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Romance

In the end, we only regret the chance we didn't take.


Her lips part as she gazes at the mascara brushing against her thick false lashes. The Indian glass bangles jingle as she swiftly moves her hands, wrapping her hair into a hijab. Her eyes stare back at her. She draws a deep breath pushing the tears back.


Is it starting all over again?


Karan's face flashes in front of her. She jolts back.

"Zara!", her clipped voice echoes in the hotel apartment, "He is not coming back.", she inches closer to the mirror, talking to her dark brown reflecting in her eyes.


"Hmmm...", she walks around the dressing table, her eyes locked at her reflection, "Let's see... Karan did not leave you." Her feet stop, "You... yes, you.left.him!", the voice whispers, "And... he.is.back."


Her thoughts are on autopilot mode, flying over things she wants to avoid but cannot. She is heading towards the horizon; anticipations calling her aloud.


She places a folded tissue near her glassy eyes, allowing it to absorb the tears, wishing pain to be absorbed. She turns her nose in the air and walks towards the shoe rack.


She is drowning in the past, the past, from whom she found escape in her passion. Chasing her dreams gave her life, but now, it is back. She just knows it is. The lockers at highschool, the laughs, the giggles, the pranks, everything! Everything is crashing back into its place. 


Her eyes settle on a school as the taxi rushes past it. Her neck fights the urge not to turn, but she does. She has to. The taxi makes its way through the Corniche road, the corniche of celebration, the corniche of second December. She smiles as warm sunshine falls on her face. Her eyes squint as she tries to focus on the salty waves shimmering and dancing, reflecting sun rays. "#ABUDHABI" the alphabets stand on a pavement with people around it clicking photos.


"Zara!", her father's voice echoes in her ears, "Zara! Where is your scarf?!", he had bellowed in front of the entire senior year batch. She jerked back, turning away from Karan, "Abba... I..."


Anger boiled in her father's eyes, seeing his daughter standing in a young man's arms. Her eyes begged an apology as he dragged her away. He did not say a word to her as they reached home. He went directly to bed, leaving her with her mother to discuss her mistakes.


"We can fix this.", he had called that night.


"No... Karan.", tears soaked the pillow, "I can't risk it."


"We can run away.", his voice cracked with pain and hurt. 


She hung up, switched the mobile off, and threw it out of the window. The smashing against the pavement slowed her heartbeat down.


"Why am I overthinking?", she emerges out of the ocean of the past.


From the tender age of seven, Karan and Zara had been classmates, the rivals, the enemies; not just because of their countries: India and Pakistan but as the geniuses of the class, fighting over the answers, homework, deadlines, comparing test results. They fought for the title: THE BEST. The rivalry adored, by all teachers, turned into friendship when they were chosen to represent the school for the interschool quiz competition.


She gasped, "YOU!", narrowing her eyes as she entered an empty room.


"YOU! EWWW!", Karan mimicked her, "What are YOU doing here?"


"I have been selected to represent the school.", she replied in her sassy voice.


"Oh! really?!"


"KIDS!", Mrs. Joseph intruded. Zara folded her arms, her cheeks burning. She stared at Mrs. Joseph in anger. Karan stood beside her, deliberately, stepping on her shiny black shoes.


Her jaw dropped open, "How dare you!", she hurled him onto the table.


"KARAN AGARWAL! RESPECT! You are in MIDDLE SCHOOL ready to go to high school next year. Is this how you should be behaving?", Mrs. Joseph made them stand across each other. Zara smirked, batting her lashes at him, "Acknowledging your achievements you both have been selected to represent the school in the competition."


"What?!", Zara erupted, "I can't work with HIM!"


"Nor can I!", as Mrs. Joseph walked up to Zara, Karan squinted his eyes at her from behind Mrs. Joseph. 


"You both WILL! You have to work as a team for the honor of this school.", with this began the journey of friendship. The punches turned to fist bumps, the scoffs to melodious laughter, and hate to love. 


Zara hands over a fifty dirham bill to the taxi driver and shuts the car door close before even taking the change back. In front of her stands the majestic and lavish Emirates Palace Hotel.


"Priya!", Zara squeals, spotting her friend in the courtyard, wearing a yellow-purple dress. Her hands are painted with rich red henna, "Oh goodness!", she stared awing her friend, "You look absolutely beautiful!"


"Oh! My! God! Zaraaaa!", Priya cries throwing her arms in the air as she rushes to engulf her high school bestie, "Ten years! It was a FREAKING long time!"


"So, Doctor Priya, are you ready to tie the knot with high school sweetheart?", she laughs.


