Ilaaf was sitting in semi-darkness, waiting for Adnan. He was curious why Adnan was late to pick him from lock-up. As he now used to take him home by twilight. Sitting by the wall, he was missing Qandeel as usual, his eyes closed, when Adnan came.
“Let’s go. Already we got late. I need to tend to other business after dropping you home.” He looked anxious and in hurry too.
Ilaaf didn’t pry and got up.
There was silence in car too. Adnan never stayed silent for long so Ilaaf got a little worried.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yes, don’t worry.” His cell phone rang. Ilaaf noticed his forehead creased when he checked the number.
He received the call and ‘hmm-ed’, ‘ahan-ed’ all through it.
“Don’t worry; I am coming there in half hour. Don’t go there nor send Noori now. I will see to it myself.” He ended the call.
“What happened? Where are you going now?” Ilaaf’s curiosity piqued.
Adnan looked at Ilaaf. Ilaaf saw guilt and helplessness there. His heart thudded.
“Tell me, what has happened Adnan?”
“You will know in a while yourself. I cannot tell anything right now, till then, stay put.”
Adnan veered in another direction, which was like an indicator to Ilaaf that they weren’t going home.
“Where are we going?”
“To the farmhouse.”
“I told you already, you will know.”
He sat in silence but he was confused.
Half an hour later, they were in lounge and Ilaaf was waiting for Adnan to tell him what is going on.
Adnan went into a room. When he came out he had some thing in his hand. He offered it to Ilaaf. He stood up. It was a black long cloth. He couldn’t fathom anything and touched it convulsively.
“What is this?” He inquired but a shudder went through his body when he took it in his hand. He had all the wonder in the world, in his eyes. How could he forget this dupatta. She was wearing it when they had met that day. Moreover, that unmistakable perfume was hers. It invigorated his entire body.
“Isn’t it Qandeel’s---?” Then he came to his senses. “What have you done to Qandeel?” Adnan couldn’t reply to him.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO QANDEEL?” He grabbed him by collar.
“I didn’t do it happily, Ilaaf. You know I can’t stoop this low. I was obliged to carry it out or else Uncle Qaiser would have ordered someone else to do this.”
His bloody eyes even scared the hell out of Adnan.
“I need to know what did you do, Adnan Bhatti?” Each word was thrown out to him; his hold on his collar hadn’t slackened a bit.
“We’ve kidnapped her for few days.” Ilaaf couldn’t decide what he should do. His ears were ringing with outrage. He hadn’t thought his father would go this far.
He pushed Adnan back with all his might and roared.
“You have degraded me not only in my eyes but in Yusuf Mairaj’s and Qandeel’s too, Adnan. I will never be able to face her. She will not even want to look at me let alone talk to me.”
“Forgive me, yar! I was forced to do that.” Adnan could plead only Ilaaf.
Ilaaf sat down and tried to control his anger. Then he remembered something.
“Where is she? Is she alright? You people didn’t hurt her, did you? And what’s her dupatta doing with you?” Adnan related to him the episode.
“You guys are sick, beasts. I shouldn’t have expected any good from you all.”
They were silent for a while.
“Think about what we are going to do next. Let go of whatever happened.” Adnan said.
“In which room you have kept her?” He asked seriously.
“In next to yours. I had thought that there will be everything of her need but---.” Ilaaf looked at him.
“She locked the door ever since she came and didn’t even open when Rishi begged her. She’s threatening of harming her if anybody tried to enter forcefully.”
“What are you talking about Adnan? She hasn’t eaten anything since evening?”
“No. In fact, nothing since morning. She didn’t take lunch in office then we brought her here and she locked the door when she came here. She hasn’t opened it yet despite of much insistence.” Ilaaf held his head in frustration. “She is such a headstrong and determined girl. I have never seen one like her; you were right, she is different from other girls. The way she made us run in whole of the ward was drove me insane.” Ilaaf didn’t comment. He was thinking.
“Ilaaf please you go to her and tell her to stop being stubborn; eat and stay here for few days and don’t create more troubles for us. I know you can do this. You are the only one she will listen to. She is not ready to listen any of us.”
How weird this test was; Adnan had the hope of him passing it when he wasn’t even eligible to attempt it. But he had to go through it. Success rates could be determined later.
“Tell Noori to bring her dinner, I am going to talk to Qandeel.”
