As narrated by Dee:
My heartbeat picks up as I slowly open my eyes.
He’s sitting cross-legged next to my head, watching me intently.
For a long moment, neither of us say anything, lost in a breathless moment of mixed emotions.
“Hey,” he says softly, his lips lifting in a small smile.
“Hey,” I say, but my voice doesn’t come out.
His eyes dance with amusement as his smile widens and my heart threatens to break through my rib-cage.
I swallow, then try again.
“Hey,” I say quietly.
Silence settles once again.
The sun disappears behind a cloud and the eye-squinting brightness dims.
I focus my gaze on the trees, trying to look anywhere besides at Zee, but my mind remains hyper-aware of his presence nonetheless.
“Do you want to hear a joke?” asks Zee, breaking the silence after a short moment.
I lift my gaze to meet his briefly before looking away again.
“Two police officers crashed their car into a tree. After a moment of silence, one of them says, ‘Wow, that’s got to be the fastest we ever got to the accident site.”
A smile tugs at my lips.
“A man asks a farmer near a field, ‘Sorry sir, would you mind if I crossed your field instead of going around it? You see, I have to catch the 4:23 train.’ The farmer says, ‘Sure, go right ahead. And if my bull sees you, you’ll even catch the 4:11 one.'”
I look up at him, giving in to my urge to smile when I see his grin.
“Nother one?” he asks, cocking his head slightly.
I lift myself up on my elbows, looking at him expectantly.
“A kid once bought his Grandma a very nice, luxurious toilet brush for her birthday. But when he went to visit her a couple of weeks later, it wasn’t in the bathroom. So he asked her, ‘Gran, what happened to the toilet brush I gave you?’ And she’s like, ‘Darling, I’m sorry but I just didn’t like it. It was too scratchy. After all those years, I’ve gotten used to the toilet paper!”
A gasp escapes me and then a giggle.
“An almost hysterical man calls 911 and yells, ‘Please come quickly! Kailey is pregnant and her labor started now, it’s really intense!’ So the operator asks, ‘Is this her first child?’ And the man is like, ‘No you dumbass! It’s her husband!'”
That one gets me.
My head falls back and I laugh out aloud.
“That’s a good one,” I say, sitting up fully, crossing my legs.
“Knock knock,” he says.
“Who’s there?” I reply.
“Lena bit closer, let’s talk.”
“Knock knock,” he says again, immediately.
“Anita little love and understanding.”
I frown slightly.
What is he doing…
His face is serious now, and his eyes are locked on mine.
“Who’s there?” I ask quietly.
I search his eyes.
“Lenda a listening ear, please.”
My heartbeat had slowed, but now it picks up again.
My voice comes out just above a whisper, soft and scared.
“No. Wait. Let me speak first,” he says. “Please.”
I let him.
He runs his hand through his hair, taking a deep breath.
“I know I messed up, and for that I’m sorry. I’m not sorry for what I did to Fuaad but I am sorry that you had to see it happening. I’m going to tell you now finish that it might happen again. If he touches you again, it will happen again. If anyone touches you again, I’m going to get angry. But my anger will never be directed at you. That’s what you need to understand. I will hurt someone who hurts you, but I will never hurt you. That I promise. I’m sorry that you had to see what you saw, and that it triggered awful memories and I’m sorry that I just left it at that. I’m sorry that I didn’t clear the air, explain to you how I felt and why I felt like that but to an extent, I myself didn’t know. But I do know now and that’s why I’m here.”
He stops for breath and I realize that I’m holding mine too.
I breathe deeply, in sync with him, before he continues again.
“I’ve known you since playschool and that’s almost 13 years now. We’ve had our bad moments, but none have been as bad as these past two weeks. Dee, please can we move past this? Forgive and forget? There’s a lot of things I’ve figured out about you.. me.. about us.. in the past two weeks but I can’t live like this – not knowing where I stand with you, not being able to talk to you whenever I want, not knowing whether you hate my existence or not -”
I gasp, cutting him off.
“I… I don’t hate you!” I say, my heart aching. “Zee, you saved my life!”
“That doesn’t matter. Are you angry with me?” he asks.
I open my mouth to reply but he puts his hands on my legs, stopping me.
“No, think about it. I need the truth,” he says.
So I do. I think about it.
Am I angry with him?
Am I angry with this guy sitting in front of me, eyes pained, yet full of sincerity?
Am I angry with this guy, who for two weeks I didn’t know where I stood with him and the thought killed me?
Am I angry with this guy who makes every day of mine brighter, better?
His eyes search my face, waiting for an answer.
“I’m not,” I say finally. “I’m not angry with you….”
He waits, listening silently, waiting for me to go on.
I swallow, close my eyes and take a deep breath.
Then I look at him again and speak from my heart.
“But I am… upset. I’m confused. And afraid. After what happened that day… I couldn’t come to terms with…” my voice wobbles and I stop.
