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Bhabhi (Sister-in-law), how was your wedding night?” Shaheryaar’s sister, Sarah winked naughtily as she met Aariz’s wife the next morning.
In answer, Zeest just lowered her head but said nothing.
“Ahemm…..?” Sarah tried to find out any traces of desire left on her face, any clue of some passionate encounter and any hint of some satisfied glory….but this face was spotless, expressionless.
“Bhabhi…..are you feeling alright?” Sarah asked, observing deeply.
“Yes..” She said in a broken voice. ‘I’s just that things happened so quickly.
“Oh, I understand.”
Sarah gave a nod of understanding. She thought she knew why Zeest was feeling like this. After-all, it had not been even a week after her father’s death.
Perhaps, it was natural for Zeest to feel like that. She didn’t tease her anymore then.
“How’s my daughter?” A fresh chuckle came from the doorway, and they saw Mrs. Ali standing there.
“Aadaab (Greetings).” Bending her head slightly, Zeest took her hand to her right brow, in the traditional gesture of Muslim-Indian family salute.
“Have a long life.” Smiling Mrs. Ali caressed her lowered head with her right hand.
“You know Zeest, you make me so happy.” Mrs. Ali took her hands lovingly into her own.
“Although, we never actually met so much, but it still feels like I always knew you.”
She blinked her eyes but said nothing.
“You know I always wished for a daughter.” There was a touch of intense longing in Mrs. Ali’s voice. “But now I believe my dream has finally come true.”
Smiling affectionately, Mrs. Ali leaned forward and kissed her forehead. Only then she noticed something.
“Zeest?” She asked looking at her face. “You are not wearing any Jewelry, why?”
She didn’t answer.
“Hmm?” Mrs. Ali wanted an answer for her question.
“They….they were making me uncomfortable, hurting me.” She opened her mouth, while keeping her eyes low
“You’re a new bride, daughter, and new brides don’t keep their wrist and ears empty.”
“So don’t leave your hands without jewelry.” Mrs. Ali told her. “Married women are always supposed to wear them.”
On her word ‘married’ women, Zeest almost winced in pain. She wanted to ask if she was really married.
“I’ll go and get you coffee.” She told her mother-in-law.
“Nah, you’re a new bride, a fresh one. You’re not supposed to start working by the next day of your wedding. You have your whole life for that. But not today.” She smiled.
The coffee smelled hot and fresh as Mrs. Ali took two cups from the cupboard and filled them with coffee from the pot. She carried them to the bedroom where Zeest and Sarah were sitting.
Zeest picked up the cup and stared into the black liquid. Mrs. Ali and Sarah kept talking while she drank her coffee. After she was finished, she heard her mother-in-law saying;
“Breakfast is almost ready. Take a shower and change your cloths. We’re waiting for you at the breakfast table. Alright?” Mrs. Ali wanted her affirmative answer.
She stared at her and nodded.
“And Sarah.” Mrs. Ali turned toward the sister of Aariz’s friend. “You’re going to help me with the breakfast.”
“Why not Aunt, that’s why I am here.” Sarah gave her a pleasant smile and followed her, closing the door behind her.
Zeest yawned sleepily and left the bed. She had not been able to sleep a single wink last night. With a deep sigh, she fished her toothbrush, toothpaste and soap out of her overnight case and shuffled, bleary-eyes and barefoot, toward the attached bathroom.
When she reached her destination, the door was closed. She hesitated. That probably meant someone was inside. As she raised her fist to knock, the door swung wide and she was face-to-face—rather, face-to-chest—with Aariz.
“Good morning.” He said, his voice deeply laden with humor and sarcasm. “Please, accept my heartiest congratulations for having such a wonderful wedding night. I’m sure you’d never forget it, would you?”
Her gaze snapped to his face. His hair was damp and lay in dark ringlets across his forehead. His eyes glittered like silver, and his lips were parted, displaying a cynical flash of teeth.
This magnetic man exuded such arrogant magnetism she found it difficult to keep from constantly blushing in his presence.
“Mother wanted me to take a shower.” She said, lowering her eyes. “She’s waiting for us at the breakfast table.”
One brow rose to meet the damp curls on his forehead.
“Why? Is she not satisfied yet?” He laughed shortly.
Ignoring his question, she went inside the bathroom, and locked the door.
A few minutes later, they were all sitting around the big breakfast table. Sarah had already left, after helping Mrs. Ali in arranging the breakfast items.
There were juices, fresh bread, milk, cheese, pure butter, sheermalas and various Pakistani sweets.
“Aariz, tonight is your wedding dinner and Zeest needs to do some shopping for that.” His mother announced in a very casual tone.
