the sun in again. Thank you, Allah miyan, tera lakh lakh shukar hai. And in a way hadn't she come to say thank you to New York too? And that's why she was glad that Asad had finally come. What was the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty? Something about "huddled masses yearning to breathe free ..." It was as if they were playing a game of statue waiting for Zoya to breathe new life into them ... yearning to break free.
Tum ayee, mano zindagi mil gayee, she'd said to Zoya a long time ago.
Once during one of the their usual spats, Zoya had teased Asad, "my name means 'zindagi.' Yours probably means 'anti-matter' that's why you're so volatile!" She had laughed in his face as he'd gritted his teeth uselessly.
Bhopal ka gussa and New York ki hansi ... yes, it was meant to be.
She laughed as she saw Zaid do a happy wiggle in Asad's arms as if reading his Dadi's mind and agreeing with her wholeheartedly.
Finally Asad was able to make it back to their table.
This time Zaid lunged to come to Zoya without a fuss. He opened his arms and settled in his mom's lap. Earlier he had refused to let go of his Abbu's collar. Not even for Ammi. Nope, he was going to go wherever Abbu was going. But now he no longer worried that if he wasn't in Abbu's godi then Abbu would disappear. Aaa 'ez well. He felt it deep down in his tiny bones.
Zoya's pulse leaped as Asad's fingers grazed hers during the baby exchange. It was another of those mental click-worthy moments. She lowered her head to hide her face. Dilshad cleared one of the chairs and signaled Asad to sit next to Zoya.
Seeing Asad so close thrilled Zaid too. He changed his mind--he wanted to be back in Abbu's godi now. So his parents played the baby hand-off game again. Again Zoya blushed.
"Asad, now tell us everything!" Zeenat begged. "Itna bada surprise! How long were you planning this? Zoya, you didn't suspect at all?"
And as Asad filled them in on the details Zoya spooned a little bit of rice and palak-paneer into Zaid's mouth who was squirming in his dad's lap. He had just finished munching on a tomato slice. Asad held Zaid's exploring hands often wiping crumbs and drool from the tiny chin.
Asad looked at Zoya in surprise when she raised a spoonful to feed him too.
"You haven't eaten anything, have you Mr. Khan?" she asked. "C'mon, have a bite."
"She's right, kha lo beta," Dilshad encouraged.
And in the midst of telling them about how Raziya convinced them to come to New York, her teary blackmail, Siddiqui Saheb's assurances, how he feared they wouldn't be able to get here in time for the party, how they had decided to only tell Najma, Omar and Faiz, Asad let his wife feed him in between feeding Zaid. He didn't realize he was starving.
And he didn't realize how intimate and natural this felt.
When Zoya raised the napkin to wipe the corner of his mouth Asad froze. Her eyes had snagged at his lips. His breath quickened and he shifted in the chair. Even if he couldn't read her mind she must've read his. She ducked her head and pretended to fuss over Zaid.
Ahh babies. Sometimes they were just the perfect cover for their horny parents, weren't they? Zaid laughed and clapped as he saw his dad dropping food as Ammi fed him. He loved this new game when Ammi pretended to feed Zaaf and then fed Abbu instead.
"HEY CHAMP, there you are!"
Zaid whipped his head around and clapped even more when he spied his favorite Chachu. Fistbumps and an alien code language followed; Zaid beamed. They had met briefly before each was swept away in opposing directions for a flurry of duas and salaams. Zaid raised his arms to be lifted and worshipped by another one of his favorite peeps.
But Asad was reluctant to let go of his son.
Of the many reasons to hold on to Zaid, the biggest one was that once his hands were free he'd have to feed himself.
And he was so enjoying having Zoya feed him.
It was slow, smoky, erotic torture.
Each time her hand came closer he wanted to kiss it, bite and lick those fingertips. Each time he opened his mouth to take a bite he heard the faintest of gasps from her as if she wanted the same; he couldn't look away from her lips. That pout was even more pronounced--he could've sucked on it and begged for more. When she bit her lip because some of the rice grains fell from the raised spoon he nearly groaned out loud--it was the subtlest PDA they could get away with under everyone's noses before they fell to eating each other up.
