“Should I run the humidifier then?”
“At least let Lexi help you change.”
In answer, Zaid silently types Lexi, turn bed right on his hover keypad and takes undue satisfaction in the nurse’s barely perceptible sigh as his floating hammock cheekily twists itself out of her line of sight.
She’s asking him which new sheets he wants since he has shamelessly soiled his previous ones yet again but Zaid is too far gone to respond. Peering onerously through the haze of cataracts that shrouds his aging eyes, he whizzes through time to a day in his university bus, with the glass having fogged into the same indiscernibility that clouds his eyes naturally today…
He restlessly bounces his knee up and down, gnawing incessantly on his lips. His eyes keep twitching sporadically, catching on the obscured shapes of cars and trees that he can see through the fogged up bus window. He hates joining in late. The probing stares, the overly-inquisitive questions of “why, how did it happen?” and the downturned lips and sad, pitiful eyes he knows he’d get when he answers with “..passed away…really sudden. Yes, thankyou. Ameen.” again and again like a delirium induced mantra.
Zaid would gladly eat a whole pot of Bubotuber pus before he faces all that.
The thing is, he knows despising people for being genuinely sympathetic is wrong. But he gets enough of that at home, what with his father constantly carrying out inane conversations with his very much absent wife or breaking down in the middle of dinner and sobbing himself into hysterics right in front of the Jay and Dee, or worse, blazing on Zaid for having been the reason of her absence, like his mother just decided to go on a social hiatus because Zaid stayed up all night reading comics and not because she was diagnosed with stage four blood cancer. So yeah, he gets enough of reality at home.
“Yo, are you finishing that?”
He’s jarred away from his bleak brooding by a tiny human who’s so preposterously wrapped up in scarves and sweaters that determining their gender is a feat in itself.
“Um…I’m sorry what?”
“The Skittles,” the Furball replies, and dutifully points a pink, gloved finger to the red packet protruding obnoxiously out of his pants’ pocket.
“Oh,” Zaid replies, “Yes? No, um I m-mean no I’m not finishing it.”
Large, luminous eyes blinking once above a pink cowl are his only response.
“You can have them,” he offers, “Here.”
There’s a flurry of movement where gloves are ripped off and scarves are shed to reveal what he had sort of already figured out; a girl.
“Oh thank Goddd, I thought you were never going to give in!” she responds with much more alacrity than is deemed appropriate for a person of her stature and gently plucks the rumpled up packet right out of his hands. “So my friend Zoey gave me this dare cause she thinks I’m a wuss and can’t talk to strangers, which is weird cause she’s the one who trembles when she encounters a mere squirrel, but that’s beside the point, I won so I’m getting free ice-cream!”
She grins and Zaid’s too shocked by the torrent of words and the sunniest smile that were ever thrown his way to form a coherent reply.
“Ah…” he replies to Furball’s endearingly crooked front tooth, “That’s nice um, good for you. Isn’t it a bit cold for ice-cream though?” he blurts, gaze lingering on her wonky assortment of scarves and sweaters before he can help it.
“Oh this, ha! That was Zubia as well, the little wrench, wait till I make her ask for a junior’s number or something even worse, like offer them her water,” she says mischievously, rummaging around the tiny Skittles packet scavenging for God knows what.
“What’s wrong with her water?” he asks, curiosity piqued.
“You tell me, iz sum horrid botox thing” she slurs, her mouth full of all the purple candies she could find and Zaid fights the insane desire to guffaw out loud, which is weird since he hasn’t laughed for weeks.
“D-detox water?” he asks, voice trembling with mirth.
“Yeah that. So, why am I only seeing you now, are you new or something?
Here it comes, Zaid thinks, all traces of mirth receding and walls closing in to barricade his soul.
“Yeah I just joined.”
He waits, mentally bracing himself for the next inquiry.
“Niceeeee, they lax around the first few weeks anyways, good for you.”
And with that, all the walls Zaid had constructed demolish, just to let the sun shine through.
After that, it becomes a norm to greet Furball—whose real name is Sofia—between classes and spend his free slots with her because time flies when they are together and Zaid finds himself talking more than he ever had before. When he tells her that, she snorts and slaps his arm and tells him to go douse himself in Mandrake juice.
