While You Were Sleeping
“It’s been six months sin. . .
“Chances for recovery decreasing day by . . .
“Talk to the family aga . . .
“Won’t agree to turn off the life . . .
“They should be coming soon . . .”
The figure on the bed heard the words as if they were coming from a distance away. Eyes flickered open and shut, weighed down by something that made it impossible to keep them open. Fingers moved fretfully on the bed, plucking . . . clutching at something.
“Doctor Mehra! I think the patient is waking up!” a female voice shouted excitedly from next to bed.
The eyes flickered open once more, turning to look blearily at the figure now standing next to the beeping machines.
“The patient’s hand moved,” the nurse said urgently, stepping back as the doctor came over to inspect the patient and the readings on the equipment. Snapping out orders, he began to take the steps to ensure their coma patient would stay awake this time.
There had been moments of hope, quickly dashed, over the past few months, but this was first time the patient was fully roused.
Fifteen minutes later the medical staff left the room, leaving only two people behind. “I think everything will be alright now. The patient shouldn’t relapse. Let’s monitor all vital signs closely,” Doctor Mehra admonished, his eyes on the still figure. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the patient had come back. That bespoke a strength of will not often seen in this world. He would do everything on his part to ensure a successful recovery.
“Yes, doctor,” the nurse. “Oh, I think the family is coming. Should I have someone head them off?”
“No. It’s okay. Let them in. I think they know. No one will be able to stop h–”
The door burst open, the force of the push causing it to hit the wall with a bang. The two people standing next to the bed jumped in surprise even they had been expecting the entrance, but the figure on the bed did not move at all. Not even a flicker.
“Sanam!” the man yelled, a desperate hope in his eyes.
“Mr. Ibrahim, please calm down. Your wife is awake, but that doesn’t mean you can act in this manner,” the nurse scolded him quickly.
He ignored the words, racing across the room to the bed instead and falling to his knees beside it. “Sanam. Sanam. Sanam,” he murmured helplessly, his lips tracing a path across her face and eyes. Why were they still closed? He sobbed softly, seeing no change. Had it been a cruel hoax? She hadn’t awakened?
“Aahil,” she croaked out, her eyes finally opening.
His heart began to beat rapidly at his first look at those beautiful eyes after six months of complete darkness.
“I’m here,” she murmured.
“What were you doing for so long?” he demanded in a broken voice. “Why did it take you so long to come back?”
“I think I was dreaming. Hmm. I had a horrible nightmare,” she murmured hazily before falling back into peaceful slumber.
She sat on the bed, her eyes staring at the TV.
“In related news, there was an attempted terrorist attack in our neighboring country of Pakistan. The Pakistani army, lead by Captain Shaad Aftaab Khan, defeated the country’s biggest problem to date. Shashi Kapoor is dead. DNA tests, fingerprints and facial recognition all confirm this news. Now let’s turn to an interview our sister channel in Pakistan took of the Captain with Reporter Amina Haq. They were at the site of Shashi Kapoor’s demise when this interview took place.”
“Captain Khan, now that you have erased Shashi Kapoor from this world, making our country safe for another day, what do you plan on doing next?” Amina asked the army captain.
“Really? You care about that?” the man asked in an amazed tone.
“Our audience wants to know,” Amina said, silently urging him to answer.
“I’ll be going back home and marrying,” he revealed with a bashful smile.
“Oh girls, that means Mr. Khan is off the market. Sad news for us, but good news for him. And who will you be marrying?”
“Oh! The girl who was kidnapped a few months ago? Did you fall in love with her while rescuing her?”
“She’s my cousin.”
“But . . .”
“Alright! No further questions. We have to take care of other matters now,” Captain Khan said brusquely before walking off the camera.
“Sanam?” a hesitant voice called out from the doorway of the hospital room.
Sanam turned off the TV and turned to look at the man standing across the room. He still had a five o’clock shadow on his jaw and his eyes showed proof that he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for a long time. But he was here, and he was beautiful to her.
It was night, and both of them should have been sleeping, but she couldn’t go back to sleep. Not yet.
“I’ve been sleeping for six months already,” she said grumpily. “I don’t want to sleep anymore. Besides, there’s so much to talk about . . . for you to tell me. How can I just rest? Unless . . .,” she began uncertainly, looking at his tired face. “You need to rest,” she said suddenly. “Go home. Sleep. I’ll wait for you to come back.”
