Chapter Seventy Eight
I stared down at my hands, imagining the patterns that would be covering them soon. I’d almost skipped applying henna on my skin at all, thinking it unnecessary, not to mention slightly risky. Azmiah had been sleeping through the night for a while now (for the six hours that constituted her ‘night’) but she did still wake up sometimes and I’d make a giant mess of the two of us if I had to lift her with paste covered hands.
I’d been coaxed into applying just a little on the backs of my fingers, and now, as I sat across the table from my mother, I felt the first stirrings of nerves.
She pressed the tip of the cone to my skin and began to wield it as precisely as she would have a scalpel. Within a few minutes, it was done. She began to straighten and I couldn’t help but reach out a hand to stop her. “Could you keep going?”
It had been so long since we’d been quiet and peaceful together. I wanted – I needed to savour the moment.
“What kind of pattern?” Mom asked in a hushed murmur.
Half a dozen came to my mind. I discarded them all. “Pick for me.” If she gave me nothing else as I left this home of hers for what I was determined would be the last time, I would at least have this.
The design became more and more intricate as I watched, as though she too was trying to drag out this time for us. Just as I began to think I would fall asleep there, watching the smooth, soothing movements, she broke the silence.
“I always knew you’d be covered in this on your wedding day. You used to love it so much when you were younger.” A fond smile crossed her face. “I threatened to give you a bath with it once and you nearly squealed with joy.”
“It didn’t seem practical.” She already knew this. I’d been saying it all day to everyone who asked why I’d left the staining so late – henna stains showed darkest and most vibrant on the third day post application. Zaakir and I would be married by the next afternoon.
My mother nodded anyway. “Perhaps it isn’t.” She didn’t stop her application. “But it’s beautiful. And it will make you feel happy when you look at it. That’s enough of a reason. Sometimes,” she tacked on, still at heart a pragmatist.
She finished the pattern on my right hand and I lifted it away to examine the designs. “It’s exquisite. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” My mother took my other hand and began her work again. “Are you ready for tomorrow?”
There wasn’t much to get ready and I told her so. An elegant, unadorned white dress hung waiting for me to step into it. My hair, which had a tendency to develop curls of its own accord since my pregnancy, would be secured into a simple bun which Amira had promised to help me with and I’d apply my own make up – a choice made not for simplicity but because I was far too fussy with it.
Mom put down the cone of henna and fixed me with a serious look. “I know I don’t have to explain…” she paused delicately. “The wedding night.”
I almost laughed. “I think I remember how it goes.”
“It will most likely be different,” My mother cautioned. “They’re not the same.”
No, thank God, I thought.
I let out a surprised laugh when my mother echoed the thought a moment later.
“Zaakir would never hurt you.” Mom said, seeming to reassure herself with the words. She sighed. “I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we’d done as your grandfather originally wanted and gotten the two of you married when you were eighteen.”
My mouth dropped open. “He wanted that?”
“Very much so,” my mother confirmed. “But your father and I both thought you were too young. And you were so angry…”
“Hurt,” I corrected her, half in a daze. “And scared.”
What if? I almost indulged my imagination for a moment before realizing: no Azmiah.
No. I would take Mirzaq and his family; take the years of turmoil. I could never dream of a world where my daughter wasn’t my own. And, even as I damned him, I accepted that there were glimpses of Mirzaq’s few good traits in Azmiah – she had several of his features.
My mother’s hand jerked, smearing henna. “Scared of what?” Concern lined her face. “Not Zaakir.” It wasn’t a question.
It was an effort to think back to that lonely little girl and put myself back into her skin. I didn’t fit there, not any longer.
“I was afraid that I was poison. That I’d let him – let anyone – in and they’d eventually come to see I was rotten and leave me.”
My throat was tight. A tear coated my lashes.
“Why would you ever think that?” my mother breathed, horrified. And in that moment, I knew. For all her flaws, for all the hurt and misunderstanding, she did love me.
And finally, I said it. “You left me. You and Daddy and Rayyan. All of you.”
My mother’s face crumpled. This, it seemed, she could not take. I hadn’t accused her; I truly wasn’t angry any longer.
“Not because there was something wrong with you.” Gently, she brushed my hair away from my face. “Not because you were unlovable. How long have you thought that?”
A long, long time.
I looked away, which was answer enough.
“I’m sorry. That was never – I thought you were fine!” My mother’s tone turned pleading. “You were with Hajra and Zaakir. You loved Hajra.”
“I cried every time you left,” I reminded her softly.
“You were a child. Children cry,” Mom defended weakly.
But not like that. We both knew that.
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
I looked at her. Really looked at her and saw the brittleness of her expression, the gray that had started at her temples. The tears in her eyes.
My own heart hurt.
I got to my feet and crossed the little space between us. “I forgive you.”
My mother threw her arms around me. “Thank you.”
Everything had not been fixed. It was foolish to believe otherwise. But, the repair had begun. And as I laid my head against her shoulder, I felt hopeful that we’d taken a step in the right direction.