As narrated by Aara:
My smile broadened as I caught a glimpse of Zoheb’s Nani in the huge mirror that seemed to eclipse the lounge. And when she laid her eyes on me and Hana, tiny tears fell from her face in happiness.
I embraced her with a heavy heart knowing full well what must have been going through her mind.
“She has his dimples”, she smiled, tickling Hana’s soft face.. ” how are you my baby? ”
Hana giggled and had Nani eating out of the palm of her hand in no time! Watching them, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like if the threeof us had come to visit on a family holiday. I could almost picture Zoheb grinning proudly at this adorable sight!
Nani’s house as he had told me many times, held many of his good memories and so I indulged myself, after asking Nani to tell me all the stories that I had heard before… And it felt as though it were the first time that I had heard them.
I looked out the window towards the just as palatial main house, where Maaherah excused herself to go to. Zoheb’s parents didn’t want to meet me, not that I was surprised.
“You know Aara”, Nani said, ” from the very first time that I saw you I knew that you were something special but when you opened your eyes and refused to recognize my Zoheb, I knew that you were the right one too”
I narrowed my eyes in curiosity.. “Right one.. How? ”
Nani laughed. “You wanted to make him understand what he had done, even though his intentions were true, and you were so stubborn about it”
I smiled as I thought back to when I had met Nani for the first time. I was sobbing my heart out to myself after pretending not to recognize him yet again, when she walked in. The silence between us spoke every single word that needed to be spoken.
“Don’t make him pay too much okay bachu.. I can see that it’s hurting you more than it’s hurting him”, she smiled
She had helped me too.. Lol. By being totally dramatic at home and telling him things like ” what if she forgets you completely “. Of course we eventually told Zoheb but it was a golden bond that had formed between us and I had cherished it ever since.
Maaherah had been gone for over an hour and it made me even more nervous. I had asked Sahal and Kauthar to sit this one out, because I knew my brother too well. If Zoheb’s father had to say anything to me.. Sahal would probably forget that he’s Zoheb’s father.. and I was not here to fight.
” Nani do you mind watching Hana while I go over there? “, I asked, motioning towards Zoheb’s parents house
” With pleasure “, she smiled, ” and don’t let anything deter you Aara because even though they don’t show it, his passing away has affected them more than they themselves would care to admit”
“You’re my rockstar”, I grinned, giving Nani a quick peck on her cheek and promptly made an exit
I didn’t stop to check my face in the mirror or give myself a moment to rethink my decision.
Stepping into Zoheb’s parents house gave me goosebumps. It felt as though I was stepping into his past and it made me feel…comfortable. I could hear voices coming from a room not too far from where I was standing and I knew who they belonged to, so I followed it.
“When you know that it’s my fault and that I spoke so much of lies…why so much of pride in just meeting her?”..Maaherah asked desperately
“It’s very late for that”, Zoheb’s father said angrily
I paused for a second before I made myself visible, finally standing in the doorway and getting all of their attention.
“Assalaamualaikum”, I said softly
They replied to my greeting and that was it. Silence yet again. One glance at Maaherah and I could tell that she had been crying. Mrs. Patel never took her eyes off the turquoise rug in front of her and as for Mr.Patel, he just stared blankly out the large hand carved window that momentarily took my breath away.
It was weird even referring to them as Mr. and Mrs. Patel but mummy and daddy was a far cry away. I’d probably end up giving them a heart attack if I had said that aloud!
Their silence seemed to have rubbed off on me and I seemed to have lost my courage along with my tongue!
“The best part of my house is the library…I would spend hours in there, in front of that huge window overlooking the garden. I had convinced my mother to hang one of those cute wooden chairs right there just for me even though my Dad hated it!”, he laughed, “But Aara..the view..during any of the four seasons was just something else…I hope to show it to you one day Insha Allah”. Zoheb took my fingers to his lips and kissed them softly, and even though he smiled, there was a deep, hidden sadness that lingered in them.
