The week in Pretoria passed swiftly. Ahmed dropped me off for my lectures at whatever time they were scheduled and picked me up afterwards. Some of my lectures had long gaps in between and Ahmed offered to come pick me up then drop me off again for my next lecture but I declined. It would be too much up and down for him. So I frequented the library in my free time, doing research and working on my project, or went to the cafe to have a cup of coffee while reading, or if any of the girls were free at the same time as I was, I sat and chatted to them. They were all so diverse, with different quirks and personalities but I got along with all of them despite the age difference between us. They invited me to hang out with them out of campus as well, undeterred by the fact that I wore niqaab and looked like the odd one out, but I politely declined, unwilling to leave Ahmed alone while I gallivanted around town. So I went gallivanting with him instead. We went to the Union buildings with their famous and beautiful gardens and spent an afternoon walking around, enjoying the greenery and panoramic views of Pretoria. I liked the sound and sight of Roodeplaat dam on my laptop and dragged Ahmed there one day after my lectures were done. We picked up lunch along the way and had a lovely picnic on the banks of the river. There were a few other people there, either fishing or boating or braaing meat on small braai bins. I was leaning back on my elbows, idly watching the water and people canoeing or kayaking past, when Ahmed stood up, a glint in his eyes and challenged me to a kayak race! I sat up and stared at him like he’d gone mad.
“You want me,” I waved a hand down the length of my body, “to race against you?” Another wave to encompass the bulk of his body.
“Yeah, why not? Come on, it will be fun!” He leaned down and pulled me to my feet.
“I’ll never win, you know!” I grumbled as I trudged along behind him. Ahmed looked at me with raised eyebrows.
“The ever-optimistic Fadheelah, and already giving up?? Doesn’t sound like you.”
“I’m optimistic but not delusional, Mr. Muscles!” I squeezed his bulging bicep for emphasis. Ahmed simply laughed and rented two kayaks for us. I had done this before actually so I felt my confidence return as I gingerly lowered myself into my seat. Come on, Faz, you can do this! Just get into the rhythm…paddle left then right, left then right…who was I kidding! Even my best effort couldn’t match Ahmed’s and I had bored holes in his back with my eyes by the time we finished our race.
“See! Happy? Told you I didn’t have a chance of winning this one! It was an unfair race anyways because your muscles outweigh my whole bodyweight by like a hundred kilos!” I huffed. Exaggeration at it’s best and even I couldn’t keep the smile off my face when Ahmed cracked up at my jibe.
“You weren’t bad yourself, princess,” Ahmed hugged me briefly, “I once raced against Humi and Issi, my cousin. Left them both so far behind I think they even lost sight of me,” he chuckled, “you were right behind me the whole time so that’s really good…what?” He asked, seeing the look on my face.
“Nothing. I’m trying to figure out if you’re blowing your own trumpet or trying to blow mine,” I replied, grinning.
“Ouch! That’s what I get for my compliments!” Ahmed held a hand to his chest in mock affront.
“Pshhhtt! What are mere words! Buy me some ice cream or coffee and cake then you can talk!” I replied.
Ahmed laughed. “My food baby. Let’s go.”
The whole week I’d been turning down offers to go somewhere or the other with the girls. When Friday came, however, they didn’t accept any excuses…especially when their offer of joining them on Saturday also got turned down since Ahmed had other plans for us.
“When you going back?” Sukaina asked.
“Sunday,” I replied.
“That’s too short! We won’t see you for months after that,” I had told them I needed to come up twice a year, “you have to join us today. Phone your husband and tell him. You’re not getting out of this one.”
I opened my mouth to protest but the other girls cut me off, not letting me get a word in between their insistent demands. I finally gave in with a laugh, holding up my hands in surrender.
“Okay, you’ll win. Let me go phone him now.”
Ahmed wasn’t too pleased about it. “They’re not gonna take you clubbing, are they?” He asked suspiciously.
I laughed loudly, causing the girls to look my way curiously. “Babe, seriously? Do you really think I would go in a place like that, niqaab and all?”
