Did I wish for this? She thought scrambling out of bed, getting her hair together, piling it on top of her head and jumping in the shower. Did I really wish for a residency so bad? It’s torture.
It had been two months since she had started internship and she had been tired. May be she wasn’t used to working so hard anymore because her house job was pretty demanding also. But there was no blurring the fact that residency was tiring. It fatigued her to her very bones.
She hadn’t had any time to spend with Azhar and even though he didn’t complain this wasn’t the setup he had lived in ever. He had always had brothers around him and had a reasonably active social life. He was no Bilal but just by having Bilal he had a lot of social things come his way. Now he didn’t have a job and didn’t really have much to occupy himself with. He was actively looking for a job but of course these things take even longer when it’s a new place.
The evening before when she had come back at 7 even though she wasn’t on-call and should’ve been home by 4, she found him sleeping.
“Wake up, Azhar!” She woke him up gently, feeling sorry for him about sleeping so soon before bedtime, waiting for her.
He opened one sleepy eye and said,
“What time is it?”
“7 in the evening”.
He bolted upright.
“Oh boy! I missed my Maghreb”.
Tanya sighed, looking at his beautiful face.
“Did you eat?”
“No.”, He shook his head, “I made something special for you. I thought I’ll eat when you come from work”.
She felt sorry for him again. Why was he suffering because of her ungodly schedules?
“Let’s eat then”, she said, kissing him and trying to engage in some more, “I miss you”.
“I miss you too”, he leaned against the headboard, “How was your day?”
“It’s all so tiring. Scutwork, learning new things and then some snarky remarks that people throw my way without thinking”.
He stroked her hair .
“You weren’t born to listen to petty stuff. You’re a warrior”.
Azhar had made biryani which was kinda like his specialty.
“Oh wow!” She screamed, “I should’ve asked for a million dollars”.
They ate while chatting with Bilal who always FaceTimed at dinner time. It was early in Pakistan but this was the best time according to Bilal because otherwise he was always surrounded by people.
After dinner she felt sleepy. She cleaned the table and wanted to do the dishes since he did them everyday but then thought of watching some TV. Next thing she knew she had woken up in her bed from a bad dream.
She tried to get her bearings. She hardly ever got nightmares and was slightly petrified of them. She finally caught her breath and saw Azhar snoring next to her.
She tried to remember when they had sex last. It felt like years.
She kissed his neck. He tried to push her away but she persisted.
“Tanya”, he said, pushing her away, “you have to be up at 5”.
“I don’t care”, she pouted, “Can’t I have some sex if I want to? I’m horny and you’re available”.
“Tch Tch”, he said jokingly, “That mouth! We need to wash it with soap”.
She laughed and kissed his mouth.
“Please, Azhar”, she begged, “Can we not make a little night to remember?”
“If you’re going to quote him, then you have to quote him right. Let’s make a night to remember. There’s no little”.
“Glad to see you’re awake”, she got on top of him.
He pulled her in and kissed her for many minutes. She finally pulled back breathless and started taking her clothes off. He drew her back in. They made love until the break of dawn.
And now she regretted it because she was sleepy, tired and grouchy. Azhar was blissfully sleeping.
After dressing up she ran out the door. She normally took public transport to work because parking was so tough to get around the hospital and the hospital itself didn’t have a large enough garage.
She got in just in time for sign out. Thanking her stars that she wasn’t late, she sat down and started taking notes about overnight events on her patients.
Intern year which is the first year of residency is notoriously brutal and Tanya felt every bit of it. However there were some highlights. Azhar got chosen at an extremely prestigious company that made tablets for ambulatory offices and clinics and that improved patient care and electronic medical records. He had worked so obsessively and meticulously on his resumé that this was no surprise. His natural brightness and an inherent ability to take on challenges with grace and even some audacity was the key to his numerous academic and later professional successes. New York had definitely proved to be his lady . He had made friends and loved hanging out with them. He was very helpful and people loved him.
While all of this had probably affected his spirits a big deal nothing compared to how his limp not being stared at was an emotional upper for him. He had become brooding over his limp in Pakistan but when he saw how disability wasn’t stared at in the USA he started embracing it more as a lifestyle and less as a handicap. He even made jokes about it. He teased Tanya that even though she could walk she couldn’t pick him up in his arms like he could. He learned to live with it with grace and gratitude. This was the biggest change that Tanya saw in him and was so grateful for.
