Assalaamualaykum everyone, it’s Neymat here again! I’ve started a new story Alhamdulilah and I’m going to be sharing it here with you. It is a bit different to Hidden Blessings so please do be warned. I hope you enjoy In Shaa Allah.
As always, you can find me on Facebook and I’m also on Instagram, Twitter and WordPress under The Imperfect Muslimah.
“I don’t know what I did to be saddled with such an ungrateful child,” Aasia Rahmaan snapped irritably, glaring at the child in question.
“Maybe you were cursed,” her daughter Iman suggested, pressing her lips together in an effort to suppress her tears. Aasia was not worth the headache and swollen eyes a crying jag would give her.
“Probably by your grandfather!” Aasia flung back.
Iman rolled her eyes. “I’ll ask him for you,” she cooed in a sweet voice, lifting her messenger bag and slinging it over her shoulder.
“Iman, don’t you dare go and visit that man!” A vein stood out in Aasia’s forehead. “I forbid you to go and see him.”
“Fine,” Iman dropped down in a chair. “Of course, the money he sends will stop if he doesn’t see me,” she added.
Aasia froze. “What?”
“The money,” Iman repeated. The money that was the only reason she still enjoyed Aasia’s dubious hospitality.
“Fine. Go. And stay there for the night,” Aasia directed. “I don’t want to see you.”
Iman squeezed her eyes shut. Taking a deep breath, she called a greeting behind her and slammed the front door.
The urge to go back inside and shriek until her mother finally apologized was overwhelming. But Iman knew it would be futile. In the twenty two years Iman had been alive, Aasia’s behaviour had not changed once.
Iman looked at the lovely three-storey house. At first glance, it looked like a dream house. But when you looked closer, the cracks began to show. Just like Aasia’s little dream family, the facade wasn’t good enough to hold up under scrutiny.
I need to get out of here. Fast.
There was blood on his sleeve. How long had that been there?
Revolted, Adam yanked his shirt over his head, tossing it to the floor and went in search of another.
A closer examination of himself in the mirror revealed that it had gotten onto the strap of his holster too. Scowling, Adam unbuckled that too, removing the gun and tossing it onto his bed on his way to the bathroom.
A quick shower later and Adam was ready to finish cleaning up. The shirt went in a pile to be burned and the holster was dunked in a bucket of peroxide, as usual.
The routine of the actions struck him and Adam’s scowl returned. He was getting too used to being sloppy. Maybe it was time to take a break and brush up on his training, he mused.
There was a twinge of pain as he twisted and Adam looked down at the bandages circling his torso. It was definitely time for a break. Before he killed himself by accident rather than design.
“Let go of the guilt, Taahir. You don’t deserve to hold on to it any longer,” Faiza whispers in his mind.
Part of Taahir resists automatically. He does deserve this weight. He does. But the thought of dropping that weight is intoxicating. His wife’s words run through his mind over and over again.
Faiza had refused to let it go. As she always did. She’d finally worn him down and gotten him to admit it – he was self-destructive at times. He second guessed himself. He put himself last. He punished himself. And she refused to let him keep doing it.
It had taken a while for him to understand. But Faiza had been patient and persistent and now, forgiving himself seemed possible somehow.
An unwilling smile split his face, as he remembered Faiza’s vigorous defence of him. She’d been so animated, throwing her hands up in the air and pacing, even shouting at times.
His stubborn wife had refused to let him cling to the guilt he’d carried for so long, tugging and yanking andnagging.
And he wouldn’t have her any other way.
As though his thoughts had summoned her, Faiza walked into his study. In her hands, she held two forks and aplate with a large slice of cake on it.
She leaned over the desk and handed her burden to him, keeping hold of a single fork.
“What’s this?” Taahir asked her curiously.
“We’re celebrating,” Faiza announced, seating herself on his desk.
Taahir looked enquiringly at her.
“We’re celebrating Taskiya Mansoor coming back into your life.”
“What?” Taahir asked, thoroughly confused.
“I was so furious about what happened, about how gullible I’d been and how conniving she’d been and how miserable you were and then I realized that if she’d never come back, I may never have understood properly. And you may never have finally trusted yourself enough to know that you are strong enough to stick to your morals.”
Taahir snorted, still not completely convinced.
“You are, Taahir,” Faiza insisted.
Taahir said nothing and finally Faiza continued. “I just realized that she helped us. Completely unintentionally, but still. So I thought we should acknowledge that.”
“Yes. It could have been so much worse and in the end it turned out to be helpful. It let me understand you a bit better and, well, I’m grateful for that.”
Taahir lifted a forkful of cake to his mouth. “It’s good,” he told Faiza. “Really good.”
A thought struck him. “You’re not going to go thank her, are you?”
Faiza pretended to think for a moment before giggling and shaking her head. “No way,” she assured him. “Taskiya Mansoor is part of the past and that’s where she’ll stay. For good this time.”
And, that’s it! Jazakallah khair to everyone who’s been reading. Hidden Blessings may be done but I’m still writing. Please check out either my blog – theimperfectmuslimah.wordpress.com or my Facebook page – www.facebook.com/neymat.raboobee if you’d like to read some of the rest of my work.
Taahir sat in his car, cursing silently. ‘It was her. It was her all along and Faiza loves her. How did this happen? How did my wife somehow meet the woman who I nearly ruined my life with?’
