Free At Last
Aahil sat in his darkened bedroom, his eyes staring down at the picture of the woman he had worshipped wholeheartedly. This woman . . . who looked so innocent . . . so pure had been anything but.
He shuddered silently, the ache awakening inside of him once more. He got up, unable to sit still any longer. Pacing from one side of the room to the other, he allowed his thoughts free rein. This woman . . . this devil in a woman’s disguise had betrayed him. She had pretended to love him . . . to think only of him, but that hadn’t been true.
Why else would she have done what she did?
He strode across the room to stand before her picture one more. His fingers clenched around the picture frame, unable to control the emotions raging inside of him. He wanted to hurt her . . . to hurt something. He lashed out, his fist pounding the mirror in front of him, breaking it into tiny pieces. He barely noticed the pain the shards of glass caused his hand.
“Why? Why did you do it?” His voice was hoarse, as he forced it past the constriction in his throat. Falling to the floor once more, he bent his head down in supplication. “Why?”
He jumped slightly when a hand landed on his shoulder. Turning his head, he gazed up at the woman who had stood by his side through it all. The woman who was still here.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “She’s gone.”
Aahil’s shoulders slumped, as his body absorbed that blow. Despite what she had done to him, despite what she had done period . . . her death still had the power to hurt him. It wasn’t her loss that really hurt though, it was the loss of what he had believed her to be.
“You didn’t kill your father, Aahil. You need to find out who did this to you . . . who did this to Begum Sahiba.”
“Begum Sahiba is dead, Aahil,” Sanam murmured, sitting down beside him. She placed her arm around his shoulders. His head rested on top of hers. His shoulders were slumped, as if the entire world’s burdens were resting on his shoulders. “Rehan is at the hospital taking care of the funeral arrangements. He said that he needed to be there. After all, she was his mother.”
He had believed her to be his savior.
“I made that boy into what he is today,” Tanveer said angrily, her hand holding the gun steady. “And you two think that you can just take him from me? I have a right to all of that property. I was the one who killed his father and pretended to take on the blame. That idiotic boy never even thought to investigate. He is so screwed up that he couldn’t even find his way out of a paper bag. You think that he would ever be able to figure out who killed his father? Do you think that he would ever believe that I was the killer? Or that I have killed many times before?
“Begum Sahiba, it’s time for the truth to come out. I will tell him about your actions. And I’ll tell him what you did to my parents. I won’t hide it anymore!”
“Please, don’t make me laugh. Where’s your proof? And you, Nayi Sanam, you think that you can steal him by trapping him with this fake pregnancy? He is not the father. We both know that. No one will take away the property that I worked decades to get. These are the fruits of my labor. You don’t get to take any of that away for your bastard.”
“I don’t think you want to point that gun in this direction. You might endanger my child. I have to protect it. In fact, why don’t you just point that gun in the other direction? Yes. Like that exactly. Now . . . press the trigger.”
“The police took away Nayi Sanam for shooting her. We warned them about the black magic. They said they would take precautions to ensure that she can’t enchant her way out of police custody,” she disclosed, letting her arm fall away as she moved back from him.
“How would they do that?” he asked after a moment of silence, telling his inner child to shut up. While he might need a little bit more comfort in those arms, he would not allow himself to beg.
“We talked about using some holy objects,” Sanam said briefly. “Apparently she fears them. They can harm her.”
Aahil got up and moved to sit on the bed, resting his back against the headboard. He motioned for her to come sit next to him, patting the space beside him.
Sanam’s eyes widened at being invited back into his bed. Knowing that grief had taken him over, she conceded without protest and moved to sit beside him on the bed. For a moment, it was as if they were back to what they had been . . . before everything. Her heart clenched at the memories of the moments of closeness the two of them had shared in this bedroom. Her lips turned down when she thought about how she had witnessed Nayi Sanam tucking Aahil into this very bed . . . how she had then been barred from entering this room by her sautan.
“For how long did you know?” he finally asked, staring ahead at the wall. He could not bear to turn his head and look at her.
“Know what?” she asked. She mimicked him, keeping her eyes on the wall in front of them.
“Everything,” he responded through gritted teeth.
“You mean how your mother was a total psychopath?” Sanam asked.
Aahil moved, as if to protest, but stopped himself. Even now, the habits of a lifetime were controlling him. But she wasn’t worthy of his defense and never had been.
“She tried to force me into signing the property over to her multiple times,” Sanam revealed dispassionately. “She suffocated me once, but something must have stopped her. It was that night before the Kohinoor launch,” she said. “Remember the night you were texting me to come over because you had something to say? I had passed out and spent the entire night having nightmares of her trying to kill me.”
