“Alright.” I leaned back against the sofa, my eyes meeting mum’s, “let them come.”
Mum’s face lit up like I had bought her a whole set of tupperware and offered to make one thousand samoosas for her. She leaned forward, all eagerness now.
“Good! I’ll phone Sharifa and tell her right now. They can come on Saturday, neh? That will give you enough time to prepare.”
“It’s you who needs to prepare, not me,” I said, amused, “all those samoosas, biscuits, cakes and what not to make. All those new new tea cup sets to remove from the cupboard, wash and lay out. All I need to do is get ready on that day. Throw on an abaya and hijab, that’s it!”
Han and Sumi burst out laughing while mum raised her eyebrows at me. “You’ll need to dress up more than that, Faz. Can’t look like a hobo on such an important day.” She struggled to keep her face straight as Han and Sumi laughed louder.
“Don’t worry, mum. She’ll get ready nicely on that day. You won’t need to tell her anything,” Sumi said. I shot her a look that said, you need to be on my side here! In response she smirked at me knowingly.
She was right. When Saturday rolled around I found myself nervous and on edge despite all my firm intentions not to let it get to me. This was my first proposal after all…well, my first samoosa run actually…and I wanted to make a good impression. Since mum had stocked up my closet with classy yet modest clothes simply for this purpose I discarded the idea of wearing an abaya in favour of a long, navy blue dress that brushed my ankles in a swirl of chiffon and satin, a rhinestone encrusted belt the only embellishment on the otherwise plain dress. I wrapped a silver scarf around my head, applied eye liner and lipbalm, spritzed a bit of perfume and slipped on a pair of silver sandals, then whirled slowly infront of the full length mirror, satisfied with what I saw. The main thing out of the way I sat down on my bed and started tapping my foot on the floor, wondering what time they would arrive. Having come this far I wanted time to speed up so I could get it over and done with and see if my very first samoosa run was a yay or nay.
It seemed like ages, though it was only fifteen minutes later that I heard a hoot at the gate. My heart promptly went into overdrive, my palms became sweaty and butterflies began swirling around in my stomach so strongly that I bent over and wrapped my arms around my middle.
Okay, Faz, calm down! This is only a samoosa run, not your nikah!!!
“Is something wrong, Faz?” Sumi’s concerned voice spoke from the doorway. I jumped and straightened up, forcing a smile on my face.
“Nah, I’m fine. Just nervous.” I expelled my breath in a nervous laugh.
Sumi came in and gave me a hug. “Trust me, everything’s gonna be okay. Now are you ready? Mum said you must come downstairs.”
I straightened my shoulders. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
We made our way down the stairs, then Sumi nudged me in the direction of the front room. I looked back at her but she was walking off towards the kichen. Hoping that at least mum was in the front room and not in the kitchen as well, I entered it then sighed with relief as my eyes met mum’s reassuring ones. She was sitting and talking to two ladies whom I made salaam to before sitting down. Since mum and I wore niqaab we had decided to separate the men and women so the men were in the larger and more formal sitting room while we were in the smaller sitting area, also known as the ladies lounge. I could hear a couple of deep, unfamiliar voices from the men’s side but couldn’t make out what they were saying. I turned my attention to the ladies before me, wondering which one was the guy’s mother. They looked friendly enough though one of them was looking at me in quite a piercing way, as though sizing me up. This must be his mother then. No one else could look at a girl like a prospective mother inlaw could.
“You becoming an alima, ma?” She asked.
“Jee, I am,” I replied softly.
“You finished then? Or you still praying?”
“No, I still have two years left.”
“TWO YEARS!!!” She exclaimed, her eyes rounding in shock, “so when you planning on getting married then if you going to pray for so long?”
I blinked at her, taken aback, then glanced at mum who was also looking rather taken aback.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind getting married if I can finish off after marriage,” I said as calmly as I could.
“So you want to get married also and keep praying also? How is that going to work? How will you look after my son, cook for him and look after my house if you keep running off to madressah?” She threw the questions at me, getting more agitated by the minute. I opened my mouth but no sound came out. What did I say to this? Already I had a feeling that this was not going to work out.
Luckily I was spared from replying by my dad who called me into the dining room to meet the guy. I walked towards the dining room purposefully, all my earlier nervousness gone. I had to make myself clear to this guy; I would not compromise on my studies for anything!
The guy stood up as I entered, a smile stretching on his face. He waited for me to sit then sat down opposite me, looking at me intently.
“Assalamu alaykum.” He had a deep, resonant voice. Nice voice.
“Wa alaykum salaam,” I replied softly.
“I’m Ilyas. And you are Fazila, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” I replied. Gosh I sounded so formal. I raised my eyes and found him looking at me, a small smile on his face. Not bad looking except his eyes. His eyes unnerved me, looking at me as though they were trying to peer into my soul.
“What do you do, Fazila?”
