MRS BUGAJI CHAPTER 18

MRS BUGAJI CHAPTER 18
Mubarak stood frozen at the door when he got home. His feet remained cemented to the floor. Maryam feared he had suffered a stroke. She went close to him to make him understand what he was seeing, but when she stood next to him, Mubarak snagged her arm in a firm hold and dragged her to their study. He banged the door shut behind them until the glass door that linked the study to their backyard rattled.23 Okay... havoc it is then.5 She knew something like this would happen when she called Sarah and ask if Amir could come over to the house and meet the kids. She had assured her that it would be okay. Sarah had reluctantly agreed when Maryam said that was the only way the boy could bond with his father.63 It was the magic word. And here they were with Amir in his father's house. She just couldn't shake the feeling that this was what the boy needed.18 "What the heck do you think you are doing?! You have no business getting him here!"30 Maryam closed her eyes briefly, she knew this was coming and she was ready for it.6 But Mubarak looked like she had just hacked his chest and plucked out his heart. The colour drained from his face and she knew she had never seen him this livid.6 "Please, Ya Mubarak. The boy just got out of the hospital he needed a new environment to recuperate, what is the harm in bringing him here? Besides he has kicked off well with Muhammad. I wanted him to meet them and Sarah was okay with it."10 "S... Sarah?! Where did you..."6 "I'm sorry, I searched for her and found her in Greenwich." Mubarak swiped his face down with his hands. "You went to meet her?! So what if he wants to meet them? Just because he has a connection with our son doesn't mean you should bring him here. Where did he recuperate before now? Does that mean we should move in all the kids in Muhammad's class to join the party? This is absurd! I want him gone when I return to this house." He began to leave but Maryam blocked his path.20 "I'm sorry but I can't take him back. He is staying for the day."31 Mubarak's jaw went slack. He tried to speak again.5 "What! What is wrong with you?! This is madness, how could you take a sick child you know nothing about and have him over for the whole day? Is this a picnic? You can't do this! Call her right away and tell her to come and take her son!"32 He brought out his phone and scrolled through his contacts when he couldn't get what he was looking for, he nearly hit the wall with his phone, he then dialled someone.12 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Send me Sarah's number ASAP!" He clicked off. Whoever was on the other side had ended up on the receiving end of Mubarak's wrath.16 Even though she was doing this for a purely different purpose, the pain she saw in his eyes almost made her regret the way she had gone around things. Almost.17 But she knew why Mubarak was pushing this aside. He was too bent on proving himself to be a bad person in her eyes that he had assumed the role effortlessly. But deep down she knew it would eat at his conscience if anything were to happen to Amir. She wouldn't let him carry that burden.24 The kindness in him was too much to let him do that to the boy. She had seen him at his kindest. She had seen him around the kids at the hospital they visited with the foundation. He was always at home with them. This was his kid, she couldn't let him abandon him. Not when he was this sick and needed him most.29 Mubarak had offered her unbridled friendship even when he thought their future was bleak. He had been by her side when he found out about the rape, he had loved her more when he felt that she wasn't loved enough. She literally went mad at some point in their marriage yet Mubarak still stood by her side. Offering her his generous kindness. The man had put up with her mother because of her. He had been her support for more times than she could count.34 Without his support by Allah's will, she didn't know what would have been of her. His kindness to her, his love to their kids, his love to her all pointed at what a good man Mubarak was from inside out. He was a beautiful man, and she would be a hypocrite if she shunned him now. She was not about to prove her mother right by closing her eyes to the bounty she had right in front of her.19 Their status may be different, his worldliness was far greater than hers, yet he succumbed to her. She had seen how miserable he got when he thought she was angry at him or when he did something bad. This was the point her breath hitched in her throat and she knew then that she was going to embrace her husband and be with him through his trial.23 She was done pushing him away and she wouldn't let him do that to her.16 After saying her nawaafil salah that night, long after Sarah came to pick up Amir, Maryam slept with a renewed hope that soon, things shall be good again, in sha Allah.13 *** The following week, Mubarak leaned on the door frame, watching them from afar. When Maryam was done glueing the last card, she turned to meet his gaze, she smiled and turned around to inspect their work. She left them in the room and stopped next to him.8 Mubarak tucked in his hands in his jeans pockets, holding off the serious urge he felt to hold her. They weren't past that barrier yet, they may be talking civilly with each other. But a diamond was softer than the barrier between them. She hadn't touched him in weeks.16 "You are enjoying this, aren't you?" he said between clenched teeth.16 Maryam's eyes widened right before she smiled and tilt her head to the side. She sucked her teeth. "Yeah, a little bit." she followed up her statement with a wink.12 Oh he swear she was out to get him with full force. As if he wasn't miserable enough.15 Mubarak's lips parted into a painful smile. "So, we've come down to this, you enjoying my misery?"13 Maryam's gaze remained fixed, she looked thoughtful for a moment. "No, actually it's more like, you seeing a daily reminder of your mistake and that, keeping you in check. See the logic there?" she shrugged, her lips still holding the smile.36 When Mubarak's face contorted with pain, Maryam sucked in some air. Her face turned serious and she dropped the smug look. "Was that what you wanted me to say? Don't worry, you're safe. No hard feelings. Really, we are good. Are you sure you've always wanted to become a lawyer?"9 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Mubarak's brows furrowed at the abrupt change of topic. "What?" he blinked twice.7 "Because for a lawyer, your blood sure seems to be dripping with a lot of craft." She patted his shoulder and disappeared behind the glass doors of the study, the blank look on her face almost permanent.9 Mubarak's eyes landed on the cardboard cutouts scattered on the floor by the kids play mat and for a moment there, he almost believed that he was a slow learner.5 His head pounded, especially when she voiced out the thought that had been simmering within him for the past three weeks. His world had turned upside down.3 He had never thought Maryam would accept his out-of-wedlock son. But not only did she accept him, she'd invited him into her home, let him interact with his half-siblings. She had even pretended that everything was good between them, she may sound indifferent but he knew her goodness was soul-deep. He knew Maryam would only do this because she wanted to. Because of Allah.26 But why did it feel like she was punishing him? He knew he didn't even deserve her after what he had brought down upon them. But by Allah, there was no worse punishment than seeing the woman you love, the woman you would lay your life for, treat you with nonchalance, that was worse than her throwing tantrums. He kept waiting for her to implode, but Maryam was stronger than the London tower bridge.34 She had smiled through it all, but her smile only showed how much she was hurting deep inside. Maryam had mastered all ways possible to absorb pain. He knew this pain had destroyed her within.13 The moment she left the hospital, it was as if she had dumped all the hurt on him. And he had to deal with telling his parents, he had to deal with seeing the kid roam around his house as per her insistence, and worst of all he had to lie next to Maryam every night and not have enough courage to tell her that he had wronged himself, his family and mostly his Lord. He was too ashamed to even look her in the eye and tell her he was worthless.23 He had to put a barrier between them and avoid her in all possible means.14 The shame was too much to bear. He wanted to tell her he was sorry for the child they had lost. This time they knew he caused it. His actions had blasted them like the tsunami. And it set with it a ripple effect on their near-perfect lives.12 He had indeed lost this battle, despite that, he sighed and said, "Hasbunallahu wa ni'imal Wakeel!"7 At night, Mubarak performed ablution and stood in prayer as it had now become his habit. He sometimes observed the night prayers before this, but the occurrence of this had brought him even closer to Allah, because that was the only place he got solace from. When he bowed down to his Lord in Sujood.27 "O, Allah! Forgive me, have mercy on me, guide me, provide me good health and livelihood, comfort and elevate my reputation."16 O, Allah! Increase upon us Your favour and do not decrease it, Be kind on us and do not dislike us, give us and do not disown us, let us be first and let no one before us and love You and You love us.19 O, Allah! Like You have created us from the best of mould make us best of our behaviour.9 O, Allah! Let me be firm in my belief, make me guide and be guided to the right path."10 "Astaghfirullahul azeem Alladhi laa ila ha illa huwal Hayyul Qayyum wa atubu ilaih."12 He cried as he prayed for reconciliation with his parents, he prayed for Allah to create a way out of his misery, he prayed for forgiveness from Allah until he was all cried out.27 *** Maryam closed her eyes briefly and adjusted the thin veil she had draped over her head. She was dressed in a cream and red ankara skirt and blouse, ditching the head tie, still not a big fan of it. She styled her hair into a low wavy ponytail, applied light make-up on her face and perfumed herself with Baccarat rouge, Mubarak's favourite.26 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  After taking in herself in the long mirror in her bedroom, she was happy with what she saw. She had not decked up like this since the night of the storm. She had decided, if things were to get better it had to be a collective effort from the both of them. If Mubarak would keep avoiding her, she would make sure she did what was right on her part.12 She had received strings of messages from him since the event which she had ignored. But when she finally got to read them, her heart broke for Mubarak.11 -"Shaaden I'm really sorry."4 -"Maryam, I'm sorry for what you are going through."8 -"If only I could make this right. I'm truly sorry."8 -"I don't know how to make this up to you."4 -"You don't need to say anything, I know I deserve all this hurt. But please stop hurting, Shaaden. I can't see you like this anymore."27 -"Can we ever get back what we lost?"7 -"How can I turn it off?"16 She hadn't been able to face him and talk about this, a part of her was still angry at him. Even though talking to Sa'ima had eased down most of her hurt but she needed to talk with Mubarak.5 Bilaal had come to see her the previous day, he had spoken to her with wisdom and asked her to be patient about this new turn of events. She had told him she was okay with it, that it was all part of Mubarak's past and she was willing to accept it.5 But Mubarak was still angry with himself and was not opening up to her at all. She was aware that Hajiya was still not speaking to him, and not answering his calls and had forbidden him from stepping into the mansion.17 He had recoiled into himself and it was as if the once open and straightforward man she knew her husband to be was gone.5 She must have caught him off-guard when she found him in the living room. He started at the sight of her.3 His eyes were sunken, his beard grown. The white v-neck sweater he wore hung loose on his frame. Maryam sat next to him on the couch.12 "I know you are hurting." She said, with no preamble.3 Mubarak didn't speak, he just stared at the space above the TV. Maryam let out a sigh.2 "I can't do this alone. Do you assume we just get on living like this without talking about this? I want you to know that we will get through this together. But I can't do that if I don't know what you are thinking, if I don't know how you are feeling. I know it is not easy. I'm scared too. But you have got to give me something, Ya Mubarak. I can't face two hurts alone.16 "I'm broken, I don't know how to take this. I've done everything that would make this better for us. But I can't go on like this... My family means everything to me, and for it, I've tried to rationalize everything and do things I thought would bring us ease. Nothing, of course, will wipe this away. But I need you to snap out of whatever this is you are going through. Because I don't know how to do it alone. I am still hurt and angry but we have to move past all these if we are going to move on with our lives. I hate how I'm feeling, and honestly I'm tired of pretending not to care. Because you know what? I damn care a lot! It is killing me and I have had enough. So you need to give me something to hold on to!"17 She patted his clasped hands and held on, waiting for him to say something. But instead of words, a tear slipped from his downcast eyes and splattered on the back of her hand. He looked away to hide it from her and it seared her heart. She missed how he wasn't afraid to show her his weakness. Now it seemed all he did was hide from her.40 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam knew she needed to let him do this in his own pace. She walked away, and with each step she took, Maryam wished Mubarak would call her name, or slither next to her and give her his warmth.7 But he never did.48 *** When Maryam turned on her side, her breath turned shallow. After so much tossing and turning she finally was able to catch some fatigue-induced sleep. The past four weeks had been the most difficult weeks of her life.6 When she felt the tightness that engulfed her in her sleep she thought she had been dreaming. Until she felt the wetness of tears and the sound of sobs.37 Her eyes flew open.3 Maryam was stunned to find her back lifted off the bed and her body pressed tightly against Mubarak's he was hugging her tight, and tears flowed freely from his eyes.20 "Shaaden, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me for putting you through this."45 He shook with the intensity of his cries. Maryam had never thought someone as mountainous as Mubarak Umar Bugaje could be broken down to this.16 She could feel his shame in his sobs, and his regret in the tears that soaked her silky nightdress. Her own throat closed with the tightness of all the emotions she had been trying to suppress, of what she had kept ignoring, trying to hold her family together. Keeping to her promise of not leaving him, despite all the pricks and stabs she felt whenever he walked into a room.16 Her guilt matched the shame he felt for what he had done in equal proportion, for