Taahir thought back to some of the things Faiza had mentioned about Taskiya and felt even more confused. The woman Faiza had described had been nice. Taskiya was the furthest thing from nice Taahir had ever met. And they’d met at Faiza’s launch, Taahir remembered dazedly.
Was it possible? Could it be possible that Taskiya had changed?
‘You’re different in a thousand ways,’ he thought. ‘Is it so hard to believe that she changed too?’
It wasn’t. And that scared him more than anything. He’d thought of Taskiya as a temptress for so long that trying to think of her as reformed was hard. Thinking of her at all felt dangerous, as though he was once again going to fall under her spell. He knew that he’d been weak, too weak to resist her.
If he stopped constantly reminding himself of the danger she posed, would he fall again?
He didn’t know.
But did he have the right to vilify her if she’d changed?
He didn’t know that either.
Taahir groaned, lightly hitting his head against the steering wheel. He didn’t know what to do and he was running out of time. Faiza would be wondering where he’d gotten to and soon, she’d know something was wrong.
Finally, he made a decision and jumped out of the car, praying that he wasn’t making a huge mistake.
Faiza sighed in relief when Taahir returned. The conversation hadn’t recovered from Taskiya’s insinuations and the awkwardness had become close to unbearable.
“It’s wonderful to meet you, Taahir,” Taskiya stood up and hugged him. Faiza saw Taahir’s back stiffen and winced. She rushed to separate the two, making a mental note to discuss it with Taskiya the next time they spoke.
The night was awkward despite her best efforts. Taahir was jumpy and she knew he didn’t feel comfortable. She felt guilty about ruining his Friday and set about trying to make the night end early as subtly as she could.
Finally, Taskiya seemed to pick up on the little hints she’d been throwing out all night and the other woman began to speak of leaving soon.
Faiza retreated to the kitchen for a moment and collapsed against the counters, unable to believe how badly the night had gone.
In front of Taahir, Taskiya suddenly seemed less nice, her behaviour less excusable than it had been before.
‘I’m beginning to think I made a horrible mistake,’ she thought glumly. ‘I was so lonely… But that’s no excuse. Poor Taahir, let me go save him. No wonder he’s been acting strange all night.’
Faiza grabbed the dessert she’d been meant to retrieve and made her way back to the dining room. She walked in with her eyes on the fragile dish she was carrying and so it wasn’t until she was already in the room that she registered something was wrong.
Taahir was leaning so far to the side of his chair that he looked like he was about to fall out of it. Taskiya leaned over him and even Faiza recognized her sultry expression for what it was.
As she stared, frozen in horror, Taahir finally managed to get Taskiya away from him.
“You need to leave,” he told her firmly.
Taskiya laughed. “Oh give it up, Taahir. There’s no need to keep pretending. Just tell her you’re divorcing her and we can be together without any messy little obstacles in the way.”
“Taskiya, get out!” Taahir demanded, shoving her away.
He went to the door and yanked it open, pulling Taskiya along with him. “Leave and don’t come back,” he instructed her coldly.
It took a while, but finally the strange woman was gone and what had happened while Faiza was gone began to sink in.
She dropped the dish in her hands with a rattle before clapping her hand over her mouth and bolting to the bathroom.
Taahir found her there a few minutes later, knelt over the toilet and crying hysterically.
“Faiza? Fae, listen to me, whatever you’re thinking… Nothing happened, I promise.”
Faiza shook her head.
“Really,” Taahir insisted.
“Crazy,” Faiza gasped out, still hugging the toilet.
“What?” Taahir looked down at her in confusion.
“That woman! She’s crazy. And I wanted to be friends with her.” The thought made Faiza’s stomach twist again and she bent over the toilet.
“She’s always been that way,” Taahir said ruefully.
“Always?” Faiza looked up. “You know her?”
Taahir nodded. “I forgot, you didn’t know. That was Taskiya.”
Faiza simply looked her confusion.
“My Taskiya,” Taahir clarified. Then he shuddered. “Well, not mine. But the one I told you about. The one who I met while at university, who… well, you know.”
“What?!” Faiza croaked out. She felt dizzy and confused and she was convinced she was hearing things. Surely her husband hadn’t just told her that her new friend was the woman who’d tormented him when he was younger.
“She’s the one I… dated.” Taahir looked down at the floor in shame. “She hasn’t changed much, it seems.”
Faiza shut her eyes and tried to make sense of everything that she’d just been told. The same question repeated itself in her mind and finally she blurted it out.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you even let her in the house?” she demanded. “What were you thinking?”
“I thought maybe she’d changed,” Taahir admitted. “I have so I thought maybe she could have too. I didn’t think it was fair for me to deny her a second chance when I got one.”
Faiza sighed in exasperation. “That’s very… noble, Taahir. But I wish you’d just told me who she was. It would have saved us all a horrible night.” She got to her feet and grabbed the mouthwash they kept on the sink.
“Are you okay?” Taahir asked, reaching out to help steady her.
“I feel nauseous,” Faiza said bluntly. “And stupid and disgusted.”
Taahir grimaced. ‘I really didn’t make the best decisions tonight,’ he thought to himself ruefully.
‘It can’t be her,’ he insisted to himself. ‘There’s no way. Mansoor is a common name, there must be other women with the same name as her. And Faiza would have told me if she’d made contact. It’s just a coincidence. A shocking, awful coincidence.’
