"Who is Nani's babyjaan?"
"Zaaf!" Zaid was trying to break free but Zee Nani had no intentions of letting go. She had only a couple more days with him after all. When she held him in her arms next he'd be bigger, walking, and possibly running away from her. She held on with dear life.
"Who is Nanu's cheetah?"
"ZAAF!" he crowed as he tugged and chewed on Nani's dupatta.
"No," Zoya hollered and wagged a finger at her son.
"Ammi is Nanu's cheetah!"
"Naananananana!" he countered his mama, very conveniently mashing "Nana" and "no" together. He loved it when everyone laughed at his smartypantness. He knew how to work an audience. Zaid clapped for himself. If Anwar Nanu had been here he'd have been fat with pride. But Anwar was at work. He hated being away from his epicenter of wellness but kya karein, kaam to kaam hai he'd say, karna hai--more to console himself than the others.
"Aapi, show Mr. Khan how you do liptan time-chiptan time!" Zoya called out from the kitchen.
"What liptan-chiptan thing?" Asad asked.
"Watch," Zoya said smugly. She leaned in closer as they watched Zaid with Zeenat. "Aapi tells me that she made up this hugging rhyme when she used to rock me to sleep as a kid." And also when she soothed a child racked by pain but Zoya didn't want to remind Asad about her scar or what caused it. "Learn to wear your scars as armor, not chains," she'd read somewhere and boy, was she ever going to follow that! It was her stronger arm after all, as Asad often teased her, especially when she tried hitting him before he grabbed her hands in his. "Your battle scars are my pride," he'd rush to add when her pout deepened.
Now Asad laughed as he watched, rapt, his son being squeezed and rocked by a doting Aapi.
In a song-song voice she crooned: "liptan TIME, chiptan TIME! Nani needs some hugging TIME!"
"Waaa mmmbaaah aafff taaaiii," Zaid protested. She had disrupted his drumming on the pots and pans. There was so much kana to be made--Zee Nani just didn't understand how much work he had to do. She sang on, "liptan-TIME, chiptan-TIME!"
"I love it!" Asad whispered in Zoya's ear as she made his coffee. "I wish we too had more liptan and chiptan time," he added with a grimace.
"Mr. Khan!" Zoya half-scolded him even though she wished the same. He and Ayaan were leaving in the afternoon to fly back to India. The rest of them would follow in a couple of days.
The bags were mostly packed. Momentoes and souvenirs already wrapped. The Zaid stuff had quadrupled. And a lot of Zoya stuff was going to be making it across the seas to a new forever home. The lock of hair she'd chopped off as a 7 year-old to impersonate Jo March from Little Women? Yes, that was going to Bhopal.
Some of the Zoya stuff had inspired brand new Zaid stuff. Like the little hands and footprints in clay. Her first grade teacher had sent the kids home for winter break with painted and baked kiddie handprints. Though chipping at the edges it was a cherished momento in the Farooqui household. Asad wanted to take it back to India with them.
Jeeju's face said no.
So Zeenat came up with a brilliant compromise. "You can take it with you if you let us make a new keepsake with Zaid's hand and footprints!"
Zoya's eyes shone. "You mean like the ones in Hollywood of movie stars!"
"Exactly like that!"
"Deal," said Asad.
It became a half-day affair. They could've used polymer clay but Zoya researched a dough, salt and water recipe instead. After kneading and rolling it out in an oval they pressed Zaid's tiny hand and foot into it. It took a couple of tries to get it right. Because Zaid wanted to eat his hand and foot prints. They signed Zaid's name on it. With the date. And then it went into the oven to be baked at a low temperature.
The American vacation was drawing to a close. And Zoya didn't know if she was happy or sad about it.
"I can't figure it out. I don't even feel like cracking any of my genius shayari," she muttered as she helped Asad with his packing.
He remembered one of her many useless verses from the past.
Ek sher aya hai, zara gaur se suniye,
Ek sher aya hai, zara gaur se suniye,
Mujhe nahi ata, kisi aur se suniye!
Asad smirked. She recognized that smirk. A hand bunched up at her indignant waist; a finger waved and stabbed his chest. "Mr. Khan, say it. Say that my shers are perfect and you love them!"
