“Who knew the next time we’d come for a walk in the park, all three of us would be engaged,” Amani said. Walking half a step ahead of Gohar and Hina, she slowed down in order to turn and smile at Hina. Hina replied with an expression that was halfway between a smile and a grimace. Gohar shuffled along without saying anything.
“Tell us about your fiancé,” Amani said.
“He’s an architect,” Hina said.
“Oh, come on,” Amani said. “That doesn’t tell us anything. What are his dreams and his opinions? What does he expect from his future wife? What does he consider an ideal family life? More importantly, what car does he drive, what brand of phone does he have, and did you get a hint as to his salary?”
“Amani,” Gohar said. “You’re asking too many questions.”
“Too many questions?” Amani stopped walking. Hina and Gohar took a few steps before stopping and turning in her direction. “When I got engaged, you two wanted every last detail. It’s only fair that Hina does the same when it’s finally her turn. Being late to the game doesn’t mean she can skip playing!”
“Amani,” Gohar said. “Your engagement is four years old.
We’ve had so much time to get information out of you. Hina’s engagement is still new. Give her some time.”
“If it were up to Hina, she wouldn’t have shared her news even now,” Amani said. “That’s why it’s good that you had the sense to get it out of her and tell me, Gohar.”
“It’s not like that,” Gohar said quickly, seeing the look on Hina’s face.
“What’s it like, then?” Amani said. “Was I not supposed to know about it?”
“Uh.” Gohar looked from Hina to Amani and back to Hina.
“If it were up to me,” Hina said, “not even Gohar would know.”
She resumed walking along the jogging track. Gohar and Amani looked at each other, then hurried to catch up with Hina.
“It’s clear to me now,” Amani said. “You’re embarrassed because your fiancé isn’t worth showing off to people.”
“A fiancé isn’t a trophy that you put on display,” Hina said.
“You’re only saying that because your life can’t compare to mine,” Amani said. “I wonder why I bother staying friends with you, if you’re going to act that way.”
“Don’t you understand?” Gohar said to Amani. “She doesn’t feel bad because she doesn’t like what she’s getting. She feels bad because she doesn’t even know what she’s getting.”
“Gohar!” Hina glared at her.
“She deserves to know,” Gohar said. “When Amani initially felt overwhelmed by her engagement, she told us. When she got used to it, she told us. This is just your stage of being overwhelmed, Hina.”
Hina made a point of studying the hedge that bordered the park before answering, “It’s not like a lot is happening at once, so I am overwhelmed. It’s more like I’m being taken somewhere I don’t know anything about, so I don’t know what to think.”
“That’s all?” Amani shook her head. “I’ll show you how to think about this. Emergency meeting in my room straightaway!”
“You took a long time at the park this morning,” Ammi said as Hina entered the house.
“Just girl talk,” Hina said. “You’re all ready to go somewhere?”
“Yes,” Ammi said. “Go and get ready quickly, we’re going to the market to get your dress made.”
Hina stared at her mother in amazement for a moment before asking, “Uh, dress? You mean for the…?”
“Your Eid dress, Hina,” said Ammi. “Now don’t keep me waiting. Five minutes.”
As Hina hurried to her room and found her shoes and bag, she placed a hand over her heart as if that would make it stop beating so fast. She had almost panicked when she assumed that her mother was talking about the engagement dress. Stopping herself from letting spill that she knew about the engagement had been a last minute save.
Watching Ammi take the material for the fancy dress in her hands at the shop, Hina thought her mother was checking it with a keener eye than usual. Hina did not understand this until it dawned on her that her Eid dress would double as a fancy dress for after-engagement parties. She looked around at the dresses displayed around the shop. For the briefest moment she pictured herself in one of the pricier dresses in the wedding and engagement section, then fear rushed through her and she controlled her imagination at once. It wouldn’t do to appear disturbed in front of Ammi.
Maintaining her composure became more difficult when Ammi took Hina into the shoe shop. The shoes Ammi picked out for Hina were higher heeled than the ones she usually wore. This was a red flag. These weren’t regular Eid shoes. These were engaged-girl shoes.
Hina returned home from the market buzzing with new thoughts and immediately headed for Ray’s room.
“I thought,” Hina began talking as soon as she opened the door and set foot inside the threshold.
“You think? That’s news,” Ray said, looking up from his laptop.
“Ray,” Hina persisted despite Ray’s response. “I thought the only thing I had to look forward to this year was graduation, then some downtime while I figured out what to do with my life. I would have settled for a Masters degree, maybe even a PhD. Marriage was nowhere in my five-year plan.”
“It is now,” Ray said.
“I had an idea that Ammi and Abbu were looking for proposals, but I didn’t let that bother me, not even when Ammi started dragging me into the kitchen to learn how to cook. After all, everyone wants doctor brides. Who snaps up an English Literature graduate straight out of college?” Hina tossed her bag onto Ray’s bed and flung herself down alongside it.
“You’re in denial,” Ray said. “That’s it, plain and simple.”
“Denial?” Hina said. “Denial was when Amani was convinced that she could walk in stiletto heels. Denial was when Gohar signed up to participate in the debate competition. This here is a normal reaction, thank you very much.”
“How ready is Gohar, then?” Ray asked. “She’s getting married this winter, isn’t she?”
“Gohar hasn’t even finished her shopping yet,” Hina said.
“A girl will be done with shopping when man is done colonizing the moon,” Ray said.
“What did you say?” Hina looked up at Ray from where she was sprawled across the bed.
“I said, Gohar is never going to be ready for her wedding just because she’s a girl,” Ray said.
“Explain what you mean,” Hina said.
“Well …” Ray logged out of his laptop and turned to face Hina. “For one thing, girls never run out of ideas for shopping. For another, they always want to lose a few more pounds. Don’t forget the picture of the ideal wedding day they have in their heads, either. Ah!”
Hina had just thrown a pillow at him. Picking it up and throwing it back onto the bed, he continued, “Now, take guys, for example. Give a guy a girl he likes and a wedding date, and he’ll show up, no questions asked. No agonizing over the exact placement of a motif on a dress, or a flower in an arrangement. No nitpicking over the guest list. That’s what the women of the house are for. Guys are more manageable before their weddings, no doubt about it.”
“Really?” Hina propped herself up on her elbows and looked carefully at Ray. “Prove it.”
“Easier done than said.” Ray raised his fingers and began to count. “Cousin Farhan. Matched to a pretty girl who could cook. Gone in sixty seconds. Cousin Sana. Matched to a guy with a bank balance and a car, and a house he would move into within six months. He could have moved into two more houses by the time Sana was ready to tie the knot with him.”
“Those are individual cases, and therefore dismissed,” Hina said.
“Individual cases? Do you want me to bring up Ammi’s
side of the family?” Ray raised his eyebrows at Hina.
“We could talk about this all day and get nowhere,” Ray said. “The point to be considered is how well Sameer himself is actually adjusting to the change coming up in his life.”
To be continued...