“So?” His hand spreading cheese on his toast stopped for a second.
“So, you two are going for shopping after breakfast.”
“I’m sorry, I am not free. She can take someone else with her.” He gave his answer, not wanting to talk further on the topic.
“You know that she doesn’t have any family except……” Mrs. Ali’s voice was a bit loud now.
“So what?’ He asked rudely, chapping on his slice. “She’s not my headache.”
“She’s your responsibility.” Mrs. Ali told him. “She’s your wife.”
“Put her into some orphanage, mother.” He said rigidly. “I’m sure they can take care of her better than I can.”
Zeest almost choked on her coffee.
So much insult…..was it her fate, or some exam from Allah? She asked herself, trying her best to stop her tears.
“Aariz!” His mother shouted, without caring if some of the servants could hear them. “Behave. I’m not going to let you do whatever you want.”
“You behave mother.” He shouted back. “And stop saying things like this. You make me laugh. You say you’re not going to let me do whatever I want?” His voice was shaking with the intensity of his anger.
“So far you’ve done whatever you wanted. But it’s my turn now. Yes, now I’m going to do whatever I’d want.” Finishing his sentence, he rose and left the room, kicking the door shut.
“I can’t let him act like this.” Mrs. Ali clenched her teeth. “Things can’t go on like this.” Her lips tightened.
But perhaps, Mrs. Ali was expert in hiding her feelings, as her features became normal instantly as she turned her face back to Zeest and said,
“If you’re done with your breakfast, then come with me. I’d show you our home, which is your home now.”
Silently, Zeest rose and followed her mother-in-law.
They passed handsomely furnished rooms, many of them obviously reserved for formal occasions, like the dinning room, which hosted an incredibly long table and a sea of high-backed chairs. A young maid was polishing the already gleaming table, she looked up and smiled when they passed.
Admiring the great interior decoration in her heart, Zeest walked down the hall and peeked into the room. The sitting room was beautifully appointed. It was decorated in antique furniture, mostly in the German mode, tastefully decked out in french laces and silks. Next to the dinning room was a lounge, with sumptuous furnishings, most of it expensive antiques and softened by carpet Zeest felt certain would cover your feet. There were less formal rooms, rooms for relaxing, with soft, plump sofas and chairs. It was all so impressive…..and so quiet.
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At 10 p.m sharp, their guests began to gather around. There were hundreds of seats, arranged neatly in the huge lawn of the house. Aariz had deliberately not invited many of his friends. He didn’t want then celebrating a marriage that held no meaning for him and, while getting himself ready for the occasion, he was deeply depressed that what should have been the most joyous occasion of his life was only heralding a term of imprisonment.
When, after being done with her bridal make-up, Zeest entered the bedroom a while later, he was already there, finishing with his preparations.
He gave himself a detailed critical look, stopping for a moment in front of a mirror to straighten his tie.
“I…. I want to talk…..” She said, gathering all of her courage and power, as she sat on the edge of her bed, behind him.
His hand working on the knot of his tie stopped instantly.
“Shoot!” He murmured. Right now, his house was full of guests and he had to control himself, otherwise it was going to create some more problems.
“I……” She said in a trembling voice. “I know you don’t want this. But believe me, I had no intention for our marriage either. It all happened so fast, so quickly. I didn’t even see you ever before you came to visit my father last week.”
“Whatever.” He sprayed the rich ‘eternity’ over his strong, masculine neck, without caring to give her a single glance.
“I pray that may Allah find the solution of your problem soon, and I’m willing to help you in this regard as much as I can.”
“You?” He laughed emptily. “You will help me?”
“Yes, I can.”
“How?” He was still smiling at her in a purely sarcastic way.
“I…..” She said in a low voice, keeping her eyes on the carpeted floor, ” I can talk to your mother about ‘her’.”
As she spoke, for the first time after his marriage, he felt a soothing wave of relaxation relieved him. Before that, he had been too stunned and horrified to realize exactly what was happening to him and later, he had been so angry that adrenaline had carried him along, but now that it was all over, he needed some time to gather his thoughts and nerves.
Her point was genuine and it did make sense to him. Perhaps, he thought, she was not happy with this relation either.
“What would you say to her?”
“I’d tell her….that you have my full permission for your second marriage if you want.”
He sighed and turned slowly toward her. Wearing royal blue bridal suit, she was not looking so bad to him now like she was in the past.
His mind jubilated at her suggestion, his heart racing. At first, he couldn’t believe that she would allow him to do that so easily.
“Do you think you can convince my mother?” His eyes were on her face now, and the realization made her uncomfortable.
