She woke up for school the second time that morning, the first time being to get up and offer up her morning prayers just before the crack of dawn. She spent a restless night tossing and turning, with images of Sami and all the possible ways he would be taken into her house by her parents the next day.
The different scenarios played themselves out in her head. She cringed as she thought about all the possible problems that could pop up. She imagined uncomfortable questions, hostile and tense looks towards Sami from her father. She tried to push the thoughts out of her mind, and forced herself into a sitting position, rising groggily from the comforts of her bed. She often joked with her parents that her fondest relationship has been and always will be with her bed, because her bed was always open and comforting, ready to satisfy, and would never disappoint. And now when she thought of all those physical pleasures, an actual person came to mind.
She dragged herself to the bathroom, and as she reached out to the doorknob to open the bathroom door, someone else turned it from inside the bathroom. The door opened, and out stepped Jehan.
“Woah!” yelled a frightened looking Jehan. “Oh,” she sighed out in relief. “It’s just your morning face,” she laughed, “Looks like something out of a horror movie.”
“Well good morning to you too,” replied Amani, visibly annoyed.
“Oh cheer up, I’m kidding. I’ll make your coffee.”
Amani simply responded by grunting. Her bathroom routine was much the same every morning. She would spend 15-20 minutes on the toilet. 3 minutes would be out of need, while the remaining 17 minutes she spent browsing her Facebook news feed and notifications on her Blackberry.
After brushing out her long dark hair, and securing it up into a plaited bun at the back of her head, she proceeded to brush her teeth. She carefully navigated the special toothbrush in between all the crevices of her braces. She cursed her jaws almost every single day. She found herself very unfortunate to have inherited her father’s dental genes. They were all late bloomers, resulting in the last of her permanent teeth growing at a very late stage.
She only got her braces fitted just before her 17th birthday. After spending way too much time in the bathroom, she hurried back to her room to don her green pants, tunic and hijab, which was the uniform of her local Islamic high school. She rushed to pack her books for the day into her rucksack and hurried downstairs where she gulped down her coffee.
“Good luck with your physics test sweetie.” Her mother managed to kiss Amani’s cheek while she half jogged out the door, briskly walking across the field, 4 blocks away, to her school located in her cosy Malabar neighbourhood. Amani preferred walking to school, even though her mother was always available to take her. She felt as though the fresh air helped awaken her senses and freshened the sharpness of her cognitive abilities.
School seemed to have just flew her by faster than she imagined. Sami was on her mind all day. Luckily, she had gone through every problem possible that Mr. Gary, the physics teacher could throw at them. She finished the test in no time.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she got a text from Sami, saying that he was able to join all his classes, even though he registered late. He was staying on campus, and already managed to make a few friends with a few other foreign students.
“I’ll see you in a few short hours love,” Sami spoke tenderly to her on the phone. She took a slow and relaxing walk back home with her cell phone hidden in between her cheek and hijab. She didn’t want any of her teachers to see her with a phone. Having a cell phone in her possession while in school was an offence, and she was clearly still in her school attire. Moreover, she was a prefect, someone who held a position of authority, and was vulnerable to having that title stripped from her.
Sami made her heart race. He was the first boy she experienced true feelings for. Yes, she experienced a few mutual crushes on boys, but it never meant anything. She didn’t even touch them. Sami on the other hand, made her want to make changes in her life that she would never have considered doing before, if it meant being close to him.
Sami lay momentarily contented, spooned behind Amani cuddling her as they shared their first intimate moments together as husband and wife. He tried his best to comfort her and to reassure her of the best, but he could see the worry in her eyes, no matter how hard she tried to hide it from him.
After meeting upon meeting with her parents, they insisted that both Sami and Amani should back away from each other, and complete their studies before even contemplating marriage. The rest of the year was spent in constant arguments. They believed they were both much too young for such a commitment. The pair felt completely differently.
The fact that they would be running into each other continuously on campus, and would not be able to acknowledge each other was a thought Sami felt he would not be able to handle. He had traveled half way across the world to be with the girl of his dreams. He had no family to lean on for support. He needed her.
For the entire year, Amani dealt with pressure from every angle. She was in her last of school. Her teachers were pressurizing her as well as her family, but it was more than just the pressure to study and do well. Her school had always maintained a standard of 100% pass rate each year. She was sure that the first person to fail would most probably be on the verge of suicide, and she didn’t want to be that person.
