That night also passed in tossing and turning. It seemed like insomnia was beginning to become a permanent part of his life. He was craving for sleep yet his mind was whirling with thoughts. Thoughts about Qandeel, about himself and about both of them together, their future which was very much endangered at the moment. Though he was aware that just thinking about something couldn’t present a solution but did he have any choice?
After breakfast he informed Adnan that he’d be visiting city, may be home too.
“It’s good that you brought it up. I was also thinking about it. I have to complete Agha Jan’s chores, let’s go together.” He offered.
“No, you must stay here. Qandeel will be alone and I don’t trust your men.” Adnan was taken aback by his tone.
“OK, then. I will go later in the evening.” He closed the matter.
Before leaving, he came in Qandeel’s room. She was sleeping peacefully even at this hour. May be she slept late at night, he thought to himself. He brought empty salad plate out and locked the door. He ordered Noori to serve Qandeel breakfast whenever she wakes up and ask her to change clothes.
“Bibi ji doesn’t listen to me, Sayin.” Noori lamented.
“Still, ask her for once.” He went out.
Ilaaf visited his home first. Fazal brightened up when he saw him.
He took important stuff from his room and said to Fazal, “I cannot stay here for long. I have come to finish some work then will return to farmhouse. We will talk later.”
“Sayin, jeweler called.” Ilaaf paused. He had totally forgotten that ring which he had ordered on accident day.
“What did he say?” He asked.
“He was inquiring if he could deliver the ring.”
“Call him and ask him to deliver it. Keep it with you. I will take it from you later.”
Fazal nodded and then continued, uncertain.
“Sayin, can I ask something?” Ilaaf became curious.
“Sayin, is bibi alright?”
“Whom are you talking about?” He inquired seriously, having no idea what he had in mind.
“I am talking about Qandeel bibi.” He offered, afraid he would get angry.
“Yes she is fine. What made you ask after her?” He needed to know.
“Because I want her to reach her home safely and then you two should marry.” Ilaaf was surprised at how much he was privy of and found his innocence endearing. How easy he thought all this was.
“I know you since your childhood, Sayin. I always did your work myself. I love you more than I love abba or Sassi. I am witnessing it first time that you are doting on a woman like this, Sayin. I think you love her a lot, Sayin. Your eyes lit up when you see bibi’s pictures so I can imagine the satisfaction you might feel when you see her in real. I want you to be happy and so I pray Lord that everything gets settled so you can marry her.” Ilaaf nodded and went out.
What a twisted sense of humor this world had; a mere servant was aware what this girl meant to him but his own father was so indifferent to his feelings.
He bought few books and CDs for Qandeel and then headed towards her home. Last night Yusuf Mairaj had requested him to meet him. Though he was aware that he would not be able to meet his eye, yet he couldn’t reject his request. That is why he had stopped Adnan accompanying him. He didn’t want Adnan to know that he was in contact with Yusuf Mairaj.
He parked his car outside the street and strolled to the house. It was an amazing feeling; he was familiar of this place as if he had been coming here all his life when in fact he hadn’t known this place before meeting Qandeel. Even the scorching sun seemed to be greeting him. And that familiarity continued when he knocked on this old wooden door.
Yusuf Mairaj opened the door. He smiled as if Qandeel herself had returned.
“I knew you would visit me.” He brought him inside.
He chose to sit in veranda. Even sweating felt good inside these walls.
Yusuf Mairaj kept on looking at him and that threw him off guard. He looked around to avoid his gaze.
When Yusuf Mairaj started speaking, a rush of envy flooded Ilaaf. He was envious of his life, Qandeel. If only for once fate could give me way, I would switch fathers with Qandeel and then see how she, who accuses me of being coward and weak, could prove herself to be brave, he thought to himself.
Sitting there, he regarded everybody, who had a father like Yusuf Mairaj, lucky. A respected, trustworthy, loving and compassionate person who was as forgiving and cool-headed for an enemy as for a friend.
“Qandeel is cool of my eyes, Ilaaf. If I could, I would never even let air to touch her harshly. However, this is life and everybody has to face his or her own share of trials. That is why I always stood by her decisions, never argued about them to be emotional and certainly didn’t force my decisions over her. I may have to leave her eventually and it’s better for her to learn to take her own decisions, and it’s good for her that she gets to learn from her mistakes. She’ll gain experience from all of it, I am sure. And also, because I want her to learn to live alone. Her mother too had to face so much opposition in her life; she had to live alone for longer periods before she met me. Her life is a mirror image of her mother’s even her illness is inherited from Saima.” Ilaaf looked at him as he spoke, his each word wrapped in affection for her and her mother.