"Um-hm!", Priya nods in excitement wrapping a hand around Zara's shoulder.


The floral scent of flowers adorning the ballroom entrance engulfs both of them. The seating arrangement on either side was luxurious with the dance floor in the center. The orchid flower strings hanging from the ceiling with fairy lights. 


"It's sad that you will only be attending my Mehandi. I had been planning to spend all these days with you catching up on with you."


"I wish I could.", she sighs, "But duty calls me back!"


"Hmmm...", she pouts but suddenly her eyes light up, "I got in touch with Karan!"


Zara crosses her fingers, "Really?!", an uncomfortable smile plasters across her face.


"Yeah... but he is kinda busy these days so he won't be coming.", the words wash the anxiety away. Her stiffened body slouches upon hearing the magical words


They squeeze through the crowd walking towards the dance floor. Rahul and his friends move like ribbons across the dance floor. They float and twist weightlessly, advancing and retreating as if they are made of silk. Rahul bows down, offering Priya his hand that she takes immediately. The slow music twirls around them. Their movements flow with dazzling grace, lifting them above the ground. 


The music to her is turning the clock back into the past; the past brimmed with agony and loss.


"Zara!", she turns around to see Ayesha standing, "Nice to meet you.", an uncomfortable exchange of hugs made her queasy, "I am so sorry about that prom night. We never saw you after that."


"No one did!", she wants to say, "Not even Karan." She had fallen off the face of the Earth. 


"So where exactly were you? You did not even take A-level exams!"


"Pakistan.", this shuts Ayesha's mouth, "Excuse me.", she squeezes through the crowd hooting and cheering, into the hallway navigating her way to the restroom. 


"I am confident! I cannot break now! Why am I breaking?" she murmurs as she pulls up her long dress, brushing against the carpeted floor, running through the hallway.


Her eyes had lit up when he asked for the dance. Her delicate hands were in his with his hand on her waist. He whisked her around the ballroom floor, the slow music allowing to etch that moment in her memory, engraved till the music died, the blood ran cold, and the stare broke forever.


Her vision blurs out as tears brim her eyes. Her hijab flapped behind her as she speeds down the hallways.


Her shoulder collides with a young man toppling her, "Sorry", she whispers and continues towards the restroom, unaware of Karan staring at her as she fades away in the hallway.


"I am Zara Noor Illays.", she anchors her hands on the sink for support as she stares at her reflection, "The past is in the past! Nothing matters to me! Not anymore."


"Oh! Look!", her finger pointing at her, "Zara misses Karan!", she scorns her reflection.


"I don't!", she hisses, "NEVER!", she heaves, "I ... don't!"


After a long hard stare at her reflection, she applies a layer of lipgloss and walks back to the ballroom. Priya and Ayesha join her. She smirks, letting the waves of music wash her away with it. Her body twirls, she jumps, throwing her hands in the air. She slowly walks back to the couches in the corner as the slow music drained the laughter replacing it with a gratified smile.


She sits by herself, living in the moment pleasing herself with soda.


"Captain Prakash, Sir!", a young man in navy blue kurta salutes and sits beside her, "Can I help you, Sir?"


They both laugh hard, "Ishaan! Wow!", she claps, "Congrats, captain! Your sister literally deserves happiness!"


"Un-un!", he sways his finger in the air, "Doctor Priya! There were days when she looked like a zombie!"


"So, when is your turn?", she wriggles her brow at him.


He blushes, brushing his fingers through his hair.


"Ishaan...", a familiar voice tails off, seeing him sitting with Zara.


"Karan?", surprised Ishaan gets up and hugs Karan, "Wow! What a pleasant surprise. Just wait here! I will be back with Priya.", Zara follows the suit and gets up.


Ishaan's absence creates a void. Zara smiles stiffly, staring at her dress, unable to hold his gaze. She can feel her heart beating in her chest. It is pounding against her chest. Not in the ears though, for they are occupied by steady drums. 


"Ahem-ahem", he clears his throat, slowly walking in front of her. Zara looks across his broad muscular arm, "Hi, I am Captain Karan Agarwal from Indian Army."


Her pacing heartbeats slow down. The corners of her lips lift into a smirk. She tilts her head at him, "GD pilot Zara Noor Illays from Pakistan Air Force."


His eyebrows raise in surprise, "Wow! Pretty dope!"


"Yeah, pretty...", she pauses, staring at his face. It has not changed even in all those years except a few scars, "...dope."


"Don't forget, we still have your F-16 that crashed in February this year.", he sneered that blazes her insides. The smoldering coal rolls across her heart. She walks out of the ballroom. He follows her. The cool October breeze welcomes them outside, "Do you have proof! Oh no! We have! The tea is FANTASTIC! You should come too!"


