The unexpected fiancée
By Zeenat Mahal
Akbar felt depressed even before he’d seen the girl. She’d be a
pretty face with no personality. He waited for the tea trolley that
would signal the arrival of the girl, as he talked with the parents. The
creaking wheels of the trolley became audible. Akbar looked towards the
door out of sheer habit as it opened…
And nothing could have prepared him for the sight that met his eyes.
He stared in disbelief. Of all the gin joints in the world, he thought,
with a sudden grin. Did she know that she was to be paraded in front of
him? There she was, Khayyam Zafar, the terror of the 90s and his
arch-nemesis from college, pretending to be the demure little
bride-to-be. But he knew what a harpy she was.
And let the games begin, he thought smugly. He got up when she walked
in and greeted his mother pleasantly, but she didn’t spare him a glance,
as if she didn’t care who she was being tied to for the rest of her
life. She was still oozing sexy. Her warm skin tone and high cheek bones
and that mouth…was her most misleading weapon, he reminded himself. She
had a nasty, sharp tongue in there somewhere.
As she offered him his cup of tea, he said under his breath, ‘You
must be pretty desperate to get married.’
Her hand jerked, nearly spilling tea on him, their eyes met and
imperceptibly, hers widened. With a hiss better suited to the harpy she
really was, she said, ‘You! Is this some sick joke?’
‘You tell me, KK?’
‘Don’t call me that.’
And she offered him a plate. Akbar burst out laughing. He couldn’t
help it. It was so damn funny! Still grinning like the Cheshire cat, his
eyes full of mirth, he addressed her parents, ‘Uncle, Aunty…I’m so happy
to see K…Khayyam, after all these years! We were in college together.’
She glared at him.
Her father gushed, ‘How wonderful! We should give them a chance to
catch up…let’s move there.’
Her father moved towards a couch two feet away, but apparently that
was all the privacy he was willing to accord to them.
Akbar turned towards Khayyam, ‘I quite see through you, KK. You’re
contemplating marriage to the most…what was it again?…morally bankrupt
man with pedestrian creative instincts. You have an agenda and I want to
know what it is…or have you changed from the rebellious firebrand you
were, to a desperate girl who just wants to snag a husband?’
She looked angry but said quickly, ‘I know what this may seem like
but we have to go through with it, for now and…’
‘That I have to go through with this? I have a perfect opportunity to
get even with you. Why would I not take it, KK?’
‘Look Akbar, if you go through with this…farce, you get more
satisfaction out of it. You get to show people that you won in the end.
I was no better than all those girls in college who drooled over you.’
He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully and said, ‘Keep talking, KK.’
Khayyam took a deep calming breath making a great show of it, which,
he secretly thought was completely uncalled for, and said, ‘You’ll be
the hero, and I’ll be the weak-minded girl, who falls for brawn and not
‘You’re doing it again, KK.’
‘Fine…I’ll be the girl who falls for you.’
He smiled and nodded. ‘Now you’re talking. I like that angle, KK. And
I can see you really want this. Why though?’ She didn’t reply. That had
to be a first, he thought surprised. Her face looked stricken and then
she shrugged and said, ‘It’s just that my…parents want this and…’
Akbar looked at her squarely now. There was a flash of panic in her
eyes, but she looked back at him steadily, wearing a false plastic
smile. But there was a strange expression on her face that he couldn’t
place, almost as if she were…pleading?
The moron knew, Khayyam thought. He was grinning at her with that
same devilish look he’d used on the girls in college. His eyes were
dancing as he whispered, ‘what a falling down, you’ve had KK, actually
visibly anxious to get married. At your age I can understand the
‘I’m the same age as you…’ She began but he interrupted smoothly, and
with obvious relish.
‘But for a man to be 28 and unmarried is nothing out of the ordinary,
but a woman to be 28 and unmarried…tsk, tsk…desperate…and sexually
‘Shut up, you juvenile…’
‘You want a ring on your finger?’
She fumed but desisted from another attack.
‘This is going to be so much fun, KK.’ The satisfaction in his voice was
hard to miss.
Khayyam knew she’d committed herself to voluntary torture. And boy,
did Akbar Rasul know how to vindicate himself.