Faiza looked at him expectantly. “Who is it, Taahir?”
“Taskiya Mansoor,” Taahir replied evenly. “Who’s that?” he asked, trying to sound casual.
“Oh!” Faiza put down her trays and hurried over. “She’s the friend I made at the launch, the one who came tovisit yesterday. She’s so sweet.”
Faiza continued gushing for a few moments and Taahir felt his blood pressure drop. The Taskiya Mansoor he knew barely understood how to turn on a stove. There was no way she would have attended Faiza’s launch.
“You should meet her,” Faiza said suddenly.
“Taskiya, you should meet her. The two of you would probably get along great. She studied in the same field you did, I think.”
Taahir nodded, suddenly feeling panicky again. ‘Don’t overreact,’ he admonished himself. ‘That means nothing. It’s still just a coincidence.’
“Taahir? Is something wrong?”
Taahir shook his head immediately. “No, nothing. Just a bit sleepy is all.”
Faiza looked unconvinced but she didn’t push the issue.
“When did you want me to meet this Taskiya?”
“I’ll invite her over for supper on Friday?” Faiza suggested.
“Sure,” Taahir said, smiling tightly. ‘It’s not her. It’s going to be just fine.’
Taskiya prepared for supper on Friday with a giddy smile on her face. She booked in for a haircut, manicure and facial and went on a shopping spree. Finally, she made a trip to a make up artist to make sure she looked herabsolute best.
Butterflies churned in her stomach. She would be seeing her Taahir for the first time in so many years. She couldn’t wait for him to fall at her feet again.
Taskiya’s one concession towards modesty was that her dress was full-length. She made up for that by ensuring it was skin-tight, however.
She looked at herself in the mirror and smiled at a job well done. She looked stunning and Taahir would fall to his knees when he saw her.
She thought of Faiza with pity. The stupid woman was killing her own marriage and she didn’t even know it. Again, Taskiya pondered the question of what Faiza had on Taahir and again, she couldn’t understand. The woman she’d been playing with was nowhere near conniving and skilled enough to trap him. So how on Earth had that marriage happened.
Taskiya thought of pitiful Faiza again and an explanation presented itself to her. Taahir must have felt sorry for her! He had always been a bit of a bleeding heart and it was all too possible that he’d felt so bad for little Faiza that he hadn’t been able to say no to her.
Taskiya felt comforted. Pitiful though Faiza may be, Taahir’s martyr complex wouldn’t be enough to make him resist Taskiya. She’d soon have him for herself and Faiza would be forgotten like so much unnecessary baggage.
Taskiya applied a final coat of blood-red lipstick before she was ready to leave.
‘Tonight, we finally get our ending,’ she thought happily.
Taahir spent Friday trying to delay going home. He cleared out his emails, organized his desk, fiddled with his calendar and got a head start on his work for the week ahead. Finally, there was no more putting it off.
He had to go home.
In a last ditch effort, he texted Faiza to ask her if she needed anything from the grocery store, praying she said yes.
She didn’t need anything and so he was forced to arrive far sooner than he wished.
As he walked toward his front door, he reminded himself that he had no reason to worry. There was a minuscule chance that Faiza had met that Taskiya, so remote that it should be nothing to worry about. He was being silly.
The door swung open before he had a chance to even grab his keys. Faiza had a habit of hurrying to it and opening it for him if she heard him coming.
He smiled and hugged her close for a moment. “I missed you,” he told her, kissing the top of her head.
Faiza laughed. “You always say that.”
“It’s always true,” Taahir insisted.
Faiza pulled away lightly but Taahir kept his arms around her. “Taahir, we have a guest,” she reminded him lightly.
“Right,” Taahir agreed, making no move to let go.
Faiza pulled back a little more and Taahir finally relented, stepping away.
“I love you,” Faiza told him, kissing his cheek. “Now come meet Taskiya,” she added, taking hold of his arm and tugging him into the lounge.
Taahir stopped dead at the threshold and Faiza looked up at him in concern. “Taahir?” she asked lightly. “What’s wrong?”
“I just remembered something I forgot in the car,” Taahir told her, barely aware of what he was saying.
Faiza frowned. “What?”
“Oh. Okay, do you need to go get it now?” Faiza looked slightly annoyed.
“I don’t want to forget about it.” Taahir smiled down at his wife apologetically. “I’ll just be a minute.”
With that, he left the apartment, almost running in his haste to get away.
Faiza smiled uneasily as she watched her husband depart. She turned to Taskiya apologetically. “Sorry about that,” she said. “I think he’s just worried about his mother or work calling tomorrow and not having his phone with him.”
“He seems very attached to it,” Taskiya said, frowning.
“I – suppose,” Faiza said hesitantly.
“Faiza, are you sure everything’s alright? I’ve never seen a man so eager to get to his cellphone. Not for any decent reason anyway.”
Faiza stared at Taskiya in shock. “What?!” she cried shrilly.
Taskiya lifted her hands consolingly. “I’m just saying, are you sure everything’s alright? I’ve seen it happen so often, I just – I needed to mention it.”
“Taahir isn’t like that,” Faiza said stiffly. “He’s never been like that. He wouldn’t do such things.”
