Today, it was scorching hot; the mid-afternoon sun was relentless in its pursuit to spread its iridescent light across the land as far as the eye could see.
Razia’s face shone as red as a bride’s freshly painted henna by the time she reached the stream. Once she was at the edge, she took off her sandals and carried them in one hand, and with the other she gently lifted her shalwar well above her ankles, and stepped nimbly across the blue grey stones so aptly placed along the shallowest crossing of the stream. The water twinkled as the sun's rays caressed its steady flow. Once she was across, she placed her feet back into her sandals and walked through into the tall field of corn, until she reached the small round clearing in the middle. She was now out of sight from any prying eyes from her side of the village, and with the height of the long-eared corn to the other side of the clearing, she was in fact invisible from any angle.
As soon as Razia was into the safety of the middle, he grabbed her arm from behind and pulled her toward him. She felt his arms wrap tightly around her; she embraced him back and breathed into his neck. His familiar scent was hypnotic, and comforting. They hadn't met in over a week. After the initial embrace, he reluctantly pulled himself away briefly for he had a complaint to air.
'Why didn't you come and see me the last three times?" Ahmed asked her, and then pulled Razia back towards him, his mouth seeking hers, longing to feel her close to him.
'Javed is suspicious, I'm sure of it. He's been acting really strange lately,' replied Razia, with a slight frown.
'When is your brother not acting strange!' Ahmed teased. But Razia continued to look worried.
'It's not funny, I'm really scared. I think he may be onto us.' Razia went and sat on the small dry mound in the middle of the clearing. She screwed her nose, annoyed that Ahmed was not taking her concerns seriously.
Ahmed went over and sat next to her. He held both her hands in his, and now talked softly.
'Okay, okay. So, why are you so worried, my love. If anything bothers my Heer, then it is cause for concern for her Ranjha. What has happened?'
'Has he said anything?'
'No, not at such.'
'Then what is it?'
'He's just acting different. He's asking me more questions about where I'm going; I can't seem to go to the well to fetch water, or to the neighbours to get milk without an inquisition. It’s like, twenty questions each time. I hate lying about where I’m going. I told them I was going to my friend’s house today to help her prepare for her nikah. And, I only managed to get away today because he is out of the village; he had to go into town up get medicine for Amee. Mother hasn't been too well. Her asthma is playing up big time. I keep telling her to stop working so much at the brick kiln, but she doesn't listen. But we all have to put in all the hours we can manage. And even then, after all these years, we haven't scratched the surface of the debt.'
'It's the same for us too,' remarked Ahmed, 'only there's more of us in our family, so it’s easier to share the load, which you will find out Insha’Allah once we are married!'
'I want nothing more. But what about my brother, I'm feeling very uneasy. You know what a hot headed man he is. If he finds out about us, he will kill you!'
'I don't think so!' Ahmed snorted. 'I'm one of five brothers. And he's an only son. There’s no competition. He wouldn’t dare.'
'Okay, so he will kill me then!' Razia said.
'I will never let that happen to my Heer! What would Ranjha do without you my love?'
'Before it even gets to that, why don't you speak to your father and get him to come over and ask for my rishta? Either you come and ask for my hand in marriage, or we stop seeing each other, and you can go and marry your stupid cousin!' Razia said, turning her face away with a deliberate display of mild annoyance.
'I have no intention of marrying anyone other than you, my love. Anyway, I have a plan. I have to go away with my father to visit his eldest brother as he is practically on his death bed. Whilst I'm there, my other uncle will also be visiting. I will speak up and tell my father and uncle that I don't want to marry my uncle's daughter. I will be back in a few days, and upon our return my father will come to your house and speak to your father.'
'But Rawalpindi is so far away! You could be gone for ages!'
'Calm down, I will be away for one week, maximum. I will come back, and the next time we meet, we will be betrothed. You have my word.'
Ahmed leant over and they started to embrace. Their lips touched, and just as they fell into a passionate kiss, Razia suddenly pulled away.
'Did you hear that?' Razia jumped up, and spun around in search of something, although she didn't know exactly what.
'Hear what?' Ahmed asked, as he stayed perched on the mound, and looked puzzled.
'That rustling - there was somebody or something here, listening to us, or worse still, watching us!' Razia’s heart was racing away, as she continued to look all around her in a mad panic, like an animal that is frightened of the preying intentions of its elusive attacker that it cannot see.
'It was probably a snake or some other such creature. Relax. Stop being so paranoid. Come here.'
Razia went over to him. They fell into another lingering embrace, and a soft, tender kiss.
‘One week, that’s all, and then we will be at your parents’ house, asking for your hand in marriage,’ Ahmed reassured Razia.
‘Yes, one week. Nothing much will happen in one week. Just sit tight and wait for me to come.’
Razia’s face softened, as she thought about the prospect. It was now time for them to part.
‘Okay. Have a safe journey,’ she said.
‘Inshahallah. And I will see you as soon as I get back.’
‘Inshahallah. Allah Hafiz.’
That was the last time Razia would ever see or speak to Ahmed again.
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