Ilaaf first went to his room and brought first aid box. He had her dupatta in other hand. Noori brought food tray behind him.
“Stay here until I call you.”
At that moment, standing in front of that door, he could only hope for it to open.
He knocked and his heart drummed loudly on hearing Qandeel’s annoyed voice. He said all the things he thought were appropriate. His heart refused to beat when he heard the door being unlocked despite of his expectations.
He pushed the door and paused at threshold.
Standing in the middle of the room without dupatta she was looking at him. Covered with dust all over, bruises on the face, with tired eyes, she was still the most beautiful woman in this world for Ilaaf Lashari.
Ilaaf called Noori; she put the tray filled with food on centre table and left.
Ilaaf closed the door. She was still looking at him with passive face and empty eyes. He couldn’t decide what to say first. Should he apologize for his father’s behavior? Ask her to trust his love or should he tell her to eat?
He came towards her like thirst driven traveler move towards a shore. He stopped right in front of her.
She looked up to him and the expression in her eyes squeezed his heart.
Ilaaf extended her dupatta towards her. She hesitated for a second before taking it.
“I am not sure what to say to you at this moment because I don’t know whether you will believe me or not.”
She didn’t look him in the eyes this time.
“Whether I believe you or not, do say what you want to say because I need to hear it.” He couldn’t believe what he was hearing for a moment.
“Not now. First eat something, then I will dress your wounds and then we will talk if you would still want to.” Qandeel nodded. Ilaaf was surprised of her submission. He wasn’t expecting it.
She sat on sofa. Ilaaf offered her juice and sandwich, which she took willingly. Ilaaf was at ease now. Her being hungry for such long hours had bothered him. He went to veranda for fresh air. He looked back at her occasionally. She was indulged in food. Ilaaf couldn’t help smiling at her, seeing her eating like this.
It was very strange. Circumstances were worse yet the fact that she was so near to him was intoxicating him. He couldn’t know what turn conditions will take but his heart was reluctant at thinking about anything else. This moment was everything to him for now.
When she was done eating, he came inside and sat beside her on sofa. There was a wound on her forehead and a small part of her cheek was blue.
He cleaned and dressed the wound and applied some lotion on blue mark. At the same time, he was wondering at Qandeel’s uncharacteristic behavior. She had let him sit near her and touch her without any protest.
“Are you hurt somewhere else?” She looked up at him and extended her palms.
Their eyes met when he took her hands in his. She was looking at him fixedly; there was a strange expression. Then all glitter in those eyes went off and she looked away again.
Her soft fingers felt good in his hands. At last turn of the bandage, he had an impulse to kiss her fingers but he thought better of it. Some of the desires in life cannot be acted upon; even if the person is luckiest on earth.
After first aid, he started pacing the room. He couldn’t decide how to present his dilemma. Qandeel was also silent.
“I don’t have any part in whatever happened and is still going on. In fact I am a spectator in this case.”
“I am aware of it.” She said. This jolted him.
“I am ready to confess each and every of my blunders but Baba Saayin and Dada Saayin will never let me do it. They have tied my hands.”
There was a silence for sometime. Then he saw her coming towards him. She stopped close to him.
His heart rate had never accelerated like this in his whole life. He wanted to quieten it down in case she would hear it. Her eyes contained infinite questions, desire to know innumerable things, wonderment and what not. He felt he would never be able to shake off the hold her eyes had on him.
“Do you love me?” She asked, expressionless.
“Infinite. I cannot even explain it in words nor in passion.” He answered fervently. However, it had no effect over Qandeel.
“Do you want to marry me?” This question was equally perplexing.
“Yes. Today. Now.” His fervor exceeded.
“Would you then listen to me?” He couldn’t tell why she was asking all of this.
“Yes, you just need to say it.” He couldn’t help himself then and took her hands in his.
“Say it, no; order me. You are my life, how can I refuse you.”
Qandeel looked at him silently and took her hands from him. Ilaaf watched her ardently; thinking may be she minded him holding her hands. However, it was not that. The thing she did next was very much unexpected from her. She held his face her touch was warming. He had become a statue beneath her hands.
“Those who love are not afraid of anything at all. They face every hardship zealously. If you love me then please honor me by confessing your mistake in court. I want to see you speaking truth. You don’t need to care about anything at all but me and our love.”
He was dumbfounded.