She got the first dose of it the very next morning. There was a huge
bouquet waiting for her on the centre table. Red roses--so clichéd
and…gag…over the top, just like the man who’d brought them.
‘Khayyam, Akbar is here to take you out for lunch.’ Her father
beamed. Akbar stood up as she entered and said with a mocking smile,
Her father was still overtly cheery, and Khayyam smiled at him
lovingly, ‘If you’re okay with it, Abba.’
‘Yes, yes. Go ahead.’ He practically shooed them out of the room.
‘You’re such a hypocrite! All sweetness and stingless with your
parents, and for the rest of humanity you’re nothing but…KK.’
‘Well, at least I’m not clichéd.’
‘What? You don’t like red roses? There isn’t a woman in the world who
doesn’t like red roses…but then you’re not a woman are you, KK? Which is
why, instead of saying thank you nicely, you’re complaining.’
‘Would it kill you to have some style, Akbar? You’re still stuck in
the romance of your graduate days.’
‘Darling, I don’t know who you’re calling style deprived, because
this man in front of you is a class act. See this thing I’m driving?
It’s called a Mercedes, in case you didn’t know. It’s synonymous with
‘I bet your clothes are branded and your shoes are Italian.’
‘You sound accusatory, KK.
Are you still stuck in the romance of your graduate mentality of
equality, fraternity and some such s...?’
‘Stop calling me that or I swear I’ll…’
‘You’ll what? Not marry me? Break my heart and walk all over it?
Oh, but wait…that’s you if I refuse!
But do tell why exactly, you want a ring on your finger so bad that
you’ll even succumb…pitifully I may add, to your arch enemy?’
‘That’s not your concern. What we’re going to do about this
engagement however, does concern you. My plan is…’
‘Whoa, hold it right there, KK. Your plans don’t feature in this gig,
okay? You begged me to put that ring on your finger…’
‘I did not beg you!’
‘Yes, you did, with your big brown eyes, and it was heart wrenching,
KK, truly. But what you’re going to do is behave like a devoted fiancée,
you’ll be pleasant and accommodating, you’ll dress up nicely…to please
your future husband, and you’ll thank me nicely, when I give you
roses…until the time I decide to call off the engagement in a couple of
Relieved that he understood the plan, Khayyam said, ‘As long as
they’re not red.’
‘You have to have the last word, don’t you?’
‘So it would seem.’
Akbar had to hand it to her--she didn’t lose her cool, or show how
much she resented his power over her. Why though? What was hanging over
her head that she’d expose herself to his humiliation and taunts so
But then, he thought smugly, that wasn’t really his problem, and he
was going to take full advantage of the situation because he hadn’t had
so much fun in a long time.
The very next day Akbar made their engagement official with a diamond
ring the size of which made Khayyam flinch. It was the most vulgar and
ostentatious thing she’d ever seen and it weighed a ton.
As he put it on her finger, he said with a charming smile that fooled
everyone but her, ‘I chose the ring myself because I know exactly how
much you like this kind of thing.’
And she couldn’t say a single thing but smile with clenched teeth as
he laughed cheerfully in her face.
Akbar clearly recalled the first time he’d seen her in college. He’d
been besotted with this dusky beauty until she started speaking so
vociferously about the marginalised and feminism and saving old
buildings. And then she’d gone head to head with him on his
architectural project for the prestigious Punjab Student of the Year
Then she shot him down in front of all his friends, and all the girls
who worshipped the ground he tread on. Calling him quite a few epithets
that were probably true and a few that weren’t…‘Akbar Rasul, you’re a
depraved, grossly over-confident, spoilt brat.
And if you think your charming little act is going to work on me,
you’re sadly mistaken. I’m not your average bimbo, so why don’t you take
your hand of friendship somewhere else, and start planning your vulgar
Akbar decided what better way to pay back than to have their old
classmates intimated with this latest development? He took her out for
dinner, conveniently forgetting to tell her about their friends being
She hesitated for a moment when she saw them, and then she walked in
with her head held high and that same plastic smile on her face that he
was beginning to recognise as her pitiful new trademark.
Poor KK…Where the hell did that come from? He shook himself mentally
and followed her, determined to enjoy her come-uppance.
‘Oh my God, it’s true!’
‘Khayyam! What the…?’
