Ayesha got up in the wee hours of the morning, her sleep disturbed by the horror of her life. The nightmare was an occurrence from the day of the accident. Getting up from her huddled position on the floor by the door, she made her way to the bed to get some more sleep.
Unsuccessful, she prayed Fajr, (the dawn prayer) before she made her way down the dark stairs. The moonlight shone in the large living room, so surreal and peaceful that she ended up sitting on a couch, staring at the moon outside the window, her knees pulled to her chest. Her stomach grumbled, and as a response, her heart fell. She hated how her body behaved in such pain. Despite having so many sorrows, her body expected her to feel. Thats the last thing she wanted to do.
Time passed and the moon shied behind the sun, allowing it to spread its rays of confidence on the canvas of the sky. The sky turned red, then orange as the sun marked its territory. A hand on her shoulder pulled her to reality and she turned to find Badi Ammi standing behind her with a sweet smile on her face. She looked fresh as a daisy, and Ayesha noticed the dampening of her scarf on her hair, indicating she had just taken a bath.
”What are you doing up so early sweetheart? ” She asked.
Ayesha shrugged in response.
”Have you had breakfast? ”
Ayesha shook her head.
The older woman smiled once more and asked her to join in for breakfast. Shed woken up to find Ayesha cuddled on the couch with her eyes on the moon. The girl even in the darkness looked exactly as her sister-in-law described to her. An angel. Shed left to shower before making breakfast for her son, her thoughts on how much of a beauty Ayesha was. Alas, it is the most innocent of hearts that suffer the most pain.
Ayesha joined the elder woman in the kitchen, sat and waited as she served tea in two cups and coffee in one before she followed her to the dining room. She sat on one of the chairs, Badi Ammi sat on the opposite side as they sipped quietly on their beverages.
”Assalamu aleikum. Ammi whats for breakfast? ” Zeeshan talked excitedly as he walked into the dining room.
Breakfast was his favourite part of his day. His mother would make something special now and then, while everyone else would wake up to the regular omelettes and toasts. Hed often skip his meals in the office, so his mother made sure he had hearty breakfasts. He was, however, stunned to see the beauty seated in front of his mother. It was early. Which got him wondering, did his mother wake her up?
”Waleikum salaam, I have made french toast and coffee for today. With your regular fruit bowl as always. ” His mother answered, the warm smile intact on her face.
Zeeshan took his place at the head of the table, right in between the two ladies. His mother couldn help but notice how amazing their pair looked. Zeeshan served his mother a french toast before picking one for himself. It was a habit now. Hed always serve his mother before himself during breakfast and his mother would serve him first during dinner. It was kind of like their ritual.
Ayesha watched stunned as the intimidating figure regarded his mother before himself. The only person shed ever seen do that was her brother. A long time ago, when they were happy…and together.
”So? ” He heard his mother ask, ”Mere liye bahu kab laa raheho? ”(When are you getting me a daughter-in-law?)
Ayesha choked on the tea she was drinking while all Zeeshan did was sigh.
”Ive told you before Ammi, once I get someone worthy enough to be your daughter-in-law, Ill personally let you know, ”Zeeshan responded in a lets-not-bring-this-up-again tone.
His mum just shook her head and began telling him how lonely she feels and considering the younger siblings were already either married or betrothed, it was better if he were to marry. Zeeshan just shook his head at his dramatic mother.
”Ayesha, darling, eat something. ” Ayesha just shook her head.
The tea had suppressed her hunger, and shy and didn want to feel guilty about eating.
”Ammi, can you get me some more coffee please? ” Zeeshan requested.
Once his mother was out of sight, ignoring the tension in the room, he picked a french toast and placed it in front of Ayesha. Ayesha was baffled and turned to stare at the intimidating man who didn care about her opinion. She picked the toast off her plate, to put it back when she heard his husky voice.
”You should finish whatever is on your plate, khana wapis rakhna bad tehzeebi hoti hain. ”(Returning food from your plate is uncivil.) He commented with sass.
She glared as hard as she could to let him know she was angry but it didn phase him. He stared at his food the whole time. Since Zeeshans mother had returned from the kitchen, there was no way she could return the food without seeming suspicious. Plus, shed sworn off talking, so she couldn even explain the situation.
She pushed back the guilt and tears as she fed herself a morsel, then another. Once the french toast was finished, she sighed in relief. She pushed back her chair to leave when his mother insisted she stay seated. She turned to look at Zeeshan when she saw the smug look as he reached for the toasts. She knew she couldn eat more and when Zeeshan ignored the constant shaking of her head, she took matters into her hands.
Horrified, she hurriedly picked the plate off the table and placed it on her lap.
”Ayesha, what are you doing dear? ” She heard his mother ask.
She found the toast on Zeeshans plate and sighed in relief before she went back to glaring at him. Angered, Ayesha went to the kitchen, washed her utensils before she came back to the dining room and crossed her arms sassily in front of Zeeshan.