"Please, your shers are not perfect at all. And I've already told you this a million times!"
"Mr. Khan, I made the most perfect sher in the whole entire world," Zoya sassed back as she turned to lift up Zaid. "Tell Abbu you're Ammi's best sher in the world!"
Zaid roared, "raaarghh!"
Asad laughed. Damn. Always right! "You're right. I do love some of your shers!"
Asad tugged them into his arms and held tight. They swayed together as one. "I'm going to miss you so much. Even if this judai will be much shorter. But I'll miss spending time with both of you like this even in India. I'll be at work. We'll have only Sundays ..."
"Shh, Mr. Khan. Don't think about that right now. Just think of the right here and right now and how perfect this moment is."
Asad sighed and his lips drooped.
"What?" Zoya asked. Her skin prickled. She put Zaid back down on his play mat. He scampered off to play with his dump truck.
Asad turned away to stare out of the window.
"Things might be different when we return--may be even difficult for a while ..." he started.
"Why? What things?"
"Work. The real estate market is really slowing down. We have a comfortable cushion for now but I don't know how long we'll be able to ride this slump out."
Zoya exhaled. "We'll mostly be fine ... but you're worried about the workers, right?" And the half-done housing projects that people had paid into ...
"What if--?" He couldn't even imagine the worst let alone utter it. Some of the other smaller businesses were already considering freezing worker pay or at least halving it.
Zoya slipped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, baby. I wish I could help." She didn't know how to convey her trust in him, in his ability to be able to weather even this squall. All she had for now was empty comfort. His worry scared her. In an instant she saw her pillowly cloud nine imploding. Could things really be so bad? Or was this just Asad's typical low-grade worry about the future that reared its head every now and then?
"Asad, I have full faith in you. You'll think of something. We'll think of something together ... I know!" she snapped her fingers. "We'll cut back. Downsize--I mean downsize our own lives not lay off people. Zaid doesn't need so many toys, I certainly don't need any more sarees and suits ..." Her mind raced. Where else could they cut back costs? This trip had turned out to be too expensive, she thought in guilty hindsight. She looked around her room at Zaid's toy and clothes explosion. Did he really need five baseball caps? The miniature leather jacket and baby Doc Martens that Ayaan had insisted on buying for his biker nephew? "May be we shouldn't have come on this trip ..." She started to mentally tally the costs of the plane tickets, taxis, tours, the private airplane ride to Niagara Falls, the restaurants, theaters, gifts" Initially Asad had wanted to send her, Zaid and Ammi by first class but thank god she'd put her foot down on that one. "It's such a waste."
So business class it had been.
Zoya worried. Her lips thinned and a monster frown loomed.
Asad turned to watch her. The clouds parted; a smile broke across his face. He could already hear her mental fix-it gears clicking. This is what he loved about her. Always buoyant. Always planning fixes and solutions. And always thinking about other people. It had taken him too long to see this about her of course. In the beginning he'd seen her infernal perkiness and optimism as annoying. Frivolous even.
He rested his forehead against hers. "So much faith in me?"
"Always! You always take care of the tough stuff. I know we'll find a way." Zoya touched his cheek. Asad turned his head to kiss her palm. "You've been through much worse, seen leaner times as you grew your business, taken risks, made a name for yourself ..." Zoya breathed.
"Hmm ..." But back then he never shared his fears of failure with any one. He'd soldiered on, a solitary worrier and warrior. He wouldn't even think of telling Ammi--she would fret for him, tell him to slow down, to not be so single-minded. With Zoya he didn't need to voice his deepest concerns. Because mind-reader that she was, she put his thoughts into words, questions mostly--words so extreme and so simple that he breathed easy. Through her he heard his unspoken worries aloud--and once said out loud their potency vanished; they didn't seem as unsurmountable.
