Chapter Four- The Lady in Red.

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On the other side of the young bride's door, with her head tilted against the marble pillar stood Maya Hayaat. Dressed in designer black sari dotted with silver zardosi and rhinestones, like stars shimmering in the velvety black night, her chiffon sari was finished with a intricate border and marron trim. Maya Hayaat dressed to symbolize her mood.

The illustrious model's wide eyes burned a hole through the door that harboured Zul-Qur-Nayn's young wife, burning in envy.

Surrounded by familiar faces, she feigned a smile knowing well they gossiped viciously behind her back.

"Maya, I'm sure you must have known about Zul-Qur-Nayn's wedding." Mrs Akthar smirked pulling her sari tightly around her wide waist. She took pleasure in watching Maya squirm.

"Don't be silly Mrs Akhtar." Another shrilling voice joined in.
"Maya has been a close friend of the family for over ten years. She was Zul-Qur-Nayn's first wife's best friend." Mrs Akhtar added.
"When I heard the news-" Mrs Akhtar interjected, "I assumed Zul-Qar-Nayn married Maya-it's the obvious choice-but this young girl? Milky white fresh skin? Bejewelled grey eyes? She's a diamond. I can see why Zul-Qar-Nayn was mesmerised!"
The women tittered in unison keeping a fixed eye on Maya, watching her fidget uncomfortably.
"The older man always falls for a younger belle." The shrilling voice tipped Maya off the edge. She pushed her way through the group of vicious aunties and took deep breaths in a desperate bid to contain her rage. Her ears burned red; luckily her long black hair masked the red beacons of anger.

What the hell am I doing here?
Maya stood at the end of the staircase staring down at Zul-Qur-Nayn's lair flooded with guests. Her hand shivered with rage as she paused.
Why didn't he tell me?

The moment Maya stepped closer to the staircase; she felt a pull on the slim of her wrist. Quickly, she turned to find Rukhsar Afzal with an apologetic look on her face. Maya shook her wrist free and turned her face away in defiance.

"Maya, don't be angry with me. My hands were tied." Rukhsar apologised. "My brother left me no choice, he swore me to secrecy and you know very well how he supported me after my abusive husband threw me out of my home."

Her back straight, nose pushed into the air, Maya stool tall, insubordinate and refused to accept Rukhsar's apology. Rukhsar was determined to break down the wall erected around her for protection.

Over ten years, Maya had bonded with the family with tears, tantrums, laughter and love. Maya couldn't hide the love that beamed from her eyes for Zul-Qur-Nayn, Rukhsar wanted to catch a glimpse shuffling around her, but Maya turned away.

"I am torn by my fondness for you and my loyalty to my brother. Fondness shared by not just me, but Leyla Mohsin."

Finally Maya faced Rukhsar; tears pricked her eyes at the mention of her best friend. Seven years had passed but memories of Leyla were fresh, like the smell of rose water drifting from the glass mosaic bowl, resting on a stone Roman pillar decorating the landing.

"Everyone knows it was you who sat by Leyla in the winter of her illness." Rukhsar reminded softly in her motherly voice stroking her bare slender arm, "It was you who held Leyla's hand when she passed on into the next world and it was you who Leyla wished to be a mother to her children."

Maya met Rukhsar's eyes in agreement.

Swiftly, Rukhsar's voice changed into a sharp and aggressive tone.

"But my brother, he's stubborn as a mule and has the heart of a foolish young boy."

Maya draped her palu over her left shoulder and brushed off the tiny specs of dust from her chiffon sari, yet to utter a single word from crimson red lips.

"I promise you Maya-" Rukhsar raised herself on her tiptoes, attempting to meet her height.
"This marriage won't last." Rukhsar waved her long finger, "this girl has no status in society and beauty doesn't last. Zul-Qur-Nayn Mohsin will get bored and tire of her. This is a mere lustful phase. Don't lose hope"

Maya shrugged her shoulders running her left hand along the nape of her slender long neck.

"I'm here to wish him well."

With those words Maya made her entrance as her hand trailed on the silver barrier making her way down the meandering sweeping central staircase.

The room was filled with the same boring faces, the very people she loathed, all gathered to satiate their curious minds, they weren't well wishers, and they were vultures.

There in the crowd, more prominently, she saw his head above the rest- the soaring mountain amongst barren hills- with his back towards her. Maya stopped mid stairs, preparing herself to greet him. Maya lifted her chin, pursed her lips and pushed forward her chest, as though she was prepping for the catwalk. Making her way through the crowd of guests, she forced a smile to acknowledge the eyes upon her scanning her from head to toe. Maya Hayaat bathed in the perfume of confidence, she dazzled the crowd in her black sari, with a tease of her midriff glimmering through the translucent chiffon. Her hips swayed with each step and her raven black hair bounced around her high cheekbones.

He may have been a world kick-boxing champion, but when Maya Hayaat-Pakistan's most celebrated model-lands a punch, no one can escape.

Maya promised.


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