not being able to accept his mistake at first, for not accepting all his bad, for only loving the good side of him. That guilt had hovered over her all through the days, but Maryam knew that only love for the good, the bad and the ugly could make her stay and be with him in his most trying moment.13 But she knew that Mubarak was hers to love, hers to heal and hers to be with. Just like she had been his to love, his to heal and his to restore.22 Her hand went to his shoulder, she pulled herself away, easing his hold on her. "M.K, it's okay. Let's get some sleep, I told you I'll be here for you." She said, her tone gentle.13 "No, it's not, we've lost so much because of this, our baby is gone too before I even know it was there. I made you go through a lot, despite promising to protect you."12 Maryam blinked back her tears. She had intended to surprise him with the news of her pregnancy when he took them out that fateful night. She swallowed as the pain stabbed her afresh. But it was never meant to be. She may be angry with him or wished things happened differently, but she wasn't cruel enough to let him carry this burden. The burden of losing their child for the third time.14 Her eyes clouded over. "I know, it was terrible, but nothing we do or say will change anything from happening, so I got you. Okay? Besides, the baby would have been lost through some other means because it was our destiny. The doctor said the embryo hadn't implanted itself well in the womb. I think the shock just helped it rid itself faster." At the time she was so furious at him she had asked the doctor not to mention that detail to him. But letting him carry this on his conscience would make her worst than him.6 Mubarak nodded slowly as if scared if he breathed hard, she would vanish.3 "I know there are the kids to think about and all, I understand if you want to..."23 "Shh... I won't be my mother if that is what you are asking." She interrupted.12 She held his gaze in the dim light spilling through the closet door when she said her next words. "I won't stay for the kids to ruin the kids. I'm staying for us, M.K. As long as you hold up your end, and nothing close to this comes up again. I will stay. But I can only survive this many heartbreaks in my life. Don't be my ruination. We'll walk through this, together, in sha Allah." Hot tears slipped from her eyes.45 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Mubarak stammered on his words. He brushed his knuckles over his mouth, his eyes filled with disbelief from what she'd said, she was staying? Maryam was not going away? She would... Ya Rabbi what had he done to deserve so much kindness? What had he done to deserve Maryam? Alhamdulillah! Was all he could utter. His tears wouldn't hold on at the end. And he cried like a small child, sobbing into her neck his distress raking him apart.16 Maryam leaned in and pressed a kiss to his forehead.9 "You are my complete story M.K, don't you ever forget that!"80 Mubarak crushed her to himself enveloping her into an all encompassing hug. He sobbed into her neck. He felt like putting her inside his heart to cradle her and protect her from every bad thing in the world. But she was all over him. He felt like combusting.9 Maryam held him too. This was the moment she totalled. It hit her with a drunken stupor how much she had missed him. Truly missed him.25 "I love you so much, Shaaden. I don't know how to make this right. But I promise you, I will, in sha Allah. May Allah never leave you lacking in anything you desire in this world and the next."20 "We will make it right, together." She said, already pursuing a plan in her head.8 Mubarak nodded, his face pressed to her chest. "You are coming with me to meet Amir tomorrow." Maryam whispered.6 Mubarak let go of her as if she had drenched him in iced water. "No, Shaaden. I won't."9 "You need to be there M.K, for him. We need to accept this. If you don't want to go, we can bring him over. You are a man with a kind heart and I believe you will do what is right. We got this okay?" She held his gaze, making sure he saw how sincere her words were.6 "Thank you." He finally said, covering a new sob. "Thank you, Shaaden." He pressed his lips to hers and lingered giving Maryam a tender care that would only partially restore her. An inch a day and he hoped someday he could make her whole again.21 *** Mubarak's hands felt cold in hers. She slid her fingers into his, entwining their hands. "You are going to meet him, now, M.K. Are you ready?"1 Mubarak was thoughtful for a moment, she feared he was going to go silent on her again. But he spoke, finally. "I can't do it, Maryam. I don't want to meet him. It doesn't mean anything even if I do."5 He hugged her hands to his chest. "What made you do this? What made you bring him here? You know I don't want to. It will break this family apart... I can't."11 "Shhh... It's done now. He is right next door, all you have to do is take those steps there and everything will unfold naturally."7 Mubarak let out a loud sigh. "I'll be here with you, I'll be there too if you need me," Maryam prod.3 Why was Maryam taking this better than him? He had known himself to do stupid things, but now it was proven what a nitwit he was, he couldn't even step up and face his problems, Maryam had to do it for him.12 Mubarak walked to the door. He stood there for a long moment until Maryam felt like he wasn't going to speak. Then Amir looked up and he dropped the toy he was holding. This was the first time Mubarak made his presence known to the boy, he had always lurked around both times Maryam had brought him to the house.8 The uncertainty in the boy's dark onyx eyes was almost palpable.3 Mubarak raised a hand and gave him a little wave. "Hi, Amir."13 He willed himself to smile. And the boy rushed to him and held his legs so tight, Mubarak had to come down to his level.45 Maryam felt a surge of tears, but she blinked them back and let out a slow breath.3 She smiled at the sight before her.25 It shall all be well, bi'idhnillah!38 ***So what, now you are going to play Mom to your husband's bastard child?" Hajiya Aisha sipped her tea as she watched her daughter over the lacey rim of her teacup.44 They had returned from their trip three days ago. And they would leave via London, now Maryam had to deal with all Hajiya Aisha had to offer since she met Amir at their house when she brought him over.7 Hajiya Aisha waited for her daughter's response. Maryam paused from butchering the chicken. And Hajiya Aisha shuddered, lucky thighs! Those things had seen better days, her daughter was out to get them to their last nerves.15 "Mama, I don't think you are in the right place to say anything about this." The irritation was clear in her daughter's voice.12 Uh, fiery. She expected that though, her daughter had become so predictable she almost always knew her response to situations before they even happen, which was why this event shocked her.28 Maryam could take anything but injustice, what injustice could be greater than raising your husband's bastard child in your house along with your legal kids?18 "What? It isn't my place to say that because I'm not a wife or because I'm not a mother? Uh... excuse me, young woman, I had my father and mother while growing up. Tell me why it is so difficult to understand this... situation." She wanted to shake Maryam so hard to get her back to her right senses. Maybe she had no right to do that, but all things aside, she did not give birth to a foolish child.19 "There is nothing to understand Mama, it is what it is and I choose to accept it."11 Hajiya Aisha raised her brows as she regarded her daughter. She brought the teacup back to her lips and took a sip.8 "So, when is the wedding?" She asked with the same indifference she would have used if she'd been asking if it was sunny outside.23 Maryam refused to look up. But her hand gripped the knife tightly. "You can ask Baba, I don't know anything about the details or the plans."15 Hajiya Aisha shrugged. "Oh, no. I meant your husband's. I thought since the child now lives with you... the mother will join you next. Or is she just going to move in without a ceremony? You must be more accommodating than I thought then if that is the case. Snap out of it Maryam! This is the height of stupidity I tell you. This bastard will become your husband's world and your kids will be sidelined and become strangers in their father's house."61 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Mama." Maryam clenched her jaws together and shut her eyes tight. She took in some deep breaths before she opened them again. "This is a test to us and Alhamdulillah. We are taking it as it is, are we going to change the fact that it has already happened? No! Since we have no control over this then I don't think it is appropriate to even dwell on it. I don't want to talk about this, and I have lunch to prepare if you'll excuse me, please."10 Maryam resumed the butchering, the sound of metal against wood grating Hajiya Aisha's ears.8 She winced.2 "Ugh! You know what your problem is? You are too naive, you've been that way growing up and that is why you have always been taken for granted, you have always seen the good side of things hence always easily manipulated. You always think you are doing something you want to do whereas it is nowhere near that. You are too soft Maryam, that boy there is a disaster in your home. He will wreck it beyond repair, mark my words."39 Maryam turned completely to face her now. "That boy is sick Mama, his heart is weak and one of his lungs isn't functioning. He needs all the love he can get, what was his fault when he didn't even know his parents were conceiving him in the wrong way? Tell me what is his fault now? Why must we all hate him because of something he had no say in?19 "A wreck? You talk about a wreck? Do you mean a wreck like me? When I wrecked your home? Is that what you mean? Did you not know what to do with me once you found out about me? Is that why you have been so bitter towards me?"43 Hajiya Aisha's hand slipped and the teacup hit the floor. The sound left her unflinching.29 Maryam reared her head back with a short laugh. "Oh, you didn't think I would ever find out with all the hate and the difference in appearance, so who was he?"126 Maryam tasted blood and tears in her mouth thanks to the violent smack Hajiya Aisha just gave her, she traced the wound with the tip of her tongue but didn't bother to spit out the blood. Her tainted blood.29 "We both know this is not the answer you have been looking for. Was it true? What people say about me? That I was never Baba's?"59 "Enough! You shut up before I render you toothless!" Hajiya A'isha's eyes teared up, but she blinked them defiantly. "You don't know anything. You shut the heck up or I will remove the life out of you! Don't you dare say such a disgusting thing to me. You have no idea. Oh, you have nooo idea! So... you have no right whatsoever to say that to me."34 Maryam watched as her mother went manic. For a moment she was scared Mama was going to have a cardiac arrest. She looked so red and flushed her hands trembled.10 "What do you want me to think then? Why don't you tell me so that I have an idea why a woman would hate a child she bears under all the feasible conditions required to bring a child into this world? Why are you so ashamed of me? Why do you hate me so much you wished death upon me, Mama? Does it pain you to hear me say the word 'Mama'? Am I so unworthy? Why am I different from the others? Why am I dark and the rest all fair skinned? Is that enough to make you hate me? "21 Hajiya Aisha let out a harsh laugh. "Still so naive, eh? Do you think this is all about you? You think I hate you? You think I'd live through a miserable thirty-something-year-old humiliation because, oh look at the crazy woman? Well, Maryam since you insist you want to know, then hear me out because this is the only time I'm saying this.17 "I've never loved anyone as much as I loved and still love you. You may have been caught up in a crossfire of our battle but I swear to God, it had never been about you. Just like I love you enough to survive a tremulous life with your father, he loves you so much too. You are his favourite, I know you know that by now. Daaso this Daaso that, he named you after his mother. And I don't have to tell you how much he loves his mother, right?22 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "The only problem was we've run out of common things to love, and the only way I could remain sane was to hurt the only thing that went straight to your father's heart. I have watched him aged, I've watched him gone sleepless not because it didn't hurt me too. But I'm sorry, and this should never come from a mother's lips, you were my ticket out of your father's injustice. I left you hungry, it was him that felt the pangs, I insulted you, it was him that shed the tears. And oh Maryam, I'm sorry but if I had to do it all over again? I won't change a thing about how your father felt, but I'll always choose you first." Hajiya Aisha swallowed hard, her eyes bloodshot.92 "I'd love you and care for you and you'd be my world over anything, Maryam." She raised her head up to swallow her tears. 