They met online just a fortnight before her seventeenth birthday. It was the year of reformation for Amani. She had submitted herself to the Oneness of the Almighty, after leading a life of lies and deception. She grew tired of the constant fights with her parents. She was hanging around with the wrong type of people, doing wrong things, and because of it, her grades suffered, and she scraped through junior high school. This angered her parents very much because for most of her primary schooling she actually held the top position.
When 10th grade started, she decided to try things differently, on the influence of a new student in her all girls’ class. She became intrigued by the new girl. She had a sense of purity and sincerity that Amani had never seen before. Fatima sparked the change in her that set her new outlook on life into motion.
Under Fatima’s influence, she no longer kept any contact with boys. She was no longer listening to music that poisoned her mind, and she was finally doing all her obligatory prayers each day, for the first time in her life. She was a new person, and everyone began noticing.
All of her relationships began improving, because according to Amani, this was due to her own relationship with her Almighty that had improved so drastically in such a short span of time.
“Oh my God. You have to join this online chat room,” persuaded her older sister Jehan one night.
Jehan had just walked into Amani’s room wearing her work uniform. Jehan was a beauty therapist, and 4 years older than Amani. The two sisters looked worlds apart. Jehan had eyes that were even lighter than Amani’s. At times, they had a ring of green around her pupil’s. She had a thin nose with a rounded tip and thin lips. She was short compared to her younger sister’s tall, athletic frame.
“What now?” Amani sighed at her sister’s enthusiasm. Jehan was a bit of a socialite, while Amani preferred more of a type of solitary confinement. She’d much rather spend the afternoon with a book and a slab of chocolate than with strangers.
“Oh c’mon, boring,” grunted Jehan. “It’s nothing weird or anything. It’s just a bunch of girls from around South Africa chatting about random things. It’s a nice platform to get to know new people. Just the sort of thing you need.”
Jehan pushed Amani to the center of Amani’s bed and sat next to her. She removed the black hijab scarf from her head and let her mahogany waist-length hair hang loose into her sister’s face, causing Amani to wince.
“I have friends, thank you,” replied Amani.
“Besides your classmates?” asked Jehan.
“No, why would I?”
“That’s exactly why you need to meet other people! Introduce some contrast into your life. Your social life is as bright as this room. Just look at it.”
Jehan scanned her sister’s room in pity. The walls were cream, dressed with absolutely no posters or pictures save for a year calendar.
“My room happens to be neat, thank you very much.” said Amani.
“Yeah, that, and boring. Oh, come on sis! I’ll help you sign up,” she grabbed Amani’s cell phone and scanned through it. “It takes a few minutes, that’s all.”
“Ugh, fine. If that’s what it takes to get you off my back.”
Within a few minutes, the sisters were laughing at inside jokes shared on the mig33 chat-room called Muslim Girls. They talked with hundreds of different girls from all over the country. They were seen on their phones quite often, laughing aloud, while their paranoid mother grew more and more suspicious of them.
“Will you two stop laughing at your phones and finish your dinner!” she scolded one evening and threatened to take them away, had they brought with them another time with to the dinner table. Unfortunately, the innocent fun was short lived. The chat-room was discovered by frisky young men who were looking for a good time.
One particular boy, with the username Sami_33, kept sending her private messages, and Amani grew increasingly agitated with him. He must’ve given up, she thought to herself. For weeks he was sending her the same messages, asking her about herself. She ignored them, and he stopped sending them. Nearly 3 months had passed before he sent another.
“You should take down that profile picture of yourself,” he texted, in yet another private inbox message.
“And why is that?” she replied.
“So that a thousand other idiots like me, won’t fall in love with you too.”
She read that last sentence three times over before blushing and smiling from ear to ear. She wondered if he was looking properly because she had never considered herself as good looking. This Sami guy, on the other hand, was gorgeous, from the look of his profile picture. She felt an instant attraction to him, and from then on, not a night went by without communicating with him.
They began a long-distance, online relationship, and spent the next few months falling hopelessly in love with each other. The problem was, she was in Port Elizabeth, a city in South Africa, and he was all the way in London England, for the time being.