Her family came to see them over Thanksgiving in November. Tanya had the holiday off and they went to the city and did small little things that people normally do there. They ate from roadside vendors and shopped for trinkets and small items. Azhar got her a beautiful pendant from an expensive jewelry store on 42nd street and right there, in front of her mom and siblings, he kissed her lips for many minutes. Tanya was embarrassed and flustered but more than that she was floored at how beautiful the pendant was.
It was a long silver string with a gold locket that was shaped like the sun. Rays came out of it in different colors and when light touched it, it shone like the rainbow. She couldn’t take it off for many days. It was just breathtaking.
They went to the Rockefeller center on New Years and spent their evening ice skating and watching other people. They ate ice cream even though it was below freezing temperatures but they couldn’t stop themselves. They caught Lion King on Broadway and came back home on a jam packed train.
Overall her intern year had been a mix of amazingly good memories mixed with loads of tired moments. But she was happy and he was happy. And when she saw Azhar thriving beyond her wildest dreams, everything seemed worth it.
She looked around the quiet house. The walls threatened to close in on her. The earth kept slipping from underneath her feet.
She felt caught in a movie where nothing made sense. She couldn’t understand how times had changed so that Azhar was gone. How Hashir was now in Lahore. How Bilal and Maha didn’t speak to each other for days. How Hamza and Haifa, both still toddlers, were the quietest kids she had seen. Aman spent a lot of time with Hashir in Lahore and looked for opportunities to take a train or a cheap flight to go see his brother.
She walked aimlessly in her giant house almost all the time. She leaned into doors to hear some laughter from some corner. She stopped in hallways to catch long shadows that Azhar and Bilal’s frames used to make once.
She tried to engage Maha but she wasn’t interested. She had reverted to her usual routine and had limited herself to her room. She didn’t talk and sometimes Nighat noticed her eyes showing signs of rebellion and resentment. Her kids mirrored the disinterest in life that their mother had. They played little and were usually found watching TV.
It hurt her that Tanya had finally taken him from her. Why did she marry him to her then? If this was going to happen anyway then she should’ve married him to someone like she had married Bilal to a lackluster girl. At least he would’ve been here with her. Why did she sacrifice everything to get Tanya here? So she could whisk him away to the USA? Sometimes life becomes unpredictable and unfair. Nighat had many regrets but the biggest was marrying Azhar and Tanya.
He might’ve left home, someone would say to her. He might’ve left to be with her anyway.
No, she’d retaliate, Tanya would’ve never accepted him. If she didn’t bother so much about being accepted by his family she would’ve married Bilal.
Nighat hadn’t cried in years. Tears didn’t come to her in the traditional sense. She had cried so much in the initial years of her marriage that later crying just became another form of defeat. But now she cried. Freely. She was alone all the time and so she cried almost all the time too.
This house had never been warm, she would look at the walls and try to imagine the time when it was inhabited with all her in-laws. It hadn’t livened up with anything. Sabir’s malice was infused in the walls of this home.
Her plants were drying up and dying but she didn’t care. He used to do so much pruning and cutting with her. He had inherited her love for plants. They bonded over plants and looked for rare plants far and wide. Now nothing felt good. Nothing felt the same.
Someone made biryani and she was reminded of Azhar so strongly that she excused herself from the table and couldn’t eat.
Bilal laughed about something and he sounded so much like Azhar that she chased the sound down many hallways.
Hamza looked at her and she noticed the gray in his eyes and kissed him, thinking of another baby she had held once, her first born, who had gray eyes. Where was he now?
She hadn’t talked to him since he had left. Talking to him would open the floodgates to memories and emotions, she knew that. It would make her miss him more. It would just endorse the pain that this distance had become.
She didn’t have his phone number so had casually asked Bilal for it once. He had sent his number from his iPhone to hers and somehow his address had come with it. It looked like he lived in an apartment building. She tried to look it up on Google. She frantically searched for it when she realized that she could even may be see the area where he lived.
She blocked caller ID on her phone and called him.
“Hello!” Azhar said.
He said hello four more times and then hung up. She had called when it was 7 in the morning. When she finally looked at the clock again, it was noon.
She wanted to ask Bilal how Azhar was. Sometimes she wondered if he missed her too. Then she laughed. He hated her. Why would he miss her?
Death had always seemed a welcome prospect. Something that she waited for like an old friend. Someone she knew from many years ago, when on a cold operating table Hashir was delivered and urgently taken to the intensive care unit.
