Flight Part 2
The only person in the whole house and probably the whole world who understood me was Fatima. Aamir Sahab’s thirteen year old. She not only supported me but was also in awe of me for fighting for my education. Fatima was like my reflection. I could see how she was just like me and she showed her real self to me only.
What I and Fatima developed was not a mother-daughter bond because even though I was her stepmother, she was only 4 years younger to me. We were more like friends. I helped her in her studies. She helped me too. I would present cases in front of her, revise my answers with her. We studied together, took breaks together. She gave me a tour of the Haweli, she told me where everything was, she introduced me to the kitchen (where I only wandered to steal food), she introduced me to the library (which was too huge for the house of illiterates, turns out Aamir Sahab was a fond reader himself though I had never seen him read) and we spent hours reading books, discussing stories, laughing out loud.
The jharoka on the second floor was our spot. It was on the back end of the Haweli, adorned with lights and pretty curtains, it was the airiest spot in the Haweli. Fatima went to school while I was at university. And once we both came back, we didn’t care about another soul. I always had a hunch that Aamir Sahab knew about our routine and our friendship because everyone else in the Haweli didn’t like our ways. I was certainly the most unconventional daughter-in-law and my influence on Fatima would certainly be bad according to them. But since Aamir Sahab approved, no one said anything.
One day while we were both at the jharoka, I and Fatima had a small disagreement. So I just opened my books and retired to a small corner. After a while, she tried to make it up with me but I didn’t budge. I pretended to be engrossed in my book, so she came around and snatched it from me. I ran after her and within seconds, the jharoka started echoing with our footsteps and our laughter. Maybe we made too much noise because, for the first time in months, Aamir Sahab decided to show up. We both stopped. I quickly fixed myself and hid partially behind Fatima. She, on the other hand, was giggling.
She had the nerve to giggle in front of her father. I never giggled in front of mine.
“Baba, what brings you here?” she asked him.
It was shocking that she even called him Baba. I called my father Murad Sahab all my life. Just like everyone else. If she was calling him Baba, they probably had a real bond.
“I can’t visit you, Jaan? I see you’ve got a new friend and forgotten me!”
I never knew Aamir Sahab had this side too.
Fatima giggled again. “Baba thinks I am still a toddler!” she was addressing me.
I just smiled.
“For me you are!” saying this, he pulled her close and made her sit on his lap.
I was just trying to register the fact that he could be soft if he wanted to. But then my eyes fell on the diamond bangles in my hands and I realised I was just giving him credit for normal things. This, every father is supposed to do, and he is not doing this often enough. So he doesn’t deserve credit for this just because he is the ultimate patriarch of this household. Giving love and care to his child is his responsibility, not her privilege.
I had zoned out. He was looking at me from time to time not even trying to mask his desire. His greyish-bluish eyes boring burr holes into my soul. Maybe there was some good within him deep down, and he gave too much credit to it. But most of his being was disgusting and reeking of alcohol.
“How is your university going?” he asked me and I came back to the conversation.
“Fine…” I was short and curt.
“She topped her semester,” Fatima announced proudly!
He smiled at her. “Really? Then we should gift her something. Ask her what she wants but please ask her to stick to material things” he said with a hint of humour.
This tickled me too and I could not control the slight smile that dreaded to form on my face. I could not smile at his jokes! That would be outrageous!
But he saw me, and his smile became triumphant! I tried to excuse myself from the situation but he and Fatima kept me occupied till dinner. After dinner, he left for his daily swigs and activities and I suggested we go to bed but Fatima insisted on talking.
“You can never love Baba right?” she asked out of nowhere and I stopped in my tracks.
“Why are you asking such questions?” I didn’t want to answer this.
“Come on, Shaheen. I’m not a kid. And haven’t you taught me that I should never keep my questions inside me?”
“I never said that to make you a gossip queen!”
“I am your best friend, Shaheen. I deserve this gossip!”
And she was right. She really was my best friend.
“No, I can never love him. Because love sets you free. And he has caged me!” I involuntarily looked at my diamond bangles.
“But even if he hadn’t caged you, you couldn’t have possibly loved him. You need a gentleman and he is a patriarch. I mean, if he ever poured his water, his mother would give him credit for doing housework. He feels he is an awesome dad and an awesome husband because he is letting us study. He thinks he has accomplished all levels of genuineness because he hasn’t raped you yet even though he is married to you!”
My eyes were going to pop out of their sockets. She was still young and small. She shouldn’t be talking like this!
“Fatima!” I couldn’t help but express my astonishment.
“Oh come on Shaheen! Didn’t you grow up as early as me? And with all the books we have been reading, I obviously understand! Ammar is just eleven, but he is already hell-bent on attending the weekly dance program my father holds for his friends! We grow up fast at the Haweli-!”
I couldn’t help the tears that escaped my eyes when I saw how exactly like me she was and how quickly she had grown up too. How she too felt the distinction between herself and her younger brother and how sad she was that her brother too was training to become an ultimate patriarch.
“Don’t tell your father you’re learning all big-big words here! He will put an end to our only escape.” I tried to smile through tears. I didn’t want to ruin the leftover childhood she had by getting into a deeper discussion.
“I am not stupid!” she laughed.