“I like the sound of your voice,” he said, one night as he called her for the first time.
“Thanks, yours’ sounds a bit hoarse, but I like it.” replied.
“I’m sick.” He paused for a few seconds clearing his throat while an awkward silence overtook them both.
“Uhm, what’s your ethnicity? I mean I know you’re British, and that you live half the year in Kenya,” she asked. “You sound slightly Middle-Eastern.”
He chuckled. He had been meaning to mask his accent, but his level of comfort with Amani must have sparked him wanting to be himself. “I am, half, though, my mother is Yemeni to be accurate. The place my parents are originally from, in Kenya, it’s common for Indians and Arabs to intermarry.”
“Oh wow,” replied a stunned Amani. She was not at the point yet where she could admit her obsession with Arab men.
“Amani, I want to tell you something,” Sami said, sounding nervous.
“Okay, what’s wrong?” She waited anxiously for his reply.
“I don’t know how to say this. I don’t even know if I understand it correctly, but I think I love you. And I want to marry you.” He finally said.
Her heart fluttered ever so warmly as she replayed those three words over and over in her head. It was the first time anyone had said those words to her. Her relationship with Sami was the first of its kind for her, and she began to feel things with him she had never felt before. The clichéd fuzziness of it all almost brought her to tears.
“Are you still there my love?” asked Sami.
“Yes, sorry. It’s just that… I… can we continue this conversation via text?”
She hung up before she said anything she would later regret. She had known for a couple of days leading up to the short conversation that what she felt for Sami was much stronger than some silly teenage crush, but she had remained too afraid to confront her feelings for him head-on with herself. She remained guarded, unable to let anyone truly in. That was, until Sami’s love confession. She instantly realized that that was what she had been feeling all along. It was love, but she was too much of a coward to admit it.
“It’s okay if you’re not ready to say it back yet. Don’t feel rushed,” texted Sami.
“It’s not that I don’t,” she replied. “It’s just hard for me to talk about my feelings. It always has been. My older brother always tells me that I have a hard heart. I guess someone as soft and open as you don’t deserve it. I don’t think I deserve you.”
“Stop being so hard on yourself,” he tried to comfort her. “I already told you, you’re perfect just the way you are.”
She blushed with every compliment he paid her.
“Besides,” Sami continued, “It kind of sounded to me like you feel the same way about me. Am I right?”
“Yes. I lo… have feelings for you too.”
Sami responded to her message with several smiley emoticons, too many for her to count. Her face broke out into a wide, silly grin, one she just couldn’t wipe off from her face.
“So what’s all this smiling about then?”
Amani snapped out of her daydreaming, startled by the sound of her mother’s question.
“Mother! Does privacy mean nothing in the world anymore? I asked before if you could knock. What if I was in the middle of getting dressed and was stark naked?”
“Come again?!” Shireen looked at her daughter with piercing eyes. “You want me to knock to enter a room in MY house? Young lady, when you have your own home one day, you can do in it whatever you please. But as long as you live under mine and your father’s roof, you will follow our rules.”
Amani peered at her mother, dazed and confused.
“Basically,” explained Shireen, “this room is on loan to you for the time that you are spending with us. Get used to it my darling. I am the queen of this castle,” smirked Shireen as she saw the irritation building on her daughter’s face. Still very much a young girl as heart, Shireen loved playing around with her daughters. “And so what if you were completely naked, I’m your mother! I’ve seen it all my love. I birthed, cleaned and diapered that junk.”
“Mother, will you please stop referring to my private area as junk,” asked an annoyed Amani.
“Why? You are the fruit of my loins, stop trying to make me be so proper around you.”
“Mummy! And would you please stop saying that I am the fruit of your loins! It somehow reminds me that you and daddy actually physically had me.” Amani responded with a flushed face to her mother’s amusing words.
“Oh my baby,” laughed Shireen as she embraced her daughter and kissed her cheek, “but your father and I did come together to make you, the same way we come together Thursday night. It’s sunnah.”
Amani speedily freed herself from her mother’s embraced and gagged.
