As was the norm after she’d spent the night reading her father’s letters, Iman woke with a pounding headache and a sense of melancholy she could not shake. Her grandfather eyed her knowingly over breakfast, by now familiar with the signs.
Iman knew that he was itching to say something, and knew just as well that he wouldn’t. She sighed in frustration and played with her eggs. She couldn’t understand what had happened to her beloved grandfather. One day everything had been fine in Iman’s little world and the next, Ibrahim seemed to have retreated behind a wall. It was then that things had begun to go wrong for Iman.
She’d lost the closest thing to a parent that she knew and then she’d had her family and home taken from her as well.
It would have been easier, she reflected, if she could understand why. Or if she could bring herself to hate Ibrahim for his actions. But it wasn’t that simple. For all that he’d broken her heart, he’d been there for her for so long. Iman loved tenaciously and even she couldn’t make her heart detach itself from the old man.
And so here they sat across one another at a table, eating in complete silence where only a few short years ago she would have long since moved herself next to him and been chattering away nineteen to the dozen about anything that came into her head.
“Is something wrong with the eggs, sweetheart?” Iman looked up in shock at the familiar, beloved voice.
A tall brunette in her thirties was looking at Iman with open concern in her brown eyes. Iman jumped to her feet and tackled the new arrival. Her eyes widened as she threw herself against Shaida and made an interesting discovery. Almost immediately, she pulled back and placed her hands on Shaida’s middle. “You’re having a baby?” she squealed with delight.
Shaida laughed. “Yes, you’ll finally have the little playmate you always nagged me for.”
Iman blushed at the reminder. Shaida had been nineteen and Iman seven when they’d met and she’d regularly begged Shaida to get married and have a baby so that she, Iman, would have a baby to play with.
“That’s not quite what I had in mind when I was seven,” she teased lightly. “But I’ll take it.”
Shaida reached out and patted her cheek. “There,” she said with satisfaction. “Now there’s some colour in your cheeks and you look less like a ghost.”
Iman leaned into the touch happily, soaking up the now-rare affection. “I missed you,” she whispered miserably.
Shaida sobered. “I know, sweetheart. We miss you too.”
There was the sound of a throat clearing behind them and Shaida pulled away as though she’d been burned. “I have to go,” she said regretfully, glancing at Ibrahim out of the corner of her eye. “I love you, sweetheart.”
Iman retook her seat and bent her head, trying to control her anger. Exploding wouldn’t help anything, she reminded herself. She’d lost count of how many times she’d done it before and it had never done anything besides make everyone miserable.
She focused on her breathing. Calm down. Don’t spoil things. Stay calm.
“Iman? Look at me, please.”
“What?” she snapped.
Ibrahim drew back, startled. “I’m sorry you’re upset,” he said softly.
“But not for doing what you’ve done,” Iman pointed out, in no mood to accept hollow apologies.
“No,” Ibrahim agreed. “I’m not sorry for that.”
Iman pushed herself away from the table. “Excuse me,” she muttered. “I don’t have an appetite any more.”
“Iman…” Ibrahim sounded pained. “I’m sorry it has to be this way.”
Iman pressed a hand over her eyes. Her temples throbbed and her jaw ached from the force with which she was gritting her teeth. “It doesn’t,” she hissed. “It doesn’t have to be this way! Why can’t you just…”
Her grandfather’s defeated expression told her all she needed to know and Iman swiped at her eyes, furiously trying to regain her composure. “Never mind,” she said wearily, suddenly exhausted. “It doesn’t even matter. You made up your mind and you’re not gonna change it. No matter how hard I try.” ‘Or how hard I cry,’ she thought to herself bitterly as she walked out of the dining room.
Still sat in front of his breakfast, Ibrahim tossed down his utensils and buried his head in his hands. His heart ached for Iman and he longed to go and comfort his little girl but he knew she wouldn’t accept it. In her eyes, he could fix everything if he really wanted to.
She’d never grown out of the childish certainty that her grandfather was a superhero who could fix any one of her problems, small or big, if only she asked nicely enough.
But this one problem which hurt her more than any other was one of the few even the great Ibrahim Khan could not fix. Worse still, this problem had come about entirely due to his own actions.
She was right to be furious with him. He’d taken away her home and forbade any of the people she’d come to regard as family from contacting her. There had been no other way to ensure her safety. At the time, he’d thought he was doing what was best.
But now, as he compared the Iman he’d caught a glimpse of when she’d been laughing with Shaida to the Iman who walked around like a little ghost, now he wasn’t so sure.
He still didn’t know how he was going to get Iman out from Aasia’s clutches, or how he was going to keep her safe. But at the very least, Ibrahim decided, he needed to explain everything to his granddaughter. She needed to know that he hadn’t wanted to send her away.
Ibrahim made his way slowly up the stairs to Iman’s bedroom and knocked lightly on the blue door. “Iman? May I come in?”
There was no answer but he heard a few muffled sniffs. Ibrahim sighed and turned away. He’d talk to his little girl later.