He laughs, moving his head sideways. She looks straight ahead as they both cross the road to walk towards corniche. 


"Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal.", he brushes the burn off his shoulder and whistles.


"He is NOT your proof!", she hisses, "Squadron Leaders Nauman Ali Khan and Hassan Sidiqqui.", she raises her brow, staring at the black water crashing on the rocks beneath them.


"Major Somnath Sharma.", with a click of his tongue, he brushes her words off him.


She raises her eyebrows, pushing back the pain of being ignored, "Major Tufail Muhammad Shaheed.", she smirks acknowledging her proofs have given her the victory and for one last blow, "Wait, where is your hero, Abhinandan? Or those who killed our poor trees in Balakot!", she ridicules him belittling his country.


"What do you have to say about the mole; Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmad?", he wriggles a brow at her. That is enough to shut her up. They stand leaning against the railing staring at the reflection of the city rippling in the water. 


"How about Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, huh?", she turns to face him. His eyes met hers. The anger makes her hands curl into fists.


"Zara Noor, these names will go down to every single citizen of our countries and end up on me and you. Human is a combustible specie. The hate is like fire engulfing everything in its way except those clocked in an incombustible cloak of love. And trust me, I still love you."


She looks away with glassy eyes.


"I understand whatever happened was our fate. I need just one more chance to prove we can still exist."


She sways her head in negation, "Foreign love comes with a danger, comes with expectation---"


"Zara!", his voice reduces to a whisper. He interrupts and bents to meet her face.


"No.", she nods wiping her tears, "I waited for two FREAKING years---"


"How was I supposed to find you when you cut off all the con---"


"You had my email!", she shouts, "I was wrong to wait because ...", she breathes heavily, "Because I knew! I KNEW, you had moved on. Kajal was yours, not me!", she voice faints into the cries.


"SHE WAS!", he grunts, "Please!", his hand lands on her shoulder. She swings it. Her hand curls into a fist, flies through the air, smashing in his palm.


"DO.NOT", his voice cracks. He holds her fist there for a moment staring in the angry eyes before letting it go, "Don't bring this between us."


Her dams break. Her hands grasp the railing for support. 


"Whatever happened that day did not break us. I wanted us to run aw---"


"Runaway? From what exactly?!", her anger is back. She wipes her tears, "From my parents who bore me? Or from my country who sheltered me?"


"Jesus! They've brainwashed you!", he rubs his temples walking around her.


"I?! I have been brainwashed?", she scoffs. Her laugh echoes in the area, "I stabbed my family in the back. I deserved punishment."


"Punishment?!", he raises his voice, "to be dragged away from me, leaving me with nothing but emptiness?"


"It's emptiness!", she hisses, "that brought you here, Captain Karan.", the silence overtakes them. The silent whispers of wind and splashing of salty waves establish peace between them. They stand beside each other, respecting the personal space.


She turns around to face him. She sighs and smiles slowly through her tears, "Let your country's love replace my love. Make it run deep into your veins, but remember, don't let this love corrupt your heart. Don't let it make you forget the GD pilot in front of you is not only Pakistani but also a human. We all are equal, just like the grass growing on either side of the fence."


"No... please.", his dark brown eyes beg her to stop. Her smile is melting him. She stands still with all dignity pushing the urge of holding him at the back of her mind. His body is slouching.


"If I had run away with you as you wanted, we would have been arrested, jailed, or even deported after a certain period. The anxiety would have broken us apart, and we would have learned the same lesson a harder way. You have earned respect, Captain, now you gotta live like one! You will be fine without me. Spread peace, be a loyal citizen, and a soldier neither Imtiaz Ahmad nor Kulbhushan Jadhav.", with a salute she turns around having different feelings; feeling so intense that she wants to sit down a cry. But she cannot. She must not, for her heart is now refilled with peace.


She loves him, but she must let him go. Sometimes you need a second chance not to set things right to perfection but to close the chapter of life that was left open long ago with a beautiful goodbye.


August 10, 2020 06:59

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4 comments

Gopika Ashokan
18:57 Aug 11, 2020

You have really described the nuances of religious sentiments, love and finally the act of letting go in a very befitting manner. Thanks for writing!

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Shiza Ali
03:51 Aug 12, 2020

Thank you for loving my content.

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Regina Perry
00:47 Aug 13, 2020

This is beautiful! You've got some great imagery here, Shiza. "Silent whispers of wind and splashing of salty waves."

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Shiza Ali
05:21 Aug 13, 2020

Thanks

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