A/N: I scrapped the prolouge, so all the chapters have been moved back one...but there's a new chapter up. Enjoy :)
Chapter One: At the Airport
I leaned back on the uncomfortable chair, closed my eyes and tried to get some rest before my flight was called. I was in a fairly secluded spot of the airport waiting area. Even so, it was kind of hard to relax.
There were the usual airport sights and sounds. Bits and pieces of conversations carried my way. Frequent flight announcements emanated from the sound system. Young kids loudly expressed their interest in the airplanes on the runway outside, visible through the looking glass that covered half the walls of the huge area. What they could see in the inky darkness outside, was beyond me. Somewhere nearby, a phone was ringing.
In my exhausted state, it took me a while to recognize The Goo Goo Dolls 'Iris' and deduce that it was my mobile. Only a handful of people had my mobile number and I took a minute to wonder why my family would be calling me when they had just seen me off at the airport, barely half an hour ago.
I opened the bag on my lap, pushed aside a few items to unearth my phone. I flipped it open and answered it, not glancing at the screen. 'Hello?'
'Assalaam-alaikum. Took you long enough. Or are you ignoring me now?' A deep, teasing voice I didn't recognise replied. There was a lot of static, the voice was strangely distorted and every second word was interjected by a crackle.
My father and brothers were the only males who knew I had recently gotten a mobile two days ago. Realising it wasn't them, I warily replied, 'Um, I think you have the wrong number.'
'Okay, that hurts. You don't even recognise me,' he replied playfully just as I was about to hang up.
I was tired, sleep-deprived and an emotional basket case to begin with; some asshole chatting me up was not helping matters. I did what any sensible woman in my position would do: I hung up.
I shut the phone and shoved it back into my bag, only to hear the familiar song start playing again moments later.
Groaning, I retrieved it yet again and hit the green key, eyes still half closed. 'Hello?'
It was the weirdo again. 'Reyna, don't hang up. Just hear me out, will you?'
'Get lost,' I snapped. With a vengeance, I pressed the 'end call' key.
Seconds later, it rang again. I was about to turn it off when I looked at the phone screen clearly for the first time that night.
"Sexiest Man Alive calling..."
That ridiculous name triggered a vague memory from within some deep recesses of my mind and I sat up.
I swore under my breath. Only one guy had an ego that big. And of course, he would know my number. After all, he was the one who had sent the mobile to me once he'd heard I liked the new Nokia set. He hadn't called on this number, in the two days since I had received the generous gift and I hadn't been in a fit state of mind to bother with entering new contacts, other than rattling the number off to my family so they could get in touch with me while I was away.
Biting my lip nervously, I answered it, 'Oh my god, I'm so sorry. I didn't even look to see who it was, I thought it was my parents before. And then, that it was some random weirdo. The voice kept breaking up. These last few days have been awful. I mean, I didn't even think of programming your number...'
'Good thing I did, then. Put myself on your speed dial too. Before I sent it to you,' he replied good-naturedly. This time, I could almost picture him; talking, a focused look on his face making me believe I was the only thing on his mind, that almost-dimple when he smiled, the fanatic way he made sure his hair always looked good. Worthless memories, when I had convinced myself not to think about him anymore.
I took the phone from my ear and stared at it in disbelief. Nothing seemed to rattle the guy. Not even when his fiancée was unable to recognise his voice. In my defense, I hadn't talked to him all that much recently. Probably only a handful of times, besides the week we spent together. Several times after our engagement, back when I had been infatuated, eager and downright foolish. Then after the nikah ceremony a month ago, he had called dozens of times but after some weeks, I 'd begun avoiding him. Except the times I had no choice; when he'd rung up and despite my reluctance, my family coaxed me to attend his calls.
The reception was bad and I was too tired to recognise anyone, fiancé or not, right now.
What with the growing panic and turmoil in my mind of the past weeks, which had escalated this week, I had all but jumped at Sara's offer to visit her for some time. I just needed to get away for a while. To escape from all the wedding preparations and the chaos before it suffocated me.
'Oh. I really am sorry. Um, I hope you're not mad,' I said weakly, rubbing my temples with my free hand, hoping to relieve the headache that had been plaguing me since morning.
'Not really. It's not such a big deal, Reyna. I wish you didn't have such a low opinion of me though. But we can work on that,' he said, a smile in his voice. 'Anyway, your mum said you've been ill. So how are you holding up now?'
Aw crud. She probably told him where I was. Or more precisely, where I was headed. I really hadn't wanted him to know.
'Hey, you there?'
'Yeah, I'm here,' I said faintly. 'I'm better now, thanks for asking.'
'You don't sound okay to me,' he said, worriedly. 'Should you be traveling when you're sick? I mean, you'll be all alone in a foreign country. At least there are people here who can take care of you.'
'I won't be alone. I'm staying with Sara, obviousl- oh shit!'
