Sunday, July 31, 2005
2.The Good Captain
3. In the middle of a million questions...
10.The Good Major
12. The 'Slut' From Lahore
14. Gambit, Pawn and a Lost God
17. What once was lost...
It was her favorite spot on the little hill station. The sheer drop off was almost exhilarating. Made her feel, humbled, mortal. The beautiful blue flowers native to the region, flanking the edge of the cliff, the raging river some 1000 feet below, the absolute silence in the twilight of the rising dawn. It was serene beyond belief. .
“I feel human again, when I come here.” She had written to her husband in one of her letters.
“Saving so many lives every day can make one feel like god, whenever I suffer such blasphemous pomposity I come here, with my thermos full of coffee, sit at the edge with my legs dangling, as if off the very brim of the earth itself and let nature set me straight. You can feel God here. You know. It almost feels like he’s right here, sitting next to me, with his own cup, gently reminding me of my place in the world. I love it here. I miss you so much, Aamir. I wish you were here.”
God wasn’t there next to her when she jumped off the cliff.
They searched all day. The army regiment assigned to maintain order in the notoriously volatile and breathtakingly beautiful frontier hill station, left no inch of the raging river Sawat un-touched. But no dead bodies had ever been recovered from these ruthless white waters. And alas, she would be no exception. They say a body is turned to debris in a matter of hours in the vicious current and the brutal rocky terrain that the river flows over. They say that it hits a rock once every second at speeds that would crush a 6 foot thick log. They say that once you fall into the river Sawaat, you leave no remains.
All they ever found of her was the metal thermos full of coffee that she had left up on the cliff. Her parents had to seek religious guidance about what to bury. They settled for the few strands of hair she had left lying on her pillow.
After the funeral procession, Aamir cried.
He hadn’t been able to understand that his beautiful, majestic wife had killed herself. He blamed himself, everyone blamed him. He had just arrived the night before. But she had always sounded so happy in the letters. So satisfied. She was getting such great work done for the children and women here. He kept hoping it was all a bad dream and any moment now he would wake up screaming, see her lying next to him and hug her and kiss her and tell her what a horrible dream he had had. But when they started shoveling the sand into the six foot deep hole that contained nothing but a few locks of golden brown hair he finally understood.
“They blame you.” Nida whimpered.
“I know.” Aamir responded.
The tears had long since stopped falling as he sat smoking with his sister-in-law on the steps of the little cottage his wife had occupied for the last 4 months.
“I know and I do too. Just can’t believe she’s gone. Rida’s gone.” And the tears returned.
She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. She had always been so strong. Always the anchor.
“They want her stuff.” She said softly, almost apologetically.
“Everything?” he said wiping away at the tears.
“Everything… They don’t understand. They need someone to blame… they’re choosing you.”
“I don’t… I don’t blame them, Nida. I think… I feel like I killed her… I just got here the night before and and… its okay… you can take everything I don’t really… except those little moccasins of hers, she loved those. And and that one shawl that we bought from
He couldn’t speak anymore. The knot in the back of his throat had constricted so that even breathing seemed impossible. He took one long puff before continuing,
But she cut him off.
“Take your time Aamir, keep whatever you want. Keep everything; they just want to feel like they’ve avenged her somehow. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you, but it was hard enough keeping dad from coming here and tearing the place upside down. But just… I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.”
She wiped her eyes, gave him a hug and was gone. He was left sitting with nothing but redemption on his mind. He knew there was only one thing left to do now. The only chance he had at forgiving himself. He decided that sorting through her things would be the last thing he would ever do. When they come tomorrow to take her things, they’ll find me lying dead. Then maybe they can forgive me, maybe I can forgive myself.
When you love someone so much that life without them seems like an empty bottomless pit of despair and grief, its easy to choose to die. So he did. Without so much as a second thought, or any misgivings and went about emptying the closets and the drawers and the suitcases she had been too lazy too open looking for the few select items that he wanted to rub against his skin one last time before following her to wherever she had gone.
It took longer than he had expected. Every thing he touched seemed to have some of her left in it. Clothes held her fragrance, jewelry, her brilliance. The littlest things like half remaining lipsticks and empty tubes of mascara made him cry the most.
He would sit for hours at a stretch holding something utterly insignificant in his hand like a shoe with a broken heel and bawl like a child who’s been hurt for the first time. Then he would gather himself up and get back to sorting, putting in separate boxes what he was willing for them to have and what he wanted to keep for himself. Remembering then, his plan of killing himself in the morning he found himself overcome by fits of laughter at the stupidity of segregating her remains until he would start crying and would cry until he couldn’t breathe anymore.
It was almost twilight when he got to her vanity case. He pried it open expecting to find row upon row of make up that would never be used anymore and found instead an ornate leather bound notebook. Her journal.
The only thing she had never shared. He had no intention of opening it or reading it, he knew she liked her privacy. But after he had kissed the cover and was putting it aside it slipped from his hands and flipped open. The only words he accidentally read, took his breath away.
Written somewhat half way through the book, in her beautiful sacred-heart hand writing in the middle of a page were just three words:
“Tomorrow, I die.”
He felt bile rise to his throat, felt his breath surrender to shock. The life drained out of him and he could almost feel like what he thought a corpse would feel like.
He picked the book up and read the words again.
Heart sinking, almost afraid to know what he couldn’t help but want to know, he flipped backwards into the life his wife had kept hidden from him. What he read, what he discovered wouldn’t allow him to kill himself.
Not just yet.
!0 years of commando training will do that to you.
Also enforce levels of discipline no man should ever be subjected to.
But he pulled it off. As if this was exactly the role he was crafted for. Not many people get to say that about their lives… Careers, lovers, families.
But Captain Ayaz was truly a blessed man.
A shrewd mind and a heart of gold, he could charm a stone into doing his bidding. He had one of those smiles that leave women ravenous for more and men sullen and defeated.
Add to all these divine awards the work this young man had accomplished in very little time, if only to aide the plagued citizenry of a small mountain settlement, was an achievement that earned him well deserved praise from friend and foe alike.
It was all due to his efforts that a restless but brilliant young doctor from
He had managed to convince the local Jirga that their women and children needed medical attention the likes of which their usual witch doctors and fake hakeems could not provide. Then he had convinced the government of
So moved were they by his impassioned rhetoric that not more than 3 months after his presentation the first group of women health care practitioners was dispatched to aid his noble cause. They came with high hopes and ambitions and achieved magnanimous amounts of victories over diseases that had so far been playing havoc with the lives of the local residents.
Such unprecedented success of course, fuels greater confidence and so the movement gathered momentum and being deputed to the HCP service became one of the most sought after deputations amongst the fresh graduates.
Rida, was one such graduate. She had become uneasy off late, having married for love much sooner than she had wished; she felt complacent and useless. An honors degree in a field she couldn’t even practice because she had taken off for her honeymoon while her classmates were going through their residencies. When she was offered the chance to come back into the folds of what she had once so desired, she did not hesitate.
Finding someone as kind and as charming as Captain Ayaz to help her through the grueling demands of curing children on the verge of dying from skin decay and blood diseases proved the greatest blessing of them all.
They were so alike, in so many ways. Ambitious, determined… cultured. They would sit and talk about literature into the early hours of the morning sometimes, so excited by what they had achieved during the day and so engrossed in each other’s company that time just seemed to slip out of their fingers.
It wasn’t until she would go to the vantage point she had discovered one night by accident that she would immerse herself into the memories of what she had left behind. That is where she would sit sipping at her coffee, writing to her husband, telling him of all that she had gotten done in that particular week. Heralding her triumphs, noting how important she finally felt. As if somehow she had managed to acquire her dreams.
“I never though that I would ever be thanked for saving a life. It’s the most surreal thing ever Aamir, I mean, now I know why Abu always insisted that I follow his footsteps. He knew how rewarding all of this is. The insanity of medical school, the never ending studying, the blood curdling frog autopsies. All worth it.”
Or when she lost her first patient, the little girl with the unbelievable jade eyes, poisoned by the water, brought too late to her care to make a difference…
“What’s the point? What’s the point of being here when these people still would rather trust chants and powders over proper allopathic care. I can’t believe we lost the girl. She was so… innocent. She died in my arms. I have never cried so much Aamir. Her mother couldn’t believe that her little angel was gone. She just sat there looking at me crying, with some sort of hope in her eyes, as if when I stopped, her daughter would jump up from my lap and run into her arms. I didn’t even know what to tell her.” She would tell him everything, even often the gruesome details about the conditions of her patients. Even about the things she bought. The wonderful way they cured lamb’s meat in the mountains, promising him that when she got back she would make him a meal he would never forget.
