Lavender

She can listen to them, as they discuss her future. But they don’t know that.

The first sound I hear every morning is Ammar’s snore. 

I smell the lavender pot pourri I keep in a fishbowl on my side-table. 

I open my eyes to a faint golden glow in our bedroom and a few rays of sunlight spilling through the gaps in the curtains. 

I wake up to the warmth of the duvet, the peace of my home, and the love of my family.

But this…seems different. 

I hardly feel the weight of the duvet. It’s been replaced with a thin sheet that is crisp and hard. The air pressing against my cheeks is cold.

I can hear a confusion of noises: whispers, sighs and mechanical beeps. I take in a deep breath and immediately choke on it; the air tastes bitter. 

I open my eyes but a pool of sharp white light blinds me, and I am forced to close them.

Somehow, this doesn’t feel like home…

I wonder if Ammar is up earlier than me today. He is never up earlier than me. He likes to wake up to breakfast in bed and me in his arms, he always told me.

My senses seem marred. I was never a deep sleeper. Why is it taking me so long to wake up?

Slowly, very cautiously, I open my eyes. I look at the ceiling; instead of the cream colored flowers that Ammar designed himself for me, is plain white, and square lights.

I feel my heart beat fasten as an alarming thought sinks in: this is not home…

I try to sit up. I try to lift my arms and move my legs. But I can’t. My body feels heavy and rigid. I blink several times, ardently wishing for the blank ceiling to disappear: it doesn’t.

I dare a look around myself. There is a tall shelf of alien machines on my left. 

My rustic lamp is missing. And so are my lavenders… Ammar loved lavenders.

A thick tube from one of the machines is coming towards me and enters my mouth. I can feel it blowing air softly inside me. Some tubes are attached to my arm and I am covered with white sheets. My raven hair is open and scattered. I never sleep with my hair open.

A soft, familiar cough jerks me out of this reverie and I look up. Ammar is standing next to my bed with my parents.

I sigh in relief. A feeling of elation washes over me: Ammar was here, and so, everything was going to be alright.

I desperately want to call out to him, but the respirator in my mouth doesn’t let me. Unable to feel my body, I look at him silently, hoping that he would feel my stare and turn around.

He was talking to my parents, not noticing that I was awake.

Their voices were hushed and Ammar’s shoulders were taut with tension.

The last time I saw him like that was the night he asked my parents for my hand in marriage. He said he was so afraid that they would refuse. I didn’t quite get why he thought they might refuse…

I push these thoughts out of my head and try to listen to what they were saying. Despite the small distance between us, I hardly understand anything. I was hoping to catch something that would explain my situation.

Father turns towards me and gives me strange look: the look of longing. My heart tightens, seeing a confusing mixture of worry and anger painted on his aging face.

He walks out of the blank, white room, and I see my mother walking towards me. Her hair is uncombed and messy, and for the first time in my life, I see tears in her eyes…

I fail in my efforts to calm myself, and feel scared, as if I were a little child left alone in the dark.

She bends down and places a soft kiss on my forehead. I close my eyes to feel it, and will that feeling to wipe away the storm inside me.

“Zara, my love. Please wake up…” 

Her whisper touches me, soft as a raindrop. 

Ammar comes behind her and holds her by the shoulders. “Mother….” He always called my mother his mother. He always said what is his is mine and what is mine is his too…

“Mother, it’s been two months. She…she won’t wake up. It’s best for all of us that we…move on. I should take her shares. Please talk to father…”

My mother squeezes my hand gently and briefly nods. She turns and leaves, her footsteps light and grim.

Ammar stares at me and I stare back, my brain numb and unable to absorb the reality of his words.

His face is unreadable. In all the years I have been married to him, I have never once mistaken the look on his face. Now, I just can’t decipher what his eyes were saying.

Slowly, he inches closer to me and takes my hand, with tubes attached to it, in his cold ones. “I’m doing this for the three of us, Zara.”

I have so many questions that I want to ask him, and as I try to hold on to his hands, they slip out of mine.

I feel scared. I want to hide away in the dark until I figure out what is going on. Please…I yearn, as his eyes bore into mine.

The door opens and in walks a perfect copy of myself. 

My sister, the flawless picture of beauty…She walks over to my husband, and gives him a small smile. He nods back, and I realize she wasn’t wearing her usual perfume: she smelt of lavenders.

She glances at me. “So…? No good news?”

Ammar is silent for a moment and his silence reeks of strange emotions.

Whenever I was sick, he would tuck me up in bed, and say, “You’re gonna be okay, flower.” Right now, something tells me he will not speak those same words to me.

He sighs, and shakes his head. My sister looks away. She lowers her head and tucks some stray hair behind her ear.

“You know…Ammar… sometimes, it’s okay to let go,” she whispers, taking his hand. Ammar looks at her discreetly. “Sometimes, it’s easier to accept what you have. And if she’s going, you have me.”

Ammar looks at her closely for a moment, then leans in and kisses her.

My senses reel and the room swims out of vision.

