Chapter Fifty Eight
I’d loved my grandfather unreservedly and so it was no surprise to me that other people had as well. But it wasn’t until they began arriving for his funeral that I understood just how many lives he’d touched.
Our house was filled to the brim with mourners, neighbours and strangers who’d come to pay their condolences.
And, hiding amongst the crowd, there stood a few demons.
For as long as I lived, I would regret not keeping Azmiah firmly attached to my hip that day. She’d never before been exposed to such a crowd of people for so long and I’d seen her visibly begin to withdraw.
I’d thought I was doing the right thing, removing her from the overwhelming situation before she began to cry. I’d thought that handing her over while I continued to play host would keep her away from this damnable situation that was draining my own energy to the very last drop.
I knew that people were reacting to his death in the only way they seemed to know how – by asking incessant questions that had me gritting my teeth and suppressing the urge to yell, “I don’t know! I’m not God!”
It was the truth. I didn’t know exactly what had happened. I knew the bare bones of the situation – my grandfather’s heart problems had been slowly worsening because of his refusal to slow down and force himself into a hospital bed until it was too late.
But as to what had killed him in the end, no one had been able to bring themselves to explain just how things had gone so wrong and, truthfully, I hadn’t cared enough about asking to push.
Azmiah had been reacting to my frustration even more than to the many strangers who’d wanted to touch and poke her. With my mother, who’d sequestered herself in her bedroom, my little girl would be free from the prodding. Even the most inquisitive person in the room would have enough sense to leave her to her grief.
I really should have known better.
It was never that easy.
But what I truly hadn’t been expecting was for my mother to entertain anyone. Not today, at least. Not while she was so miserable. She’d barely even been able to come out to greet anyone when the hordes started arriving and she’d escaped as soon as his body was taken to be buried.
I hadn’t minded. I’d wanted to crawl into a dark room and scream myself. But someone had to play host. And so, I stood on aching feet with my baby until she couldn’t take it any longer and then I’d given her over to her grandmother.
It had never even occurred to me to worry that Azmiah wasn’t safe with Mom.
Eventually, finally, people began to leave – requiring me even more than when they’d all just been sitting quietly and praying. I seized the first lull in the departures and escaped upstairs.
I needed… I just needed a minute. To recharge.
Mindlessly, I took the stairs, thinking solely of finding solitude.
She saw me long before I saw her. Deliberately, she stood there, frozen in the act of quietly shutting the door to my parents’ bedroom with such a satisfied smile on her face that I immediately knew something was horribly wrong.
“Azraa,” she greeted me in a syrupy voice. “So nice to see you again.”
“Get out.” I barely recognized the voice as my own. I could hardly breathe, I was so angry. How dare she? How dare she use my grandfather’s funeral to corner and taunt me? How dare she?
She took a step back, her cold eyes widening in mock-disbelief. “Careful,” she warned me in a whisper designed to carry. “You’ll make a scene.”
I nearly laughed. I’d drag her out by her hair if I had to. Hell, I’d call the police and have her arrested for trespassing. Whatever I had to do to keep Azmiah safe.
“You need to leave,” I warned as I fumbled for my phone.
The fake look of shock she wore abruptly turned real and a manicured hand came up to stop me. “Fine. If that’s how you want to behave. But you won’t get your way forever.”
I would gladly let Azmiah do as she pleased when she was older. If she wanted to know the parents of the man who’d helped me make her, I would never stop her. All I wanted was to keep her safe until she understood. Only when she could defend herself would I let her near them.
I said nothing of this to Mirzaq’s mother. There was no point. She’d been determined to hate me since the beginning and I no longer cared to fight against the image she’d created of me in her mind.
Her opinion had stopped holding weight with me long ago.
I turned away as soon as she’d hit the landing, consumed with the need to see Azmiah with my own eyes.
Empty. There was no one in the suite, nor in the bathroom or the walk in closet attached to it. Desperately, I yanked open the doors that led onto the balcony.
The nursery, I reminded myself. They’re in the nursery. Everything is fine.
Tears welled up in my eyes anyway.
Frantic by the time I’d made the short walk to the other end of the house, it took me two tries to close my shaking hand around the door handle.
No sign of them. Not even an indent in the sheets.
What had they done to my family? I reached for my phone and dialled the first number I could think of. As I waited the few moments it took for the call to connect, I kicked off the high heels I’d been wearing and shoved my feet into a set of ankle boots.
I was already dashing down the stairs when I began to speak.
“I can’t find Azmiah or Mom.”
She came into view just as the final word had slipped past my lips.
Finally, we’re done with the chapter that made me pull my own hair out.
P.S. Be nice and you might just get a Jummah bonus.