Hate was her sustenance now. Hate for Tanya. An intense loathing that kept her alive so she could defeat her enemy. She couldn’t let that fire go out. That fire had to burn until it showed him Tanya’s true face. Her deception and her scheme to get him.
Revenge was her mantra now. She repeated it to herself so she didn’t lose focus. She reminded herself of the work ahead so she continued to gather courage to do it and save her son from that most treacherous woman. She nursed her wounds and patted her heart, promising it its deliverance with the return of Azhar and the disgrace of Tanya.
Tanya started to have some menstrual irregularity. Initially she didn’t pay much attention to it but slowly this became concerning. She would go months without a period and sometimes would bleed for two weeks. She spoke with her primary care physician who chalked it all up to stress from residency.
I’ve been much more stressed before, she frowned upon hearing this, but I never had irregular periods.
She went for her PAP smear and brought it up to her OBGYN. Her doctor ordered some hormone tests and two weeks later Tanya went in to get the results.
“Tanya!” Dr. Sacks began. “I think you might have polycystic ovarian syndrome”.
“Really?” Tanya said. “But I’m not overweight and I have no hair issues. I was okay up until I moved to the USA”.
Dr. Sacks smiled.
“Sometimes PCOS isn’t a phenotypic diagnosis. You are a skinny girl with great hair, great skin, no extra fat pads. But I suspect based on your hormone results that you could have a variant of it. Have you had trouble getting pregnant ever?”
“Now we haven’t been able to conceive even though we are trying. Can’t say we are having as much sex as before but I usually have sex many times around ovulation. But I don’t know when I’m ovulating anymore because really I go without a period for months sometimes”.
“Hmm”, Dr. Sacks was quiet. “Well, we can’t call it anything unless you have been optimally trying for a year. If you haven’t been able to conceive by the end of this year, I’d like to hear from you so we can go over some other options. You’re nearing your thirties and sometimes this is a good time to start planning ahead. Makes sense?”
Tanya said, feeling a little discouraged, ideas of pregnancy and babies clouding her judgment again,
“Everyone says I’m a baby. Thirties is very young, they say”.
“Thirties is very young”, Dr. Sacks said, feeling emotional too. “But I’m your doctor and I have to be honest also. I don’t like to string my patients along for nothing. You can continue trying for now but let’s track your ovulation with the ovulation kit. How does that sound?”
Tanya dreaded using the ovulation kit but realized soon that there wasn’t anything to dread. She wasn’t ovulating at all.
Six months of not being able to track it she saw Dr. Sacks again.
“Keep practicing”, Dr. Sacks winked at her. “Like you said, you’re still very young”.
Surprisingly eight months into unprotected sex she got pregnant.
Azhar was happier than he had ever been at this news.
“Tanya! Imagine you’ll be in your third year soon and that’s so laid back compared to the first two, right? You’ll get to have some steadiness in your schedule and this baby will be so comfy with her mommy”.
Tanya laughed. They shopped for a baby girl and just because Azhar considered all genders equal, they bought some things for a boy also.
Her pregnancy progressed well. Dr. Sacks monitored her for three months and then scheduled her to see a high-risk OB also.
When a Phoenix rises from its ashes, it’s a little baby. It truly is reborn. It burns to nothing before taking birth again. It takes the old form with a new life. This is why the Phoenix is a symbol of resilience and unbeatable force. Tanya was a Phoenix. Tragedies set her back only to birth her again with renewed vigor and strength. Any setback that she had ever seen in life had only served to make her stronger. So when she had her miscarriage again this time while she was driving back from work and labor pains kicked in at thirty two weeks and she had to rush back to the hospital, counting contractions, feeling the familiar wetness soaking her lower body, ignoring the usual chaos that surrounded a woman coming to the ER with advanced pregnancy and no heart beat or movements, being wheeled into labor and delivery and being prepared for a vaginal delivery of a presumably still baby, she steeled herself to give birth. That was all she thought about. She had to feel this child and the pains of motherhood in their entirety before she could mourn him.
After sixteen hours of labor, Tanya gave birth to Noah. She looked at her husband, the only soul who knew of this happiness besides her doctors as they had been too terrified to share with anyone, and cried inconsolably in his arms. She held her baby, calm and still. They had a burial. They had a naming ceremony. It was just the two of them. It had always been just the two of them.
But Tanya and Azhar both always came closer when life tried to defeat them so they came closer, loved even harder and their souls connected even deeper.
