Joined: 04 September 2010
But Zoya continued to deny all evidence. She was not supposed to feel like this for Asad. No. She was supposed to like Ayaan.
After all, they were so alike. After their initial harmless sparring matches, a great friendship had developed between the two. They enjoyed each other's company and knew what the other was feeling and thinking. She also knew that lately the friendship had given way to something else, at least from Ayaan's side. If the sidelong glances he gave her or the way he started acting weird whenever she came near him lately was any condition, Ayaan had developed feelings for her.
She hadn't noticed before, being the kind of person she was. But Nuzhat and Najma both took her aside one day and explained to her what was happening. She had denied it at first but then she started to notice his changed behavior and realized that they were right. At first she was horrified and had said so to Najma. She had always thought of him as her friend. She had never imagined him in any other way and she didn't feel that way towards him. But Najma had told her that maybe she didn't feel that way towards him because she just never gave it a serious thought. Maybe now that would change. And once Zoya thought about it, she decided that she would try and see because seemingly, Ayaan was perfect for her. But feelings didn't work that way. They had a mind of their own. And Zoya was slowly discovering that she couldn't decide who she should feel attracted to.
Almost three months ago, about the same time Ayaan starting changing his behavior towards her, something profound had happened between her and Asad. Something that had changed the dimension of their relationship.
One day, her Dilshaad Phophi and Najma had gone to visit an old family friend. Zoya had opted to stay home because she hadn't felt like going with them and Asad as usual claimed that he had to some work from his office and hence had no interest in visiting anyone. Dilshaad phophi had rolled her eyes at him, sighed and departed after giving Zoya a sweet kiss on her forehead. Once they had left, Zoya and Asad took one look at each other and went into their respective rooms, both intent on ignoring the other for the rest of the night.
Zoya sighed as she closed the lid of her laptop and settled down for the night. But for some reason sleep just wouldn't come to her. After a while she settled into a restless sleep.
"Aah!" She awoke with a start. She looked around frantically at her darkened room, clutching the blanket with trembling hands. Her heart calmed down a little when she realized that she was safe and in her room. She gulped and moved her shaking hands to push back her hair which had stuck to her forehead from sweat. After her laboring breaths returned to a normal speed, she moved out of her room, knowing that she wouldn't be able to sleep with the remnants of the dream still plaguing her mind.
She went to the kitchen to get a glass of water and went outside to sit in the garden. When she got there, she realized that she wasn't the only who couldn't sleep. Asad was sitting on a bench with his back to her with a mug of coffee in his hands. Zoya considered turning around but the idea didn't seem appealing to her. The enclosed surroundings of the house were suffocating her after the dream she had had. She clutched the glass tighter in her hands and squared her shoulders, determined that the presence of Asad Ahmed Khan would not deprive her of anything.
He didn't notice when she sat down beside him (having no choice since there was only one bench), too lost in his own thoughts.
"Are you okay?" Zoya asked. She could see his troubled face and hunch up shoulders. She thought she even saw dampness in the corner of his eyes but quickly dismissed the thought from her mind. Asad Ahmed Khan did not cry.
Although Asad didn't want to talk to anyone at the moment, he felt like he should answer her. During the last couple of weeks, they had settled into a kind of truce, both knowing they didn't like each other but not showing their dislike outwardly. They behaved like civilized people to each other instead of arguing at every moment they got. Due to this truce, Asad felt like he should answer her question instead of out rightly ignoring her. God knows he didn't want to start another battle between them. It was too draining.
"I am fine." He replied simply without turning to look at her. Out of politeness, he asked her the same question.
"I am okay." She replied to him in the same tone. Both of them turned back to their ponderings.
Zoya could still feel the heat of the flames that had been consuming her in her dream, hear the terrified screams of her mother and father. Her head started pounding when she couldn't block out the noises and visuals of her dream from her mind. Her breaths started coming in short pants. She desperately clutched her head in her hands to block out the horrifying sounds. Vaguely, she heard a voice saying something in the distance. She focused on that voice to bring herself back to reality. Slowly, everything around her started to clear and the images and the sounds disappeared from her mind. She realized it was Asad who had been shouting her name. She looked at his worried face, crouched down in front her.
"Zoya what happened? Are you okay? Oh God what happened?" He said, his worry reflecting through his voice. He held out a glass of water and Zoya gulped it down before answering him.
She realized that she just had a panic attack in front of Asad and desperately thought of some excuse because she didn't want to tell the truth to him. She hadn't had panic attack in a long time but being in Bhopal and away from her Aapi and Jiji must have triggered it.
"N-nothing," Her was came out shaky so she tried again. "It was nothing. I just had a nightmare and came out to get some fresh air. That's all."
She tried to get up and move but he stood in front of her. She looked into his frowning face, eyes filled with determination.
"I am not talking about why you came out her. I am talking about what just happened. And don't tell me it was nothing. It was not nothing."
She narrowed her eyes at him and moved to the side to go past him but he once again blocked her way. Looking at him she replied angrily,
"I told you it was nothing. Now let me go!" She tried to dodge but he stood in her way.
"No." He replied simply. She wasn't expecting such an answer. She looked at him, shocked as anger coursed through her veins. How dare he just say no to her in that commanding tone of his. He had no right to pester her like this.
"No! What do you mean no? I want to go so let me go."
"Not until you tell me whats going on? What happened to you back there?"
She was getting angrier and angrier. She was tired and exhausted from her panic attack and just wanted to cry herself to sleep. But this neanderthal was not letting her to that. And why was he so concerned about her anyway. Last time she checked, he hated her.
