I brushed the thought away. Don’t be selfish, Azraa, I scolded myself. He deserves it.
“Az,” a voice called. Rayyan stood at the foot of our stage, an unreadable look on his face. I went to him and he caught me in his arms. “I love you,” he told me, half crushing me to him. “I love you so much, little sis.” His voice shook and my own eyes filled.
“I love you too,” I told him in a choked voice. “I just wish you could be happy for me.”
He hugged me tighter. “I’m worried about you, dummy. So worried.”
Someone cleared their throat daintily behind us, saving me from having to respond. Mom took Rayyan’s hand and leaned around him to look at me. “Room for one more?”
“Of course, Mom,” Rayyan said immediately, making way for her. “Where’s Dad?”
“Your father will greet Azraa later,” Mom said tactfully, before turning back to me and kissing my cheek. “Congrats, dear. I’m very happy for you.”
I nearly winced. She sounded so fake it was almost like a physical blow.
“We’ll talk more later, okay? Zak seems to want you.”
I turned around. Mirzaq’s parents had left without me noticing and now he stood a little off to the side, fidgeting with his hands.
I went to him. “Sorry for abandoning you for a bit.”
“I was kind of wondering when I’d get you back. Come on, let’s sit. Dad looks like he’s gonna burst if he doesn’t get to make his speech soon.”
I looked at the crowd and giggled. Uncle Iqbal had a mike in hand and such an eager look on his face that I hoped the photographers had captured it.
“He’s so happy.”
“Yeah, my parents are really supportive like that.”
I turned to Mirzaq, shocked. What was that supposed to mean?
“What’s wrong?” he asked innocently.
Had I imagined the barb? I must have.
I shook my head. “Nothing. Listen to the speech.”
It was time to go. I looked around at the bare walls. I should have felt sad. Instead… I felt nothing. Everything important about this room had been picked up and packed away. I wasn’t leaving anything behind here – not really.
The people I’d wanted to hold onto hadn’t left their imprints here. No, this room was all mine. Just mine. Isolated and alone.
I looked around one last time, scanning every inch of the space for a remnant of myself. Had it really been so easy to pick myself up, roots and all?
The complete lack of myself told me that it had been.
Maybe that was a mercy.
But it felt like a curse.
I fumbled in my purse. It was a tiny thing, a sparkly little clutch that could just barely hold my phone and a lipstick.
I plucked out the black tube and uncapped it. Red would have been better but this pink would have to do.
Carefully, I set the tip of the lipstick to the closest wall.
I’d ruined the tube of lipstick and probably the wall as well. I put my fingers to the stain, smudging it.
It would come out. But it would take effort.
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” I called, not taking my eyes off the wall.
The door opened a crack. The minimal gap was still enough for me to make out Zaakir. “Your husband is asking if you’re ready to leave,” he said evenly.
“Uh, yeah.” I picked up my clutch. “I am.”
“Congratulations,” he told me as I walked past.
I turned back to him. “What?”
Was it truly that easy for him to let it go?
I felt a stab of fury. My brother had fought me over him. On my wedding day. And he could just stand there and say congratulations as though he didn’t care a bit?
“Congratulations,” Zaakir repeated in that same, maddeningly even tone.
“How can you say that to me?” I demanded, my voice rising. “How can you just stand there and… You didn’t care at all, did you?”
All those fights, all that guilt. And it was just fine now? I was supposed to listen to him congratulate me and stand there, completely unaffected?
Zaakir’s mouth fell open. “I did care. I do care. This isn’t easy for me, Azraa.” His throat worked as he swallowed.
“Then why say it at all? Why pretend to be happy?” I laughed humourlessly. “What happened to one day, you’ll be mine? You’re just giving up.”
How could he let me go this easily?
Zaakir’s eyes flashed and he took hold of my shoulders. “I am happy for you. It’s hard to see you with someone else but you picked him. You’re with him. And that kills me. But I’m not cruel enough to want you to get divorced or be widowed so that I can have you. I love you enough to want you to be happy.”
I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out.
Someone called my name from below.
“She’s coming,” Zaakir called back in a hoarse voice. His eyes were glittering. “Go,” he told me.
I didn’t move.
“It’s fine, Azraa.”
It wasn’t. But I didn’t know how to make it better. I turned away and made my way down to where Mirzaq was impatiently waiting.
“There you are.” He rolled his eyes at me. “Typical girl, taking ages to get dressed.”
I tried to smile. “You know me.”
I couldn’t stop myself from turning back to look up the stairs. Zaakir had disappeared.
“Hey, gorgeous.” Mirzaq squeezed my waist. “Ready to start your new life?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
And with that, I pushed Zaakir out of my mind and concentrated on my husband.
“Okay,” I said to Mirzaq once we’d gotten to the airport. “Tell me where we’re going.”
He considered it for a moment. “Nope.”
“Mirzaq!” I whined. “Come on, it’s not funny any more. I’ll see soon enough anyway – our boarding passes will have it.”
“It’s still funny, you just can’t see it. Hmm, maybe I should blindfold you.” He made to undo his tie.
“No way!” I put my hands up. “No blindfolding, Mirzaq. I hate the dark enough as it is.”
Mirzaq frowned. “Don’t call me that.” All the humour in his face had evaporated.
I blinked, thrown off. “Call you what?”
“Mirzaq. It’s Zak.”
“Uh, but your Mom calls you Mirzaq,” I pointed out feebly.
“She’s my Mom. I’ve told you before, call me Zak.”
“Thank you. That wasn’t so hard, was it?” He was suddenly all smiles again. “Don’t forget again,” he warned me.