Taskiya looked relieved. “Good,” she said. “I’m sorry if you feel like I overstepped Faiza but I’m not the kind of person who keeps quiet out of fear.”
“You meant well, I understand,” was all Faiza said.
Faiza shook her head, sniffling. “If you didn’t lie to me then why couldn’t you answer me? You hesitated! What was that, your conscience finally kicking in?”
“I didn’t lie to you! I’ve never been anything but supportive to you. I wanted you to do what made you happy and I still do!”
“Then why –”
“Because it’s hard, Faiza! It’s hard sometimes. I miss you and I worry about you and yes, sometimes, I have some doubts!”
Faiza opened her mouth.
“Let me finish!” Taahir cut her off. “I have been worried and I have been unhappy. But that doesn’t mean I wanted you to stop following your dream because of it. I dealt with and I still deal with it.”
“But you shouldn’t have to deal with it. You shouldn’t just be miserable in silence, Taahir! If something is making you unhappy you should tell me! I need to know, it’s important for me to know!”
“It’s not – you’re exaggerating. It’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be,” Taahir protested weakly.
“You should have told me,” was all Faiza said.
Taahir sighed in frustration. “What good would it have done? What good does it do now? I don’t want you to stop doing this, Faiza, I know how much you love it. So what good does it do to make us both miserable when I was handling it just fine on my own?”
Faiza was abruptly furious. “What good does it do?” she repeated. “Nothing. Sharing your feelings with me and confiding in me does no good at all, Taahir! It’s completely useless. Emotional intimacy doesn’t matter at all, right?”
“You know that’s not what I meant!”
“Then what did you mean?” Faiza yelled. “Tell me, because I clearly don’t understand at all!”
“Telling you about this just makes us both unhappy! So why shouldn’t I want to spare you from it?”
“Because it’s important,” Faiza whispered. She sank down onto the vanity stool, abruptly out of energy. “What you feel is important to me.”
‘Why?’ Taahir wanted to ask. ‘Why is it so important for you to know. It hurts you to know, I can see it does, so why shouldn’t I keep it to myself?’
“I’m sorry,” he said instead. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“I know.” Faiza wiped her cheeks and turned to her table to grab a tissue.
Taahir looked at her regretfully. ‘Now what?’ he thought helplessly.
“I don’t know,” Faiza answered.
Taahir blinked at her. He hadn’t realized he’d spoken out loud. “Neither do I,” he admited.
“Just… it’s late,” Faiza stood and took his hand. “Let’s just talk about it in the morning. Are you still hungry?”
The thought of food made Taahir’s stomach twist and he shook his head quickly. “Let’s just sleep.”
In the back of his mind, he knew that it was a bad idea. But he was drained and confused and it was easy to ignore the little voice in the back of his head whispering that he’d regret letting things fester.
Faiza tossed and turned all night but Taahir was none the wiser. He slept through Faiza’s huffs and groans and it was only after she’d given up on sleeping for the night that he woke and went looking for her.
He found her in the lounge, curled up with a mug of tea and frowning at nothing. She looked up when he came in.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked redundantly.
“No. I kept thinking about yesterday.”
Taahir sat down opposite Faiza. “And?” he asked, prompting.
“I don’t know how to explain it to you any differently, Taahir, but I needed you to tell me what you were feeling. I – it’s important. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Taahir closed his eyes and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Alright,” he said eventually.
“Alright?” Faiza asked.
“I’ll tell you in future,” Taahir promised.
“Why now and not before?”
“I didn’t know how important it was to you before. Now I do, so I’ll tell you.”
Faiza smiled, almost despite herself. ‘Just like that,’ she thought fondly. ‘It’s important to me so he’ll do it.’
“Better now?” Taahir asked, watching Faiza begin to uncurl.
“Much.” Faiza smothered a yawn, suddenly exhausted. “Time for bed,” she said, getting up and stretching.
Taahir’s stomach growled and he looked sheepish. “I’m hungry,” he said unnecessarily.
“I heard,” Faiza giggled. “Come on,” she said, turning towards the kitchen. “I made muffins and the kettle should still be hot.”
Taahir lifted the kettle and paused, holding a hand to the side. “Cold,” he informed Faiza. “How long have you been sitting out here?”
Faiza took a sip of her tea and made a face. “Longer than I thought, clearly. What time is it?” she wondered out loud.
Taahir spied her phone on the counter and looked at the time. “Almost Fajr already.”
Faiza’s eyes widened. “Oh. I didn’t even realize how much time had gone past.”
Taahir smiled knowingly. Faiza often daydreamed and she was unaware of much when she was lost in thought. He’d come home more than once to Faiza frowning down at something on the stove, trying to figure out how to salvage it because she’d been taken away on a stray train of thought.
He sobered when he remembered just why she’d been up so long this time, feeling guilty.
Taahir was about to apologize again when the phone in his hand chimed.
Faiza was busily juggling two trays of muffins and she shook her head when he tried to hand the phone to her. “Just tell me who it is,” she requested.
Taahir looked down at the screen and felt a jolt of horror go through him at the name.
Faiza flitted around the kitchen happily, relishing the rare experience of cooking for something that was neither a photo shoot nor so that she and Taahir had something to eat.