“No, you wouldn’t,” he admitted, “but still, they’re way younger than you. Teens still and you know how kids are at that age. Don’t agree to something you might regret later on.”
“Relax, babe. They know I’m married and an alima and married to a mufti on top of it. I’m also wearing a niqaab which screams non-entry at any shady place. Plus they’re decent girls. They don’t seem like the wild sort. But,” I added, sensing that he was going to argue again, “if worst comes to worst I’ll call you, okay?”
“Okay, fine. But I miss you,” he adopted a sad tone, “are you sure you don’t wanna spend some time with me instead?” His voice dropped to a husky, intimate tone and I felt a wave of heat rush through my body. Suddenly the phone was snatched from my hand.
“You’ll have her the whole night, mufti, I can promise you that. Now she’s unavailable so bye bye!” Liyanah cut the call and dropped the phone in my hand. I gaped at her in shock. She smirked at me in response and led me back to the crew who were waiting impatiently by two cars. Maariyah was driving one, Ashley the other. I sat in the car with Ashley and Sana while the other two went with Maariyah. Ashley was a fast driver and soon had us weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speed. Sana gasped and gripped her seat, her gaze flying to the speedometer.
“Slow down, man!” She yelled, “this is why I should have driven. You’ll get us all killed!”
“Relax, nothing’s gonna happen,” Ashley replied, laughing, “you don’t see Faz screaming, do you?”
I wasn’t, though if I did scream it would be out of exhilaration. “I drive the same way so to me this is normal,” I laughed from the back seat.
“See, it’s normal,” Ashley shot Sana a smirk, “we should teach this domkop how to drive.”
“Voetsek,” Sana muttered, shoving Ashley hard.
“Watch it! You knock me out, we’ll definitely crash!” Ashley said, laughing.
When we reached the place I couldn’t help laughing. This was what Ahmed was worrying about?? I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture of the entrance then sent it to him with the caption, “rest easy, mister! Not a night club, is it??🤣”
It was a shopping mall. The Grove, written in large white letters. There was an entertainment centre inside which is where we headed. We ate lunch first as it was already two by that time then went to the entertainment area. Bumper cars, bowling, mini golf. The other girls were game for everything but turned to me expectantly, probably wondering if I would actually step into a bumper car. I grinned. They didn’t know me yet.
“Lead the way,” I said with flourish, sweeping my arm towards the bumper cars.
It was awesome! We had a blast crashing into each other then trying to avoid each other. We staggered out of there ten minutes later, laughing, and headed for the bowling alley. I loved bowling, had played many times with my cousins. I won the first round, much to the surprise of the other girls who were also really good. They insisted on a second round just to beat me. And they did. I had become overconfident, thought it would be peanuts to beat them again. And I lost. Not last but third…still a major drop from the first round.
“Pride comes before a fall,” I laughed, sitting in a corner so I could flip up my niqaab, wipe the sweat off my face and gulp down water. The others were cheering, especially Liyanah who had the highest score. Whether I won or lost though, it had been immensely enjoyable and that’s what mattered the most.……..
“How was it?” Ahmed asked as soon as I walked through the door. He was sitting in the lounge, his laptop open before him. I smiled and walked over to sit next to him, kicking off my shoes, abaya and hijab along the way.
“Awesome! Told you they’re decent girls. We went to eat lunch first…pizza and burgers and chips…then went to the entertainment centre at the Grove. We did bumper cars first then bowling. I haven’t done bowling in long, man. It was lekker,” I loosened my hair and fluffed it out with a sigh, grinning at Ahmed.
“Looks like you enjoyed yourself,” Ahmed commented, smiling, “did you win in bowling?”
“The first round. Shocked all of them so much they challenged me to a second round,” I laughed, “then I became overconfident and thought I could top them again. I didn’t. Came third,” I shook my head.
Ahmed laughed. “Pride comes before a fall?”
“That’s exactly what I said!” Great minds think alike? I grinned to myself.
“Well, at least you weren’t a sore loser…with them. You didn’t chew their heads off like you chewed off mine,” he winced dramatically.
I chuckled. “That’s ’cause it was a fair match. I wasn’t overpowered by muscles.”