But the Chacha-bhatija bro-time would put a damper on this subtle lovefest. With no Zaid to hold there would be no excuse for her to continue feeding him. And he wouldn't be able to hear her sharp intake of breath or soft moan each time she leaned in and he brushed his thumb against her arm or wrist. There would be no excuse for their chairs to be so close together. They wouldn't be able to gaze into each other's eyes each time she raised the spoon to his mouth. His rushing blood would miss her closeness. This rekindling of their spoon-plate po*rn would be hopelessly terminated.
Ayaan hoisted Zaid in his arms and easily straddled him across his shoulders. Off they went to jumpstart new adventures. Asad sighed, suddenly bereft. He scooted his chair deeper under the table and frowned down at his plate. What a bummer. Suddenly the food didn't look as appetizing any more. Zoya tried shifting her chair away but he grabbed her hand under the table. She went dead still and then nearly moaned aloud when he scr*aped a lazy thumbnail across her palm. He squeezed her hand and laced his fingers with hers. When he raised a spoonful of food to feed her instead, she looked at him in confusion. Asad grabbed her hand tighter when she tried to squirm free.
"You haven't been eating well I hear," Asad said co*cking an eyebrow. He had her right hand trapped--even if she wanted to eat by herself she couldn't. Zoya's gaze lowered and she smiled shyly before leaning in to eat from the proffered spoon.
She smiled not because of that slow curve of his lips or because everyone else at the table was smiling that "awwn, so cute," smile at them. She smiled because suddenly she remembered Mangalpur.
Suddenly she was back at Apna Dhaba dressed in a green bridal suit, handcuffed to Asad, dupatta hiding their hands ... and he was feeding her. That was the first time when she'd seen a gentler, kinder side of him--directed solely at her. And that was perhaps the moment when she'd started to fall hopelessly in love with him.
Even Aarti and Yash had smiled the same smile: Awwn, so cute. "Aap dono mein kitna pyaar hai. Khana khatey samay bhi ek doosre ka haath nahin chhod rahein hain."
Hand cuffs ... that alien flip her stomach had done when he'd leaned in too ... a scarred initial ...
Manglapur--the crucible of their love story ... the handcuffing of their muqaddars ...
Apna Dhaba to New York ...
Zoya's eyes glazed as she recalled angry words from the spats of their tempestuous past.
"Isse achha main New York mein hi thi!" (Not!)
Old words shifted into new significance ... and reshaped the impressions from the past ...
"Agar aapko iss mulk se itni problem hai toh wapas New York kyun nahi chali jaati? Bada ehsaan hoga aapka iss mulk par!" (Haha, dream on Mr.Khan!)
"New York mein aisa hi hota hai!"
"Yeh aapka New York nahin hai, mera kamra hai!"
Deja vu had never felt so right ... or so se*xy. She could seriously do this raat bhar.
She leaned in to take another bite and blushed when Asad winked at her. He was channeling Mangalpur too.
Zoya cursed herself for not having anything se*xy to wear tonight.
All her fu*ck-me lingerie was back home in India. So she improvised like any good girl gone bad would: she unearthed an embroidered kurti that she'd worn in her virgin days with a tank top underneath. (Thank you Allah miyan that Aapi had made her clean out her closets and box up her stuff. At least now she knew exactly which box to upend to find love supplies that she could improvise to entice her husband). The net kurti was ivory, deliciously see-through, and as Stephanie Plum would say, barely covered her hoohah. It would be perfect. A spritz of her favorite spicy perfume that drove Asad nuts, a swipe of mascara and lip gloss and she was ready to hit the road. Her body was already caught up with the fantasies in her head; it had already started to melt and musk even as she placed her hand on the doorknob. She could almost hear Al Green crooning:
Here I am, baby, come and take me
Take me by the hand
Here I am, baby
But then Zoya laughed softly when she emerged from the bathroom freshly showered, lotioned and perfumed. She had even posed seductively in the doorway and re-fluffed her hair. She shouldn't have bothered.
Nice going, Zoya.
