In the end it wasn’t the drug cartels, the prostitution rings or the money laundering that made Jia Khan leave her father’s home. It wasn’t the various fraud cases, it wasn’t the police raids and it wasn’t even the fact that her father was head of the city’s biggest organised crime ring, the Jirga. It was simply a matter of a broken heart.
The sound of the podcast helped numb her mind to the day she’d had. Defending guilty men left her emotionally drained and in need of the kind of understanding and support that can only come from family. But this wasn’t something she was ready to admit to herself, or to anyone else. She needed no one. This independence had been hard won and she bore the scars of battle. She couldn’t give it up at any cost.
Solace in the arms of a man or at the bottom of an expensive bottle of wine – the traditions of the successful circles she frequented – were not for her. She needed the ordinariness of life to restore order. Dressed in black lounge clothes, a cashmere blanket waiting for her on the couch and the vegan take-out on speed dial, she let the normality of the evening seep in.
The dulcet tones of Reza Aslan came on, as Metaphysical Milkshake asked its listeners, “Why are we so lonely?” The room was warm; the soft scent of Jo Malone filled the air. Candles were dripping on to the windowsill, rivers of wax pooling from one to the other and setting to form islands. Their light was the only kind she could tolerate at the start of a migraine.
Her friend’s Pakistani grandmother who’d visited had asked, “Yahan kya bijli bahut jaatee hai?” They’d laughed at the suggestion that electrical companies might cut the power to London homes. It was a regular occurrence in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, done to avoid placing an excessive load on the generating plant, but here among the tenants of Jia’s Knightsbridge apartment building, it would have caused an uproar.
A mobile phone began to hum persistently somewhere in another room. Jia left the comfort of her couch in search of it. It was rare for her to receive calls this late.
She stepped across the scattered clothes in her bedroom and moved towards the bed. She had undressed quickly, not caring where things landed. The maid would pick them up and hang them and send them to the dry cleaners in the morning. Cheeks to the carpet, the red soles of her work shoes chastised her. A skirt lay in a heap next to the king-sized bed, along with a soft silk blouse. Its mate, the Saville Row jacket, was neatly placed on top of the covers; beside it sat a pebble-coloured Birkin handbag. It was vibrating. It was fair to say that Jia Khan was a gently vain woman.
The phone stopped ringing as soon as she found it. “Baba jaan” flashed up on the missed call log. She was about to put it down when it rang again. He knew she was avoiding him. “Jia Khan never whines,” she’d overheard him saying to her mother once, “she protests in silence.” He was goading her to hit “decline”, and so she did. A minute later the phone buzzed, signalling he’d left a voicemail.
Akbar Khan’s message was as concise as his relationship with his daughter: “The car will be with you at 6.00 pm. I am sending my personal driver, Michael. Do not be late and don’t make him wait.” The sound of his voice made her bristle, almost pushing her back to teenage strop and pout. She was tempted to call him back and tell him she wasn’t coming. But far too many years had passed for her to act that way. And besides, she’d made a promise to her little sister Maria.
“Don’t fall down that rabbit hole of rage when Baba jaan calls.”
“I don’t do that. Do I do that?”
“I won’t get married if you don’t come. I will send the baraat away.”
Although Jia knew Maria’s threat was empty, she had agreed. After being away for fifteen years, she was going back to Pukhtun House. Now was as good a time as any to face old foes, even ones that were family.
She put the phone down on the bedside table and returned to the warm sofa. She tried to get back to the podcast she’d been listening to, but found herself unable to concentrate. Her mind kept wandering back to the call; something about it wasn’t right. Her father’s voice, normally strong and decisive, had sounded worn. She had never known Akbar Khan to waver. It was one of his countless strengths; it was how he controlled a room.
As she picked over his words and pauses, someone walked over her grave and she shivered. She remembered something he’d said to her a long time ago: “Heaven, hell, present, past and future are all dimensions that operate in the same space. What you experience depends on how you see the world.” She wondered which of the dimensions he was caught up in today and what he was planning for her.
Excerpted with permission from The Khan: I Am Justice, Saima Mir, Westland.
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