"You know what," Zoya said as she stepped back in excitement. "I can arrange free coding workshops for your employess ... upgrade skills ... diversify ..." Her voice fell to a determined mutter. "I really hope we can save some of our new programs like the kids' savings accounts ... "
Last Republic Day they had announced a new scheme for the employees. If they opened savings accounts in their kids' names for further education the company would chip in as well. Those were the good days when they were still giddy from celebrating Zaid's monthly anniversaries. The families were closer than ever. All traces of Tanveer had been wiped clear and they were all starting new chapters of hope.
Plans. Plans. Plans. Already Zoya's eyes were sparkling with a dogged glint. Already she was moving to punch into her iPad. Asad's smile widened. And that was the best part about sharing his dread with her: whatever the problem, in the next instant she would rattle off a million solutions--many zany, but some pure gold. Thank god he had learned to not bottle up his worries, not be as emotionally challenged as she used to often accuse him.
Asad snagged her arm and pulled her back into him. "We'll be OK. It's not the end times as yet. I might be overthinking this. But ... I only wanted you to be prepared. Just in case. And don't tell ..."
"Ammi or any one else as yet?"
He smiled again. "We may eventually have to discuss things with Ammi ..."
"Yup, because Ammi's going to figure things out pretty quickly! And Asad, I'm sure she'll be supportive."
"I just don't want her to worry."
"She's a mom. It's her job to worry."
"I know. The thing to remember is that no matter what, we'll be fine. We have each other."
Zoya hugged him tight. "Good job, Mr. Khan! That's exactly what I've been trying to tell you for the past half hour!" She reached up to kiss him hard on the lips. "You know I'm always right, but it's OK to take your own sweet time to figure that out!" She didn't call him Tubelight Ahmed Khan for nothing.
"You are too much," Asad said following up with another kiss.
"And you love me for it?" she asked when they surfaced.
"Have a safe flight," her text said and Asad knew. He knew because her text was followed up with just one heart emoji not the usual string of hearts, hugs and kisses. She was upset. And hurt. He'd become so used to these symbols that this new text seemed naked ... exposed.
The in-flight announcement to turn off all electronic and mobile devices came on.
"Sir, can you please switch your device to airplane mode?" The flight attendant hovered over him.
His expectant thumb paused over the keypad. With a sigh Asad sent Zoya a quick couple of heart emojis (something he'd probably never done before--after all he'd turned his Jahanpanah nose up at these fluffy symbols of idiotic flair. He felt that emojis were lazyass substitutes for real emotion. "No, they're not!" His wife would argue. "They're a visual expression of genuine emotion," she'd insist. "They're dumb," Asad would say. "They're cute and super adorbs," she'd end all argument and stop his eyeroll midway by planting the juiciest and realest emoji kiss on him. Of course. That was half the reason why he loved arguing with her. And she knew it too).
He thumbed the airplane mode on. He had a long flight to ponder his punishment.
It had all begun harmlessly enough. OK, may be she was PMSing and that's why she was a walking bundle of emotional messiness today. Or the impending goodbyes were taking a toll on her. Zoya really was her anti-shayari self today. Her tears were barely banked as Asad and Ayaan checked in their bags and put away their passports. And then at the gate just as Asad was handing back Zaid to her after one last cuddle, it happened. The first domino toppled.
"Asad Ahmed Khan! Is that you, is that really you?"
The distinctly girly voice already had Zoya's hackles going up on reflex. But then Zaid started to fuss so she was distracted. Annoyed, and distracted. By the time she collected herself she saw Asad extracting himself from braceleted arms and a blur of painted acrylic nails. Zoya saw red. Redder than the nail paint red. Zaid lifted his head off her shoulder at the low growl that escaped his mom's lips.
"Aahmmaaama mama amama," he patted her cheek.
And all of Zoya's itchy rancor seeped away to be replaced with heavy gloom. Her heart fell to her feet. Had she been her usual Zoya self this wouldn't have pinched as much. She would have even noticed Asad's mild frown. Seen him putting distance between himself and this woman. That clear-eyed Zoya might have even laughed at herself for thinking that some woman was attempting to put a move on her husband.