Somehow, however, she failed to mention that, when she cried, she did so upon the shoulder of a certain Captain in the armed forces of Pakistan, who was also the only person she allowed herself to laugh in front of. Somehow, she neglected to mention that she had come to depend on that very Captain in the absence of her husband for companionship and guidance during what was easily the most trying time of her life.
Somehow, in all the hum drum details of a separated life from her husband, the good Captain never warranted a mention.
I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
This has to end.
I’m so sorry Aamir. I love you so much. I’m so fucking sorry.
It was almost hard to make these words out; her usually immaculate script was as haphazardly strewn across this page as if she was trying to hide her words more than to record them.
Aamir read them over and over. A million and one questions popping into his head. What are you sorry for Rida, what can’t you do, I love you Baby, why why why why why why why why.
The cacophony of whys reverberating in his head, he turns another page over, hoping that perhaps the answers to his question, to his wife’s sudden decision to kill herself would finally be revealed.
But the mystery only deepens and the pages unfurl. Recorded on the second of November, in almost just as illegible a hand, he finds the following:
I can’t. How can I tell him? He won’t. He might. But he will be so hurt. I can’t. I can’t hurt him. I can’t tell him. He can never know. Never ever know. Never ever never never never. There’s nothing he can do. Nothing at all. Only I can do anything about this now. About us. I can’t tell him. I just can’t.
Tell me what? Aamir asks out loud. Almost exasperated now as he turns back over a week’s worth of entries and finds nothing but a record of this same inner battle that Rida seems to be waging. The battle that led her off the edge of a cliff.
He’s more desperate than mournful now. More angry than guilty. He can tell something went wrong. Terribly wrong. Rida was strong, she would never ever give in unless… unless she really didn’t know what else to do. But kill herself? God… God?
And then it struck him. She had always been so strong in her faith. So ritualistic about her beliefs… she always wrote one of Allah’s names somewhere in her letters. In her term papers. In everything she ever wrote. Sometime she would settle for the common place 786 people often use. But always there would be some sign of her trying to communicate with the Almighty. As if seeking his permission, his blessing for her words. But nowhere could he find any sign of God in any of these angst ridden entries about the last week of her life.
Did she forget? How could she just forget god? No she left it out. She left him out… because?
What the hell happened Rida?
He flipped back a dozen or so pages just to confirm his theory. The nagging doubt that maybe, just maybe she had never even let god in on her secret diaries.
But the first page he stopped at, right by the date, in big black flowing Arabic she had penned Ar-Rahim (the merciful)
And he knew then that she had abandoned God. Whatever led her to kill herself had even stripped her off her faith. In the last few days of her life, in the last one week that she breathed, she was more alone than she ever had been.
He started crying again. He could see her face, smell her skin… she lived within him. Inside his senses. And now, face to face with so much fear, so much trepidation in the women he had sworn he’d never allow to be hurt, inflicted upon him a pain that nothing in his life had prepared him for.
Slowly the crying turned into dry sobs. Into hiccups. Into a now familiar emptiness inside that follows on the heels of too much pain being registered again and again on a heart quickly breaking into pieces.
He began to read.
Sahil. I don’t know why but that seems like the most beautiful name ever. I know now what we will name our son. Sahil is such a beautiful boy too. It’s almost unbelievable. He’s almost translucent of skin. With eyes so blue it’s hard to imagine a truer shade of blue after you have seen his eyes. And his smile, oh god. He will grow up to be such a heart breaker. Once he’s cured, I will try to have him sent to
Anyway I don’t know why I always end up comparing Aamir and Ayaz. If it has anything to do with attraction, I should be comparing Sahil and Aamir. Uff that boy is something else. That’s so wrong. I’m so desperate I’m fawning over a 16 year old.
Where’s that bloody husband when you need him.
He remembers Sahil, she had mentioned him so often in her letters. Her favorite patient, how she had went on and on about how brilliant he was, how beautiful. He had liked the name too. And the boy. It was hard for him to not like anything or anyone Rida liked. But this Captain Ayaz, came out of nowhere. She had never mentioned him in her letters. Never even alluded to the presence of a man that she thought so highly off. Maybe, he could shed some light on her. Was it a patient she lost that just destroyed her? Captain Ayaz would know. He made a mental note of asking for him at the army base as soon as he could.
There’s a knock on the door. He knows its Nida. She has come to collect the pieces of her sister’s life her parents don’t want him to have. He shoves the book into a drawer and walks towards the door. Opens it and finds a haggard old man, still reeking of surrendered dignity leaning on a metal cane at the steps.
“Uncle?” Rida’s father? He’s taken aback.
“Aamir.” He says in a tone that is more strained than hostile.
Aamir ushers him in.
“I’m sorry about this, son.” He says settling down into a chair. “But you know your auntie; she is convinced that you’re responsible.”
“And you are not?” There’s hostility in his voice that he himself finds surprising. It’s not borne of resentment for how he knows the old man feels, but for being disturbed now of all times that he had finally found something that could unravel the mystery surrounding the tragedy that is equally brutal for both men.
“Did you love her?” The old man asks.
“You know the answer to that question, Sir.”
“I don’t anymore… I don’t even know if she loved you. She got everything she wanted. The education, the man, the job… and still something like this happens and a man all set to dive into his own grave is left questioning everything he has ever done. It’s just not right for a father to bury his child. It’s just not right.”
“Or for a husband to bury his wife. I was supposed to go first.”
“I wish you had. Bring her things out to the car” He stands up and limps his way out the door.
Aamir grabs the box he has filled of things he thinks her parents would cherish the most and walks behind the old man.
At the car, he carefully places the box into the trunk, lowers the cover and is suddenly reminded of the sand being shoveled into a grave with nothing but a few strands of hair in it. His heart constricts and he knows the tears will come flooding again. But he clenches his fists and keeps himself from crying as his father in law without uttering a word gets into the car and drives off.
Rolls down the window.
“I never want to see you again. You owe us that much.” He shouts and without waiting for a reply drives off.
Aamir watches the car grow smaller and smaller in the distance. He thinks of a time when this man’s approval was the one thing that mattered to him more than anything else.
It doesn’t anymore. The only things that matter now are one leather bound journal inside a dresser drawer and a certain Captain Ayaz who might be able to explain what had happened to make his wife take her own life.
She had received the call just before she left for her morning coffee by the edge of the world. Sahil was terminal. She had run the 3 miles down to the infirmary having been unable to rouse her driver from his hash induced sleep.
When she got there it was already too late. The insulin they had been giving him to numb the pain of the diuretic induced cramps in his now almost completely useless legs had reacted badly with some concoction his father had brought from a Hakeem. He had been vomiting all night and having purged all the food and drink inside was now puking blood.
He lay in a pool of bile and blood thrashed by spasms that contorted his lithe body into impossible shapes, he managed to smile when he saw her enter the curtained off block they had reserved for him.
But it was already too late. She asked the nurses on duty for details but by the time they were done recounting the horrors this beloved boy had suffered through the night, Sahil was dead. They tried to revive him With CPR and electric shock but it was all too late. Too futile.
She wanted to cry, but vomited instead. Her own bile pouring on top of his as she fainted on the bed beside him.
When she came to, Ayaz stood over her, gently stroking her hair. She sat up. Looked around. They had removed the boy’s body, she was lying on his bed. She looked up at Ayaz and finally began to cry.
He kissed her forehead. Held her close. Whispered consolations in her ear. And all the while she shook uncontrollably from anger and remorse in his arms.
She wasn’t the only one crying. Everyone at the little hospital mourned the loss of the boy who hardly ever spoke but by his sheer will and tenacity had woven a place for himself in every heart. But everyone knew that no one’s pain was greater than Rida’s. Not even his mother’s. Not even the father’s who every one knew was responsible for his death. He had snuck the yellow-brown powder in his meager meal for the night hoping for his beliefs to prevail over modern medicine. He hadn’t wanted him to die, he loved his son. But he had killed him. The next morning they would find his dead body in a ravine near Kalaam and there the saga of Sahil would be concluded.
But no degree of poetic justice could alleviate the pain in Rida’s heart.
She cried all the way to her cottage sitting in the army jeep besides Ayaz, who never stopped trying to console her. He stayed with her till she fell asleep, exhausted from the agony.
When she awoke finally sometime in the afternoon, she found a note from him lying on the bed-side table beside her alarm clock.