Idiot, you shouldn't have taken so long. How much time had she wasted in trying to excavate her princess boa from the depths of another box? Just because she wanted to revive her "bijli girane main hoon ayee" act for her husband.
Oh well, there would be no bijli girana or girane wali tonight.
Deja vu, hello! Where are you? Couldn't you have stuck around for a little bit longer?
She could've kicked herself.
She should've listened to Asad when he had cornered her earlier trailing her eager skin with soft kisses and nicks. But no, she had wanted the moment of their international mating to be perfect.
"I'll just be back in 10 minutes, promise! By then Zaid too will have fallen asleep."
"No---" He'd nuzzled that pulse at her throat as his urgent hands molded her body to his.
"Please," she'd begged.
He'd let her go with a long drawn-out sigh. Very reluctantly.
And now? Here she was all dolled up for her New York suhaag raat and there her husband was ... fast asleep.
She sighed as she cast a fond eye on the bed.
When she'd stepped out Zoya was rewarded with yet another frameable dad-son sight. A shirtless Asad lay sprawled on his back with Zaid sleeping on his bare chest. Aww, both her Desi boyz were tuckered out: Zaid after the most exciting day of his little life and Asad from the longest flight, and lambi-est judai and reunion.
Hand to her heart she watched Asad. An arm was flung over his head--didn't Zaid sleep like this too? And with his other arm he held Zaid to him, palm flat against the baby's back. If she wasn't worried about waking them up she'd have kissed them both, so cute they looked.
Zoya looked around her room. Asad had been too tired to say much when they'd returned from the reception. He'd had eyes and hands only for her, and she--you stupid, stupid idiot, she scolded herself for the nth time.
But now she worried about the sleeping arrangements. How were they all going to fit on her bed? It was much narrower than the one back home. Back home Zaid had his own crib but here he was sharing the bed with his mom ...
She went back to rummage around in her closet for an old sleeping bag to spread out on the rug next to the bed. She could sleep on the floor and the boys could have the bed. Thank god she'd thought of getting extra sheets, pillow and comforter from the linen closet earlier. But before turning the light out Zoya gently extracted Zaid from his dad's arms and tucked both of them in.
"Shh," she soothed Zaid as he fussed at being separated from his Abbu. Asad sighed and turned over on his side. She kissed his temple after covering him up. She knew she'd sleep well tonight. Just having Asad a foot away from her made her world right. She didn't realize she had echoed Zaid's fervent wish: aal iz well.
And she did. Sleep well that is.
It was around 4 or 5 in the morning when she felt Asad slide in next to her under the comforter and nuzzle her neck. His hands were already exploring under the kurti and she was already smiling.
"Good girl," he breathed as he encounterd warm, bare flesh.
This! Oh god, how much had she missed this.
"I missed you so much!"
"I missed you more!"
There were no coherent sentences after that. Or thoughts. Just gasped words and jagged hisses, soft cries and whispered names ... their hungry hands ripped away all barriers. Their bodies surged to meet and reacquaint themselves with each other. Fingers talked ... breaths tangled.
Asad groaned as he squeezed her bre*asts. "You're thinner," he complained before tugging at a nipple. His hand slid south to cup her intimately. He wanted to touch her all over, all at once. That familiar liquid heat blazed and shimmered through her. Zoya's head and hips thrashed as he stroked her slick flesh. Her wetness on his fingers made his blood pound. Asad shifted his mouth to her neck and sucked hard; she came undone. He felt her go from silk to molten satin. But he wasn't done with her yet. That quick orga*sm was just a hello; it needed to be rewarded with a second, slower one.
But not if Zoya had her way. "Asad please, I need you!"
Fingers scalp-deep he tugged her head back. "Like I needed you last night?" He continued to ravage the pulse at her throat and moved lower. And lower.
"I'm so sorry for last night. You were right! I should've listened to you. Ple--!"
"Shh," he hushed as his teeth nicked her inner thigh. He was going to mark her, pepper her with love bites as payback for the last time she'd done it before leaving him all alone in India. Too much time had elapsed since he'd savored her creamy skin and heard her whimpering in helpless desire. Zoya's hips bucked wildly as she felt that mouth rebrand her as his. The snatches of role-playing threats he growled against her skin inflamed her higher. Behind her closed eyelids she watched their entwined bodies from above. He was the customs officer. Did she have anything to declare?
