A man often finds himself forced to balance two women in his life; his mother and his wife. Both women he loves dearly. One represents promises made in the past, the other, promises made for a future. But when it comes to a third female, he doesn’t take more than a second to declare that it is she he chooses over all the other women in his life. His daughter! One he devotes his entire life to protecting from the cruel world outside! Dedicating his life to shielding her from any sort of physical and emotional hurt. But unfortunately, like all love stories, there comes a time, when he knows there will be another man in her life too. And sometimes, that man would be unable to love her as unconditionally as her father.
Mustafa and I had been in a terrible relationship for almost four months. A relationship of infidelity, hurt, denial and guilt. Yet the funny thing with being blinded by love is, that though we pass every red flag in our journey, we continue to march forward…hoping….wishing…that maybe….just maybe….tomorrow will bring resolve. Replace anguish to the bliss we read about in novels and watch with bated breath in chick flicks.
It was in search of just this resolve when I ended up back in Mustafa’s New Jersey apartment one weekend. He left me sleepless at night…depressed at his infidelities which I never confronted him on…and angry at myself for being so weak….yet when my father informed me that he was going to be in the States on a business trip and that we should meet in Philly that weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. Mostly excited at the prospect of squeezing an evening with Mustafa in there somewhere.
I arrived in Philadelphia late Friday night and my father and I spent the night at Khala 1’s place talking over chai and Marie biscuits. In between, I would answer Mustafa’s calls and texts assuring him that I would see him the next day. Baba wasn’t too happy about my plans to go visit someone on Saturday evening but I was so blinded by my love that I paid him no mind. I just kept assuring him that I would be back the next morning. That I was only going to see a friend in Jersey that I hadn’t seen in a while.
When Saturday evening rolled around, I walked out of Khala 1’s house, bade my sad father farewell and hopped immediately on the train to New Jersey. By the time I reached the train station, Mustafa was nowhere to be found. A few texts and a couple of missed calls later, he finally informed me that we were all going to go to a club in New York City and since he was picking up his friends, he would be running late.
“Wait…are we going to the club straight from this train station?” I asked slightly confused and disappointed at the same time. I had hoped for a quiet and romantic evening.
“Yes babe…stay put…we will be there!”
An hour and a half after that conversation, I was still sitting in a large yet empty train station which was now inhabited by three souls; myself, an over-friendly African American man and a geriatric janitor. Every move either of us made would echo loudly in the marble walls of that train station. I tried to read a book…I tried to listen to my mp3 player….I walked around and window shopped through caged grills of closed newspaper stands. Mustafa was still nowhere to be found.
“How you doing Mam” Much to my chagrin…the dreaded moment finally arrived when the African American man inched his way closer to my bench to strike up a conversation.
I forced a fake smile and told him I was fine.
“You’s a beautiful somebody…you Spanish? Indian? I love women from your land…beautiful hair…beautiful skin…dag you is pretty as hell.”
“You married? You got a man? I can tell you aint feeling me too much!”
He had asked a loaded question and if he only knew that was the wrong question to ask a woman whose heart was breaking at exactly that moment. A question which could result in him watching the object of his lust bawl unattractively, loose her temper at him simply because he belongs to the male gender or just get stuck in a long winded conversation of her sorrows and misery. None of which would result in him getting a little something something like he had hoped to. But the nice girl that I was, I spared him that torture.
“Well all I gotta say is….” He respectfully acknowledged my disinterest and got up to leave “If I was your man….I would never make you wait at a train station by yourself. I would treat you like a queen.”
Ok….ok…yes I know that was a line. And yes I know that he probably has made plenty of girls wait on subway platforms and train stations but at that point his words stung like Dettol on a cement gash. I stared at him with welled up eyes as he walked away. It was one of the first realizations that weekend that I may be chasing after a lost cause. Maybe I was fooling myself and maybe it was time to take the blindfold off.
By 1am, the blindfold was still on. At least by then it was perched perfectly before my eyes but inside a massive dance club in the Big Apple. Mustafa was now by my side with his entourage of 7 other desi boys from Rutgers. Their impeccably shaped sideburns, trimmed goatees, pristinely gelled spikes and black leather coats, made it hard for me to tell any of them apart. Yet they surrounded me as if I was the queen bee of their Mafia and I basked in the adulation. From the corner of my eye, I would see them indicate their approval at my looks to Mustafa. I would even overhear them remark that “his girl was effing hot” and yes it was flattering. Mustafa too felt stroked by all this fawning over his arm candy by his male peers. It’s the little things that make boys happy. Dinky cars, action figures and a trophy on their arm that his boys envy him for.
The night was a blast and by the time we ended up at the Tick Tock Diner, I had forgiven and forgotten Mustafa for the train station fiasco. When we landed back at his place, we undressed, got into his bed and made love. I honestly don’t remember if the sex was good or bad. Funny thing is, as sexual as I am, with Mustafa, it was never about the sex. We could have never made love for the rest of our lives and I would still remain just as deeply in love with him. Funny how this world works.