She’d missed this. She’d missed cooking being something that made her happy, not frustrated and exhausted. ‘Thank goodness for Taskiya,’ she thought to herself. Ever since Faiza had gotten the first message from Taskiya, she’d jumped at the chance to get to know the other woman better. Taskiya was so sweet!
It had only taken a quick suggestion from Taskiya that they meet for coffee and Faiza had jumped to invite Taskiya over for lunch. She’d begun imagining the lunch she’d put together before even receiving Taskiya’s acceptance of her invitation and she loved it.
Faiza hadn’t realized just how much she’d missed her passion. Not until she’d begun to feel it again. But she could already feel the change in herself. She was in the best mood she’d been in in months.
Not for the first time, Faiza wondered if she’d made the right decision when she’d decided to write a cook book. Not because she was nervous or because she was worried no one would like it but because of the strain it put on her.
For once, she didn’t immediately insist to herself that she had. For once, she thought about it properly. And she realized that she didn’t know. She’d achieved something wonderful but was the cost something she was willing to live with?
She was pulled out of her musings by the demands of the pots she had bubbling on the stove and she gratefully seized the chance to stop thinking so hard.
For an hour, she stirred and sliced and, when she’d finished, she switched on her oven and grabbed the flour. By the time she finally stood back, wiping the sweat from her brow, every vaguely flat surface in her kitchen was covered with food.
Faiza smiled lightly and thought nostalgically of the last time her kitchen had been so filled – in the early days of her marriage, when she’d been terrified because Taahir had disappeared.
She’d been so young then. And she would never have dreamed that her life would be so different a year later.
Faiza shook her head, trying to get rid of the serious thoughts plaguing her. Now was not the time. She had a guest coming in less than an hour – it was not the time to be questioning the direction her life was going in.
Taskiya fought to keep her face free of the glee she was feeling, feigning a sympathetic expression. Silly little Faiza had completely let her guard down and even confided in her about her worries over the book she’d published. Taskiya had been thrilled to hear how confused Faiza was. It seemed that the younger woman really wasn’t a threat – she’d been so gullible as to show her soft spots to an almost complete stranger!
Taskiya continued making soothing noises and feeding Faiza meaningless platitudes for a while before taking her chance.
“What about your husband?” she asked in an innocent tone. “I hope he’s supporting you during this tough time?”
Faiza hurried to insist that Taahir was incredibly supportive. “I feel guilty sometimes,” she confided. “I know I’ve been neglecting him lately but he’s still so understanding. I really need to do something nice for him to thank him.”
Taskiya frowned hard. “He’s supposed to be understanding though,” she told Faiza. “If he weren’t, he’d be a horrible person.”
Faiza blinked. “I suppose,” she said slowly.
“In fact,” Taskiya added, seeing a chance to make mischief, “he’d probably be insulted if you thanked him for something so basic.”
Now Faiza was frowning. “Do you think so?” she asked.
“Of course! I know I’d be insulted if I was thanked for something so small.”
Faiza smiled uncertainly and said nothing. She didn’t agree with Taskiya but the other woman seemed so sure of herself… She resolved to do something small for Taahir anyway – she didn’t have to thank him specifically but she did want to pamper him a bit, even if his support was something she should count on.
Soon, it was time for Taskiya to leave. She lingered as long as she could but it wasn’t long enough for her to bump into Taahir. ‘Next time,’ she comforted herself, knowing that it would take a while for her plans to come to fruition.
Taahir walked into the apartment that evening to a sight that he’d sorely missed – a kitchen filled with food but no cameras in sight. Faiza was cooking again!
Walking into the kitchen, his eyes widened. It looked like Faiza had tried to make up for all the times she hadn’t cooked all at once. Their kitchen was full of enough food to feed a dozen people – for a week!
He went in search of his wife and found her busily drying her hair. She spun around at the sight of him in her mirror and started to talk before shaking her head and turning back to switch off her hair dryer.
“Sorry,” Faiza apologized, “I didn’t hear you over that noise.”
Taahir leaned down to greet her. “Are we having some guests over?”
Faiza frowned in confusion. “Not that I know of, why?”
“Just wondering. The kitchen’s pretty full.”
Faiza winced. “I got into a groove,” she explained. “It was nice to cook for fun again.”
Taahir smiled. “I’m happy to hear it,” he told her.
“Your stomach is happy to hear it,” Faiza corrected.
“That too,” Taahir didn’t see any point in denying it. “But I am happy to hear that you’re having fun again, Faiza. Really,” he said earnestly.
Faiza sighed. “I’m beginning to doubt that this cookbook was really a good idea after all,” she confessed.
Taahir hugged her, opening his mouth to reassure her automatically. “You’re doing great.”
Faiza pulled away. “I know,” she whispered. “But at what cost?” She turned around and looked searchingly at Taahir. “Can you really tell me that you aren’t unhappy with how much of my time is being eaten up?”
Taahir hesitated and Faiza put her head in her hands. “I knew it,” she said miserably.
Taahir watched as Faiza fell back onto their bed with a bounce. He frowned, biting back an admonishment about overworking. He knew that Faiza was ecstatic to have gotten her book out there. He was ecstatic right alongside her. But he’d seen the toll the long hours was taking on her and he didn’t know how much longer he could keep himself from ranting about it.
He’d reminded himself more than once that things would get better once she graduated. But now, with the launch, she was busier than ever and Taahir was terrified that she wouldn’t stop.