“To infinite, ever present Love, all is Love, and there is no error, no sin, sickness, nor death.”
- Mary Baker
Let’s embrace the infinite love invoked in our jaded hearts by the innocence of the young boy who died with a smile on his face you alone could have brought him. You’ve mourned enough my dear, dear Rida. I need to see you smile.
Dinner, my house. Be ready by 7.
It would cause my heart a great deal of relief from the pain it has suffered today if you can take the time out to dress up for the celebration of Sahil’s life. And perhaps, seeing yourself resplendent and beautiful will help you realize what you will always mean to Sahil.
She read the note, and almost began to smile. Sahil’s ashen face was still too much a part of her sub-conscious to be able to focus on anything with pleasure. And that is what helped her decide that taking Ayaz up on his offer would perhaps be the best possible course of action. Her other option was sitting in her empty house, with nothing to do but bleed her heart into her journal and be haunted by a set of brilliant blue eyes that she would never see again.
Yes, she would go. She would enjoy his company. After all, he was all she had. He was the only one who would understand.
She looks at the clock. .
3 hours to go.
Plenty of time she thinks.
To look resplendent and beautiful for Sahil.
The sergeant behind the counter looked up with a gaze that can only be termed condescending.
:”Civilian?” He sneered
“He is not available.”
“Captain Ayaz? I really must see him… it’s… it’s important.”
“Zaroor Jinaab. You will wish to see him and he will materialize from inside my pants. Kaha na, he is not here”
“Look it’s about a crime… a death that took place… I really must speak to him he is in charge here I believe?”
“Dekho… whatever it’s about, it will have to wait. He’s been in
“He’s not here?”
“What did I say?”
“Okay when will he be back?”
“Come back tomorrow.” He turned his back to Aamir concluding the conversation.
“Thank-Thankyou.” Aamir got back in his car and drove back towards the cottage of silenced screams.
Crossing through the bazaar, shining like a beacon amongst the weary and sullied riff raff of the mountains, he saw Nida. Sitting on a charpai, drinking tea from a little flower-laden, chipped cup, dressed in clothes flaunting her uber-hip lahori sensibilities, she looked remarkable enough to draw the attention of a monk. It would be hard to miss someone with her unbridled grace and sensuality in a café full of women clad in tight jeans and halter tops. Here, sporting low cut khakis and a t-shirt two sizes too small with a shawl casually draped over one shoulder, amidst the horde of women suffocating beneath burkas or chaddars and men wearing tell-tale turbans with tattered and soiled shalwar kameez, she stood out like a ray of light slicing through a star less night.
In a society governed by misogynists and mullahs, it was hardly advisable for a teenage girl to be out by herself. Add to that the fact that her appearance was no less than a slap in the face of convention and Islamic fundamentalism that was supposedly the rule of law in these parts. And yet she sat resolute and almost aloof from the glaring stares that she received form every passer by. Left in peace, partly due to the recent influx of tourists in these parts from all over the world, partly because she looked like she belonged to one of the more powerful families of
Aamir stopped the car across the street form where she sat, looked at her and smiled at knowing that if there ever was a teen-ager who could hold an entire civilization at bay with the sheer force of her presence, it was her. So much like her sister, in appearance and demeanor and nature and temperament. In everything, except faith. The only thing she hadn’t acquired from her older sister was the love for God.
He looked her over from head to toe, almost seeing Rida in every well accentuated curve of her body, shook his head with proud disdain and a smile that spelt respect. He went and sat down on the charpai next to her, signaled the little girl watching Nida’s every move with an enchanted gaze from behind the counter and asked for another cup of tea.
“You guy’s are still here?” He asked smiling. It was always a pleasure to see her, now more than ever since every breath she drew mimicked Rida.
“No, This is a Hologram here to haunt your mind with memories of your dead wife” She said licking the froth from the tea sticking to her lips.
“I don’t need a hologram to remember her Nida, why are you guys still here?”
“Because of you” She said.
“You know that will require elaboration.”
“Abu dear is convinced that you are up to something. Seems like when he left you earlier you seemed too out of sorts to have simply been mourning.” She paused for another sip
“Besides…” Pause for another swipe of tongue across uncharacteristically unpainted lips, “There’s something fishy here. We all feel it.”
“You really wanna play dumb, Bro-in-law or are you really too dumb struck to notice?”
“That there wasn’t anyone from the army there at the funeral. That it was a surprisingly low-brow affair for someone who by all means was rather special to the community. What with being the only lady doctor on hand. You save so many children, you expect their parents to care enough to offer a prayer at your grave… but it was just us and the hospital staff. Don’t you think that’s a little out of the ordinary?”
“She committed suicide, Nida. You may not believe in it but this is a very religious society, suicide is a sin. As for the army not showing up, yes it worried me… I went to see the captain…” pause to receive his own cup of simmering tea…
“But he’s not available” She finished the sentence for him.
“Don’t look at me like that, she was my sister. I went over to the base. They don’t want to talk about it Aamir… what the hell is going on? I would’ve expected condolences galore, you know. People coming to us with blood shot eyes and nazranaas for the soul of the women who served them like an angel sent from above. And all the hoopla surrounding the HCPs and no one cares to notice when one kills herself? I know I sound paranoid but you have to admit it is all confusing.” She had put the cup down and was looking straight at him. Eyes tinged red from bleeding tears all night. Lovely face drawn and strained with trepidation and sorrow. All of a sudden Aamir felt pity gnaw at his insides. He had been so consumed by his own loss that he hadn’t even stopped long enough to see that the person who needed the most support was Nida. The little girl who had lost her mentor.
He reached out and placed his arm across her shoulder, drew her closer and placed her head on his chest. And as if the gesture was what her tears had been waiting for, she began to sob silently.
They sat like that for a few minutes until the staring public began to stop and murmur and point.
“Come on, I’ll drop you off.”
“Ami, Abu… they don’t…”
“At the door, I won’t see them, they won’t see me.”
“This is so wrong, Aamir… they should love you… but they can’t. And there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“I’m working on it sweetie, I will not abandon you.”
“Like she did? I hate her. Aamir. I hate her so much…I miss her so much”
They walked to his car with tears streaming down her face. His eyes however, were empty. Just like his heart. There was no emotion left now. Just hollowness. Just a void that he knew only the answers he sought could fill.
He held her in his grasp and walked to the car. The little girl from the dhabba never took her eyes off of Nida.
They never knew that in Nida she saw the reflections of the women who had saved her life. And countless others.
When they left, she slumped down behind the counter and began to cry… waiting in anticipation for the beating that would come from her father, the owner of the dhabba. She couldn’t bring herself to ask them to pay for the tea.
Ayaz has got to be the nicest man on the face of this earth.
Suraiya, one of our nurses, has been in love with a guy from a near by village since childhood. She told me her story once and my god I just couldn’t stop crying. It turns out, that they were caught doing something or the other together when she was 15 and all hell broke loose. Her brothers beat the boy up so violently that he landed in a coma. She hasn’t heard from him since. It’s been 10 years almost and she still doesn’t know whether the love of her life is alive or dead. And she is still in love with him. Poor girl, so pretty and so bright… her brothers beat her with sticks almost every week as punishment for her ‘sin’. She showed me the welts on her back. I can’t believe that one human being can inflict such scars on another, let alone one’s own sister. They hate her because ever since that whole episode took place a decade ago she has been marked as a sinner and no one will marry her now. She is considered a burden on the family even when her brothers don’t do anything except smoke hash and beat her up and she is the one who earns for them as well as her parents. Sometimes our people can be so barbaric it’s unbelievable. Women are treated like so much garbage here, they are either sold off as teen-agers to horny old coots or if they dare to express a personality they are beaten and stifled to the point where suicide really does seem like the only answer. All I could do was comfort her. BUT… I told her story to Ayaz once, I don’t remember when exactly, but today, he comes and tells her that his people (ISI no doubt) have managed to locate her lover in
OH MY GOD! I’m just ecstatic!!! I mean… we’re always blaming the people with the power for being ignorant selfish assholes and here’s this guy, who no doubt as punishment for his self righteousness has been condemned to this shitty little corner of the country even though someone so brilliant should be running the freaking country… he still managed to pull whatever strings he could to bring two lost lovers together. I mean, my god. I had lost faith in the existence of such people. People who care just for the sake of caring. Out of the utter goodness of their hearts. When she told me, I hugged her and I wish I could’ve hugged him because she had tears running down her cheeks. She was almost afraid of leaving, she was trembling when she told me. But she must be so happy, after all this time, not only does she get to be free of her brutish brothers, but she gets to be with the guy she loves. I just hope he still remembers her. I hope they work it out. I must say a prayer for Ayaz. What a man.
