As narrated by Dee:
“Paapa went. We woke up the morning after that terrifying, never-ending night, to find Maama on her prayer mat.. and no sight of Paapa. The house was quiet… painfully quiet. Even you didn’t fuss when Dayy warmed the milk for your cereal, as you usually did. It was a Saturday so there wasn’t school… and for what I remember to be the first time in my life, I actually wished there was school. Daanyaal, the house… it was like… like a mortuary.”
I know he probably doesn’t know what a mortuary is, but he doesn’t ask. It seems as if his questions have become frozen by the shock which has overtaken him. I’m already becoming anxious as to how he’s taking it.. and the worst is still to come.
I still have to tell him how he ended up here…
Sighing, I unclasp his hands and hold them between mine.
“Are you okay?” I ask hesitantly.
“What happened after that?” he replies with a question of his own.
“Daanyaal.. I need you to -”
“What happened after that?!” he demands, cutting me off.
His expression is apprehensive and I hate having to be the one telling him all this.
“Dayy sent you to play with your friend down the road so that we could talk to Maama. Her cheek was slightly swollen but she insisted that she was fine and told us that everything will be okay.”
I feel the familiar surge of anger that shoots through me every time I think of the countless times she told us that.
Everything will be okay..
‘Yeah, right!’ I think bitterly. ‘Lies, lies, lies!’
But to Daanyaal I say, “And she’s right, I suppose. Things aren’t okay yet, but they will be.”
Well, I hope so.
“Naana (maternal grandfather) came to stay with us while Paapa was away. Maama’s cheek slowly healed until there was no trace of the… injury. And with it disappeared our anxiety and fears. Heck, we were kids- Dayy, you, and I. We barely knew what a drastic turn our lives took. Well sure, Dayy and I knew somewhat.. but with Paapa away, things were a little closer to normal for us. Naana spoiled us and we grasped onto all the love he showed us. You slipped back into the obliviousness of a carefree happy life.”
“And then Paapa came back.”
“He was.. happy?” I say.. but my sentence sounds more like a question then a statement. “You were overjoyed to see him! He patted your head, kissed Dayy’s forehead and hugged me… but it wasn’t like before.”
“It was.. tense,” I say uncertainly. “Almost as if we were waiting for something to go wrong. But everything was fine… well, not fine, but.. you know..”
He doesn’t nod but I know he has understood.
“So we, Dayy and I, thought, ‘Okay, maybe it was just a mistake carried out in anger… it won’t happen again.’”
I laugh bitterly now, thinking how foolish we were to think that way.
“The weekend after that, a new man was hired at the law firm Paapa worked at. Paapa, being one of the major guys in that specific.. urm, what is called… like, workplace, had to train the greenbean.”
“You know, in the Maze Runner.. the newbie dude.”
A small grin makes it way onto my face for a fleeting moment.
“The Maze Runner.. it’s a book. And, long story short, they call new people in the glade, a greenbean or greenie. The glade is where they… well, live.”
“Oh,” he says, looking at me like I just grew another head. “That’s… urm, interesting.. I guess.”
“So did Paapa train him or whatever?” he asks, going directly back to what I was telling him.
“Do you remember reading any books?” I reply with a question of my own.. wanting to steer off topic for a bit.
How nice would it be had this conversation just been about books. We could talk about the scent that hits you immediately when opening a new book. We could talk about our hopeless attachment to the fictional characters. We could talk about the breathless suspense the end of a chapter leaves you in. And the annoyance you feel when interrupted just as the book reaches its climax. We could talk endlessly about the neatly typed ink, printed on pages from which you don’t mind getting paper cuts when turning. How nice would it be if we could endlessly discuss the way the brain of a science fiction writer spins. And how lucky must the spouse of a romance novelist be. And, of course, we could talk about the thoughts of exploding colours, the mind blowing imagination of the author.. the master behind the master piece.
“I remember quite clearly the story of a girl who was an excellent archer. Katniss Everdeen, that was her name. I don’t know why, but I remember the whole story.. well I think it’s the whole story, quite well,” he says quietly.
“Maybe it was your favourite book,” I say gently, failing to imagine how difficult it must be losing chunks of your memory and being unable to know why you somehow still remember the parts that you do.