'I knew it,' he said, chuckling softly. 'Game's up, m'dear.'
I felt like kicking myself. He hadn't known where I was going.
'Okay, fine. So now you know. Who told you anyway?'
'Your dear, best friend. Thought I already knew. And do enlighten me, why didn't I know what my fiancée was upto?' he said calmly.
'Don't be upset,' I blurted out and immediately wished I had chosen better words. He barely knew me, why would he care enough to be upset?
'Yeah, Reyna, I'm downright heartbroken,' he joked. Then he said solemnly, 'Actually, I can't help but wonder why you wouldn't tell me. Are you mad at me?'
'No! Why would you think that?' Well, it wasn't directly his fault. I'd been trying to act perfectly normal with him though, so I wondered how he'd cottoned on. 'What would you've done if you'd known anyway?'
'Well, I'm not sure you noticed but you have kind of been ignoring my calls lately. And when you do deign to talk to me, you're so distant it's like talking to a wall. As for-'
'What?' I spluttered. 'You think I talk like a wall?'
The words sounded stupid to my own ears. So I wasn't surprised when I heard him laughing quietly. 'Seriously, how do you come up with this stuff?'
'Yeah, I'm actually a regular comedian, not a medical student,' I said sarcastically. 'Reckon I should've told you that as well, eh?'
He was still having a good laugh at my expense, so I went on in a resigned voice, 'It can't be helped if my brain doesn't function sometimes.'
'Really?' he asked in a fascinated voice.
'Yes. But I'm shutting up now.'
'Okay, good. You didn't let me finish what I was saying before. Where was I?'
'Me. Talk. Wall,' I muttered, too tired to form complete sentences.
I could hear the smile in his voice again.' Yeah. So you've been avoiding me. And as to what I would have done, I'd have at least visited and seen you off if I had any idea you were running away.'
'I am not-'
'Yaar, I'm not done yet. Let me finish,' he said, seriously.
'Fine.' I said scornfully. 'Go on, then.'
'You are running away. And it doesn't exactly make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, y'know.'
'Don't pretend you actually care,' I whispered harshly, mostly to myself.
Of course, he heard what I said. There was a pregnant pause and I heard him draw in a long breath, as if he was fed up. I wouldn't blame him; I was fed up of me too. But this is exactly why I thought this whole thing won't work. I get moody easily and judging from his reactions, he doesn't seem to want to cope with all that hassle.
'Did you not get the memo that we're going to be spending the rest of our lives together?'
Having had enough of my mouth diarrhea, I didn't even acknowledge that with a reply.
'Come to think of it, we're already legally married. Except, you know, we haven't had the honeymoon yet and we're not living together,' he said roguishly.
As if I wasn't already experiencing a panic attack, he had to mention that little detail to make the situation even worse. Thing is, he was actually right. The nikah is actually the only thing we needed to legalise the marriage. All the other stuff was mainly traditional rituals from years of Indian influence, yet has wormed its way into our society until it became part and parcel of wedding ceremonies all over Pakistan.
'Don't say that!' I said shrilly, my voice rising a few octaves. People three rows away from me looked at me strangely.
'Why the hell not? What is it you're so scared of? Is this how you want it to be from now on? You get cold feet and turn your back on everything. Forget the fact that the wedding's less than a month away. Forget that this is a life long commitment. Forget that whatever bothers you is automatically supposed to bother me too.'
'Make it sound like a duty you wish you didn't have to perform, why don't you?' I pondered, wishing I had the guts to say that instead of the obtuse answer I gave:
'Leave me alone. You know I can't tell you.'
'What is that supposed to mean?' He sounded, surprisingly, calm.
'Look, you won't understand. So just drop it,' I said, lowering my voice so that all the curious onlookers couldn't hear.
'No, you look. This, whatever this is, is obviously important. Important enough to make you fly half across the world to try to deal with it.'
Why did everything he say have to make so much sense?
'It's not. I'm just being overly paranoid,' I lied.
'I get that you don't trust me enough to tell me the truth, but don't lie to yourself, Reyna. You're not fooling anyone.'
I was quiet after that. This phone call was getting more awkward by the second; he was relentless and completely unwilling to back down from an argument. This would take a while and I was not in the mood for more bickering.
'Reyna, as much as I like to hear you breathing, I was actually anticipating some kind of response. Or are you not going to honour me with one?'
'Um, I have to go. My flight's being called. And you know what? I don't want to talk to you anymore. Bye,' I said curtly.
I could hear him say something as I jabbed at the 'end call' key, but I was beyond caring. Ruthlessly, I switched the mobile off. And when, half an hour later, the voice over the airport loudspeaker announced that my flight was boarding and all passengers must report to Gate 8, I was only too glad to be temporarily rid of this nightmare.
I managed to summon up enough energy to silently proclaim, Madrid, here I come!
Edited: 30th September, '11.
Yaar -slang for friend/mate etc
Nikah -marriage certificate signing