As the lift took me to her floor in the tall Corporate Tower, the only thoughts revolving in my mind were about how she would react to seeing me in her workplace. After all she had never liked her personal life aired publicly.
If it was not for her avoiding me, I would not have been forced to do this; I justified my actions to myself. With the ping of the bell, the doors yawned open and I stepped into the corridor that led me to her.
As I made my way to her cubicle, I remembered the last time I had seen her. Her swollen red eyes and the sound of her crying while I held her in my arms. The memory sent shivers down my spine and I did not even know what the problem was. What I can deduce was that it had to be very shattering by the way she had behaved.
I remembered how she was waiting for me in the car park of my office building when I had stepped off the lift in the basemen car park. Looking at nothing in particular, she was leaning against the driver’s side of my car. Wearing a gray loose-fitted top with her favourite faded blue jeans, she made a beautiful picture. Her long black hair was tied in a messy bun at her neck which was so unlike her that it made me pause and look at her again.
She was hugging herself. As if she was guarding herself against something. My Mahnoor was never like that. She was a confident woman who was afraid of nothing.
She did not even realise I was there before I nudged her shoulder. Blinking rapidly she tried to bring me in focus.
“Stay with me tonight?” she had requested without any preamble.
“But Mahnoor, you said…” I did not know what to say. She had always been of the view that taking our relationship to the next level was very difficult for her.
“Please Shahaan, please. I don’t want to be alone tonight.” She said as she hugged me while her head rested on my chest. I could feel the wetness of her tears soaking my shirt. Something really bad must have happened to make her cry. It tugged at my heart. I wanted to question her but instead I held her in my arms; bringing her closer still.
When she was under control, she pulled herself back and wiped the tear tracks with the back of her palms, roughly.
“Sorry.” She said without looking at me. Her almond shaped eyes looked at the wet spot over my heart from under her eye lashes that had tear droplets clinging to them. A wave of tenderness ran through me and I leant down and kissed her forehead gently.
“Nothing to be sorry about.” I whispered to her with my lips still touching her forehead.
“Let’s go.” She said as she stood back, shoving her hands in her jean’s pockets. Moving to the passenger side, she opened the door and slid in. I had no idea where I was supposed to take her but I opened the driver’s side door and took my seat and started the engine. We drove out of the basement to the street and I asked her where she would like to go. She mentioned the name of a famous hotel and I wondered why. I wondered but did not question her further. She was too distracted to answer any of my questions anyways.
I drove us to the hotel. Handing the car keys to a valet, I followed her inside.
She did not stop at the registration desk and walked up to the lifts and pushed the button for the second floor once inside. The silence reined and I wondered, again, what could have happened.
On the second floor, she walked up the corridor to a room and I tailed her. Without saying a word.
As soon I shut the room’s door behind me, Mahnoor was back in my arms. Even with her body this close to me, there was no excitement in mine. The dominant emotion was worry. I was worried about her and she was most probably not thinking about what she was doing. At all.
“What happened?” I asked her finally.
“Nothing yet.” She said and combined it with a seductive look that just did not have any effect on me. The sadness in her eyes was too much to be masked by any fake seduction.
“What made you cry?” I tried phrasing my question differently.
“Don’t spoil the moment now, Shahaan.” At least her haughty voice was back.
Before I could say more, she started unbuttoning my shirt. To stall her I put my hand on hers and asked her to stop. She did not pay any heed to it. It was as if she was on some mission. As if she had to cross a boundary she had set herself.
Once my shirt was undone, she took it off me and threw it on the floor, and started removing her top. It was all beginning to scare me.
“Mahnoor stop.” I said with all the authority I could muster. “Stop and listen to me.”
“I don’t want to stop.” She was furious. Lord knows with whom. But she stilled nonetheless.
I wanted this progression of our relationship but not like this. Not when she was not really ready. Not when her heart was not in it.
I took hold of her arms that were bare then. Her top resting at her feet.
“Get in bed.” She did not move. “Right now!”
Silently she started walking backwards to the bed and in no time she was covered in the sheets. I looked at her and then at my shirt that lay near the bed. Picking it up, I shrugged it on. Without bothering to button it, I went in search of a first aid box.
In one of the bathroom cabinets, I found what I was looking for. I took Xanax® from there and went back in the room. After pouring water in a glass, I took that to Mahnoor with the medicine and asked her to take it. Silently, she complied. This again was unlike her but at least she could rest with that medicine in her system.