He grabbed the blanket that sat at the end of their bed and gently laid it over an already snoring Faiza, detouring to kiss her forehead lightly. “Love you,” he whispered.
‘Something needs to give,’ he thought worriedly. ‘It’s barely seven and she’s knocked out.’
He flopped down on the couch and grabbed his book. Fifteen minutes later, he tossed it aside. He was too keyed up to read – he’d read the same page a dozen times and still couldn’t remember a word of it.
He wanted to bring it up with Faiza, wanted to beg her to take a time out and breathe. But deep inside, he knew that his motives weren’t as pure as he’d like to pretend. He was worried about Faiza and he did think she needed to slow down. But a lot of his frustration was selfish. He missed his wife! He wanted her back, wanted her attention on him.
Shame made his cheeks burn at the very thought and he hung his head. He hated selfish people. He’d been taken advantage of by a woman so selfish, he’d never again met her like. And now, he was doing the same things she had.
Taskiya had cajoled and nagged him into things he wasn’t comfortable with. And now he wanted to do the same to Faiza. The true horror of the comparison hit him and bile rose in his throat. He bolted for the toilet, sinking to his knees and emptying his stomach violently.
‘Ya Allah, no,’ he moaned silently. ‘Please no! Don’t make me like her. I can’t be like her. I just can’t!’
Faiza woke up tangled in blankets. She struggled for a moment before finally freeing herself and automatically looked for Taahir to cajole him awake for Fajr. Her searching hands found nothing and she sat up in confusion.
‘He’s not in the bathroom… And it’s definitely Fajr time, the Adhan woke me. Where is he?’
Faiza stumbled out of bed still yawning and went in search of her missing husband. She found him curled up on their couch, hugging a throw pillow to his chest and twitching lightly.
“Taahir,” she whispered, shaking him gently. “Wake up.”
Taahir jerked and stared up at her. “What’s wrong?” he demanded immediately.
“Nothing,” Faiza said soothingly. “It’s just time for Fajr.”
She laid a hand on his arm, looking worriedly down at him, “Did you have a bad dream?”
Taahir looked confused.
“You’re shaking,” Faiza pointed out softly. “Are you alright?”
Taahir nodded stiffly. “Fine,” he said shortly, getting up and walking to the bathroom without another word.
Faiza sighed, watching him go. It wasn’t unusual for Taahir to have nightmares once in a while and he often kept the specifics of them from her. But he’d rarely left her completely in the dark about them. She’d realized after a while that he kept silent only when whatever was upsetting him had to do with his horror of a relationship.
‘Why does she still have a hold over you?’ she thought frustratedly. ‘It’s been over five years! How can she still turn you into a mess like this?’
Taskiya danced around her bedroom, so delighted she was unable to sit still. She’d met Faiza!
She still didn’t know what had drawn Taahir to such a plain woman – even if she cooked divine food. But, she’d managed to talk to Faiza for more than a few minutes and the naive young woman had happily handed over her cellphone number.
Things were going perfectly! Soon, Faiza would trust her – confide in her even, maybe. And then, then she could figure out how to free Taahir.
A slow smile curved over her full lips and she thought over the few tidbits Faiza had let slip over the course of the day.
Taskiya now knew that Taahir was allergic to nuts and hated jam. She’d also been told that he liked sweets – something that she doubted since the Taahir she’d known had hated them. He probably just pretended to like them for Faiza. He’d always been stupidly compassionate like that.
Taahir hadn’t been at the event itself but he’d arrived to pick up Faiza and simply by waiting in her car for a while, Taskiya had managed to catch a glimpse of him.
It had been like a shot. He’d grown even more handsome in the past few years and it made something electric run through her to see it.
Taskiya closed her eyes and pictured him again. Dishevelled hair and high cheekbones appeared in her mind’s eye along with a dimpled smile that had always made her want to kiss it.
‘Taahir, Taahir, Taahir. I want you back already. I don’t know if I’ll be able to wait until your wife’s out of the picture. Maybe I’ll shove her out instead of threatening her…’
Taskiya giggled to herself, imagining ways of getting rid of Faiza. She shook them off in the end, deciding to stick to her original plan. After all, murder was messy and complicated. Blackmail was much more her style.
She picked up her cellphone and began the process of crafting the perfect text to be sent to Faiza. Everything had to be planned perfectly. Taskiya refused to accept failure in this instance. She wanted Taahir and she would get him – one way or another.
Taskiya Mansoor had a tiny bit of a problem. If someone were to ask her, of course, she would fiercely deny this and insist that everything was fine.
But the truth was, Taskiya did have a problem. And it was getting out of hand.
It had all started years ago, when Taskiya was still in university. She’d met a young man and, instantly, she’d known she had to have him. She’d gotten him too, with so little effort that it had been laughable.
But keeping her captivating young man had been easier said than done. He’d had morals, you see. And eventually, those morals had overpowered Taskiya’s hold on him. She’d seen the signs and it had enraged her to the point that she’d flung him as far away from her as she could – before he could leave of his own power. Controlling their parting had soothed her but from there, her little problem had begun.
She’d been unable to get him out of her mind and, in the end, she’d resorted to using technology to keep up with him. It had been tough – Taahir was intensely private and the few glimpses she’d caught of him had been few and far between despite how thoroughly she’d searched.