It had been two months since Tanya’s miscarriage. Surprisingly this time around she hadn’t been very sad or forlorn for too long. She had bounced back quicker and he knew that it had a lot to do with how busy she was and how happy they both otherwise were.
He came home one day and waited desperately for her. She had become the one companion, besides Bilal, of all happy and sad times. She brought peace, love and a sense of balance to him. It seemed another time and another space when he had a set of parents. The only constants had only been Bilal and Tanya.
He hadn’t spoken with Nighat since he had left Pakistan. There was nothing to talk about. She had done everything in her power to sabotage his and Tanya’s happiness. She wasn’t a well-wisher.
He spoke with Bilal regularly and had told him about the still birth. Bilal cried with him and Azhar felt lighter afterwards, glad that he could share it with someone. He didn’t know how Tanya couldn’t share it with her mother. But Tanya was very judicious about sharing sad news with her family anyway. Her family had always been so worried about her marriage that she didn’t share the unhappy bits anymore.
She entered looking tired but grateful to see him.
He immediately picked her up.
“Whoever said that waiting is sweet was a moron”, he said, breathless at how gorgeous she was.
“It is sweet”, she said cheekily, “if you’re waiting for the right person. May be if you were waiting for Jessica Simpson this would’ve been sweeter”.
“You’re my Jessica Simpson”, he said, nuzzling her right breast, “you’re the best Jessica Simpson there ever was”.
She laughed and asked if he had eaten.
“Nope! Cuz I was so excited”, he said.
She looked at him with surprise in her eyes.
“Here”, he brought out some papers with a flourish, “Look!”
She scanned the papers quickly. Her expression hardened. She looked at him.
“I don’t want to adopt. I’ll have my own baby”.
“What do you mean?” He said, surprise in his eyes, “Adoption doesn’t mean that we won’t try for biological kids. Adoption doesn’t mean that adopted kids aren’t our own. They will be our own. We will have more, birthed by you, fathered by me. And we will have adopted kids who will be raised by us. No difference!”
“You’re an idiot, Azhar!” She stood up ferociously, “You’re a consummate idiot. I don’t know where you went to school but missed a few important emotional lessons”.
He was dumbfounded but he always bounced back fast when in the middle of an argument.
“What happened? I didn’t bring this up to hurt you. I always wanted to do this, Taanu! Allah has given us enough to care for some kids who no one is there to care for. Do you think that’s a bad thing?”
“You’re a moron”! She said, trying to control the anger coursing through her, “You are one bloody moron. Your entire family is a moron. All of you! Con artists!”
She didn’t know what got her. Her suppressed rage and anger at repeated losses was finally catching up with her. She thought she had gotten over it but she had lost three boys. Three little boys who could’ve been around her today.
She stomped in to her room and slept.
She was woken up at midnight. Azhar had brought food.
“Fight with me, not with food”, he said seriously.
She realized she was hungry. She ate quietly.
He went back to the kitchen, did the dishes and came back.
She was lying with her back to him. He pulled her in gently. She broke down.
“Don’t mention kids, Azhar!” She hiccuped. “Don’t mention kids. Don’t mention them. I don’t want them. If they don’t want me then I don’t want them either”.
He hugged her and stroked her hair. He knew she had been uncharacteristically upbeat after how her pregnancy had ended and knew she put up a facade because she didn’t want sympathy.
He didn’t mention it again.
“Do you know what Azhar’s plans are after his wife’s residency?” She asked stoically after breakfast one morning.
He felt on the spot. She had mentioned Azhar only a few times in the past three years and usually it was for some information about him. And indirectly Tanya. He felt he couldn’t hide or lie about this one.
“Tanya matched in a cardiology fellowship program at the same hospital. They’ll likely be staying put for another 3-4 years”.
She inhaled sharply. She had never counted on this being longer than three years.
“Is he still working at the old place?”
“Yeah!” He said, a little proud of his brother finally getting a much deserved break, “He got promoted. He is leading his team now”.
She lost her appetite. All of Azhar’s achievements were now meaningless to her. She had lost him.
She had lost a piece of her heart. She couldn’t believe that the son she had protected so much from everything had fallen prey to a woman who had nothing to recommend her really. Moments like these reminded of the intense hatred she had for Tanya.
Sabir was a beast these days. Naming her share to Azhar hadn’t gone over well with him and now he had started shaming her for it. He asked her frequently how it felt to be dumped by the son she cared for so much.