“What happened between Paapa and the… greenbean guy?” he asks, once again bringing the topic back to where I don’t want it.
“Is that what we calling him? Greenbean Guy?” I ask.
“Well you haven’t told me his name,” Daanyaal points out.
“Yeah.. think we’ll just stick with Greenbean Guy,” I say.
“London Lady and Greenbean Guy,” mutters Daanyaal. “Wow, Paapa sure did mess up.”
I can’t help but smile. Had I been feeling less distressed I would have probably even laughed out loud. Daanyaal hadn’t done much talking whenever I visited him in hospital or rehab.. but the little he said would often make me grin. I hoped with all my heart that the harshness of reality wouldn’t change that once he knew it all.
“Anyway, Greenbean Guy was the last thing Paapa needed at that point in his life,” I begin, bringing back my nonchalant attitude. “Firstly, he wasn’t a Muslim. Secondly, he wasn’t married.”
I pause, looking at Daanyaal, trying to gauge if he understood what that meant. Seeing no reaction, I elaborate.
“He wasn’t the commitment kind of guy. Every weekend, he had a new woman in his-”
I stop. Saying, ‘in his bed’ would be inappropriate! Will probably get the gears in his little brain spinning.. and I don’t need them working faster than they are already.
“-house,” I finish.
“Like, I mean, basically, because he wasn’t married, you know.. he was probably trying to find a girlfriend or something but usually after a week he would realize that the girl he has wasn’t good enough so.. you know, he tried another…”
‘Well, that was the worst cover up I’ve done in a while!’ I think, cringing inside.
“Anyway,” I carry on quickly.
But his questions are already ready!
“How old was this guy?”
“I don’t know, but he obviously wasn’t a kid considering he studied law and was already way on top, to be hired by the firm Dad worked at.”
“And he was playing around with girls?!” Daanyaal asks incredulously.
Wait, what? How does he know that? And how does he know it’s wrong?!
“Well, look, I don’t know much about him,” I answer truthfully.
“Okay,” he says, not pushing it further.. thankfully! “So how does he fit into our lives?”
“Well it was through him that Paapa was introduced to partying and shit,” I say, the remorse seeping into my heart again.. thinking how ridiculous it must be sounding to Daanyaal. He was a grown man, for crying out loud! He knew what was right and what was wrong! How could he have been so stupid?!
“And the partying was where he came home drunk from.”
“And the drunk state was the one he abused us in.”
“And yeah, that’s what happened.”
Daanyaal’s eyes narrow.
“Stop it!” he says angrily.
I know what I’m doing but still I ask, “What?”
“Stop acting like this doesn’t keep you up at night,” he answers quietly, watching carefully for my reaction.
Too bad he doesn’t get one though.
“Stop acting like you don’t give a shit when it’s killing you inside.”
This time he does get a reaction.
“How the hell do you know?” I gasp, gripping his hands tighter involuntarily.
“Tell me what happened after that,” he says, ignoring me.
Sighing heavily, I look away.
“That’s what happened. Paapa started spending more time with this asshole and his group of friends.. and it lead to things we never thought would happen. Most of his money was spent going to London and back, and if not that, it was when he went out. He’d hit Maama if she didn’t do as he demanded or if she asked questions he didn’t want to answer. And if Dayy or I tried stopping him, we became the victim,” I say indifferently.
“He got fired. Greenbean Guy too. His associates didn’t want anything to do with him anymore. They couldn’t believe how he had changed. He’d be out of the house more than in, and when he was in, we wished he was out. The violence never lessened. Soon there were no more shiny mirrors on the walls and flower filled vases on the mantelpiece. There were no more shared suppers… no more bedtime stories… no more routines… no more normalcy.”
I know he hates the detached way I’m speaking to him… the insouciant tone of my voice, but I use it anyway.
“It became too much eventually. So about one and a half, two years after it all started, I left.”
He’s been silent all this time, so when he yells, I startle, jumping slightly.
Quickly regaining my composure I look him straight in the eye and repeat my biggest regret to him.
“I ran away from the place I should have been able to call home, which I instead called hell.”