Tariq. I recognised him as he turned my way and immediately pressed back into the shadows to avoid notice. What on earth is he doing here, in an alleyway on the poorer side of town and at this time???
And then I saw his companion. She stepped up behind him and he immediately turned to face her again. My heart started thundering in my ears as a premonition of doom built up in me. In slow motion I saw him turn slightly to lean against the wall and pull her up against him. His arms wrapped around her and he bent his head to hers…
I swallowed hard, repeatedly, trying to force down the bile that threatened to rise up and choke me. I watched them in some form of stunned paralysis; I could not move, could not look away from them. The carton of milk slipping from my hand and falling to the ground with a thud made me start. I glanced down briefly, noticing that the carton had cracked open and milk was seeping out of it. The cat was bent over it, trying to lap it up as fast as possible. Amazingly it was the mundane normality of that scene that roused me from my stupor. Anger filled me rapidly, coursing through my veins, replacing the shock, fortifying me. Without a second thought I marched over to them. I was wearing soft soled shoes which muffled my approach, which gave me the advantage of walking up to them unnoticed but also gave me a ringside view of their lewd embrace. I was so disgusted and so angry that I swung my purse at his head unthinkingly, where it connected with a satisfying thunk. He yelped and jumped back, clutching his head. The woman also cried out but all my attention was on him. He rounded on me furiously.
“What the hell are you doing?? Who the hell are you??”
“I think I’m supposed to be asking you that, Tariq Kadwa. What the hell are you doing, embracing a strange woman the day before your nikah?? Or have you forgotten that you’re getting married tomorrow??”
“Fazila???” He breathed, backing up, “wh-what are you doing here???”
“Watching my fiancé make out with a whore, what else??”
The woman gasped. “I’m not a whore, you b**ch!! I am the woman he loves and you’re just the poor little sidekick! Did he tell you…”
“Sarah! That’s enough!” Tariq grabbed her arm, “leave us. Fazila and I need to talk.”
“I said leave us!!”
Sarah shot me a malicious look tinged with triumph before stomping away.
“Fazila…it’s not how it looks…”
“Oh, please, spare me the crap!” I cried out angrily, “I caught you red-handed kissing that woman, Tariq. What do you mean, it’s not how it looks???”
“It will not happen again! I swear! This was the last time I was meeting her. It was goodbye.”
“Goodbye!! What kind of goodbye was that??? Who the hell is she anyways???”
“She…we were in a relationship but my mum refused me to marry her because she’s a coloured. So I told her I had to end it with her. That’s why I was meeting her today, to tell her that. It’s over, Fazila, I swear!”
“So you were giving her a nice goodbye kiss before sending her on her way?? And not just a peck but a nice long smooch??” My voice broke in disgust, “I don’t know what kind of fool you take me for! I’m glad I even caught you so I know how you really are! And to think I almost married you!!!”
“What do you mean, almost??” Tariq looked alarmed, “we’re getting married tomorrow!”
I laughed humourlessly. “You’re joking, right?? You think I’ll marry you after what I’ve just seen?? You think I’m stupid?? Or do you think I’m the sort of woman who will eat your money and look the other way at your infidelities??”
“I told you it’s over!”
“Oh, just shut up!” I lashed out furiously, heartily sick of this nauseating charade, “you two didn’t look like over to me and I will not become “just a poor little sidekick”! You two are welcome to each other! I’m out of here!!” I spun on my heel, intending to stalk off.
“You’re a fool,” Tariq hissed behind me, “do you know what I’m offering you?? Do you know who I am?? I am a Kadwa and the Kadwas are the richest shots in PE. You’ll have enough money that you won’t have to work a day in your life. You’ll live like a queen if you marry me but you’re refusing because of one silly little thing?? Think carefully because if you say no now I won’t come after you. I won’t beg you to stay with me. And later on you’ll regret your mistake!”
That did it! I spun back around so fast that he took a step back. I leaned forward, hurling each word into his face. “You think I’m a fool for turning you down??? Well, let me tell you something, Tariq Kadwa! I would be the biggest fool on earth if I married a lying, cheating idiot like you! Money makes a cold bed partner, don’t you think???” I saw his face darkening in anger and I raised my voice, “and for your information there is no amount of money on earth large enough to make a scum like you worth marrying!!!” I spun around again and stalked off.
“Fu**ing b**ch!” I heard him swear viciously behind me. I carried on walking till I reached my car. Now that I had spent my anger I felt deflated…numb. I opened the car, slid in and drove home. I walked into the house which was buzzing with cheerful voices and bursts of laughter. The sounds were so discordant and alien in my current mood that I felt like I was floating in space; neither here or there. I walked past the lounge, past the dining room into the kitchen where mum, dad, nana and nani were standing around and talking. Good. I can tell them all one time.
“Faz? You’re late! Where’s the mendhi cones??” Mum exclaimed on seeing me.
I glanced down at my empty hands. “They’re gone. I must have dropped them,” I said blankly.
“Dropped them?? Where??”
Dad took a step forward, his eyes searching my face intently. “Faz? What’s wrong?”
