I'm feeling a little impatient, sitting in my Uncle's house, as we discuss Mariyam's marriage. An argument is inevitable when there are five adults with differing opinions. But the bride-to-be is finally given a chance to explain herself. After all, she is the one who has instigated this family feud.
"I don't understand what's so wrong with having a wedding with a partition--" she begins.
"No one in our family has ever had a separated wedding," her mother interrupts, her eyes glaring with anger. "What will everyone say? They're going to think we're marrying you off to some--"
"I don't care what anybody thinks," Mariyam retorts. It's not often that I see this side to her. She is always gentle and soothing, hardly ever angry.
"It's just a matter of couple hours. Surely, you can do that for your parents," Ammi intervenes. I'm not surprised that she favors the opposing side. Sometimes, reputation and culture overruled.
"Okay, okay," Abu takes over, clearing his throat. "What about a wedding were the men sit on one side and the women on the other. But we're still all together?" He is playing the negotiator and I'm glad he is making the effort, however futile it may be.
"What's the point?" Mariyam mutters under her breath before I can verbalize my agreement with Abu.
"Everyone likes to sit with their family and friends. We can't impose their seating arrangements," her mother refuses immediately.
"I want to dress up for my wedding and besides, there's so much haraam that happens during some weddings. I just want to avoid that, you know what I mean?" Mariyam explains, her brown eyes searching mine as if I can somehow understand.
I nod, but my heart and mind disagrees. Of course, Mariyam doesn't want to wear a hijab on her wedding day and she would have to if the male guests could see her. But then again, our family wasn't that religious. And I wonder...a partition separating the male and female guests would make me more solemn than content. It's not good maybe, but that's how I feel. If Tariq and I were at the same wedding, I would want to see him.
As the argument continues, my mind drifts to the restaurant where Tariq and I had dined with Anum and her friend after watching the movie last week. I had hesitated, afraid of being seen with a boy by a relative or acquaintance. But Anum and Tariq convinced me to join along.
On the corner table in the restaurant, Tariq and I sat together, his shoulder slightly grazing mine. It was ironic that in public, barriers dissolved so that boys and girls could mix freely. I would never dream of sitting this close to Tariq if we were at each other's home or even at a wedding.
I suddenly became nervous, aware of how closely we were sitting. The kissing scene from the movie we had seen flooded my mind and I flushed with embarrassment. I would never forgive myself for going through that with Tariq sitting awkwardly in the seat adjacent to mine. Fortunately, the darkness in the theater disguised the hundreds of emotions that ran through me.
My phone vibrated in the pocket of my jeans.
I ignored the call, afraid of having Ammi or Abu hear Tariq's voice over the phone. They might even be able to recognize it, considering they had actually met him.
Once the food arrived, I accidentally dropped my spoon in a hurry to clear some space on the table. It fell on the maroon leather seat, just between where Tariq and I were sitting. We both reached for it together, his hands over mine. I looked up and he smiled, his eyes glimmering in the dim light.
"We all know Iman's starving and ready to pig out," he teased. He hurriedly grabbed two pizza slices and placed it on my plate.
"Thanks," I murmured, touched by his gesture. My skin tingled on the spot where his hand had touched mine.
For the rest of the time, I hardly felt Anum and her friend's presence. I was living in a bubble--daydreaming of Tariq and I together..some place together...some place alone.
"I'm stuffed. Want to go for a run?" Tariq asked after we're done, interrupting my little fantasy.
"A run?" I repeated, confused.
"Why not?" There was a sense of excitement in his face and the tone of his voice.
But, it's so late...and I should be getting home and well, what if someone sees me.
The bill came and I was thankful for the change in subject because I hadn't made up mind yet.
"C'mon Iman. Let the boys pay," Anum ordered, leading me to the bathroom. She went directly to the mirror, fixing her hair and reapplying her make-up though it looked perfect to me.
"Anum, what was Tariq saying about me," I asked her, now that we were alone.
"He was asking if you were coming. By the way, you guys look so cute together," she exclaimed.
"Anum, why didn't you tell me that he was coming? Look at me...I'm not even dressed right." She turned towards me, peering down at my loose jeans and pale blue top. My beige colored hijab didn't match at all, but I had worn it in a hurry.
"That's for sure. We need to go shopping one day." And she went back to putting on make-up, not bothering to answer my question. It irritated me that she talked to Tariq without letting me know exactly what they discussed. I was going to press her but my phone vibrated again. This time, I answered.
"Iman, where are you? Why didn't you answer your phone?" Ammi sounded worried.
"Uh, sorry, Ammi. I was in the theater so I couldn't talk." The lie came easier than I thought.
"You're dad's been wanting the car for so long. What's taking you so long?" Ammi sounded frustrated but I tried to take control of the situation.
"Sorry mom. The movie took longer than I thought. I'm on my way though," I assured her.
"You better be. It's going to be ten soon."
Tariq and I ended up alone afterwards, walking towards my car.
"Sorry about the run. I'll take a rain check?" I asked, surprised by my own boldness. I wanted to reassure myself that I would still be able to see him.
"Sure. We'll make it a race."
There was an awkward silence as we stood near my car. Couples normally embraced, even kissed, when departing. But that was out the question in our circumstance.
Or was it?
With the light of the streetlamp, I could make out Tariq's eyes intently gazing mine. I didn't want to break it and wished so badly that it would last. My heart pounded, wanting to take a step closer, both terrified and excited by the prospect.
But Tariq simply said a goodbye, flashing his smile and leaving me alone in my car.
"Iman, are you listening to me?" It's Mariyam's face looking at me, interrupting my memory. She appears frustrated. I feel guilty for not listening to her.
"Uh, yeah?" I ask.
"Nevermind," she says numbly.
"Oh, Mariyam I know you're having a hard time, but insha'Allah, God-willing, we'll figure this out."
"Sometimes I wish I could just have a small wedding and not worry about pleasing everybody else except myself."
"Well, at least you have Umair to look forward to right? He sounds so amazing, masha'Allah. I want to meet him already!"
That does the magic. Her mouth immediately breaks into a smile and I love it. For a moment, I'm tempted to tell her about Tariq. But, would she understand? Or would her trust and respect for me decline? The guilt seeps within me and I do not like the feeling one bit. It reminds me of Farah, whom I had left alone in the theater and who held a grudge against me for only two days before making up. She tried to respect my decision to be with Tariq while I attempted to keep her suggestions in mind.
"Iman, I need you to clean the bathroom and help Humza with the laundry," Ammi commands when we arrive home. I'm exhausted by my mental battle, but the chores distract me for a while.
It's not until the next day that the guilt really kicks in, mixed with fear. I'm working on my homework at my desk when Ammi storms into my room, her face pale.
"What's wrong?" I ask worriedly, jumping from my chair.
"Who is it?" she asks. "What's his name?"
"What?" My heart hammers, fear creeping up my back. There's no way she's thinking what I'm thinking.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, Iman." Her stern gaze seems to freeze me in place and I swallow hard as if to remove the bubbling emotions within me.