Chapter Fifty One
Half a million minutes.
Time enough for life to make itself known. Time enough for death? I didn’t know.
My grandfather was dying. My father’s father. The man who’d loved me, spoiled me and, when I’d had no one else to turn to, aided me.
He was dying and I was still half a world away.
Well, it was simple. Because I was a coward.
Motherhood had changed me in many ways but deep down, little Azraa Razi still existed beneath my skin and I was terrified that if I let go, if I went back and didn’t watch myself, I’d find myself overtaken.
It was a stupid, selfish fear. Childish even. A little girl afraid of the bogeyman coming to get her.
Unlike a child’s fear, mine didn’t disappear with a simple flicking of a light switch. Worse, mine was real.
I had no choice though. I had to go. It had been foolish to think I could leave it all behind. My past, my family… They couldn’t be detached from me and perhaps that wasn’t even a bad thing.
Besides, I had a diamond hard tether that grounded me. Azmiah.
Just thinking of my little girl brought a smile to my face. Just over a year old and she was already hard at work developing her personality. I loved watching her grow into herself.
I was placing all my trust in that love.
The drive from the airport was nerve-wracking. Azmiah, bless her, slept all the way through. She’d cried on and off during the flight but by the time I’d lifted her car seat into the taxi, her eyes were already shutting.
By the time I laid eyes on the familiar driveway, my nails were bitten to the quick. I was going to have to file them down so that I didn’t scratch Azmiah.
I pulled out my purse and handed the driver a handful of notes, tipping him heavily for being kind enough to pull my suitcases right up the driveway. I could never have handled lugging them up, not with a baby seat dangling from my elbow.
It was strange, ringing the buzzer instead of keying in a code or yelling for Hajra or someone else to let me in.
The intercom crackled. “Razi residence, how may I help you?” a soft voice answered.
“Let me in, Hajra,” I requested. “It’s Azraa.”
“Oh. Oh, it is?” she sounded bewildered. “Of course, right away!”
The gate opened soundlessly.
I glanced down at Azmiah. “Here we go, little one. There’s no turning back now. Do you think we can handle it?”
She snored on peacefully, oblivious.
I’d met her father for the first time here. He’d proposed to me, in his indirect way just inside the front door. Standing here, the man I’d first met felt closer than ever. Closer than he had while Mirzaq was still alive even.
All I could feel was regret. He would never know Azmiah. She’d never get to play with him or learn from him. She’d have questions that I could never fully answer for her. I’d known Mirzaq, yes but incompletely. He’d kept the deepest parts of himself from me and the two people who’d known him inside out – his parents – were people I could never trust with my daughter.
Azmiah let out a little whine and I tore myself away from my regrets. There would be time enough to revisit them later but for now, my baby was about to wake up in a strange place and I needed to go inside so I could settle her.
I pushed the door open.
“Welcome home.” Hajra had clearly been waiting patiently right by the door and I felt a rush of warmth towards her.
“How’ve you been?” I reached out and put my arm around her. “You look like you’ve been through the wringer.” It was true. Hajra had had lines around her mouth and eyes for a long time now but they’d never been so pronounced. And the bags under her eyes were new.
She smiled. “Never mind me. I was terribly sorry to hear,” she added, patting my hand.
“Thank you,” I said awkwardly. I had no practice accepting condolences. Mirzaq’s friends had been few and far between and I’d been kept away from his vast family in deference to his mother’s feelings. Barely a handful of people had even spoken to me about him.
“Allah knows best.” Hajra leaned forward and gently pulled aside the blanket Azmiah had tossed over her own face. “And this must be the little treasure. She’s stunning, Azraa. May Allah protect her and keep you both happy.”
“Ameen.” It was automatic but I felt a jolt in my chest as the word left my lips. I was given no time to examine it as Hajra immediately demanded my attention again with her next words.
“How are you getting to the hospital?”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” I admitted. “What time are Nana’s visiting hours?”
Hajra shook her head. “You can go in and see him at any time – well, any reasonable time. Your parents are both well-loved, no one will begrudge you more time with him.”
“Is it that bad?” Rayyan’s email had been plain but I’d still harboured a hope that he’d been exaggerating to get me back even though I knew my brother better than that.
Hajra lowered her head. “I’m afraid it is.”
My eyes burned. I swallowed and cleared my throat. “Azmiah will wake up in a few minutes. Would you mind watching her for me, please?”
“And please arrange a car while I go and settle her. She’ll want to eat in a while but I’ll be back before it’s time for that.”
“Your room’s all ready for you,” Hajra told me as she picked up the hall phone. “Go right up.”
My old bedroom that I’d spent so much time in. Would I even recognize it now?