Wow. What a human being.
Sahil is doing so well, he can eat now. Swallow and digest. The diuretic is working wonderfully against the poisoning. He just keeps getting stronger and stronger, soon enough he will be walking again. I can’t wait to see him run! I think he’s in love with me, he blushes when I touch him. He won’t let anyone else feed him. He’s such a lovely boy. There is nothing I want more than for him to get better. Not even Aamir. Okay fine, maybe I want Aamir more, but next up is to see Sahil conquer the world.
He had done nothing but read the journal ever since he got back after dropping Nida off.
Page after page after page, he read her life unfold. Her trials and tribulations and triumphs. And in between the people she had met and grown to care for. Her patients, her nurses, fellow doctors… even some of the hakeems who initially had shunned the whole HCP program but had now grown to praise her tenderness towards her patients that almost always managed to make them feel better. She had always had a certain aura around her. Of gentleness and of love. When Aamir had seen her for the first time he had thought this is what Aphrodite would be like. It was hard not to be affected by her, he knew this. And knowing this made him question her death more and more.
She couldn’t have just killed herself. Not for just any reason. She had mentioned losing patients in the journal. She had seemed distraught and disillusioned, but one life lost had been replaced by a dozen saved the next day and she was back on top of the world, quickly coming to terms with both life and death and constantly growing into a stronger, smarter much more powerful person then she already had been all her life. He could see it in her words. Just like the letters she wrote to him. He had always felt such pride for her every time she had mentioned defeating impending death for a starry-eyed child and had wept for her desperation when death had won.
Her entries in the journal were really not much different than the letters. Mostly her letters had been summarized accounts of the daily events she recorded here. Except for one glaring discrepancy. She had never mentioned Ayaz. Or anything even remotely related to him in the letters. Reading now this report of the forlorn Suraiya struck him as something that she would have been dying to share with him. But she hadn’t mentioned it. Not a word about it. Nor of Ayaz and his magnificent acts of kindness which found some kind of mention in almost each one of her journal entries.
He couldn’t even begin to grasp the reasons for this. He knew her too well, loved her too much to expect that she was hiding anything from him. Besides there was nothing outwardly romantic about her relationship with the man anyway. It seemed like they had found moral support with each other in a place where it was desperately sought. She couldn’t have thought he would be jealous. She couldn’t have thought he would mind. Or maybe she would have. I am jealous right now. If it wasn’t for the emptiness inside him and the desperate need to uncover the truth, the reality, he probably would have been jealous first and foremost.
He sat back with the book lying in his lap staring up at the roof, mulling over what he had so far come to understand about his wife’s life without him. He wasn’t even really sad anymore. He wasn’t in mourning. She had died and taken his capacity to feel along with her. Accept for anger. He was angry, he realized. More than anything else, he was angry. At her for ever coming here, at himself for ever letting her come, at god for letting her loose her faith and die… at all the people she had healed for their betrayal of her memory. But most of all, he realized he was angry at Captain Ayaz… this phantom who seemingly existed only in his wife’s journal. And existed in an air of majesty. It almost felt like she worshipped him, that she felt that he encompassed all the qualities that Aamir himself lacked. Sometimes, it seemed even that she was blatantly regretting her decision to marry him.
NO. I mustn’t think like that. This is just me being stupidly jealous. This is why she didn’t tell me about him in the letters I would have made her come back.
But… whatever her reasons. Whatever her justifications, the obvious fact through all of this was that Captain Ayaz had gotten to know his wife very well in the last 4 months. They had become friends… possibly more. But unlikely, he frantically hoped.
In any event, friend or lover, the closest Aamir could get to knowing what really happened was through him.
And he sat up as soon as this thought hit him. He had left 6 days before she killed herself. Was he leaving her? Did he tell her that he could not possibly live in sin with a married woman? The idea was so absurd that he burst out laughing. Louder than he should have perhaps. Loud enough to drown out the frightened whimpers of his soul.
He did not want to believe that she could cheat on him. He knew for a fact that she couldn’t. But the surprise was no less profound when she had killed herself. He had first to come to terms with the fact that his wife had changed while she had been here. But changed how much? Enough to cheat on me? Enough to kill herself?
Try as he might, he could not decide which assumption would have been more absurd just 3 days ago. Now, everything was possible.
Head swirling with doubt riding doubt to the apex of quickly spawning hatred, he started reading again.
She chooses white. It somehow seems just the right shade to reflect her mood. Resolute, Spartan. Almost unwilling yet… able.
Putting on make-up is a chore she is unwilling to undertake in any great detail, so settles for a light bronze lipstick and a dash of mascara to match.
Ayaz was so right, she thinks looking at herself in the mirror. Nothing like a little vanity to remind you that life has got to go on.
She looked ravishing. Subtle but ravishing. Her beauty magnified by the simplicity of her appearance.
She had learnt long ago that she had a face that was better off without too much make up and a body that could add sensuality to anything she wore.
She smiled at herself and for an instant could almost feel Aamir standing behind her. His arms folded around her waist, leaving love bites on her neck.
She shuddered for an instant. The passion she had been suppressing for so long rose in a spasm, rending her body in tremors. She could feel his skin warm against hers, his hands exploring the softness of her flesh. She closes her eyes, unable to keep herself tuned into reality. The memories come gushing at her. Memories of lust and passion. Animal, hedonistic, exasperating passion. Visions of his body entwined with hers. Writhing on top of each other, gasping, moaning, screaming his name. Feeling him tear through to her soul. She loved the look in his eyes when he came inside her. Like a little boy who can’t believe his luck. She would smile every time she would see that look and collapse on top of him. They would lay silent, breathing hard for a few moments and then the fire would find itself rekindled and they would go at it again with renewed vigor extracted from never ending lust for each other.
She remembers… and finds herself aroused. Traces the outlines of her nipples pushing against the soft chiffon of her dress, she remembers how he loved playing with her breasts… how he never wanted to let off the grip of his mouth on them. Feverishly moving from one to the other, never satisfied, never getting enough.
She feels her knees grow week and slowly glides towards the bed. Slides onto it and lies face down. Guides her hands over her body, pretending to be him. He knew exactly what she liked done and she knows exactly what he liked to do. Soon enough, she falls into erotic reveries that make her feel almost as if he really was lying beneath her, with his tongue swiping across her eager flesh and his hands firmly guiding her rise and fall on top of him. Her hand finds a hold right where she needs it to be and slowly begins to maneuver her fingers in the motions that will bring her as close to satisfaction as possible without him really being there.
Finally, on the verge of climax, she imagines him release himself inside her. She erupts in moans and envisions herself opening her eyes, as always, to catch a glimpse of his eyes at their most vulnerable. And sees instead Ayaz lying beneath her. His hands ravaging her body, his tongue slithering across her flesh.
She sees him smile.
The shock is such that she screams out loud. Jumps up off the bed, shivering. Trembling. Not from ecstasy but fear. She didn’t want to see this. She didn’t want to know this.
Heart racing, nerves throbbing, breath finds itself restricted. She backs away from the bed. eyes wide open. Afraid to see his face again, afraid to feel that moment again.
She tries to laugh it off.
Frowns. And settles for it. The guilt enveloping her soul is tenacious. She can feel her heart sinking. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined this. But she just had. Wide awake, she had conjured him up while thinking of her husband. She couldn’t even begin to understand the implications of this. All she knew was that she felt like a slut. Like she had betrayed the only man she loved.
I love Aamir. I love Aamir. I love Aamir.
She says it again and again and again inside her head trying to drown out the impression of Ayaz’s smiling face burnt on her sub conscious. Waiting simply for her to close her eyes to resurface and reclaim.
Oh my god. She whispers. Leans against a wall, looks down on the floor and sees her vanity case at her feet.
Hurriedly, she opens it and extracts the journal and a pen. Feverishly she flips to the first blank page and begins to write.
Hardly has she rendered two lines about Sahil’s death that a horn blares from outside. Fear now commanding her actions, she drops the journal. Hands trembling, slowly gathers herself up. And stands before the mirror.
She stares at herself, glares at her reflection as if trying to frighten away the lechery inside her mind. Until the horn blares again.
I love Aamir. She murmurs, combs her fingers through her hair, touches up the lipstick, puckers her lips, plasters a smile on her face and heads out the door.
