As Nida approached Aamir’s cabin, sweating from the exertion of running all the way up the hill from the market she found him sitting outside on the steps.
He was calm now. Calmer, at any rate. Crying all through the night had left him bereft or tears or remorse. Only anger raged inside.
He saw her running up. Breathing heavy, she stopped right before him, hands on knees she took a moment to regain her breath.
He looked at her standing before him, looking more like a child now then she had ever before. Sweat dripping down her face, clad in a big. burly over-coat, she seemed almost innocent.
“You were supposed to tell me what you found out” She said without raising her head to look at him.
When he didn’t reply she finally looked up. He just sat there, looking straight at her, smiling a crooked smile that looked almost obscene on his face, exhaling the smoke from the cigarette out of his nostrils.
“You’ve really lost it you know” She said, reaching out to snatch the cigarette from his mouth to take a puff herself “You look like a demon”
Shahnawaz’s words rang through his head. Demon… Monster… likes to watch. Seven. Seven. Seven. It hadn’t even hurt that much. Is seven any worse then two? he now wondered… would she still be alive if it had just been Ayaz? She’s dead. Seven or one, he’s the one who’s going to pay. There was no room in his mind for anything other than vengeance now. He heard Nida’s voice fighting for a place in his head, but he couldn’t focus on her words. He just looked at her remembering what his wife had looked like when he had first met her.
“You’re not going to tell me are you Aamir?” Nida said exhaling, putting the cigarette back in Aamir’s mouth and reaching for one from his pack lying on the floor next to him.
She lit it up, and sat down beside him. Close enough to press her shoulder into his.
He didn’t budge, just kept looking straight ahead in a daze.
“Kuch to bolo Aamir. What’s wrong with you, you’re getting worse by the day.” She wrapped her arm around his shoulder gently stroking his bicep with her hand.
“Did you see anyone? Did you find anything out?” She purred in his ear, trying to sound comforting. Anyone else in the world and she would be screaming her head off, she saw Aamir, knew his pain and so all she could muster was concerned curiosity.
“No” he murmured. Deciding that he couldn’t say anything until he had done all he could to make Ayaz suffer.
“You’re lying.” She replied looking away, blowing the smoke out of her mouth.
She began to speak again when the door behind them opened and Shahnawaz walked out. Still in his uniform from last night, looking pale as a ghost.
Nida turned around to find a stranger with a face contorting in a look of such horror that her own heart sank. She kept staring at him, and he kept standing there in rapt terror. Frozen, unable to move, unable to breathe, he kept looking at his victim come back from the dead to haunt him. But when Nida exhaled her last puff through her nose, Shahnawaz in his guilt ridden vision, saw instead a ghost with smoke issuing out of its face. Suddenly he screamed, turned around and disappeared behind the door.
Confused, she looked from the door slamming shut, to Aamir sitting almost as if dead beside her.
“What the heck was his problem?” she said quietly puffing away at borrowed poison.
Aamir burst out laughing. The morbid humor of the situation finally breaking through the haze of hatred enveloping his mind.
Nida watches him till he stops
“So you went to the party and got yourself a man in uniform… you’re an inspiration to all women. Are you going tell me who that weirdo is or is that another mystery you’d rather keep to yourself?”
He couldn’t tell her, so he laughed some more.
“You’re not being fair Aamir , I need to know what you know… please this isn’t funny.” She looked away.
Aamir stood up, smiling. Stretched his arms with a yawn. “I’m sorry Nida, I don’t know anything for sure. This is… just some guy.” Who raped your sister for the viewing pleasures of her best friend. He caught himself thinking.
“You’re lying Aamir, I know it, you know it.” She began, getting up to walk up to him “I don’t know why you won’t tell me what you know, but fuck you. Okay. Fuck you. You’re making some silly game out of this while I turn insane wondering what the fuck happened to my sister. I don’t even care about what you may have to say, I just thought you would help make this easy for me. I’ll find out on my own.” Her voice breaking apart, she began to walk away.
“It can’t be easy, either way Nida.” Aamir called out to her.
“It could’ve been. But you just don’t understand what anyone else is going through, you think she didn’t belong to us anymore, that you are the only one who has any right to know what happened and the rest of us can just burn in our personal hells of wonder and speculation.” She walked back towards him. “Fine then, you’ve made your choice. And I’ve made mine. I need your car tonight.”
“What for?” there was nothing he could do to put her mind at ease, not yet. He just didn’t know how to tell her what had happened.
“I found someone, someone who might care enough to tell me something.”
He knew the answer even before he asked the question. Somehow it seemed inevitable that he would find her.
“The Major in charge here, Ayaz… or something.”
He didn’t allow the sudden throbbing pain in his heart to show on his face. He stood stock still, as if he had no idea who she was talking about.
“You can walk to the army base, he replied.”
“Its too cold… I don’t wanna walk.” She replied without any great conviction in her lie.
“You never would’ve come here if you needed to go to the base Nida… I know just as well when you’re lying. Where are you going?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“You came here to tell me.”
“That was before you were being an asshole.”
“Because you’re afraid then?”
She wondered for a second if it were that obvious but decided to relent anyway. “I’m not afraid. Have I ever been afraid?”
“Then tell me because I want to know where my car is going.” He couldn’t be bothered with niceties… he could smell the danger she was all set to walk into.