Years passed. I hardly looked back at my house because I still resented my father. The only reason I didn’t resent my new home, was Fatima. I was in the final year of my law course and exam going in 5 months. Fatima was also joining as a first-year in law school. Aamir Sahab had promised he wouldn’t get her married at least up till third year and if he did after that he would ensure she gets to finish her education. This she had achieved after a lot of negotiations and crying. Aamir Sahab softened for her, every time.
Fatima was ten times more rebellious than I was. In fact, my aggression had settled down in these years. Maybe I had become too accustomed to my situation. But the end of an era was approaching. In six months, I was going to be a degree holder, which meant…..
I had thought I would figure out some way of getting away from this place. I had decided to pursue law because I wanted to use it to fight. But the impact he had over the system and the kind of money he would spend to destroy me, made it impractical even to try.
I didn’t know what to do next. Even if I ran away to another city, he would definitely try to find me and make sure I come back to him. His diamond bangles still held me captive. I had lost some weight, so they weren’t as tight now, but they constantly reminded me of my cage. The way slaves were tattooed, he too had left an emblem on me. As if I was his property.
My resentment towards him had reduced considerably over the years. Maybe I was tired of all the negative feelings. More so, I had become accustomed to him and his gaze. His lustful eyes had softened towards me. Sometimes they had admiration and pride. But in the end, he was waiting to claim me. To make me his wife. To make me bear his children. How could I escape it? How could I prolong it? I had no idea….
Aamir Sahab was the guest of honour on my convocation day and I could see he was proud when he saw me in that robe, collecting my degree. He even filmed me when I threw off my cap. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to make use of this education, but at that moment when that cap rose above my head, I was happy and proud.
He took me out that day.
In the past four years, he had grown on me. I at least didn’t hate him like I did in the beginning. I could see he would always try to be around me. Sometimes, he would pick Fatima and me and would take us out on a drive away from the district followed by dinner. Such rendezvous would’ve attracted too much-unwanted attention in the district. He would mostly listen to me and Fatima talk. Gradually, I became comfortable talking in front of him, but I could never really have a conversation with him.
On my graduation day, for the first time in years, he took me out alone. I didn’t even know he was taking me somewhere. So when he drove towards the highway, I looked at him and he gave me a 50-watt smile. Now, Aamir Sahab smiling was also a very rare thing. So, even I could not help but smile a little. It was still very awkward. We both had nothing to talk about.
“So, Shaheen! You’ve finished your degree course. What are your plans now?”
“As in?” I asked with too much dread.
“As in, what do you want to do next?” he paused for a second, “apart from being my wife of course.”
He had caught me off guard. I HAD NOT expected this.
“I would love to work!” I didn’t wait even for a second before I blurted out this one.
“Slow down dear…. My wife is not going to court and stand in front of a judge and argue until she gets her way. I have been with you for four years, I can cage you, but I know I will lose you. I don’t want that. I want you, as you are, so I am ready to think. You can do masters, become a professor. I have seen the hard work you have put in for 5 years, and now even Fatima is doing the same, I would not like it to be wasted.”
I was still staring at him, wide-eyed. He was bargaining. He wanted to be happy. Moreover, he wanted me to be happy while I was with him. I am sure he must be feeling like the most considerate husband in the world! Well, he was probably the most considerable husband in the district. He was still beyond my standards of an ideal partner, but I didn’t have an option anyway.
It was a reasonable bargain. I was genuinely happy that day.
We ate a scrumptious meal and then waited for chai at a typical roadside restaurant. It started to rain and I felt myself inhaling the petrichor. I so wanted to get wet. I remembered the times I would get drenched in every rainy season on my terrace. I had stopped enjoying the rains since my wedding. It didn’t even cross my mind.
I looked back at the table when our tea arrived. That was when I looked at Aamir Sahab who was just shamelessly looking at me. But this time, he didn’t make me cringe. He had reached somewhere beyond lust and his eyes forced me to take mine away. I started focusing on the warm tea in my hands.
“You wish to enjoy in the rains?” he asked after a while.
Was it that evident on my face?
I shook my head. But he smiled. And then he offered me his hand.
I took it hesitantly.
He paid for a boy to get our car and drove to the nearest dam. It was a pretty secluded spot where he stopped the car.
“You can dance in the rain if you like. No one is watching you here, except me!” he added in the end.
I hesitated. But I had been craving this for so long. So I got out of the car and just stood there, feeling the rainwater touch my skin. He got out of the car too. He was just looking at me. After a while, I forgot he was there. It was just me, and the rains.
It was like I was washing away years of suffering and pain. It was like I was being brought back to life. I screamed. I screamed in pain, then in joy and then I started crying. I cried like a baby. And then I sobbed. Then I mourned as if someone had died. Had I not died, after all?
And then, I somehow resurrected. I whirled. And swirled. I was finally feeling the pleasure and glee I always used to feel. I turned so hard I was scared I would fall but I didn’t care. I just lost all control over my body, mind, and soul. I was happy.
Suddenly, I crashed into him. He was so huge and calm. Like a mountain. He held me, broke my fall. And then I recognised the expression in his bluish-greyish eyes that had changed since a while now.
Aamir Sahab loved me.
I never knew he was capable of such a thing. But under the many layers of a spoilt patriarch, resided a crude human who had no control over his feelings. It had happened now and I didn’t know how to handle this.
We didn’t go home that night. He brought me some clothes and took me to a hotel to dry up. He didn’t say anything else, just held me close while we slept.
TO BE CONTINUED…..