All thoughts of Zaakir disappeared from my mind as soon as I caught sight of a familiar, beloved face. “Nana!” I squealed, flinging myself at my grandfather.
He laughed and caught me, holding me tightly to him. “Assalaamualaykum. Did I surprise you?”
He had. I couldn’t believe it. My grandfather was my favourite person in the world but it had been over a year since I’d seen him last, due to his penchant for travelling the globe. “How long are you staying?” I demanded immediately.
“As long as you’ll have me. I think I’ve finally gotten tired of hotels.”
I knew better than to believe that. Nana’s wanderlust was legendary – he’d been almost everywhere in the world.
The last time I’d seen him, I’d made him sit with me in my bedroom and tell me the names of every single place he’d ever been to while I stuck thumb tacks in a wall map I’d bought specifically for that purpose. By the time we’d finished, you could barely see the actual map any more.
A strange longing filled me. I’d never travelled much, beyond a few trips when I’d been to young to leave alone. After I’d learned to stop clinging to my parents, they’d preferred to keep me at home while they travelled.
I’d always been assured that they only left me behind because they were worried about putting me in danger but I was less than convinced – they’d taken Rayyan along easily enough. I was the only one left at home to languish.
The old hurt welled up within me and I pushed it down. Not now.
“Do Mom and Dad know you’re here yet?” I asked, making an effort to distract myself.
“No. What time are they supposed to be back?” Nana asked.
“In the evening.” A few weeks from now. But they’d fly down immediately now. The rest of the family loved Nana just as much as I did.
Zaakir came in then, holding a tea tray and I took advantage of the distraction to type out a quick group text.
Within a few minutes, I knew, three flights would be booked.
Meanwhile, I’d have some time with Nana to myself.
I looked up from my phone and scowled. If I could get rid of Zaakir, that was. For some unknown reason, Nana seemed to adore him.
“Fantastic, my boy,” Nana said approvingly. “That’s wonderful. And you, Az?”
I blinked uncomprehendingly. “What was that?”
“How’s school going?” Nana repeated.
“Fine! Just fine.”
Zaakir had the grace to not call me a liar to my face.
“But that’s boring,” I added. “Tell me about where you’ve been this year.”
Nana agreed easily enough. “Zaakir, why don’t you join us?”
Zaakir hesitated. He looked at me and then shook his head. “Actually, I should probably get back to Mom.”
“Later then,” Nana persisted. “I want to hear more about what you’ve been getting up to.”
“Of course,” Zaakir smiled uncomfortably. “Excuse me.”
I looked at his retreating back then turned back to Nana. “One second?”
“Something to tell Zaakir?” He sounded amused.
I nodded wordlessly then headed out of the small sitting room, looking around. There he was, already on the stairs. God, he walked fast.
“Zaakir!” I called.
He looked over his shoulder up at me. “Need something?”
“No…” I trailed off.
He waited patiently, turning around to face me fully.
“Thanks for leaving us alone,” I finally said in a rush.
Zaakir shrugged. “You never did like to share.”
I gaped at him. “That’s not true! I do share.”
He gave me a disbelieving look.
“I shared with you.” Begrudgingly, but I did it – eventually.
“Okay, Azraa,” he agreed, clearly humouring me.
“I did!” I insisted.
“I’m not arguing with you.”
I crossed my arms. “You’re not agreeing with me either.”
He covered his eyes with a hand. “Azraa, go and spend time with your Nana.” He left, shaking his head.
Rude, I thought irritably. And after I’d thanked him too.
Nana sensed my change in mood immediately. “Everything alright?” he asked.
“Zaakir’s annoying,” I grumbled. “But that’s nothing new.”
Nana distracted me skilfully, telling me all about his latest adventure in Greece.
He seemed to grow younger before my eyes as he described the places down to the littlest detail, reliving the trip in his mind’s eye.
It was almost as though he’d taken me along with him. But not quite.
And like many other things in my life, almost just wasn’t good enough.
“Can I come with you next time?” I asked impulsively.
Nana blinked at me. “Come with me?” he repeated.
I began to feel awkward. “You already know the best places to go, after all.”
“Oh, but half the fun is in the exploring. You don’t want to do that with your old Nana, do you? I’m sure you’d have a much better time with your friends.”
What friends? I didn’t have any. It was my own fault, I knew. I preferred to stick to myself rather than making any effort to wade through the many people who wanted to know me solely for what I could do for them to get to the few decent people in the mix.
I knew what I was expected to say though. “You’re right, Nana. Maybe you could give me a list of good spots to go and see?”
“I’ll do you one better. I started keeping a journal when I travelled when I was about your age. I still do it, in fact. I’ve probably forgotten the majority of what I did on those early trips but everything’s still there in those journals.”
“I’d like that.” Some of my disappointment left me. “I’d like that a lot.”
“I didn’t even know you were interested in travelling, Azraa,” Nana commented a while later, breaking the silence. “You always stayed here when your parents went anywhere.”
“It’s a new discovery,” I took a sip of tea to hide my expression. “But I think I’ll like it. The rest of the family seems to, at least.”
As though mentioning them had summoned them, my parents took that moment to step through the door. Evidently, they’d been together – and not too far either. It had been less than three hours since I’d texted them.
My mother was still wearing her coat and her name tag dug into my cheek when she hugged me. I squeaked, surprised at the force and spat out a few strands of her silky black hair. “Oh, I missed you so much,” she cried. “But it’s just been such a hectic month. I’m sorry, Az.”
Nana looked over from where he’d been embracing his son. “A month?”
My father winced. “More like two,” he admitted. “People need surgeries.”
Mom nodded in agreement. “It’s heartbreaking how long some of them have had to wait for decent medical care.” She kissed Nana’s cheek. “But, of course, we had to make time to see you, Dad. How have you been? You look good!”
“I’m in no need of your services dear, if that’s what you mean,” Nana chuckled. “My heart’s perfectly healthy.”
“Where’s Rayyan?” Dad asked. “I thought his flight was supposed to get in before ours.”
Mom checked her phone. “Oh, it’s been delayed,” she sighed. “He sent me a message while we were in the air. He should be here soon, at least.”
“Just in time to eat. Good. It’s been ages since we all ate a meal together.” My Dad looked at me. “How’s school, Az?”
“Good,” I said chirpily. “I’m going to take a shower before dinner. Excuse me.”
Up in my room, I turned the key in the lock and then leaned against the door with a sigh.
My parents had only been back for five minutes and I was already irritated.
They were saving lives, I reminded myself. They weren’t neglecting you, they were saving lives.
They came rushing back for Nana, an evil little voice inside of me pointed out. They made time for him.
But that was Nana.