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At first, he couldn’t believe his ears but then a wave of involuntary shock hit him. For a moment he stood there dry-mouthed, rooted to the spot.
What was she talking about?
“Come on Komal.” He murmured breathlessly. “Tell me this is some kind of sick joke.”
“This is not some sick joke. It’s a healthy reality which makes me sick.” She sobbed.
“My mind just doesn’t accept you being engaged.” He still didn’t want to believe.
“Well….well not really.” She stammered thickly.
“What do you mean by ‘not really’?” Aariz shrugged his shoulders, his hearts drowning. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any idea what you are talking about!”
“I…..I can explain.” She gathered her nerves and began to say…
“There was no tradition, no celebration. But it’s my parents’ decision. Just one day my father announced that he’s seen some good guy for me, and we’d be suitable for each other, that’s all.”
“That’s all?”He laughed emptily.
“Listen Aariz. It’s not appropriate to talk about this in front of my house and when it’s already…..”
She paused to glance at her watch. “Oh my God, it’s almost three a.m.”
Without saying a word, he turned. Taking slow, tired steps, he walked to his car.
“Aariz, I’d call you tomorrow. We’ll meet.” As he ignited the engine, he heard Komal’s voice.
But he didn’t answer.
There was not much to say now, was there?
Next day, the first thing she did was to dail Aariz’s number.
“Yes?” The same pure masculine voice came from the other side and her heart started to beat faster.
“Aariz, it’s me.” She murmured slowly.
From the other side, she heard a long, tired breath.
“I’m leaving for London tomorrow.” She announced.
“Good bye, have a nice trip.” He said in a very formal voice, without much expression.
“Aariz….”She sobbed. “Don’t do this to me. You know very well that I can’t live without you.”
“Then what can I do about that?” He asked.
“If my parents have seen some guy for me it doesn’t necassarily mean that I agreed too.” She said firmly. “He’s not my ideal, and I don’t like him an inch.”
“So, my feelings are the same, and I’m the same Komal for you. But…..”
“But?” He repeated.
“What if my parents objected?” She asked fearfully.
“We’d revolt.” He said firmly and seriously. “We belong to this new millennium, and we’re bold and courageous enough to take our future in our own hands.”
“So…..” He whispered romantically. “What therefore God has joined together, let no man seperate.”
“But do you really think God had joined us together?” She shook her head, a mass of nut-brown hair brushing her shoulders.
“He will, as soon as we get married.” He smiled soberly.
“Do you believe marriages are arranged in heaven but are celebrated on earth, like they say?” Komal asked, curious to know his opinion.
“Umm. Yes.” He said thoughtfully. “I do believe that if God has made your match with someone, you’d get him somehow, no matter how much obstacles come into your way.”
“But Komal,” His voice suddenly acquired an angry tone. “I have some objection.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about your engagement before?” He asked.
“I was not sure of myself.” Komal said breathlessly. “I didn’t trust my feelings then.”
He was silent at her comment. Absently, he pulled a plate of biscuits in front of him, holding the reciever with the other hand.
“What about my engagement?” Komal asked after a short interval.
“What about it?” He asked casually.
“What do I do about it now?” Konal asked in a low voice.
He put a biscuit halfway between his teeth and then ‘cracked’ it forcefully.
Her eyes widened to their extremes.
“Bring me in the picture. Present me as a substitute to your parents.” He swallowed the biscuit and took a fine sip of his tea. “That’ll do it.”
“You make it all seem so easy.” She smiled sadly.
“That’s simple.” As he spoke, she could feel his voice smiling decently. “When one door closes, a better and bigger one opens!”
There was a short pause, and then he asked.
“Do you think you can convince your parents?”
“Yes,” She said immediately. “They trust me, and I trust them. They would never want to do something against my will. They’ve always respected my happiness and wishes. But….”
“I can see the real problem would probably arise from your side Aariz.”
“What do you mean?” He asked sharply.
“I still can’t see myself being welcomed with open arms.” Komal said. “I’m from a different ‘sect’.”
“Don’t be silly Komal.” He muttered in frustration. “My father is not like that. He accepts people for who they are, and you’re intelligent, ambitious and top in your field.”
“And what about your mother?” She asked skeptically.
“Mother.” He whispered thoughtfully. “She loves me more than anything else in this world. Moreover, she’s an open minded and modern lady. She doesn’t believe in forcing her opinions on others.”
“Well.” She said after breathing a short sigh. “Let’s see.”
“So?” Aariz asked in a low tone. “Who’s this guy?”
“Who?” She asked back.
“The guy your parents have chosen for you.”
“Well.” Komal said with pure disinterest.
“He is my father’s assistant. He is his second in command in our company.”
“I see.” Aariz said dryly.
“His brilliant skills and marvelous business tactics have given him more success than he expected. My father’s company is now one of the most successful and powerful companies in England.”
“What’s his name by the way?” Aariz finally asked.
“Sikander…….” She breathed. “Sikander Riza.”