Slowly, she lifted her head, hair across her eyes, and peered wildly at a pair of highly polished black shoes, at slim long legs in smoothly tailored dark trousers, at an immaculately cut jacket, a crisp white shirt, a dark gray silk tie, and then at his hard face, a very hard face.
“Yes!” She lowered her eyes once again, finding herself unable to look into the fiery depths of his black eyes. “I’d try my best to convince her. But……”
“But?” His brows curved upward dangerously, his face tightened.
“It might take some time. We just got married.”
“I don’t need your permission for my second marriage.” He again turned his back on her. “I can handle my own matters very well.” Although his voice still felt cold, but his tone was not so rude like he had previously.
“I didn’t ask for your suggestion for my future.” He said expressionlessly.
“I was just explaining……” She tried to say.
“You’ve got to quit doing this to me.” He said fiercely in a lowered voice that would not carry to his mother.
“We’ll hardly be a picture of newly wedded bliss if we’re constantly at distance.” She said, her voice deliciously low.
“I don’t care what picture we make.”
“Your mother will.”
Zeest was hitting at his Achilles heels. And he knew he had too, her gesture confirmed.
“Pulling on an act doesn’t come easily to me.”
“We sometimes have to do things contrary to our nature.” She went on. “But surely being friends with me isn’t such an outlandish thought, right?”
Her suggestion that they be friends, though a sensible one held danger for him, for if he weakened on this, he might weaken on other things.
“Very well.” He said. “I’ll not try to play it your way. Want me to get into your wicked trap?”
“I didn’t mean…..”
“No need to explain.” He cut across her again.
Scared of him and afraid of his behavior, “Mother…..is ……waiting.” She stammered.
“I don’t care who’s waiting for us.” He gave her one last look. “I have already cared about everyone a lot.” Finishing his sentence, he left her alone in the room.
Throughout the gathering, Zeest tried her best to appear normal. Only she knew what was going on inside her. Surprisingly, Aariz’s facial expressions were not that bad tonight. It was a pleasant change for his mother. Getting more than happy, and thinking that at-least her son is trying to adjust and compromise, she introduced the newly wed couple to all of her guests.
It was all very boring for him. He was feeling really tensed and tired but he didn’t let anyone guess his feelings.
It was 2 a.m when Aariz was finally able to get a chance to sleep.
Ignoring his act of ignorance, she looked at him almost against her will.
He was aggressively handsome; no sigh of softness about him at all, and no sign of humor either.
“I am not going to obey my mother anymore. It’s enough.” He murmured painfully, almost as if he was talking to himself.
“Our holy prophet had said, it’s forbidden for you to disobey your parents and violate their rights.”
It was a totally unexpected comment from her, which surprised him, even shocked him. Slowly he turned toward her.
Her heart began to beat vigorously. She swallowed hard, not knowing what he was going to do next.
His eyes narrowed to icy lights and he came forward grimly, rage on his face as she stood up and backed away, feeling the hard edge of the of the dressing table against her legs.
“Don’t…..don’t hit me!” She had gone chalk-white; her black eyes enormous, filled with terror and it stopped him in his tracks as if he had met a brick wall.
“I don’t strike women, Miss. Wife.” He grated. “There are other methods of punishment.”
“No, I’d rather you hit me. I can’t bear it.” Her voice rose, her hands tightly clenched together, and he stopped again.
She stood watching him; tears like small drops of rain on her cheeks, sliding down the pale creamy skin in a stream of misery.
“This is my first and last warning to you, don’t ever try to indulge yourself into my personal matters.” He said, clenching his teeth. “You’re only going to be here for some days, so don’t interfere.”
“But I was just…….”
“Go to bed now.” Aariz continued, not seeming to hear. “It’s your turn tonight.”
“Turn for what?” She wanted to ask but was too scared to open her mouth again.
Understanding her question from her eyes, he said. “You can sleep on the bed tonight. I’d sleep on the sofa.”
Without saying another word, she almost ran toward the washroom to change. She was so worn out by tension that she just climbed into bed and closed her eyes. She drifted into sleep with an angry, handsome face with piercing black eyes uppermost in her mind. As she slept, she was totally unaware of the cold, hard eyes that glanced at her. Her thick black braid had fallen over her shoulder; her lashed were curling against her smooth cheeks, dark and lustrous as the thick hair that frame her face.
He’d once hear a funny thing that men wake up as good-looking as they went to bed but women somehow deteriorate during the night.
But this was also a woman.
She was beautiful, innocent looking, almost tragic as she rested on the bed.
Hating himself for looking at her like that, he settled himself on the sofa and made his mind blank, thoughts of Komal persisted. No one could control him unless he allowed it, and though he was Zeest’s husband, he was determined to remain his own master.
On this thought he fell asleep.
To Be Continued…