But the usual Zoya was on a day off. This was her weepy-senti green-eyed twin. This Zoya suddenly felt plain-Janey in her ripped jeans, rumpled shirt and ballet flats. The pale yellow linen shirt had felt crisp and cool in the morning. This was late afternoon and she left just as limp. Why had she rolled the sleeves in a fit of reckless abandon? Was her scar showing? And was that a stain of baby food on her shirtfront? The stain-master wasn't much help either. Zaid's mid-afternoon nap had been disrupted by his dad and Chachu's departure so he was letting them all have it. He squawked; his sticky-drooly fingers tangled in Zoya's hair.
She winced, mortified.
All this may well have taken a minute or five. But to Zoya it felt just a little short of eternity. The conversation around her was a cackle of hangry buzzards.
"Zoya? ... This is Nilima. Mallik, remember? His sister." Asad started the introductions.
She vaguely remembered the friend who couldn't come to the wedding but had sent a beautiful blue Delft ginger jar as a gift.
"She was a year younger than us in college," Asad went on.
Somehow Zoya managed to shake Nilima's hand without making too much of a fool of herself. She even allowed herself to be enveloped in a perfumed hug. Zaid sensed that he needed to rescue his mom so he turned on the boyish charm full blast. And as Nilima and Zaid flirted, somehow Asad figured out exactly what was going on in his wife's head. That tiny frown and plump pout were after all a dead giveaway. But there was no time to reassure her. They were already running late. The long security check line snaked for miles around the pillars. Travel always made him tense and having to see Zaid fret and Zoya upset made his stomach knot even more.
"I'll call from Istanbul," was all he was able to whisper to her as they were swept away in the moving line. "I love you," is what he should have really said.
Zoya watched the chasm between them stretch. Nilima was chattering away with Ayaan and Asad nodded distractedly as she asked him something. Her flight to London was 25 minutes after theirs. As he turned to look back Asad saw Zoya's face--no dimple in sight. He waved to her and saw her hug Zaid closer. He pulled out his phone. "Don't look at me like that," he texted.
"You're killing me." "I love you," he added. "Already missing you."
He didn't know why each text felt guilty or why he wanted to reassure Zoya so bad. He'd done nothing wrong. And Nilima had always been a demonstrative girl. That's how she met and greeted and talked to anybody, male or female--with hugs, backslaps and an arm around the waist or shoulder. If people were bothered by it they were eventually worn down by her innocent appeal. Like a heat-seeking cat she liked to drape herself over people without the slightest qualm about decorum. She was like that in college, had been scolded often enough by her brother and had broken many a heart. Apparently she hadn't changed.
Asad tried calling Zoya's phone but when she answered she sounded harried. He could hear Zaid crying. "Zoya, I--"
"Mr. Khan, I can't talk. He won't--Zaid, baby ... !"
It was no use. Zaid hollered louder; Asad heard the tears in her voice too.
"Call me later?" he said.
" ... I'll try." But she hadn't called. Just texted. That text weighed him dwon; it became a drip-feed of acid reflux for the rest of the flight.
By the time they landed in Istanbul he had worked himself into a slow simmer of self-righteous rage--after everything they'd been through together how could she even get upset at such a small thing? It was just an old friend. Just a hug. She already knew how he felt about that. To be jealous of that? Ayaan turned to look at him as Asad repressed a snort. Had he ever given her a single reason to suspect that he might stray? Did she not trust him? It wasn't even his fault! He didn't even do anything. Then why was Zoya behaving as if he'd done something wrong!
That's it! She could keep waiting for him to call because he sure as hell wasn't going to.
They may well have been the longest 96 hours of her life.
When she saw those twin heart emojis before he switched off, raw guilt burned through Zoya too. There was no doubt that she'd been a complete idiot. A total fool. How could she even--?
In the car she hid her face in her hands and nearly wept. Zaid tried to pluck her hands away.
"Beee-a-aaa-buuu!" he scolded, assuming she was not following the rules of the game. He covered his face with chubby fingers and Zoya smiled.
"Peek-a-boo," she said softly.
Zaid giggled and flung his hands away. Finally Ammi had remembered how to play the game. Indedly fooliss to forget! La mya wutz wong wi yuuu!
And then Asad hadn't called from Istanbul. When she tried to call his cell he wasn't available. Or he wasn't talking to her.
She felt sick to her stomach.
