Her marriage was a lie. Her father in law  was alive? Her husband had told her with a dead-pan face that his father was dead. She remembered empathising with him and the almost …. detached look on his face. What was she going to do now?

“Aleena, are you with us?” Her mother’s voice roused her out of her thoughts . 

She ran a palm over her face and her shoulder drooped with defeat, “I am with you, mami” 

“Alhaji was talking to you but you didn’t respond. Are you alright?” The concern in her voice was a soothing balm to her troubled soul. She moved closer and raised her face with the tip of her finger, looking worried.

“I am fine, mami. I am just hurt and confused.” Aleena’s  voice wobbled with tears and she swallowed hard.

“It is alright and perfectly normal. The journey of marriage is full of twists and turns but only you can determine the destination. Come here, Darling girl.” Naila pulled her daughter into her embrace and hugged her hard. 

“Thank you , mami.” She leaned back and smiled at her mother. “I am sorry I wasn’t listening to you any longer, Alhaji.” She inclined her head respectfully.

“I know.” His voice was amused before he cleared it and sat forward. “Haseeb’s father, Ashir, is my eldest brother. He is a good man but has a volatile temper. He and my immediate brother, Farhan, were very close until Ashir wed Haseeb’s mother , Ameera.” His sigh was heavy in the air.

“What happened? Does that mean the two brothers are no longer as close as they used to be? ” Aleena sat on the edge of the sofa.

“No, they are no longer close. They barely talk to each other now.” Bilal linked his fingers with each other and stared at it. “Ameera and Farhan were classmates in secondary school and close friends. For a long time, both of our families assumed they were dating , even though they both constantly denied our assumption. Their friendship continued into the higher institution and Farhan was quite protective of her. One night, Ashir and Farhan attended a party and were both drunk when they got back home. It was that night Ashir confessed his feelings about Ameera.” A ghost of a smile danced on his lips.

“Hmmm… This is serious.”  Her mother adjusted her wrapper and sat forward.

“Farhan wasn’t bothered. As a matter of fact, he was happy his best friend would end up with his big brother. Fortunately, Ameera always liked and respected Ashir, so linking them together wasn’t  difficult. The real problem began when they got married and Ashir’s insecurities rose.” 

“Men and their drama. They will use their insecurities to spoil their home and turn everyone’s lives upside down in the process.” Her mother muttered beside her with a tired sigh.

Aleena reached over, picked her mother’s left palm and rubbed it between her own. She was at the receiving end of her parents’ crumbled marriage and she went through hell as a consequence of a decision taken by them. She could only imagine what Haseeb went through as a child and her heart ached for him. 

“At first, no one knew what was going on. According to Farhan, he tried to reduce his communication with Ameera because of her new status as a married woman but he missed her and checked on her once in a while. She was distant and too cold for his liking but he respected her wish and stayed away. Obviously, each time he called or made any form of contact with her, Ashir flew off the handle and beat the living daylight out of her. Haseeb was born a year after their wedding and has two siblings. No one suspected anything until the day Farhan visited and hell broke loose.”

“I am sorry to cut you short, Alhaji. Was Farhan not married all those years?” Her mother interrupted the elderly man.

“He got married when Ameera was pregnant with the second child. Ashir attended the wedding but she didn’t. The excuse he gave was that Ameera couldn’t attend due to health issues. Farhan was hurt that Ameera couldn’t even call to felicitate with him.” Bilal gave a sad little shrug.

“Bullies will always keep you away from family and friends so he can deal with you properly.” The bitterness in her mother’s voice tore at Aleena’s heart. Her mother was rarely sad.

“You are right, Hajia.” Bilal’s smile was incredibly sad and a knot of tears formed in Aleena’s throat. “As I was saying, Farhan met the whole family and Ameera welcomed him wholeheartedly but he knew something was wrong. He called her to the side and tried to pry but she wouldn’t say a thing to him. She was wearing a long hijab and her face was barely visible, hence he couldn’t see the bruises on her body. He left with a burdened heart. The next time he saw her was as a corpse.”

“Oh my God! What happened?” Her voice was hoarse with tears.

“Obviously, he descended on her the moment Farhan left their house and Ameera ran out of the house in fear. A car hit her and she died on the spot. Her body was covered with bruises that were not from the accident. She had been constantly and consistently abused throughout her marriage life and Haseeb was a living witness.”

Aleena slid onto the rugged floor and cried as if her heart was about to break. This death was avoidable if she had left on time. Maybe she may still be alive for her kids and herself today. She cried for the kids who had to live and grow without their mother’s love. 

“Uncle Farhan came back after my mother’s fidau prayer and beat the living daylight out of Ashir. It was one of my happiest moments in life.” 

They all turned towards the voice with equal expression of shock but the man who stood before them was a complete stranger. Anger and bitterness oozed from every pores in his body.

It was Haseeb.

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