The same jungle, those wolves and darkness was as vivid as reality. She kept on crying and calling for Ilaaf who was lying just few feet away from her, unconscious from the assaults of those wolves, unable to hear her cries and help her to get rid of them. They were ready to attack her. Then one of them pounced at her elbow, she screamed. Then she fell down on her knees and tried to crawl towards Ilaaf but another of them bit into her ankle. A blood-curdling scream escaped her and then everything went dark.
She was drenched in sweat when she woke up to. She let out a low sob. Ilaaf was dozing, on a chair, near her bed. In half-lit room, she could see only his face which was shining brightly even in dim light. She tried to catch her breath for a little while and then sat-up, without making a noise. She didn’t want to wake him up. She tried to recall what had happened before she fell unconscious. She remembered every thing; the dog-fight, Ilaaf handling her, of her going off, then coming around again, Ilaaf had patted her cheek to make her sleep and then she had blacked out again, even her dream was fresh in her mind. She marveled at this fact, of her memory retaining everything despite of her being so out of control.
She had her first attack when she was 9 years old. She had witnessed two ninth graders fighting fiercely. Nobody had come to disperse them off. She had never known the reason of their fight because they had been expelled from school after that. Those boys had used stones and clubs, both were bleeding badly until management arrived.
That day, when Baba came to pick her up from school, he found her leaning to the wall; cold all over, pale. She had run to Baba and had fallen unconscious in his arms right there.
Dr. Lodhi took few tests. When he couldn’t make any sense of her illness, he deduced that it’s the same which had befallen Saima. She was told basics about it and they instructed her to stay away wherever fights took place. Gradually she became used to of living with this illness.
She looked at Ilaaf. He was surrounded by ash and ashtray full of butts of smoked cigarettes. It reminded her of the promise he had made to her in the car that day that he’ll never smoke again. She was angry with him but then she thought better of it. Anyway, he had not been able to keep his other promises.
After making sure he will not wake up, she headed toward the door stealthily. She hadn’t bothered to check the time. In these last three days she had thought of all possible ways of escape and she had decided on one; escaping by tricking Ilaaf. And this was her chance.
She turned the handle, locked. She tried to look for the key.
She came back to where he was sitting. There was no pocket on his T-shirt so the key must be in his Jean’s pocket. She sat near his knees and looked at him closely. She couldn’t decide whether she should try to check his pockets or not. Then she looked him again. The room had enough light so that she could see the full sight of Ilaaf.
He was slumbering. His long lashes curled at the ends and were an invitation to get closer. That moment, she wanted to feel his closed eyes under her fingers but some unknown fear didn’t let her. Her eyes fell on his dark circles that certainly weren’t there before. The change of time had compelled him to sleep less. Her eyes glided on his fair spotless cheeks, to the aristocratic nose, dry lips, to a dimple on his stretched chin which looked like a whirlpool when she looked closely. She looked at his hair, which had covered his forehead, the ears and then continued to look.
He was weak, he couldn’t fight circumstances, nor he could defend his love. She had rejected him yet she couldn’t stop herself from wishing for him – as yet.
That instant was extremely bizarre. She wished for it to last longer. She forgot who was she and where she had come from; he oblivious, deep in his sleep seemed to her like a Prince and she herself was his slave-girl. He needn’t had to buy her, instead she had sold herself at the price of getting to see him daily- whose days spent obeying him, and nights; watching him sleeping. Nothing else mattered.
On a whim, she touched his fingers ever so lightly. She wanted to kiss his feet as well but managed to touch the toe since he had his sandals on them.
He shifted when she touched him and that movement brought her back to reality. I shouldn’t have done this, she thought to herself.
She stood and moved towards the bed hurriedly. By the time he woke up, she had settled on the bed, leaning to the crown of the bed, looking at her hands clasped in her lap.
“Qandeel, when did you wake up?” He inquired
She looked up at him. His red eyes were indicative of the fact that he hasn’t slept well for many nights.
“Oh, just a little while ago.” She was careful of her words.
“You should have woken me up. I had dozed off.” He said to her, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “How are you now?”
“I am very well now; you don’t need to worry about me anymore.” She couldn’t fathom herself why there always came a strangeness in her voice whenever she addressed him lately. May be she had come to terms with the fact that they can never be united.
“Of course I was worried. I could never have forgiven myself if something had had happened to you.”
“Nothing happened to me, so far, so you can forgive yourself. As for me, I will never forgive you for what you have done to me.” She saw the same fear and ache filling his eyes at her words.
“I am leaving for now.” He said after some time. Qandeel saw him taking out the key from his jean’s pocket. She regretted. Her hunch was right.
“I am hungry. Ask Noori to bring something for me if she is awake.” He paused and turned to face her.
“It totally slipped my mind. Of course, you’d be hungry. Noori would probably be asleep, I will bring it myself.”
She exhaled after he left the room. He was unaware of her sitting close to him.
Ten minutes later he returned with a trolley filled with variety of food.
She came to sit on sofa. He was laying the table for her nonchalantly. She was baffled the way he went about this chore, which seemed extra-ordinary when he was carrying it out. She mused over his actions and wondered; had he ever done this for anybody else? Why didn’t he just wake up his servants and asked them to do this? What did that mean? She was unable to answer any one of her questions.
Qandeel filled her plate with Chinese rice and shashlik with a little yogurt on the side. She was hungry. Ilaaf also put some rice and a piece of Shami with yogurt but he wasn’t eating like her. It looked like his heart wasn’t into it, he’s just eating out of necessity; when in fact he hadn’t had anything since evening.
There was complete silence during the meal.
When they were done eating, Ilaaf collected everything on the trolley like before. Qandeel however asked him to leave salad plate with her.
He stopped at the threshold and turned to her. It seemed like he was gathering courage to speak to her. She was fully attentive towards him.
“I will visit city some time in the day, you can give me the list of things you need.” Finally, he managed flatly.
“A prisoner needs only one thing; freedom. And that you can’t provide me so you better not ask me this question.”
“Alright, I will not ask it again but I have a request.”
She looked at him.
“Please change your dress. It is so untidy; not suitable for you to wear it anymore. You can wear it right after Noori washes it. Don’t be stubborn, for once please.”
“Are you done? Now leave.” She retorted.
Locking the door behind him, he left, resigned.
Qandeel came to the dressing table and looked at herself in the mirror. Not only her clothes but also her hairs were untidy too. She had already decided in the morning to take a bath anyway. She applied some hair oil and tied her hair. She settled herself on the bed and started eating salad; she always liked to take it after meals. She felt good at that moment.
Who was he? She mused over him. One of the strangest people on this planet. Unique, just like his name. He knew how to love but couldn’t fight for it. He could take care of his servants but not of himself. He smoked branded cigarettes yet wasn’t ostentatious. His eyes resembled that of a lunatic’s yet his mind was sharp like a predator. His frame was like that of steel yet his being was shallow as if consumed by weevil. His face bright just like sun yet his heart as black as night. His fingers that of an artist yet his heart was made out of stone.
The more she tried to understand him; it became more impossible for her to solve his enigmatic personality.
The only thing which was as apparent as day break and which her whole being attested to despite of her rejecting it, was, however coward he was, he governed over her heart.
(Special thanks to Noor-e-Hira Shamim for translating this post)