I raised vacant eyes to him. “I don’t know where the mendhi cones are. It doesn’t matter. There won’t be a nikah tomorrow so no need to put mendhi now…”
A chorus of exclamations cut me off.
“What do you mean?”
“Why no nikah?”
“What’s going on, Faz?”
“Wait!” That was nana, in his authoritative voice, “let her explain. Fazila, beti, what’s wrong?”
I looked at him then down again. “I caught Tariq kissing a girl. He said he was in a relationship with her but they’ve ended it now. He said it was the last time he was seeing her and it’s over now but why was he kissing her if it was over? It didn’t look like over to me and I told him that. We…argued. I told him I can’t marry him now. He acted like I was depriving myself of a great honour by refusing to marry him!” I lifted my gaze again, saw the incredulous expressions surrounding me.
Everything was a blur after that. I saw more people come into the kitchen, wondering what was going on. I saw dad bellowing for Adnaan, saw Sumi running off to phone him. I saw the kitchen filling up, voices raised over each other, everyone’s anger and opinions tumbling over each other, clashing in a cacophony of voices. And all the while I stood on one side, feeling like an outsider, like I was not part of the debate going on before my eyes.
Nana put an end to it as usual. He held up his hand. “Silence!” He barely raised his voice but the noise died down as everyone automatically turned to listen to him. “I think it’s a foregone fact that there won’t be a wedding taking place tomorrow. Isn’t that right, Fazila?” His gaze cut to me and I nodded numbly. “Right then, I don’t know if the boy’s side knows what’s going on. Tariq might have told them his side of the story or he might not have said anything at all, hoping Fazila comes to her senses and goes ahead with the wedding. In either case we need to go there and make ourselves clear. I also want to know if they know anything about this or not. I’ll go with Hafsa, Rabia and Faruk. The rest of you can stay here or go back to your houses, it’s up to you. We will let you know what happens, of course.
“I also want to come!” Adnaan declared hotly.
Nana shook his head. “No, only us seniors are going. You stay here with Sumaya and Haneefa and keep an eye on Fazila, Adnaan. She needs you here.”
I did not need anyone at that moment but I said nothing. Nana and them left soon after that and the rest made themselves comfortable, having no intention to go back to their houses just yet. They approached me to offer words of consolation but at that moment I just wanted to be alone. I excused myself, shook my head at Amira, Aliyah and Han when they tried to follow me and went up to my room. As soon as the door was shut behind me I slumped to the floor, burying my head in my hands, too weary now to keep up the pretense of being strong. The truth was that I was not strong. I was not coping marvellously as people thought; I was actually almost at the end of my tether. The numbness that had fortified me till now was starting to disintegrate and my mind was roaring to life with a vengeance, insisting on replaying the scene in my mind over and over again. And with it came a multitude of emotions.
Anger was first. Anger and an acute sense of betrayal that fisted into me, leaving me winded, feeling like the air had been knocked from me. How dare he propose to me, come to see me, agree to marry me if he already had someone on the side?? Even if his parents had refused him to marry her why couldn’t he either remain single till he got over his attachment to her or marry her against his parents wishes?? Why involve me, an innocent bystander in this? Why play out the farce of a willing husband and spoil an innocent girl’s life like this??? Were they so selfish that they only thought of themselves???
I knew why he had done this, of course. I had heard of cases like these countless times, where well known families refused to let their sons marry anyone who was not of their class or social level because they did not want a breath of scandal to touch them. Where they forced their sons to marry pure, decent girls from good families and buried their skeletons firmly in their closets. Where the sons then went along with their families plans just to save their own hides and married those nice girls just for names sake, then carried on with their liaisons behind their wives backs. The families and boys only thought of their selfish desires to keep themselves free of gossip and scandal, not caring in the least about the innocent girls they entrapped in faithless marriages as a result. I had always heard of these stories; I had just never imagined it happening to me.
I should be grateful, I thought with a burst of hysterical laughter. At least I had caught him before marrying him. Imagine if I’d only found out after marrying him or worse, after having kids with him. Then I’d be a divorcee with kids because I knew that there was no way I could turn a blind eye to my husband’s unfaithfulness. Not even to live like a queen. I should be grateful…and happy…
Abruptly my laughter turned to sobs. I was not happy. I was shattered. In a flash I saw all my dreams, my hopes come crashing down around me, and the pain of the jagged edges cutting into me was worse than a thousand knives.
Nana and them returned after a couple of hours, angry, helpless, frustrated and furious beyond words. I was still in my room when they came to find me and their silent sympathy and impotent fury threatened to crumble the last vestiges of my self control.
“What happened?” I whispered.
They took turns telling me what had happened, deliberately giving the story a light edge to lift my mood.
Tariq’s family had no idea about what had happened. Tariq had come home and retreated to his room without mentioning anything. Apparently he had hoped I would come to my senses and carry on with the wedding. So his parents got a rude shock when nana and them had stormed into their house in anger.
“They had no idea,” mum said, “they were shocked when we told them why we had come. Then they went into denial.”