“Believe me, Ilaaf. I will ask Nauman uncle and Saqib bhai for your forgiveness, myself. I will beg them if I would need to. I will make them concede to take blood money and if they won’t agree then I will stand-by you in every trial. I will wait for you, will visit you in prison. I will entitle my whole life for you. Moreover, I will marry you the day you will come out of jail. This is a promise from Qandeel Yusuf to the man who loves her, to the man who can put aside every relation, every handicap and stand for truth.”
All blood drained from Ilaaf’s face. He looked at this innocent girl, begging him fervently, with empty eyes. She had no way of knowing that Ilaaf had already promised his father, a large price, for her life.
“You said you will go to any lengths to make me believe on your love. Now is the time to prove it, not only for me but for you as well. The entire world has turned against me, they are defaming me mercilessly and I don’t have anywhere to go now. You can clear my name with your confession; wouldn’t you do it for me?”
His gaze became hard. He was torn between giving this woman her pride and honor for the love; in return, she was giving herself to him, and in keeping her alive.
“Tell me Ilaaf, you will protect our love and me from being disgraced, no? Seek truth in the court? I am sure you will never disappoint me.” She was still holding his face--- and Ilaaf—he wanted to kiss her fingers, he wanted to cry in her arms until entire grief flowed out of him but he couldn’t do it. Not now, when she hadn’t given him this right. In addition, the condition she propounded was the reason his father was looking for to kill her. Qaiser Lashari knew what Qandeel meant for Ilaaf and he had refrained from his resolution just because Ilaaf was adamant. If Ilaaf goes to court and confesses then his father would take no time to act. The likes of them are always ready to pounce.
He wanted to disappear from there. He wanted to do anything but to answer her.
How merciless the times were. The only woman, he had ever loved, was asking something for first time and he was thinking of ways to refuse her.
“Answer me Ilaaf.”
He gently removed her hands from his face, tormented. She was waiting for him to answer.
“Forgive me Qandeel, I am helpless to fulfill your wish.” At epitome of helplessness his eyes spilled. His answer had stunned Qandeel.
He saw doubt in her eyes. She couldn’t take in the fact that Ilaaf had refused her.
“What has compelled you?” She inquired expressionlessly.
Ilaaf couldn’t think of a way to relay to her the fact that his despicable father had forgotten how to treat a woman. For him, the girl Ilaaf loved was worthless and her life was of no value.
“Baba Saayin and Dada Saayin has threatened me that if I don’t remain silent then---.” Words choked him.
“What?” She asked
“I can’t tell you what is it but it has bound me to listen to them.” He completed his sentence haltingly, ashamed.
Qandeel kept her eyes on him and stepped back. He was expecting some reaction but none came. She was flabbergasted.
“Leave here at once, Mr. Lashari.” Her distant tone was agonizing for him. “And kindly refrain from idle talk next time. I don’t need your empty words or your defective love. I don’t need a weak man like you. I reject your proposal right here so do not waste my or your time further.”
It was as if someone had given him goblet filled with poison and his thirst was so intense that he had to take it. It was a test of its own kind.
Ilaaf came near her. “Qandeel you can call me names, hit me, but please don’t ask me to go away.” His voice shook. “I am weak; I am a criminal of you and of many other people. Still I love you, its truer then anything else. Please don’t punish me this way. Don’t ask me to not wishing for claiming you, please don’t!”
He held her shoulders but she pushed his hands away and stepped back.
“Don’t you dare touch me! We have no relation at all. Just go away.” Her tone cold and eyes empty.
“Qandeel, at least ---”
“I SAID GO!” She bellowed.
Ilaaf felt there was a wall of strangeness between them. She had gone far from him.
He had an urge to sit near her feet and beg earnestly of her.
“If you don’t go right away then I will jump from veranda.”
Ilaaf stepped back unconsciously.
“Go away and don’t show me your face again. I will not cause any trouble for you people when I am here, just don’t try to meet me or talk to me till then.” Like a lost gambler, he stood near door, mourning over his defeat.
“And inform your dear friend too that if he tried to force me to comply then he will be responsible of outcome.” Verdict had been announced and he was left to burn in that fire, may be forever.
“Now leave!” she ordered.
He looked at his lamp one lat time hopefully and then left the room. There was only darkness left in his life. Qandeel locked the door again. He looked at the closed door; happiness and contentment had been lost on him.
(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)