I joined her in bed and held her close with her head on my shoulder. I slid my hand in her hair and tried soothing her nerves which I was pretty sure were on edge. As I stroked her hair, her body became compliant and tension drained out of her body. Suddenly her body racked with sobs and I could do nothing but hold her to me. Every sob was like a blow to my heart. Blows that I had to face so that her pain could ease. For her I could have done anything.
For almost half an hour her sobs continued and my fingers stroked her hair. Finally, exhaustion – and probably the medicine – took over and she slept, curling her body to mine. Holding her to me, I tried to come up with reasons for her behaviour. Nothing made sense.
I had no idea when I succumbed to sleep but the next thing I remember doing was opening my eyes to the morning light. Extricating myself from her embrace, I got out of bed and pulled the curtains close. I did not want to wake her up and break her peace. I took off my shirt off and placing it over a chair, went to take a shower instead. When I came out after about fifteen minutes, she was not in the room. No sign of her remained except for the crumpled sheets on the bed.
Since then my calls and messages to her went unanswered. She was plain avoiding me.
“Mahnoor.” The sound of her name brought me back to the present and there she stood, wearing an off white cowl neck shirt paired with oak brown pants. Her high heels gave her the illusion of tallness. She was walking to the woman who had called her. That was my chance to make her talk to me. She would not be voicing objections in front of her colleagues.
“Mahnoor.” I called her too. She turned around so abruptly that there was a chance of her falling down face first. It might have brought a smile on my face but worrying about her, and being annoyed with her, too, took front seat that moment.
“I want to speak to you right now.” It was more of an order than a request.
“I am busy Shahaan,” she turned to the woman who had called her previously, “and Saba here needs me.”
“She is your boss?” I asked without missing a beat.
“In a manner of speaking.” She tossed over her shoulder.
“Great.” I responded through clenched teeth and turned to her boss myself. “Ms Saba, may I please borrow Mahnoor for five minutes? I need to talk to her about something and it can’t wait.”
She looked at Mahnoor, who was shaking her head slightly, and turned back towards me. “Sure.” She said and politely added that we can use the conference room which turned out to be made of glass.
If it was not me she had allowed to speak to Mahnoor without her permission, I would have been furious about her privacy being violated but as it was me, I simply smiled at her.
I did not wait for Mahnoor to say anything and started walking in the direction of the conference room as I was sure she would not make a scene and finally give me a chance to know what had happened.
“Why are you here, Shahaan?” She asked as soon she stepped inside the glassed room.
“You have no idea?” Even with no intention, sarcasm came to fore in my voice.
Stubborn as ever, she opted to remain silent.
“Tell me what happened? Tell me why you are avoiding me?” I restrained my temper as I asked her those questions. She was looking everywhere but me. That ticked me off. “Look at me dammit.” I said as I forcibly turned her to me. Though her body was faced towards me, her eyes were cast downwards.
“Look me in the eye Mano.” I requested tenderly.
That brought a reaction in her. Blinking her eyes furiously, she raised her eyes to me and, again, they were glittering with unshed tears. I wanted to protect her from whatever was hurting her so much. I wanted to take her in my arms and keep her safe but I knew that was not what she needed then.
“Why?” I was literally pleading with her.
“Why what?” It was as if she could not hold the words within anymore. They were pouring out of her without much of an effort. Her pain and anger all visible in the high pitch of her voice. “Why I am avoiding you? Why I won’t look you in the eye?”
“Yes. To begin with.” I added as she took a breather.
“How can I look you in the eye when I can’t even myself?” There was a world of agony in her words.
“Why can’t you?” I asked her, making sure my voice did not tell her how confused I was getting by the minute.
She got out of my hold and returned her gaze to the floor. “For what I did that night.” If not for paying attention, I would have missed that completely.
Taking a deep breath, she raised her eyes and repeated, “For what I did that night.”
“And why did you?” I asked her, knowing that there was a high chance that she might not answer.
“Because I wanted to feel. Because I was hurting so much I was numb.” Her eyes were squeezed shut.
It was too much for me. I went to her and took her in my arms. She needed that human connection, still. For a second there I completely forgot about the glass walls. It was just me and her in that moment.
“Mano,” I began as I kissed her hairline, her head resting on my chest; tears silently flowing. “Tell me why you were in pain. Tell me why you are in pain.” Though I did not phrase them as questions, there was definitely some element of pleading in my words.
She was not sobbing like the other night but her body still shivered as she wept silently; safe in my embrace. After a while when she had taken some deep breaths and was in a condition to speak, she began her story.