46 Maryam's eyes were as big as saucer. Slowly she brought down her hands from her broken lips. "You know that sounds sick, right?"36 Hajiya Aisha wiped her face, now that the tears had escaped the confines of her eyes. "I have waited, day in day out, I've watched over you and toiled hard when you came along. They were the worst days of my life. I had to watch your father philander with so many women I was scared to go out lest I found out he had propositioned someone I knew. It was so bad I hid for a year! He chased anything moving in a skirt.86 "I despised everything about him and what he turned me into. I had hope that he would get back to me once he knew we were having another baby, you. I was wrong" She cried. "He hated me even more, he wouldn't come home for two months sometimes three.40 "He would buy me wrappers and gifts when coming back only for me to see the same design and colour on some newscaster girlfriend he was favouring at the time. Once when I confronted him about it, he shoved me across the room. He..." Hajiya A'isha cut Maryam a look- who looked like she was about to pass out from shock. "Maryam, you don't want to know half of it! So don't you dare think I've not fought hard to get my marriage back. You have no right to say something that outrageous..."46 "I have no right because it was my fault your husband treated you wrongfully? Or because I was the bad luck that tainted your home? Or because you have transferred all your hurts on me? Which one is it Mama? You drove me crazy. I'm still seeing a psychotherapist several years after, because of what you made me go through. It was harrowing I've never known what a mother's love or warmth is. Do you then think I would watch as that poor child gets neglected by his father because he was not responsible enough not to philander? What is our fault in your messed up lives? What role did we play?!"33 Hajiya Aisha slid to the floor and hugged her knees to herself. She cried into her arms.10 "I have tried so hard..."9 Hajiya Aisha reflected when she would scoff at all the women going to the Malams and soothsayers for luck, she used to say they were illiterate and ignorant of what they were partaking in. Only for her to eventually slip into the group of the deluded, and instead of her husband, Alhaji Muhammad to be by her side, and admonish her out of it, he went to her father and siblings and told them how she had engaged herself in the blind following of fake malams.18 He had called her an occultist and he doubted if she hadn't slept around with her Malams. That hurt most, because despite him being a renowned philanderer, she had never told people about his affairs, she was always the first to cover up his faults. Her friends would call their house to tell her that they saw her husband in another town or district with a woman in his car and she would say no, he was in town and he just left home.35 Oh, the lies she told to cover for him! But his declaration to her parents had cost her her father's love and pushed her father to hate her and bought her brothers' hatred and her sisters' disrespect. Her father had let out an outburst right there in his presence saying how she had only taken after her mother Hajiya Sa'a with her flair of drama and that he wasn't surprised that happened.25 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  And right in the middle of the commotion her father had cursed her if she so much as stepped out of her husband's house in the name of a divorce. She was to remain glued to him for life even if she caught him red-handed with another woman on their matrimonial bed. How then would she regain her respect?60 She had no one to turn to, she had desperately wanted to turn a new leaf, she had no one's support, not even her mother's because she was, after all, the person that had introduced her to most of the notorious malams hoping she would gain her glory back in the eyes of her husband, forgetting that only Allah was capable of making things be.20 Her only option then was to turn to her friends. They'd only shown her new ways of getting her husband back under her control. In a more refined manner.6 So when it was time for Alhaji Muhammad to support her, he had turned his back on her, he had left her dry and hanging and he had not believed in her or supported her. And when he realized what he did, she was already far gone. Their marriage remained a faćade where she hid under all the luxury he could provide for her because just like her, he wanted to maintain the best image to the outside world.22 She must admit it wasn't just for show, she would never love another man like she loved her husband, but when the line between love and hate became a blur everything just didn't matter anymore.9 She had lost too much to him, for him, for his love, she had no idea how to cleanse herself from all the filth he'd pushed her into.14 But Allah knew she had done her best. Would she ever forgive him or herself? She was not sure, And she had no idea if her children would ever stop hating her. When her heart screamed for her to reach out, the pleasure she got from seeing their father suffer because of them was just too much to pass on. And eventually, she had learned to unlove. It was the scariest thing that ever happened to her. She shook with her cries and soaked her wrapper through.18 Maryam had only seen her mother cry this hard when Nabeela passed away. She stepped around the broken teacup and joined her mother on the floor beside the island.2 "I'm an awful mother." Hajiya Aisha said, her head hung between her knees.24 "Lousy, yeah. It's an old thing." Maryam grimaced.23 "I shouldn't even be called one. I can't believe I said I didn't want you."19 Maryam's heart lurched in her chest but she nodded. "That hurt a lot too. It left me numb each time you said that. I always wondered why. Why me? All I wanted was to break the walls around your heart, all you ever did was to wreck mine."26 "I know, and I can't even apologise for that, because I don't know if I can truly wipe away what I believed at a time. I'm sorry you got me as a mother, Maryam. I'm sorry for all the things I can't even say I forgive myself for. For dragging you all down with me, for all the bad words, for wishing you ill, for... depriving you of my love." Hajiya Aisha shook with her sobs. 32 Maryam was quiet, silent tears running down her cheeks.7 "I'm an unhappy woman. A frustrated clueless woman who thought running after the world would get her the world. I lost it long before the dip. After it, let's just say I didn't know the woman I was before it all began. I... All this while, I thought he doesn't make me happy. I blamed my sadness on him. On his failure to be the man I expected him to be."15 Maryam's eyes moved to her mother. "Mama, you don't let someone give you happiness, you choose to be happy. No one is capable of giving that to you except Allah."27 "I know, I was just too foolish to see that, I became blinded and followed every means I see or hear that I thought would get me what I wanted, leaving the one source with all the guarantee. And now at the end of it, I've lost it all, you, your father, the respect of the ummah, everything. For God's sake, we fought in our in-law's house! What could be more humiliating than that? And the things I made Mubarak go through hoping that he would..."27 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam placed a tentative hand on her mother's clasped hands, "Mama, you'll never lose us, because we know in our hearts that you do love us, the whole world would go against us, but a mother would never do that, even if she says it. I'm a mother, I know. Sometimes, yes, some times we do get a bit selfish and out of order, that is understandable as long as it is our past. We don't have any control over our pasts, but we do have control over what we do now, and what we do in the future. And that is why if you make it right you can salvage what is left. As for what happened with us, the hurt will be there but know that we'll always have your back. We do make mistakes too. I can't say starting afresh would be easy, but at least there is hope.22 "Allah knows how many times I really wished I could change myself into someone I'm not. How many times I've talked back at you holding no regards that you are my mother, I've messed up pretty badly too but that doesn't mean we shouldn't rise above the tide. That doesn't mean we keep sinking in our sins."8 "Oh Maryam, you have no idea, how high mine goes. You have no idea how and what I did just to keep your father with me. I... I loved him soooo much Maryam, I gave myself to him." Hajiya Aisha broke down again, this time the hurt was too much for her to even shed tears.20 "First you should seek Allah's forgiveness, because you have transgressed His boundaries. Mama, Baba loves you too. A lot. He knows about the malams and the potions, yet he stayed with you and kept praying for your guidance, he would break down at times and call me at midnight without even knowing the time. Mama someone who doesn't love you won't do that for you. Oddly, he still adores you.31 "Admittedly, at a point in time he must have been an awful husband to you, but seeing his growth from the man you knew to the man he is now I think along the way, that scornful prayer of a scorned wife had been answered and that was why things had been so bad for him financially. We never know the ways of Allah. But Mama wallahi Baba is all heart and soul for you now. You just have to let go of your insecurities.13 "That's why when we are faced with trials and tribulations, we seek out the righteous so that we are guided towards Allah."6 "Oh, how blinded I was. I turned a shade redder whenever I got a whiff of him getting close to a woman. There was this time, he would take me out to eat then I would see the fleeting way the waitress would look at me, sometimes I would be right there but he wouldn't be with me and it didn't happen once, no it wasn't a coincidence. To say the least, I fought hard to keep him. When he said he was getting married and I left home a few years ago, it was to one of his old girlfriends, I knew there was no way I was going to stay with him if she was going to come in because she was part of our problems. I've never had any problem regarding anything whatsoever with your father except over women."33 Maryam nodded, trying to place herself in her mother's shoes. She couldn't imagine having a constant battle like this year in year out over Mubarak. She would die along the way just like her mother had gone bunkers.18 Her hand moved over Mama's and she clasped it in hers.2 "He's already kept, yes he's made some mistakes, I believe he isn't proud of them..." Maryam hoped at least he wasn't, because right now she knew nothing anymore. But she needed to do this for her mother.4 "Mama, you bottled them up and went on speculating, building things in your mind, non-existent things that kept eating away at your marriage. It brought about so much bitterness that you treated everyone around you with spite. Transferring your aggression to us. But had you let it out since it wouldn't have come to this. So go on, tell him how you feel, let it out. Keeping everything bottled up made you a desperate woman who would go to any length to get some happiness. But you didn't find it because you've been searching for it in all the wrong places.8 "Your happiness lies within yourself, Mama. You have to be fulfilled, love yourself before you see how people love you and care for you."21 Hajiya Aisha nodded. "Mama, I just need to know one thing though, why did you push my marriage to Ya Mubarak after knowing about him and Ya Nabeelah?"15 Hajiya Aisha sucked in her breath. "Hajiya Kulthum has always adored you, perhaps it is their mother's name-thing that made them love you or just because you were loveable to all, but she has always loved you." Hajiya Aisha wiped her tears away a small smile playing on her lips.10 "She was always sending you gifts, taking you with her to their house whenever she was in Nigeria. Najma was a month older than you, she would get you matching things and treated you like twins. She has always adored you. So, when she asked us if Mubarak could have your hand in marriage, I knew if it were up to her you'd get all the love you have never found in me. But I also knew there was a huge possibility that Mubarak would turn out to be like... like your father mostly because of what I witnessed him do with...14 "So, I agreed but after that, I... persuaded Mubarak to make sure that I gave him no room to do to you what I've always done to you. I thought my blackmail would help keep him in check, I also thought that scaring you into thinking it wouldn't work would push you to make it work. Because I knew whatever I tell you, you would turn around and do the exact opposite of it. So when I told you it won't work you made it work perfectly. I also had the fear that Mubarak would show what I assumed was still his true colour, but he has proved me wrong as well. He has proved that some people actually do change."45 Maryam swiped her face down with trembling hands. "Ya Rabbi! You took a lot of effort to make sure I hate you, you took even greater effort to hate me."13 Hajiya Aisha shrugged. "I don't know any other way, I guess I've been pretending for so long that I lost grip of my reality. I couldn't let myself show you any affection. I felt that would be a failure on my part... how wrong of me to think that! How incredibly selfish of me to think that! Despite knowing how it felt to not feel loved by my own mother. I turned out even worse than her. I'm so sorry, Maryam." The sob escaped her lips again and she shook with it.20 Maryam's lungs let out a whoosh of air when Hajiya Aisha pulled her into an abrupt hug. She stayed there for a long time that Maryam remained frozen and disoriented, her hugs had always been hurried, but this was wholesome, soothing and filled with love.17 "Thank you Maryam, indeed you've spoken the truth. Do you think your father will ever forgive me, after all these years of atrocity? Ya Allah, what would I tell my Lord? Wayyo ni Ladi!" Hajiya Aisha cried.47 "Shhh, it's okay Mama." Maryam hugged her mother back. Her tears seeping onto the pink-tinged fair skin of her mother's hands, her mother's seeping onto her dark one. For the first time in her life, Maryam knew what a mother's warmth truly felt like, no hurried hugs or fake smiles. Just the love a daughter felt from her mother.9 Maybe someday, she would forgive her mother.48 Maybe someday.18 Indeed calamities do occur, but Maryam believed that every hurdle she crossed was either meant for her to skip or navigate around. Either way, they had set her on her predestined journey.6 She had never imagined her mother and her would lay out all their pain for each other to acknowledge. Yet it only took one disastrous event in her life to bring them close to that.16 Maryam stretched her white-jeans-clad legs forward on the bay window seat in her bedroom, one of her favourite additions to her room when Mubarak upgraded their house earlier this year.15 It was chilly outside, a purple sweater stretched over her body and the heating system in the house kept the chill at bay. She looked outside the window to the streets covered with fallen leaves, it was all gloomy as if life had never touched them. They were shrunken and spent like her soul but they were still colourful. Was she still colourful? She didn't know what a colourful soul looked like, but whatever it looked like, it must be fun to have. And a blessing too.16 She hugged one of the blue floral pillows arranged behind her to her chest. A book she was reading was left upturned by her feet. Earlier, she had tried to be with the kids to take her mind off things, but she ended up yelling at them multiple times, hitting Muhammad twice. Mubarak had to go out with them for a while, leaving her to "catch a break". They were still out, she guessed he would take them to Bilaal's house since he was still not allowed in his father's house.38 Now as she sat alone, Maryam tried to wrap her head around everything, how their lives had turned around. From the hurt, shock, disappointments, revelations, loss and acceptance right down to her epiphany that not all things that met the eyes were actually true. It wasn't that she was unloveable, rather people she craved love from had chosen not to love her. And people she trusted most had ended up on the dullest end of the spectrum. All this while, she wasn't the problem. 