Aahil squeezed her hand in protest. “I am not going anywhere without you. I’m not going home until you are ready to come with me.”
“Fine,” Sanam said with a grateful smile. “But go eat food first. And then take a walk. Stretch your legs.”
He opened his mouth to protest.
“Aahil! There is a cafeteria. Go eat! I’ll be right here waiting for you, when you return. I’m not alone.”
He was her Jallad Jin, but she was his Miss Dhabewali. In this matter of wills, she had won. He had gone to eat, and she’d stayed in the hospital room.
“Where are Nazia and Shazia?” he asked sharply, looking around for his missing sisters.
“I sent them home,” she said calmly, sitting up. She steeled herself for the storm she knew was coming.
“Sanam!” he protested. “They were supposed to stay with you until I came back.”
“They did. When you called from downstairs, saying you were coming back, I sent them home. The driver took them home just 5 minutes ago.”
“But,” he began angrily.
“Aahil, I’m not an idiot. I know not to do anything to put myself at risk. I just woke up a week ago, and I know better than to walk around without supervision. My physical therapist has noted my muscles aren’t in that bad a shape since you took care of me so well, but they have atrophied. I won’t risk my recovery. Shazia and Nazia were wonderful. They helped me to wash my hair and blow dry it. I feel so clean!” she said happily.
He smiled helplessly in return, knowing that as long as Sanam was happy . . . he was happy. As long as she was back, he would be happy forever.
She reached out a hand to him, silently urging him to come to her.
He moved forward, and grabbed her hand, pulling it up to rub it against his cheek.
She laughed softly at the sensation of his stubble against her hand.
He still couldn’t believe that she was awake. His heart . . .. his heart was finally at peace, now that his Sanam was back with him. Before he could sit on the chair beside her bed, she pulled him onto the bed itself.
“Sanam!” he protested, moving to get up.
“I want to lie in your arms,” she whispered. “It feels like I haven’t seen you for the longest time. I need to be close to you, Aahil.”
He weakly protested, but even he knew that this wouldn’t be a fight he would win. Lying down beside her, he raised her head and placed his arm underneath before settling her down once more. Turning her body carefully, he held her close, her lips touching the base of his neck . . . her breath warm against that skin. She wrapped one arm around his waist, the other hand settling between her cheek and his arm.
It was becoming more and more real by the day that his Sanam was awake. She was back. This wasn’t a dream. All was right in the world.
They must have drifted off for a few minutes or hours in each other’s arms, because when they awakened, the lights had been lowered and they were enclosed in a small world of darkness, their only companions the beeping of the machines.
“You’re back,” he murmured, tilting up her face and kissing her lips. But one taste wasn’t enough. He planted another kiss. And then another, his tongue slipping inside to taste her thoroughly. She moaned deeply, her hand smoothing up his chest to cup his cheek, as he delved deeper. He abruptly pulled back, smoothing her hair back from the face. “No. We can’t. You aren’t ready.”
“I know,” she said in a frustrated tone, burying her face into his neck and planting a kiss against his naked skin. “Let’s take a rain check.”
He nodded. Pressing a button, he raised the bed, helping her to sit up and then sitting very carefully beside her.
“I’m not made of porcelain,” she said crankily, noting the distance between them “I’m not going to break.”
“You almost did,” he said darkly, his mind going over the dark months he’d spent waiting for her to wake up. “I watched over you and prayed every minute of that time. I told you about our love story, hoping it would pull you back. But nothing. The night that I lost all hope, when I was desperate to have you come back . . . .when I was afraid that I had completely lost you, you awakened for a moment.”
“I love you, Aahil. I waited so long for you. A lot. But you didn’t come. Nayi Sanam sold off Seher. I waited for you for so long, but you didn’t come. You didn’t come, Aahil.”
“You said those words, and awakened my hopes once more. I would never give up hope completely, because that would have meant giving up on Sanam and Aahil. But that bolstered me like nothing else could have. And then on Eid . . . for a few precious moments, you moved. Your eyes flickered and you held my hand for a single instant.” His voice shook on those last words.
Sanam pulled him down, so that his head was resting against her heart, and she cradled him close.