He awaits her at the door to his house. One of the few brick buildings in the vicinity, it lies nestled in the shadow of snow peaked mountains.
She steps out of the car and sees his beaming face. He’s dressed in a grey suit with a pink shirt and a black tie. He hops down the steps towards her and gently takes her hand in his.
“You look positively ravishing” he says with an ever broadening smile.
“Thank you.” She responds looking down at her feet.
He leads her inside to a dining hall with a few couches placed before a blazing fire place and a table set for two.
“I-I thought this was a celebration… Ayaz. Where is everyone else?” She stammers suddenly aware of the painstakingly prepared mood for the evening.
“It’s just us tonight, my dear. Celebrating the life that lies before us.” He replies tightening his grip on her hand.
She knows it’s too late to walk out. She knows it’s too dangerous to go through the night. But she knows there’s no way in hell any man can take her away from Aamir. The mere thought of his name brings a smile to her face and peace to her heart. I love Aamir she intones once again inside her head and snatches her hand out of his grasp.
She places herself in the couch lying before the fireplace and starts talking about Sahil.
About how much he meant to her and how big a loss she felt his death was for the entire community. She goes on and on about him, trying to bring herself to tears and re-invoke the misery of his death inside her heart so that she can rid herself of the lust coursing through her body.
Ayaz sits down besides her, nodding his head and trying to use words of consolation. Words of motivation. Words basically meant to drive her towards what lay ahead instead of what needs to be left behind.
The butler comes bearing refreshments.
She sips at hers and relishes the crispy coolness of the juice slice its way down her throat. It’s almost a welcome relief from the constant blabbering she has been indulging in to try and suppress her whims.
Dinner is laid out and like the perfect gentleman; Ayaz offers her his arm to walk her to the table. She gets up and almost falls. Her legs give way under her, as if asleep after sitting for too long.
She wonder how long it’s been, and glances over at the grand father clock gingerly tick tock-ing away in the corner. It’s too dark to make out the positions of the hands.
He leads her over to the table, sits her down and they begin to eat.
Talk of classical music, and surrealist art and cynicism in literature ensues.
With every passing moment she feels less and less like taxing her brain with unpleasant thoughts.
The food is scrumptious. Roast lamb done so perfectly that it melts in her mouth like chocolate. And the home made juice is the perfect accompaniment to the whole meal.
Done with dessert, a marvelous soufflé, he takes her out to the patio for coffee under the stars.
The further the night progresses, the more she finds herself at ease. Laughing without a care in the world, making pubescent jokes about his pink shirt.
The coffee is the best she’s ever had. Its just the perfect blend of beans and cream, home ground he tells her, the armed forces are connoisseurs of good food she remembers saying. Tripping over the pronunciation of connoisseurs, laughing till her jaw hurt. Watching his eyes twinkle in the moon light as he laughed. It was so easy to be around him. Just like always. He’s a kindred spirit she decides and finds herself overwhelmed by the naiveté of her reaction to her earlier vision about him. She begins to blush just thinking about finding him instead of Aamir making love to her in her fantasy.
She shrugs it off as just a freudian slip of the sub-conscious, and looses herself in his talk of the beauty of the Taj Mahal under the brilliant light of a full moon.
He’s a good man. She catches herself thinking. A good honest man.
Leans closer to him and tugs at his tie
“Captain Sahib: she begins, almost giddy with pleasure and excitement. “You’re a good man”
“My dear” Ayaz begins, pulling her gently towards himself “you deserve only the best”
And when he jerks her into his embrace, she gasps
And when he placed his mouth over hers, she could not resist his tongue from sliding in.
Eyes closed, senses surrendered, she tastes Aamir instead.
I Love you Aamir, she murmurs under his breath.
Sahil is dead. He died today. Some mix-up with the medication. I’m going crazy. I can’t believe I just dreamt what I did. But Sahil is dead and I don’t know how to get out of the dinner with Ayaz tonight. Maybe that’s what I need. Maybe it was just the shock of watching Sahil die that is making me a mess. I wish I didn’t have to go there’s no way I can get through the night without it being awkward now but I don’t
Dinner? The night Sahil dies? It confuses Aamir as he reads about it. As confused as Rida seemed to have been as she left it unfinished. Dinner? What the hell?
His suspicions are quickly turning into belief. As much as he wants to deny it he can’t shake the sickening feeling that Rida’s relationship with Ayaz was a lot less platonic or atleast a lot more romantic than her journal so far has led him to believe. It seems almost as if she herself had been trying to remind herself that what she was feeling was the wrong way to feel and the only way to stifle it was to cover it up with reverence for the man. But to Aamir the glaring inconsistency in the feelings expressed and the actions followed are obvious. Maybe, he wonders, maybe its just a husband worrying about his wife’s developing friendship with another man. Maybe I would’ve taken her out too. To make her feel better, cheer her up. We would go to her favorite place and have the finest dinner and talk about the future and come home and make love.
He notices that on this one, there is no mention of god either. His heart sinks.
Make love… we would make love…
She would make love… with him?
Its staring him right in the face now. It has shape, this ugly thought. It has shape and mass and a presence, it’s almost like a palpable entity. It’s no longer in his head but standing before him in the shape of two naked bodies pleasing each other to drive out the sorrow and the desperation through moans and gasps.
He feels surprisingly calm.
There is no blood rushing to his head, no trembling limbs from uncontrolled fury. He watches the shadowy vision of his wife lying in the arms of another man and it’s almost cathartic. He has understood almost, and forgiven her. What he can’t grasp is her death. Even this assumption, even believing that it was guilt that had killed her, did not satisfy what he knew of his wife. She wouldn’t have killed herself. He knows this. She would’ve told me. She would’ve cried bloody murder on my shoulder and she would have begged for forgiveness and she would have made me love her again.
No. It wasn’t that. It couldn’t have been… unless… she was in love with him?
He can’t think anymore.
He can’t bring himself to face the impending inevitability that she had fallen in love again. Because that could justify her choice. What he knew of her, what he loved her for was her unshakable faith in the sovereignty of love. And this, her own betrayal of not only her husband but her own convictions… that could drive her to kill herself.
But Aamir didn’t want to know this. He didn’t want to accept it. He wanted instead to hold her in his arms and wipe the tears off her cheeks and kiss her eyes and tell her he loves her. He wanted to feel her, hear her call his name.
So he opens the book and flips back to the beginning..
So, I’m here. It’s scary. It’s really scary. I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into. They briefed me on the way in the bus from
Don’t wear flashy clothes, don’t play loud music. Don’t open the windows. Don’t talk to the men unless they are dying. Bloody hell. I mean I’m a doctor, hello? I’m not some psycho being sent to prison. But I don’t know maybe they are right. I don’t know, I guess there will be no occasion to put on that white chiffon number that Aamir likes so much. I was hoping to throw it on for the inaugural dinner. But no inaugural dinner. And they make me feel like if the people here see bear arms they will burn me at the stake. Let alone shoulders. Oh well. But I brought mostly pants and stuff, I hope they can suck it up if its just western and not provocative. We’ll see. There’s so much unpacking to do, they’ve given me this really nice cottage here. It’s all so quaint. Even has a wood burning fireplace in the lounge type thingy. No Tv though. Just an old school Radio, I hope Nida remembers to record all the soaps I’m going to miss. I miss her, I wish she was here with me. She loves the mountains and this place is so breathtakingly beautiful. The people too, I mean the eyes these people have. Wow. Its just mind boggling, makes me wish my mother was a pahari aurat… then I would have had some exotic blend of blues and grays and greens instead of this plain jane brown.
I’m too tired to write much more so in conclusion… The place is beautiful, the task at hand: scary. The local populace is as if it’s been extracted from the past but the army dudes around provide comic relief. Mostly this dashing young captain who greeted me at the base, can’t recall his name. But he sort of took my breath away. Looks like Aamir a little, similar Jaw line and face cut, but he’s a commando, and that shows. What was surprising was how nice he was. Not at all like the army people we are used to. Stuck up and obstinate. He was courteous. Charming even. I’m glad I have someone who knows Tolstoy around to keep me company for the next one year. Otherwise I’m afraid I would’ve turned into a pahari aurat… sans the magnetic eyes of course.