Still naked and in bed, we shared our customary cigarette afterwards as the sun came up pouring in a radiant light blue into his bedroom through the curtain slits. We were both lost deeply in our own silent thoughts. Smoke escaped our lips and wriggled up towards the ceiling as I wondered why every time we met….I still felt just as confused with no resolution. What were we? Where was this heading to? Did he love me as much as I loved him? I looked at him from the corner of my eye and for the first time he too seemed to be lost in thought. Could he be thinking about the same things right now? Was he wondering where we stood also? Was he actually feeling guilty about his indiscretions?
“What are you thinking about?” I decided to ask him.
After a brief silence which seemed like an eternity, he uttered “I’m thinking about Sakina.”
There was nothing more that I could say. Yet he continued on.
“…I’m thinking…what she would do if she could see us like this right now. What would she think? You know I think of her often….”
“Yeah…I mean I wonder how she is doing. She never spoke to me after our engagement ended and she has a right to. I just hope she is well. I shouldn’t have hurt her.”
I rolled over, mostly because tears had now begun to make their way down my cheeks and I didn’t want him to see them. A part of me couldn’t bear to hear any more but another part of me wanted to know more of this honesty.
“She was my first love after all. You never forget your first love.” He continued.
I thought of asking him if he still loved her but then stopped myself. I wasn’t strong enough to hear the answer. Maybe I already knew. It didn’t matter if he still loved her…one thing was certain, he sure didn’t love me. Squeezing my eyes hard and holding back tears I would emit frequent “hmms” and “uh huhs” and even a “yes” making sure that even for a second he wouldn’t notice that I was stifling tears with my face turned away. That my voice was heavy with hurt.
Somewhere along the way, as he reminisced sweetly and audibly about his one true love Sakina, he fell asleep with his arm resting across my breasts.
Have you ever tried to weep in bed next to a person while trying to hide it? Nothing is more torturous, but that night I managed to succeed. His snores drowning out my whimpers. The room where we lay in bed was now completely bright. At sunrise, it was obvious that what seemed like passion in the dark was the remains of a broken heart in daylight. And then somewhere along the way, I too fell asleep.
I had promised my father that I would be back before noon on Sunday. It was supposed to be our last day before he headed back to Pakistan. But when I finally awoke from my slumber, it was almost 3pm. A Tina Sani ghazal played in the background as Mustafa surfed the internet. I lay there watching him and realized that inside this man was a little boy who didn’t know what he wanted. It may have been me a while ago but not anymore.
“Morning sleepy head….I’m starving…lets go grab brunch.” He greeted me as if last night’s conversation had never taken place.
I nodded and forced a smile.
“I’m going to jump in the shower and get ready. You can go after me!”
As he sang in the shower, I sat on the bed and looked around his room. Narcissistic photographs of himself. Little things that had brought amusement to this little boy and he just had to attain. A shirt that seemed like a good idea at the time, a book he never read but the cover was intriguing, a CD he never listened to but the singer looked hot. At that exact minute, I knew I wanted nothing more than to get out of his place. To get far away from him. I felt suffocated and desperately wanted a fresh start. I had no ill will towards him, I just wanted my old life back.
My cellphone had run out of battery the night before and I had never charged it. As I searched for a charger and opened his bedside drawer, I got my last and final answer. Staring at me was a photograph of Mustafa and Sakina from their engagement many years ago. Their smiles wider than I had ever seen. A photograph that obviously still rested on his bedside table even after all those years. As I sat on the bed, wondering whether to allow my tears to escape, I also heard him turn off the shower. I decided against crying because I didn’t want him to see.
“What’s wrong?” He asked me nonchalantly as he stepped out wrapped in a towel.
“Mustafa….can you please take me home…”
“But I thought….we were going to eat….aren’t we…” he pleaded with his eyes. He knew he could keep playing the game and I would end up staying there another night. But not anymore! My father had travelled thousands of miles to see me. And I had a long journey to make back to Philly. I had to start now.
“I just wanna go home Mustafa…please…” I guess the hurt and plead in my eyes was obvious because he immediately stepped back and acquiesced.
“Sure…get ready…I’ll drop you off at the train station.”
As we got in his car, I ran inside to grab my cell phone while he waited. I pulled out the engagement photograph from the drawer and placed it neatly back on his bedside table where it had always belonged. It was my way of letting him know, that I was finally moving on.
On the way to the train station, he tried to cheer me up with Bollywood songs and repeatedly asking “Do you hate me Padash?” I just smiled and nodded and told him that I didn’t. I honestly didn’t. As soon as he pulled into the train station, my heart was so heavy that I wanted nothing more than to burst into tears. But I had controlled myself so long, I could do it for a few minutes more. A train was already on the platform so I immediately dashed out of his car and yelled back that it was the train I had to catch. There was a large, almost colossal pillar at the entrance of the train station and I ran behind it. As soon as I knew I was veiled from his sight behind the giant pillar, I finally broke down. Right there at that station and hiding behind a pillar with a fist in my mouth, I sobbed quietly with his car only a few feet away. It felt good to finally cry. When my phone rang a few minutes later I knew it was him. I wiped my tears off, cleared my throat and answered.