Many wounds were laid open by Azhar’s going to the USA. She knew Bilal could sense that Sabir was rapidly changing back into the monster that he was but what could anyone do? Bilal had suggested in so many words that she move back to Arsalan but that didn’t seem to be a viable option. What was she going to tell everyone who’d ask her why she was at her father’s? Her pride wouldn’t have it.
Every Sunday night she called Azhar after blocking caller ID on her phone. She heard him say “hello” a few times and hung up after he hung up. It became the highlight of her week.
“Ami!” Bilal interrupted her. “Azhar won’t come back. I think we should understand that. They went there to make a life for themselves. They won’t come back to live here now. This place wasn’t good for them anyway”.
She got up. Her plants had all dried up and there was nothing to look forward to in her garden.
She sat in the garden for many minutes, watching the sun come up completely, Bilal getting in his car, backing it out the driveway and going to work.
Bilal called Azhar. He talked about Nighat to Azhar frequently. Azhar never engaged in the talks about Nighat much but listened intently to most of it. He seemed like he didn’t care but Bilal knew that he did. Azhar was just badly disappointed by Nighat. And Azhar wasn’t forgiving by nature.
“Ami asked me about your plans after Tanya’s residency”. He said.
Azhar was quiet. He disliked the implication that they were setting up house in the USA because of Tanya. He saw this as another campaign against Tanya.
“Tanya’s residency certainly made the move very easy but we were headed in this direction ultimately. I wasn’t finding work in Pakistan. Why does everyone wait for her residency to be over so we can come back? We are not coming back, Billu!”
“I know! Don’t get upset. She asked and I told her your plan. I couldn’t hide it”.
“You did right”, he said, “I won’t be speaking to her in the near future. She cursed Tanya. Wished ill on her. Was nasty. I’m done”.
They talked for many minutes until Bilal got to work and then they hung up.
Tanya came out of their room. She looked fresher than she had in days. He beckoned her towards him.
“Azhar! I’m very bored”, she pouted and sat in his lap. “It’s my day off and I spent it sleeping”.
“It’s okay”, he said, kissing her neck, “We can do something now”.
“Watch a movie and eat Chinese”, he suggested.
She got closer to him. They hadn’t had sex in months. Since the miscarriage.
“Why don’t you ever recommend something better? Why do you always have to be a good boy?”
A slow smile spread on his face.
“I can be a bad boy. Just never got the feeling that you are into bad boys”.
“Now I like them”, she said huskily, “I think you need to change your routine up”.
He pulled her deeper in his arms,
“I can change it up. Sometimes I wish you could break out of your rut too”, he added mischievously.
“I’m not stuck in any ruts. I’m the most creative in bed. Try me!”
“Okay!” He said, letting her go, “Show me what you can do”.
She took her top off slowly.
“Never challenge Tanya Tariq”. She said, coming closer.
“Tanya Azhar Hussain”.
“You’ll regret making me run this show, Azhar, cuz I’ll ravish you”.
“Okay”, he said, throwing her on the couch as she squealed, “Let’s break out our best moves”.
She went over the adoption papers that she had so rudely rejected the other day. She felt sad at being so abrupt and dismissive. The papers were very detailed. Azhar had even circled a few things in there. She went over the various clauses.
“What are you looking at?” He grabbed her from behind.
“Azhar! I’m sorry”, she said, kissing his lips. “I’m so sorry. You’re always telling me that I should be grateful and I threw these papers away which could be our only chance to have a baby”.
She was crying.
He hugged her.
“We have many chances of having a baby. Don’t think about this. I should’ve talked to you. You weren’t ready for this and we don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. It has to be a joint decision”.
“I want it”, she said urgently, “I want it. I want a baby. Really I want a baby to call my own. I have a visceral yearning for a child, Azhar! I can’t explain it. I want a baby who is always close to my body, looking at me with his beautiful eyes, smelling into my scent. I want to raise him, chase him around, read books to him and love on him all the time”.
“Did you read the papers?”
“Yes”, she said. “Let’s do it”.
The next day they met with the adoption agency. There were many expecting mothers that they knew of who were looking for adoptive parents. Azhar and Tanya came back feeling hopeful and charged.
They made plans about moving out of their apartment to a townhouse in West Chester or Yonkers once the baby was here. Tanya wanted a backyard and a front yard. Her love for the white picket fence life was not hard to miss.