The library! I was in the library and I didn’t notice it until I saw that chair…
Without much hesitation, I walked towards that very chair and ran my fingers across it, fighting off the strongest urge to cry. I closed my eyes and I could almost imagine him sitting in it…and when I turned to face the window I could hold it in no longer. For in front of me were daffodils, rows and rows of beautiful yellow daffodils, naturally encased within towering oak trees, encircling a beautiful little bridge and standing out against the many intricate stone sculptures…I was completely in awe. So stunned that it took my breath away…What would he have been thinking about while he sat here and took in all this beauty? Would he have guessed that one day he would marry someone who was just as crazy about daffodils as his mother..because it had to have been her.
“He often told me that this was his favorite spot in this house”, I said and my voice crackled, threatening to disappear completely, but I had to persist, I couldn’t forget the reason that I was here.
“He would say that all four seasons from here was something else..and now I know why”, I smiled to myself
I heard a sniffle behind me. Mrs. Patel was trying very unsuccessfully to stop crying but her tears betrayed her own will…her motherhood betrayed her stubbornness.
Crouching down in front of her, placing my hand upon hers, I continued…”He told me that your gajar halwa was the best in the world”, I laughed through my tears, “even I couldn’t come close to it”
She shook her head and cried harder..
“And yet I hardly made it as often as I should have”
I squeezed her hand tighter, not quite knowing what to say
“You know he fought with his father to have that chair put up there”, she continued..”he even went on a hunger strike to have his way”
“I didn’t know that”, I smiled
“Oh yes..Zoheb could be very stubborn when he wanted something, but whatever he wanted didn’t only benefit him”, and this time she laughed , ” One day, we walked into the library and Zoheb’s daddy was comfortably snuggled in the same chair that he was so against in the first place”
I couldn’t help but chuckle a little, but as soon as Mrs.Patel said that, Mr. Patel hastily left the room.
“Will you tell me more about him?”, I asked…”his childhood..his teen years…”
She looked at me with a mixture of different emotions that was hard to read…
“Will you tell me about the last five years?”…she pleaded softy and it truly broke my heart
“From the very first day that I met him”, I smiled
She closed her hand over mine gratefully and whispered a soft thank you…
I wouldn’t say that half the battle was won, because this was no battle, this was no war. This was simply a step forward to fulfilling his last wish. He may not have said it aloud, but he didn’t have to. All through the years that I had spent with him, I had seen it in his eyes. Whenever any of our families gathered, whenever Riza was hugged by his mother, whenever Aunty Sawleha scolded Arshad, whenever my own mother fussed over Sahal…I saw it. All of them showed him the same affection but there is no love like the love of your own parent. Zoheb was a gentle, caring, selfless person…and he died without being shown that love. When Hana was born, it was his chance to be that father who dotes on his child…and he did that.
But we don’t know the duration of our lives, and we have to accept it. As hard as it is, we have to move on. Because the one who was always with us, is with us, and He will always be there with us, right next to us, always. Allah never forsakes us, He doesn’t burden us with more than we can handle and His tests are only because He loves us.
When I look back at my life, despite all the challenges, despite all the tests, I have always had people who loved me. My parents, my brother, Nemo, my friends and eventually…Zoheb. I always had what he didn’t have. When Allah tested me, He still kept me amongst my loved ones, and He made me grow. And I’ve come to realise over the past few months when I look at my daughter, that this is life. This is a cycle, a test, we take so much out of the bounties of our Creator, we absorb it into our lives, but it isn’t only about passing a test or coming out of it…there’s so much more. Every person who comes into our lives, every relationship that we make has some sort of right upon us. What harm would it do to see if someone was okay…what harm would it do to go the extra mile for a sibling…what harm would it do to do the dishes instead of your mother..
I was blessed with a love that took away all my sorrows, with an angel who wiped even the scars of hurt off from my heart…the least I could do in return, was to help mend a small part of his small family. The least I could do, was to make a place for his daughter in his home, the home where he grew up in. The least I could do was let her know her father’s parents. They may act all tough on the outside, but there had to be a heart under that facade and holding Mrs. Patel’s hands reassured me of that. For it is only when one becomes a mother, a parent, do we truly value our own parents. Ever since Hana was born, I have seen my mother in a new light and I could see that Zoheb did too.
It would have been different if things weren’t like this, if the relationship was not an estranged one. But this was a test too and I would make it work no matter how long it took, for Hana..for me…for him..