Sahir closed his eyes, hoping for peace and some sleep but then he saw that luminous face, indelibly etched in his mind, smiling lips that he longed to kiss. Not Zeenat, but her. That girl: Arzoo. She was the reason he was able to fulfill his vow - as of today, he was one of the top ten richest entrepreneurs in India, with a fashion house that commanded global respect.
Of course, he had to shut out the maelstrom of guilt that engulfed him the moment he thought of Arzoo. Her last stinging words, spoken in front of the whole family just yesterday, still rang in his ears, words spoken with an eerie calm that was worse than any screaming he had anticipated.
Just two days ago, Sahir had carried her back, her clothes torn, her body bloody, limp and unconscious. It had been divine providence that he had reached her in time - he shuddered to think what would inevitably have happened to her otherwise. He had held her hand for hours as she lay senseless on the bed, oblivious to his surroundings, to Kurti Aapa's and Anam's taunts, and the flurry of anxiety around him. He just remembered Zaki's accusing eyes - his baby brother, the boy he loved so dearly now looked at him with cold, silent condemnation.
Sahir silently begged for Arzoo's forgiveness, and hated himself for the callous and cruel inner demons that compelled him to break her heart. Sahir knew he had not only killed her love for him but had also killed her innocence, her trust, and the lost little girl look she gave him when she made a mistake or did something clumsy, which was often. He had secretly found it all charming and endearing.
He vaguely remembered Nausheen Auntie blessing him, and praying that all his desires came to pass. But he realized at that moment he had lost the one he had most desired. To his shock it was not wealth, or promises or power. It was this broken girl-woman that lay before him. He had had the most precious gift and had thrown it all away.
And now, she was wide awake, alert and stood before him like a beautiful angel.
Her distraught mother, his mother, her grandmother, her sisters - they had tried to stop her, but she held up her hand and silenced everyone. Zaki stood watching her, his eyes shining with unshed tears.
"I hate you...I hate you more than I hate that man who fathered me. At least he never pretended to love me. But you! Why...why did you do this to me? Why? Why? What did I ever do to you? I used to think you were strong, but you are a weak man. You are a puppet," and here she pointed contemptuously at Anam and Kurti Aapa, "a mere puppet in the hands of these two witches."
Anam gasped - "how dare you?"
"Shut up!" yelled Arzoo, in a tone that startled everyone.
Kurti aapa opened her mouth and shut it quickly like a fish out of water when Arzoo turned to her.
"You won't even find a place in hell. My mother raised me to be polite, especially to my elders, but today, I am forgetting my upbringing because you are not worthy of my mother's teaching. I curse you. You will live and die miserably and alone for all the pain you have caused me and my family"
"Arzoo..." whispered Sahir, as he stepped towards her. Her look of pure hatred stopped him dead in his tracks.
She turned back to Sahir. "Today I will speak and you will listen. I told you, I have been through a lot...I asked you not to play games with me. At least that would be rapist didn't attack me behind my back like a coward. I begged you not to hurt me because I knew I couldn't bear it. But I was wrong. I'm strong enough to bear this, and today, I want to say thank you. Thank you for proving to me that love is just a lie. You only know how use and abuse people. I used to think you had a big heart in spite of your gruff and rude behaviour, but even that is a lie. You only care about yourself and your ego and your promise to your wife. You're a liar and a cheat. All men are."
"Arzoo, no...you don't understand. I had to do what I did" shouted Sahir, thinking wrongly that intimidation would silence her. He was sadly mistaken.
She laughed mirthlessly as though he hadn't interrupted her and continued. "Except Zaki. He may be an incorrigible flirt but he has the biggest, kindest heart. He's my best friend, and a thousand times the man you are. Zaki tried to warn me about you but I didn't listen. He's your brother and you're using him too, even though he's innocent - you're forcing him to marry a spoiled, deceitful, manipulative, selfish woman he doesn't love - a woman who is forcing her pregnancy on him.
"No," said Sahir quietly. "I..."
"It is my misfortune that I did not fall in love with Zaki. I fell in love with you. But Zaki proved he loves me. He is sacrificing his happiness for me. And for you, but you don't deserve it. You don't deserve me either. You are not worth the dirt on our shoes, Mr. Sahir Azeem Choudhary. If you hadn't played these dirty games with me, I would have forgiven you, yes, even for burning down our factory in Lucknow, but now it is too late. From this day forth, you are dead to me."
Arzoo turned to Alvira, her face stoic. She handed her an envelope which Alvira opened mechanically. It was Arzoo's resignation from Saiyyara. Alvira looked at Arzoo and reached out to touch her face. Arzoo stepped back.
"For your kindness and generosity, I will always love you and be grateful to you Auntie. But I wish you had loved me enough to tell me that your son was married already and was just playing a trick on me. I was just something else to conquer, like a business deal."
"Arzoo..." whispered a devastated Alvira, tears streaming down her face. "Nahi beta. I just wanted Sahir to be happy, and I knew only you could give him that happiness. I never pretended with you. I have always loved you like my own daughter. I never imagined he would break your heart."
"Arzoo beta, calm down," said her grandmother.
"I am perfectly calm daadi," said Arzoo. "In fact, I'm thinking clearer than I have in a long time. And now, it's time to go. I will inform you all in a day or two where to meet me."
"Arzoo, please don't go now. Just wait until morning," pleaded Zaki.
"No Zaki. I can't stay in this house for another minute."
"Then let me go with you," said Zaki firmly. "I absolutely insist. You're not going anywhere alone."
She nodded curtly, and Zaki took her suitcase and bag from her.
She turned once more to Sahir.
"Congratulations Sir. You have achieved your dream."
And with that, she walked out, her head held high.