She had started her fellowship. They were desperately waiting for the call from the agency. It was hard to wait. So hard.
Little did they know that thousands of miles away someone else was biding their time too. While they waited for the biggest happiness to touch them, someone waited for a catastrophe to crush them again. While they walked around with a secret in their hearts of love and ecstasy, someone had nourished a wound with her blood and tears. Tanya didn’t know this but her enemy was finally poised to attack again.
Their mailbox was at the entrance to the apartment. She had gotten done early and fellowship is a little easier anyway compared to residency. She was a very loved fellow and had a penchant for teaching. Attendings, interns, residents and nurses loved her. Tanya was charismatic. No wonder both Bilal and Azhar had fallen so hard for her.
She wanted to do something special for him. As she entered the building she thought of collecting their mail. They usually delayed opening their mailbox as they both got lazy with it. She opened the mailbox, collected the mail and went upstairs.
There was one registered mail. It was addressed to Azhar. Thinking it was a work mail she put it aside. Then she noticed that it was from Pakistan.
Wondering who’d be writing from Pakistan she looked closer. Someone had addressed in an extremely neat hand. It was a bulky letter and felt like it had many papers in it.
Her curiosity was piqued. No one wrote them letters. They got emails from all their relatives and usually remained in touch through social media. She thought about it for many minutes and then left it on the table, waiting for Azhar as she threw on an apron and set about making a nice dinner.
There was a queasy feeling in her stomach. Like there was a pit there. Like someone had sentenced her. Like she had been caught. She couldn’t really fathom her sudden unease. She had come home in great spirits. She had had a great day. She was very happy to be able to spend a big part of the evening with Azhar. Then what was it?
She couldn’t ignore it and the feeling got worse. She felt like a criminal but she knew he’d forgive her. She knew it was wrong but her feet took her to the table. She picked up the envelope. She opened the mail.
It wasn’t a long letter like she had suspected. It was a rather short one. It was written on very expensive paper that smelled really nice. Whoever wrote it had great penmanship. It looked typed almost.
She settled in the sofa before reading it. She was glad she sat down. She would’ve collapsed if she hadn’t.
May be you’ve forgotten that you have a mother but I can’t forget that my son is away from me. Some might say that the lifelong war that you’ve waged at me for Bilal’s nonsensical cause has ended like it always looked like it would. Some might consider this destiny since I had never thought that I would lose you to another woman after having already lost you to your dearest brother. Some might call me a lunatic for sending this letter. Some might call you a man raised well for giving his mother another chance by reading it. Whatever it might be, in the end, I know I lose because, dear son! I have wronged you.
You would be right to ask why now. You’d be right to ask why today. You’d be right to ask what gives. I have no answers but I’ll try to answer as best as I can.
May be because I’m getting old the burden of sins has gotten heavier. Old age brings a lot of reckoning. It will for you too. But I won’t be around then. So I want to stand on trial in front of you in my life so you don’t continue to hate me in my death also. I want to fess up and then some.
Even though this confession will bring me no pleasure, it is your right. Even though I expect no deliverance from it, it is a penance of sorts. This confession doesn’t absolve me of anything. It burns me and scorches me more fiercely. But when you have sinned like I have, you want pain as your punishment. My heart tears up into pieces as I write this, but write this I will!
I hold your happiness very dear. So dear that I have compromised on some important principles of mine. And I didn’t care that my principles were compromised until I realized that while listening to my heart that only wanted you to get whatever you wished for, I had broken a principle of your own. Your biggest principle, the principle of truth and transparency, was shred into pieces by me and for that I apologize.
I know telling you the truth now isn’t undoing the atrocity that has been committed. This is just a meager repentance for a crime so big that hell cannot hold its weight. This is just an attempt to exonerate the truth, not myself. I cannot be exonerated. I don’t hope to be. Your dislike for me will only be fortified by the information that this letter is going to reveal.
You probably remember that we talked about chastity. About the battle of good and bad. Truth and lies. Heaven and earth. Today, I’ll tell you of a woman who has duped you with her make-believe chastity. I’ll tell you of another woman who went along with her. I’ll tell you of a man who signed off on the biggest scam that a family could commit against their most valuable asset. Let’s begin!
But see! You might be wondering that this is a tale that I’ll tell and you’ll listen. That there will be pauses when you’d ask pertinent questions. You might think that I have a story that is yards long and feet tall and would take many nights to complete.