29 Some things made sense, while others just left her confused. She was still numb from Mama's revelation. She had never once tried to look at things from another perspective, at least not from her mother's. Hajiya Aisha gave them no reason to give her the benefit of doubt. She was always self-centred and entitled, harsh, but that was the obvious truth they knew.11 Whenever her father had left an argument dangling, Maryam had always assumed he didn't want to engage in Mama's tirade. Did it mean that he considered all the time he had been patient with Mama's attitude as redemption for what he did to her? How could two people supposedly in love with each other turn out so toxic towards one another?20 Little did she know that, in some way, Alhaji Muhammad was also protecting something huge from coming to light by taking everything lightly, it was his shield. She had always wanted to know what turned Mama this cold, but now she wished she hadn't pushed it. That wasn't an excuse for her mother's behaviour either. But she knew first hand how emotional abuse could harden a person. Was she lucky she got Mubarak to help her through her trials? Would she have turned into another Mama Or were Mama's problems unrelated to hers?10 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Now she wished she could wipe all the things she had unearthed in the past few hours. All the things she knew about her father's past. It was his past but it broke her nonetheless. It had tainted the perfect image she had always had of Baba. Her sweet kind Baba.30 Hajiya Aisha had gone to the Bugaje residence to get some things- since she was still avoiding Alhaji Muhammad and thus not staying at the chalet allocated to them together- but her words still lingered. One thing Maryam couldn't shake off was if her mother had been treated with the same indifference growing up, why would she treat her the same way, if not worse? Why would she collaborate with her "non-present mother" to hurt her family?13 That part didn't make sense to Maryam. She remembered Dr Francesca telling her that her mother may have a narcissistic disorder. Had she turned into a narcissistic mother because she was raised by one? Could a person switch on and off a disorder like that? But Mama couldn't be a narcissist because she showed remorse, she was repentant on her actions. Narcissists never repent, they didn't even believe they were wrong, they wouldn't give anyone a chance to tell them their faults, they were always right.8 But Maryam had heard her mother confess, seek her forgiveness and even asked her how she could make things right. Was her mother forcing herself to adapt to the image of the woman she loathed so that her own family would loathe her too?12 Maryam knew it wasn't worth dwelling on, but it was better than the other side of the truth. The truth of her father's past. Was that why her father had related so much to Mubarak's situation? Was that why he had jumped to soothe her pains and make her accept Mubarak's faults because he wished he had gotten the chance to redeem himself too?20 But he had gotten the chance, several times... Ya Salam! This was just too much. She rubbed the tension out of her temples. That was when she felt his strong presence beside her, she perceived his scent before she heard his salam.8 When she turned to her right, Mubarak stood holding out a small cup of yoghurt to her, there was a spoon tucked inside, he held a steaming mug in his other hand.21 "Thank you." She smiled up at him and took the yoghurt. But her smile only stretched her lips. Mubarak tilted her head up and held her gaze, she could see a scowl forming on his face when he brushed his thumb over her lower lip, it was a gentle caress yet she flinched a bit when he stopped right at the spot she got a split earlier when Mama had smacked her. She quickly turned away from his hold, he had been ogling her before he left with the kids and she knew he had questions.13 She allowed the brown cotton vintage T-shirt and the black jeans that moulded his strong legs- giving them the endless length she had always admired in him- distract her from her pain for a moment.5 Mubarak sat worldlessly next to her on the cushioned bay seat. "How are you holding up?" He asked, his voice a bit heavy from the stretched silence. Maryam startled at the sudden invasion of his voice, she looked confused for a moment. She hadn't mentioned anything about her talk with Mama to Mubarak how did he... Oh. He was talking about her earlier outburst on the kids. He must have thought it was about the things going on with Amir. Ya Rabbi, so many things were going on at once she didn't know what to focus on at the moment.7 Maryam placed the untouched tub of yoghurt on the little glass table in front of the seat. She leaned back onto the throw pillows piled behind her.6 Mubarak did the same with his mug and stretched next to her, he shifted her weight from the pillows to himself so that she was lying on his chest as he sat back pressed against the brown wood panelling. Maryam appreciated that gesture because when Mubarak spoke, his voice was tranquil and soothing, his hold was protective and his nearness comforting. 16 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  She had no idea where along the way, her existence became entwined with Mubarak's. And honestly, she didn't care that she was dependent on him because she found solace in him and there was no other way about that. It was what it was. He rubbed a soothing hand down her arms, waiting for her to speak first. Or giving her comfort. Either way, she loved that he was here sitting with her.16 "I may not know the punishment of a person who keeps digging up buried issues. But I know this much, the weight of what they unearth is the severest form of all punishments." She said.16 Mubarak pressed a kiss to her temple, urging her to go on at her pace. "Do you know Mama apologized to me today?" His hands went still on their downward motion. Maryam had to look up to see if he was still breathing.10 "What?!" He finally asked, disbelievingly.10 She nodded, a small smile touching her lips. "I know, I should be ecstatic and tell everyone I know that I'm on neutral grounds with my mother and we have a chance to start afresh. But I feel so drained, M.K. I'm so drained I don't know how to feel or behave anymore."8 Mubarak sighed and blinked his eyes. He ran a gentle finger over her split lip and spoke next to her ear. "I'm sorry you feel this way." "Don't be. I don't know how I would've held up without you by my side. So, I want to tell you that I truly appreciate everything you've done to me. We aren't in a very cosy spot in our marriage, I know. But at least we have each other."11 "Always, Shaaden. I'll always be with you, in sha Allah." Mubarak held her quietly.9 Silence punctuated the room before Maryam spoke again, "I'm just so overwhelmed, I never thought it would happen- in my lifetime at least. At the same time, I'm so shaken..."5 "It is a gradual process. Eventually, you will come to terms with it, in sha Allah."4 "I hope I do." Mubarak's scowl deepened. "Hey, I'm here." Maryam's eyes teared up, she held up Mubarak's hand and kissed the soft skin near his wrist. "Thank you. Because I need you so much right now. I need you, King..." She mumbled before breaking into sobs right in the middle of his palm.19 Mubarak gathered her in his arms until she was completely on his lap, he kept her there, brushing her hair back as she sobbed pressing into his chest.5 When her cries subsided, he adjusted her and they remained quiet as they listened to each other's heartbeats. He never knew how much he cherished their quiet moments until during the past few weeks when the room would feel so empty despite their presence. Now he appreciated her and their time together more.8 "I'm sorry, I ruined your shirt." She mumbled right before she drifted to sleep. Mubarak smiled and brushed a thumb over her brow.13 "You can ruin it anytime, Shaaden. It's yours to ruin." He answered, and even though she didn't respond, he saw the smile that touched her lips. Mubarak lay there with her and watched her sleep away her exhaustion.15 *** The day after Hajiya Aisha's declaration, Maryam went to the guest room to greet her and serve breakfast to her as Hajiya Aisha requested. She said she didn't want to come out to the living room just yet. The kids had their breakfast with her in the guestroom. When Maryam was about to leave, Hajiya Aisha requested to speak to Mubarak.2 Maryam had been a bit concerned, having not gotten used to such requests from her mother. But after a moment's thought, she considered it. At least Hajiya A'isha was not going behind her back to plot something, she was seeking her permission, asking her to lead the way for her. Maryam realized that this was the first time her mother had shown some form of respect to her as a human being.10 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  So at breakfast, Maryam relayed the message to Mubarak. Wary of how awkward it would be, considering her husband and mother hadn't been great fans of each other, but at least now they had meaningful conversations.1 *** When Mubarak walked into the living room, in the evening, Hajiya Aisha was seated on the couch. He said a salam and sat on the rug. He had no idea why she wanted a meeting, but from Maryam's explanations, he realized that things had mellowed down a bit, after her apology.6 "I know you may wonder what this is all about." She sighed and continued. "I've been awful to Maryam, and bitter to the people around me, I've only been self-centred and for that, I accept full responsibility. But one thing I'll always regret is how I engineered your choice of spouse.9 "I'm sorry I did that, Mubarak. But I'm glad that Maryam has you as her husband. Thank you for everything and I'm truly sorry for all the pain I've caused you. You won't understand how truly sorry I am. Please forgive me. I need to do this by myself, that's why I didn't send Maryam to convey my apology. But I want you to know how ashamed of myself I am."48 "Aunty Aisha... it is okay. Please take heart, in sha Allah all will be well. May Allah forgive us all. I believe every breath we take, is a chance given to us by Allah to start a new leaf in our lives. Everyone has different opportunities, timing, reasons to start their lives afresh. And Alhamdulillah you have realized your mistakes before it was too late."8 "Please take care of Maryam, I know she has suffered a lot from me, from the world. She finds herself unworthy and I made her that way. But I've seen how she blossomed under your care. I guess that was a bit intimidating to me. Because what I failed at, Maryam has aced with flying colours. It's all shades of wrong. But you did a beautiful job with her, Jazakallahu khairan. May someone hold your kids in high esteem like you are holding mine."30 "Ameen," Mubarak responded. He pinched the space between his eyes.8 "Also Mubarak, I know she is hurting a lot right now, I'm not proud of what I did to her and her sisters. But I've hurt Maryam most, can you please ask her to forgive me?"15 Hajiya Aisha broke down in tears and Mubarak felt a punch to his gut. He swallowed. Hajiya Aisha had dealt all sort of injustice to her daughter, but like any good Muslim, he knew injustice wasn't paid with injustice. Maryam didn't deserve her mother's tears. It could be her destruction. And whatever harm that came Maryam's way, it was his to eradicate.2 "She'll come around in sha Allah. It's just a matter of time. May Allah ease our affairs."4 "I hope so. I'm leaving, now." He looked up then, "What? No, we are taking you to Baba's tomorrow, in sha Allah. It's already late now." "Oh you shouldn't, please. Salis will be here to get me."4 "I insist." Hajiya Aisha nodded and headed to the guestroom downstairs.6 *** Maryam was inside her closet arranging her clothes when Mubarak came in. He leaned on the wide closet doorknob as he regarded her, his thumbs were hooked in the pockets of his jeans, his recessed eyes showed his exhaustion. Mubarak looked so gorgeous under the entry light. But it wasn't his looks that made her pause in her attempt to hang an abaya on its hanger, rather the intent look he was giving her.4 "What?" Maryam asked, trying to hide her smile. His hands were still in his pockets when he shrugged. "I don't think that was enough." STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Now she narrowed her eyes. "What isn't enough?" Mubarak took a deep breath before he looked up. "The way you signed off with Mama."4 Maryam's brows furrowed. "What did I do wrong? She apologized and I said it was okay. What more should I have said? She is still here, isn't she?"3 When Maryam met Mubarak's solemn look she sighed. Keeping the hanger on the island slab. "M.K., I can't just forget everything at once. It's difficult to move past everything. At least I'm thinking it through and it may happen some day in sha Allah."7 Mubarak walked into the closet and stopped right in front of her, towering over her, he may be intimidating had her resolve been a fraction weaker. Okay, maybe he was, a little.4 He took both her hands in his, "I know you need to take your time and heal gradually, which is understandable. But I don't want you to let this harden you. I don't like what it's doing to you, Shaaden." Maryam's face betrayed her confusion. Mubarak held his bottom lip briefly contemplating if he should go on. But he had to say it for her sake. "Shaaden. You are soft in the centre and strong, you are good the way you are, the resilient woman you are, my softie-rock."17 She scrunched up her nose. "Is that even a thing?"4 He shook his head a bit, "Trying to block out things... Shaaden, I'm afraid it may change you. I don't want that for you. I've always told you how unique you are, I admire your personality a lot. Remember how I always tell you to develop a thick skin and be enough for yourself? Well, I later realized that you are not just a thick-skin-kind-a-girl. You are also a glass kind of girl. Transparent, crystal and beautiful. And yes you break.8 "But breaking doesn't cut off your existence, you make something out of your tattered pieces and that's the girl I know, that's the girl I want to see consider this offer. Think about it, tell her some kind words before she leaves. I'd... " His voice broke a bit. "I'd do anything to get back in Hajiya and Baba's good graces. So I know how dark it is on the other side. Go tell her some beautiful words to ease her mind, please, Shaaden. If not for her, do it for yourself. I believe in you."22 Maryam closed her eyes briefly. "She shouldn't have sent Baba away, he is good at keeping minds at ease." She bit her tongue after saying that. Had she always compared her parents' traits this way? Ugh!2 "Maryam!" Mubarak chided. "What? Okay! Tomorrow in sha Allah."2 "If... tomorrow comes. Go on now Shaaden, you will get your reward counting from now. You've got nothing to lose. I can escort you."4 Maryam's lips parted slowly into a smile. "It's one of my faves, by the way." "What?" "The book. If tomorrow comes."16 Mubarak rolled his eyes. "Now I'm not kidding. Go say goodnight, or sit with her, do anything that will make her know she isn't alone in this."2 Maryam looked at Mubarak keenly, what had her mother said to him to make him this soft towards her? She mimicked his eye-roll. "Have I ever told you how gummy you are?"9 He raised his brows. "Gummy?"4 "Yeah, you stick and irk me like a gum."4 His smile broadened . "At least I'm sweet at first." He winked at her. Maryam shook her head.8 "Also, ask for her forgiveness, Shaaden. Remember the Hadith of Ibn Abbas we studied?" How could she forget that Hadith? It had come to be their favourite because of how often they revisited it. STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Since Nabeela's birth, Mubarak had taken it upon himself to have a study session with his family. Sometimes just with Maryam, their regular sessions were every morning for thirty minutes when he return from the fajr salah. Then they had a session with the kids every weekend for an hour.38 Maryam was shocked when Mubarak first ventured into the books of Hadith. She knew he attended ta'alims, she also knew