This is my last story of 2013! It's quite fitting actually. Since it encompasses several things - faith, belief, the end of one thing and the glorious beginning of another. Neiri is a divorcee who has lost her faith and Roshan Ahsani is the perfect man to help her rebuild it. At the time of the year when one really shouldn't be alone with one's maudlin thoughts of all one's failures. It was a delight to research, to write, to be a little... okay a LOT naughty with.
Enjoy and Merry Flipping Christmas to you all!
Neiri Halabi is a Christmas enthusiast and a cat allergist. She just wants to survive her first Christmas alone; with shop bought treats, her basement swimming pool and certainly without swallowing random cat hairs in said pool. Given there's only one other resident in the entire apartment building, it has to be Roshan Ahsani up to no good. While the extravagant building owner may be have a whale of a time keeping large pets and letting them share her space, Neiri isn't about to put up with it. She's going to turn spy and catch Roshan Ahsani at his own game. Shame she doesn't know that tigers are much better hunters...
She pressed her hands to her forehead. If she pressed a little harder, this could possibly be not taking place or Roshan would just point to a tiger in a cage and shout fooled ya! No such luck. “I let my grandmother get carried away. She even cursed my ex-husband with no testicles and that didn’t work.”
“Are you sure about that?”
It gave her pause. “The point is, it’s all superstitious, properly ancient madness that I didn’t mean. I didn’t mean to have any of this, least of all for me to be swallowing your moulting fur.”
“I do not moult,” he growled. “I came here because I was called. We have good hearing.”
“Better,” he corrected, adjusting the crease of his trousers with a flick. “It’s been a long time since anyone has called for our protection in that manner. So here I am.”
“That’s why you bought this place? Because my grandmother prayed?”
“Because you did,” he said softly. “Never heard of that? The grain of faith of a non believer being stronger than a whole field of wheat.”
Her grandmother had told her the prayers would only work if she truly believed in them. And in those desperately lonely moments, she wanted someone to come and make it all stop. Make it better. With her hands tight around her grandmother’s as the incense had burned before one of the many statues belonging to her family, she had the briefest vision of a cat padding towards her, growing in volume with each light jog, until it was as big as a man. It had touched her head with an enormous paw and vanished in a puff of smoke. Neiri’s grandmother asked her if she’d seen anything and she flat denied it. Instead, she’d gone to her GP for medication, saying the stress of the divorce was making her hallucinate. Oops.
She warmed her hands on the teacup, watching him for any sudden movements. “And you made Adil change his mind about the settlement?”
Roshan’s face flickered slightly, like a boy working out how to tell his parents he’d done something naughty. “I made him a decent offer which he accepted. It means you’re free.”
Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. “To owe you.”
“To do me a favour in return.”
Neiri closed a fist around the lapels of her robe. “I can’t give you anything.”
Roshan leaned back and glanced out the huge windows that lined the entire apartment. “Did your grandmother teach you the fertility ritual?”
She made a face of confusion. “Now you’re just making things weird.”
“I assume she would have, since you married.”
“It didn’t work.” She halted and waited until the bitterness wasn’t so sharp at the back of her throat. “It’s a fad.”
“But you know what to do.”
It was something she’d tried a thousand times before. She knew it better than her own name. “It really should be done in autumn.”
“And you can only really do it on a full moon.”
“Indeed. Which is tomorrow.”
Checkmate. She tapped the side of her teacup. “So what, I do this ritual and what… We’re quits?”
Roshan nodded his head. “Absolutely.”
She didn’t quite believe him. Big cat or no, he was still a man. Men always wanted something. “When we say fertility ritual, it means no sex. Not that anything in me works for anything to come of it, anyway…”
“Neiriouri.” The way he said her name… She sat still and stared at him, eyes wide. “It will work. If you do it. And you mean it. Will you do it or not?”
Blinking rapidly, she nodded. “Yeah. Okay. I need some things first…”
He took a card from the coffee table and handed it to her. “Call this man. He will bring everything you need for the ritual. Be here. 9:30 p.m. The moon will be at its highest.”
“You can’t believe in this stuff,” she said, nervous laughter lilting her tone.
“You did,” he replied, getting to his feet. “Or else I wouldn’t be here. And neither would you.” He took her hand and tugged her to standing. Gathering the cup from her fingers, he set it down, and then led her from his wonderful flat. In silence, he took her to the lifts and walked with her until they reached her door.
She opened her mouth to dissuade him and even managed to get a few words in. “Roshan, I’m not…”
“Faith,” he told her, his hands tightening around hers. “I know it’s been a long time, but have some in yourself.” He took a key from his trouser pocket and opened her door. With a short, almost bowing nod, he turned and walked away.
Well, she thought. That will teach me to snoop.