Aahil stiffened at that revelation.
“Don’t touch me! Get away from me. Go from here!”
He had been so focused on his own pain . . . his own fear of rejection, that he had missed such a huge thing? His wife had been suffering in front of him, and he hadn’t known a thing.
“She threatened to kill you if I didn’t sign over the property at the Kohinoor function. She had snipers trained on you the entire event.”
His lips tightened at that revelation.
“She tried to kill me multiple times after the Kohinoor event . . . poisoning being her modus operandi. When she found out that she couldn’t kill me, she tried to make me look bad in your eyes.”
“How can you be so calm?” he asked, turning to look at her closely. If he was honest with himself, there was a sense of disbelief still within him. If all of this was true, wouldn’t Sanam be a bit more emotional?
“I have lived through all of this for the past few months, Aahil,” Sanam pointed out darkly. “I have had to deal with it on a daily basis without my husband’s support. I have had to deal with everything without your support,” she bit out starkly.
He exhaled at that reminder, unable to say anything in his own defense.
“Her reality really wasn’t any news to me. Or so I thought. When Badi Ammi told me that she had also killed my parents, I realized that she was the devil.” Sanam’s voice broke for the first time over those words.
“She killed your parents. She truly was a murderer, wasn’t she?” he murmured brokenly. He forced himself to meet her gaze. He found no condemnation in those eyes. There was no censure. His heart eased a little.
“She killed my aunt. She killed both of my grandfathers. She burnt down this house around their dead bodies,” Sanam continued, her face scrunching in agony. Tears began to fall from her eyes, as she dealt with that pain for the first time. Her life had been so fraught with peril and the need for revenge since she had discovered the truth, that she hadn’t even had the chance to grieve properly. And now . . . in front of him, her shields were breaking. She was falling apart, moments after reminding him that she had already dealt with all of this.
“Sanam.” Aahil wanted to pull her into his arms and hold her close, but she seemed so brittle . . . he was afraid that he would break her. So, as always, he held back, his hand falling away before it ever reached her.
“I lost my parents and the life I knew at two years of age because of that woman,” she finished, rubbing her hands up and down her arms to warm herself.
“And yet . . . you stayed here?” he prompted when she fell silent.
“I stayed because of you, Aahil!” she said, grabbing onto his arm with one impatient hand and shaking it slightly. “I couldn’t leave you in her clutches. All she wanted was your property. I needed for you to know the truth so that you could protect yourself. I didn’t know what she would have done after taking all of that property. Would you then have been her next target?”
“You put up with the woman who destroyed your life . . . for me?” he asked huskily, his hand coming up to cover hers.
“I needed to save you,” she murmured simply. “I needed to know that you would be okay.”
His brow wrinkled at that wording.
The door opened suddenly, interrupting them. Aahil turned his head, ready to blast the intruder for the interruption. His eyes widened at the person standing in the doorway.
“The taxi is here, Sanam,” the woman said, her eyes on Sanam. “Everything is ready.”
She was a woman identical to Sanam, but obviously not. Aahil looked from one to the other, unable to believe his eyes. “What . . . Sanam?”
“I’m Seher, actually,” the woman said, nodding her head at him. “Sanam, I’ll be waiting outside for you.”
Sanam nodded her head at Seher before turning back to look at Aahil. “That was my twin sister. We met recently, after having been separated since the murder of our parents.”
“Twin? Since when did you have a twin?” he barked, incensed that Sanam would have kept such a secret from him. He sat back, when he realized that this was nothing compared to the other secrets that had come out today. And she hadn’t really told him any of those secrets either, had she? If Tanveer Begum hadn’t decided to end both Sanams today, then none of the truth would have really come out. “What else have you hidden from me?”
“I’m leaving,” Sanam said quietly, ignoring the challenge in his tone. “That’s why we called the taxi.”
“What?!” he shouted, reaching out to grab her arm. His hold was tight, making her wince from the pain.
She pulled back, forcing him to let go. Getting up from the bed, she headed towards the door. Her fingers closed around the door handle and she began to open it.
His hand reached out from behind to slam it shut.
Sanam turned around to gaze up at him. Her eyes moved over his face, finally seeing glimpses of the Jallad Jinn she had come to know and love. It was as if Aahil had been sleepwalking through the past few months and was now finally awakening.
But it was too late to make any difference.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded, his hands coming up to grab at her arms once more. “I’m not letting you go until you tell me,” he told her when she struggled.