he studied the books of deen. But she had no idea he knew them to a scholarly level until he delved deep into commentaries or he launched into the history of the Sahabas. Uthman Bn Affan was his favourite companion.15 She could imagine how hard Mubarak beat himself when Amir showed up, seeing that his role model was famous for his utmost shyness.4 And she learned this particular Hadith Mubarak was speaking about from him. A Hadith from one of Imaam Bukhari's books, Adabul Mufrad.4 It struck a chord with them because it was as if Ibn Abbas was speaking to Maryam in particular when he said "If any Muslim obeyed Allah regarding his parents, Allah will open two gates of the Garden for him. If there is only one parent then one gate will be opened. If one of them is angry, then Allah will not be pleased with him until that parent is pleased with him." He was asked then, "Even if they wrong him?" "Even if they wrong him." He replied.12 Each time her mother came up, Mubarak consoled her with that hadith. Now she couldn't believe he was pulling it up on her. Even though it may be what she needed most. "We both know that there is nothing as scornful as a mother's tears over her children. I know you'll do the right thing. You always do." Maryam nodded and went downstairs to meet her mother.4 She hoped she would make it to the end of their conversation. Yesterday had been exhausting.4 Scratch that, this month had been catastrophic!9 "Assalamu alaikum," She said, following a few knocks on the door. Hajiya Aisha opened the door for Maryam. When she saw her, she opened the door wider and let her in.3 "I thought you've turned in," Maryam said. "No, I was sorting out some things." Hajiya Aisha said with an easy smile on her face.4 Maryam sat on the bed next to her, and Hajiya Aisha kept the bag she had been rummaging through. Her mother never rummaged, she sorted through. Maryam instantly knew that Hajiya Aisha was also restless.5 "Is there something I can do for you, Maryam?" Maryam's eyes widened as if expecting her to elaborate. "Oh, uhm... I'm here to apologize actually. I'm sorry I talked back at you and for all the times I've raised my voice on you."4 Hajiya Aisha let out a sigh. "It's okay, go and have some rest, you've had an exhausting week."4 There was a long silence before any of them spoke again. "Mama, I know the changes will come gradually, but I've been thinking about a lot of things after our talk. "And I think that in order to have a clear path, we have to know what is real from what we assume to be the reality, that is why I think it is necessary for you to seek some help. Professionally, I mean. Go talk to someone when you return to Nigeria. And along with that, I would also suggest you please enroll in an Islamiyah. I'm not disrespectfully saying this." Maryam elaborated.10 "I think that way, a lot of things will come to light and you may find ease. It will bring you closer to Allah and you will learn how to practice the deen in the right manner. STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "We mostly think we know enough to make us scale through. But actually, knowledge is like an ocean you can never get saturated enough. Even scholars always seek more knowledge. As long as we keep our arrogance aside, we stand to benefit the most. See a psychotherapist. If it will help, join a couples' therapy with Baba."17 "In sha Allah Maryam, I've been thinking about it too since last night."4 "Alhamdulillah, then one more thing..." Maryam twisted her fingers in her lap. "What is it, Maryam?"4 Maryam flinched, still surprised at her mother's gentle tone towards her, had her mother always been this way with other people? She shook off the thought.4 "Do you think we can sit again with Baba? I have some things I want us to talk about."6 Hajiya Aisha sighed. Then took Maryam's hands in hers. "Look, Maryam. I know you are very upset right now about everything. So was I, about some things. But I shouldn't have told you all those stuff about your father. I know how you hold him in high esteem. He is a really good man. He had made some wrong choices in his life, he has hurt me in several ways, but that doesn't mean I want you to hate your father. I said some things from my outburst, I shouldn't have. But please don't hold your father responsible for your sufferings."11 Maryam nodded, "I understand." She released her breath. "But Mama, sweeping things under the carpet has always been what keeps the hurt snowballing. I hate to see you go back to your old life. This needs to be addressed. You both should know your grounds and decide what's best for yourselves."4 "I consider a lot of things, Maryam..." "Don't. I've spoken to Sury, Zuby and Tim-Tim- we had a conference call last night- and we all want you both to be happy. If staying apart is what will make you both happy... we will cope, it will be difficult but we will. So don't think of us when making your choices. At the end of the day, it is you who have to stay in it."5 "I know... but I'm not ready to face him now. I will, eventually but please not now." "It's okay, take your time. You just have to make some efforts from your side. Baba once told me how you two had once been an excellent team together. Think of all the good things that came out of your marriage, think about all the positives, if you feel it can restore your trust in him, and revive your marriage and still make you happy then go for it. But you have to address your issues in the long run. You must have that sitting."4 "We will. And in sha Allah I'll try to stay clear of his path and hold down my tongue."9 Maryam's lips stretched into a sad smile. "Thank you so much." This time, it was Maryam who initiated the hug. And she couldn't help the tears that touched her eyes.4 "Can I ask you for a favour please?" Hajiya Aisha asked.2 Maryam's forehead creased. "Yes?" "Please, will you put me in your prayers?"28 Maryam closed her eyes until she felt tears coming down her cheeks. "Mama, I've never ceased to pray for you and I'll never stop in sha Allah. May Allah forgive us all."13 "Ameen, may He grant you a big house in Jannah."3 Maryam laughed through her tears. And her eyes went to the wall clock, that was when she realized how late it was.2 Maryam couldn't remember when last if ever, she had an easy conversation like this with her mother.6 She said the tahmeed and bid Hajiya Aisha goodnight. STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam was at the door when she turned around. "Mama,"3 "Uhm?" "You need to go back to Baba's place, tomorrow."4 Hajiya Aisha's eyes turned steely. "No, I won't."10 Maryam smiled at her vehemence. "Alright, as you wish. Goodnight." Hajiya Aisha smiled back, knowing her daughter had already had plans up her sleeve to make her do just that.3 *** The tension that filled the room could cut a steel. Maryam had wondered how she could bring this up without losing it all. But it was something she had to do and get over it, especially since they were running out of time. Now that Alhaji Muhammad sat in their living room, Maryam was second guessing everything. But for all the hurts they endured, for her mother she had to do this. 6 "Why are still married to Mama?" The question left Maryam's lips throwing her father off guard. She had wondered about it most despite her having several other questions to ask. "Why are you asking such a question, Daaso?" Alhaji Muhammad asked, putting his elbows on his knees as he shifted forward in his seat. "Apart from the constant fights you two have? I just want to know your reason. Please, tell me." "Because she is my wife, I choose to stay with her ."4 "But do you want to keep her?" Alhaji Muhammad's gaze flashed with irritation. "Maryam..." Maryam's teeth clenched. "Please, I need to know." "Of course I want to keep her, why else would I still be married to her? I love your mother, no matter what differences we may have."5 "Alright then, that was all I needed to know. Because I've spoken to Mama, and we've agreed that she won't be of any trouble to you in sha Allah. And you are going to try and talk. I recommend you both talk to someone who will guide you in mapping out your problems, someone not attached to you both.2 "So, Baba please, if you want to keep her I think you should have an open communication, without judgement or bias. And I think she deserves an apology from you."4 His brows furrowed. "Wha... Daaso?"5 "That's all I ask for, can you do this, please?" Alhaji Muhammad went thoughtful for a while, he scratched a thumb under his chin. "What did she tell you?"19 Maryam looked away a bit. "I don't think we both want to talk about that right now. But please apologize to Mama. Over everything." His jaw worked for a bit, and Maryam thought he wasn't going to accept it, "Alright, I'll do that if that's what you want."4 "It's not about what I want, but about what is right. If you want to get her back and keep her, that is the only decent thing you can do to have her back. So, don't do it for me. Do it because that is what you want, because you know she deserves it."10 Maryam couldn't control her tears then, she sobbed into her hands before she rose from the rug and left the room. In a hazy daze at the back of her mind, she could hear the word 'Daaso' being called out. But she wasn't sure she could control herself if she stayed any longer. Hence for both of their sanities, it was better she left. She was certain with the little that she said, her father would know what was happening. What he did to his family.4 Ya Rabbi, she hated that she knew about the nightmare her mother went through after they had long forgotten about it. And she was so naive she didn't even get all the blaring signs that something was wrong with her mother all these years.6 She had been a prisoner of her mind. Depressed to the point of insanity and venting her anger on anyone that would validate her entitlement. Her father and grandmother had helped turn her mother into the bitter woman she was today.4 They all deserved that apology if he'd ask her. But an hour later, when Maryam returned to the living room, her father was still there. She hated that she trusted him enough to be there waiting for her.4 "You knew she was always doing it to get at you, right? That's why you were always gentle with me." "Maryam... there are things I cannot talk about with you. But believe me, I have never been more ashamed of what I did like I am now. And as unfortunate as it is, each time she did something to you, it truly got to me. I'm sorry you got caught up in our battle. But I promise you, your mother and I will have a reasonable talk and sort things out. I won't let you down again. I'm sorry you are where you are today because of me. And you got..." He twisted his middle finger and looked down, not able to look at Maryam. His voice broke when he spoke next. "I'm sorry you got exposed to that side of me.20 "I keep thinking that everything happening to you was Allah's way of punishing me, it was life's way of getting back at me for all the bad things I did. For all the times your mother had shed tears because of me."34 "And for all the time that you reach out for her love while I watch knowing that you were not getting any because of what I did. I'm sorry... Maryam."2 He couldn't wait for a response from Maryam as he got up and left the house. Maryam wiped her tears and took a long sigh. She knew that would be the biggest burden he would ever carry on him, there was no burden greater than that of shame.23 *** Two days later, outside the guest Chalet of the Bugaje mansion, Maryam and Hajiya Aisha stayed back a bit as the goodbyes were said. Maryam touched her mother's arm to slow her down. She needed to know that everything hadn't gone in vain and that her parents were willing to sort things out civilly. "Mama, promise me you'll calm down and not rush things just yet. At least give it time to unfold while you try talking to someone. Four months is all I ask for." Maryam said her voice low. She didn't know if either of them deserved it but somewhere in a selfish corner of her heart Maryam hoped her parents would work through it.8 Hajiya Aisha's eyes narrowed in thought. "What's in four months?" "Mama! Zubaida's wedding!"3 "Oh, that. But you know your father, tell him to do all the necessary things and I wouldn't have to complain..."21 Okay, perhaps Mubarak was right, the changes would happen gradually. As long as they came, Maryam was not complaining. At least she would try not to complain.4 Maryam shook her head. "Alright, Mama. But please don't bring up something that will cause chaos until then."4 Hajiya Aisha nodded and gave Maryam a tight-lipped smile. "We'll sort this out and let you know what we decide, in sha Allah." "Thank you." She held Maryam's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Then she took her in an embrace. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate this." She whispered, and Maryam heard the brittleness in her voice. She smiled and turned around, she knew saying goodbye would be difficult. But they had to, so that both of them could reflect on everything objectively.36 *** ***Mubarak's finger hovered over his message log. He had read the message for a thousandth time. This was his whole truth. Why wasn't any one listening to him? Why would Hajiya still shun him after reading this? After getting all his messages?12 "Hajiya, I know I've disappointed you. I know you are upset but I'm really sorry for putting you through this. Know that I'm also disappointed in myself. I'm sacred of what the future holds and how I'm going to handle the mess I put us in. But I need you Hajiyata to help me put everything into perspective and sort out my family. I really need you."32 That was the last message he sent Hajiya Kulthum, it had been three days, and there was still no response from her. He was out of ideas regarding what to do. Seeing as she had threatened to leave the house for him if he ever stepped there again he had very limited options.13 The faint knock on the door before the sudden entrance of Kamaal into his office made him quickly wipe the tears that streaked his face.13 "Bugaje..." Kamaal began, but Mubarak pinned him with a fiery gaze, Kamaal stopped short of spurting whatever philosophy he came to impart.9 He let out a sigh. "Hang in there. It will soon blow over, mate."6 "What will blow over? Do you think this is a pot of boiling milk that will all go away once taken off the heat? K.R. this is my frigging life man! I'll never be the same again, I'll always be the Bugaje with the love-child- when sorry to say- the child wasn't even made out of love."17 Kamaal remained quiet as he listened to his friend's outburst. "So, remaining angry is the way you choose to go around this?"9 "I'm not going around anything. I've met the boy several times. The thing is... Hajiya and Baba are still shunning me, man I don't know what to do with my life anymore. I know it is hard on them and I brought this upon everyone, but why aren't they listening to me?!"10 "But I'm listening." Kamaal propped his chin up over a fist on Mubara's desk.8 "Shut the ef up!"7 Kamaal rose his brows. "Language bro."2 "Go to hell!" Mubarak muttered.10 "Astagfrullah, I don't intend to. I think that's the whole point of istighfar, which brings me back to this. Why are people used to giving out free