I feel my eyes burn. Warm tears run over my temples and steal into my hair. 

I feel a void grow inside me, and suck at my body like a black-hole. 

I feel a seedling of pain come to life in my chest, its roots twisting around every inch of sanity and hope and love I had within me, cutting through them, and choking them to death.

They leave the room and I’m left alone, left alone to drown in that ocean of disbelief my beloved husband and sister-in-blood unleashed on me.

I feel the true essence of pain…brought about by betrayal and a revelation that before this point, my life was perhaps all a lie. I could do nothing but lie there and cry, cry for all those moments when I looked at my husband and felt assured that his heart and love is true to me and me only; cry for not realizing sooner, that the sister who shared my mother’s womb with me, had been sharing the love of my life with me too.

Was none of it true? All those promises of the moon and beyond, all those times when we felt complete and enough for each other, were they all a white lie?

A dozen questions buzz in my brain, and the one thing I ask myself over and over again is, why…?

My room is empty and there is no one to answer. That is, until I notice my brother leaning against my bed.

Hassan’s hair is disheveled and his clothes are crumpled. He looks at me with glassy eyes, and my memory tells me there is no record of me seeing him cry: this is a first time.

For a moment, I am able to ignore my agony, as Hassan keeps on looking at me with his eyes filling up.

“It’s been rough,” he spoke. His voice is coarse. “The kids’ fee just keeps on rising, and…Samia has been a total pain,” he massages his temples, releasing a long, strained breath. “Lord, what did I do to deserve a wife like that…”

He looks at me again. He looks overwrought, and worried, and in pain.

“You know I love you, right?” he asks abruptly. “More than anything, god! more than anything

He takes my hand and rests his forehead on it. I feel something wet…

My throat tightens. 

My brother is unhappy, and I’m lying on a hospital bed, helpless and useless. He has always been there to wipe my tears and now, when he needs me to do that, I am unable to move even a muscle for him. He is my spirit, my guardian angel, and I can’t be anything for him right now. I blame myself. Without knowing why or how this is happening, I blame myself..

“Sir?”

We both look in the direction of the sound. An old, balding man in a white lab-coat stands at the foot of the bed. He is holding a file in one hand and a pen in another.

“These are the papers. You need to sign them so that we can follow protocol to shut it down,” the doctor says as he hands Hassan the file. He opens it and scans the page.

“So, this is it then? There’s nothing else you can do?” he asks the old man in a small voice.

“Her body hasn’t responded to any medication in the past two months. The respirometer can keep her alive until her body times out itself.”

Hassan nods slowly.

“The family has given their approval, I assume? And the husband?”

“Huh, he wanted to get rid of her the moment he found out her car crashed,” my brother scoffs.

The two men look at me, one with pain, and the other with pity.

With one swift movement of his hand, Hassan writes on the paper and gives the file back to the doctor.

He had just signed my death warrant: the final verdict.

In all my stories, I inflicted my characters with pain, misery and betrayal.

People around them tried to play god, wrenching their lives from happiness and tearing their worlds apart. Eventually, they would grow used to the pain; they learn to absorb it and make it a part of themselves. Their tears forget to fall. Their hearts forget to feel.

Within hours, I became one of my own creatures, one of my own broken and battered vessels of life. All at once, my faith and my world crumbled to ashes.

What had I done to be thrown into this abyss? Where had my love failed for it to be flung away so harshly?

Why…?

The door opens and they all walk inside – Ammar, Hassan, my parents, and the doctor – shuffling the silence over to make space for their murmurs of false dejection. Two nurses, their faces stoic and emotionless, follow them. They stand in front of my bed, like a choir ready to sing songs of mourning. As I wait for them to act, a sound cuts through the air: the shrill, pleasant laughter of a child.

My sister comes into view holding a baby, my baby, my Ibrahim…

She brings him to me and puts him near my legs.

My baby! My sweet boy!

My tears fall heedlessly as I longed to hold my child. Nothing else mattered because he was right there, giving me a toothless grin.

Slowly and cautiously, Ibrahim crawls up, climbing over my stomach. He gently slaps a hand on my lips, and then tries to poke a finger in my mouth. He bends lower and gives me a small kiss, just like Ammar taught him to…

My sister comes forward and says, “Baby, say goodbye to mamma.”

He looks at her confused. He picks at my eyelids, muttering gibberish, when suddenly, clear as a sky after a thunderstorm, he spoke a word: “mam…ma.”

A shiver of ecstasy ran through me, stained remarkably…with grief. I wanted to live this moment, this small moment of plain happiness, and my family took that away from me when a nurse switched off the respirometer. 

I feel the air leave my lungs. I feel pain claim my body and eat at it. I could feel myself dying.

The last sound I heard was my baby’s first word. I smelt the stench of death and the musk of greed that my people hid in their hearts. I closed my eyes to pitch black and a few rays of anguish spilling through the cracks in my heart. I laid down to sleep to my cold fate, the broken peace of my soul and the façade of love.

Mahrukh Asmat

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