“And I am also aware of the ordeal you are going through. I know it will not be possible for you to help her in any way in future just like now so I don’t want you to put you in any test by forcing you into any pledge.” The fact that he didn’t hold him responsible for the present circumstances was astounding for him. “I have only one request for you. An old ill man requests a man who regards him as his father and loves his daughter immensely.” His voice shook; Ilaaf strained his ears in consternation and looked at him closely.
“Always love Qandeel the same way. Always be there for her. Try to guard her life and honor. I am not sure why am I saying all of this to you but I feel like you are the only person in this world for this. Whether you give her your name or not, even if you are unable to stand with her, give her your love always. Whether I am alive or dead, the fact that there is one such person who loves Qandeel more than I do will be enough for me. I could die easily then, Ilaaf. Right now I feel like I am in purgatory. Thinking about her make me lose my mind.”
Ilaaf held his hands impulsively and said subserviently, “Please don’t worry, I have been unable to get her out of that place yet she is dear to me more than my life. I will protect her no matter what. Although she’ll never want to marry me but I’ll do whatever I could.”
Yusuf Mairaj looked at him inquisitively. “Have you two talked about this matter?”
Ilaaf bowed his head.
“Tell me what did she say?” He lifted his face up.
“She has rejected me.” He was resigned.
“She must have said it under pressure. She can’t be saying it for real.” Yusuf Mairaj’s composure was overwhelming for Ilaaf.
“I think you have a misunderstanding, Uncle. She never liked me before and now after this accident she hates me. She’s so cold and distant towards
His sadness was oozed out into his words.
“That cannot be real, Ilaaf”
“It is true.”
“She loves you.”
Ilaaf laughed humorlessly.
“She hates me.”
“My daughter does not know how to hate.”
“She has learned to hate after meeting me.”
“Qandeel only knows how to love.”
“But she has all the hate in this world for me.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“I don’t reckon.”
“I have accepted it.” He was defeated.
They remained silent for some time then Yusuf Mairaj said,
“We’ll discuss it some other day, now is no time for it. Time will decide and then we won’t have to defend our stances,” Ilaaf nodded in agreement.
“I am satisfied now that I have talked to you. I knew you’ll not disappoint me. I was sure that you’ll be the one for her and now I trust you. You will stand by her in trials because your love is unconditional. I am grateful to you.” Ilaaf wanted the earth to open up and swallow him right away, he was that embarrassed at his last words. He hadn’t even done anything for her and he was still so humble.
“Please, don’t be.” He kissed his hands and Yusuf Mairaj took his face in his hands.
“You are just like Omer. Each of your features resembles him.” That jolted Ilaaf.
“You know Omer Uncle?”
Yusuf Mairaj couldn’t answer him right away.
“How?” He inquired again.
“He was martyred, no? And everybody knows martyrs, Ilaaf. Everybody had cried the day he had died. Many had been present in his funeral. Very few people are as fortunate as he was. He certainly was a lucky person and you too are very lucky Ilaaf.”
“I wish it was true, uncle.” He snorted.
“Don’t lose hope, it’s wrong.” He patted his back affectionately.
He got up to leave.
“Qandeel will be home soon.” He tried, unsuccessfully, to soothe him.
“I know.” He smiled.
He turned to leave then paused.
“Is it Qandeel’s room? He pointed towards the room.
“Can I umm..have a look?” He inquired hesitatingly.
He came inside her room and looked around. Yusuf Mairaj waited outside.
It was a small room. Yet it was more than a world for him. He looked at the bed; It’s here she reclines to read a book or simply lie down and dream. For a moment, he too wanted to lie down there and dream, but he couldn’t.
Then he looked at other things; writing table, rocking chair, bookshelf, computer, wardrobe and dressing table. Everything was sacred for him. He stayed for a while there and then decided its rude to stay longer here so came out.
They came to the door.
“We’ll meet again.”
“Sure.” Yusuf Mairaj smiled. There was something in his smile which he couldn’t pinpoint. “Khuda hafiz.”
He almost ran into a guy who was about to knock at the door.
That guy stopped when he saw Ilaaf and looked at him closely. The woman behind him made a face when she saw Yusuf Mairaj and Ilaaf together.
“Oh, Sami. Come inside.” Yusuf Mairaj welcomed him. “And Saleha apa is also with you, good.” They went inside.
Ilaaf regarded Sami. So he’s Qandeel’s fiancé. What was so special about him, why, in the world, he had to have the honor of being that lucky person, and also without asking for it? He asked himself.
Sadness surrounded him when he was heading back to the farmhouse.
Adnan was waiting for him impatiently.
“Where have you been man! I have had to be back by night.”
“You can go now. I am here with Qandeel.”