Darts of pleasure shot up through her as she felt the firm pressure and swirl of his tongue. "Oh god, Asad--! Yes officer, I do have something to decla--"
No, he wasn't convinced; he would do a thorough inspection first to ensure no contraband was smuggled aboard ... an item by item inventory was necessary before he stamped her passport. It was standard procedure. And there'd be no mercy. His hands squeezed her butt as his mouth blew gently on her thrumming flesh. Zoya's neck arched as she felt herself start to unravel. He knew it too. Just a little nudge, a flutter of his tongue, and she'd tip over.
"Oh my god, oh my god Asad, oh my--" Another satiny gush and she fell back limp. She jerked one last time as he scra*ped a thumbnail on the underside of her bre*ast. What was this, her dizzy mind wondered not for the first time. How could this feel so new, so right each time?
Zoya's eyes fluttered open and she saw him loom over her. She cupped his cheek. But as Asad slithered up to settle between her legs she pushed back against his shoulders.
"Not so fast, Mr. Khan," she panted and smirked up at him as she urged him on his back.
"Shh, it's my turn for an inspection, officer," she giggled and stroked his hard length. "Just doing my civic duty to check a foreign national before you enter my country." He felt her hand encircle and grip him and all admiration for her wordplay fled his mind. The touch and feel of her hand's firm strokes flooded his mind instead. Anticipation made him taut.
Zoya loved hearing him groan; sliding her hand up she pressed her thumb to the ridge and traced the veined velvet. He pulsed against her hand.
"Zoya," he moaned.
She had yet to feast on him and touch him to her heart's content. Zoya gazed up into his eyes as she skimmed a silken bead at his tip and deliberately licked her finger. Another long groan dragged out of him. She wanted to hear each bitten off oath, each hiss of his. She wanted to hear him beg.
And he did.
She let her tongue tease and taste him. When she took him in her mouth his hips twisted off the sleeping bag. His fingers snarled in her hair as he felt her swallow.
And she was merciless too. Her tongue too swirled and fluttered, teasing him, tormenting ... doing that thing he loved ... driving him to the edge.
This time she slithered up his hips to take him inside her. He loved to watch her bounce on him, her bre*asts, her glorious bre*asts, rising with each rebound. But right here, right now by god, he needed her under him and in one swift move Asad rolled and pinned her under him.
"It's been too damn long!" he muttered as he thrusted deep inside her.
"A whole twenty five days!" Her grateful knees hugged his hips.
"And twenty five miserable nights." He bit her neck as he followed up with shallow thrusts that always drove her crazy. Deep ones for him. Shallow again for her. A tilt, and shallow again. Zoya mewled. Deep, deep, shallow, shallow, shallow ... deep, deep, deep, deep, deep--
They gazed into each other's eyes willing them to stay wide open. She saw the strain on his face and feathered her fingertips down his back. He jerked. She wanted to claw his butt, cross her legs behind his waist but he wouldn't let her. The pain on his face intensified and she knew he was close to coming. Her own org*asm built and rumbled as she began to arch.
"Look at me, babe," Asad grabbed her head as he rocked her.
"Asad, I can't ... nno!" Her eyes were wild.
Her eyes pricked and she felt herself melt once again. "I love you! Oh my god, Asaddd!"
His heart thundered against her body as he crashed on top of her.
"I love you more," she heard him sigh in her ear.
"Like Mangalpur," she said a little later.
"Hmm?" Asad's heart still raced.
Zoya snuggled in closer to fan her palm over his chest. "That night in Apna Dhaba when you accidentally pulled me off the bed on top of you?"
"Mmm, I love that Mangalpur moment. What about it?"
"I meant that this reminded me of that--me on the floor this time, you up on the bed and then in the middle of the night you ended up on top of me!"