advice so miserly when it comes to advising themselves? I mean, how difficult could that be?"13 "What, now you're going to chew me up?"2 "Nope, last I checked you were already doing a great job of that. I was just wondering if that repentance talk you gave me only relates to people like me or if it applies to you also." Mubarak narrowed his eyes at Kamaal, but Kamaal shrugged it off. "I'd use it if I were you."10 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "I know my repentance alright."2 "Then why are you boiling over like an overheated pot of milk?"12 Mubarak hated that his friend was tossing back his words at him. He rolled his eyes. "Well, genius, that's because I'm an overheated pot of milk!"3 They stared at each other for so long Mubarak huffed out into his palms. "Look, take a chill pill over this. Nothing will happen that is not meant to be and you have done your best. Your mistake is part of your past, if Allah can forgive you, what makes you think He can't make your parents forgive you too?"11 Mubarak held his head in his palms, he knew all about that, but when a person was stuck they seemed to be in a damn hurry they start to think that nothing was ever going to work.11 "Go home, sleep over this, and keep trying with Baba and Hajiyyah, I'm sure they will soften up."4 Mubarak heaved. "You know, I'm not even allowed in the house, right? How do you expect them to soften up?"2 "The same way you've turned to Allah and persisted until you felt the peace that comes with it."11 Mubarak closed his eyes shut, he wished it was as easy as it sounded. "If my parents can forgive me for marrying a Nigerian girl and not their picture perfect desi girl, I think your parents can forgive you for having a beautiful soul like Amir. It was your past man, I've met your parents. They are the nicest folks on earth."10 "Yeah, which makes me the most terrible son on earth."10 Kamaal drummed his fingers on the desk, "Call me when you get over this mood,"10 Mubarak glared at him. "Why are you so evil?"2 "Who else do you have to pester your life? Of course, Bugaje, I'll always be evil in your eyes, get over it. Nitwit!"15 Mubarak shook his head and took a deep breath. Maybe he only had to hold on a bit more.6 ***2 "Papi, please. I want to go with you. Please." Muhammad whined following his father around the house. Maryam didn't pay any heed to them until she heard Mubarak screaming.4 "I said not now, Muhammad! Get out of my way."25 Maryam gasped, she came rushing from the kitchen hands covered in suds and stopped in the doorway, where Mubarak stood in the living room huffing. When their eyes met, Mubarak turned his eyes away from her. Maryam assumed a composure she didn't feel at the moment, and asked Muhammad to come over to her.6 "What is it? Come here and tell me, Papi is resting, don't disturb him, alright?"8 "Maama, Papi won't take us to Hajiya's house, he always says he is busy, but you said he is resting. Why doesn't he take us along like he normally does on Fridays?"17 "Oh, is it about that? You know what? I've got an idea. Why don't you help me finish up here and I will take you there, hm?" "I want to go in his new car."9 "But my car is working just fine and it's faster than Papi's, we can go there faster than him. What do you say?" "Alright, but when he is done resting we have to race him back home."10 "Sounds like fun, now let me finish up in here and we shall leave soon in sha Allah. Go pack away your toys until then."2 When Maryam's gaze returned to Mubarak she gave him a disapproving look and her heart turned to powder when he took the stairs two at a time and disappeared.9 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  She quickly rounded up in the kitchen and went upstairs to get ready for their improptu outing and see what Mubarak was up to, he hadn't come down since Muhammad's enquiry.7 But once in his room, Maryam froze in the doorway taking in the sight before her. A box lay open on the chaise lounge as Mubarak tried to heap all his clothes inside. Which of course failed- did the man have no idea the shear amount of things he was piling in there?18 "Do you need an extra box?" She asked, her tone clipped.12 He turned at the sound of her voice, but as if a mere distraction to his quest he ignored her and moved into the closet to fetch himself a bag.4 Oh, now that she reminded him he had a stack of those in the closet, he suddenly knew how to use them.9 Great!2 The black leather case soon joined its twin on the chaise and he continued stuffing more of his belongings, more perfumes, more wrist watches, more ties, his pocket Qur'an... he wasn't leaving anything!12 Maryam folded her arms and waited to see how far he was taking this.2 "I'm leaving for a while." He spewed.19 Oh! Is he now? She barely raised a brow. "Okay." She said, her voice casual.14 He stalked towards her and for a moment she was forced to remember just how towering her husband stood over her. She was tall but Mubarak was mountainous next to her. With all the brawn, confidence and height.2 She was not so sure about the confidence at this point though.5 Mubarak stopped a foot away from her and handed her two things. His debit card and a bundle of cash. Now, she looked up at him still waiting for the other shoe to drop.5 "I'm not coming home anytime soon. Take whatever you want out of this. I'll talk to Salis, he will help with the kids and you can visit Sa'imah or any of your friends. Just take care of yourself and don't try to look for me because you won't find me."56 "Okay." She was still calm as if they were talking about the grocery list. In a way they were. With all the cash and card who knew if she had to buy the whole frigging waitrose with those.17 "Maryam, are you getting what I'm saying?"15 "Yes, loud and clear. Safe journey. The kids and I will be late. See you when we see you." She said breezily and turned on her heels to leave the room.54 But her wrist got yanked back and soon she was pressed flush against his chest, before she got to react, the most bizarre thing happened, Mubarak broke into sobs and he sobbed hard. She used her free hand to push the door behind them. Knowing that the kids could stroll into the room at any moment with their little belated salaams.44 Maryam didn't bat an eye when she held him close and allowed him to cry his heart out. She didn't ask him why the heck his brain was twisted or what he meant by all this drama, she just waited for him to finish.12 "I'm sorry, but I have to leave, okay? Hajiya... I went there yesterday and she made me choose, her leaving the house or me going there. I don't know what to do with myself. I think I need some air. I love you."16 Maryam swallowed a lump in her throat and nodded. "We are good, take as much time as you need. Don't worry about us, I love you too."31 Mubarak opened her palms and placed both the bundle of bills- which she didn't even bother estimating how much it was and the card.4 He held her face between his palms and kissed her lips. Just a gentle peck as if he was scared she would use her super powers and stop him from fleeing. Maryam didn't flinch when she turned on her heels, grabbed her hijaab from the chest of drawers in her bedroom and ushered the kids out of the house. She didn't even care to ask herself what was wrong, because she already knew.10 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  She drove them to the mansion and when everyone saw them, she didn't miss the extra cheer in their voices, even if they had to act a bit more pleasant just to make them feel at home. Hajiya Kulthum served her dinner by herself. Which wasn't rare but uncommon. Even Baba Bugaje was extra friendly with the kids. When it was time for them to leave, they were loaded with more munchies and gifts.10 Once at home, she bathed the kids, recited their books and read the du'a for them then she tucked them in their respective beds. She trod softly to Mubarak's room, she had almost turned around when she decided to just go inside. He must have left the room in a mess in his haste to pack and leave, she had to straighten it.2 She stood rooted to the floor when she saw that everything Mubarak had packed was still there. But he was nowhere in sight.11 When Maryam didn't see him the next morning she knew he was gone.9 She refused to dwell on that and concentrated on the kids. That afternoon, she went to the mansion with the kids and stayed until maghrib.4 It went on for five straight days, they may as well be living at the mansion. On the fifth day, she didn't leave by maghrib, and not even after Isha' she stayed until Hajiya Kulthum looked at her with concern in her well worn eyes, "It's getting late, Maryam. You should go home."6 Maryam was well aware that Hajiya had held it against her when she refused to leave Mubarak despite knowing about his misdeeds.13 "There is nothing to go home to." Maryam said her voice barely above a whisper.10 "Is Mubara... have you changed your mind?" Hajiya Kulthum asked tentatively. Why was everyone hell bent on making her leave?13 "No I haven't but what's the use of going back to an empty house?"9 Understanding cleared the scowl on Hajiya Kulthum's face. "Maryam, where is he?"2 "I don't know." Now she got Hajiya Kulthum's undivided attention. "You don't know? Has he travelled?"2 "He didn't say."2 "Maryam, will you tell me what is going on?" There was a tinge of panic in her voice.29 "He didn't tell me where he was going, he gave me some money and his card then packed his suite case- which he left behind, all of it- and left. He said we shouldn't go looking because we won't find him." Maryam swallowed her tears.12 "Why didn't you say anything before?"9 "I had no one to talk to." Maryam said, simply.27 Hajiya Kulthum's eyes widened. "What? What do you mean no one to talk to? What are we here for? How many times have I told you to come to us when you need anything? Or if you just feel like talking?"6 Maryam's eyes moistened, she swiped a finger under her left eye. "Everything's changed, I was not sure we are welcome here anymore."32 Hajiya Kulthum's jaw dropped, "What rubbish are you spewing, Maryam?"2 Maryam broke into tears. "Hajiya, wallahi, Ya Mubarak is dying within."19 Hajiya Kulthum clenched her jaw and turned away from Maryam.2 When her gaze returned they were filled with disbelief. "You are fighting for him? You just said he left you and the kids without saying his whereabouts, is that something a responsible man would do? Why would I then care if he is dying within?"9 "Hajiya he left because of..." Maryam held her lips and couldn't say it out loud. "Can you please be lenient on him and give him some slack? Please Hajiya, I'm afraid of what would happen to him because of your wrath. Because of your tears.8 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "He has been coming to you everyday all his life to get your blessings and du'a in everything he does, except for a few days that he isn't around. He did this tirelessly, just to hear you say beautiful du'as for him. Now he has lost it all, your affection, your du'a, your leniency. Please forgive him, Hajiya."7 Hajiya Kulthum let out a sound between a laugh and a cry. "I don't think you know what you are saying Maryam. Good night, I don't want to ruin my mood tonight."12 "Good night Hajiya, we are leaving."2 Hajiya Kulthum followed Maryam with a slackened mouth, she had to call Salis immediately and ask if he was home to come drive Maryam and the kids home.3 Maryam had the children bundled up by the time Salis found them outside at the front yard. "Umm Muhammad, it is late." He said as if she wasn't seeing the midnight blue sky. "Yes, Ya salis, good night."2 "Hajiya said I should make sure you reach home safely, the keys." He extended his hands for her to hand over her car keys.2 Maryam wiped her tears and gave him the keys, then she started ugly crying over her knees in the back seat of the car.3 "Maama sorry." Muhammad said and Nabeelah followed with an imitation of her brother's words. They both wiped her tears with their tiny palms and her heart broke with the gesture.70 When Salis handed her the car key, he paused for a moment. "Will you be alright?"4 "I'll call if I'm not. Thank you Ya Salis." She said.2 Salis nodded and retreated from the house. *** On the tenth day, when Maryam tucked in the kids, she switched off the corridor lights and went to her room, she took a much needed shower and came back downstairs . She double-checked that the doors were locked and grabbed a bottle of water. That was when she saw the shadow looming over the arm chair, hands resting on the arms of the seat, when their eyes locked in the dimly lit room, he stared back at her. Maryam's heart leapt to her throat- at least what was left of it- It took all her might not to let out a loud scream into the night as she stumbled backwards.8 "Ya Mubarak! I... is that you?" She stuttered. Mubarak rose from the chair and approached her, as if he too couldn't believe he was here in her presence.4 "Assalamu alaikum." He said.11 She blinked away her fear, clearing her voice. "Wa alaikumussalam, what the heck!"13 "Sorry, you saw me late."6 Maryam opened her mouth and closed it, "I saw you late? It's not cool to come into someone's house at night, not even your house! You taught me that. Should I quote the reference?!" She fired.10 He didn't flinch. He didn't even flinch! "I was here before you came home. How is everyone?"4 Really? How is everyone?! "Furnace! We are all in there. You don't do this to everyone and just leave us hanging as if you have all the rights to do so. Go back to where you came from."25 Maryam spat and before she could release her next breath Mubarak had enveloped her into a tight hug.4 He inhaled sharply and let out a loud sigh before he released her. Then without a word he stalked upstairs leaving her there dumbfounded.17 Maryam's gaze trailed after him her jaw still on the floor. Her husband had gone mad! That was the only explanation she could find for his behaviour. She was not going to waste her energy on him again.29 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Let him rot! Arrogant-outing-excuse-of a man! 32 But that resolve lasted only for two seconds.8 She followed him upstairs and shoved open his bedroom door only to find him there in the middle of the room, pacing, as if waiting for her to come to him. She hated that he knew she would. She had a mind to turn around swiftly. But decided to take deep slow breaths to calm her anger. "How was your vacation?" She asked, eyes blazing at him.17 Mubarak took a step forward then another, when they were finally two feet apart, he answered. "Rough... I missed you." He palmed the nape of his neck as if unaware of what to say further. "So much," he finally said.8 She clenched her teeth. "Good! Stop leaving then, that was not very nice of you. And right now I actually feel like cutting you open."26 Mubarak lowered his face to hers and nuzzled her nose, he breathed in her scent sharply, taking in the fragrance of mint, orange and pomegranate.9 "Did you miss me?" he asked, his voice low.17 Maryam couldn't believe he was asking her that, and she couldn't believe she was glued to the ground listening to him at all. But what else could she do? Her traitorous knees weren't even functioning.10 She glared at him and shoved his chest. "No, I hate you! And you may want to stay away from me."7 His lips curled into a tiny smile. "Even better, because we both know that isn't going to happen." Her heart thudded against her chest as she stared at him, waiting in anticipation then he moved an inch lower and took her breath away with a toe curling kiss communicating his love for her.33 "Murderer!" She muttered.12 When Mubarak let up for air, Maryam's heart ceased in her chest. She took two steps backwards and he smiled. The impish look on his face was blatant. Maryam returned his smile just before she closed the door on his face.2 She leaned her forehead on the wood trying to catch her breath and steady her footing. Somehow, her dull mind forgot to inform her that the locks worked from the inside. And when Mubarak opened the door, she teetered on her feet and almost stumbled into the room.11 He held her in time to steady her in his strong arms. Maryam hated how her heart resumed its triumphant dance from the simple contact.4 Once their gazes locked, her back hit the door within a moment. This time, they stood inside the room and he was kissing her thoroughly leaving no room for escape. 