“You know, if you were just my sister’s husband to me, I would’ve walked away by now.” She said realizing that she wanted him to know… wanted him to realize how much she cared, how much she was willing to put at stake just to get the answers
“He told me he knew her. He said things that convinced me… and he hinted at there being some kind of conspiracy here which frankly seeing how you are acting seems a lot more plausible now. Anyway he asked me to come to some rest house off the highway that is deserted in the winters. He said we’d be safe there.”
“Alone you mean.” He replied seeing Nida tied up against a bedpost being ravaged by a maniac.
“Safe… from prying eyes and such.” She stated in a defensive tone.
“You’re not that naïve, why would you even consider this Nida? You know what he could do to you, what he will do to you.”
“He won’t do anything.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake… a random stranger asks you out to a deserted motel and you think he is out to help restore your sanity? Who the fuck are you trying to fool here?”
“Okay fine, I know what he wants. He’ll want to fuck me, worst come to worst and I will let him. But at least I’ll know what happened to her.”
“You’ll LET him?” He said, almost amused at how human she thought this guy was.
“Yes Aamir, I will let him.” She was shocked to realize that she wasn’t lying.
“What the fuck do you think for? I need to know… what am I supposed to do just sit and wait for you to NOT tell me anything? I’m sick of being treated like some dumb kid who needs to be sheltered. My sister is DEAD. She KILLED herself. And you’re trying to tell me that she went crazy and jumped off a cliff? I need to know why… what drove her crazy. And you Aamir, I thought you knew me better… respected me a little more than everybody else in the world. Keep you fucking car, I’m sure he can drive me there and then I will be even more at his mercy, and you can be content that you didn’t have to satisfy me in anyway.” Nida tried, but couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
Aamir knew what she had implied but his mind had now taken another turn. He had begun to realize that no matter what happened Nida was in danger now, Ayaz had seen her, he wanted her, he knew she was Rida’s sister and that itself was reason enough for him to come after her. He had to get her away from here… but he couldn’t tell her why. So he had to stop just musing about revenge and attain it; before Ayaz could claim Nida. Tonight he though as the first traces of an idea began to form in his mind.
“You’re not going” He finally said just as Nida turned away from him to walk away.
“You can’t stop me”
“I’ll tell you parents”
“That’s very mature of you, well done.”
“I’ll tie you up and lock you in Nida, but there’s no fucking way you’re going there tonight.” It was the calm in his voice more than the authority with which he said the words that grabbed her attention.
She stopped dead in her tracks, too frightened suddenly to be offended.
“What?” Was all she could manage to utter in a quivering voice as she turned around to face him.
“You won’t go tonight, you won’t see him. You won’t call him. You will do nothing. You will go to your parents and….”
She would be amused if she wasn’t so startled, there was something alien about him just then. His eyes shone with anger. She had seen her father once with that look in his eyes… when he had found out about Rida and Aamir’s affair. Now seeing that anger in Aamir’s eyes hurtled her head-long into the dread of impending disaster she has felt then. .
“And…And what?” she stammered
“God, Nida… who else is there?”
“Aamir, if he ever was there, here, or anywhere, where he could make a difference, where he could make me believe, he isn’t anymore. Not after Rida. I can’t pray to what I don’t believe in.”
“You have to. We need him… You have to remember, you have to believe.” He said in the same tone of impenetrable conviction and unshakeable resolve.
“How?” She said shaking her head, then remembering the words that had left Ayaz speechless she added: “I’ve lost God.”
Without skipping a beat, or missing a second he said: “He hasn’t lost you”
And it was Nida’s turn to be speechless. She looked awestruck now. Suddenly made aware of what set him apart from Ayaz. It was merely a choice of who to trust between the two men… it wasn’t a question at all, really. She just hoped that whatever happened God would care enough to help.
“I – I’ll try…” She managed after a few moments, the fear in her heart reflected on her face. She knew it was pointless to ask him what he had in mind. There was nothing left to say, she stood staring at him for a minute then turned around and walked away.
Aamir stood peering into nothing.. His mind alive with thoughts and actions. Moves and counter moves. Considering eventualities, all that could go wrong. But he had no option. He knew what needed to be done, and he was the one who had to do it. Everything that happened had happened to make this possible. He had clarity suddenly, it was exhilarating. From the teenage desire to emulate the vengeful hero in a movie to the mature realization that life is much more complacent than fiction, to being thrust into this nightmare even his sub-conscious had been too afraid to ever conjure up; he traced the choices he had made in his life that had led him here. Trying to find something, some heroic, extraordinary, fantastic feat of unprecedented bravado in his past that could convince him now that he could do what he had to.
Blood rushing through his veins, half with apprehension half with the promise of vengeance, he decided that nothing mattered. Not what he was, not the man he had been, not the man he wanted to be. In the here and now, life had placed him before a cross roads either side of which lead to insanity. One conclusive, on never-ending. It didn’t matter what he thought he was capable of, he had been left no choice. Ayaz had to die. And he had to kill him.
He headed back for the door to look for Shahnawaz inside, the pawn his gambit depended on.
He was standing right behind the door. Listening to everything that Rida and Aamir had said. They looked at each other and saw the same conviction they both felt inside themselves reflected on each other’s faces.
“I have a plan” They both said together.