Chapter Fifty Four
My plan had been to go straight back to the hospital after picking up Azmiah but my little girl wasn’t having it. She refused to let me buckle her into her seat, howling and twisting around so much I was half-afraid I’d drop her.
Finally, I gave up and lifted her back into my arms where she immediately set to dragging a lock of hair out of my bun so she could stick it in her mouth. I didn’t know what the draw was, but Azmiah loved my hair. When she’d been littler, she’d yanked it incessantly.
Her face reddened now as she struggled to pull the strands free and I quickly unclipped it, hoping to cheer her up. She giggled and stuffed her fist in her mouth, sufficiently distracted. I kissed the side of her forehead, smoothing her curly black hair down and carried her downstairs so I could explain the change of plans to Zaakir.
“She’s a bit cranky,” I explained. “I don’t think I can leave with her right now.”
“Of course” he said, sounding distracted. “What’s her name?”
“She looks like him,” Zaakir remarked.
Azmiah did look like Mirzaq. She had his colouring and the same thin nose. Her cheeks were apple-round and chubby but I had a feeling she’d inherited her father’s high cheekbones. But she had my eyes. I couldn’t wait to show Nana that his eyes had been passed on for another generation.
I squeezed her lightly. “Yes, she does,” I agreed.
“You must miss him.”
I looked at the floor to avoid answering.
“I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”
“No,” I cut Zaakir off. “It’s alright.” I wouldn’t make him feel guilty because it was easier than dwelling on my shame.
Azmiah squirmed in my arms and I jostled her. She wanted to get down and explore but the open plan lounge ensured that I wouldn’t put her down any time soon. She was so fast these days, I couldn’t guarantee that she wouldn’t get to the wall outlets or one of the many breakable little ornaments strewn around the room before I could get to her.
“I have to go put her down in the nursery,” I told Zaakir apologetically.
He reached out and brushed Azmiah’s cheek. “Do you need some help?”
I looked between him and my daughter. “I’d like that.”
Watching Azmiah interact with Zaakir had been precious. She’d been brave while I was holding her in my lap, giggling and clapping her tiny hands together as Zaakir attempted to introduce her to peek-a-boo.
In no time, she’d been comfortable enough to crawl off of me and toddle closer. Zaakir had been amazing with her. He’d sat there patiently as she smacked his legs and squealed for far longer than I’d expected. The shyness had made a return when she’d noticed that I was in the en suite instead of right behind her where she’d left me but it had been an amazing experience overall.
Better still had been opening my suitcases to find that Hajra had unpacked everything and I didn’t have to do anything besides poke around for a few seconds to make sure I knew where it all was. I had not been looking forward to unpacking while wrangling a very curious little girl intent on exploring her new surroundings, even with Zaakir very obligingly distracting her for me.
Truth be told, I wasn’t used to being able to do anything while Azmiah was awake unless I was wearing her in a sling that she, technically, was far too old for but still tolerated. She hated playpens and screamed until I lifted her out so I had no choice but to take her with me while I cooked or did chores.
It was always just the two of us. I didn’t know how I was going to adjust to living with so many people again. I’d gotten so used to having my own little cocoon.
As if on cue, there was a knock at the door.
“One second!” I reached for the blanket folded over Azmiah’s baby bag and spread it over us both.
The door opened a crack.
Rayyan. I knew from the expression on his face that it was finally time to have the dreaded conversation.
“Hey, come inside.”
He did, glancing around the room. “Where’s the baby?”
“Under here, eating.” I uncovered the top of her head. “She’s almost done, actually.”
Rayyan waited until I’d finished feeding Azmiah, burped her and completely covered up before speaking. “I know you got my emails.”
“I did,” I acknowledged, bracing myself.
“Is all of it true?”
“Do we need to hire extra security?”
I blinked. “What?”
“Do we need more security?” Rayyan asked again. He was playing with his fingers, twisting them together and cracking each knuckle. “You left so that she was safe… Now that you’re here, is there anything that we need to do?”
I cuddled Azmiah close. “I need to talk to Mom and Dad. Neither Azmiah nor I use the Razi or Mahomed surnames any more which helps, but Mirzaq’s parents hold grudges for a long time and I can see them trying to take her just to make me miserable, no matter what they might have told you.”
Rayyan winced. “Azraa, if I’d known…” he trailed off. “I’m so sorry.”
“You let me down. You really, really let me down.”
“I know.” I’d never heard my self-assured older brother sound so small and shamed. He even looked smaller, as though he’d withdrawn into himself.
I turned away, pushing aside the sympathy I felt. I wanted to forgive him – I already had – but the hurt I’d been keeping locked away was bubbling up inside me.
“I was terrified, you know. I was in a new place and I had a brand new baby who was relying on me and only me. I needed you there. I needed to be able to call you when she got sick and I felt like the worst mother in the world so you could distract me. I needed to have you behind me when I was afraid someone was going to steal my baby, to know that we could protect her, Ray. I needed my big brother. And you just weren’t there.”
My sight blurred and I blinked rapidly. Azmiah whined unhappily, her mouth turned down in a pout and I patted her back gently.
I took a deep breath and let it out again slowly. “I read your emails. I get it. You were frustrated because you thought I’d made a mistake. But was it really necessary to punish me for it? Did you really think that the fights weren’t enough of a lesson?”
I was relentless. “You already said that.”
“You’re right,” Rayyan breathed. “I should’ve been there for you. I should’ve listened, I should’ve supported you and I should never have talked to you the way that I did. I’m so, so sorry.” His usually bright hazel eyes were dull and muddy. “I don’t have any excuses, Azraa. There is no excuse.”
I didn’t want an excuse but I did want a reason. I said as much and Rayyan just shook his head.
“What does it matter?”
“It matters to me!”
He shrugged helplessly. “I thought you were overreacting. I thought that there weren’t any real problems and you were just being a brat and I didn’t…” He swallowed and I had to strain to hear the rest. “I just didn’t want to deal with it. I was mad because you’d picked the guy and madder because I thought you were being petty while I was dealing with, with work.”
His voice dropped even further. “I was selfish. I was tired and stressed and I took it out on you. I told myself that I was helping, even though I knew I wasn’t. I knew that yelling at you wasn’t going to help anything but it was easier so I did it anyway.”
I’d wanted him to admit to it back then. I’d thought it would feel good. Instead, my chief emotions were worry and curiosity. What had my brother been going through? And how hadn’t I noticed?
I had one final question. “If I’d gotten divorced, would you really have left me to fend for myself?”
“Az, no! Of course not!” Rayyan looked physically sick. “I told you the opposite though, didn’t I? I kept telling you it was your responsibility.” He licked his lips and swallowed. “I can’t fix it. But whatever I can do to help, just tell me. Whatever.”
I shook my head and his face fell. “Can we just… leave it in the past?” I asked. “Start again fresh?”
There was a slow nod.
“Wanna meet your niece?” I offered, already putting Azmiah in his arms.
They eyed one another cautiously. “Hi sweetheart,” my brother said in a soft tone that I remembered from when I’d been little. “Aren’t you sweet?”
Azmiah cooed, reaching up to stick her hand in his mouth.