As narrated by Nemo :
Winter in Istanbul. This was a first for me! I had never been here before and didn’t know what the hype was about this place …but I was going to find out for sure, even though my stay here was scheduled to be a short one.
I corrected the time on my watch, reminding myself that Istanbul was 7 hours ahead of Detroit and as always,whenever I found myself in a different time zone, it would take me a few hours to actually adjust. And I had no clue why.
I had arrived a day earlier and I knew that I wouldn’t hear the end of it, but I didn’t want to inconvenience any of them, under the circumstances. I was actually lucky that my flight managed to land at all. This weather was just awful!
The truth be told, I was also very nervous about seeing them again. The numerous Skype conversations was never the same as being face to face ,the last time that I had physically seen them was 18 months ago…And the last time that I had seen her was two years ago.
734 days and 14 hours to be exact.
And each day had felt like an eternity.
I hailed a taxi to the hotel that would be my home for the next four days. The Four Seasons at The Bosphorus. It was a long drive more so because of the weather and I was freezing my ass off! I wasn’t a big fan of snow, yes it was beautiful but I hated being decked in so many layers of clothing and my nose would turn pink at the slightest hint of a chill.
While the driver hummed along to the tunes of local folksongs, I browsed through my gallery. And all these pictures lit up my face…
Immy and Maariah smiling at the camera, holding their 6 month old son Uthmaan. Their immense happiness was so, so visible. Both of them had truly attained contentment in their marriage and it was heartwarming.
Now this picture always made me laugh! It was of Arshad, Zainab and their little Adnaan and they were all matching. I wonder what Aunty Sawleha had to say about those t shirts…..
Riza and Laeeka, arm in arm,posing in the snow right here in Istanbul. These two were the image of “meant to be”. Nothing had changed during campus, or after that. Riza and Laeeka were now together for almost a decade, and they were one of those couples I would love to watch grow old together.
Zoheb and Aara…not too far behind them, building a snowman. A Muslim one at that. Lol…because this snowman had a beard and a topee on!
And a recent picture of Aara alone, caressing a baby spectacled bear in the jungles of Peru. Aara had finally fulfilled her childhood fantasy of holding Paddington bear in her arms.
I gently rubbed my thumb across her smiling face and sighed. It felt as though it was just yesterday that I had been writing on the seashore with her. It’s so hard to believe that 3 years have passed since then. And in these 3 years, absolutely nothing has changed.
I thought that it would have been easier to handle because she had started travelling immediately after marriage, but it wasn’t. And every time that I would see her, those old wounds would be pried open again. I felt as though I was going around in circles and every single time it hit me harder than the first time. I prayed fervently, and one fine day an opportunity fell into my lap and I grabbed it . I grabbed and I didn’t look back.
It was the best thing that I could have done for myself in a very long time. I had been offered a job at a small law firm in Detroit, it wasn’t anything fancy but what drew me towards them was that they specialized in family law and particularly the cases of regular families affected by the repercussions of drug abuse. The change of scenery did me a world of good. The comfort of being in a strange place and walking amongst strangers allowed me to find myself again. And I realised that the more I tried to push my feelings away, they only became stronger. So I lived with a truth that hurt yet comforted me at the same time. And it was okay. With time, it would pass.
I was gobsmacked when we reached the hotel….because it looked like something out of a fairytale! The pictures didn’t do justice at all.
It was still quite early and I wasn’t going to wake any of them up, not that I knew which rooms they were in anyway and not that I couldn’t find out either…but perhaps a little more time would be good…agh I’d never be ready would I.
I strolled around the hotel, avoiding the snow and walked on the cobbled pathways that had just been cleared. I eventually settled myself at the hotel coffee shop for an early breakfast of coffee and croissants . It was freezing and I was starving! And besides, I was so used to lonely breakfasts, that the fact that I had no company made no difference at all.
I was halfway through my first croissant when I was stopped, in my tracks but a familiar yet painful voice to hear…
“Well if it isn’t Mr. Michigan himself”
I froze. And this time, I couldn’t blame the weather.
“You flatter me too much, Michigan is the state Aara, I’ll settle for being just Mr .Detroit”, I said blankly, trying to mask my happiness and fear at her being right behind me
I bit into my croissant, waiting for her to pull a chair in front of me, waiting to finally see her after two long years. I really wanted to turn around, but I held myself back. I couldn’t allow myself to go down that road again.
Only she didn’t grab a chair. She didn’t sit down at the same table as me. She didn’t say a word to me after that.
Or had I been dreaming all along?
I stood up to confirm that I had indeed been daydreaming, when I saw her..walking away in the snow.
Shit Naeem! What did you do!
I quickly paid my bill, abandoned a breakfast that I was enjoying and made a mad dash after her.
“Aara!!”, I called out to…noone…
Because she had vanished. That was weird.
As I was about to turn around, I was hit in the face by a ball of snow..and then another on my shoulder and another and another until I lost my bearings and tumbled to the ground.
God dammit Aara! She’s 28 and still hasn’t grown up!
I stood up quickly and rolled my own ball of snow, expecting her to be hiding away by now. But when I looked up, she was right in front of me, with a pained look on her face. The ball of snow numbed the palm of my hand entirely, punishing me for the sight in front of me. And with each drop that melted through the gaps between my fingers..my heart shed tears of happiness, sadness, pain, joy…all at once, as I finally met her again.
“I…I didn’t mean to make you feel bad “…I said softly
She continued staring but didn’t say a word. I couldn’t read the look in her eyes…I couldn’t figure out what they were saying. ….
“I had just got in and I was starving…so..” , I said nervously
“The beard suits you ” , she whispered, as a small smile crept up onto her face
“Thanks “, I smiled , ” and….errr your lack of it suits you too ”
And both of us started laughing. This was so awkward yet so “home “.
“Why have you not met me in so long? Even when we wanted to come visit you, you went off to England ” , Aara asked
“Work…life…etc etc” , I lied, shrugging my shoulders
She lowered her gaze sadly and nodded. There was so much to say…and I knew that Aara had much to ask me.
“I did miss you though ” , I said truthfully, ” alot …but life changes ”
“Life doesn’t change that much that you can so easily forget the people who you grew up with and cut contact with them” , she sighed. ..”anyway, it’s really good to see you again, you look well ”
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee? I still need mines since I kinda left it halfway ” , I asked politely
” no dude…” , Aara said, rubbing her hands together ,”your coffee is ready and waiting inside. Laeeka saw you through the window and phoned me immediately and I’m pretty sure that she’s woken Riza and Zoheb already ” she laughed
And her laughter echoed throughout my soul.
I shook the thought from my mind and walked with Aara back to the hotel. She spoke nonstop, momentarily forgetting the fact that she was actually miffed with me. I listened on about their time so far in Istanbul and about the twin babies that Laeeka and Riza were in the process of adopting and my heart swelled with joy.
“Nemo in the flesh! ” , Zoheb said excitedly as soon as he opened the door to Riza and Laeeka’s room
It’s been a while since anyone called me Nemo to my face….
“Good to see you Zoheb ” , I smiled, hugging him
After meeting and greeting Laeeka and Riza, we sat down to a hearty breakfast of coffee and pancakes.
And before any of us could even start, she was already on her second one!
I chuckled to myself….some things never change.