The pair walked quicker, bunching closer together. The wind howling around them building up to a crescendo and then quieting down for a millisecond before renewing its assault upon their senses.
Azaan looked worriedly at his companion. She was a frail looking girl, 5’3”, diminutive, not a creature nature built with endurance in mind. Instead, she was an example of when nature took it upon itself to create the image of pure beauty, however fleeting, and put it on display to the world.
Azaan gazed on at her, even in the midst of a blizzard, hassled and harrowed by the sleet and the wind, she looked radiant. Her large eyes stared back at him, comforting him, but he could see the fear in them. Some stray strands of hair had come loose from under her hood and now drenched from the sleet, stuck to her cheek as a constant reminder of just what they were facing. Yet, for all these warnings, Azaan had eyes only for her beauty.
But she looked pale, too. The weather was only getting worse, and they still had some way to travel before they got home. He hugged his wife and rubbed her shoulders. The gesture was nice, but did not help much with the cold.
They trudged on through the snow, each minute passing made it harder and harder for them to progress, with the visibility at almost zero. Azaan was now very worried.
“I think we should take shelter here somewhere.”
“No, no, we must get home soon. The storm could last for days.
Let’s just fight through it and get home, then we can rest.”
And so, against his gut feeling, Azaan ploughed through the now waist high snow, leading the way with his wife shivering and following in his steps.
After about a kilometer, they reached what they faintly recognized as the pathway leading to their village. Azaan, delighted that they were almost home, now started forging ahead quicker.
Clearing the snow with his hands and his legs, making an easier pathway for his wife to follow, he sped up and had eyes only for the building vaguely visible in the distance.
“Not long now, my darling.”
He walked ahead, now with a smile on his face. Looking back to take comfort from the relief he knew he would see, all he saw was his empty pathway.
His heart, jubilant a moment ago, plummeted.
He sprinted back across the pathway, frantically calling her name, searching off track to the left and right, cursing his carelessness. Around 50 meters down the pathway he created, he found her lying on the snow. The poor creature had tried her best, but she could try no longer.
He sat down beside her and tried hurriedly to get her off the snow and onto his lap.
She looked dangerously white.
“I am sorry, dear Azaan. I was weak.”
He could not speak. Words at times like these felt futile. He knew even as he sat there, crying in hope, that these were the last moments he would spend with his wife.
“You must go, Azaan, you must go on. “
She was right. He should leave, try to get help. He had to do something. But his heart refused to let him move an inch. He sat there helplessly staring at her.
She looked back at him, seeing his tears frozen on his face, she mustered up one last effort.
“I will miss them.”
With these last words, Azaan saw the strength go out of her body. The relief he sought in her eyes so eagerly before was now clearly visible. But it was of no consolation to him now.
Her body went lax. She had died.
Azaan cried out in anguish. His mind refused to function. He sat there, tearing at his hair, his clothes. Grabbing her by the shoulders, hoping to shake some life into her. Kissing her face, holding her to him.
She lay unmoved by all his attentions, something she was thoroughly incapable of doing in life.
He sat back, no longer disbelieving. Acceptance crept into him, and Azaan could not tell if the realization or the weather was causing his very bones to be chilled.
He held her hands in his, and he sat there.
Owais called to his brother from across the room.
“Are they here yet?”
“Not yet, brother, not yet. Give them half an hour, the weather is pretty bad out there. “
Owais grumbled. He had just passed top of his class. He wanted his gift and he wanted it now.
“But they promised they’d be home by dinner.”
“Owais! Stop being a brat. They are walking all the way through this storm just for your gift, be a little grateful.”
Owais considered it, saw his brother’s point, and calmed himself down. He knew once the gift was in his hands, he would not mind how long he had waited, and so he told his heart to be patient. He even felt guilty for having insisted on his parents getting him the gift that very day.
He picked up his favorite book and started reading it.
His elder brother sat at the window patiently, watching for his mom and dad.