31 Later, she thought.4 *** "You are not just going to show up there, are you? You've not been there in... forever." "In case you haven't noticed, that means I have ton of work to do. So yes, I'm going to work, Shaaden." "Uhm..." She swallowed, eyeing him warily. "So, are you back-back or are you leaving again?"6 "If anyone noticed that I was gone, tell them I'm back. If no one did..." he shrugged. "... Then I guess I'll see you tonight. But first, I have to meet my darlings before I leave."4 Maryam shook her head as she flattened her hand on his tie. "Good luck finding them." She said, knowing that shortly after six when she fed them their cereal and returned to get ready, they wandered around the house not minding to go back to sleep. She had never seen such kind of kids. Sleeping-in was never a part of their agenda.16 Mubarak chuckled and two minutes later he found out what she meant by her statement. "Oh no!" He said as he stopped at the foot of the stairs. STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Yeah." She said as they found the kids already in the kitchen. "That's my struggle. Hungry kids all over the place."6 "And a hungry man too, can you make us some breakfast, please? It seems like you have an army to feed, darling."9 Maryam grunted and rolled her eyes. The kids were both spotting a twin look, their hands plastered on their cheeks, hands resting on their respective tables. As they waited for their parents to come rescue them from their rumbling tummies, the empty bowls of cereal in front of them didn't seem to do the job. Maryam didn't want to think of the mess they made of the sugar canister.16 Mubarak turned to look at Maryam then they both stiffled a laugh. He ceased Nabeelah in his arms and she let out a loud squeal, Muhammad ran out of his seat to hug him when he finally noticed him.2 "Welcome home, Papi!" He squealed. "Thank you, champ. Have you been good to Maama?" Muhammad peeked at Maryam's face then with laughter in his voice, he spoke. "The best. We treated her like a queen, always taking her out."43 They both rumbled with laughter, and Nabeelah had no choice but to join them as if she understood half the gist.4 Maryam's eyes brimmed with tears, how long had it been since they all lived with no baggage hovering over them? She loved this moment so much that she would do anything to have it back for good.4 When Mubarak left for work, Maryam decided to finish her work around the house and pack the kids in the car, this time she would not leave the Bugaje mansion without achieving something in sha Allah.19 *** Mubarak didn't head to Bruno and Bugaje, he had an important stop to make before then. His lifeline was there and the days he had spent away had left him enough room to think things through and stop the anger that had riled him to confusion.6 Yesterday, Maryam and he had decided to see Dr Francesca together. Because he had no idea how to get around some of his issues. Maybe talking might help and since Maryam still saw her intermittently it wouldn't be a bad idea to follow up with that.6 But unless Hajiya and Baba had accepted him back and forgive him, he would continue to live in a fog. Hence he decided he wouldn't live another second of his life without achieving that, even if he would die trying he had to make that happen.8 Mubarak heard Hajiya Kulthum's breath hitch in her throat at the sight of him leaning on the beige wall opposite her bedroom door. She took in his appearance, no doubt, wondering how he managed to be in a suit despite being reportedly missing.12 Maryam had briefed him on how she told Hajiya he was away from home last night.7 The look she gave him now wasn't unexpected, but he thought his going away would mellow their anger a bit. That was the whole aim of it, anyway.8 But the rage that blazed in his mothers eyes rivaled an inferno. She began to walk past him, but Mubarak got ahead of her to stop her. She glared at him.2 "Are you going to accost me in my own home?"2 He shook his head vigorously. "Please Hajiya," "Then I suggest you move out of my way before I revoke your security pass to the house."10 This was not going as he expected. But what did he expect? For her to welcome him with an armful load of flowers after he had gone away for ten days? Even though some part of his life was regaining its balance, he was totally off balance in the whole sense of the word.4 Every moment his mother stayed angry at him distanced him from the mercy of Allah, this was not what he wanted in his life. He wanted to see his bubbly beautiful mother surface in place of the frail woman she had become in the span of six weeks. He was indeed a failure to them all.4 He held his hands in front of her and begged. "Hajiya, I know I'm probably the last person you want to see right now. I know how much embarrassment I've caused you, how much I've failed you as a child and insulted your upbringing. I know you're ashamed of me- I have nothing to say to excuse my behaviour or my choices in life. I cannot find enough words to tell you how incredibly apologetic I feel."3 Hajiya Kulthum stared blankly ahead of them, blocking the world out but he didn't stop speaking, he needed her to hear him out, to have mercy on him.2 "I'm aware of all you've been through to be with us. You have been there for us, for me, you've been through the worst of storms for us, to make sure we turned out good in life. But I messed all that up, when I took to certain vices in life. I'm not proud of the person I was."2 Mubarak sobbed into his hands. "I know you must've asked yourself a thousand times where you went wrong. Please don't, you were never wrong, You are the best mother any child could ever wish for in the world. There's none like you, Hajiyata.7 "You did nothing to deserve such embarrassment. I'm sorry, I fell short of your expectations. For the pain I caused and the damage I've done to our family, crushing your hard work of all these years. I was never entitled to act the way I did. I love you Hajiya, wallahi you and Baba are my pillars, I'll perish without your leniency. Please forgive me."17 Hajiya Kulthum's eyes, glazed over for a moment, Mubarak held the light of hope in his heart until she doused it with her words. "I think you've made your decision loud and clear and it is now time for me to move out from your house."31 His eyes widened in panic.1 "No, Hajiya please, no." "I thought I've made myself clear that whenever you step in here I'm moving out?"10 "I'll leave now, please don't go anywhere." He held her wrist stopping her movement. One look from her made him drop the said hand, he trudged down the stairs on weak legs.14 His phone had been ringing incessantly, but he couldn't raise a finger. When the call persisted, once he was at the bottom of the stairs, he took it out and saw the name on the screen. It was his father's call.9 His heart stopped for a moment and his gaze blurred before he swiped the green icon his heart still fully lodged in his throat.10 "Assalamu alaikum."Once Maryam stepped into the mansion, she knew there was no point being chirpy anymore and Hajiya Kulthum seemed to have aged several years in weeks. Maryam didn't bother to pretend. Yes, Mubarak was home, but she hadn't missed how he had had trouble sleeping last night and she knew that wasn't the first time. She had witnessed it severally even before his short stint of leaving them.21 He was on autopilot. And she couldn't bear to see that anymore, especially after he held her to sleep last night only for her to wake up in the middle of the night and find him in the throes of a terrible nightmare, twice last night.19 And since then he had lost his sleep. She couldn't imagine being in his shoes right now. Considering how close he was to his parents, this must be really gruelling for him.11 She knew Hajiya Kulthum had every right to be angry. But how could a mother go six weeks without speaking to her son? Maryam knew Hajiya Kulthum was in a way punishing herself too. Blaming herself for Mubarak's mistakes. They could all move past it if only they could all let go of their pain.19 Maryam handed Hajiya the mug of tea she had requested. Which had been something she indulged even more since she heard about Amir's existence.11 "Thank you." Hajiya Kulthum said and took a tentative sip. Maryam settled down and allowed her aunt to have a minute before she spoke. "Ya Mubarak returned yesterday." She said.4 The hot liquid sloshed over Hajiya Kulthum's hand, she blinked her eyes as if trying to conceal some sort of reaction to her words. Maryam quickly handed her some tissue paper. Apart from that, Hajiya Kulthum refused to acknowledge Maryam's words.9 "Hajiya please..." "Don't start Maryam."3 "But this is me coming to you with my problem, I'm seeking your counsel. My mother didn't want my home to prosper and neither does my aunt. Tell me what should I do about them?" She knew this was coming all out, but she needed to make Hajiya Kulthum see reason.14 "Maybe that's because they know better than you."15 "Then my mother said she realized it was her mistake. And isn't everyone supposed to be kind in their treatment of others?" Hajiya Kulthum now clanked the half-empty tea cup on the little tray sloshing the liquid all over it. "Maryam! What do you want?"5 Maryam flinched from the outburst, but she spoke nonetheless. "I want the blessings and glory of my home to return and only you have the key."5 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "No, your husband does, and he has misplaced it."13 "Hajiya please dai..." Maryam burst into tears, tired of beating around the bush, tired of all the uncertainties.9 Hajiya Kulthum straightened her legs in front of her and regarded Maryam, "I don't understand, how are you okay with this? How can you endure this?"14 "Hajiya, you taught me selfless love, you always say that the kids are at no fault of the parents' misdeeds. No one is responsible for another person's sins. You taught me to be strong for my family, to make things right when all things come falling apart. When I fell apart, Ya Mubarak held me but this is beyond him and me, this is about Amir's future. One day, he would tell his friends and his family that he had also found, met and known his father.10 "Yes, it was an unavoidable mistake, but Hajiya, some trials are given to us to cultivate our belief, to guide us to the right path. Until they happen we won't find our true selves. This is indeed the highest of tests, it didn't become apparent when he was amid his indiscretions, rather Allah hid this from all of us, until now, do we know why? No. But Allah knows, and so we are not to fight with that qadr, if we do not accept it, how sure are we that we will have a good ending or an even better ending than those we accuse or alienate because of their past mistakes?21 "Wallahi, I can vouch for Ya Mubarak that he is no more into that lifestyle any more. I'm also not blind to his past life, what he did was inexcusable. But if I turn away from him now, he will be torn Hajiya, just like your turning away from him now has torn him."11 Hajiya Kulthum shook her head as she sobbed into her hands. "Maryam, my son, an illegitimate child, how... My God... How am I supposed to look the other way? It will never go away, he will always be the Bugaje son with a child out of wedlock."16 Maryam's heart broke with each descent of her tears. "You are not looking the other way, you are just being a mother. Mothers are our source of solace when we lose all hope... Hajiya, he has not been sleeping well, he has not been eating well, he left the city, he now snaps at the kids over little things, he never did that prior. And I don't know... But I don't want us to lose him again. Please forgive him. Al'umm zaata qalburraheem, Hajiya. I know you are capable of doing it, just search a bit deeper. Please... Your wrath is crushing him. And us..."16 Hajiya Kulthum covered her mouth with her hands. A sob tore from her core then she nodded vehemently. "I have, Ya Rabbi, Maryam I have forgiven him, but the weight of it all... How can we cope?" She sniffed into the crumpled tissue paper in her hand. "You know, he came here this morning but I just couldn't bring myself to..."26 Maryam regarded her aunt, Mubarak was here? Was that why he left for work early?7 Hajiya Kulthum took in a deep breath. "How does he think saying sorry would clean all the stain he has brought with him? I don't know how people are thinking anymore. Promiscuity has become an adornment in this world. Where are we headed? What is wrong with people?"18 Maryam braved a smile and her eyes shone with excitement. "I'm sure no such thing will come up again in sha Allah. Now we have to consider the innocent boy caught up in all this. Amir is such a lovely boy, he is perceptive, quick, charming like Ya Mubarak. You will lo..."11 "I don't want to." Hajiya Kulthum snapped.12 "He is your grandson too. Like Muha..."8 "Don't you dare compare that which was ill gotten to that which is pure and legal." Hajiya Kulthum's eyes were steely.35 Maryam clenched her eyes shut for a brief moment. "Hajiya, he has no idea that he would be ill-gotten after all it's not his fault, he just found himself caught up in this... situation, unprepared. No bearer of sin bears the sin of another. He has lived seven years of his life without a father. He has been fighting a disease so harsh, all from the tender age of three and still lives with it, fighting it. He is a survivor, and he is our blood. Allah has already decided who our relatives would be through blood or marriage. So there is nothing we can do to change that. Amir is part of us, and we need to accept him."28 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  When Hajiya Kulthum spoke next, her voice shook. "Maryam, you... You are an exemplary woman, may Allah protect you, may He conceal all your secrets and flaws just like you concealed your husband's and may He raise you to the best of positions on the day of qiyama. You have so much love to give, you made me feel ashamed of my thoughts. I have not even thought of it like that despite helping other kids like him."57 Maryam took Hajiya Kulthum in an embrace, she covered a sob that bubbled