He can almost see it now. The fantasy as it unfolded. He greets her at the gates of emotional hell and leaves an impression more with his manners than with his name. They get closer and closer as life gets harder and harder. And it becomes easier and easier for her to be in love with what is there when she needs it to be than a man linked to her now only by a vow of commitment. It reeks of a story book romance Mills and boons even She found the love of her life in a far away mountain retreat and he saved her life and sanity without her even knowing it. It all makes sense to an extent. Who wouldn’t be seduced by the romance of the situation after all? It all makes sense. Except the ending. The heroine never kills herself. Even if she tries, the hero comes running out of the horizon and snatches her from the jaws of death and they make made passionate love at the edge of a cliff.
Her hero, however, had left the building. The story. The fantasy.
And her husband lay sleeping in her bed while she walked off the edge and down to her death. He can’t believe he didn’t see it coming. She had seemed distraught as soon as he had surprised her with his arrival. But the way she had run into his arms… and held him so tight she almost took his breath away. As if he had risen from the dead to come and claim her. There was no mistaking that she loved him in that moment when she saw him after 4 months. There was no mistaking that she was dead.
The only doubts remaining were about what had actually happened between Rida and the Captain. And he knew that whatever it was, guilt or anger or desperation. It had as much to do with the Captain as with him. And no matter how much pain awaited him in the answers to the questions corroding his sanity, he knew he had to know.
He gets himself a glass of water. Lights a cigarette and walks outside to see the sun rise.
His mind a muddled mess of what he knows and what he needs to know, all he can think about is all that he has read. Trying to make sense of it all.
She got here, she saved lives she fell in love. She died. All in the matter of four months. She died the day I got here.
No the day after I got here.
On the 5th of November… and Sahil died when? The day she went to dinner with Ayaz…
And in between the dinner and her death Ayaz left?
Sahil dies, Ayaz leaves….something is missing.
He walks back inside, and opens the journal again. Flips to the page that records the confused acceptance of Sahil’s death reads it again and flips the page
Finds the beginning of the senseless, god less, tumultuous series of page after page of one or two line attempts by her to convince herself to tell him of whatever happened.
There’s no mention of the dinner.
None at all.
He flips back and forth between the last one week. Starting from the 28th and leading to the 4th .
Suddenly he stops.
The cigarette falls from his mouth and the book from his hands.
There is no mention of the date because… it’s been torn out. Neatly, with precision so as not to leave any torn remnants behind. But to whoever looked with enough care, it was obvious.
The two pages reserved for recording the events of the 29th of October are gone.
He knows what they held.
He can make a pretty good guess.
That is where the secret lies. She tore them out because it hurt so much to write them in the first place. She was hiding from herself, not only from him.
All of a sudden, it was all a lot more complicated. All of a sudden there was a lot more that had been lost than just a life and love.
He knew he had to find the missing pages. There would be no point in trying to find the impressions of whatever was said because the pages were too thick to allow for any secrets to be spilled where they were not desired. This book was built to hide and it did its job well. But unless she had taken the pages down into the river sawaat with her, he would find them.
First though, he had to find Captain Ayaz.
Tomorrow had come.
Nida decided to ritualize her mornings for as long as she would be waking up amidst the snow covered peaks colored red in her sister’s blood.
She would come to the same little dhabba she had run into Aaamir at yesterday and have the tea that was too sweet and too milky to possibly add to the bitterness already swirling inside.
She tried to talk to the little girl who kept staring at her for as long as she was there but would never speak. But she was too afraid to speak to the whore from
And so she would serve her, grateful for the respite from having to stare at ashen and sullen faces always spewing anger and religious propaganda that never made any sense, even to her 12 year old mind. She would just bring Nida her tea, touch her fingers as she takes the cup and back away, never wavering her gaze from her face, her hair, her mesmerizing clothes, her flawless grace, her soothing gaze.
Nida liked her too. It was more for her than for any particular need to add discipline or dimension to her painfully empty days of waiting for nothing that she had decided to visit here again.
She could almost forget Rida here. Almost believe that she had never existed. That nothing she had known ever had. In the hustle bustle of every day life, the people coming and going, buying and selling, staring and pointing… here life seemed to go on irrespective of what anyone had suffered. She liked being away from her parents for a little while every day, what with her mother’s incessant crying and succumbing to fits of irrevocable misery every time Nida did anything even remotely reminiscent of her older sister. And her father always reading the news papers from all over the country, always hoping to find something, some mention of the only HCP doctor who had committed suicide and losing his temper at never finding anything. Yelling at her then, unable to figure out where to channel his anger, poking fingers at everything she did until he himself would break down into tears and steal away to his room until mom would go screaming at him to ‘act like a man, if for nothing else than for the one that is still alive’.
So she sat here, exposed mid-riff and all, nursing a hot cup of tea between her freezing hands, basking in the rich aroma rising with the steam from the cup. She tried to think of what lay ahead. Beyond Rida. Beyond loss. Beyond forgiveness. She tried to think of her future, her life but every time it all came back to the childhood days spent in trying to be more and more like Rida.
She had crafted herself into the mould Rida was made of. Speech, style, mannerisms… everything. But try as she might, she could never come to understand what god was for. She had seen too much black to believe that God was white. Too many villains to believe in heroes. To much sin to believe in good. And if he was evil, allowing all hell to break loose in everyone’s life, every day, over and over just to see what makes them tick, what sends them over the edge, why bother believe in him? The fights she would have with Rida when trying to defend her agonistic point of view.
And now Rida was gone, and somehow so was god from her life. All of a sudden in the absence of the only sign of the purported inherent goodness of a god she had ever really known ,she was ready to surrender the lingering doubts and believe unconditionally in the absolute absence of anyone out there looking after her.
It had gotten cold over night. The locals said it would snow soon. She draped her shawl around her body and sat sipping her tea when somewhere behind her a jeep came to a halt.
“You look way too sad for someone so pretty:” she heard a husky male voice say from beside her.
“Don’t bother” She replied without looking at the source of the voice. “Its way to cold, I’m way too jaded, and I’ve heard that line way too many times before.” And took another sip.
“Well..” The voice responded,”Have you ever known it to be this accurate before?”
Now she looked up. Moved more by the promise of at least trying to understand in the voice than the words it spoke. And saw standing beside her with a standard issue army beret in his hands, a tall handsome man with a killer smile, looking at her with such blatant sincerity that she had to gulp.
“I don’t mean to intrude” he said sliding onto the charpai resting across the table from her. “You’re just a little… out of your element. And as I said, way too sad to be alone in an environment that seems as foreign for you as a desert for a fish.”
“I’m not a tourist.” She said looking away.
“And I’m not a guide.”
They sat there in silence. She, looking away at the crowds in the streets. And he, looking at her looking away. He ordered a cup of tea for himself and waited patiently for her to initiate the next part of the conversation.
“They say it’s going to snow tonight.” She finally said, looking up into the sky.
“Probably. It’s long over due.”
“You been here long?”
“Do I look like I have?”
“Do you always make it hard to get a straight answer out of you?”
“Only when I’m looking for an answer that doesn’t seem forthcoming”
“Why are you sad?”
“Why the hell would I tell you that?”
“Because no one else is going to ask.”
She looked at him long and hard, just to see if his gaze would waver. But it didn’t. And she couldn’t help but deny the truth in his words. No one else would ask. No one else even seemed to care. Her family was too caught up in their own grief to deal with hers, her friends were too far away to make a difference. Aamir needed more help then she did. And the locals… he was really her only shot at release.
“I lost God” She replied
Now it was his turn to be silent. He had handled women confused about religion before, but this… this was just too stark, too barefaced to be handled in any of the usual ways. It would be a challenge fixing her, he thought and smiled.
“Did I scare you?” She went on “It’s easier to ask then to help, isn’t it?”
“Are you scared?” he replied dismissing her comment. “I mean of losing God. It’s too precious a thing to loose”
“I never really had him… as such. Just the idea, just the false sense of security that… that he’s there… anyway… forget it.”
“No no, I would like to know more… it’s frightful…almost… “
“You see that’s kind of like how I feel… as in, not knowing whether he is there or not… its..”
“Forget it!” She said getting up.
“No please, I didn’t mean to offend you, Its just that, you don’t expect to have a conversation this drenched in profundity with a stranger every day and I can’t help but find myself helplessly interested in what has led you to abandon whatever little belief you had been holding on to.” He blabbered on while she paid the little girl for the tea and made to walk away.
“Forget it.: She repeated again, but stopped to look at him half sitting half standing, looking desperate. She couldn’t tell whether the desperation was really to know what she had to say or just to make her stay. She decided to leave either way.
“Wait… there’s a party… an army thing. Tonight. It’s basically for army personnel, but civilians here for vacations and such are invited too… will you come?”