“So you had fun without me, hmmm?” Ahmed closed his laptop and placed in on the low coffee table then turned to me, a glint in his eyes. I backed up warily.
“Yup, loads of fun. We even went to Wakaberry afterwards. The fro-yos were deelish,” I smacked my lips for emphasis.
“So now it’s my turn. You’ve ignored me the whole day today…I’m feeling really neglected…” he was leaning slowly towards me, the glint in his eyes more pronounced. I jumped off the sofa, giggling. “Time to spend some alone time with me, princess.”
“I need the loo…really badly. And then I think I’ll have a shower. I’m feeling so hot and sweaty,” I said. Ducking out of his reach I raced to the bathroom, Ahmed hot on my heels, my laughter trailing behind me…………
We were booked back on Sunday. Uncle Imtiaz had booked our flights, paid our air fare, everything. Not one to let an opportunity pass by though, he had booked us back for Sunday instead of Saturday because he wanted Ahmed to drive to Jo’burg on Saturday to meet some business acquaintances of his for some business matters. Ahmed had agreed then refused to take me shopping in Pretoria, saying I could buy whatever I wanted in Jo’burg since we would be driving down anyways. So Saturday morning saw us driving to Jo’burg which was an hour’s drive away. We reached at around eleven and went straight to the mall…at my suggestion.
“There’s no need to book a hotel room just for a few hours,” I had said in response to Ahmed’s suggestion, “we won’t even spend a few hours in it. Maybe a couple of hours at most.”
“Then you want to go straight to the mall?” Ahmed asked incredulously.
“Of course. That’s what we came here for, neh? We can shop a bit before zuhr and lunch.”
Shopping with Ahmed turned out to be a new experience since it was the first time I had actually come shopping with him. I could tell he wasn’t really interested but he tagged along for my sake and waited patiently for me while I tried on clothes after clothes. At least I got to know what style of clothes he liked. Definitely not Indian clothes, I thought, suppressing a giggle when I saw him struggle not to show the horror on his face as I stood before him in a baby pink and blue punjabi.
“Well?” I asked, twirling before him in the changing room, “isn’t it gorgeous?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m sure it will look really nice on you even when you turn ninety,” he replied with a straight face. I gaped at him laughingly.
“Are you saying I look like an old woman?” I demanded.
“I didn’t say anything like that.” Ahmed held up his hands but his mouth twitched with a suppressed smile.
“Fine! I get the message. No it is then. Is there anything you like in this shop?” I slipped off the dress and slipped on my abaya and niqaab again, walking out of the changing room with him. I indicated at the rows of dresses hanging before us and looked at him questioningly. He looked back at me, unimpressed.
“I didn’t want to come here in the first place.”
“Okay, let’s go then. We’ll go see another shop.”
In the end he did prove to be helpful, choosing several gorgeous dresses for me and humming in approval when I tried them on. Casual, not over the top in bling and splendour yet flowing over my body in muted hues, they were stunning and suited me really well…and at least I knew he also liked them.
We had an early lunch and prayed zuhr in the salah room in the mall because Ahmed had a business appointment at two. He was reluctant to leave me alone but I waved him away, assuring him that I’d be perfectly alright on my own. This was Sandton City after all…big enough for me not to even finish half of it by the time Ahmed got back, and perfectly safe. I browsed through the shops, stopped for some Haagen Dazs along the way, and was still engrossed in it all when my phone rang.
“Done already?” I asked.
“Yup. Are you done?”
“Are you kidding me?” I laughed, “this place is huge! I haven’t even seen quarter of it.”
“Well, you don’t need to see all of it anyways. So long as you have everything you came to buy.”
“I don’t shop with fixed lists in mind,” I replied, “I buy things as I go along. Come by Zara. I’m standing outside it. I want to show you something.”
In the end I convinced Ahmed to pray maghrib and eat supper before driving back. We staggered home at around nine, arms laden with shopping bags, prayed esha and crashed though I knew I’d have to wake up early to pack since we had to leave by twelve to catch the two o’clock flight.…………..