“I’m leaving,” she repeated. “You know your mother’s truth. In fact, she’s no longer here. Therefore, there’s no reason for me to be here, either. I’ve asked the lawyer to prepare the paperwork. If you sign them, we can be divorced and all the Nawab’s property will revert back to you immediately. As for me . . . I’m going back to Punjab. Badi Ammi is there. There’s nothing left in Bhopal for us.”
“What about me? What about us?” he asked. His jaw tightened at her silence, his eyes filling with incredulous anger. “Are you punishing me for what my mother did? Why are you . . . look, she’s no longer here. Then, why are you closing these doors between us? We have a chance now.”
“I’m not closing any doors,” Sanam replied simply, staring up at him. Tears shimmered in her eyes. “I’m just locking an already closed door. There is nothing left between us. There is no us, Aahil. Not any longer. You closed the doors between us when you decided that I would live as a servant in your home. And I’m not punishing you for your mother’s actions.”
“But why can’t there be an us?” he asked, leaning his forehead against hers.
“Nothing is standing in our way.”
His breath mingled with hers, and she struggled against the urge to press her lips against his. The biggest irony was that she had been married to this man for almost a year, but she’d never had the chance to even kiss him. She’d never been his wife in the truest sense.
“Your mother wasn’t the one who didn’t trust me,” she said in a driven tone.
He raised his head at those words. Her heart cried at that broken contact.
“She wasn’t the one who made me a mulazim in your home.”
His hands fell away from her arms. Her lips trembled at another broken connection.
“She wasn’t the one who married someone else.”
“But I didn’t know!”he protested.
“She wasn’t the one who flaunted his second wife in front of all of Bhopal, accepting that marriage without question,” Sanam spat at him.
Aahil stepped back, his eyes taking in the pain in her eyes.
“She wasn’t the one who ignored the fact that I was suffering the indignities of living in this home with my sautan . . . treated like a servant by everyone else . . . witnessing my husband in bed with his second wife.”
Aahil paled at that revelation, only now realizing that Sanam must have witnessed that mistake.
“Your mother wasn’t the one who agreed to put me in jail because she thought that I was capable of murder. I loved you, Aahil. Didn’t that love . . . all we had . . . deserve even a bit of trust?” Sanam asked bleakly.
“You jilted me! You were the one who left first,” Aahil said flatly, crossing his arms over his chest. His heart was twisting with the agonizing fear that Sanam was serious about leaving him. Despite all of that, he couldn’t keep quiet. Her betrayal had been the first betrayal between the two of them. He wouldn’t let her forget that.
“And that lack of trust . . . if you had ever had it, might have made you realize that there was a damn good reason for my disappearance.” She leaned against the door, crossing her own arms over her chest and raising her chin in challenge. “And you would’ve taken steps to invalidate your preposterous second nikah and started looking for me immediately, rather than recognizing Nayi Sanam as the new Begum of Bhopal in front of all of society and punishing me.”
Aahil turned away, unable to bear the truth of her words. But even now, she couldn’t tell him the full truth, could she? Where had she been when he was getting married to Nayi Sanam? Why had she left him behind?
“Tell me, Aahil,” she asked plaintively from behind him. “Didn’t you notice anything different about me in the weeks before your second nikah?”
Sanam rejecting his advances. Sanam running away from the lanterns. Sanam refusing to say that she loved him. Sanam . . . Seher? He whirled around to look at her, his eyes widening in realization. “Your twin?”
“It wasn’t your mother who couldn’t tell the difference between me and my twin.” She stepped forward and slammed her hands against his chest in anger. “Where were you in my time of need?” she demanded angrily. “You weren’t there for me. The reality is . . .”
His stared at her, watching her fight the emotions that seemed to be tearing at her. But then, the anger smoothed way from her features. She wiped her tears away. She tightened her lips, refusing to let them tremble any longer.
“The reality is that I can’t trust you with my heart. I can’t trust you with my life. I can’t trust you to be there for me and to believe the best of me. I can’t trust you, Aahil.”
He fell to his knees at those words, broken by her words. Broken by the reality of her impending departure. He gazed up at the woman standing before him, hoping for mercy.
She stared down at him bleakly, her eyes filled with all the hurt . . . the heartbreak she had suffered at his hands and at his family’s hands. “I’m tired, Aahil.”
“I love you, Sanam,” he said in a pleading tone, hoping that it would be enough.
She opened the doors and stepped back into the light, leaving him in the darkness.