He finds in her all the reasons to love his own self, which is saying something considering he’s taught the absolute opposite at home. They do study sessions there—when his father’s away—and Javeria and Deeba dote on her for she brings them jellies and colas snuck in her study bag and they giggle ridiculously at each other through stained teeth. If she notices the absence of someone she never mentions it.
She eventually finds out about it from someone else, a tactless teacher who made him fill a form during his application process and it infuriates him more than it should, but when she reaches across the café table and just squeezes his hand once in response, Zaid couldn’t have wanted a better reaction.
Zaid can’t handle this. He just had to apply in each and every society there was in the vain hope of finally deserving his father’s praise but now he’s crumbling under the pressure. He’s good at the things he does, he knows it. He’s also a perfectionist, and both these things don’t bode well when you’re in six societies out of the university’s total of seven, the last one—The Fandom’s Den— being left out purely because its President was Furball herself and she’d only let him register for it over the totality of her five-foot dead body.
“Choose one Zaid, for the love you bear Deanerys, choose one,” she said jokingly.
“I can’t, I really can’t. I don’t know how to choose one,” Zaid replied with sincerity.
Zaid has an irrational relationship with his goals. He fears failure with a dread that seeps deep through his body into his very bones, one that has been instilled every day since his birth by his own flesh and blood by a constant berating and drilling of just not being good enough and it leaves his teeth chattering from the sheer intensity of it for he knows who his father means he’d never be good enough for…
Sofia notices it, but no one can undo the wounds afflicted in our childhood, the scars of which appear like a blazing highlighter to remind us of them, of faults done in our boon years that we can never change and remain eternal despite their ephemerality.
When Zaid studies literature he believes his tragic flaw or hamartia to be an indecisiveness that overcomes his very soul.
He combs back his hair and affectionately readjusts the half-eaten, crumpled Skittles’ packet to make it stick out just right from his pants’ pocket for the umpteenth time. The imprint of the ring within makes his heart whoop in his chest, and he believes that for once in his life he’s making the right decision.
Three hours. Three hours and Furball still hasn’t noticed the packet jutting out uncomfortably from his pants’ pocket, when the jumpsuit-clad toddler on the table next to us noticed it the second they entered. She jokingly says that it’s because the toddler has a crush on him and Zaid can’t even muster the energy to blush; he’s practically perspirating through his teeth. He twists, turns, stands up to adjust her fork once but Sofia remains undeterred.
Finally, he wrenches the infuriating packet out (his chaffed thighs thank him), and thrusts it towards her unceremoniously, “Here,”, he says gruffly.
“You can’t possibly believe I hadn’t spotted it the minute you walked it Zaid Tahir?” she says liltingly.
He doesn’t respond.
“Why do you have to be such a tsundre, give me the sweets if you got them for me, seriously Zaid I— ”
“Marry me Furball.”
Large, luminous eyes blinking once are his only response, and suddenly he misses a certain pink cowl.
He doesn’t know how it happened, everything was fine fine fine before it went horribly wrong. They were told everything was normal, the fetus was healthy and they should expect a healthy boy in March In shaa Allah.
So why, in the midst of the throes of December, on the coldest night of the year, in a hospital he wouldn’t send his pet cat to, was his Furball being wrenched of her scarves and mittens, forced to lay on a metal stretcher and whisked away from him?
His tongue lay like dried sandpaper in his mouth and even then it was her who found the words to speak, “I’ll be fine, I promise. I’ll be fine.”
When the doctors come to him and ask him the one question he never thought he’d ever be asked, Zaid’s world spins and spins until he feels as lost as he did the day his father viciously screamed that his mother had died and it was his fault. He cannot think, cannot breathe. They require an answer not knowing that he has none, he never has one.
They say when a decision can’t be made we should flip a coin really high, and by the time it falls, we’d find out what our decision is. He knows that he could keep flinging coins higher than anyone yet his would still be caught by Hermes on his flying sandals, never to fall on the ground for him to make a concrete decision.
How can you choose between your life and your heart?
“I don’t know….I don’t know….I really don’t know…”
Later, much later, when Zaid has cried himself into a stupor, they come and tell him only one thing. That he was too late.
Tears cascade down his wrinkled cheeks and he makes no move to ask Lexi to wipe them. The nurse’s voice interrupts his dazed reverie.
“Which sheets should I put, hm?”
He blinks. “I don’t know…”
Contributed By : Momina Arif