"Bas, one more day and then you'll also go away," Zeenat pouted the next day.
"Zoyajaan, so distracted? Not even backchatting your bechari Aapi?"
"Aapi, aap bechari nahin ..."
Zeenat noticed her droop again.
"What happened, baby? What's got you so upset? Mat dukhi kiya karo apni Aapi ko! Did you fight with Asad?"
Zoya sighed. Damn her face that couldn't hide her emotions. It reflected every moody ripple. It was no point hiding things from Aapi--she'd nag till she had her answers. Or jump to absolutely wrong conclusions.
"It's just a little something, Aapi. No big deal. Main wahan ja kar sab theek kar doongi!" And those familiar words brought her confidence roaring back. This really was nothing. She and Mr. Khan had gone through much, much worse. And just as he always said a maddened "woh bechari nahin hain!" about her, Zoya would stop feeling bechari about herself.
"Now you think of making things right! Why did you waste the whole day with such a long face then?"
Zoya hugged Zeenat. "Sorry, Aapi! Your words made me realize it just now." She held her ears in apology, "lijiye, no more long face. Ab nahin dukhi karoongi!"
Zeenat grinned too at sighting the beloved dimple. "Zaroor you must have done something silly to upset Asad. He loves you so much aur tum sata rahi hogi usko!"
Zoya blushed. "This time you're right Aapi. I did do something stupid. But promise, I'll fix it. You know me!"
"I know, I know Zoya Farooqui kuch bhi kar sakti hai!" Zeenat said as she finished oiling and braiding Zoya's hair. "Come, it's Zaid's turn for maalish!"
Zaid chuckled and crawled away at a fast clip making his Zee Nani give chase. Zoya tucked her chin over her bent knees as she watched them play. Yes, she would make it right. She grinned to herself. You can be as Akdu as you want Mr. Khan, but Zoya Farooqui's on her way to sweep and swipe all your frowns away. Just you wait, Jahanpanah. Just you wait.
She had a few days to plot her apology.
Asad hadn't come to pick them up at the airport.
"Bhaijaan had an important meeting he couldn't miss," Ayaan said as he greeted them.
Zoya pasted a smile on her face for Dilshad's sake. "I knew," she said. And she did know in her heart didn't she? She hadn't been lying. But her heart had still twisted funny at the news. But then she smiled a real smile to greet her Abbu and Aunty.
Zaid was swallowed up in hugs and kisses, duas and protections against buri nazars.
"You've grown so big," Razia cooed. She had been so worried that Zaid would forget them. "You remember Chhoti Nani? Nanu?"
Of course he remembered. He pulled at Nanu's glasses and yanked Razia's dupatta off her head to gnaw at it like he loved to do--it was just as if he'd met them yesterday.
"Badmash! Bilkul nahin bhula, mere jaan!" Chhoti Nani gushed with pride.
Happily they all were whisked away to the Siddiqui house for a lavish lunch and a long-awaited reunion with Dobby. And there was a rocking horse that needed to be test-ridden. They would have brought the cat to the airport with them but he refused the indignity of being forced into a crate. Dobby sulked and hid himself for the rest of the morning.
But he came barreling out when he heard Zaid's gurgle. He launched himself at Zoya and complained loudly as she giggled and tried to cuddle him.
"Hi kittycat," Zoya called.
Dobby bawled and howled as if he was being torn apart by demons. No amount of kissing or kissing noises would calm him down.
Razia laughed as she wiped a tear. "He did that to Asad too."
"Hamari takleef bhi zahir kar raha hai!" Siddiqui Saheb added.
And then Dobby sighted Zaid in Nuzzhat's arms. Beast and baby lunged at each other. They squabbled and babbled at once. Zaid yanked a furry ear. Dobby yowled. Then Dobby licked Zaid's head to wash him and make sure the boy smelled catright. Zaid dodged and giggled. But there was no keeping Dobby from completing his homecoming ritual.
The family trooped inside to freshen up and feast.
This wasn't going to be a seduction. It would be an offering.
