Chapter Sixty Three
I was beginning to think that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. A decent number of bags littered the floor around us and I’d planned to leave after hitting two or three more stores anyway but, looking at Amira now, I knew it was time to go.
I didn’t know what had happened to upset her. She’d been getting into the fun of it, even smiling that little dimpled smile of hers but some time after we’d entered this final store she’d shut down abruptly.
Something must have triggered it, but looking around at the stacks of underwear, I couldn’t think what. Was she embarrassed? She hadn’t seemed to be going past the unmentionables sections in a few of the other stores we’d shopped at earlier.
“Do you want to leave?” I offered, crouching down to look her in the eyes.
“No, no,” she shook her head weakly. “I am fine. Just a little worn out. Maybe I could sit here while you finish?” A hopeful light entered her eyes. “I could watch the baby.”
“I think we’re done,” I gestured towards the shopping bags.
Amira blanched. “There’s so much,” she whispered. “I didn’t even notice.”
Well done, idiot! You made it worse.
“Let me check where Rayyan is,” I said hurriedly, hoping to distract her. “Could you just check if Azmiah’s still asleep under there?” The steady motions of our walking had rocked her right to sleep in her stroller. I’d pulled the mesh cover over it when I noticed her rubbing her eyes and nature had done the rest.
I said nothing to my brother about Amira’s strange behaviour, instead telling him that we were tired and ready to head home. We’d parted ways not too long ago while he was debating over new running shoes so it took just a few minutes to meet back up and head to the car.
‘What happened?’ he mouthed at me behind Amira’s back.
I shook my head. Not now.
Amira disappeared into her room as soon as we got back. Rayyan didn’t seem at all inclined to do the same. “Did something happen?” he wanted to know as he carried Azmiah up the stairs.
I bit my lip. “Yes,” I admitted. “Something did. But I don’t know what. Something upset her while I wasn’t looking but she didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t push.”
“You know her best.”
I reached out and smoothed Azmiah’s hair, tickling her cheek to see her giggle. “That’s not saying much. She’s so private.”
“But you trust her?”
“She saved Azmiah. And… she’s always been nice to me. During my pregnancy, she was probably the only reason I didn’t outright lose my mind.”
A shadow crossed my brother’s face. “Stop it,” I ordered. “No feeling guilty over what happened back then.”
Rayyan made a face at me. “As if it’s that easy. You shouldn’t have been relying on the staff instead of on family – on us.”
I ignored him. “I think the only reason she even stayed in that hell hole was for Mirzaq. I still feel bad about that. I took the place she wanted.”
“What?” Rayyan’s mouth dropped open. “Tell me you don’t mean…”
I gave him a lopsided smile. It had stopped bothering me a long time ago that Amira had ties to my husband. “She never told me outright but the way they acted together… as if they had some secret language almost. There was something there.”
“That’s sick!” Rayyan’s arms tightened around Azmiah until she squirmed. “Why are you so calm about this?”
I shrugged. “I made my peace with it. It’s not her fault that she cared for him.” In truth, it had never bothered me very much. Mirzaq and I had been so ill-suited and I’d begun to realize it long before he’d died.
I’d been in love with the idea of an escape and he’d made me feel special. What he’d seen in me, I still didn’t know but I could guess: a girl who would appease his mother and was pretty enough to satisfy him.
Not the stuff of fairy tales but then fairy tales ended at the wedding. Our story, sad and uninspiring as it was had just barely started when we’d gotten married.
Rayyan looked at me suspiciously. “You’re not lying to calm me down, are you?”
I giggled. “Not in the least. Now give me my baby before you crush her.”
Azmiah nearly jumped into my arms and I felt a flicker of guilt. I’d been neglecting her lately. “Wanna play with your truck, baby?” I offered. She gave a squeal and I took it as agreement, stooping to let her toddle over to her toys.
I settled myself on the plush carpet next to my baby and looked up at my brother. “Wanna join us?”
Rayyan glanced at his watch. “Time’s running out to pray,” he noted guiltily. “Give me ten minutes.”
“Sure. We’ll be here.” I agreed easily.
Wait for it.
“Or you could pray too.”
A reluctant smile came to my face. “Maybe I will.” I’d been trying to, more often than not.
Azmiah cooed happily as she tried to copy me, shoving her little face into the mat and pumping her arms up and down, looking for all the world like she was trying to do a push up.
This particular ‘game’ always got her in a good mood and it made me smile too – when she wasn’t crawling on my back to bounce all over.
I just finished folding away the abaya and hijab I’d used when the door burst open.
Expecting it to be Rayyan, I didn’t even bother turning around. “That was fast,” I commented. “Ready to play trucks?”
“Ray?” I glanced up. “Oh, Amira. Are you feeling any better?” Her cheeks were flushed.
“I need to talk to you. Please. Right now.” She caught sight of Azmiah. “Not… not with the baby.”
My shoulders tingled, feeling an invisible weight settle on them. “Okay. Okay,” I nodded decisively and grabbed my phone. “Let me call Hajra to sit with her and we’ll go out to the garden.”
Amira nodded stiffly. “I’ll wait outside.”