In the past year, it had become easier though. First, she’d seen photographs of him from his walimah, something that had thrown her into a towering rage even as she appreciated the way his face had matured in the time since she’d last seen it.
It had been child’s play to find his wife’s name and then, Taskiya had a new subject – Faiza Amir.
She’d soon been thwarted there though – Faiza followed that outdated tradition of covering her face. Taskiya still couldn’t understand why Taahir had decided to marry such a woman. She was short, round and she had to be plain – no beauty would hide herself in shame that way.
But, Taskiya had finally found her chance. Faiza Amir had just released her first cookbook and the young woman would be hosting an intimate get-together in a week.
Taskiya couldn’t wait.
Taahir had always been one of her few regrets and now, she could fix things!
She’d have him back!
Taskiya was unsettled the entire week. She’d found her thoughts drifting towards Taahir and Faiza countless times. Her curiosity overwhelmed her and she’d even begun to daydream about the day when it would finally be satisfied.
She’d get to see what kind of woman had finally captured Taahir – she knew that there must be some shining quality that she was missing. Taahir wasn’t stupid, he wouldn’t have been easily tricked. Even she, Taskiya, had had a hard time keeping Taahir. Faiza must have some formidable trump card hidden in her sleeve.
A thought occurred to Taskiya and she froze, eyes wide. What if Faiza had blackmailed Taahir? What if she’d forced him into their marriage? How disgusting!
But how plausible! Poor Taahir. She simply had to save him.
She began to plot – she would no longer be satisfied with an acquaintance with Faiza. She needed to become this woman’s confidante, to gain her trust. If she could find Taahir something to hold over Faiza’s head, he would be free! And then, well then there would be no reason for him to not fall at her feet!
It was perfect.
Taskiya smiled triumphantly and lost herself in pleasant daydreams.
Faiza was a wreck. Her nerves had been building since the day she’d received the first copies of her book and now, they’d reached a fever pitch. In just a few hours, she would be hosting a launch!
It was small – she’d insisted on keeping the guest list under twenty people – but the thought of having twenty strangers looking at her and listening to her speak was still daunting. She refused to even think of the proper launch that would be happening in a few days – there she wouldn’t be able to limit the number of people.
Taahir had been trying to calm her all morning, but nothing worked. Eventually, he’d grabbed his keys and set off somewhere, promising to be back soon. Faiza had no idea where he’d gone – she’d barely been listening when he told her.
She looked at the kitchen clock. It was almost nine. She’d need to leave to oversee the set up of everything in a half hour.
The thought made her nauseous and she had a wild urge to just cancel everything and go hide under the bed.
Faiza pulled in a deep breath. She knew what Taahir would say – it was what he’d said whenever she’d had thoughts of scrapping her book or throwing in the towel with her studies.
‘I’ll support whatever you decide to do. But you’re almost at the finish line – isn’t it worth a little more work to get to the end when you’re so close?’
Faiza took in a deliberate deep breath, prayed for a moment and then went to go look at her book. It always reminded her why she was putting herself through all the stress and worry.
Taahir returned a few minutes later and found her sitting, turning the pages.
He stood in the doorway, watching her for a moment, enjoying the contentment on her face. It had been scarce of late. She’d been rushed and miserable, trying to finish a degree and publish a book at the same time and he’d missed his bright wife.
Faiza finally noticed him in the doorway, grinning helplessly. “What?” she asked him enquiringly. “What’s got you smiling so wide?”
“You,” he told her simply. “You’re back.”
Faiza winced. She knew that the past few months had been hard on Taahir. He’d missed her just as much as she’d missed him.
“Sorry,” she apologized, getting up to greet him properly. “I am back. And I don’t plan to go anywhere again.”
“You’d better not!” Taahir laughed. “Come eat.”
“I didn’t make breakfast yet,” Faiza said apologetically. “What do you want?”
Taahir thought for a moment. “Doughnuts, pancakes, fruit…”
He broke off at the panicked look on Faiza’s face. “And it’s already waiting on the table. Come on, it’s getting cold.”
Faiza put her hands on her hips and shook her head at him. “You – you – ugh! You gave me such a shock!”
Taahir tried to look innocent but failed miserably. “It was an accident?” he tried.
Faiza stared happily down at the book in her hands. She’d finally done it. She had finally published her very own cookbook.
Taahir had been instrumental in the book’s publication. He had been the one to soothe all her fears, to hold her hand through the whole process and to motivate her when she felt like giving up.
From the day that she had shyly confided in him about her dream to today, launch day, Taahir had been amazing.
It had been difficult at times for Faiza to juggle her final year of studies, her marriage and her book but with Allah’s grace, they had made it work. It had required understanding and flexibility from Taahir though and she was incredibly grateful to have him.
There had been times when Faiza was so sick of cooking that they went out to a restaurant or ate fast food but he hadn’t complained.
Now, it was done. The book had officially been published and Faiza had completed her degree.
She smiled to herself and thought of the future… Her future, with Taahir.
There was no way to know what trials and challenges would come in the future. But, she had faith that her marriage would endure, that her relationship with her husband would remain strong as long as they nurtured it and – most importantly – prayed.
Taahir came up to Faiza then and she greeted him happily.
“What’s gone and made you so quiet all of a sudden?” he asked.
“I’m just thinking,” Faiza replied. “Thinking about our future.”