‘All that time in college you made us believe…’
Akbar said in an undertone, ‘Sweet, sweet vengeance, KK! Now go look
happy.’ He shoved her lightly towards their table.
He laughed and joked with his friends, who made suggestive jokes
about how he’d ‘tamed’ Khayyam and he made no effort to stop them. In
fact, he laughed every time someone suggested she’d actually had a torch
burning for him since college. Khayyam gradually fell into a dignified
silence, embellished with that plastic smile, as the jokes became more
aggressive. Akbar was intrigued beyond measure. What had happened to
‘So Khayyam, you’ve sold out too. What happened to your dreams of
fighting for women’s rights and joining the UN? You’re ending up
marrying, just like…what was it you said you’d never be…any average
And they laughed. Khayyam tried to shrug, but Akbar could see Alia’s
words had hurt her. Mubashir added, ‘And Akbar’s bimbo at that? The man
you called an example of everything that was wrong with the youth of
Khayyam smiled. Suddenly, Akbar had had enough. ‘You’ll have to
excuse us, guys, Khayyam and I have to go somewhere. We should do this
Why did he feel this sudden urge to protect her? Her face was rigid
with the control she’d been exercising. Now that he’d embarrassed her
and got even, why did he feel…defeated? Her hand felt small and delicate
in his as she walked by his side.
She exuded a strange aura of strength, and yet he could sense the
vulnerability that had never been there before. She slipped into the
passenger seat and stared ahead rigidly. Had it gone too far? Had he?
‘It’s KK, remember?’ She said icily, and then added with irritation,
‘What does it even mean?’
He smiled. ‘It’s pretty lame. Not knowing was the punch…if I tell
you, I lose the edge--so I’ll tell you, as a peace offering. It’s Kosher
She nodded and gave a mirthless half-laugh. ‘I see. Standing up for
causes, self-righteous…yeah, it is lame.’
‘Khayyam…I’m sorry about tonight. I should have stopped…’
‘I can pay my debts, Akbar, and I paid mine with you tonight. I can
handle whatever you have to throw at me.’
‘Still the tough firebrand somewhere inside, I see.’
He smiled but she didn’t. And Akbar wanted to know how, or who, had
extinguished the fire in Khayyam. He remembered her passionate speeches
and walks for something or other. Now she seemed to be fighting some
invisible constraint that kept her from incinerating her opponents with
her biting barbs.
After dropping her off, he went straight to his mother to get to the
bottom of things. And she told him exactly why Khayyam would let him go
to any lengths to stay engaged to him.
Akbar had eyes only for Khayyam that night.
It was likely the last time he was going to see her now that she had
no reason to pretend to be the obedient and dutiful daughter. She was
going to go back to her actual mission of saving the world. She’d
probably tell him to deliver on his word and call off the engagement.
And Akbar felt a sudden tug at his heart.
He’d always admired her will and tenacity but now, he felt a deep
respect and…oh, hell, he thought with disgust and an aching heart, who
was he kidding? He was in love with her.
And wasn’t that just peachy? She hated his guts; found him lacking in
everything--morality, depth, maturity, style--and he’d gone and fallen
in love with her. He toasted his stupidity in silence.
He wanted to bait her one last time, for old time’s sake, so he
ventured lightly, ‘You know I’ll let you keep the ring if you’ve become
Still smiling, she shrugged and said, ‘But then I’ll have to keep you
too…and your charade.’
He didn’t want a charade.
Khayyam watched Akbar from under her eyelashes. Akbar Rasul had
changed, and it was a change that made him even more devastatingly
attractive. She knew what he’d done for her brother.
She’d been an activist too long and her brother had been victimised,
and then out of the blues, he was being championed by one of the best
human-rights lawyers in the country. It hadn’t taken much to convince
the lawyer to tell her the truth about Akbar’s generosity.
And then he ventured, ‘We could stay engaged…for real.’
He looked stunned…then irritated. ‘That’s it? Okay?’
She tried not to smile and looked at him innocently, ‘What did you want
He looked uncomfortable and hesitant. ‘I don’t know…’
‘Let me explain the obvious to you, Akbar. Even though you’re not the
last man on earth, I’m volunteering to wear this atrocious ring.’
He stared at her for a second too long, and then slowly, his eyes lit
up and he said, ‘You always were good at volunteering for noble causes.’