up her throat with her shoulder. She had gotten this far, she would not break. This was the right thing to do and nothing she had done had ever felt this right.13 "Thank you Hajiya, we love you so much."2 *** "M.K, can you come over to Baba's house now?"4 "Now?! We are about to start a br... wait... did you say Baba's house?"15 "Uhun..." She couldn't keep her tears at bay. "But... sorry. I can't make it..." there was a little shuffle on the other side, then Mubarak's voice came lower indicating that he had secluded himself from a crowd. "Listen, I can't be there. I promised Hajiya I'll stay away. Do you need anything? I can call Mr Mathias..."10 "No, I only need you here at the house. Hajiya wants to see you. Now can you come over?"5 She waited for the news to sink in for him. "No, I was there this morning... Wait do you mean...?" Maryam sent a silent prayer. Thank God he caught up quickly.4 "Yes, Hajiya wants to see you, M.K. Do you think you can be fast about that?"8 There was a long silence before she heard Mubarak's sharp inhale. She knew he needed a moment. "Alright, see you when you get here then." "See you." He said, his voice gruff.3 When Mubarak Bugaje came into his parents' house, he walked in warily not sure if this was an elaborate joke or if it was really happening.6 It had been six weeks since his mother had banned him from coming to the house, he had tried several times thereafter, he kept coming hoping he would thaw her heart. But when she threatened to leave the house for him numerous times he knew there wouldn't be a last warning. So after this morning, Mubarak had resolved he wouldn't step near the house until she came calling, how would he know his prayers would be answered and it was only hours away from becoming a reality?13 Now that Maryam told him his mother wanted to see him, he felt like he was in another world. What could this be about?3 Maryam sounded cheerful, but Maryam could sound anything she wanted to be in any situation. He just hoped he got the right vibe from her. He stepped into the living room where he heard Nabeela's chortle.19 She was jumping on Wafiyya's legs, Maryam and Hajiya Kulthum were both not in sight. "Assalamu alaikum." He said. Their attention both turned to the door. "Wa alaikumussalam, Ya Mubarak. Good afternoon." "Afternoon, Wafis." "Pap..." Nabeelah toddled to meet him at the door. Mubarak swept her off the floor lifting her high above his head, that elicited giggles from her.13 When he brought her down, the girl clung to his body.5 "Hey, Wafis, where is Hajiya?" Wafiyya's smile broadened. "Congratulations, Ya Mubarak!" She beamed. Her eyes filling up with tears.23 He smiled back at her and took her extended hand to shake. "Thank you. Now can you tell me where my mother is?"9 She pressed her index finger to the side of her mouth thoughtfully. "Um... first you give me my token."14 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Mubarak grunted. "Why are you thieving from me this afternoon?"5 "Because I congratulated you first."7 Mubarak couldn't hide his grin. "No, my gazelle did first, and I'm going to find her and give her a token."9 "But I was second." Wafiyya pouted. "Okay, we shall see about that later. Now, Hajiya..." "She is in Baba's living room, just so you know, she is equally waiting for this meeting, she couldn't sit in one place since Umm Muhammad spoke to her."11 Mubarak's eyes widened. "Oh... She did?"8 "Why do you think Hajiya wants to see you out of the blue?"6 Mubarak smiled. "You've got a keeper there Ya Mubarak. Ya Mimie loves you die, never forget that."42 Mubarak playfully glared at her. "See your mouth." "My own is to deliver..." She took Nabeelah from him and Mubarak was out of the room before she finished her statement. He went searching for his mother.4 *** At the sight of Hajiya Kulthum, Mubarak stood still at the door, his heart was pounding his chest, he was so anxious. Then she looked up and saw him. She clenched her eyes shut and his heart stopped with it. When she opened her eyes and stretched her arms towards him Mubarak ran in and embraced his mother. He broke into sobs and kept muttering. "I'm really sorry, Hajiya. Please forgive me."78 Hajiya Kulthum managed to control her tears, she patted his back and released her hold on him.3 "Don't you ever do something stupid like that again."5 "Not on my life, in sha Allah. I'm so sorry."3 "It wasn't my trust you've betrayed. Seek forgiveness from Allah, for it was He whose boundaries you've transgressed. I'll pray for you too."7 "Thank you, Hajiya. I love you so much. May Allah make you among His blessed servants in Jannatul firdaus." He took her hands in his and kissed both knuckles. He wiped his face with a handkerchief he fetched from his trouser pocket.13 They'd settled in the living room, where he was still apologizing to his mother when Maryam came in with a carafe of tea and a selection of biscuits on a tray.15 There were four cups on the glass tray, just when he was about to ask, who they were meant for, his father walked into the living room through the main door.11 He set his eyes down, unable to look at his father. "Come on, have a seat." Alhaji Umar said. Mubarak swallowed, this was it. His father had not once acknowledged that he knew about Amir, he had managed to have a professional relationship with him at work and had not once shown any sign of discord with him. Yet, he had not once called to ask why he wasn't coming around to the house, nor had he ever answered any of his calls outside work.20 Even this morning when he received his call it was to remind him about an important meeting they had with a client. Not because he wanted to share tea with him.15 Which only meant one thing, he was just as incensed as Hajiya Kulthum had been. What was he thinking? Of course, he would be. They were like tube and tyre one didn't function without the other. And whatever one felt, the other also felt.22 "I've been thinking about what you did." Alhaji Umar began. "To say that I was disappointed with you is an understatement. But for the fact that you've owned up to your mistake and accepted your responsibility and repented, I've decided to reconsider things.1 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "But I need to tell you this, even though I know you are aware of it. You should always know that Zina is one of the major sins and there is a severe torment that Allah has provided for those who indulge in it on the day of judgement and in this life as well. Had you been living in a state where the Islamic law is applied? You would've been whipped a hundred lashes.14 " When Allah talks about the 'ibadurrahman in the Qur'an, He says they do not commit zina, they do not even come near it. Whoever gets involved in that distasteful activity gets punished and double the pain. But Allah also said except those who repented and ask Allah SWT forgiveness with sincerity, Allah will not only forgive them their sins but also change the mountain of sayyi'at, that is their wrong doings into good deeds. All of it, so it was never too late, and I'm glad that you have left that lifestyle and have turned to Allah in repentance.31 "Why, because Allah is oft forgiving and oft merciful. And He loves His servants who always turn to Him in repentance. So Alhamdulillah, since Allah has made you from among His servants who have repented.5 "And speaking as a person who is human and who has also committed a mighty wrong doing, I know that forgiveness is the only thing that can give us access to a new life and set us free. Only with it can we move forward. We have to let go of our past pain if not we run the risk of bitterness setting into our lives. We all don't want that to happen.9 "You've made a terrible mistake but it was a long time ago, so now we look forward towards the future. Your mother and I have had a long talk over this and I must say at first I didn't have this perspective, I went to meet your wife and asked if she still wanted to remain married to you, but she astounded me that day when she chose to stay with you. Then today also, Maryam said some rather sensible things about this issue that made me reflect, let go of my anger and go back to what Allah SWT says over the issue."13 Alhaji Umar turned to Maryam. "You are indeed a blessing to this family, the society, and the world at large. Not everyone can be as thoughtful as you are. No matter how old they are. Some may think it but can't do it. But you are a positive person, may Allah reward you in both worlds, May your children be the coolness of your eyes, may Allah accept you and your deeds.58 "Mubarak, you're lucky to have Maryam as your life partner. Maryam has three honours with you, I've always told you that she is special and your decision to marry her will always be a blessing to you, in sha Allah. Apart from being a supportive wife, she is your cousin, you are close to her in more ways than one, to top it all, Maryam's father has done this family a great deal of good. I'll never let anyone treat his family wrongfully or humiliate them not to talk of letting my son be the cause of it.18 "You see Allah has willed that your mother and I would still be together, but Alhaji Muhammad was the medium. When Kulthum insisted on leaving me several years ago, everyone gave up, even her father. But the bond between her and her brother and the love she has for him made her accept his offer. She paid heed to his advice and returned to me.23 "So, if you don't know this already, you should know it now. I hold whoever loves Kulthum dear to me. Maryam is a part of her father, and I take it upon me to show you what hard life truly means if you ever put her through misery again. Now it is left for you to make it up to her. There is no room for further mistakes."28 Alhaji Umar then turned to Maryam. "Next time he does something to upset you or makes you cry, just come to me don't even tell Hajiya, I know she will pacify you. And we won't give him that liberty."29 They all laughed and Maryam ducked her head into her lap.6 "In sha Allah, Baba. Jazakallahu khairan. I appreciate your patience with me. I am ashamed of all the things I did, and I apologize to you all for making you go through so much difficulty at this age. I'm quite sorry for everything." Mubarak pinched the space between his eyes and remained still. Tears pooled in the corner of his eyes. And he let them fall.8 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam's heartbeats in her chest was so loud she could barely hear anything they said thereafter. So, this must be what Alhaji Umar meant by saying he owed her father a great deal. It was because he had served as a mediator between him and Hajiya Kulthum. Now she knew why there was so much respect between the brothers-in-law.8 Maryam excused herself from the living room when Alhaji Umar concluded with a prayer. Knowing that they may need some privacy with their son, she decided to go to her room in the mansion.5 Today, she felt the liberation of true peace. When Hajiya Kulthum had called up her father-in-law earlier, Maryam had prayed fervently that he would be as understanding as her aunt had been. She had hoped he would get where she was coming from and forgive his son too.3 Alhamdulillah, he had accepted their fate, but he had to talk to her before he agreed on meeting Mubarak. He'd asked her if she was still sure about her decision.5 She lowered her head at the question because she couldn't imagine herself living without Mubarak, they both loved each other so much, they were both accepting of each other's mistakes. He was the constellation in her dark night and she was his pond in the desert. They were meant for each other. She hoped and prayed they remained so, even in the akhira.13 She'd let out a sigh, "Baba, Allah is sufficient for us in our times of trials and tribulations. I choose to be with Ya Mubarak in both the good and not-so-good days. So in sha Allah, we will scale through this too."11 Alhaji Umar had smiled and prayed for her. Before she called Mubarak, he had even agreed to go see Amir. But first, he wanted to know what Mubarak's plans were for the kid.5 Now that she was away from the living room, she hoped Mubarak would do the right thing, Which was why she left them. He hadn't been as accepting of Amir as she'd hoped, but she knew with time and a few activities together, their bond may grow.8 She hoped Mubarak wouldn't have to make a decision that would only favour her. Despite that feeling, she didn't push him further because it was his choice to make. Maryam paced her bedroom floor, her feet grazing the soft pillowy rug leaving little indents in her trail. When she turned around for another round of pacing, she staggered on her feet and held her breath. Her eyes bulged out at the unexpected nearness of him.6 But Mubarak didn't let her take her next breath. She had no idea how, but they were no longer standing in the middle of her room, rather she was pinned against the wall. Before she could ask questions, Mubarak was soon covering her lips with his in a ravenous kiss.51 "M..." she rasped. "What..." she tried when he eased away.7 He pressed a gentle peck on her lips to hush her up. His eyes roamed her face then landed on her eyes. "What would I do without you, Shaadeniey?"25 "For starters, you'll be miserable and a nut case it seems." She said, breathlessly. Her lips spread into a mischivous smile. His excitement was infectious.20 He lowered his face again but Maryam cleared her voice and pressed a finger to his lips. "Not here, please."9 "I can just lock the door, it's our room after all." He shrugged, his eyes dancing with mischief.24 "Not ours, mine, your room is downstairs." She corrected, but he ceased her into a hug holding her tight. He kept whispering I love yous in all possible ways he could tell her.9 Maryam knew if he kissed her neck again she would just die. "Seriously M.K! Someone might come in..."12 Her words died on her lips at the sight of Sa'ima behind them. Who instantly turned pink and apparently lost functioning of her limbs.59 Maryam waved at her from Mubarak's arms. "Hi."29 Mubarak swallowed, and refused to turn around. "Please, tell me you are talking to no one there." He muttered.27 "Yeah, a very embarrassed no-one who would spend years without seeing eye to eye with you ever again. Ya Rabbi! M.K!"12 Sa'ima thankfully gained her locomotive motion and left the doorway. Maryam let out a sigh. She skirted around Mubarak to avoid a recurrence of being caught in a compromising position next to him by any newcomer. But Mubarak was having none of it.3 "You need to get back to work." She said, walking towards the dresser. "Remember? All that ton of work?"4 "Well, I can't work when I'm this happy. So, just bear with me, or let's get the heck out of here."24 Maryam's eyes popped out. "What is wrong with you! You can't do that."4 Then she remembered Sa'ima barging into the room. She closed her eyes and laughed, Mubarak, laughed with her.7 "Alright, I'll see you after work." He settled. She nodded vigorously, "And Shaaden, there won't be any excuse when I see you next. No matter where you are."32 Her lips turned to an 'O' and seemed to remain stuck like that.6 Mubarak left the room with her breath.6 She guessed it was time to go home then. 56 ***

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