Chapter Sixty Seven
We ate pancakes. In between bites, I busied myself with quietly having a small, silent breakdown. I’d been consciously ignoring the inconvenient fact of how much I was going to miss my brother, for the most part. Amira’s spontaneous decision to join him had made me ache with jealousy. The little girl I would always carry within me, the one who adored her older brother and wanted to stick to him like glue, wanted to throw a tantrum and demand I be allowed to come too so that I wouldn’t feel left out.
It was insanity though. I admired my brother and Amira as well for taking on the task of helping selflessly but I knew myself. I had never been selfless for a day in my life, save when it came to my daughter. Even when I was putting Azmiah first, it was largely due to my love for her and the joy she brought to me. I benefited every time I prioritized my baby.
I could never truly give everything in me to helping a person I didn’t like or whose life choices I didn’t agree with. But I’d seen Rayyan fight to help people who cursed his name and accused him of trying to trick them. I’d seen him work to see justice served for people who didn’t appreciate an ounce of what the work he did cost.
I wasn’t Rayyan. I wasn’t built the way he was.
“I will miss you,” Amira told me quietly, fiddling with our empty plates. “I hope we can still keep in touch.”
I smiled. “I’d like that a lot.”
A thought occurred to me and I frowned. “Do you have your visa and passport?” I asked without thinking.
A horrified look crossed Amira’s face and I hastily held my hands up. “Don’t panic! I’m sure Rayyan can sort something out. And if he can’t,” I added. “I will sort it out. But, let’s go the legal route if we can.”
Amira looked surprised. “Legal?” she repeated.
“We needed an alias,” I felt the need to explain. “When we were… running.”
A wave of longing hit me as the memories began to float through my mind. I’d been terrified out of my mind but somehow… I’d been happier even amongst the craziness.
Involuntary tears filled my eyes and I looked away.
Amira looked sad. “You were all by yourself,” she lamented. “That’s awful.”
“No,” I laughed wetly. “It was wonderful. I felt so free.”
I didn’t know how to explain but Amira seemed to understand nonetheless.
“I can’t wait for that,” she whispered. “I haven’t ever really felt that way. Not since I was a little girl.” She paused and shook her head. “Actually, not even then. I always knew that I didn’t have control, that I belonged to my father and would later belong to my husband.”
I thought of my own daughter, imagined her grown and saying these things, and rage filled me. “It’s not supposed to be that way. It’s not that way. Not any more. You’re free now, Amira.” And so was I. If I could only stop being so afraid and take hold of the power I’d been shying away from.
We’d been reacting for far too long. It was time to stop hiding away in fear and start making plans to deal with my in laws. I was not going to let my daughter or myself live in a world where we ran scared from the monsters skulking just out of sight.
There had to be some way to scare them. Some kind of leverage that would let me stop them. All I had to do was find it.
I pursed my lips, feeling an idea dance just out of mental reach.
Think. You know them. You may wish you didn’t, but you do. What makes the Mahomeds tick?
Misery and suffering.
Yes. But what else?
And… illusions. Illusions that I had the power to shatter.
If I could find the nerve to use it, I might have just found a way to free us from the Mahomeds.
When I pulled myself back together, it was to see Amira gazing worriedly at me, her doe eyes wide with alarm. “You have the most worrying look on your face,” she told me. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s great. In fact, I think I might have come up with a plan.”
“Be careful,” Amira said simply. “They’re awful people.” She shivered. “Mirzaq was the worst but he came from somewhere. They’re very nearly as twisted as he was, Azraa.”
“We can’t live in fear forever.”
“No,” Amira agreed in a wondering tone. “Maybe we can’t.”
I left her there and went in search of Zaakir. I was going to need his help if I had any hope of pulling this off.
Wandering through the ground floor of the house yielded nothing and his phone was off. I bumped into Hajra and found her busily polishing a set of silverware that I was sure hadn’t been used in all the years I’d been alive.
When I said as much, she laughed, making the crows feet around her eyes deepen. “The dirt still gets in,” she assured me.
“But why even bother?” I asked curiously.
“For the same reason I even bother working, after all these years. Your parents have paid me handsomely enough over the years that I could have retired a long time ago. I enjoy the work. And everything deserves a little bit of care.”
I bit my lip. “Mind if I join you?”
A surprised smile brightened her face. “But, of course.” She patted the space next to her. “Pull up a chair.”
“I never thanked you for how much you’ve helped with Azmiah,” I said guiltily, a few minutes later.
Hajra paused in her polishing and turned to face me. “You’re very welcome. You know I love spending time with her.”
“And,” I took a deep breath. “I used to be pretty rude to you. I’m really sorry.”
‘Oh, Azraa, you can’t really think I hold a grudge? You were a girl and a very confused one at that.”
“Well, no, but…” I shrugged, unable to articulate exactly what had spurred me on to make the apology.
“Well, thank you. Even if it wasn’t needed. All is forgiven.”
I felt strangely light.
We’re at 70 000 words Alhamdulilah! With the Interludes, we’re actually at almost 73 500. And yes, we’re wrapping up soon. I’ll miss this one most of all, maybe.