The voices caught my attention first. Hushed, low pitched…as though heads were bent towards each other, secrets shared and clutched to bosoms. It made my pulse quicken for no good reason at all as I moved towards them as quietly as I could; a feat short lived as my foot bumped on that last step, making a sudden hush fall over them as they waited for me to make my appearance.
“What’s up?” I paused in the doorway, scanned their faces anxiously.
“You’ve got a proposal…” the rest of her words were drowned out by my loud groan which rent the air.
“Not again!” I had thought myself free from any more proposals; a thought borne by the fact that there hadn’t been any in the past six months. Six months of the pure bliss that simple routine can also bring. I guess the unwanted excitement of the proposals had made me appreciate the mundane in life.
“You won’t believe who this one’s from, Faz!” Han jumped up, her face shining in excitement.
“Another Tom, Dick or Harry. Does it matter?” I lifted my shoulder in a shrug.
“This one will matter. Because you know him! Or rather, you know his sister!”
Her excited tone finally penetrated the morose mood that had dropped over me at the mention of a proposal. I found myself curious against my will. “Who is it?”
“Hafiza’s brother Ismail!”
“Hafiza?” I stared at her.
“Yes, Hafiza from madrassah! Don’t you remember her older brother who sometimes picks her up?”
“Oh, him.” I did remember the bearded guy who picked her up at times. She had once mentioned to us that it was her middle brother Ismail. She had three brothers, another one older than Ismail and the third one who was the youngest of them all. “Of all the people!” I shook my head, “didn’t imagine them proposing.”
“Well, they have. So now we will do our background checks then you should make istikhara, okay?” Mum said.
“Istikhara before the guy even comes? I haven’t done that before,” I said.
“Yeah but after the three weirdos,” mum flashed a brief smile at me, “we decided to be more vigilant, neh? So I was talking to nana the other day and I mentioned all this to him. He was more annoyed than you, Faz, and he said we shouldn’t allow just anyone to come see you. He said there’s a reason you’re in niqaab and how would it feel if half the town knows how you look by the time you get the boy of your choice? So he suggested that we should also make more thorough background checks and you should also make istikhara if the checks are all positive. Only if everything is positive then we should go ahead.”
“He’s right. See, that’s why I kept refusing proposals all this time,” I shot mum a self satisfied smile and she gave me a look in return.
“You kept refusing to even consider them. At least now you’re being open minded.”
“Don’t have a choice, do I?” I heaved a huge sigh and went off to make breakfast for myself. Food always cheered me up and a nice, strong cup of coffee was just what I needed.
Meeting Hafiza at madrassah on Monday was quite awkward. Her and Han kept giving me those sly looks and smiles which I tried to ignore. Then Han decided to ask Hafiza about her brother right in front of me!
“Fiza, tell us about Ismail. Or rather, tell Faz about Ismail. She’s so curious but she’s too shy to ask.”
“Shy?? Your big head!” I retorted and they both burst out laughing.
“So Faz. What do you wanna know?” Hafiza turned to me with a smirk.
“Nothing. My parents are finding out whatever they can. That’s enough for me. You got those notes for tafseer, Fizzpop? I need to copy today’s notes out.”
“But you can find out first hand about Ismail from Fiza here. Aren’t you curious?”
I gave Han my most severe look. “I might have been if there was time. But I need to copy those notes ASAP before they pile up,” and I walked away from there to grab Hafiza’s book from her bag then settled down to write.
“How come you ran away?” Han asked me afterwards, “were you really that shy?”
“No, I wasn’t! I was trying to spare her the hassle!” I retorted.
“Hassle? What hassle?”
“Han, how will she feel if I say no after all this? By you going on like this you might make her think I’m interested and get their hopes up. Then if I say no they’ll be more disappointed.”
“Fiza knows you’re not interested from now and she knows the answer might be a no. This was just some harmless teasing, man!”
“It’s never harmless when the guy is actually coming to propose. This is more serious and I don’t want you to touch this topic infront of her again, you hear me?” I gave her a hard stare.
“You’re being ridiculous,” Han rolled her eyes.
“Whatever, but I don’t wanna hear this topic again infront of Fizzpop.”
Han just gave me a look and stomped off into the house. I locked up the car and followed her in where mum and dad were waiting for me with news. Ismail was a nice guy. They had checked more thoroughly this time and no one had had anything negative to say about him so if my istikhara turned out positive he could come on Saturday.
“Oh, boy. Here we go again,” I mumbled under my breath but I smiled and nodded dutifully at mum then went upstairs to change.
My istikhara did come out positive so when Saturday rolled around I felt myself getting nervous like my first proposal again. Maybe because I kind of knew the family this time, or knew the sister well at least and the mother in passing. I had also seen Ismail in passing and knew he had a beard and was not so bad looking so at least there wouldn’t be any surprises in that department.