That slow micro-smile curved his lips again. That night, that memory had a special place in their hearts. "No, it's more like the second time when we broke the bed and slept on the floor, you mean." He stroked the fading stretch marks on her belly. In the faint morning light they'd gleamed silver as he'd traced them with his tongue. "You were pregnant then."
She giggled. Ah yes, she remembered. They'd played Batman and Wonder Woman that second night in Mangalpur. The forlorn Apna Dhaba bed had surrenderd to Dobby's kabza instead; they just weren't meant for it.
"O. Henry once said New York would be a wonderful city...if they ever finish it!'" the cruise tour guide announced. She was pointing out New York's skyline and waved toward the tower cranes still altering and updating that vista.
"Wow, is that a Lamborghini going up?" Humaira asked.
"That's just crazy," Ayaan shouted against the wind. Everyone just nodded. They had no words to add.
They were doing a New York architecture tour by boat and the guide had just pointed out the sky garages at 200 11th Avenue in Manhattan. Yes this was crazy but hey, it was classic New York. Each ultra-posh unit in this building had a sky garage where you drove into a car elevator at street level and then parked next to your apartment or penthouse on whichever floor that happened to be. The glass elevator showed Maseratis, Lamborghinis and Ferraris riding up and down brazenly visible for all the world to see.
"There's no horizontal space in Manhattan, guys," Zoya reminded him. "It's only 23 square miles! So the only way to build is up."
"But parking your car on the 5th floor? Isn't that a bit much?"
"What happens if there's a power failure?" Humaira asked.
"Then they're scre*wed," Ayaan muttered. He was rewarded with a slap upside his head by Asad. Ayaan ruffled his hair. "Bhaijaan c'mon, you know I'm right!"
"Ayaan, these are some of the richest people in the richest country in the world. You don't think they have a plan B in case of a power failure?" Asad said.
Ayaan made a face. The girls laughed. He was just trying to be funny. And contrarian as usual. He had found the tour interesting for the first 40 minutes. After that all the tall buildings kinda blended into one another. He didn't care as much as Asad about the Art Deco and Beaux Arts style--whatever the hell they were. He didn't get the big deal about the Flatiron bulding. He had other things on his mind. Like how could he convince Bhaijaan to visit a club with the girls?
But Asad couldn't look away. Brooklyn Bridge's gothic piers ... The trademark spires of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings he'd seen a million times in pictures, books, movies and textbooks. But to see them come alive, change color and scr*pe a proud sky's underbelly was breathtaking. While Ayaan had loved Times Square and the Wall St. iconic bull Asad wanted to visit the Guggenheim museum designed by one of America's greatest architects: Frank Lloyd Wright. New York wasn't just a fashion capital when it came to design it was a pioneer and trendsetter in architectural innovation too. He had studied these designs in college! The Chicago school, the International styles I,II and III ... all of these were in those thick textbooks, those hours of exams ...
And here they were, spread out before him. Glorious. Touchable.
... The most famous skyline in the world. And the history ... Sure, as Indians you could make fun of America's lack of a history but you couldn't put down what they'd achieved in this brief time. Yes, there were dark chapters in this young history but then no nation was free of such darkness or closeted skeletons.
He could watch this forever. Each view was new with the changing light. Asad already had a list of buildings he would love to tour ... some of Frank Gehry's structures were on that list. And the new stuff he was reading and researching about--innovations in green architecture. If only there was more time ...
A hand resting on the rail Zoya watched Asad's face in profile through her sunglasses. A dimple flashed. He was so loving this! This was Disneyland to him. She slipped her hand into his and squeezed. If Humaira and Ayaan weren't here she would've even reached up to give him a quick peck on his mouth. Because hey, this was one of the best perks of being in America--no one stared at you, no one passed comments, no one tried to shame you for being in love.
It was one of the things Najma had raved about too a million times since she got here.
"You can wear anything here, do anything and no one cares. Bra-strap showing? Who cares! So liberating man, to not worry about comments and looks. When they make eye contact they smile. It took me some time to get used to that and reciprocate."
Zoya had laughed. "Well in California, sure they smile. In the Midwest too they're really friendly. But beware people in New York City--ain't nobody's got no time to smile!"
