“You know I’ve never really liked him, don’t you?”, Mrs Shetty said as she sat down on the dinner table. Giving a stern look, she narrowed her eyes at Aakash who was unheedingly scraping the plate before him with a fork. Disappointed at her son’s dinner etiquette, she continued expressing her dislike for his friend.
Aakash, clearly focused on defacing the expensive cutlery in front of him, was not bothered in the least. He sighed at the thought of having this conversation again and drowned out his mother’s voice by innately mourning his mundane life. With the eating habits of an eight year old child, Aakash was a robust man in his late thirties who still lived with his mother. It wasn’t particularly by choice, but he thought it to be better than living alone, especially after his wife left him for another man. He worked a desk job that he wasn’t fond of and on most days, the only thing he looked forward to was reading his self-help books. He usually started his mornings with those, in hopes of finding incentive for his existence.
“Akshu, I am talking to you, hello?”, Mrs Shetty tried bringing him back to reality. She gave up after calling out to him a few times. “Why do I even bother?” She stood up in a lather and as luck would have it, stubbed her toe on the side of the table. It wasn’t until a few seconds that Aakash noticed his mother walking away impetuously.
“Good Night Maa”, his voice trailed behind her.
Asshadu alla ilaha illallah
The Azan jarred Junaid Zafar awake. The blanket still warm over his skin, he stretched his arms towards the headboard. Hearing the clanking of the utensils in the kitchen, he woke up aggravated. His vision was still blurry when Faiza came into the bedroom with some tea and biscuits. Junaid had met his wife when they were both in school. Childhood sweethearts, is what their relatives and friends called them. Faiza supported his music career when no one did and she went against her family’s wishes to marry him. Now that Junaid was a successful composer, his life was seemingly perfect.
Disgruntled, Junaid was just about to get out of bed when Faiza came towards him to give him a good morning kiss. Just as she reached out to him, the tray slipped out of her hands and half the tea ended up splashing on the floor. The scalding liquid almost burnt him and he rushed to the bathroom to clean himself up. Outside, he could hear Faiza’s faint giggles. Just as he came out of the shower, his blaring ringtone echoed through the room.
“What now?’, the line crackled as Junaid picked up his phone.
“Life sucks, Juno. I hate it so much”, Aakash flipped the pages in his book, running his hands over the paper to mask his anxiety.
A carefree chuckle escaped Junaid’s mouth, “I’m leaving for the studio, you come over for dinner tonight. Mutton korma in, depression out.”
Complying with the demand, Aakash hung up the call. Junaid and him had been best friends since they were in primary school. Both of them went on to study together till college and after decades of change, they were the only constants in each other’s lives.
As Aakash stepped out of the stark disagreeable building, he immediately realized that the sky was tinted with the orange of the setting sun. “Ahh, I’m so very late”, he said to himself. He swiftly got into the car and started driving completely abstracted from the road. The directions to Junaid’s house were imprinted in his memory, in a way that it was almost second nature for him to drive on that route.
As he was about to reach the corner of the street, he heard chaotic voices coming from near Junaid’s place. Of all the mayhem, he could clearly recognize his friend shouting at the top of his lungs. He was about to investigate, when the noises suddenly stopped. The heavy silence that followed seemed deafening. With heavy concern, he parked his vehicle right on the road and hurried to check on Junaid. His heart thudded in his chest and his anxiety went through the roof.
He approached the door cautiously and just then, heard a thunderous noise. Through the window, he saw Junaid pushing his wife onto the table.
No no no no no. Juno, what the hell?
This was incredibly out of character for someone like Junaid. He was an amiable, placid man who swore by non-belligerence. And to see him like this, physically abusing the woman that he loved the most, it seemed unbelievable, even though he witnessed it with his own eyes.
Aakash deliberated for a few minutes on what to do after. In a daze like state, he got back into his car and left.
That night, Aakash was anything but restful. He was still manic, yet numb at the same time. “If it happened today, who knows how many times it might have happened in the past?”, an overwhelming sense of dread engulfed him. Poor Faiza, he thought. The pain she would be going through was beyond all comprehension. There was a moral dilemma and he was
debating between two options, to confront him or to go one step further and report him to the authorities. His mother’s words began ringing in his ears. To the exclusion of all things, all that occupied his mind was Junaid. If it was any other person in the world, he wouldn’t have hesitated before going to the police. But it was Junaid. And he couldn’t stand the thought of his best friend being incarcerated as a criminal.
The next morning, he woke up to find Junaid’s messages enquiring his absence at the dinner. After a lot of deliberation, he texted him, “How could you?”
He picked up his phone, fidgeting his toes all the while. Feeling the blood pounding in his ears, he dialed the number. One-zero-zero. Beep.
“Hello, I would like to report a case of domestic violence.”
He didn’t see Junaid again but was privy to a lot of news floating around. His case was dismissed because Faiza didn’t want to make a statement. Disappointed but not surprised, his indifference to Junaid’s presence continued. There were times when his doorbell rang abruptly or his phone buzzed without warning. But despite Junaid’s efforts, Aakash was hell bent on ignoring his best friend. Soon after, he was transferred to Sri Lanka.
Five years later, Aakash woke up to the giggles of his three-year old son. It was a pleasant morning and the light shined through the curtains stroking his face. The silhouette before him was now clearly visible. It was his wife, Priya, who kissed him softly on the cheek. “Good Morning”, he muttered.
When he arched his back and went to pick up his phone, which had now become his morning ritual, he saw an unanticipated message.
It is with deep sorrow that we inform you of the passing of Faiza Asad Zafar, a doting wife and a marvelous teacher. We invite you to the funeral service at 1:00 pm on February 11 to reminisce and support each other in these tough times.
Aakash took the next flight out to Hyderabad.
From the airport, he drove directly to Junaid’s house with fortitude. After all these years, he still knew exactly how to get there.
When he reached the gate, he couldn’t help but experience flashbacks of what he saw that day. He was still angry at his friend but didn’t want to leave him in solitude. He knew what it felt like and didn’t wish it upon his worst enemy, let alone his best friend.
As soon as Junaid opened the door, he embraced him with all his might. Junaid too was dismal, for he realized how he missed his friend. It was a stirring moment for both.
While pulling away, Junaid’s sleeves slipped up to reveal a huge scar on his arm. He swiftly pulled them down but it was a little too late. It had already caught Aakash’s eyes. Grabbing his arms, Aakash pulled up Junaid’s sleeves and saw bruises all over his arms. He tried to stroke them gently but stopped when Junaid evidently cringed with pain. He could see how the sensation made him reel. And it brought tears to both their eyes.
His voice cracking, Aakash asked, “Why did you do this to yourself?”
“I didn’t”, Junaid said with a smile full of sorrow.
“Then… who?” A puzzled Aakash was now immersed deep in thought. What did this mean? Who’d inflict so much pain on Junaid? And then he realized, suddenly, like a fleeting gush of wind whispered it into his ears.
Shhhhh. Faiza. All this while, it has been Faiza.
His body started shaking like the weight of the entire world was on it. He felt an endless pit in his stomach, dark and empty. Writhing inside him was limitless remorse, and with a numbness that extended all his emotions, he could only get a single word out. “Sorry.”
Junaid deprived of sensation, finally mumbled, “Come in. I’ve cooked mutton korma.”