Sitting in his office, Huzaifa Saleem was glancing again and again at the woman in the office next door; a glass wall separating them. He knew that looking at Sarah Afridi would bring nothing but heartache. That was still not reason enough for a man in love to forget the woman he has loved for forever.
Sarah and he had been best friends since they were both kids. Because their parents were friends as well, they had been in each other’s company for so long that there had been no option but being best friends.
While he was deep in thought, his mind registered another presence in the office next door, bringing him back to the present. Sarah’s fiancé, Afraz Khan, was with her. The man he hated the most in the most in the world. The same man he was envious of the most in the world. Before he could turn away to save himself from seeing her with him, he realised that Sarah’s stance was not at all welcoming. In fact, she was positively uncomfortable. Without wasting a minute, he stood up and hurried to Sarah’s aid.
“Don’t you dare touch me!” Sarah snapping at Afraz was what welcomed him, Huzaifa, into her office. She was to get married to the man, he thought. But he was not complaining.
“Leave.” He barked, making both the other occupants of the room, who had not yet noticed him, jump in surprise.
“This is between us,” Afraz snapped before Sarah could say a word. “You stay out of it!”
“He stays.” Sarah’s voice rang out as he was about to take a step back. He knew something was wrong, or else Sarah would not have made him stay. He knew that he was the only one she counted on when she needed help.
“I stay.” He affirmed as he walked towards Sarah to stand by her side.
“Is that how it is going to be, then?” Afraz asked, he sounded resigned.
“Why not?” She was definitely being defensive, Huzaifa thought. “He is my best friend.”
Afraz glanced at him before turning back to his affianced, “You do know that he does not like me and has been trying to put a wedge…”
“I am doing nothing of the sort.” He cut in.
“Heard that, Sarah?” He was steadfastly looking at the woman he had chosen to spend the rest of his life with. “He did not say that I am wrong and he does like me.” He finished with a smug glint in his eyes.
“I am straight!” Huzaifa exclaimed and Afraz finally turned to look at him. Raising his left eyebrow he invited him, Huzaifa, to go ahead with his childishness. He had known it was a lame thing to say as soon as he had uttered those words. He could not take them back though.
“I did not mean it that way and you know it.” The man was definitely very serious at the moment. “While we are at it, why not man up and tell her?”
Huzaifa had an inkling of what he might mean, but he played the aloof card, just in case.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about? he said very calmly.
“You don’t, now, do you?” He said as he turned once more to his fiancée. “He loves you,” he said as if delivering stale news.
Sarah could not believe what Afraz was saying. It could not be true. Huzaifa was her best friend since they were both babies. To her, he was the brother she had never had. How could Afraz even think of something that unimaginable, she thought. But wait, something was wrong. Huzaifa was not disputing the other man.
Oh my God, this can’t be real. She held fast the edge of her desk so as not to sink down to the floor. Both of them had gone quiet and were intently looking at her. Huzaifa, she noted, did not meet her eyes and Afraz stood tall and proud, concern lighting his eyes.
She could not bring herself to say anything and thus looked at them with wide eyes. She desperately wanted someone to shout that it was all a joke. Nothing of the sort happened. She regained her voice as Huzaifa started to move towards her.
“Don’t.’ She said to halt him in his steps.
“Tell me this is all a joke?” She plead to the man she loved.
“It’s not a joke.” Afraz replied quietly.
She closed her eyes and tried to reconcile everything. “It still doesn’t change the fact that he’s my friend. He stays.” She could not look at either of them so she kept her eyes closed.
A few days back, her life was on the right track. The love of her life had been loyal and so was her best friend. But no more. Both of them, in their own way, had betrayed her trust.
Afraz had cheated on her. She would not have believed it to be possible if she had not seen him kissing that other woman. Her emotions had been all tangled up since. She wanted to strangle him at moments while there were times she wanted to end her pain by ending her life. Somehow she had found the strength to resist doing either.
As if that was not enough, now she had to deal with Huzaifa’s feelings as well.