Then of course there was Sami, whom her heart refused to forget. She knew that she should have been thinking with her head, that it would be best to place their relationship on hold. Her heart on the other hand, would not find solace in this decision. Her heart was telling her to do the opposite, to forget everything and everyone, and leap into the arms of her Sami.
Seeing as they were both going to see each other every day, without anyone being aware of it, keeping their relationship a secret wouldn’t have been a hard task. There was only one problem to that solution-their faith.
Both Sami and Amani had strong connections to their faith and to God. They didn’t want to continue their relationship at the possibility of falling into bed with each other. The guilt would consume them both.
Unfortunately, what Amani did not know at the time, was that the hurt and disappointment in the eyes of her parents, would consume her so much more. She was much too blinded by the idea of love.
And so there they lay on the night of her last examination, as a newly wedded couple, in a tiny one-bedroom apartment belonging to Sami while he was a student. The euphoria of it all was short lived. Amani knew that when her parents discovered her bedroom empty, and her note explaining the situation, all Hell would break loose. Sami tried his best to keep her calm and her nerves under control.
“That was an awkward first kiss. I will remember it forever,” he laughed.
“Oh God, I wish I didn’t,” replied Amani, cringing. “It felt as if there was an eel on the loose in my mouth.”
Sami laughed. “Hey, I didn’t know what I was doing!”
“Neither of us did. That was probably the most awkward first kiss ever. For us both.” She sighed in worry, tracing the lines of Sami’s palm with her finger.
“Sami, do you think my parents will ever get over it?”
“We’ll just have to be patient. They will eventually come around.” He kissed her gently. “I promise, you’ll see. Don’t worry.”
“It’s hard not to. I mean, you haven’t even told your parents about this.”
“They will understand. You know what old people say, there’s two things one should never delay: Burials, and weddings.”
Sami started cracking agonizingly boring jokes, which Amani was forced to laugh at. As they laughed together uncontrollably, the tension in the atmosphere lifted. And as it did so, that very tension, took residence in the maiden home of Amani, where her mother found the note written by her daughter addressed to both her and Raghib.
It was the time of early morning prayers, just before dawn. Shireen, Raghib and Jehan had all fallen asleep under the impression that one or the other would be awake to receive Amani back home. She had told them that she was out with some friends seeing a movie. They had no objections, as it was to be her first study-free night in months. That morning she and all her class mates had written their last and final paper of their high school careers. Naturally they agreed, and even encouraged her night out to blow off a little steam.
Shireen stood in a frozen position, mortified as she read each and every word. Soon the shock turned to anger, and the anger into disappointment. She alone was faced with the uneasy task of in turn relaying the news to Amani’s dad, and her sister Jehan. She walked slowly into the kitchen where her oldest daughter Jehan was helping herself to coffee. Jehan watched her mother as she moved her feet unusually slowly. Shireen was a woman in a constant hurry, no matter what time of the day it was. She grew concerned.
“Mummy, is everything okay?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Shireen suddenly felt a drop in the amount of sufficient air around her to breath. She felt as though she was choking on her own breath.
“What do you mean?” asked Jehan.
Shireen very slowly lifted her shaky hand bearing the note in it, and handed it over to Jehan, who immediately started reading as she sipped on her coffee. A few seconds later, she slammed the mug down on the kitchen table, spilling hot, black coffee all over the table. Some droplets hit Shireen’s face, but she was still in too much of shock to even notice.
“How could she do this?” Jehan was clearly angry, by the tone in her voice. “Not even me? I understand maybe not telling you guys, but me too? Oh my God, ma, does daddy know?”
Shireen could only shake her head in reply.
“Okay, I’ll tell him then, as soon as he gets back from the mosque. Which should be any minute now.” Jehan was forced to be strong, for her parents’ sake. Yes, there was a certain enchantment to living in the moment and doing things for love, but in Jehan’s mind, her sister had crossed the limit.
As she calmed herself down, her father walked in, completely oblivious to the truth. As expected, he hardly noticed the troubled looks on their faces. There was little that caught the attention of Raghib Kazi. He barely noticed when one of his daughters cut their hair, which worked in their favour many times, because they were supposed to ask his permission before cutting it. He forgot things like birthdays, and people’s names often. Whenever he would fill out return forms or permission slips for Amani to take to school which requested her age and grade, he would always guess it wrong.