She flipped her dupatta (a matching scarf that comes with Indian clothes) before walking off to her assigned room. Forgetting there was another presence at the table, Zeeshan burst out laughing. This was the first time his mother saw him laughing so carelessly, even after his fit was over, he kept smiling.
”Bahu chunn bhi liya lekin Ammi ko nahin bataya, huh? ” Zeeshan gave his mother a confused stare. (Youve chosen my daughter-in-law but didn even bother letting me know, huh?)
”Ayesha. ”His mother said with a know-it-all tone.
Zeeshan shook his head at his mother, it wasn like that. He got up, bid his mother goodbye and made his way to the car. The drive to his office was short and soon, he was seated at his desk wondering, It wasn anything like that, was it?.
As in just because he wished to annoy her early in the morning, wanted her to look at him with her hazel eyes, wanted her to glare at him, wanted all her attention, wanted to see her red nose, it didn mean he had feelings did it?
Shaking his head, he resumed proofreading documents, a smile intact on his gorgeous face.
Ayesha rushed to her room, mortified. He had played her. Oh my God! How was she going to face his mother? What if his mother complains to her khala. She gasped.
No. She couldn . All Ayesha had in India was her khala. Where would she go if her khala kicks her out? And her Bhai (brother)? What will she tell him? You sent me alone for a change of atmosphere and I had our reputation tarnished?
Frustrated, Ayesha climbed onto the bed and covered herself from head to toe. Fighting with her sanity got her tired and eventually, she fell asleep. Right before succumbing to her sleep, she realized after the little banter, her heart felt at ease. A little less burdened. She felt other emotions other than guilt, remorse and anger for the first time since the incident.
After getting up in the evening, Ayesha made her way to the bathroom and took a relaxing hot shower. She allowed herself to stay in the shower for a while longer than normal until her skin began to turn red due to the heat. She then dried off and walked to the closet searching for what to wear.
”Ayesha, bachhe, are you awake? ” She heard her khala call.
She didn bother to reply as she already knew her khala would open the door soon. As predicted, her khala opened the door to Ayesha wrapped in a towel, staring at the clothes neatly hung in her wardrobe. Lightly scolding her for standing in the middle of the room with no regard for who may enter that too with the door unlocked, she picked a pretty outfit and shoved it in her face, asking her to get dressed.
Ayesha stared at the pretty pink churidaar in her hands before bunching it up and clearing the tears threatening to leave her eyes. She made sure the door was locked before she dressed up. Staring in the mirror, Ayesha looked at herself, actually looking at herself after so long. She couldn help but feel miserable, but she promised to try and stay happy. She promised her only guardian, her brother, that shell try to overcome this pain, try to move on, and try overall.
Ayesha unlocked the door before she made her way down the marble stairs. She followed the sound of laughter and chatter to the kitchen. She stood at the door, wondering if she should interfere with the happy atmosphere with her brooding self. Her questions were answered as one of the younger daughters-in-law had already seen her and ushered her in. She was made to sit next to dadi who asked her to assist in peeling the peas from the pods once she was given a light snack to hold her hunger until dinner. She wondered why no one questioned the fact that she practically slept the entire day but was grateful for the same.
Ayesha didn hesitate. She helped. First with the peas, then with chopping parsley and later with grinding garlic and ginger for one of the dishes. Soon, all was done for dinner except for the dessert. The ladies began bickering about what to make and Ayesha stared in shock. Including dadi, the eldest of them all, they were bickering like little kids.
Ayesha let out a small laugh at that and watched as the attention shifted to her. Her khala stared at her with tears threatening to spill, while the others stared in awe. Dadi just moved closer and pecked her forehead. Badi Ammi just smiled at her. All in all, she was the centre of attention, and it bothered her. So she did what she knew, ignored. She turned to the table and pretended to pick off the little residues left from peeling the peas.
”Tell you what, lets leave the dessert-making to Ayesha. She does know how to cook right? ” Once dadi saw her nod, the ladies left the kitchen one after the other.
Except for dadi. She insisted that one cannot cook without any company. Ayesha stood from her place at the table and made her way to the stove. Her khala and Badi Ammi had already left all kinds of ingredients on the counter, including sugar and baking powder. Ayeshas first idea was marble cupcakes, but changed her mind last minute and made the classic kheer (A sweet dish made with milk and a choice of nuts).
Dadi sat right behind her the whole talking about what she had done since morning to how beautiful Ayeshas voice was. She even suggested that Ayesha should not let any guy in the house hear her voice, she might end up married. Which by the way, led to a red-faced Ayesha for the rest of the evening.
Once Ayesha was done with the sweet dish, she covered the lid and helped dadi out of the kitchen and into the living room. Once dadi was seated on the couch, she placed a hand on Ayeshas head as a blessing. Ayesha grimaced, remembering how many times her mother had done the same.
Ayesha casually wiped off a tear and sat near her khala as the women began talking about anything and everything. Soon enough, the man troubling her thoughts made his way into the house.