Zoya wore the pink saree--his first gift to her. But now her calm was ebbing; her confidence beating a retreat. Asad hadn't come home for dinner. It was well past 10 pm. She'd even cried a bit as she put Zaid to bed. If he was this angry then how would she be able to break through to him? He had Facetimed with Zaid several times on Dilshad's phone and Ayaan's. But he hadn't said a word to her over the phone. Not sent a single text. She'd paced in the backyard. Sat huddled on the bench. Remembered how forlorn this bench had felt on their mehendi night. He'd shut her out that night too. And another night when he'd struck her and--
No, she wouldn't think of those nights. She'd think of the hundreds of nights since then. When he'd surprised her with blueberry cheesecake. Hung the moon for her; put his ring on her. Twice. Once on their mehendi night.
And then the night when he had got her new forever ring engraved with Qubool Hai ... the two Os looped together.
Zoya twisted the ring on her finger.
Back inside when she heard Asad's key in the door she felt as nervous as a bride. In her mind she had imagined herself running to him. And he would take care of the rest. But now she wasn't so sure. His continued rejection had begun to chafe. Her eyes burned.
Zoya's fingers dug into the sofa back as she saw him enter and close the door behind him. Her eyes drank him in. He looked exhausted.
"Hi ..." she croaked.
Asad nodded. A faithless tear spilled. She watched him move closer. Hope swelled. But then he walked past her toward their room.
"I'm sorry," she whispered to his back. She yearned to hear his voice, crave his reassurance. Asad paused at their door. "I missed you so much! Please, Mr. Khan, I'm--"
May be all she should have said was I love you.
Zoya didn't know she'd been crying till he took her in his arms. And then she really cried.
"Shh," he soothed.
But this once she couldn't bear him holding her. Zoya broke free to run to the bathroom.
That moment when he'd walked past her was a slap to her face. His rejection writ large on his stiff back broke her. She'd wanted to run to him and hold him from the back. "Don't be mad at me," she wanted to say. But her feet had grown roots; her heart an anchor.
When Asad walked through the unlocked bathroom door and lifted her off the floor to carry her into their room she put up a token struggle. But her body wouldn't cooperate. It melted seeking his warmth, his touch. But her chin wouldn't lift off her chest as she wept quietly. He put her on the bed and knelt by her side. Taking her hand in his Asad kissed the top. He'd switched on her bedside lamp and watched her, bewitched.
She looked more beautiful than Asad remembered. Her eyes were still downcast. The pearl and diamond choker that he'd given her on their wedding night quivered at her throat.
"Babe, please don't cry. You know what that does to me."
When he saw that tiny frown and the emerging pout Asad almost chuckled. Oh yeah, she was back. He was about to get an earful of Allah Miyans and what's wrong with yous. Asad's heart thrilled. All anger and misgivings fled. They were replaced with a glow of wellbeing. His world was right again. Everyone he loved under the same roof--Ammi upstairs, Zaid fast asleep in his crib, Dobby in his bed surrounded with new American toys, and Zoya's breath mingling with his own. What else could he have asked for? Why had he squandered dear moments in passing doubt?
His kiss on her hand said it all--apology and forgiveness mingled. When Zoya looked up into his face she saw herself in his eyes.
There. What they had surged back. The earth corrected its overtilt. Their eyes drank each other in erasing eons and abysses.
"Are you OK?" Asad asked two-three intense seconds later.
She loved that question--so did her dimple. "Umm hmm, now I am!" she whispered.
He laughed. Softly. No micro mini smile this time. "Welcome back!"
She threw her arms around his neck, "it's great to be back. I missed you, us, so much!"
Asad held her tight and rocked her to him. They wouldn't be any missing any more if he could help it. He felt his tiredness seep away. And Zoya felt his tensed neck muscles relax. Because she knew, when he punished her, he punished himself more. They mended in each other's arms--becoming whole again.
"I got scared," she murmured when Asad finally asked her.
Together they worked in the kitchen heating the food, setting the table, lighting the candles and stealing hugs and kisses between breaks.
"You got jealous?"
"Super jealous," Zoya admitted with an embarrassed grin.
How could she tell him how she felt? She didn't half-understand it herself. They settled down at the table, chairs and arms touching, as they fed each other.