“Daddy,” Jehan spoke, as a wave of nerves swirled in her abdomen, “I think you should sit down. There’s something we need to say.”
“Okay, sounds serious.” He sat down at the kitchen table and waited with his hands folded to be told whatever it was that was making his wife and daughter so nervous.
“Amani never came home last night.”
“What do you mean she never came home last night, is she okay? Did something happen to her?” at that point Raghib grew anxious. He thought her life was in danger.
“She’s fine, don’t worry,” Jehan looked at her mother’s frazzled expression, and then back to her father. “She eloped daddy, With Sami. They had their marriage ceremony performed last night in the old Peer street mosque. She left a note.”
Jehan held her hand out to her father containing the note, but he was too furious to receive it. He knocked over the sugar pot, spilling sugar all over the kitchen floor, got up and left the house just moments after he had entered.
“I hope your father doesn’t go and do something stupid,” said Shireen, standing up from the table, “for all our sakes.”
With those words, she retreated back to her room, into the farthest corner, and stepped back onto her prayer mat to plead with God to grant them all guidance and steadfastness, especially her husband, who was caught in a web of anger and unable to think clearly.
Raghib, who had settled to driving around aimlessly in his car, knew there was little to nothing that he could do at that point. His daughter was now a married woman. He didn’t have the authority to tell her what to do anymore. She belonged to someone else. He inhaled his cigarette heavily and scratched at his balding patch, then raked his fingers through his graying, fist-long beard.
He fished his cell phone out from the front pocket of his white kurta and searched for Amani’s number. He pressed the call button, but it proved pointless. Her phone was off. As angry as he felt, he thought it best to return home. He didn’t need to add to Shireen’s stress at that moment. He knew that the amount of anger he felt rising within must have equaled the amount of pain in her heart at their daughter’s betrayal. The last thing he wanted to do was make her frantically have to phone after him to find out where he had driven off to while the sun was not yet up.
He reluctantly turned his 2007 charcoal VW Passat around and made his way back home. Shireen peered out of her bedroom window on the first floor of the house, which faced the outside street. She saw the familiar family vehicle pull up in the drive way and relaxed a bit as she realized that her husband had returned to his senses after he had processed the incident.
She heard the door leading from the garage to the kitchen door click close, and recognized the shuffling of Raghib’s feet. As he entered their bedroom, she noticed the crease lines on his forehead were ever so slightly deeper than usual.
He removed his kurta, and kufya from his head and sighed as he dropped down under the bed covers next to Shireen. “What are we going to do about Amani?”
“At this point, not much. Her phone is off, so we can’t reach her. I tried calling just now.”
“I tried as well.”
Shireen and Raghib sat together in silence for a few moments, unable to think of anything to say. They both knew what the other was thinking but felt it hard to speak up.
“Maybe we should try to get some sleep,” said Shireen after a while. “We still have an hour or so before we have to be up for work.”
Raghib nodded in agreement, still frowning, turned his side lamp off and snuggled down next to her. He must have been very tired still, as he was asleep within 2 minutes.
Shireen lay awake in bed, with her eyes fixed onto the ceiling. She once again attempted to make sense of what it was exactly that she was feeling. She then recognised that most of all, she felt betrayed. The marriage of a daughter is something every mother looks forward to, from the time of the engagement. Special times lay ahead for mother and daughter, as a means of a final bonding period before a daughter leaves the home of her mother to go off and make her own home.
A daughter’s marriage is meant to be an experience that both a mother and daughter can thrive in, from picking out the dress, to décor, food, gifts etc. Shireen, was robbed of it all. Of course she had already given away a son in marriage, but it was not the same. She didn’t know how she would even begin to forgive Amani for this.
She kept tossing and turning, a million thoughts running through her mind all at once. She then came to a startling conclusion. She realised that perhaps, this was all her’s and Raghib’s doing after all. Perhaps they had driven Amani to elope. Had they not flat out refused, they could have all been involved in the happy occasion of planning a wedding. Ultimately this was Amani’s own decision, but maybe, they had played a part in it.