But I regretfully say, my dear son! This story has no grandeur. It has no mystery. It has no mystique. It has no allure for the wide-eyed listener. All it has is the naked truth.
Tanya, the woman you so proudly call your wife is the girl your brother, Bilal, was so madly in love with. Bilal, the brother who is the reason for your smile and your laugh, is Tanya’s former lover. Tanya and Bilal loved each other and in another time had named themselves to each other.
Whether they still love each other is all guesswork on my part but of course your brother’s failing marriage tells a lot about those obscure facts.
I don’t know if you’re privy to all the information in this letter. I’m sure that she has told you but this was just to relieve myself of this fraud that I was living.
In the event that she hasn’t told you, I apologize for being the bearer of this terrible news. I wanted to continue being the mother who’d get her child the stars if he asked for them but something tells me that my child would rather have the truth.
She had severe nausea. It wrapped her insides vehemently. She felt like she was going to pass out. She heard a hissing of snakes around her and she felt they were choking her.
She collapsed on the couch and started crying, wailing loudly and flailing her arms.
What had she thought, she cried, that this was never going to come back to her? Her enemy was guarding her secret. What did she think?
Panic came next. I can’t show it to him, she thought stubbornly, I won’t show it to him. We will change this apartment and go somewhere else. We will just never have her be able to reach us.
But, she sobbed, why is she doing that to me? What is it that she hates about me so much?
She knew this letter could never reach Azhar. She’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow. Today she had to destroy it. Today she had to make sure that every inch of this letter was burned to its ash.
She ran in the kitchen, turned on the stove, set the letter on fire and watched the flames try and reach for her. She looked at them with fear and loathing and when the last of it had converted into an ashen debris, she drained it all down the kitchen sink.
Did she feel good? Yes! If she couldn’t have her son then Tanya certainly couldn’t.
It had been two weeks since she had sent the letter. It was registered so she knew it had reached its destination. She waited patiently. Patience was a virtue that she was proud of and vain about. All good things to those who wait!
A month went by. Then two months. It seemed like a lifetime had lapsed. She didn’t have any idea as to what happened to the letter. Was Azhar so in love that he forgave her and went about his life as usual? She didn’t think so. She wasn’t close to her sons but she knew each one of them like the air she breathed. She suspected he hadn’t either received the letter or had had an intense reaction that had destroyed everything in his path.
She waited for another two weeks before asking Bilal again about him. It sounded like they were changing residence. She found it strange. She now knew that he hadn’t received it.
There was no way to contact him without him hanging up on her. She decided to text him.
Tanya had been jumpy and scared since the letter. There was a dagger poised to strike. The question was when. Nighat hadn’t made any contact in months and she figured she had probably sent the letter in an emotional state and now regretted it.
Azhar could see that Tanya was worried about something. He asked many times. She gave vague answers and he felt it had something to do with her family.
He received a text message from a strange number.
“Azhar! This is Ami! Can I speak with you?”
He didn’t respond .
Then he received another text a week later.
“I sent you a letter months ago. Did you receive it? It had some important information about Tanya and Bilal?”
“Can we talk?”
He called her. They spoke for two hours. By the end of that phone call Azhar didn’t know who to believe.
“Tanya!” She heard him behind her.
“Hey! You’re back?” She said, coming forward. Something about his expression and the lack of a smile made her stop in her tracks.
“Tanya! Ami sent a letter. Did you get it?”
Many walls shattered around her. It was like a huge planet had ran into another planet while orbiting each other. The sound was deafening. She tried to phrase the truth. To her surprise her body refused to cooperate.
“You didn’t get a letter that was through registered mail? I’m asking you one last time”.
“Why’re you asking me like you think I’m lying?”
He looked at her with vacant eyes. She was the purest form of any living being he had ever seen. Her innocence touched people around her in a way that was ethereal. She was an angel, his angel, and now she looked like a woman who lied to get even.
“I’m asking you. I didn’t say you’re lying”.
“I didn’t get it”.
He turned and left.
She sat down in a chair nearby. It became difficult to breathe. She heard the door open and wanted to run out to him and stop him and tell him the truth but she was glued to the chair.
Night fell soon after. Then morning came. Azhar came home after Fajr. He left for work shortly after.
She took the day off. Her head was spinning. The only person she could speak to was Bilal. She called him but he didn’t pick up.
Did Bilal and Nighat do it together? She wondered. Was he in on it too?
No! She rejected this thought. She knew Bilal.
