Fiction: The Art of Mutual Destruction Chapter Forty Six

Chapter Forty Six

Gentle hands took hold of her shoulders and began to urge her away. Iman struggled, clutching onto the bed rail. “Wait, wait, not yet!”

Iman, we have to go. The nurses are waiting,” Fareed explained, gentle but firm. “Come on, let’s go.”

But-” Iman reached a hand desperately towards her grandfather.

I’m sorry,” he said simply. “But we have to go.”

Iman felt tears prick her eyes. “What if something happens to him?”

The nurses will call me,” Fareed promised.

But…”

They’ll call me,” he repeated. “Come on, it’s time to go.”

Iman didn’t fight him as he led her out. She kept her eyes on the bed her grandfather lay in for as long as possible, craning her neck to keep him in her sight for longer. When they’d finally gotten too far for her to see him any more, she felt the flood of tears she’d been keeping dammed up inside begin to overflow.

They’d barely taken five steps by the time she was leaning against Fareed for support and sobbing into the cotton of his shirt.

He held her patiently, handing her a handkerchief when she’d recovered enough to be able to mop herself up.

There’s a bathroom over there,” he said tactfully, pointing it out.

Iman murmured a thank you and went to splash some water on her tight, aching face.

She caught sight of her reflection in the mirror and winced, finally understanding why people had been looking at her with such concern all day. She looked terrible.

Her hair hung in limp clumps on each side of her face and her eyes were so bloodshot, the green had begun to take on a distinctly orange tint.

The red looked like blood in the dimness of the badly lit bathroom.

Her stomach turned. She was halfway to scooping palmfuls of water directly into her eyes to frantically try and remove the red when her mind caught up to her body. Slowly, she forced herself to open her curled fingers and allow the water to drip down into the drain.

Iman bolted out of the bathroom, deliberately keeping her eyes on the floor. She was moving so fast she nearly walked right past Fareed, only stopping when he called her name and grabbed her arm.

She gasped, lifting a hand to her chest and looking around wildly. “What? What is it?”

It’s alright. Take a deep breath,” he instructed.

Why?

It will help your chest,” he added when she did nothing.

How had he known that her chest was hurting?

Iman obeyed, filling her lungs with as much air as they could hold, then slowly letting it out. She repeated her actions several times as Fareed directed her.

The painful fluttering in her chest slowly began to ease and she felt her shoulders slump.

Fareed gave her a concerned look. “Iman, can you give me a minute?”

Sure,” she said, her voice scratchy. “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.”

Fareed gave her a disbelieving look that he couldn’t quite hide. “Right,” he said. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Why don’t you call James and let him know where to find you? He’s been waiting in one of the waiting rooms.”

Iman blinked. “Okay,” she agreed. She watched Fareed walk away then began to fumble in her pockets for her cellphone. It was nowhere to be found and she furrowed her brow, trying to remember when she’d last seen it.

On the floor, she realized. Next to her grandfather’s blood. She’d dropped it after she’d called for an ambulance, while she’d been fighting to keep all of his blood where it belonged – within his veins and not decorating the floors.

She shuddered, clenching her fingers into fists as she remembered that disgusting warmth flowing over her skin.

Iman?” Fareed had returned. He glanced around. “Where’s James?”

I couldn’t find my phone,” Iman said dully. “It’s with the blood.”

What?”

I dropped it.”

We’ll get you another one. Don’t worry.”

She wasn’t. She’d begun to return to the place where she was numb and nothing got through to her any more. She welcomed it, craving the numbness.

… be alone.”

Fareed knelt down in front of her and his hands landed on either side of her face. “Iman? Focus on my voice.”

She was so tired. “Can’t,” she whispered.

Just a little longer,” he insisted. “Focus. Please.”

Iman waded through the fog. “Okay.”

I don’t think you should be alone right now,” Fareed began. “Shaida can’t come to be with you right now,” he continued regretfully. “She can’t leave the baby. But-”

The fog began to leave her. “Is she okay?”

They’re both fine,” Fareed said comfortingly. “But it’s too dangerous here right now. But Shaida wants you with her.”

I can’t leave my grandfather,” Iman said, for the fourth time that day. “I have to be with him.”

Fareed sighed, tugging on his short crop of hair. “Iman… you can’t stay here. It’s not safe.”

Panic began to burrow under her skin. “I need to be here.”

I know you want to be with him. But we can’t spare the people to be with you.”

Iman furrowed her brow, fighting to make his words make sense. “What do you mean?”

I talked to Waseem earlier,” Fareed explained patiently. “Your grandfather is in no shape to be moved. He has to stay here for a while until he’s stable enough to be transferred to the hospital I’ve been working in. But you being here makes it that much harder for us to handle things.”

Iman zeroed in on the most important part of that speech. “Waseem’s okay?”

Fareed looked taken aback. “He’s fine. We only lost six people last night.”

Only?”

Fareed winced. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant… it could have been a lot worse.”

Iman nodded wordlessly in agreement.

James didn’t tell you that Waseem was alright? He’s been going insane worrying about you. He asked to talk to you.”

Iman shook her head. “I don’t remember. Why do I have to go if we have people left?”

Fareed frowned at her. “That’s a little callous of you, don’t you think?”

Shock made her jerk her head up to stare at him. “What?”

You want people to risk their lives for you unnecessarily,” Fareed pointed out.

Iman shook her head vehemently, beginning to feel ill. “No!” she shouted. “No, I don’t. They’ll be here already. Why can’t they be with me?”

They can’t be in two places at once, Iman.” Fareed sighed and got to his feet. “Your grandfather can’t be moved and so his people will stand guard over him. They will do it for you as well if you ask. But you don’t need to be here. And it is dangerous here. Waseem is working incredibly hard to get the police under control and Adam-”

Iman flinched at the name.

He could come back. When he realizes that he made a mistake, he will want to fix it. It’s not fair to ask anyone to take that kind of risk for you.”

He was right. Obstinately, refusing to accept it, Iman shook her head.

I know you want to be with your grandfather. I know you’re terrified and you want to stay with him. But it’s not fair. It’s cruel.”

She’d cried so much it was impossible that she should have any tears left in her. But there they were, wetting her face as she finally, miserably, nodded.

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