Chapter 6: Break
Their stares remained interlocked for a few heated moments, the atmosphere thickening in the backdrop as the damp wood finally grazed flame and puffed out thick clouds of soot. Zaka tried to calculate the scenario in his head, while Zarah considered the possibility of his intentions. “He’s just making fun of me… Is he? Just like they did.”
What got into her all of a sudden? She wouldn’t bring her parents up if she was so defensive about them? Venting?
Zarah released her grip as Zaka timidly lowered his shoulders, both shifting blades of grass in their hands. The wind blew from behind them, clearing the air of the depositing carbon, likewise loosening the suffocation on the pair’s dialogue.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” Zaka cleared the air. It caught her by surprise, she wasn’t expecting him to actually reply, perhaps have some decency and walk away, but he persisted, which is strange for a jokester.
“It probably wasn’t right and I’m sorry I brought it up,” he went on, trying to entice a reply, something for him to hold on to, to interpret her position. However, she was smart. Always holding back the most spontaneous answer on her tongue, measuring her hand, reading the deck and preventing bait. Yet, at this moment of apparent sincerity, she had to let go. For a brief moment, so she could decipher whether this boy was for real, or another jester.
“You didn’t,” she spoke suddenly, which was not expected by Zaka. “You were going on and I brought it up… I thought…”
“You thought I was going to bring it up,” Zaka cut her mid-sentence and turned his shoulders towards her. She slightly angled herself in his direction. “Because I’ll bet someone, or well, maybe even a few people have done that in the past. Haven’t they?”
Zarah didn’t reply. She didn’t have to; the call was in the silence.
“For what, fun? Just to poke you?”
Zaka wanted to stop to let her reply and prevent appearing aggressive. Yet, this was the most honest they had ever been with one another and it bore no significance to their present or future. What it did offer, however, was a window to gain her trust.
“Is this why you remain alone? Isolated?”
Zarah’s head dropped over her lap, her eyes forced closed and her lips slightly parted. She meant to say something but couldn’t figure how to bring it into words. Slowly she raised herself and composed her expressions back into normalcy. The fire in the background was fading and losing its charm. People would start looking away soon, so it was time for this conversation to end. But some lines had to be drawn.
She lifted her head up to the clouds, turning rusty under the sunlight and grey behind the guise of smoke, her lips finally parted with intent.
“People are apes,” her voice was its regular monotone, it became clear she was retreating into her façade of the uncaring girl. But her words radiated with meaningful content for Zaka.
“They think sorrow is diminutive. Just in the head…. You have a family, a home. Chin up. Don’t voice your pain, its depressive. Don’t make a drama out of it. Calm yourself. At the same time, they prick you to see if it still bleeds. That’s with everyone. Just in it for a good kick.”
She stood up as she finished, stamping the authority of her statement and ignoring any attempt to prolong the discussion. Enough had been said and nothing of greater importance could find its way to her throat. Her heart was lighter as she turned away from him, still sitting and playing with the blades of grass in his hands and walked away towards the fire.
At the edge of private ear-shot he spoke out loudly from behind her head, “I guess I’ll see you later then.”
She showed no signs of input and continued walking on, thinking to herself of how he’s still adamant after what she just expressed. He’s not joking, she understood that now. But what he intends to gain from this seemed non-existent. She had nothing to offer and no time to consider it, as she maintained her walk beyond the curtain of soot, laughter and dancing folks.
Zaka entered home at the onset of sun-down, juggling his keys in his hands as he locked the gate behind him and made his way into the main door. To the left of the hall he saw lights peaking out the frosty glass door of the Drawing room, accompanied by the sound of laughter and business. It was no place for him and he marched straight up towards his room, throwing off his muffler and coat onto his bed, as he pulled back his chair and got ready to jot down the day’s findings in his blog.
He was disturbed by a knock from behind, although the door had already been open. Zaka didn’t turn because he figured why his father would want to approach his room in the first place.
“So,” his dad called from behind. “Where you been champ?”
“Uni.” Zaka replied quick and short, to prevent a dragged out small-talk and keep the list of topics relevant.
“Oh? On a Saturday?”
“Bonfire day. I told you in the morning.”
“Ah yes,” Mr. Khattak combed his hand through his few hairs, smiling over how easily he had forgotten. “Must have slipped past this old timer.”
“Mm-hmm.” Zaka had logged into his blog, his back keeping the monitor secure from his father to view the sensitive data. After all, he was on it too.
“So, champ,” his father went on, taking a few more steps into the room, causing Zaka to turn off the monitor and spin the chair to face him. “I have these friends of mine over from work. I’ve been telling ‘em of how well you’ve been doing at school and all and they were impressed. I figured they’d love to meet you, they did express a desire.”
Zaka folded his arms across his chest and starred into the wearing rectangular spectacles of his aging father.
Never a good reason to see me, is there?
“No thanks, I’m busy with homework,” he said and immediately turned around and resumed his presentation of work, on a separate website.
His father walked in even more. “C’mon now Zakee. They’re good friends of mine and I want to show them my son.”
“You need your friends to see me?”
Mr. Khattak stopped right behind his son, looking at his thick brown hair combed sideways, not like his own. He placed a hand on his son’s shoulder and replied under a light tone, overshadowing the frustration behind it.
“What are you trying to tell me, hmm?”
Zaka felt the hand pressing into his skin but acted like it didn’t phase him and continued googling random biology terms her knew his father wouldn’t know if he glanced at the screen.
“All I’m saying is, if they’re so close to you, how come I’ve never seen or heard of ‘em before?”
Mr. Khattak swung his son’s chair by a sharp tug of the shoulder and loomed over him with an expression of profound disappointment. He noticed the hesitancy to maintain eye contact and bruises on his nose. But to clarify the gravity of his son’s disrespectful tone, he stood there a few moments, his chest rising and falling with each labored, wheezing breath.
“Why have you gotten like this again?” his father inquired authoritatively.
“You seemed too busy to notice.”
All the continuous pressing was soon to make his father slap him across the room, but instead he forced him up by the chin and brought him to eye level.
“If you continue to talk to me that way, then I’ll treat you like the kid you’re acting as,” he breathed the threat down his son’s purple snout and pushed him down onto his chair.
The two remained in that tension for a while longer, each looking down at the other, Mr. Khattak at his son’s neck and Zaka at his father’s boots. Both had something to say, but no will to say it.
The silence was broken by a feminine voice from outside the hall.
“Excuse me sir. Mr. Khattak? The guests are asking for tea, would you like some as well? And should I prepare the dinner as I do?”
Mr. Khattak gave one last heavy exhalation as he rediscovered his composure and walked away from his spoiled child, giving inaudible instructions to Aya as he walked down the stairs.
A few minutes later Aya returned upstairs to Zaka’s room, only to find him engaged with his computer. His headset wasn’t on his ears, she noticed, so he was still listening to presence of guests below. Perhaps they heard what happened upstairs, noticed a commotion. But they still stayed. Aya slowly pulled the door to close and Zaka shifted his head a bit to acknowledge her presence.
“Why must you always challenge him?” she uttered just before the door sealed.
I don’t know. Why must he let it happen?
Why must he be so weak?