"Omar says the same about LA! You know, on the drive from the airport, the first thing Omar warned me about was--don't stare like an Indian. Americans get offended. And then some nutjob might just pull out a gun!"
"Oh my god, Feroze told me the same thing!" Nikhat piped in. The girls had warned their parents about this too. And then they discussed the phenomenon among themselves some more. "Do we all tend to stare a bit in India?" Nuzzhat wondered.
Zoya giggled. "That's hilarious! I noticed it the moment I landed in India. And it's not just men but women will look you up and down too--to judge what you're wearing, who're you with, what you're doing. It freaked me out earlier. Now I wonder if I do it too!"
"Especially when you're stopped at a red light. In India everyone looks into everyone else's car!" Najma hooted. "Oh god, how many times did I do that?"
Now Shireen and Dilshad were echoing some of the thoughts and remarks of their daughters when they'd first stepped on American soil.
"Oh my god, where are the people?" Najma had asked Omar on her first morning as she looked out from the apartment window. She could only see cars for miles and miles. Only a couple of people here and there. Cars zipping around with only one person in each of them. What was that all about?
"What do you mean?" Omar had asked not understanding the question at all.
"But no one's on the street!" Najma tried to make him see how odd that was. At this time of day in India the streets were a veritable carnival by comparison.
"Everything is ulta-pulta here," Najma went on. The light switches turned on and off the wrong way. Same with the faucets.
"No, everything's ulta-pulta in India," Omar had told her with a typical American's swagger.
"Ya Allah, itna bada alu?" Shireen had asked at the grocery store that stretched for miles. The onions were just as huge. Did you see the size of those lemons? Hamare India ke char lemons fit ho jayein! So many varieties of apples, tomatoes and cucumbers? Mexican cucumbers? And Persian ones too? But why didn't all the veggies taste like they did in India? Something was surely missing.
Laughing, Zoya lifted Asad's hand to her lips as she put the mysteries of India and America behind her. They watched New York from the water. Dusk was falling. Soon the city lights would set the skyline ablaze to kick up another flamboyant nightshow. Zaid kicked his feet and swung his legs in the baby carrier attached to his daddy's front. He watched Khala rest her head on Chachu's shoulder. They'd retreated to the seats in the back. Abbu put his arm around Ammi and pulled her closer. Together they dropped a kiss each on his head. Zaid blew bubbles making contented cooing sounds. He was seriously loving Noo Yawk more now that Abbu was here. He pointed and waved again at Stachoo of Wibety. She had watched out for Abbu and brought him to Zaaf. She was his new best friend. If she could only meet Dobby. But where was Dobby?
Exactly, where was Dobby?
Dobby was not a happy camper, thank you very much. Raziya had called to find out if the boys had reached OK, how did everyone like my surprise, and tell me about every detail. By the way, Dobby had slashed the curtains in the living room, she reported. And he was growling at everyone. Then yesterday he had sneaked outside and got himself stuck in a tree. Poor Wajid had scratches to show for rescuing the little devil. The couch was fraying too under a stealth assault.
"Bas, ab jaldi aa jao," Raziya sniffed. "Siddiqui Saheb and I, and of course Dobby--we're missing you all so much. Ghar kabristan lagta hai without you all and especially mera Zaid."
She had a thousand and one questions about Zaid--is he eating well? Has he stood up yet? How did he react when he saw Asad? Why did you let him play with that dog in that photo? Did you make sure that dog had all his shots updated? When are you taking him for his allergy test? Is that really necessary? Won't it hurt? Why must you all go out everyday? Don't you think he needs a thicker jacket? Main bhej doon?
"Aunty you should have also come," Zoya told her for the hundredth time. "Then you wouldn't get so worried. I miss you too."
"No, someone needs to stay here. Can't leave both houses empty like that." She would go to the Khan house every other day to supervise cleaning and just give it a lived-in look so that neighbors and passersby would know that the house wasn't sitting vacant. Dobby went with her to re-sniff all the rooms. On the first visit he had put his head back and yowled to let his displeasure known.
Allah meow'n where was everybody?
What was going on?