He takes my shaking hands in his, squeezing them gently, urging me to go on.
“I.. it triggered memories.. and I.. saw you as someone else,” I say, my voice breaking. “And I couldn’t bring myself… to.. to believe it… because.. that.. that wasn’t you. That isn’t who.. I know you to be. It was horrible.. because… because my mind kept telling me… that.. before Paapa…”
Unable to go on, I stop.
I remove my hands from Zee’s, wipe my tears and breathe deeply again before continuing.
“My mind kept telling me that before Paapa.. changed.. he too was a different person,” I say quietly, not daring to look up at Zee.
“But in my heart.. I knew.. I know.. that you’re different. Which.. probably makes you wonder… why I.. why I shut you out..” I continue.
The cloud that hid the sun moves along, and the hot sunlight touches my skin, brightens the whole yard again.
“I was.. confused,” I say, my voice wavering again. “Understand where I am coming from.. how difficult it was for me to be able to listen to my heart.. when my mind was yelling at me through a bullhorn. My heart knew.. it knows.. but my mind is a merciless torturer.”
I pause briefly, gathering my thoughts before carrying on again.
“That night on the pier.. you didn’t just save my life,” I say, looking up at him now, our eyes meeting. “You saved me from my mind.. you saved.. us.. our friendship. You saved that.. that drowning piece of confidence which thought of you as you are. You saved that and now it has healed and strengthened and I believe in it with a conviction so strong, that it has kept me sane.. pulled me through last week.”
I can hear it in the sudden strength of my voice.
I can feel it in the way my heart suddenly pounds against my chest in agreement.
He is Zee.
Gentle Zee. Kind Zee. Zee with a heart of gold.
Zee who saved my life. My best friend.
And no one else. Nothing else.
“I’m not angry with you,” I say again, finishing off. “I’m not upset anymore either, nor confused. But I would be lying if I said I’m not a tiny bit afraid.”
He’s silent for what seems like eternity.
More than once, he opens his mouth to say something, then stops.
My heart races in anticipation of his reaction.
I smile; and he smiles seeing my smile.
“What?!” I ask, with a laugh.
“I knew you wouldn’t get that one,” he says, shaking his head and avoiding my gaze.
“Tell me!” I say, trying to get him to look at me.
“Olive you,” he says again.
“Olive?!” I say, laughing again. “You olive me? What?!”
He shakes his head with a groan again.
“Never mind, that one was a bad idea,” he says.
“Nooo, I want to know!” I whine. “Please!”
“Alright but first listen to what I have to say,” he says, turning serious.
“Okay,” I reply, waiting for him to speak.
But he doesn’t say anything for a long moment.
He doesn’t know how to say what he wants to – I can see it from his face.
“Actually, you know what, I have a lot that I want to say, but I don’t know how, and words mean nothing so I’m going to show you instead. I understand why you’re afraid and you have every reason to feel afraid, but I hate that you are afraid of me so I’m going to change that. I won’t ever physically hurt you, Dee. I know that emotionally, that’s exactly what I did. I’m sorry, Dee, really I am. He just made me so unimaginably angry, I couldn’t even think straight.”
I can see in his eyes that his behaviour has hurt him too. And all I can think of right then is how I want to erase it all, delete the moment from our lives, so that I can see his eyes smile again. So that the anguished hurt that occupies it now is removed.
“It’s okay, Zee, it’s okay. Don’t be upset,” I say, taking his hands in mine. “Let’s put it behind us. I hate to see you like this.”
“Do you forgive me?” he asks, his eyes pleading with mine.
“Yes, so long as you forgive me too,” I say.
It’s as if my answer breaks through his distress, cracking it open and revealing his heart-melting smile underneath. He pulls me into a hug and I smile too, his happiness contagious.
“For you there is nothing to forgive,” he says.
I pull back and look at him again.
“I’m so glad you came,” I say.
“I’m glad I came too,” he says.
“Did your family really all come just to visit, though?” I ask. “That’s what Maama says but I feel like you’ll planned this. They came as an excuse for you, isn’t?”
“I.. well,” he mumbles, running his hands through his soft, floppy hair.
He looks nervous all of a sudden and it makes me nervous!
“Well?” I press, waiting with bated breath.
He takes a deep breath.
“You wanna know why I’m really here… why we all here?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say, my heart beating faster.
“I’m doing my first, and hopefully only, samoosa run,” he says.
“What?” I ask frowning.
“This script is not going according to plan so I’m just going to jump to the last line. Knock knock.”
I look at him dumbfounded.
“Knock knock!” he says again.
“Who’s there?” I ask, my voice full of trepidation.
“Answer fast, okay, don’t think about anything,” he says.
“Okay,” I say, nodding. “Who’s there?”
“Will you marry?”
“Will you marry who?” I say quickly, not thinking, just as he said.
“Will you marry me?”