Taahir laughed. “What a coincidence,” he said. “I was just thinking about the past. Did you ever think we’d end up here?”
Faiza shook her head immediately. “Not a chance,” she said. “But, Allah (SWT) is the best of planners.”
Taahir grinned. Faiza was right. The plans he had envisioned for his future came back to him and he laughed at his past self. He knew for certain that he would never have been as happy as he currently was if he’d remained on that path.
She felt awkward and slightly foolish – Taahir didn’t seem to be very impressed with her new look.
She was disappointed.
She hadn’t expected him to be bowled over – even though she would have liked it – but she had expected something more than what she’d got.
Sighing, she gave her attention over to her food.
All of a sudden, Faiza felt eyes on her. She looked up to find Taahir staring at her, seemingly lost in thought.
“Taahir, is everything alright?” she asked uncertainly.
“What? Yeah, everything… everything’s fine.”
Then he shook his head.
Faiza waited for Taahir to finish his sentence but he stayed silent.
Butterflies filled the pit of her stomach.
‘What is it?’ she thought to herself. ‘ He must have something awful to say if it’s taking this long to get it out!’
“Taahir, just tell me!” she said impatiently.
“I love you,” Taahir blurted out.
Faiza’s mind went blank.
“What did you just say?” She gasped.
Taahir grinned. “I love you,” he repeated. “I’m in love with you, Faiza.”
Faiza felt dizzy. Taahir was in love with her?
It felt like a dream.
She’d never in her wildest dreams imagined that she would hear him say such a thing to her.
The most she’d hoped for was that they could become good friends and care for one another.
But now, he was telling her that he loved her.
Faiza suddenly realized that her cheeks were starting to hurt from the broad smile on her face.
Taahir was looking uncertainly at her. She had to say something. But what? What did one say to a declaration of love. Her mind had gone blank.
Taahir stared anxiously at his wife. She was smiling – he’d never seen her smile so brightly – but she wasn’t saying anything.
Then, she spoke.
And promptly clapped her hand over her mouth in horror.
Taahir couldn’t help it – her expression was too funny for him to control himself. He burst out laughing.
She looked so adorably flustered.
“I – I didn’t mean… I mean, I did mean – but I didn’t mean like that. I -” She groaned in frustration.
“I do love you. I’m sorry it came out so… indelicately.”
Taahir shook his head. “It was perfect,” he assured her.
A week later, Saeedah came to visit. The second she clapped eyes on Faiza, she cackled, pushed past her friend and ran into the guest room.
A few seconds later, she popped out and tackled Faiza.
“It’s empty! You didn’t even tell me! Faiza!”
Faiza giggled. “Some things are meant to stay private,” she scolded.
Saeedah pouted. “You could have at least told me my makeover worked.”
“Your makeover more than worked! Sae… He told me he loves me.”
Saeedah squealed. “Seriously?!”
Faiza just nodded.
“Alhamdulilah! I’m so happy for you, Fae. Shukr to Allah.”
Then Saeedah paused. “He… He didn’t tell you that because of how stunning you looked, did he?”
Faiza shook her head immediately. “I was worried about the same thing at first,” she confided. “But when I spoke to Taahir about it, he said it wasn’t the way I looked that made him so happy, it was the fact that I went to do much effort for him.”
Saeedah cooed. “That’s sweet.”
“And… He told me that he’d been trying to find a way to tell me how he felt for weeks. Sae, he even asked his mother for advice on how to confess his feelings.”
Saeedah giggled at the image of tall, serious Taahir asking for romantic advice from his mother.
“So… when’s the baby coming?”
Faiza’s mouth fell open in shock.
“Saeedah!” She turned fire-engine red at the question.
“You know all the aunties are gonna start asking that soon – you have to be prepared.”
“The aunties will ask, that doesn’t mean you have to!” Faiza huffed. “And they’ll come when they come. There’s no need to rush.”
Saeedah nodded approvingly. “Very good,” she said. “Now, enough about husbands and babies. Let’s talk about the truly important stuff – food. You said you were trying a new recipe?”
The rest of Saeedah’s visit was filled with desserts and sweetmeats – Faiza had been experimenting on several new things.
By the time Saeedah had to leave, the two women were stuffed and both swore they’d never touch anything sweet again which, of course, was a lie.
Faiza packed away her leftovers with a smile. She’d thoroughly enjoyed trying out new recipes and she almost felt confident enough to even share them.
The old desire to write a cook book rose up again and this time, instead of ignoring it, she resolved to speak to Taahir about it and see what he thought.
Maybe. In Shaa Allah, she thought to herself.
Muneerah Mahomed was on cloud nine. Taahir had phoned her a few days previously thanking her for her advice and she’d had a feeling that the young couple had resolved whatever misunderstandings had been coming between them.
This was the first time she had seen them in a few weeks and the difference between her son and daughter-in-law was palpable.
For a start, the two were hovering around one another like they’d gotten married the daybefore. Every time Taahir’s eyes landed on Faiza, he smiled as though he couldn’t help doing otherwise.
The best part had been when Faiza had come up to her in the kitchen and thanked her happily for her help.
She thanked Allah (SWT) softly, thinking about the pleasant changes in her son since Faiza had come into his life. He was so much happier, so much more open. They had truly been blessed to find Faiza.