Nani snorted. “That Naseema knew all about her son’s affair. Did you see the guilty look on her face? She just didn’t want to give him away. She defended him instead,” she snorted again in disgust.
Tariq’s parents had defended him staunchly, saying even if such a thing had happened…implying that I might have made up or exaggerated the whole incident…Tariq wouldn’t do anything like that after he got married. He would definitely be faithful, he wasn’t the straying kind, etc etc…
Then nana had stood up. “Call the boy. Call your son here,” he repeated when Tariq’s parents simply stared at him, “I want to know his side of the story as well.”
Almost reluctantly Aunt Naseema had gone to call him. He had come then, looking nonchalant and casual, though his eyes had darted around nervously. Nana wasted no time in apprising him of the situation.
“Tell us your side of the story, please,” he instructed quietly.
Tariq flushed. “Yes, she saw me kissing the girl but it wasn’t like she thought. Sarah and I have known each other for a long time. She had hopes that I would marry her, even though I told her it wasn’t possible. I simply told her to meet me today to clarify to her that whatever was between us was over because I was getting married. She became upset and threw herself at me. It was an instinctive reaction on my part,” he said defensively, “it wasn’t intentional.”
Nana regarded him in silence for a long time till he started fidgeting uncomfortably. “Can you give me this girl’s name and number? I think I would like to have a word with her.”
Tariq laughed shortly. “An imaam talking to a girl? Isn’t that haraam, maulana?”
“What is haraam for me is equally haraam for you, my boy,” nana returned calmly, “however, Rabia can talk to her. Find out her thoughts on your…ermm…relationship.”
“There’s no need to do all that now,” Tariq said hastily, just as his mum also intervened.
“Yes, Tariq is right. It’s over, no need to go into all that now. She’s his past. Fazila is his future. Can’t you’ll understand that?” She looked beseechingly at mum.
“What I understand, Mr. and Mrs. Kadwa, is that you’ll have been very selfish and deceiving,” nana stated, his voice taking on a steely edge. He had everyone’s attention now, “you knew that your son was involved with this girl. You knew he wanted to marry her but you refused because she’s a coloured and people would talk if he did that. So to save your family’s name and status you proposed to a girl from a nice family with an impeccable reputation. An alima to boot. Why, because people would approve and praise your choice. And your son went along with it because he doesn’t have the spine to defy you and because he doesn’t want to be cut off from all the benefits of wealth and luxuries you are providing him with. You only thought of yourselves. You did not spare a thought for my granddaughter who was a pawn in your dirty game. You would have condemned her to a lifetime of misery, trapped in a faithless marriage simply to save your face. Or maybe you thought your money would keep her happy. I know your son definitely thought like that. But for us, money doesn’t equal happiness. We gave our trust to you and we expected the same of you. I am extremely disappointed that you did not hold us in the same regard. We were going to give you our amaanah and you were going to trample on it. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” Each of his words slashed through the tense atmosphere like stinging lashes of whips, raining down ceaselessly on his opponents.
The Kadwas immediately took offense to his words and tone. “How dare you??” Yunus Kadwa thundered, surging to his feet, “how dare you walk into my house and insult us like this??? Those are all baseless accusations! Baseless, I tell you!! Has your granddaughter married my son to know what her marriage will turn out like?? Do you know if he will be faithful or not to her?? No, you don’t know anything! You are just assuming the worst then coming here and telling us what you think we are like! Well, if we are so evil in your eyes then leave!! My son will find someone a thousand times better than your granddaughter. This will be your loss, not ours, because you can only think the worst of us!”
“You’re wrong,” nana returned, implacably, the steel in his voice more pronounced, “this is your loss because you’ve just lost a gem of a girl. And let me ask you something, Yunus. Do you have a daughter?”
“Of course I have. What does that have to do with anything??”
“Allah forbid but tomorrow if your daughter gets engaged to a man and finds him kissing someone else the day before her nikah please try and be as objective as you are now. Defend his honour, accept his promises that he won’t be unfaithful after his marriage and marry your daughter to him anyways. When you do that I shall applaud your open mindedness, because then I’ll know that your words today were sincere,” he paused for several moment, his eyes boring into the other man’s, “things look very different when the shoe is on the other foot. Think about that then see if I’m being unreasonable or if I’m just protecting my own.” With that he walked out, leaving a deafening silence behind.
I laughed out loud when I heard that. “Go, nana!” I cheered, feeling much better now, “you gave them the truth right between the teeth.”
“People don’t think like that, that’s the problem,” nani put in, “if everyone thought from the other person’s perspective there wouldn’t be this many problems in this world.”
We agreed wholeheartedly with that.
“Never mind, Fazzu,” nana sat down next to me, giving me a hug, “when the shock of this wears off you’ll realise how much better off you are without this marriage. I realised today what a selfish, monetary lot they really are. Believe me, Allah has definitely done what is khair for you. This is actually a fadhl of Allah, alhamdulillah.”
I nodded, smiling tremulously, “jee, nana. Allah always does what’s khair for us.”
I kept reminding myself of that everytime I felt the sorrow begin to overtake me. This too shall pass, Fazila. This too shall pass…