All set to say no, she stops in mid-sentence. Army personnel she thinks… the captain in charge will be there. She could corner him and ask him what they have been trying so hard not to answer.
“When is it?”
“Nearby, at my house… you can ask anyone for directions when you’re on your way.”
“Ahan, I’ll think about it”
“Thank you… I hope to see you there.”
“Sure…Bye” She says and begins to walk away.
“Dress up… it’s a black tie sort of thing.” He calls out to her.
She nods her head “What’s the party for?”“
He made his way down towards the Army Base on foot. He wanted to mull over the questions in his mind. Had a feeling he would finally meet the man who had charmed his wife into abandoning him. It was hard for Aamir to blame him yet, hard to hate him. A part of him was thankful even, for the support he seemed to have been for her, a part of him owed him a debt of gratitude. But jealousy was running rampant through his head. He hated Rida more, was angrier at her. Couldn’t have accepted some man to respect the sanctity of his marriage. But his wife… She loved him. She had loved him.
The more he thought about how much she loved him, how much he knew she did, the whole scenario, the explanation seemed less and less probable. Acceptance still came grudgingly that Rida, his Rida could’ve been seduced into cheating on him. After all they themselves had gone through to earn their union, it seemed almost impossible that she would even ever look at another man with any kind of romantic inclination.
But he could not ignore the signs. It was all written in black and white, somewhat hidden between the lines. But he knew his wife. He knew her enough to guess at her heart. And so, reluctantly he had to accept what made sense. Event though he wrapped it up in doubt and hoped against hope that maybe just maybe there was something very different afoot. A global conspiracy perhaps, that she had uncovered some dark evil plot and had been shoved off the cliff, but such reprieve is offered to the hopeless only in day dreams and fantasies. His life was cut and dry. Brutally so. Even when the pain of losing his wife to death was still searing his soul, he had to confront the pain of her betrayal. It sometimes got hard to tell which cut deeper.
It had gotten colder over-night. Cold enough to numb the world. Cold enough to numb the senses. The nip of ethereal sadness which palpitates inside the soul of a winter breeze cut through him and settled upon his heart, as if divine accompaniment for his own sorrow. As if God himself had sent the winter rushing in on him to help numb the angst.
But as he placed one step after another on his way down to see his nemesis; no divine accompaniment could help ease his torment. The winter blues would rage on, sewing depression into happy hearts and calm into anxious ones. While his heart and his soul would continue to be haunted by the lingering demons of loss and betrayal, unimpeded by the weather. His sorrow, nested deeper than the winter could seep. His agony rang truer than god’s decree.
He turned a bend in the precarious mountain road and almost got run over by an army jeep.
A slew of curses arose from the driver’s mouth as he sped away up the incline leaving him flustered by the side of the road.
On a different day he may have felt his heart beat a little faster after the close encounter with death, but today he felt almost disappointed at having survived the collision that for the world would have spelt his death, but for him would have meant respite.
He stumbled onwards into the market that lay ahead. And once again, felt his soul calm a little at the sight of a lithe young figure walking with a stern determination towards him. She came, head held high, draped in a shawl over corduroy trousers, almost too lost in her own turmoil to notice him.
But there eyes met and they both broke out in simultaneous smiles. Steps quickened as they bisected the road towards each other.
“Hey you” Aamir said in greeting, glowing.
“We must stop meeting like this” Nida replied with a smile on her face just as big as the one on his.
“Heading back?” He asked placing a hand at her back to lead her off the road
“Unfortunately… and you without a car to give me a lift.” She said leaning against him.
“Were you at the base?” He continued, trying hard to focus on the pain instead of the pleasure stemming from somewhere deep inside at the mere sight of this younger but almost identical apparition of his wife.
“No. Just came to get away.” She responded a little disappointed at having to remember all that she was finally relieved to have been able to set aside at the sight of the man she had always looked at with stifled adulation. “You haven’t slept much have you?” She asked looking at the hollowness of his eyes and the deep black circles beneath.
“I…no… I haven’t.” He wanted in that instant to tell her everything he thought he knew. Share his fear. But he decided that she was better off not knowing. Ever.
“Yeah well it’s only been three days. I feel like a bitch for having dozed off last night. Ami still hasn’t slept a wink. Abu wouldn’t have either if it wasn’t for the Valiums. How long do you suppose we keep mourning Aamir, I mean she was a ‘sinner’ after all. How long will you mourn for her?” She said pushing herself away from him and turning away.
“As long as I have to. You’re right. It’s just been three days. It’s not wrong to miss her, Nida. Don’t hold it against yourself. Or your parents.”
“That’s not what I hold against them. She’s not the one I’m missing.” She mumbled almost absent mindedly looking in to the ravine below.
He almost asked her what she meant, before he understood. He longed to hug her, but didn’t. The chasm of the relationship between them had suddenly closed. But another one had propped up in its place. One haunted by ghosts and memories and lingering feelings. One that no amount of sorrow could be allowed to conquer.
“Don’t bother, going to the base.” She continued with a sigh. She had this way of sorting through her emotions quickly to make up for them with stark logic that would render the way she felt inconsequential. “They still don’t want to talk. Pretend as if nothing happened. As if she didn’t matter anyway.”
“I have to try.” He picked up her cue to return to the melancholy of the tragedy afflicting them instead of the one that was hers alone to bear.
“You’ll have better luck at the party tonight.”
“The new major… or the man newly made Major… he’s throwing a party in honor of his promotion. Army folk will be there, civilians are invited.”
So he’s back? And throwing a party? Doesn’t he know? How could he not know? He has to know… and he’s throwing a party three days after she kills herself? Sahil dies, he asks her out? She dies he throws a party? What the hell kind of a man is he? He didn’t love her… he couldn’t have loved her. There would be no glory for him today if he had. But she did. And since he didn’t she killed herself? This is not making any sense anymore again. I have got to meet this man… he must have cared a little for her… he…
“Hello?” Nida shook him to break his train of thought.
“Sorry… I … where, when did you say the party was?”
“Oh for god’s sake Aamir, wake up. This forlorn loser persona doesn’t suit you.” She couldn’t conceal the exasperation in her soul from being reflected in her voice.
He didn’t respond, just kept looking straight at her. A little hurt, but mostly, waiting for the answer to his question.
“I’m sorry. It isn’t easy, you know, to see you like this. I just… oh fuck it. Its tonight, at his house. Supposedly everyone can point you to it once the sun sets. Will you come? I don’t want to go alone.”
“You’re not going.”
“Is that a question, Aamir, or are you trying to assert some kind of command over what I choose to do?” She had never liked being told what to do. Except from her sister.
“I’m just telling you that you’re not going. There’s not attempt in trying to stifle you in this, it’s just the smart thing to do.”
“Fine. Are you going?”
“Well, wear a suit then. It’s a black tie affair. Tell me what you find out. Bye”
He watches her walk away. He wants to focus on what this conversation implies about the feelings he has felt her harbor towards him for a very long time. He wants to think back to the beginning of their relationship. Where they instantly formed a bond because they were both in love with the same woman. She was the thread that brought them together and now in her absence a teenage heart was trying desperately to find something else to bind them with. She cared for him, he knew that. But love? Maybe she was just trying to mean more to him than his wife’s sister, a friend. Maybe she was trying to fill the void left in her soul. Maybe she did love him. Maybe she always had.
But all of this took second place to what the conversation had explicitly disclosed. That the Major was back in town. And he was throwing a party.
The soil still sat wet on his wife’s grave, and the man who she may as well have died for is celebrating.
He feels fury rip through every other emotion bubbling inside him. Turns around, and runs back up to his cabin.
Night falls, and brings the snow along with the darkness.
Aamir fixes the knot of his tie before the very mirror Rida had stood in front of, fantasizing about him, not more than a little over a week ago. He looks at himself and finds himself missing her standing before him, putting the finishing touches on her make up before they head out to whatever social event the happiest couple in
But no time to wonder about what could’ve happened and what never did. He has to face someone he never though he’d have to see. And for that he needed to be more in command of his faculties than he’s ever had to be.
He had hoped to find comfort with him. Some kind of release from his own consternation. He had hoped that they would sit down and he would tell her what a wonderful human being his wife had been and how sad he was that she was no more but he was happy to have known someone as magnificent as her. How his life and the lives of so many children here had been changed for the better just by her presence and although she had suffered so much sorrow that she had taken her own life, her aura, her love, her presence would linger on in their hearts to their own graves. He had hoped he would tell him that Sahil was what did her in, that failing to save him is what she couldn’t stand.