I wore a maroon full length dress, simple and flowing, matching it up with a beige scarf and sandals. I swiped my usual eyeliner and lip balm and then was set to go. Now for the excruciating wait.
At least the Saloojees were on time so before long I was called down. I entered the front room to see Hafiza sitting there with her mum and mine. I smiled and made salaam to Aunty Salma then to Hafiza who pulled me down next to her with a big grin.
“Isn’t someone looking hot today! My poor brother, I hope he doesn’t fall at your feet as soon as he sees you.”
“Oh, hush!” I whispered back, my cheeks turning red.
Luckily Aunty Salma drew me into the conversation then so I turned to her, trying my best to ignore Hafiza who kept shooting teasing comments my way. Han also came to sit with us for the first time; usually she remained in the room, not liking to draw any attention to herself. Her and Hafiza kept teasing me in whispers and giggles till even Aunty Salma noticed.
“What you girls whispering about over there? Come tell us also!”
“Nothing, mum, I was just saying that Faz is really looking forward to meeting your son,” Hafiza replied with a perfectly straight face.
I gasped. “I am not! I mean, I am of course but not like that. I mean…” I stopped, frantically wondering what to say that didn’t sound wrong and didn’t sound over eager. In the end I just dropped my gaze, my cheeks burning furiously. Hafiza and Han were laughing away next to me and I could even hear Aunty Salma laughing. I concentrated on the pattern of the tiles under my shoes and planned a double murder of those two fiends!
Luckily dad called me just then and I scrambled to my feet and shot out of the lounge like my backside was on fire. Behind me I could hear Hafiza and Han giggling away and I plotted an even more drastic revenge on the two of them. Which was why I walked right into the dining room without even realising it and with a frown on my face, so engrossed was I in my own thoughts.
“If that’s your angry face I hope I never make you angry in my life.”
I jumped, my gaze jerking upwards to see Ismail sitting and watching me with a slight smile on his face. I flushed again and sat down opposite him.
“Sorry, my mind was elsewhere.”
“Not in a happy place, I assume?”
“In your sister!”
That drew a surprised laugh from him. “My sister? What has she done this time?”
“Too many transgressions to count,” I grumbled, then I smiled at him, “anyways, I assure you I’m not always this grumpy.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” he replied gravely, then we both started laughing.
“So, Fazila. I already know the answers to the basic questions so I don’t need to ask them again. You’re with Fiza in madrassah, right?”
“So that means you still have the rest of this year and next year left. If you get married will you finish it off?”
“That’s my plan,” I replied, “I want to finish off even if I end up getting married before graduating.”
Ismail nodded thoughtfully. “How do you plan on managing married life and madrassah both?”
“I’ll have to ask you a question first. Will you stay separately after marriage or with your parents?”
“Initially together,” he replied, “I can’t afford to pay rent at the moment. And I’m not sure about the future so I can’t make any promises about that.”
I nodded. At least he was honest and straightforward.
“Then will you or your mother mind if I finish off my madrassah after marriage? If we up getting married that is,” I clarified quickly.
He smiled. “Of course, if. For now we’ll talk like we are, right? It will make talking easier. And about your madrassah, I don’t mind if you can manage to cook our share as well. We have a domestic for cleaning up but Fiza and my mum share out the cooking load. You can work that out with my mum.”
I nodded again, letting that sink in. “Another thing, I wear niqaab, right.” He nodded. “I’ve started wearing from everyone, including my own cousins. So I’d wear with your brothers as well. I hope none of your family will mind that.”
He looked surprised. “That will be difficult though. It’s not a big house and they’re always around. You don’t have to wear with them if you don’t want to.”
I smiled. “It’s not about what I want, it’s about doing what’s right. Though I don’t know how I’ll manage. I’ve never been in that situation before…” I frowned down at the floor, trying to sort out this new problem mentally. Then I shook it off. “Anyways, we’ll see about that when the time comes. Do you have any questions?”
He had a few and I answered them as best as I could. The rest of the conversation flowed and before I knew it we were done. Ismail stood up and smiled down at me.
“We’ll meet again if all goes well inshaAllah.”
“InshaAllah,” I replied, keeping my face and voice neutral. I made salaam to him then went back to the front room where Hafiza and Han were just waiting to pounce on me. To thwart them I purposely sat down right next to mum and shot them a smirk before turning my attention to Aunty Salma and mum.
After a while Hafiza and her family left and as soon as the door closed behind them my family pounced on me.
“Well! Tell us what that was like!” And from Han, “tell us now, are you gonna become Hafiza’s sister or not???”