“That evening when I went home, my parents were waiting for me.” She stopped again. Her parents always waited for her. Nothing new there, I wanted to say but kept the words to myself as saying anything would have brought her out of the place she was in and she would again be unwilling to say anything.
“It wasn’t like every other day,” she answered my unvoiced question. “There was this strangeness there. In their demeanour. As if…” she hiccupped. “As if they didn’t know me anymore.” She raised her eyes to me as if she was looking for some reassurance as she hiccupped again.
I gave her a small smile. That seemed to give her strength and she continued.
“They asked about us.” Her parents knew about us already. What was it that they wanted to know? “They wanted to know if we have… if we were…” she left her sentence as it is. It did not stop me from understanding what she meant. And it shocked me. Her parents should have known better.
“I was shocked that the thought even crossed their minds. I told them that they know me enough to know the answer to their question.”
I tightened my arms around her and she continued.
“Then Fawad, you know that cousin of mine, came from behind and started talking nonsense about my silence on the matter meant something different altogether or I would have said ‘No’ when I was questioned.” She still had to take deep breaths after short stretches of time. “The entire family was there and drama ensued. It resulted in me being disowned.”
Silence followed her little story. I did not question her further. It was not the right time.
“How could they?” She asked me. Or maybe herself? “How could they not believe in me?” There was such anguish in her voice. The fact that I could not ease her pain was in itself painful for me.
“I was hurt, but more than that I was angry with them. Then I thought why not do it? They already believe that I did. I came looking for you that night and…” She extricated herself from my embrace and sat down on the chair. Her elbows on the table and her head in her hands.
“I am sorry. I really am.” I was hating the fact that she was not looking at me. “That was why I was avoiding you. I could not stand seeing disgust in your eyes as well.”
“Nothing happened, Mano. Don’t you remember?” I was perplexed.
As she turned her face to me, her eyes were narrowed; doubt reflected in them.
“I remember taking off your shirt and then mine too. And I remember you trying to stop me.” She shut her eyes and started rubbing her temples. “I don’t remember what happened then. But I do remember waking up in tangled sheets with your clothes lying on the chair.”
Wow. I had never actually believed in the fact that we can forget the events of our lives. But it happened and I wondered if it was some effect of the tranquilizer I had given her or her psyche that would not allow her to remember something that may be painful for her. Not only was she avoiding me but running from herself as well. What she needed to understand at that point was there was no need to run away. From me or from anything else.
“Did you listen to what I said?” I asked as I held her shoulders and leaned down as she sat there in the chair.
“That could not be.” She said and then whispered it again and again. Rising from the chair she started walking out.
I knew that she was walking out of my life and I could not let that happen. She did not believe me when I said nothing happened? Very well… I will let her think she is right.
“What about the baby?” I asked her a moment before she would have stepped out. Out of the room and out of my life.
Again, she turned abruptly, her shoulder length hair flying and eyes gone wide.
“What baby?” she asked me with her earlier suspicion rising in the depths of her eyes again.
“Our baby.” The idea of us having a baby together filled me with longing. I wanted that lie of mine to be a reality in that moment.
“You said nothing happened.” She almost shouted the accusation. Was she averse to the idea of us having a baby? Later will be the time to ponder, I told myself.
“You did not believe me.” I said with as much nonchalance as I could muster. I had to keep my emotions under wrap as they were making her run away. I shrugged as I continued. “You must remember what happened.”
“But you said nothing happened!” She took long strides and walked up to me. Grabbing me by my shirt, she tried, unsuccessfully, to shake me as she continued, “You lied to me?” The threat in her voice made me smile – in my head of course. This was my Mano.
“Decide for once, what you want to believe.” I shrugged again.
Her hand went to her flat stomach in a protective gesture. A gesture that tugged at the strings of my heart.
“Our baby,” she whispered; her voice filled with wonder and love though her eyes began to water.
“Oh Shahaan…” she could not continue as she suppressed a sob and moved towards me. I took her in my arms.
We stood there for a few seconds that seemed wonderful. It seemed everything was flowing back to it’s rightful place in my life.
“Marry me please.” I whispered in her ear and she nodded.
No one in her family wanted to speak to her at the moment and I had no family at all. I wanted to get married in a very private ceremony. in the masjid. We requested people from there to sign as witnesses for us and those people happily obliged.
After the nikah I told her the truth. A truth she was able to understand and appreciate in that moment. We were happy though the shadow of her pain always lingered.
But then again that is happily ever after. The pain there for us to treasure our happiness.