“Oh my God, mummy! Now I have to go sterilize my ears.”
Shireen laughed, amused by her daughter’s clear disgust. “Amani, one day when you meet the man who you’ll want to spend the rest of your life with, you will understand what it’s like to be so in love with someone, that it takes you to the point of near insanity.”
“Do you still love daddy as much as when you first married him?” asked a calmer Amani.
“No.” paused Shireen. “I love him so much more now,” she said, with a bashful smile.
“Aww,” sighed Amani, “how sweet and creepy at the same time,” she said in a joking tone, and then suddenly came to the realization that she had, in fact, found her soul mate, and he was in the process of making plans to come to her, and that she needed to inform her parents of everything, and she needed to do it fast. Time was running out, and if she didn’t come clean, Sami would be turning up on her doorstep without her parents having the slightest clue of anything.
“Speaking of…” she trailed off nervously, thinking of the best way to breach the subject of Sami with her mother, but came to the conclusion that no matter which way she said it, it would not be well received.
“Speaking of? What speaking of?” asked her mother bluntly, striking fear deep into her heart.
“There’s this guy, Sami that I met online. He’ll be arriving her soon, from abroad to come and see me.”
“Amani, you are too young to get married. What about your studies for next year?”
Shireen looked into her innocent, 17-year-old daughter’s big hazel eyes, wondering where her common sense had gone to.
“Mom, relax, I didn’t say anything about marriage. He just wants to meet me, and you and dad of course. He just got into the country yesterday, and he knows no one.”
“What’s the purpose of his visit if he won’t be looking to marry you? You know very well that you are not allowed to date.”
“Yes, I know. Can he please just come over?”
Shireen let out a defeated sigh. This was the first time that her second daughter, Amani had ever shown signs of being interested in boys. Growing up, she was so much of a tomboy. Amani always preferred playing with guns and radio controlled cars rather than dolls and makeup. She was really into martial arts and video games, much like Amani’s older brother Zayn. At least that’s what she used to be like.
“Fine, I’ll talk to your father about it, not that he probably already doesn’t know.”
Shireen’s husband, Raghib was always so easily won over by any one of their 2 daughters.
Amani smiled victoriously. It was a side of her that her mother had never seen. Amani had always sworn herself off of boys.
“You do know that if this gets serious, your crazy older brother in Saudi is not going to take this very well.”
“He doesn’t have a say in my life!”
“When will you two ever get along?”
Amani grunted angrily and left the kitchen. Out of the 3 Kazi kids, Amani and her older brother Zayn were the most alike in looks and personality. They were so similar, that most times they could not stand one another. Shireen and Raghib’s second eldest child Jehan always had to play referee between Amani and Zayn.
Zayn was a 24-year-old business Analyst living temporarily in Saudi Arabia with his wife Sameera and their little son Waseem. They were both studying Islam in Mecca and came home to South Africa once a year to spend time with the family. Most conversations between Zayn and Amani ended up in arguments, even those that started off well. They were too much alike for their own good.
Zayn was a tall young man, with round, dark brown eyes and silky dark hair that he always kept short. He had a straight nose and full lips. Amani, like her brother, was tall and fair-skinned.
“So what’s this about a guy I hear?”
Jehan walked into Amani’s bedroom and flopped down onto the bed, munching on a handful of popcorn. Amani looked up, surprised, to find her older sister Jehan. Compared to Amani and Zayn, Jehan was just a few shades more tanned looking than them. She was a lot skinnier than her younger sister.
Amani looked up and searched for the easiest way to break the news to Jehan.
“Well, you remember that guy I met on mig33, Sami?”
“The kinda Indian-looking one?” Jehan munched away nonchalantly, half-interested.
“What do you mean the really Indian-looking one? We’re supposed to be of Indian origin too, remember? And anyway, it turns out he is half Arab, and Indian.”
“Ugh, you know what I mean. We’re not like fully Indian anyway. Our grandmother is white and the other is Malay. I always get confused between Indian and Arab freshies.”
