The Penitence

Imran Saad was very tired as he walked into his federal colonial mansion. To cross the monumental hallway and find his recliner by the enormous fireplace, took him a herculean effort. He deposited himself on it with clumsy heaviness.


Eyes shut into forced oblivion, he could still clearly see the magnificence of what surrounded him. The hall featured high baronial ceilings, gigantic wooden carved pillars and columns that added an aristocratic touch to suit the teak furnishing. Priceless paintings hung on the brick walls enclosing the luxury. Persian rugs and the magnificent teak wooden spiral staircase that dominated the chamber added class to the entire rustic outlook.


The days when his heart had swelled with pride at the sight of them were long gone. Instead the suffocation that was beginning to trouble him lately, whenever he walked into his mansion, had grown. Although she hadn’t dared to complain, he knew that his wife hated everything about the place. She was more of the chirpy, bright and modern kind of a person.


It had been a year since she had left him to go live with her sister. The volcano smothered by her usually calm nature had erupted one fateful evening, and he thought that her departure following a dramatic monologue was something not to be worried about… until now. What had she said? That she had tolerated enough of his transgressions. Her beautiful face had looked forlorn as she had muttered, “I can’t go through this anymore Imran. I’m human after all.”


He missed her. He had never loved her, had he? It wasn’t the first time he had pondered on the subject of love. Whether or if something of that kind actually existed.


They had been married for the last thirty five years and their half a dozen children had decided to multiply the dynasty, so that they could play ducks and drakes with the substantial wampum he had made over the years. He was secretly amused by their recklessness. He never loved anyone of them to care about what would remain of their future if their prodigality continued.


Imran Saad was the most influential kingmaker. Born and bred in the slums, the drive to dominate and have the world under his feet and build a regal empire of his own had constantly henpecked his little head of five years.


It wasn’t some pipe dream. At twenty three, he had woven a web so complicated, that even the menacing mafia of his region weren’t able to untangle. He found ways to take over many prosperous business ventures when it suited him. Soon, he owned an enormous fleet of planes and ships.


Despite all his success, he was often malcontent. His supernova didn’t change the fact that he came from the origins of lumberjacks who lived in shacks. A slumdog who was lucky enough to end up as the millionaire. The higher he flew, the more he wanted.


His rugged good looks along with his intellectuality and dauntless nature had earned him the envy of all the men and admiration of the ladies in his zone.


His ancestry did nothing to tarnish Adhil Hashim’s admiration in him. His was a background of the highest royalty in the region. Imran finally fit into what he had yearned for all those years, by marrying Adhil Hashim’s sensitive daughter, though except for her beauty and family’s honour she wasn’t any match for his intricacy.


After the initial pull of her beauty lost its allure, he decided to choose a few mistresses who could make up for the layers of depth in a red blooded woman which his beautiful wife unfortunately lacked.


As a result of her tremulous nature, his wife wasn’t brave enough to confront him when his infidelity was discovered. Instead, she had rushed to her father who had a firm grip on his son in-law’s reins, for justice.


“You are beautiful as the moon,” her father had said. “Why else would we name you Kamar?” After taking a deep puff from his pipe he continued. “You are beautiful… That’s where your attributes end. Unfortunately, my one and only daughter grew up shallow.”


She had flushed with shame while managing to mutter, “Papa… Does that justify what he has done to me?”


“It does, Kamar.” He smiled at her, a placating smile, and put his arms around her stiff shoulders. “You think I got him married to you because you were in love with him? I know what a person is made of when I see him Kamar.”


She had stared at him as if she was seeing him for the first time in her life. He was her own father, wasn’t he? “The man you were going to marry was supposed to be a czar in his own way. For me who was disappointed with a spineless daughter, Imran made up for more than my dreams.”


She wished she was dead at the moment. “He deserves excitement in his life Kamar,” her insensitive father had continued. “You should be grateful to bear his children and his name. Expect no more from him darling and do your wifely duties to a man who doesn’t really deserve someone like you.”


When she had numbly walked out of her father’s study, she collided with a rock hard chest. She would have fallen if the muscular arms of her husband hadn’t grasped her. Amusement danced in his coffee brown eyes that still haunted her dreams. “Go to bed, Kamar,” he had whispered with finality as if to say that her fate with him was doomed to be the way it was.


Kamar did exactly as her father bid, despite all the hurt and disregard she had encountered throughout her lifetime. She showered her love to her ruthless husband and treated him more like a mother would treat a kid intending to win him back instead, her actions spoilt him more than he already was. Though he didn’t obviously love her, unaware to himself, he became completely dependent on his wife. Nothing seemed to be right in his household since the day she had left.


Imran gazed at the portrait of Kamar that hung on the wall that faced him. Loneliness unlike anything he had ever known engulfed him. Hatred towards the woman who had finally managed to free herself of his restraint made him stand up to hurl a crystal decanter at the portrait that seemed to be mocking at him.


He was heaving heavily as tears of regret stung his eyes. He realized that she had won. The witch had played her game of revenge and left him standing helpless amidst his family who in their own selfish way, were doing exactly what he had done at the time he was blessed with the vantage of youth.


He decided to file for a divorce and make her understand that it was him who always had the last laugh. He hurried out to get into his limousine and barked an order to his chauffeur, “Take me to Vendors Street.”


The chauffeur seemed to know where in Vendor’s Street he was supposed to take his master.


Imran looked frenzied as he took the steps of the simple contemporary bungalow of his wife’s sister. He brushed past the doorman who vainly tried to bar his way into the house. He took the staircase to the guest bedroom and found her. She was in the middle of her prayers.


The emotions that he felt at the sight of her were completely unexpected even to himself. He realized that he had been impatient to see her all along. He felt a twist in his heart almost like pain. Her beautiful figure had lost its grace as she looked thin and pale. The angelic face formed wrinkles that had been absent before. Her eyes were dark underneath as a result of very little sleep. He thought that he had never before beheld a beautiful sight such as the one he was seeing now. The unjust manner in how he had treated her all their married life slapped him hard and his heart fumed with self-hatred.


This woman, a princess of her own lineage had tolerated thirty five years of ill treatment from a penny-pinching rouge like him. She deserved a standing ovation to have fought a battle so hard. If that wasn’t called strength, he wasn’t sure what was. For the first time in life, he knew what love felt like.


A look of surprise and joy crossed her face as she watched him standing in the doorway as she finished her prayers. She quickly looked weary as she stood up and asked hesitantly, “Why have you come now Imran?”


He couldn’t trust his voice and it came out in a huskily as he replied, “I came to tell you that I was going to file for divorce.”


Pain slashed across her face as she let out a bitter laugh, “After thirty five years of marriage, you tell me now?”


His eyes were quickly filling with unshed tears as he said, “I just realized that you don’t deserve a cold-blooded bastard like me.”


She gaped at him, shocked at what he was revealing.


“I know that I should have done this earlier; when you were still young and had plenty of chances to remarry. But Kamar…” His voice broke as he said, “I’m sorry… For all what you had to go through… Will you please forgive me? This one time… Please.”


He started to weep uncontrollably, and she had never seen him cry. Suddenly, they found themselves entangled in each other’s arms.


After a while, her fragile self sat on his lap that was reclining in a chesterfield chair.


“What were you praying for?” He asked her as he stroked her hair. “What did you ask Allah?”


She replied through her tears, “I asked him to defeat Satan whose favorite mischief is to bring about drifts between the husband and wife.”


Her prayer has been answered.


~ Reema Iqbal | Edited by Afreen Zeb


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