“I am taking Rishi and few other men with me. You will have Noori and Khursheed here. Khursheed will guard the jungle and surroundings; you will have to take care of Qandeel.” Ilaaf nodded.
Adnan took car keys from him and paused again.
“You understand that you’ll have to watch out for her as well, don’t you? Because if she escapes before verdict is announced then I nor you or nobody else in this case will be able to stop Qaiser Uncle killing her.”
Adnan was dreading that Ilaaf would try to take her home behind him and so he thought it necessary to remind him of the stakes.
“I am aware of that.” He responded dryly and went inside.
There was silence when they all left.
Ilaaf tended to his work and came to Qandeel’s room. He stopped in his tracks when he entered. She was standing in front of dressing table, combing her hair.
He was riveted. She wasn’t aware of his presence. She had taken a shower and changed dress. In white shalwar and light blue shirt, her back to him, her efforts, apparently failing to straighten them made him weak in the knees.
He knocked instead of entering without informing.
She turned back and hurried across the room to her dupatta. She had to leave her hair as they were.
“I brought these for you; CDs and books. It will help you to pass your time here.”
Uninterested, she sat on the bed. Ilaaf began to shelf the books.
“Where is Noori?” She asked.
“May be in the kitchen.” He said.
“What about Adnan?”
“He has gone to city with his men.” He answered her unthinkingly and got back to shelving the books.
There was silence then. Ilaaf looked at where Qandeel was sitting and she wasn’t there. He looked around. She was not in the room.
Alarm bells rang in his head and he recalled her questions. It took him a moment and he was out of the room, took two stairs at a time and rushed towards the main gate. He was furious with himself why he had left her room’s door open. By the time he came out, she had crossed main gate, which was open. She was unfamiliar with the pathways and he was afraid Khursheed would act without orders.
“Qandeel, stop!” He had shouted at her but she ran faster when she heard him behind her. Ilaaf took alternate route, crossed a pathway and caught her in time.
“Stop!!” He held her by her forearm.
“Leave me, for God’s sake leave me and let me go.” She tried to slip from his hold.
“Don’t be foolish!” He held her fast. She continued to struggle in his arms and her hair—wet from the recent wash-- caressed his face. He closed his eyes and went still. Nevertheless, damage was done. His cheek was wet and he breathed her scent from the earlier contact.
He opened his eyes. He could touch her hair, he was that close. He was intoxicated; he wanted to be closer still. He wanted to lose himself in those thick tresses, to slumber in there forever. But then she elbowed him harshly and he came back to his senses.
He was, for the very first time, suddenly very angry with her.
He pulled her to face him and slapped her hard across the face.
Stunned, her hand automatically went to where he had hit. Her eyes were wide as if she couldn’t believe that Ilaaf could do such a thing to her.
“You hit me?” She asked, shocked.
“Yes. And I will repeat it if you insist on being foolhardy.” He still was very angry with her.
“You cannot stop me. I will go.” She spat the words out at him.
“Let’s see how you will leave this place.” He hissed and then held her wrist briskly.
“Come inside at once.” He dragged her the whole way to her room and she came behind him, like a bird stuck in a rack.
Ilaaf was a man, and strong at that. She didn’t stand a chance with him. And anyway, he
hadn’t let her have her way this time.
Ilaaf had decided that if she would still try to make a run then he would carry her to her room. But she remained silent all the way, dumbfounded.
He pushed her to the sofa in her room.
“Do not try to escape ever again, Qandeel or I’ll forget I love you. You are forcing me to be rough with you. Whatever I am doing is for your own good.” He pursed his lips. Qandeel didn’t respond. She was still in shock by his reaction.
He went to the door then paused and returned.
“And tie your hair or I will do it myself. I don’t want to see them lose until you are here or else I’d cut them.”
He had no way to fathom the reason behind his bitterness. His nerves were wrought.
Her eyes were wide in astonishment.
Ilaaf came outside and locked the door.
Some moments make you weak; such had passed over Ilaaf.
He couldn’t shake this feeling off of him even when he was in his room.
The more he thought the less fathomable the things appeared. He shuddered at the thought what would have happened if he had been just a little late in checking his emotions, when he was that close to her. And what if he would have done something—He couldn’t dare think ahead.
She was sacred for him. He worshipped her. How could he think of lowering himself to such level! True that he wanted to make her his but through rightful means, through her willful submission, not by force.
Moreover, this incident had jolted him. He realized that he was a mere human and he could stumble however much he try to be careful and so he decided to not to test his guts until her stay. It is most painful thing to ruin your life with your own hands. An unlucky person would like things this way, however, Ilaaf was not of that kind.
(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)
(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)