“I’m becoming an alima…”
“Yes. I have two years left.”
His brows drew close together. “So long still? Sooo, if we get married what will you do?”
Here we go. I took a deep breath and looked at him straight in the eye. “I’d like to finish off my alima course. I have come so far, I wouldn’t like to stop at this point. So I would like to continue even after getting married.”
Ilyas was shaking his head. “Impossible! How can you continue after marriage? When will you cook, clean, all that? We not spoiled like you’ll, we got no domestic and all. My mother does all the cooking and cleaning herself and she cooks such nice nice food. Everyday something different…and we don’t keep eating out like some people. I myself want good food and fresh, hot rotis everyday, you know. Do you know how to make rotis?” His eyes were probing me again, looking me up and down like the answer was printed somewhere on my body. My temper was beginning to rise and I had a very scathing reply to deliver at the tip of my tongue but I swallowed both words and temper and fixed a polite smile on my face.
“Many people work and run their houses at the same time. They find a way to make it work and so would I.”
“What time does your madressah start?”
“See? How would you get time to cook and all before then?”
“I can quickly cook up lunch then and supper I can do after getting back. I have time after coming back again.”
He was shaking his head again like the pompous ass he was being. “No, no, my dear, you not thinking straight. You think it’s easy to run a whole house that you can do it in one or two hours? My mother takes whole morning just to clean and cook, that’s how the whole house is spotless and she has such nice food to serve us when we get home. Then afternoons the kitchen is closed. She would not like you making a mess again after you come back from madressah. She likes routine, my mother. She won’t like your new ways.”
Then go marry your mother, you big baby!!!
“Okay, what would you expect of me if we get married?” I asked with a tight smile.
He broke into a huge smile as though that was just the question he was waiting for. Before I could curse my foolishness for asking such a stupid question instead of calling an end to the conversation right there and then, he launched into his speech.
“Right, so I would expect you to stop your madressah of course. There’s no need to become big apas anyways…I think the maulanas cause enough chaos with their holy-holy attitudes without adding females to the mix,” he laughed as though he had said something hilarious, “besides we will stay with my mother and she has her own ways. She’ll want to train you to her ways and I think that’s a good idea because I only like her food. I don’t eat anyone else’s food…I guess mummy’s food is just too good to compare with anyone else’s,” he laughed again, “my mother is a very clean and tidy woman so you’ll have to be tip-top with her. But that’s a good thing because islam teaches us about cleanliness, right? You can learn so much from her…you’ll be very lucky to have someone like her to learn from. You probably don’t know anything right now…not all mothers know how to train their daughters, you know, but that’s okay…my mother will train you good and proper. She’s trained three daughters after all so she knows what she is doing,” he laughed again and at that, my temper, held so long in check finally ignited.
“I hate to disappoint you but my mother does know how to teach her daughters…I use the word “teach”, not “train” because I don’t think I am a dog who can be “trained”. My mother has taught me very well and I do know how to cook as well as make rotis. But of course you wouldn’t find it as good as your mother’s cooking and since I like my style of cooking very well and have no intention of getting “trained” by anyone I don’t think I would suit in your household,” I gave him a sweet smile, seeing the smile wipe off his face with grim satisfaction.
His eyes had turned cold, a sight that would have unnerved me if I hadn’t been so annoyed. “For an apa you have a very sharp tongue. Is that what they teach you in madressah, to insult others?”
“Firstly, I’m not an apa and secondly, I’ve been taught to speak the truth. And the truth is that I will only get married if I’m allowed to complete my studies even after marriage.”
“Good luck in finding someone like that then!” He stood up abruptly and I followed suit, still smiling sweetly at him.
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll get someone even better than my expectations, inshaAllah.”
He didn’t bother to reply to that and stalked off to fetch his family. A few minutes later the door slammed shut behind them and I heaved a huge sigh of relief.
“Good riddance!” I muttered.
Sumi laughed. “Was he as bad as his mother??”
“Oh, worse! You should have heard him trumpet his mother…”oh, my mother is suuuch a good cook!” “Oh, my mother keeps the house so spik and span!” “Oh, my mother toils away whole day in the house just to make nice nice food for us and to keep the house clean for us…after all, our religion teaches us to be clean, right?” “Oh, my mother can train you so well you’ll soon be trotting along behind her on a leash!” I parroted in a perfect imitation of him and my whole family collapsed in fits of laughter. And suddenly I saw the humour in it as well and I also started laughing. We laughed till our sides hurt then I told them the rest of what he had said and we laughed even more. Finally we caught our breaths, our laughter fading to seriousness.
“His mother was just as bad. She actually started lecturing me on keeping my daughters in the house and training them well and not letting them run off everyday, can you believe it? The nerve of her!” Mum shook her head.
“Well, that’s the last we’ve seen of them, I hope!” I declared, “I said it before and I’ll say it again…good riddance!”