I made myself cry with this chapter. My grandfather is the person I’ve loved second most in my entire life and despite the fact that he passed away almost eight years ago, I still miss him so, so much. May Allah have mercy on him and grant him Jannatul Firdaus. I pray that I’ll get to see him again in the Aakhira and I miss him so, so much.
Chapter Fifty Three
My lips pulled up in a rueful smile that he didn’t see, having turned his eyes back onto the road ahead.
Of course Hajra had called Zaakir. Who else would she call this late in the day. None of the other staff my parents kept on retainer could have gotten to the house that quickly.
Zaakir cleared his throat. “How’ve – um, have you been alright?”
I nodded. “No complaints.”
“That’s good.” He met my eyes again. “How long are you staying?”
“As long as I have to,” I wouldn’t leave until my grandfather was out of the hospital, one way or another. I pressed my lips together to fight off the involuntary tears that thought brought to my eyes.
“There’s still hope, Azraa.”
“Is there?” My voice shook. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“There’s always hope. Miracles happen every day,” Zaakir reminded me gently. “Have faith.”
Frustration bubbled over, making me snap. “I don’t have faith.”
“You should.” Zaakir’s voice was still calm, unlike the shrill thing that mine had become. “You should always have faith, Azraa.”
“It’s not that easy,” I muttered.
Somehow, even over the roar of the car, he heard me. “You’re right,” he allowed. “It’s hard.” He swallowed, his voice turning thick. “Really hard. But it’s worth it.”
“Faith doesn’t stop bad things from happening,” I argued.
“No. But it makes them easier to bear.”
I put my head in my hands, resting my weight on my knees. Out of habit, I tangled my fingers in my hair and began to tug.
There was a shuffle and a hand reached back and grabbed hold of my wrist. “Don’t. You’ll hurt yourself.”
I lifted my head. “That’s the point.” In front of anyone else, I would have been ashamed of the dirty impulse but Zaakir had always known about the things I did to distract myself.
I let go.
“Thank you.” He left his hand where it was and I didn’t bother to pull away.
We stayed like that for the better part of the drive. He pulled away only to change gears, always returning to hold me again once he was done.
“Zaakir?” I said quietly, once he’d parked and switched off the car.
He turned to look at me. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
His brown eyes widened in shock and I felt my cheeks flush with shame at the implication. God, I’d been a brat.
“Azraa, you don’t need to apologize for that.”
“Yes, I do. And,” I bit my lip. I still hated apologizing. “It’s not the only thing I need to apologize for.”
Zaakir began to shake his head and I anxiously hurried to get it all out before he could stop me. “I was awful to you. From when we were little, I always… I didn’t even want to share my toys with you! I – I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.”
“I forgive you.”
“I’m really sorry,” I repeated.
“I forgive you. It’s okay.”
I nodded like a bobble head. “Okay.”
“Are you ready to go and see them?”
I shuddered involuntarily. “Or we can wait a while,” Zaakir offered.
“No.” I reached for the door handle. “No, I need to get this over with.”
I expected to be ambushed as soon as we walked in but Zaakir had something to discuss with my parents it seemed, so I was waved through into my grandfather’s hospital room immediately.
Rayyan stood over the hospital bed, leaning forward. He straightened as I closed the door and I got a glimpse of the haggard look on his face before he hid it with a painfully fake looking smile.
“I should go,” he said, rubbing at the side of his neck. “But… can we talk later?”
I nodded once, sharply and stepped aside to let him through the door.
Relief swept over his features. “Whenever you’re ready.” The door shut behind him with a tiny click.
Machines flanked my grandfather at either side. His eyes were shut but when I reached out to take his hand, he opened them.
“…salaam,” he whispered.
“Wa’alaykumsalaam,” I replied. “Oh, what’s happened to you?” He was so frail, so faded. I was terrified that I’d hurt him if I even breathed too hard.
“Life, darling.” He lifted a hand slowly and I took it in both my own. “Glad you came.”
“Of course.” I swiped away the tears on my cheeks. “I missed you so much.”
He looked pleased. “The… baby?”
“She’s asleep at home. I’ll bring her to you,” I promised. “You need to carry her again.”
A sad smile stretched across my grandfather’s face and he shook his head. “No.”
“Yes. Yes, yes, yes. You’re going to hold her. You have to. You have to be there for her.” For me.
I sniffed hard. “Please,” I said shakily. “Please, you have to do this, okay?” His hand was so cold. I rubbed it gently between mine, trying to share some warmth. “Please, please, please.”
“Az,” Hurt shone in his eyes. “If… I could.”
I shook my head and lowered my head to rest over his heart. “You’re still here.”
A frail arm came up to embrace me. “I’m here,” Nana rasped out. “Right here.”
I fell apart the second I closed the door behind me. Tears streamed from my eyes and I struggled to catch my breath. I was vaguely aware of my family moving toward me.
Rayyan, who’d been standing just beside the door, got there first. His arms came up to pat my back as he took my weight.
“Azmiah,” I said roughly, once I’d gotten control of myself. “I need to get her.” I pulled away and cleared my throat.
Rayyan swiped at his eyes then pulled out a handkerchief to hand to me.
“Is Dad still awake?” my father asked.
I nodded and he headed in, stopping briefly to drop a kiss on my cheek. “It’s good to see you again.”
The door closed before I could reply.
I turned to Zaakir. “Do you mind taking me back to get Azmiah?”
Zaakir said nothing, just pulled out his keys. He glanced between me and my mother who stood beside him and who’d avoided saying anything up to this point. “I’ll wait by the car,” he said tactfully.
Rayyan followed me as I crossed the corridor to stand in front of my mother. I recognized the anger in her eyes. It felt welcomingly familiar. “I know you don’t understand and I know you’re unhappy,” I said carefully. “Can we agree to disagree?”
“We’ll have to.” She crossed her arms. “Excuse me, I have to go.”
I let out an involuntary sigh.
It was better than it could have been, I reminded myself. We were being civil. Civil was good.
Civil was also cold.