“I was dreaming,” she said softly, repeating the words she had said when she awakened a week ago. “In that coma, I must have heard you . . . because I met you in my dreams. You kept on telling me about how much you loved Sanam. How much you wanted Sanam. Sanam. Sanam. Sanam,” she said in an exasperated tone. “How she was a little crazy. How life might have hurt her, but she was always happy. Even in tears, she smiled. Sometimes, she would be innocently naughty . . . .or sometimes she’d fight with you. She’d be stubborn. Sometimes she’d get mad at you, but only so that you could coax her into melting. She’d fight . . . .so you two could reunite again. She’d forget . . . so that she could remember you again. Just always . . . Sanam.”
“You sound jealous of yourself,” he teased, hugging her close and breathing in her scent. “Why would Sanam be jealous of Sanam?”
“Because in my dream . . . I’d forgotten you. I was somewhere far away . . . some other man’s wife,” she said in a stark tone, remembering the pain she felt every moment of that dream thinking she was married to a complete stranger. “Then, I met you again. Can you imagine the hell I was in, wanting you and not being able to have you?”
“And just whose wife were you?” he demanded sulkily, glaring up at her from where his head rested against her bosom.
She planted a kiss against his pouting lips. “That man. The one who’s all over the news. Captain Shaad Aftaab Khan,” she said carelessly. “You guys must have watched a lot of news while waiting for me to awaken.”
“And then?” Aahil asked softly.
“In my dream . . . my pain grew, as I was forced to stay away from you. I hated you . . . . demonized you, so that I wouldn’t blame myself or who I thought was my husband. The whole world was against me. The whole world was after you. I hurt you every time we talked. Everyone was trying to kill you. And then . . .,” she began to cry, with great heaving sobs. “You died, Aahil. The pain was so great, that I wanted to do anything to leave that world. When I died there . . . I awakened here,” she finished.
He raised his head, and quietly wiped away her tears, understanding that she had suffered through the pain of separation, just as he had. Even if she had been asleep, she’d been aware of time passing. She’d been aware that she was far away from him.
The two lay in silence, Aahil letting her take what comfort she could from his touch.
The medical staff came in and checked on Sanam periodically, saying nothing about the man also lying on the bed. The two were quite famous in the hospital, his devotion legendary. It did everyone’s heart good to realize the couple they had lovingly named SaHil were reunited.
“So, tell me,” she said suddenly. She lay with her back to him now, his chest and body supporting hers. His arms encircled her in an embrace. Their fingers were twined together, and she periodically took away one hand to smooth it over his arm . . . his cheek over her shoulder. . . his leg, to make sure that he was still there with her.
“Tell me what happened while I was sleeping?” she entreated. “Why has no one come here and disturbed our peace? What has happened in these six months?”
“I . . . how can I bring all of that in here?” he said unhappily, his fingers beginning to withdraw from her hold.
She gripped his hand tightly. “No. We deal with it now. You’ve been dealing with everything yourself. It’s time for us to deal with it all together.”
“I . . . where do I begin?” he said softly, his lips kissing her ear . . . the side of her forehead . . . her cheek, needing her touch to ground him.
“The one person I didn’t dream about,” she said softly, “Was Seher.”
He closed his eyes at that subject.
“I know. There’s something missing inside of me. When I met her, that lifelong feeling of a part of being lost went away, and now that loss is back,” Sanam murmured.
“Seher’s gone,” he finally said. “We found her . . . she’d had an accident.”
Sanam began to cry, her body shaking. Feeling the truth and hearing it were two different things.
He grasped her close, trying to take the pain out of her. But it wasn’t to be. His wife mourned for her lost twin, her body shaking as the tears continued to flow. Eventually, she was able to stop, able to push the grief away for the moment . . . with his help. “She had such a horrible life. At least, I had Badi Ammi and Haya. She had no one. She lived on the streets and used cons to feed herself. She finally fell in love and lost him!” She bit her lip. “At least . . . she’s with Rehan now,” she murmured softly. She firmed her lips and turned to him. “What else?”
“Sanam!” he protested. “Please, rest for now.”
“I’ve told you before,” she told him sharply, her nails biting into the skin of his arm. “I need to know. It’s better to know. I spent too much time in my dreams ignoring everything. I don’t do that.”
He sighed. “Fine. But lay down first.” Lowering the bed, he helped her to lie down. Laying down beside her, they turned to face each other. His hand came to rest at her waist. Her hand came up to cradle his cheek, gently wiping away the wrinkles that worry had etched on his face. She traced his eyebrows, and his nose down to his lips. He leaned in close and planted a soft kiss against her lips.
