Chapter 1: An ode to destiny . . .

When you are diagnosed with cancer or engaged to a woman you do not love, the only thing you can wish for is a miracle. A sudden change of circumstance, a rewritten destiny . . . when the cancer cells (or in my case, the woman I’m supposed to be married to) mysteriously disappear. Not that I had anything against her. She’s a sweet woman, no doubt . . . but, sweetness cannot replace the intense love I still had for a person who left me for dead two years ago.

The only thing I can wish for is quick euthanasia. Painless, maybe . . . but, that doesn’t make much difference now. A short Mangni, a shorter Nikah. I look around the train to see my relatives, happily talking to each other, rejoicing at my expense. In my lap, I have the Mangni dress for my bride-to-be. It is a beautiful white salwar-qameez, adorned with gold lining.

How I wish she was the one who would be wearing it. She. My life. My love. She.

In the beginning, like every other family, mine wanted a miracle too…a cure for my disease of unconditional love; so, they termed it puppy love. They massacred it by bringing in customs and religions. I didn’t buy it.

But, after two years of silence; two years of pain of not knowing where she was, I decided to finally move on. Not that I wanted to. But, I ran short of excuses. I couldn’t lie anymore that I wanted to study further, now that I have done my MBA. I couldn’t tell them that I wanted to earn a lot of money, which I do now. I couldn’t even tell them that I wasn’t of marriageable age, now that I’m 27. I ran out of excuses. I was forced into not waiting for her anymore, even if I wanted to wait an eternity.

So, I accepted the first proposal that came my way. Ayesha Mirza.

Ayesha’s a successful entrepreneur, has an MBA degree to boot, and easily one of the most beautiful women I have come across in my life. There’s a certain charm in her eyes, an unmistakable beauty. But, wherever I see those deep brown eyes, I get reminded of the only woman I had loved in all my life.

“You will fall in love with other on the nuptial night”, my friends teased me.

“You know it doesn’t work that way. I don’t love her. I don’t love anyone else.” I said.

I received sad stares in return.

“Marry her. She is the best match for you. Love will happen. For now, just marry her.”

In Islam, marriages are just social contracts that had to be respected. But, I never believed that. I have always believed in the concept of soulmates. I always believed that marriages are made in Jannat. That was all I believed in, for all the years I had known her.

If life quietly slips out of me today, and Malak al-Maut raises me up towards Allah, I do not mind being thrust into hell-fire. I have got a glimpse of Jannat, infact more than a glimpse…I have lived in paradise throughout my lifetime…or, more specifically from the time I met her.

Her. Maya. My Hoor Al-Ayn. Woman of Paradise.

Constant taps on my shoulder brought me out of my reverie.

“Ziyan beta, do you want to eat something?”

I looked around, a little dazed. There was laughter, there was happiness, it was a din. The train. I was oblivious to it all. And, I was famished.

“Ya mumma, let me just go to the bathroom and come back.” I said. I wanted to get out of this place of happiness. I couldn’t be there. I didn’t belong there. I belonged to wherever Maya was. I belonged to her.

The train chugged along and I made my way to the bathroom.

There were a few beggar women sitting on the floor alongside the restroom door. A few things in India never change, I thought to myself. Their clothes were torn, and their faces looked grimy and ugly. A couple of faces were scarred awfully. I looked at them sadly. Sunlight whipped through the windows and fell upon them. Their hair glistened in the sunlight, and their eyes, as they looked up at me, reflected a deep brownish tinge. I looked away abruptly. Something in those eyes. Anything brown reminded me of Maya. Just Maya.

“Why are you staring at me like that, Ziyan?”

“Your deep brown eyes, Maya. They do something to me. Like magic.”

“Don’t make me blush, Zi.”

“I’m intoxicated, Maya. Besotted.”

“Kanna, drunk. That’s what you are. You are just too drunk.”

“I don’t drink, you know that.” 

“You are drinking me in, Zi. Drinking me in . . . One millimetre at a time”

She flashed through my mind, her eyes, her hair, her puppy-like laugh . . . and, I fell to the floor unconscious. Never rising again.

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