But it had become more than obvious that Ayaz himself had a greater hand in her demise that Sahil’s death. Even more obvious that what Ayaz would have to say couldn’t possibly hold any comfort for him. Salvation maybe, release from the wondering and the needless hoping and the suspecting and the irrepressible need for understanding. But not comfort. Nothing close to it.
He was throwing a party.
He didn’t care.
He got to the house in the shadow of the snow covered peaks at 8.
The party was already in full swing.
There was a strange splendor in the way the beaded lights strewn along the parapets lit up the snow flakes dancing down incessantly. The ground was already sunk beneath a sheet of white but the armed guards lining the drive way leading up to the steps at the entrance were doing a good job of keeping the pathway free of snow. They found him dressed appropriately enough for the festivities, smiled and urged him on.
He could hear the music blaring from inside behind the closed door. Mingled with booming laughter and the buzzing of too many conversations. He stood at the door motionless. Afraid to enter, to confront Ayaz and find out what he needed to know. Wonders if he should turn back and leave the grave in his heart uncovered for as long as he chooses to live, never knowing, always wondering. Assuming the worst and feeding his emptiness.
The vision of Rida standing at the edge of the cliff in the twilight, deciding to end her life, wouldn’t let him surrender. Not now.
He takes one final glance at the serenity of the winter night behind him. The snow softly falling like the silent tears of grieving angels and opens the door.
And runs into a uniformed figure walking out.
“Sorry” they both utter simultaneously.
“Go right ahead, the festivities are in full swing.” The man in uniform says with blatant sarcasm in his tone.
“You’re not… Captain… Major Ayaz are you?”
“That would be a compliment, If I didn’t know better.” He said smiling. “No I’m not, he’s inside regaling the crowd with obnoxious stories everyone seems to lap up just because he’s the one telling them.”
“You don’t seem to like him much. “ Aamir said walking down the steps beside him
“Yes and I maybe the only one. So be careful, it doesn’t pay to not like the Good Major”
“I’m…I’ve never met him…but I was told that he is a good man. A helpful man.”
“Oh sure… very helpful. You were sent I suppose by some uncle general of yours in
“What do you mean?”
“Look I’ve been kind even when the last thing I feel like being is kind. Just go in and get what you came for and suffer the burden of your own sins.” The man said hurrying away, leaving Aaamir more confused than ever. The last thing he had expected was to find someone so full of venom towards the man he had come to hate himself. He ran after him.
“Excuse me. Please, I – I don’t know what you think I’m here for but it’s not for any vices… who are you? I..I…I need help:”
“Leave me alone” He mumbled almost running down the path leading out to the road beyond the premises.
Aamir felt the eyes of the guards standing around on him, running after one of their kin who’s seemingly trying to avoid him and realized that any minute now someone would come up to him and offer to usher him out. So he turned around and headed back.
“Who was that man?” He stopped to ask one of the guards
“Captain Shahnawaz. He’s new here; they all take time to get used to the way things are here. You go on, I’m sure Major Saab awaits your arrival.”
“Do you know me?” Aamir asked suddenly afraid of being known as Rida’s husband. He didn’t know why.
“What’s the difference, Sir, every one who comes here alone comes for the same reason.” He replied smiling. “Go on in”
Inside, he sees more people than he had expected to see. Row upon row of men in uniform and in immaculate suits. Women clad in dresses straight out of fashion shows. Always trying to outdo each other with flashier jewelry and more skin on display. Some stood around a blazing fire place, same sat on the few couches lying before the hearth. A grand father clock standing proudly in a corner by the bar. Everyone with a drink in their hands and smiles on their lips, chattering away like long lost friends.
Whoever he saw nodded at him with a welcoming smile. Trying to make him feel at home, feeding his paranoia instead. A waiter in a white tuxedo brings him a tray full of drinks which he declines, but seeing the almost awestruck shock in his eyes quickly fixes his mistake and grabs for a flute of imported champagne. He scans the crowd trying to see who the Major could be. He looks at the men in uniform but they all look too pedestrian to be someone his wife could have fallen for. Takes a sip of his drink, and realizes that no expense has been spared for this little gala. It’s
He turns around and sees a tall handsome man, flanked by women, laughing uproariously. Clad in a grey suit. With a pink shirt and a black tie.
He doesn’t have to ask anyone, he knows it’s him. His charisma transcends the crowd and he can feel everyone basking in the aura of his presence. He can sense that those who know him know what a privilege it is to be standing in his house toasting to yet another success.
Rida’s words keep ringing in her head: here’s this guy, who no doubt for his self righteousness has been condemned to this shitty little corner of the country even though someone so brilliant should be running the freaking country.
The only thing he can think is that no self righteous man can ever be this popular.
He walks towards the small circle of the people surrounding him. Over hears him telling them about the majesty of the Taj Mahal under a full moon’s light. Hears them gasp in awe, more of him then the picture he’s painting with his words
He breaks through the crowd just as Ayaz pauses to take a sip from his tumbler full of something much stronger than champagne.
“Heartiest Congratulations, Major Sahib.” Aamir says extending his hand towards him.
“Oh Thankyou, Thankyou jee” Ayaz says smiling broad, shaking the offered hand vigorously. “Enjoying the party I hope?” He says, playing the good host.
“Oh Very much so, you’re definitely a savvy host.” Aamir says trying to conceal the excitement in his voice. He can just feel he’s on to something here. This cannot be what his wife fell for. She had made him quit drinking. And this guy’s breath reeked of too much alcohol, and he seemed barely drunk. He had the demeanor of a man who knew how to handle his liquor well enough to know how to hide it when need be.
“I don’t think I recognize you, have we met before?” Ayaz asks as politely as possible.
“I… yes.. once in
“Ah Bhatti Uncle?” Ayaz says nodding “Such a nice man, how is he? Haven’t seen him in a while.”
“Well, I wouldn’t know, you see I have been away… to the Philippines” He’s making it all up as he goes, gaining confidence now at having established credibility with this man “for a few years now, just got back a few days ago. Was speaking to him about… you know… how I missed the good life and he said to take a vacation here, and see you about…. You know” he gave a sheepish grin “Feeding my vices” He held his breath.
Ayaz stared at him for an extended moment. Lengthened more by the anticipation in Aamir’s own heart than by design and broke out into laughter
“Leave it to Uncle Bhatti to give me a bad impression” He replied with a wink
Aamir winked back, trying desperately to conceal his shaking legs.
“Well any friend of a friend is a friend. What’s your name friend?”
“Aamir… Aamir Khan.” He blurted out unable to think of a less conspicuous moniker to support his lies with
Another burst of laughter ensued, this time Aamir joined in. “You know you almost look like him too, much taller though”
“Yes, I… I get that often” Aamir replied giggling.
“You know, whenever he comes here, it is I he looks up to… as you said… feed his vices.” Ayaz said leaning closer, in a hushed tone, winking and nodding his head. “I like how you put it… feeding your vices. Yes. I like it very much” pause for another sip. “Tell you what, see me, after mid night… by the time all the parayas would have left and then we can delve into our respective vices with greater aplomb.” He patted him on the back and started off towards the bar, his drink having been drained.
Aamir watched him for a few seconds. Trying to figure out what exactly had he stumbled on to. The mention of the parayas, just like by the captain he had met out side. And this consistent talk of vices that had seemingly ushered him into the domain of the apnaas…How could Rida not have known this man for the kind of man he really was? She had known people like him all her life, through college and school… these party mongers… these social animals who saw everything through eyes blurred by too much intoxication and not enough moral strength. He knew him instantly… he knew him for the man he had always been. A raucous teenager, popular with the girls, charming, alluring. The one who could roll the best joint, and could take the longest swig. One who had joined the army on the basis of his father’s status more than for patriotic fervor. He wasn’t here as punishment for his high moral fiber, he wanted to be here. Being here was easy… safe… conducive to whatever vices he liked to explore. He wasn’t anything what Rida had depicted him as in her journal… charming, yes… considerate? No.
No Rida, either you were wrong, or you lied to yourself, no self-righteous man could ever be this popular
“By the way…” Aamir heard him yell from across a group of dazed guests indulging in small talk they themselves didn’t understand. He looked up and smiled at him “Loved you work in Earth. Inspiring” And broke out into another fit of gleeful laughter.
Laughs at his own jokes, pompous bastard… Aamir thought and feigned his own mirthless laughter