“Now, tell me what else has happened. How did you find me?” she demanded.
He stared at her face, his heart clenching at the pain in those eyes. But she was still bravely demanding the truth. Her eyes were still puffy from her bout of weeping, and her lips were rosy from the kisses they had shared.
“Tell me,” she ordered, the spark that was truly hers igniting inside of her.
“We found you when the truck taking you over the border crashed. Passersby found you and took you to the hospital. They’d also found Seher by that time. I had only reported you missing, since I thought Seher had voluntarily left. When the police contacted me, they told me one of you was in the hospital and one of you was in the morgue.”
He stared at her, his eyes filling with tears at that remembered pain. “I was here in a heartbeat.” His fingers clutched at her waist, pulling her close. She kissed him softly, trying to draw out some of that pain with her touch. “I saw you were alive, and Seher was gone. I’m sorry for your loss, Sanam. I’m sorry that the sister you just discovered is gone. I’m sorry.”
She nodded, understanding the words he wasn’t saying. He was sorry that Seher was gone, but he was glad that it hadn’t been Sanam. He was grateful that of the two, it was Sanam who had survived.
“They then found your phone. Someone had stolen it, but it was eventually retrieved. The pictures of Seher were on your phone . . . in a birdcage. We discovered that Nayi Sanam was behind all of this. We also discovered the gun she used to kill Suleiman Chacha. I had her arrested, despite all of her efforts to use her black magic on me. I had your taveez to protect me.”
Sanam smiled at that disclosure.
“And I divorced her. There was no reason for me to keep her as my wife,” Aahil said grimly. “No reason that I would keep that woman in my life. She was never my choice.”
Sanam pulled back, surprised at that disclosure.
“She claimed to be pregnant, but she wasn’t. She did sleep with someone else, but it wasn’t me. She never slept with me,” he asserted. “She laughed about fooling me with a fake suhaag raat when we found you.”
Sanam sighed a quiet sigh of relief. While she would never have left Aahil, knowing the kind of women both Tanveer and Nayi Sanam had been, it did her heart good to hear the confirmation from his own lips.
“And Nazia?” she asked softly.
“She’s pregnant with a man named Saif’s child.,” he said grimly. “He seduced her because she was the Nawab’s sister. In fact, he was the man who was having an affair with Nayi Sanam.”
“And then?” Sanam asked, wondering how to approach the delicate subject.
“Apparently, he was also Shashi Kapoor’s adopted brother. The police arrested him in relation to her.”
“Nazia didn’t marry him?” Sanam asked, hoping to hear the right answer.
“He was a cheat. A conman. Someone having an affair with her sister-in-law. On top of all that, he had terrorist links. I would never make her suffer for the sake of our honor or even her own honor. She made this child out of what she thought was love. She is having this child because she already loves it. She will be an unwed mother. It’s not the end of the world. She’ll have me to take care of her and her child.”
“And she’ll have me. That’s the man I fell in love with,” Sanam said proudly, placing a loving kiss at the corner of his mouth.
He turned his head and met her lips enthusiastically, the two of them sharing a kiss that silently spoke of all the love they felt for each other.
“That’s it? You took care of it all?” Sanam said softly, pulling back. “My hero wanting to make everything okay for me before I awakened?”
“Yes. Oh, and I threw Khala and Khalu out. They also hurt you. When we go back now to that home, there will be nothing that will hurt you.”
Sanam touched his cheek gently. “One thing I realized while I was sleeping,” she murmured, “Asleep or awake . .. you were always with me.” She turned her head to look at the morning sun’s rays streaming in through the blinds. “I knew it. Married or not . . . you are mine. You will always be mine, just as I will always be yours.”
“While you were sleeping . . . I knew that if you died,” he whispered softly, wrapping his arms around her body once more. “I would die. If you left this earth, I would follow. In fact, I would follow you anywhere you lead,” he whispered against her temple. “You are mine, as I am yours. And nothing will separate us ever again.”
“Nothing,” she murmured in agreement, slipping into a healing sleep.
Aahil stared down at his Sanam, the gift that Allah miyah had allowed to return to him. He would thank God all his life and he would treasure her to the end of his days.
Aahil would be for Sanam . . . Sanam would be the only one for Aahil, until they each took their last breaths.