"Umm ... voh ..." she hesitated.
Asad wrapped her in a tight side-hug. "It's not because you don't trust me, I know that," he said. "Or at least I figured that out by the time I landed in India." He felt embarrassed about his temper too. It had been all so unnecessary.
"When Nilima stepped up and hugged you ... I felt ... drab ...completely out of your league in front of her," Zoya finally told him. She'd looked so well put together.
"What? Zoya, no!"
"But how could you even think that! Have I ever made you feel--?"
"Never!" she rushed to cover his mouth. She felt at a loss to explain again. "It's just that, sometimes I wonder if you should've married someone beautiful and elegant ... and not a madcap like me!"
Asad burst out laughing. "A musibat mohtarma, you mean?"
"Shh! You'll wake up the whole house!"
"See, I'm loud too," Zoya wailed.
"Too loud," Asad teased with a raised eyebrow.
She blushed and swatted his shoulder, "Mr. Khan!"
Asad kissed her palm. "Let's get this straight--you're beautiful and elegant and gorgeous to me. Yes, you're a madcap, but I love that about you. I love everything about you. So no more crazy ideas like this, OK?"
"But I'm so ... so uncoordinated, she looked so dignified--"
"I wasn't meant to fall in love with dignified. I was meant to fall in love with a badtameez ladki."
"Asad, you don't understand!"
"Then make me understand because you're right, I don't. I don't understand why you'd feel that way after all that we have, all that we've been together."
She grew quiet. "It's hard to explain. When I was young I thought that once true love was declared and shared there would be no problems, no jealousy, no resentment between couples. But ..."
"But that day nothing mattered except my sudden fear that I wasn't good enough for you. I felt shabby in my clothes in front of Nilima. My scar was showing--that made me feel worse."
"Aww babe, come on! You know that none of that is true. Not good enough for me? You know how often I've thought I wasn't good enough for you? The terrible things I said and did ..."
"No Asad! What I'm trying to say is that I didn't realize that it's normal to feel jealous inspite of a happily-ever-after marriage."
"But I don't even want you to think that way! There's no way that any of that could be true. And Nilima? I think of her like Najma, she's like a sister to me."
"I know that," Zoya tried to calm him down. "It's just that at that moment this zombie thing flared inside me and took over. All logic evaporated and I could only compare myself to her and find myself lacking."
"But you're not! There's nothing to compare." He saw her shaking her head.
"OK fine, what could I have done differently to not make you feel that way?"
"Nothing! Because this wasn't even about you. It's something that could happen now and then. A simple chemical reaction. Just don't be mad at me for feeling this way."
He put his arm around her and gathered her closer. "So I'm supposed to put up with jealous tantrums whenever they strike?"
"Yup, it's in the nikahnama's fine print."
"Am I allowed to be jealous if someone hugs you?" His teasing smile dipped. Asad flashed back to that moment when Omar had given Zoya a bear hug when he first came to Bhopal, and how he'd died a little on the inside. His fist had ached from wanting to smash something. Then a few days later at the Thai restaurant he'd fantasized about removing every single bone from Omar's body because he'd been over-attentive to Zoya--holding her hand, kissing the top of her head, hugging her. Oh boy, jealousy was a stinger. If Zoya felt even an ounce of what he'd felt those days ...
He gripped her hand tight. "Fine, be jealous if you have to. But remember this: I fell in love with you at first sight, not with any other woman. I said Qubool Hai to you, and no other woman. You're the mother of my son, my soulmate."
"Really. Remember, even high on bhaang I told you how much I was attracted to you. And no one's better than you at being Mrs. Asad Ahmed Khan."
"Tell me more about how I'm the perfect Mrs. Asad Ahmed Khan," Zoya said dreamily, dropping her chin in hand.
"I said nothing about being perfect. You need your hearing checked, Mrs. Khan!"
"I love you and all your perfect imperfections," he breathed. "You make me look forward to every waking moment, and I sleep with a grateful heart every night." He kissed her. "I'm sorry I got mad at you."
"If this is how you make up for it I command you to get mad every week from now!" She so loved how he wooed her back--reeled her in, more like it. But she'd take the bait any time if she always found him at the other end.