"OK, but next time you have to promise that you will come with us! I want to show you around, the school I went to, introduce you to my friends, take you all over ..."
Raziya's eyes prickled as she listened to Zoya chatter away about the wonderful things they would do together. That guilt sometimes came raging back with the force of a rip tide. If Zainab was here ... if ...
"Aunty. Is everything OK?"
"Haan haan, don't worry about me. And would you take me to one of those Broadway musicals I hear about so much?"
"Of course! You know what, I want so badly to watch the musical based on Bend it Like Beckam!'"
"What's that?" Raziya asked.
"Arre Aunty, you haven't seen that film? OK, first thing when we come back we'll watch that movie together. And then we'll watch that other movie by Grinder Chhadha--Bride and Prejudice.' You have to see it--it's hilarious!"
Raziya was glad to hear of these plans. Soon they would all be home. Just another week. Then she would watch a thousand movies with Zoya. She would hold Zaid to her heart and then sing to him while she rubbed ghee and badam on his head. She would take him to visit his Nani and together they would drape a phool chadar on the stone ... Should she get him a new tawiz? But she'd already put one on him to ward off all evil eyes in America ...
"I said, what would you like me to bring back for you from here?"
"Lo, yeh bhi koi poochne ki baat hai? Mere Zaid ko mere paas le ao! Bring yourself back for me from there. And then never ever leave again for a long, long time. But then that wouldn't be fair to Zeenat and Anwar saheb. Unka bhi to haq hai. Bas jaldi jana and come back jaldi too each time." She wiped her eyes which had become damp at the thought of Zoya going again. "OK, I have to go now." She laughed. "Dobby has ripped the chair cover in Siddiqui Saheb's study."
"Allah miyan what's wrong him!" Zoya slapped her forehead. That used to be Abbu's favorite chair.
Raziya started laughing. "What's wrong with him? What's wrong with you? He's an animal--how else is he going to express himself? Bechara, he's just missing you all terribly, that's it."
"Aunty please, woh bechara nahin hai!"
"Kyun nahin hai? First you and Zaid left and now Asad's not here. Ayaan too. He feels abandoned. How does he know that you'll return? In his mind he's probably wondering if you will ever return. He calms down only when Siddqui Saheb sits with him in his lap to watch the news. And then at night he curls up on Asad's kurta. It probably smells like him."
"Oh god," Zoya groaned. Poor Aunty and Abbu having to deal with a badly behaving Dobby. But poor kitty--acting out to speak his mind. She totally got why he would curl up on Asad's kurta--she would too. Thank god she had already bought a cute collar and a toy for Dobby Miya-oon. Well OK, three toys but Asad didn't have to know that.
"What're you humming?" Asad whispered next to her ear. Another ten or twelve minutes and they'd be back at the pier. New York glowed molten. Zaid had fallen asleep and was tucked in his stroller.
Zoya laughed softly. It was the same song she'd been humming for two days now since the party. "Raat bhar ..." just kept popping into her head at the oddest moments. It was in her head the moment she woke, on her lips before she fell asleep in Asad's arms.
"Toh chal, chale'n, gire'n, pade'n, uthe'n, urre'n ..." she sang brushing noses with him.
He shifted to hold her from the back, arms wrapped at her waist as the cruise boat zoomed in closer and closer upon the city. Zoya spread her arms wide and flung her head back to look up at the faded stars. They were no match for New York City's lights. "Iss raat ki ho na seher ... haan raat bhar ..." She had probably mixed up the lyrics but who cares. There was a line about "chaand ko chakh le, taaron ko pee le," and that's what mattered. It's how she felt. Glorious. Unstoppable. On top of the world.
She lowered her arms over his. "Asad?"
"Have I told you how happy I am?"
She giggled and turned in his arms.
"And how much I love you."
He nibbled at her ear and she hissed. "No, not in the past hour or so, you haven't."
"Aww. How careless of me."
"Mmm hmm. Very." He felt just as drugged and high as her.
"Will I be punished for it?"
He chuckled. "Definitely."
"Raat bhar ..."
Song in Title:
Dilwale (2015): "Gerua"
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Topic started by dixeij
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