CHAPTER 1 – HOW AHAD MET HIS FUTURE FAKE WIFE
Ahad Siddiqui was drenched in sweat as soon as he stepped out of the air-conditioned car. It was a hot April afternoon and even though it was 10:45 AM, the scorching weather felt unbearable.
His friend Abhishek and his driver also got down. The driver opened the boot space and unloaded Ahad’s luggage. Ahad looked at two jumbo bags. The bags looked overweight, which would inevitably invite additional baggage charges. Money was the least of his problems. He could not afford to waste time in that procedure as he was already running late for his flight.
Ahad’s assistant Ashwini had accompanied him on his trip to Bhopal. But she wanted to spend Summer vacation with her family. She was travelling to her native place in Odisha and Ahad was on his own.
Travelling alone was not a problem. It was the two jumbo bags that bothered him. Another botheration was the flight that was booked. It was a full economy airline popular for its low prices, zero legroom, short travel time, and long waiting period. He had travelled using that airline in the past and had a bitter experience. However, he had no other option. It was the only flight seat Ashwini could arrange on such short notice.
Who said that rich people don’t make compromises?
The flight was scheduled to depart at 11:10 AM and he had only 15 minutes. He wished he did not have the luggage. He hoped the flight would be delayed arriving at Bhopal airport and he would have some time to check-in peacefully.
He reached out to the nearest trolley to load his luggage. At that very moment, he felt a tug. Someone was pulling the trolley in the opposite direction.
“I got this first,” he heard a soft female voice. He looked at the woman claiming the trolley.
A tall woman was standing in front of her. A backpack on her shoulders, a waist pouch around her slender waist. She must have been 5’8” and her voluptuous body well-compensated her otherwise-too-tall-for-a-girl height. Her jet-black hair was wrapped up in a messy uncombed bun, but the luscious tresses shone under the bright afternoon sun.
Her complexion was fair with pink freckles around her nose and cheeks. Her big black eyes were bloodshot red as though she had been crying for a long time. It was her eyes that left the most impact on him.
Despite her obvious distressed condition, she was calm and composed when she spoke.
“Excuse me, would you let go of the trolley? I am getting late. I cannot miss my flight.” She talked in a steady voice.
Neither can I, he thought but released the steel bar. He might be in a rush, but he could not argue with a woman, not a strange woman, certainly not a woman who clearly had ‘issues.
He let go of the trolley. Abhishek was quick on his feet and dragged another one that was parked just a few feet away. Ahad carried his laptop bag on his shoulder and watched as the driver loaded his luggage on a trolley. The trolley snatcher had one big duffle bag.
Let’s see how she manages to lift that bag and place it on the cart.
Effortlessly, that is how she managed it, without seeking any help from three macho looking men around.
She has the strength and the build for it.
“Alright, buddy. I will see you when you come to Cochin,” Ahad gave a bear hug to Abhishek, thanked the driver, and started wheeling his trolley towards the departure lounge.
The trolley snatcher struggled to push the trolley as she cleared the first set of security personnel at the departure lounge’s entrance. The trolley had broken wheels and it kept going in a skewed direction. Ahad followed her. Seeing her scuffle to push the cart towards the baggage scan section was a painful sight.
I must be a gentleman. “May I help,” he offered.
“No, thanks,” she said and continues to grunt as she reached the baggage scan counter.
Oh, we are taking the same flight. She must be going to Mumbai.
Two days earlier
“Moomal, are you sure about this?” Shruti asked.
“Yes,” Moomal replied without conviction.
“I am sorry I cannot help you in your predicament,” Shruti said.
“Please, don’t be sorry. We all have our fair share of problems and we all have to fight our own battles,” Moomal said with her usual steely expression.
“And, you wouldn’t tell me where You are going?” her best friend complained.
“I am sorry, but I cannot,” Moomal said, “I completely trust you, but I know that you will be questioned for sure. We spend most of our time together.”
“Hmmm, you are right. But I would be worried,” Shruti patted Moomal’s arm and said promisingly.
“I will inform you of my wellbeing,” Moomal said with a weak smile.
“Do you promise?” Shruti asked and extended her arm for a handshake, a promise handshake.
The girls shook hands and smiled.
Moomal had no intentions of staying in touch. She knew that all modes of communication were traceable. She doubted if someone would be so determined to find out, which. Still, she did not want to be discovered, not until she had discovered herself and her true passion. She was not running away. She was embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
At least that was what she told herself.
That night, she gathered all her courage to face her uncle and aunt.
At the dinner table, Moomal cleared her throat, ready to fight a battle.
“Uncle, our office is going for a 3 days trip to Goa,” she said.
“No need to waste money,” Sajida said, without blinking an eye, without letting Naveed utter a single word.
“This is an all-expense paid trip by the company.”
“Let her go. she had never gone on office trips.”
“Alright! one last time before the wedding but I am telling you, Kaleem will not like it.”
Why does Kaleem care about what I do? I am not married to him yet, Moomal wanted to object. Instead, she chose to keep her thoughts to herself and smiled sweetly.
“Yes, aunty, I understand, and thank you for being so kind.”
In some other corner of Bhopal, Ahad Siddiqui was talking to his mother over a Google Duo video call.
“Ahad, when are you coming back?” she asked.
“One more day, Amma. I will start the day after tomorrow,” he replied.
Such an innocent question. My mother worries so much.
“And how long will you procrastinate your marriage?”
There she goes, again.
“I need more time, Amma,” he could not suppress the irritation in his voice.
“How much more time do you need?” she demanded again.
“I will let you know, very soon,” he said bitterly and hung up.
His friend Abhishek Gaur laughed aloud.
“Are you laughing at my misery, my dear friend?” Ahad asked gingerly.
“No, but I have a perfect solution for your situation,” Abhishek offered.
“Do tell,” Ahad leaned forward, all eager to listen to a way out of the continuous misery.
“Get a girlfriend,” Abhishek said simply. Ahad shook his head in disbelief.
“Really? Is that so easy?” he asked.
“No, but you can hire someone to play the part,” Abhishek was insistent.
“Please, that is a very expensive and risky proposition,” he replied. “I will figure out this problem. Let’s go for coffee.”
Either he genuinely cares for me or he wants me to screw up. But he is not completely out on a limb.
A runaway girl, a reluctant guy and a compromise for mutual benefit…
Moomal Khan is a data scientist from Bhopal. She holds a job profile that was regarded highly and paid handsomely. But she is forced to leave her job and run away.
Ahad Siddiqui is from Cochin. He is handsome, highly regarded in business circles as a self-made invincible billionaire entrepreneur. But he is forced to get hitched. When his friend suggests hiring a fake girlfriend, he hates the idea but cannot seem to rid of it.
Their paths cross as they wait for their flight to Cochin. He is desperate to get his mother off his case. He tries to woo her, and she tries to shoo him away.
“Once Upon a Contract” is a sweet and saucy romantic comedy based on a contract marriage romance trope.
Book 1 – Once Upon a Crush – Hiba & Ubaid
Book 2 – Once Upon a Stalker – Zoya & Onir
Book 3 – Once Upon a Contract – Moomal and Ahad