Sikander Riza, the ruler’, as her father privately dubbed him, was second-in-command of the company her father had built into one of the largest in U.K.
Well bred, educated, and well off in his own right, he had joined it from one of their main competitors, and had quickly became Managing Director. He had eyesight fixed on the stars. Getting to the top was his prime ambition, and he was intelligent and hardworking enough to be well on the way there.
“I thank the day Sikander joined me,” Her father often used to say. “It will be hard replacing him if he leaves.”
If her father hadn’t thrown him at her as a suitable husband from the time she was sixteen, she might have found him tolerable. But knowing he was regarded as a surrogate son had made her react against him.
How and when it had all started?” She could still recall very well. After all, it was her sixteenth birthday
Now, that was another thing that had turned out to be ‘bitter sixteen’ for her instead of a ‘sweet sixteen’ one.
“Hello Komal, enjoying yourself?” He had asked in a typical, casual voice. Impeccable in grey dinner jacket and black trousers that emphasized his physique, his pale grey eyes regarded her unblinkingly.
“Very much, and you?” She asked back formally.
“May I have a word with you in private?”
Short of being rude, she couldn’t refuse, and stifling her impatience, she preceded him into her father’s study.
What on earth did he want? Impatiently she tapped one small foot as he went to standby the fireplace.
“You’re leaving for college on Monday, I believe.” He said conversationally.
“Then I’m glad I can speak to you tonight. I’m going abroad for a while, and this is the only chance I’ll have of seeing you until your holidays.”
So what?” She thought irritably. She hardly saw him anyway.
“A little birthday gift,” He said, holding it out. “I didn’t want to put it with the others in the hall.”
Taking a flat, square black box from his hand, Komal opened it slowly and gasped.
On a bed of black velvet lay an excellent necklace of real, true pearls all arranged evenly. Involuntarily, Komal brought a finger to touch the brightly colored pearls.
She loved it at first sight, although hated the fact that Sikander was giving it. However, she didn’t let her feelings reveal through her face.
“Thank you, it’s a nice one.” She said.
“I’m glad you like it,” He said tonelessly.
Komal was about to turn away from him when his voice gripped her feet.
“I’d like you to accept it as a combined birthday and engagement present.” He went on. “To me, it seemed premature to buy a ring until you’ve given me your answer.”
Speechlessly she stared at him.
“I’m asking you to marry me.” He added.
He couldn’t be serious!
But his expression showed he was, and the very idea infuriated her into replying.
“We hardly know each other. I’ve never even been out with you!”
“We’ve known each other for two years; I’ve seen you most times I’ve dinner here.”
“Karim, our butler sees me everyday.” She rejoined, referring to their servant. “But I don’t expect him to propose to me!”
He swallowed but said nothing.
“I know exactly why you want to marry me, and it’s got nothing to do with love.” She said firmly without much expression.
“You’re sure about that?”
“Actions speak louder than words, and yours can hardly be called lover-like!” She railed.
For several seconds Sikander remained silent, the increasing dark complexion of his skin being the only sign of anger. “I don’t need to marry to secure dynasty, Komal. I’m quite capable of securing my own.”
“Come off it,” She retorted. “This company is ready made for you.”
“What makes you certain I don’t love you?” He countered, ignoring her comment.
“They way you behave, as I said, you’ve never even asked me out before.”
“A mistake, I agree. But only because I thought you were too young to…..”
“But mature enough to be your wife.” She cut in sarcastically.
He took a very long breath and then said,
“But I’m honest…..”
“Yes, no doubt about that. You’ve always been honest to your business, an excellent businessman and I’m just another piece of business to you! Only there’s one thing you’ve forgotten.”
“That I can’t be bought or taken over! Now if you don’t mind, my friends are waiting for me.”
Turning in her heel, she stalked out.
She hoped she had not come across too flat. But she had to be honest with him, and with herself. She glanced at Sikander as he came to join the guests once again; his face again spotless and without any expression, like nothing had happened at all.
One never knew with him. He rarely showed much expression, while she was an open book.
Same night, her father had announced in private that he’d want her to marry Sikander. He didn’t actually force his decision but it was clear that Sikander was his only choice, and then it was not very easy for Komal to ignore or reject him specially when she had no one else in her mind.
“I’d want you to consider Sikander as the first man in your list, when the time comes.” Her father had said.
“We’ve nothing in common.” She protested.
“Sure you have, he likes this country. Like you, he is not conservative, and he’s interested in art; same as you.”
“You must be joking Dad! He’s never even talked about love to me.”
“When have you given him the chance? As soon as you see him, you rush off as if your tail’s on fire.”
“Meaning is clear. Spend time with him; try to understand each other. That’s what a successful marriage needs.” Her father said finally.
Komal tried picturing being married to him, no highs, no lows, no quarrels and no passion.
Not that she had ever actually fancied him! They were too disparate: he was cold where she was warm, analytical where she was intuitive and reserved where she was impulsive.
To Be Continued…