She opened her eyes and looked at the man as if seeing him for the first time, she had known him since she was in a cradle. “How could you?” She whispered.
He shrugged. That’s it?
Enraged, she moved towards him, her fury lending her strength. Fisting his shirt in both her hands, she shook him before she said another word.
“How could you?” She repeated, not in a whisper this time. She nearly shouted. “You knew I always thought of you as a brother!”
He held her hands in his and removed them from his shirt front. Raising his eyes to her, he said, “No, I did not.”
There was nothing left to say on this front. She went behind her desk and sat in her chair. She needed space from both these men. At the same time, she knew that now was the time to resolve the issues. She could not bear it any further.
She turned to look at Afraz who had stood as a silent spectator as she had confronted her childhood friend.
Afraz knew that look. He knew she was about to sever their relationship. He could not let that happen. He loved her and he knew that she loved him. She may be angry but she loved him.
Before either of them could say anything, Huzaifa interrupted. Damn the man. He had been trying to put a wedge between Sarah and him from the time he had first met him.
“Sarah, do you love him? Really love him?” He asked moving towards her desk.
She did not reply. The silence was another blow to his heart. He willed her to look at him and say that she loved him. But nothing. She was concentrating on her desktop as if her life depended on it, silence reigning supreme.
“Look at me, damn it!” Huzaifa shouted. “I have to clean up the mess I made.” He took a deep breath. “Please tell me. Do you love him?”
She raised her head and looked at him, Afraz, as she answered her friend’s question, “Yes, I love him.” There was a world of pain in those four words. All caused because he was stupid enough to fall into the trap that was set up by the questioning man beside him.
Huzaifa turned towards him as he ran his right hand’s fingers through his hair.
“I am sorry. I am so sorry.” His life was in the balance and this man was blabbering? He had to concentrate on salvaging his relationship. Thinking thus, he turned towards his woman. She was looking at Huzaifa, confusion evident on her face.
“What are you talking about?” She asked as her eyebrows furrowed further.
He turned, again, towards the man in question who had, now, brought his hand down. He looked in pain. Afraz would have felt sorry for him, would have sympathised with him, if not for the storm he had brought in his and Sarah’s life.
Huzaifa looked at Sarah and then at Afraz. “Sit down, Afraz. I have a lot to explain.”
Reluctantly he sat down and Huzaifa reciprocated him, taking the only other chair left. Both the men facing the woman they loved.
“When I came back from the States, I planned to tell you that I love you.” He laughed. There was no amusement in it. Taking a deep breath, he continued. “Remember the day I came to give you all those things that I brought for you? That was the day I had chosen. I woke up so happy and full of hope. But it all came to naught.” He shook his head and faced Afraz.
“As soon as I entered their home, she started talking about the man she had met at Cambridge and how both of you had fallen in love. I could not say anything, then. How could I?” He raised his palms in the universal gesture of asking how.
“Then when we met, I could see that she was totally under your spell. I believed it to be a temporary thing and bore it with a happy face.” He faced Sarah as he continued, “I believed that I could make you happier than he ever could.” He stopped and took a deep breath. “I waited for you to realise that you merely liked him and have loved me forever,” a sad smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “After some time, I decided that it was not going to happen on its own. That I had to make it happen.”
Though he could understand what Huzaifa might have gone through, Afraz could, still, not bring himself to pity the man. He had no idea what his fate was going to be. Now that Sarah knew that he had not cheated…
“But I saw him kissing her,” she stated. “Irrespective of you sending that woman for that very purpose.”
So she still believed that he had cheated on her. What was he going to do? He knew that he had not kissed that woman. And so did that woman. But he had no idea who she was or where he could find her to prove that he had not. If it was not for the fact that Sarah had been there and seen the damning thing, he would have asked her to trust him not to do such a thing. How was she going to trust him after seeing what she had? Even though there had been no kiss, Sarah was looking from an angle from where it would have seen like two people kissing.
“Sarah, I did not kiss her.” He began again. He could listen to the fatigue that had seeped into his voice.