"I love you, Mr. Khan."
"Good, because I need you to show me how much."
She giggled. How much he'd missed that sound! Why did he have to be a grumpy ass for so long? A quicker make up would have burned less blood.
They rushed to put the dishes away and clear the table. He continued to tease her as they worked. "I'm allowed to be jealous of Dhoni? Your Ranveers and Ranbirs ... Fawad Khan and that Benito Batch--"
"Benedict CUMBERBATCH!" Zoya clasped her hands to her heart, face glowing.
"Shh," he rushed to cover her mouth yet again.
"But yes, Mr. Khan, you have my full blessing to be as jealous as you want--see, what a great attitude I have about it? You could learn from me and not be an Akdu the next time I'm jealous!"
He splashed her with water from the faucet because he didn't have a comeback. Zoya giggled as she backed away from him. Asad caught her hand to pull her close.
"Forget all jealousy," he said, voice lowering an octave. "I want to make love to you, feel your skin against mine ... I need you. I need to be inside you." Her dilating eyes made him harder.
She loved how he could make her laugh and then have her moaning with want the next second.
Zoya gripped his collar, "now, Asad please," she begged.
Asad scooped her up in his arms and marched to their room but they had to come back to switch off the lights and blow out the candles. They couldn't resist soft kisses and nicks on the way. Long kisses and quick unsnapping of buttons and hooks followed. Good thing she hadn't pinned her saree or it would've ripped. His mouth at her throat had her hissing. His hands at her [email protected] had her raw with need. They fell into bed a tangle of heated limbs, their bodies golden in the lamplight.
"Asad," she moaned. "I love you so much."
"I love you more," he said between deep mouth-tugs at her nipple as his hand dipped lower. She was wet and wild with need and nearly keened. He had to cover her mouth but she shook off his hand and cried out in delight when he entered her, head thrashing to the side.
"Oh god, Zoya you don't know what you do to me"!" Those sounds she made made him thick with desire.
Her hands clawed the sheets as she savored that familiar weight, that new and age-old sensation. Her hips had started dancing, her knees--
"Oh my god," Zoya whispered as she tried to cover them with the sheet.
"What?" Asad asked, distracted.
"He's watching us."
"Let him." Dobby had seen them having se*x a million times before.
"No, Zaid!" she hissed.
Asad half-turned towards the crib but saw nothing. "You're imagining things."
"No, wait. Watch."
Biting off cursewords, a dissatisfied Asad pulled out of her, and with the sheet to their chins they watched. Soon they spied a tiny pair of hands gripping the crib rails. They climbed higher and bam! a tousled head and gleaming eyes appeared over the headrail.
"Oh my god Asad, he's standing!"
Zaid smiled at them.
"Baaa bbaaa mmmaaa," he babbled.
"Hey Champ!" Asad crowed. "You're standing!"
Zoya jumped out of bed trying her best to cover herself with the discarded saree. She was trying to clap for this crowning achievement. Zaid tried to clap for himself too but he let the rail go and plonk! He fell back down on his bottom.
This time when he wobbled as he stood Zoya swept him into her arms to kiss and hug him. She handed him to Asad and dashed to pull his shirt on. Asad kissed his son and they high-fived. Zoya got into bed with them. Zaid started climbing over them.
"Zaid, time for bed," Asad said as he tried to hand him off to Zoya.
Dobby had jumped up on the bed too. He circled his family and meowed in pleasure. Finally! Everything was back to being right.
Dobby and Zaid wrestled. Zaid rolled on the bed happy and content. He tried to grab his toes in his footie pajamas. He gurgled and burbled some more. Asad looked at Zoya in dismay.
Zoya giggled again. "It's play time," she said.
"It's bloody midnight!" he hissed.
"It's called jet lag, Mr. Khan. He'll be up for at least 2-3 hours."
Asad flopped back on his pillow and squeezed his forehead. "No!"
If he'd been more coherent she'd have heard him say: "Incredibly foolish!"
Song in Title:
Kailash Kher: "Teri Diwani"
Next Chapter: 140214450
Topic started by dixeij
Last replied by -jass-