Did Azhar think she married him to get even with Nighat? To show Nighat that she could still get one of her sons? Is that what Azhar thought? Didn’t he believe that in all her misfortune she fell in love with him?
Azhar came late at night. He slept in the other room. Tanya didn’t know what awaited her and so was consumed with trepidation.
They didn’t speak for a week.
By the end of the week the truth was weighing her down. It was messing with her head. She hadn’t slept and had started having hallucinations. Bilal hadn’t returned her call. This all made her paranoid and scared again.
He came home. He went into his room. He hadn’t been eating at home since the day it all happened and only came to sleep.
She went into his room. He was sitting in bed staring at the wall in front of him. She noticed he looked thinner and gaunt. He looked like he had aged in the past week.
He looked at her standing in the doorway. She shivered at the deadness in his eyes. He stared at her, his face looking weirdly different without its particular smile.
“I burned it”, she said, surprised at her courage, her voice echoing back to her.
She looked without life. Her face was white like a sheet and there was an almost ghost-like quality to her. She is a ghost, he thought with anger and overwhelming sadness, the ghost of the woman I loved more than my life.
“I know what that letter said”, he said, moving his eyes back to the wall, “But let me ask you something because I don’t want to assume anything about the woman who has been my wife for several years now. What did you plan to do with me when your revenge was over?”
Shame, a feeling she had hardly ever felt, consumed her. He wasn’t her revenge. He had become the one reason to live when nothing else stimulated life in her.
“I love you, Azhar! I married you because I fell in love with you”.
She was crying again, he noticed. How do tears come so easily to her, he thought. I have been frozen inside for days and I want to cry and get over this cold but now no feeling is left.
“Tanya!” He said, resting his head against the headboard and closing his eyes, “I will gladly lose you. You don’t deserve my love. But you took my brother from me. You took Bilal from me. You made him a part of your sick game. I’ll ask you a few questions and not because I care about you but because I can’t ask Bilal these questions. Was Bilal a part of your plan?”
What plan? She felt laughter coming on. What the hell was this plan that he kept referring to? There was no plan. Her entire life had started unraveling many years ago and no plan ever stuck. Love had stuck and now love was unraveling too.
“I didn’t marry you as part of any plan”.
“Are you the girl who loved Bilal?”
“Do you still love him?”
“Not in that capacity, no! He’s your brother so I care about him but no! I don’t love him like I used to anymore”.
“I’m not particularly great with understanding the intricacies and oddities of love”, he said quietly, “So I just normally apply things to myself and then try to see how someone else would react or act. If you were my ex and I got married to your sister and saw you regularly, I’d love you with the same passion always. May be that’s just me. Maybe that’s how stupidly moronic people act. Pragmatic and calculated people like you who had their entire career mapped out at the age of eight are probably more goal-directed but that’s what would happen to me. Did that not happen to you?”
“No”, she said stubbornly.
“Does Bilal have any feelings for you still? Has he ever confided his feelings in you since you’ve been my wife?”
“No! He’s married”.
“Not happily!” He said, thoughtful and meditative, “And some might argue that you’re the reason for it. And I’d have to agree with them”.
“Azhar!” She said coming forward and kneeling next to him. “My only fault is that I should’ve told you. Besides that, I have a past. I’m not at fault for that”.
He smiled slightly.
“Your only fault ruined my life, Taanu!”
“So you don’t believe that I married you for you? Tell me the truth!”
“The truth”, he said, a tear making its way down his left cheek, “Is all mixed with a bunch of lies. And I’m trying to separate it from the lies, trust me, I’ve been doing it for the last so many days but they keep getting entangled again. I start at it every morning and by the time night hits it’s all scrambled again”.
She cried bitterly.
“But thank you for a few very wonderful years”, he said, looking at her as more tears slid down his cheeks, “I had never loved and had never been loved by a girl. So thank you! I’m sleepy now for the first time in many days! I’ll sleep now!”
He turned away from her. She wanted to reach over and kiss him. She wanted to touch him and make sure he was still here. She felt his body trembling a little. She put a comforter on him and left.
If he would just scream and yell I’d be able to talk and think more coherently. Why doesn’t Azhar break things like he normally does? Why isn’t he towering over me demanding answers? Why?
She woke up the next morning and saw him leaving. He had a carryon in one hand and a suitcase in the other.
“I need sometime”, he said, not looking at her, “If you find someone”, he took a deep breath, “Don’t wait for me!”
And then he was gone.