"Why are you so concerned all of a sudden? I don't owe you any explanation. And you can't just command me like everyone else Asad Ahmed Khan. I said let me go so let me go!" She shouted and pushed past him towards the house. She felt a hand on her wrist and tugged her to an abrupt stop. She gasped to find he stopped her and then roughly pulled her hand out of his grasp, enraged that he was not letting her go. Her anger reached a boiling point and she started ranting.
"What is your problem?! Why do care what happens to me all of a sudden, huh? You wanna know. You really want to know? Alright I will tell you. I once again had terrible nightmare tonight. The same nightmare that has been plaguing since I was a toddler. Since I lost my mother forever. I relive the night she died over and over again in my dreams like a horror film. I can still remember her screams as she burned. I can still remember the fire engulfing her body and the stench of her burning flesh. I still remember screaming till my throat started hurting, watching my mother parish. I remember waking up to find my Khala with me. I remember how my father dropped me of at the hospital and took off. He just went, leaving a child who had just her mother alone. Leaving his daughter alone after she watched her mother get burned to death. He just left me. He just left me!"
The last part was shouted and it seemed that it startled Asad out of the trance he had fallen under listening to her speak. He had been staring at her with wide eyes throughout her tirade. Now he watched as Zoya slumped forward, drained out of all energy. She was crying openly in front of him.
"Why? Why did he leave?" She beseeched in a broken voice. His heart started breaking for her. Contrary to what most people thought, Asad was not insensitive. He had to make himself strong to cope with the harsh circumstances of life. He watched as she started falling, catching her by her shoulders. She slumped against him, not having the enough energy to move away. He half carried her to the bench and sat her down.
His body stiffened as she rested her shoulder against him. But Zoya was past caring at this point. She didn't have the strength to hold herself straight at the moment. She just didn't care if he was uncomfortable. He could deal with it or just push her off. But something unexpected happened. Asad relaxed his body and started speaking.
"I was ten when I caught my father cheating on my mother." This confession was enough to startle Zoya into an upright position. She stared at him with wide eyes as he looked at her and then faced forward to continue with his story.
"He didn't see me of course. He was too busy." He said the last word with bitterness in his voice.
"I didn't know what to do. I had come home early from school and Ammi was visiting Nani for a couple of days since she was very sick. At first I pretended nothing had happened. I told myself it wasn't real. It hadn't happened. But I knew the reality. The first few days after my mother got back was torture. Watching my father pretending like nothing had happened and my mother thinking he loved her so much. I was disgusted. I knew I had to tell her. I had to tell my mother that my father was cheating on her. I didn't even know if she would believe me. But she did and confronted him. It all came out then. It was so much worse than we thought. He was married to another woman and even had kids with her. Ammi was devastated. She had loved him so much. He left her, me and Najma all alone. I watched as Ammi slithered into depression. At first she pretended it was okay but then she got sicker and sicker. I had to take care of Najma by myself. Ammi could barely go to work and keep us fed. I made sure she didn't starve herself to death and woke up every morning to go to work. It was my fault this had happened and I had to take care of both of them. It got better of course. Ammi pulled herself up and faced her problems. She still feels so guilty about what I had to go through for that first year but I knew it wasn't her fault."
Zoya stared at him, too dumbstruck to say anything. She didn't even know what to say. She wasn't expecting him to pour his heart out to her.
"And today I found out that Ammi forgot her cell phone at home. It started and when I checked to see who was calling, it was him. She had received other missed calls from him as well tonight."
She opened her mouth to say something but then closed it not knowing how he would react. Her heart filled with sadness as she imagined how a ten year old boy had to grow up in such a cruel way. She hesitantly placed her hand on his shoulder. He looked at her and suddenly got up.
"Don't. Don't feel sorry for me. I don't need pity," he said harshly. She pulled back in shock. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to be rude."
Wow! Wasn't he a piata of surprises tonight? Confessing and apologizing to her in the same night. Zoya smiled and got up to stand beside him.
"It's okay. I understand. It's been a rough night." He smiled a half smile at her in response, once again surprising her. They both stood in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. Zoya's soft voice broke the silence,
"Thank you Asad." When he looked at her with confused, she explained.
"Thank you for comforting me tonight. I feel better now. I know I would have cried myself to sleep if you hadn't stopped me. So, thank you for being more stubborn than I am and forcing me stay." She smiled at him.
He smiled a full smile at her this time and she couldn't help but notice how it transformed his entire face. He ran a hand through his hair and said,
"No. Thank you, Zoya for listening to me. I haven't told anyone what I told you today and I never knew what a difference it would make. For the first time in longer than I can remember, I feel lighter, happier. So thanks."
"No problem. Happy to be of service." She replied giving a mock salute. He smiled once again at her antics while she laughed. Eventually, awkwardness settled over them. They didn't know what to say or how to behave with each other. Their relationship had changed drastically in one night. Zoya's yawn broke the awkward silence and they both went to their rooms after saying good night.
Since that night, a kind of a mutual understanding had developed between them. They shared jokes, rolled their eyes at the silly antics of Ayaan, comforting each other silently on more sleepless nights. And those nights became less of a torture and more of a time to talk to each other or enjoy each other's company. In their late night talks they had slowly shared with each other how being left behind by their father made them feel. What each had to go through and talking to someone who understood what it felt like, helped more than she could have imagined. She suspected it had a positive effect on him too. These days, he looked more relaxed and her nightmares had decreased in their frequency and intensity.
Gradually, this started turning into something deeper. Zoya didn't know how or when but now whenever he looked at her, her heart started to beat an erratic rhythm. Lately, she found herself looking for him in a room. And when her eyes caught his, they would be filled with an intensity that would leave her breathless. She caught him looking at her several times but he always looked away. No matter how hard she tried to deny everything, she had a gut feeling that things were going to get very complicated.
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