Chapter Thirty Six
I kept my eyes on my plate in a vain effort to ignore the scene that was erupting across from me. My mother in law’s cheeks were streaked with red and she kept opening and closing her mouth, unable to actually say anything.
Zak had declared that not only could he not transfer back to the US branch of his company, he’d also quit his job and gone into business with a new friend he’d made back in Australia. Oh, and he and I were scheduled to fly out in the morning.
He’d announced all of this as easily as he would’ve mentioned the weather outside.
“Son,” my father in law began hesitantly, his silverware still hovering in mid air over his plate. “Don’t you think you’re being a little hasty?”
Now, Zak began to look ruffled. “No, I don’t. I’m sick and tired of dealing with people who don’t value me properly all day.” His voice grew louder with every word he spoke. “It’s not fair for me to have to take orders from people who’re inferior to me. And you should hear how they talked to me!”
I jerked my gaze away from his face, trying to ignore the fact that with his jaw set and his mouth pursed, he looked like a fussy toddler.
Shamima immediately reached out to rub his arm in a placating manner. “Of course you shouldn’t!” she exclaimed. She turned to her husband. “Iqbal, can’t you do anything about that?”
“Of course, we have to! If only you’d come to me earlier, son, we could have sorted all this out long ago.”
“Well, whatever,” Zak said crossly. “I don’t want to go back anyway.”
“But Zak,” his parents said in unison.
“I don’t want to!” Zak yelled. “Just forget it, okay?”
Uncle Iqbal began to look impatient. “Zak, you can’t just give up a career like that,” he said slowly as though talking to a child.
“So, what, I’m supposed to be unhappy for the rest of my life?”
“No, of course not,” Shamima cut in. “That’s not what Dad is saying at all.” She cast a narrow-eyed look at her husband. “Is it?”
“No,” Uncle Iqbal allowed. “We’re not saying that. But if this can be sorted out,” he added.
A storm was gathering on Zak’s face and his mother clearly recognized the signs as well as I did. “Well, he can go back some time in the future then, can’t he?” she suggested.
“Shamima, you know that’s not how it works,” Uncle Iqbal snapped exasperatedly. “And this reflects badly on both me and him. It would be a different thing if I owned the company but because Zak insisted that he didn’t want to work directly for me, my hands are tied!”
There was an echoing smack as the palm of Zak’s hand made contact with the solid wood of the table. “Can you both just stop already? It’s done. I wasn’t asking your permission, I’m telling you. I’m doing this.” He glared at his parents. “Can we just eat now?”
His father sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright son. Do what you want.”
“And if anything goes wrong,” his mother added comfortingly, “we’ll be here to fix it.”
“Thank you,” Zak said brusquely. He sat back down and applied himself to his plate.
The silence was only broken by Shamima asking me to help her in the kitchen as soon as the last plate was empty.
“I don’t appreciate you not warning me about this,” she snapped at me as soon as we were safely out of Zak’s earshot. “Especially since I was just trying to help you!”
“I didn’t know,” I admitted quietly.
“Really,” I confirmed.
“Well… Zak is very private.” It almost sounded like Shamima was trying to comfort me. “But I really should talk to him,” she added, almost to herself. “I’m not comfortable with my grandchild being so far away from me.”
They’re not your baby!
I took a deep breath and tamped down on the knee-jerk discomfort that her words had caused. Be grateful, I reminded myself silently. She’s trying to help.
In a high-handed, superior way. But still… Help is help.
“Maybe you should talk to him alone,” I suggested. “He might respond better.”
Truthfully, I just didn’t want to have to deal with the drama any longer.
But Shamima gave me a pleased smile. “You’re starting to get it,” she praised me. “I’ll talk to him right now, I think.”
I nodded wearily, trying not to yawn. I hated these sudden waves of exhaustion but I’d been assured that they were normal since my body was still adjusting to the new medication and diet. “I think I’ll head upstairs.”
“Of course. You go rest,” my mother in law said soothingly. “Don’t worry about a thing.” She gave me a pat on the head as she walked by.
I ran into Amira on my way out. She was pacing in front of the arched open doorway to the kitchen and mumbling to herself. She still clutched the armful of dishes she’d just cleared from the dining room.
I felt a rush of concern for the small girl. “Is everything alright?” I asked as gently as I could.
She jumped, nearly losing her grip on the stack of porcelain. “Miss Azraa!” she gasped. “Yes, yes everything’s fine,” she hurried to assure me.
But there were tiny lines of strain on her face that hadn’t been there six months ago and her shoulders had a permanent slump to them. I felt pity for her – six months of dealing with Shamima day in and day out would have worn me out too.
“I’d better finish with the dishes.” She slipped past me hurriedly.
I was still looking over my shoulder at her when I heard by name being yelled.
“Azraa!” Zak roared furiously from the dining room. “Get in here!”
“Tell my mother that you don’t need round the clock care, please!” my husband demanded, reaching an arm out to me with a sneer on his face.
“Uh-” I said stupidly.
“Zak, the baby! It’s not Azraa I’m worried about, it’s my grandchild. And you,” she added. “Who’s going to take care of you?”
“Well, we’re not staying here,” Zak crossed his arms mutinously.
“What about a compromise?” I said suddenly, an idea dawning on me. “We could take Amira with us.”