Chapter Seventy One
The hair on my arms stood on end at the sight of him as though the memory of his threats had somehow embedded itself deep in my bones. Iqbal Mahomed looked exactly the same. Unlike his wife, he didn’t wear his tragedy openly.
Was it even a tragedy in his eyes? Mirzaq had had little love for his father that I’d witnessed. He’d always seemed to belong entirely to his mother.
Iqbal Mahomed had a surprisingly restrained reaction to the sight of me. “What do you think you’re doing here?” he demanded, reaching for a phone to his right. “You can’t possibly think you’re welcome.”
“I’m here about my daughter.” I’d rehearsed the words in my head a dozen times and as a result, they came out robotically. “I want you to stay away from her.”
“Yes,” Iqbal’s mouth tugged up in an ugly smile. “That became clear when you attempted to prosecute my wife for going near the girl. You really have no shame. It’s a pity Mirzaq couldn’t see that when he was drooling over you.”
“Your wife attempted to kidnap my daughter and assaulted someone. You’re the one who should be ashamed.” I tightened my hold on the backpack I carried. “There’s a nice, thick file detailing every single thing she did. I have a copy here, if you’d like to see it,” I offered, absurdly sounding just as I had when I was offering to make him a cup of tea. If only I’d poisoned one of them, I thought wistfully.
“I would like to see that,” a voice cut in.
As I watched the alarm grow on Iqbal’s face, it finally clicked. The old man I’d just met was familiar not just because of who he’d resembled but because I’d met him once before – on my wedding day.
He was Mirzaq’s grandfather, the man who’d known my own grandfather and who’d been liked well enough that his grandson had been Nana’s ideal choice for me. The old man had even called me his granddaughter in law but I’d been too wound up to take notice of it.
Had my grandfather been tricked by this family just as I had been? Or was I looking at the one sane member of the Mahomed family?
Only one way to find out. I turned around and removed the slim black file from my backpack, placing it in wrinkled hands. “Here.”
The old man’s eyebrows went up in surprise as he began to read and his lips were pressed tightly together in fury by the time he was finished. “Iqbal, what on Earth?” he demanded, ignoring me entirely as he brushed past to confront his son. “How could you let something like this happen without telling me?”
Iqbal Mahomed actually seemed to squirm. I felt a perverse sense of pleasure.
“You told me that this girl was a harpy who’d stolen away the child and maliciously tried to humiliate Shamima when she went to pay her condolences.”
“That is what happened,” the younger Mahomed growled, baring his teeth.
“It’s not all that happened, though, is it? Otherwise this thick, incriminating file wouldn’t exist. Just how are you planning to deal with this? Do you realize how damaging this kind of scandal is? What it could do to us?”
“I will handle it. Leave and let me do so in peace,” Iqbal demanded.
Father and son glared at one another, clearly entirely oblivious to my presence. I inched back towards the door.
“No,” the elder finally decided. “No, I cannot leave this in your hands. You have already shown me what you can neglect when the urge takes you. I will handle this myself.” And he turned to me. “What was your name again?”
“Yes, of course. Well, what exactly do you want in exchange for ridding me of this little problem?” he held up the file.
“You can’t be serious!” Iqbal burst out. “You want to negotiate with that little bit of trash?”
“Iqbal, get out,” he was instructed briskly. “Now!” Steel entered the old man’s voice.
A moment later, we were alone.
“So? What is it? Can’t be money, your family is more than comfortable,” the old man mused out loud.
“Safety,” I said simply. “I want to be able to go places without worrying constantly about Azmiah.”
“And how can I help you with that?” He looked intently at me.
I twisted my fingers together. “Your son threatened to kill me and take my child. Your daughter in law tried to abduct her and didn’t succeed only because the girl they’d somehow enslaved was brave enough to fight her off and keep her away from Azmiah.”
I shuddered involuntarily. “I don’t even know if you’re any better than them but I have to try. I’ve tried the legal route to keep them away from her and that didn’t work. Now.., that’s all I have left.”
“You are very brave,” I was told. “Do you know why you have only met me once before?”
I shook my head.
“It is a very long story. Would you like to hear it?”
It couldn’t hurt but… “What about Azmiah?” I pressed.
“Nothing will happen to your daughter. In fact,” the old man reached for Iqbal’s desk phone. He spoke for a few moments then placed the receiver back down. “There,” he announced, clapping his hands together. “We will have it all squared away in a few moments. In the meantime,” he indicated one of the chairs. “Sit and let me explain a few things to you about the family you married into.”
“I abandoned my son,” Mirzaq’s grandfather admitted matter of factly. “I left him in the care of nannies and tutors and let a bank account stand in for my presence whilst I spent my time chasing my dreams. Your grandfather warned me that I would regret it one day but I dismissed him. Later, when my wife had divorced me and my son was a stranger, I went to him and begged for advice. He told me then that I needed to make a concerted effort to befriend my son.
I did try but it was too late. You see, without me there he had grown into the type of person I despised. But I could not truly blame him – I had never been there to teach him a moral or value and the people I paid to mind him rarely went to the effort of enforcing discipline on him. I couldn’t bear to spend time with him and be faced with my own failure and so we drifted even further apart.
Then he married, as he pleased and had a child of his own. Mirzaq was a lovely baby, easy to entertain and lovely to look at. His mother was quite besotted with him. She had nothing else to do, you see. My son has always been a jealous soul and back then, she obliged him and gave her attention to no one and nothing besides himself.
I was rarely invited into their lives. I had ostracised myself and we only ever met when the boy’s mother wished to show him off to what she viewed as a bank. I confess, I contributed to the spoiling of Mirzaq as well. I wanted so badly to relive Iqbal’s childhood.
I see now that I must have made it needlessly difficult for my own son, lavishing attention on his. Iqbal began to resent the boy for everything Mirzaq received from me that he hadn’t and also for the attention Shamima took away from him to spend on the boy.
And so Mirzaq was neglected like Iqbal had been. I tried to correct my mistake by staying away from the boy but it was too late and I only succeeded in breaking what good I’d managed to create with Mirzaq as well.
In the past eighteen months, I have been trying to piece together the last several decades. I stopped seeing the three of them eighteen years ago, when Mirzaq was eleven and it seems as though soon after that, things went off the rails very fast.”
Pity and disgust mingled in me as I listened. Yet another absentee parent. I was beginning to think neglect was the norm and good parenting the exception.
“You look down on me for my choices,” the old man commented.
I didn’t deny it.
“I do too. If I had been stronger, been more persistent, perhaps I could have saved just one if not both of the boys.”
“They had a choice to make. Both of them. To not spread the misery. But they did.”
DONE! And I’m off to bed. Tomorrow’s going to be brutal.
P.S. The COARIN story I write (Masquerade) just got updated there. Go check it out.