“Hey Padash…I see the train is pulling away. Did you manage to get on it?”
“I made it….I’m on the train….thanks so much for everything…”
“Hey Mustafa…I have to run…I have to go find a seat, I’ll call you later.”
I hung up and burst into tears again. When I covertly peeked from behind the pillar, I could see him scrolling through his phone. And then I watched him drive away. Once his car was no longer in sight, I sat down on the floor with my back resting on the pillar, weeping to my heart’s content. Passerby’s watched me as if I was a crazy vagabond. But I didn’t care. I had waited too long to cry in peace.
Once I had gotten the pain out of my system, I approached the ticket counter and was informed that the next train to Philly was not going to leave for another two hours. So I waited. With a ticket in my hand, my eyes bloodshot, I sat back at that pillar, listening to “Hands Clean” by Alanis.
I arrived at the 30th street station to a thunderstorm. Cabs were sparse and by then, I was in a completely different frame of mind. Without as much as a bite to eat all day, I walked home drenched in the downpour as I hugged my shoulders to stay warm. Over bridges with traffic and through downtown streets, I had officially reached rock bottom of my breakup.
I arrived at Khala 1’s doorstep completely soaked. It was close to midnight when I turned the key and quietly stepped inside. Everyone had gone to bed. All except my father, who stood at the foyer waiting for me with an expression of hurt and dejection, no different than my own. At first I was startled but then ashamed. As I stood there in the dark with only a splash of light illuminating our painful expressions, we stared deeply into each other’s eyes. No words were spoken nor necessary. He had crossed the ocean and flew over time zones to spend a weekend with his beloved daughter, yet had found himself alone and waiting for her to come home. It was the lowest I had ever felt in my entire life as I pleaded with my eyes for forgiveness.
“Go change out of these wet clothes…” his broken voice trailed “You’ll catch a cold. Put something dry to wear. I’ll fix you a warm cup of chai.”
When I emerged in a pair of dry PJs, he was seated on the couch still in the dark. Two cups of steaming chai were placed in front of him. With trepidation, I joined him and we stared out into empty space with hurt and shame. He asked me where I had been all day. He proceeded to describe how hurt he was. How he had spent his entire day at home waiting for me so he could take me out shopping. How he called me 15 times yet it kept going to voicemail. And then…he started to cry.
As I battled with the realization that I had succumbed to being the worst daughter in the world, with tears in his eyes he looked up at me and asked.
“Was it worth it Padash? That’s all I want to know. Was it someone who loves you as much as we do?”
I shook my head. It was unfortunate but I couldn’t nod. And as my chin trembled I too broke down.
He immediately embraced me and we sat on that couch crying together for the first time. I finally felt safe as he held me and I wondered what was going through his mind. The way he hugged me with his own body trembling, I knew. He had spent his entire life protecting me from every possible pain. Yet this was a pain he could not protect me from. The pain of a heartbreak.
His limo was to arrive at 5 in the morning so we spent the next few hours, talking over cups of tea. He kept insisting that I get some sleep and I kept apologizing for my mistakes. When the limo whisked him away at sunrise, I dove into my bed and bawled myself to slumber. Funny thing was, I had no clue who I was crying over by then. I crawled out of bed 20 minutes before my own cab arrived to take me to the airport. My mp3 player played only “Hands Clean” by Alanis throughout.
Jenny was there to pick me up from the airport. I had lent her my car so she and Julie could go clubbing all weekend. It was good to be home, it was good to see her and weeks later when Jenny and I talked about that moment she mentioned that when she saw me emerge from the airport, I looked like I had weathered a storm or had returned from war bruised and battered. Her only words to me were to ask if I wanted to drive and I shook my head.
As we drove home quietly, she turned to look at me a few times as if she wanted to say something. Yet I sat in the front, my body reclined, staring quietly out the window.
‘You ok?’ Jenny tried to end the uncomfortable silence “Julie is waiting to have dinner with us at the dining hall…she met a guy over the weekend who informed her that he had a parole officer…I swear that girl has the worst luck with men.”
I just smiled. In a way it was good to be home with my new family.
“I guess…I shouldn’t ask you how it went….” Jenny finally broached the subject.
“He doesn’t love me Jenny…”
I am sure Jenny opened her mouth to offer some comforting words but I finished my sentence.
“But I hurt the man who does….”
Jenny pulled over immediately on the side of a highway and held me till I cried for the last time that weekend.
Although he remains in my life through people and family, I never saw Mustafa again. I guess I never gave that relationship another chance. He never asked for one either. As for my father, I did ask for one more chance. And he gave me more than just chances back. Now that’s what I call true love.
To my Daddy’s little girls and Mama’s little boys, we should always remember that the man and the woman who raised us will continue to love us unconditionally no matter how much we hurt them. So I guess in the midst of it all, its never too late to tell them how much we love them back.