“He did not kiss her.” Huzaifa seconded him. He was surprised, to say the least. This was his chance to get the woman he loved and he was letting it go? Because she said she loved Afraz? Afraz could respect a man for finally seeing reason.
“And you know that, how?”
“I sent that woman. I told her to kiss him but she said that he wouldn’t let her.” He shrugged again.
That was not a shrugging matter. It was life.
Before Sarah or Afraz could say a word, Huzaifa started giving his justifications which, happened to be merely a repetition of his earlier statements. Sarah could not believe any of it. Digesting that Huzaifa loved her, not in a friendly way, was hard enough. But coming to terms that he deliberately sought to build mistrust and misunderstanding between Afraz and her gave her the chills. Did she even know him anymore? The man she had grown up with could never be that mean. Because of him, she could not face Afraz now. He had been saying the same thing, about not kissing that woman, for almost a week and she had not listened to him. She had not trusted him.
He had asked her to trust her against what she thought she had seen. Would he be able to forgive her? She did not know what to do anymore.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Afraz’s voice brought her out of her musings.
“I don’t think I’m wanted here anymore.” He replied glancing at her.
“Wait.” She had to sort all of it. She remembered thinking the same thing a while ago but the dynamics were not the same now.
He sat back down again awaiting what she had to say. She could see he was embarrassed and he was in pain. She smiled at him trying to put him to ease.
“You were jealous.” She did not ask him. “Now I understand why your mood was ruined at one mention of his name,” she took his hands and held them in hers. “I love you Huzaifa,” she said. And continued after a moment. “But as a friend. As far as romantic love goes, I love Afraz.”
She looked at Afraz to see how he was taking it all in but for the first time she could not gauge. His emotions were all shuttered; he sat very still in his chair.
With her heart beating at double the normal rate, she turned back to Huzaifa. “I forgive you.”
He closed his eyes again and a tear seeped out. “I really am sorry,” he whispered.
Before either of them could say anything, Huzaifa stood and left. What was he to believe the future held for them? Sarah, even after she was told the truth by that meddling friend of hers, did not say a word on how she wanted to move on. Was he to take it as the end of their engagement? Their love?
She had held nothing against Huzaifa, he remembered, and it really chafed at him.
She was turning her engagement ring, loosening it from her finger. If she wanted that, he will give it to her.
“Are you going to hand me back the ring now?” He asked as he raised his hand, palm side up.
“You… I… my ring?” she could not form a proper sentence.
“Yes, the ring.” He said and it was like a blow against his gut.
She closed her eyes as she asked, “You won’t forgive me?”
“No.” He was absolute about it. He would never forgive her for ending things. He would never forgive her for walking out of his life, specially after his innocence was proven.
“I should have trusted you.” She said; her eyes still closed and the ring on her finger.
He hoped and prayed that the ring remained where it belonged but had to put on a strong front. He would not be seen vulnerable for her to wreak more havoc on his already battered heart.
“Please understand. If you were in my place…”
“If I was in your place what?” He almost shouted as he jerked out of the chair and walked round her desk. Turning her chair, he urged her to open her eyes and look at him. He wanted her to face him when she plunged that knife in his heart.
“In your place I would have trusted the woman I pledged my life to. In your place I would have given you the chance to defend yourself. I would have wanted to remain by your side and not leave you. Specially after your innocence was proven.” He took a deep breath and saw that her eyes had widened. They looked hopeful too. What was the woman up to?
“Unlike you, I would have chosen to remain with you. Forever” He whispered as he lifted her hand to remove the ring he had placed on her finger. Before he could do that, she curled her fingers in her palm and made a fist. She did not want him to remove the ring. Could he hope?
“Forgive me Afraz.” Tears started flowing from her eyes. She stood and hugged him as she cried into his chest. He could not stop the smile forming on his mouth. He had not lost her. “Please forgive me. I should have trusted you.”
It took a while to calm her down, but he did.
“Don’t ever forget that I love you.” He reminded her in a mock stern voice as he bent his head to kiss her.
“Don’t you forget that you’re mine.” She replied as she kissed him back.