Chapter Twenty Five
There was a hesitant tap on the window. Roused out of my thoughts, I opened the door and came face to face with Amira, the young maid who seemed to be Shamima’s favourite.
“Sorry to bother you, ma’am,” she mumbled, speaking to her feet. “Mrs. Mahomed is looking for you.”
Like a little mouse, I couldn’t help but thinking. Even her hair was mousy.
“Thank you, Amira.” I spoke as gently as I could. “Did she ask you to come and find me?” I suspected that she hadn’t and Amira confirmed my suspicions with a tiny shake of her head.
I smiled wider. “It was nice of you to come and get me then.” In another life, Amira would have been adorable. In a starched, severe uniform with her eyes glued to the floor, she was just pitiful.
A wave of guilt hit me. My mother had been right. Here was what an abused woman looked like.
Thank God I’d been stopped before making a big mistake. I needed to be thankful. I had a good life and a great husband. Yes, Zak had a temper but that didn’t make him a demon.
Now, the people who’d turned little Amira into this wreck, they were abusive. I thought back on what Shamima had told me about the young girl. She’d actually pulled me aside and warned me about Amira’s extreme shyness and the reasons for it.
She’d been abused, the poor thing. She’d been completely under the thumb of a psychopath, Shamima had said. The man had discarded her like a used tissue when he’d gotten tired of her and Shamima had been the one to find her and take her in.
Remembering this made me feel even more guilty, recalling the uncharitable things I’d been mentally directing at my mother in law. She wasn’t the easiest woman in the world to live with, it was true. But she’d been immersing herself in charitable work since Zak was old enough to be in school. That proved that she couldn’t be all bad.
Maybe I just needed to try harder to find common ground with her. Surely, if I was nice enough, we’d eventually form a bond. Such a charitable woman would have to find it in herself to be charitable even towards me?
“Don’t make the mistake of expecting him to treat you like spun glass.”
My mother had been warning me about Zak. But had I been doing the same things to Shamima? Expecting unreasonable treatment from her?
I didn’t know. My head ached trying to puzzle it out and I shook it in an effort to clear it. I wouldn’t get answers standing here in the garage.
Shamima had been looking for me, Amira had said. A good daughter in law would have hurried to find out for what.
Maybe it wasn’t too late to make a good first impression.
Standing there in the garage, I resolved that I would do better. Whatever I had to do, I’d do it. I’d fought so hard for Zak, I wasn’t going to give up this easily.
I hated fighting. At least, I hated this kind of fighting. I could bitch and snarl with the best of them but this kind of fighting – the kind where smiles and coos were weapons and anger belonged to the losing team – this kind of fighting was foreign.
I didn’t know how to fight for something. I knew how to fight against anything – I’d been doing it for so long I had to strain to remember. But even when I’d ostensibly been fighting for Zak, I’d really been fighting against my family. And I’d fought them the way I fought anyone else; with ice and poison.
I didn’t know how to win this kind of fight and it was painfully obvious. Shamima had taken to smiling at me like one would at some kind of mentally challenged animal as I struggled to adjust. She clearly thought I was losing my mind.
Zak had either remained completely oblivious to my new behaviour or he’d decided to ignore it.
And Uncle Iqbal had barely spoken a handful of sentences to me in all the time I’d known him. Expecting him to comment on my behaviour would have been insanity.
Still, things were better. Zak and I hadn’t fought and I could sense that Shamima was beginning to thaw. And I would soon get a break. Zak and I were leaving for Australia in two days.
He still hadn’t told his parents that the move was meant to be permanent. I didn’t know whether he was trying to make it temporary or whether he just wanted to be on the other side of the world when he told them. Either way, I had no room to judge and, recognizing the sore spot, I’d left the topic alone.
He was still being extra loving, as though to make up for terrifying me that day. I’d let him, enjoying the attention even as a part of me whispered that he still had not given me an explanation, nor had he made any attempt to reassure me that it wouldn’t happen again.
That voice was easily extinguished. I had only to look at Amira and I remembered what real abuse looked like. It had taken only a few hours for me to recover from my argument with Zak while she was still haunted by her abuser months later.
To compare the two situations would be the height of disrespect.
As though thinking of her had summoned her, Amira poked her head in the open doorway and informed me softly that Shamima had gone out and I would be the only person dining at home. Did I want to eat in my bedroom, she asked me hesitantly. She could bring me a tray, if so.
Thoughtful to a fault. I knew barely anything about Amira but I would miss her a surprising amount. She was the sweetest, most selfless person I’d met in a long time.
My thoughts drifted toward the other. I hadn’t thought of Zaakir as selfless when he’d been in front of me, accepting his kindness as nothing more than my due. It was only now that I didn’t have him tending to me and making my life easier that I realized just how far above and beyond he’d gone.
I should have thanked him, should have appreciated what he did. But I hadn’t and now… well, now it was far too late to make up for that.