Chapter Sixty Four
“No. No, no, that can’t… No.” I backed away shaking my head. “Oh God. I’m gonna be sick.”
“I’m sorry, Azraa. I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Amira said dully. “I just, I was so ashamed.”
I held up my hands. “I need a minute. I need to think.”
I needed an adult. I needed a lobotomy.
Oh, dear God.
It felt like a cruel joke that I’d just finished telling my brother I’d made my peace with Amira and Mirzaq’s relationship only to find this… this poison.
Every time that I’d watched him put his hands on her and grin, I hadn’t been turning away from evidence of adultery. I’d been watching depravity occur under my nose.
Everything had been coloured. Everything had been tainted.
The tiny voice in my head that I’d so diligently silenced throughout my marriage began to blare, reminding me of a dozen times when he’d been too rough, a hundred times when I’d abruptly changed the subject or gone to carefully soothe his ego because I was afraid of finding out what would happen if he lost it.
And he never had lost it with me. Not truly. I’d come away from my life with him with no scars, no bruises.
I’d been spared by an accident of birth. And in the same stroke, she’d been doomed.
I’d married an abuser. I’d had a child with an abuser.
I was suddenly fervently grateful that Mirzaq had died before ever getting to lay a hand on Azmiah.
But the worst part… The worst part was that I couldn’t deny it. I couldn’t attest to Mirzaq’s character. I could say nothing in my husband’s favour.
And yet, I’d stayed with him until his death. I’d only tried to leave him at the end because I’d thought I wasn’t worthy of him.
Just how ridiculously blind had I been?
And now here I stood lamenting my own stupidity, self-centred til the end.
I finally turned my attention back to Amira and felt even more awful than before. Anxiety fairly radiated off of her.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I really should go.”
“Amira, no!” I cried, hurrying after her. “No, wait.” God, what had happened to this girl that she was apologizing, not only for not being able to warn me about Mirzaq before I’d married him but also now for daring to talk about it? My stomach twisted.
“Mirzaq’s behaviour wasn’t your responsibility, Amira. He was a grown man.” I reminded her.
Amira just shook her head. “I… no.” She pulled away.
God, what a mess. Did I go after her again or not? I didn’t know what, if anything, I could possibly say to even start tackling the mountain of issues that had just sprung up.
Okay, slow down. First, find her and make sure she knows she doesn’t have to leave.
After that, I didn’t know. But it was later’s problem.
And, as it turned out, it was not going to be my problem at all.
Rayyan had Amira by the shoulders. As I neared, he lifted his head. “What’s going on?” he demanded, looking between the two of us.
“Rayyan, it’s private.”
“No,” Amira spoke up. “No, you should tell him.”
I opened my mouth but nothing came out.
Rayyan turned to face Amira. “Why don’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t warn Azraa,” she said, speaking to her feet. “I was afraid – the Mahomeds owned me and, well,”
“Owned?” burst out of me.
“Az,” Rayyan drew my name out, his eyes glued to Amira. “Why don’t you give us a minute?”
“Sure. Yeah, I’ll,” I gestured to the door. “Go. I’ll go.” And I fled.
My feet took me to my favourite bench and I sat, letting the familiar scent of lilac soothe my nerves.
I lifted my head. “How did you find me?”
Zaakir lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “You’ve curled up on this bench thousands of times. It was as good a place to start as any.”
I blew out a breath.
“Can I?” he gestured to the bench.
“Yeah, yeah.” I shifted over to let him sit. “Sorry, I’m all over the place.”
“Don’t worry about it. Do you want to talk about it?”
“I can’t. Not really. I don’t even know if I want to.”
“Okay,” Zaakir said easily. “We don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.”
“You don’t have to sit here,” I told him. “I’ll be okay. I didn’t even get the worst of it.”
“I’m not here because I have to be.” Zaakir put his hand on top of my own as he spoke. “I’m here because I want to be. But if you want to be alone?” he offered.
“No, stay.” I tightened my grip on his fingers. “Just… give me a minute?”
He sat there patiently while I tried to figure out how to put the revulsion that had coated me like a skin into words.
“I found some things out about Mirzaq,” I began.
Zaakir’s eyes narrowed but he waited patiently, saying nothing.
“Awful things,” I went on. “Things that I should have known or sensed or… something.” I scrubbed my hands over my face.
“I just feel so stupid.”
“You’re not stupid, Azraa.”
I laughed. “My husband kept the truth about himself hidden from me for almost two years. I had no idea what he was really like because I just shoved my head in the sand. I let myself stay in denial, Zaakir. If I’d just opened my eyes, maybe – maybe things could have been different.”
“I could’ve done something!” I snapped. “I could have stopped him.”
“How?” Zaakir repeated.
“I don’t know!”
“But it was your fault?”
“Yes.” I’d stood up at some time and now I was yelling down at him. “Yes, it was! I knew there was something wrong and I just ignored it and, and,” My voice cracked.
“Oh, Azraa.” Zaakir put his arms around me. “Listen to me. I know, whatever this was, it wasn’t your fault, okay? It wasn’t your fault.”
I pulled away. “No, you don’t understand. I could feel that something was wrong. But I just never did anything about it. I thought I was crazy for even thinking it so I just… ignored it. How could I do that?”
Zaakir pursed his lips. “Did you have any proof?”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Did you?” he pressed.
“I should have. I was married to him.”
Zaakir didn’t budge. “But you didn’t. You didn’t know.”
“No, I was too stupid to see the signs. I was an idiot!” I shrieked. “I had no idea. I was so stupid.”
Sorrow glinted in Zaakir’s eyes. “You’re not.”
I shook my head. “You don’t get it.”
“I do,” he said earnestly. “I know you. I know what you do. Trust me when I say that this is not your fault.”
I started to sob.