“But our other grandfathers were Indian. And would you stop using that ‘freshy’ word? God, he is not a freshy by the way! He is a UK citizen. And stop trying to deny your roots, you’re Indian, get over it and deal with it.”
“Well, I think South African Indians are the most liberal. At least the ones in our city are. Anyway, of all the siblings, I’m the least Indian looking, and you’re the most, Miss Teen-India.”
Jehan said those last three words in a thick, Indian accent, teasing her sister. She knew that Amani hated the fact that she looked so very south-Asian because everyone always reminded her of her close resemblance to her father’s lineage. The Kazi’s were all fair-skinned, tall and dark-haired people who were all proudly Indian. She, on the other hand, would have much rather preferred to resemble all her maternal cousins.
Like her mother Shireen, they had bright green eyes and dark blond to light brown hair. They were half Indian but happily chose to ignore it. The Muslim-Indian community was very proud, and many had a superiority complex.
“Jeez,” sighed Amani, “Why can’t all you people just forget the racial issues already, “snapped Amani. “As I was saying, about the guy, Sami. He’s in Port Elizabeth.”
“You mean, he’s here?”
“So he traveled cross continent for your lame self?” Jehan was smirking.
Amani glared back at her. “I’ll have you know, that he is pursuing a degree in pharmacy here.”
“So you’re telling me, that out of all the places in the country, much less the world, he came to boring old PE to study something so boring?”
“Okay, okay,” sighed Amani. “He is coming to propose.”
“What!” Popcorn kernels flew out of Jehan’s mouth. “Do mom and dad know?”
“Kind of. They know that he is coming over to meet me, and them of course.”
“So… you like him huh?”
Amani blushed visibly. “Well, it would be quite awkward if I didn’t now!”
“And to think, you blew him off at first. He kept adding you as a contact and you kept rejecting him, poor guy. Well, his persistence paid off I guess, you finally gave in.”
“Mummy doesn’t seem very keen on meeting him.”
“Daddy is going to freak the hell out when he finds out you two are studying on the same campus,” laughed Jehan. “And he’s going to be angry too. You’re dropping medical studies in Cape Town for a teaching degree here.”
“I know. I’m preparing myself for the worst, especially from mom.”
“Well good luck baby sis,” Sighed Jehan, “I’m off to take a well-deserved, nice hot bath, to think about how uncomplicated my awesome life is.”
“Thanks for the support,” replied Amani sarcastically.
“Anytime!” smiled Jehan, leaving Amani hard in thought. She wished that her life was in fact as uncomplicated as her sister’s. Jehan always seemed to be having a ball of a time. She even considered her job a fun activity. Well, of course, she would, as Jehan spent a lot of her adolescent days parking herself, legs and all on her dresser, facing the mirror, trying out all the different makeup styles imaginable. She was often heard by her family talking to herself in the mirror, but she wasn’t bothered.
Amani shook all thoughts about Sami out of her head and proceeded with her physics homework. She had a knack for solving equations, and Newton’s Laws of motion posed little trouble for her. She spent the next half hour punching numbers into her calculator with her pencil clenched between her teeth as she sat cross-legged on her bed. She had a fully functional desk to work at, but somehow preferred the comfort of her bed to do her homework.
The spicy aroma of Shireen’s chicken curry and rotis filtered into Amani’s bedroom. Her stomach grumbled excitedly in reply to the wafting aroma, and she subconsciously closed her physics textbooks that lay scattered around her on her bed.
“The food is ready girls!” Shireen called to her two daughters, as Raghib started dishing up. Amani loved the sweet little green peas that her mother added to the food, her own personal touch which only enhanced the flavor ever so slightly. Shireen may not have inherited anything, be it looks wise or mannerisms from her Indian father, but she sure cooked like it.
After everyone was done eating, Amani and her sister sat down to watch the very last season finale of their favorite series, Charmed. Their mother walked into the TV room to check what they were up to and saw the two girls with tissues, wiping away their tears and their noses. She immediately rolled her eyes, and made her way back out, sighing.
“I wish you girls were this passionate about the stories in the Qu’ran!” she bellowed into the hallway.
“Ma you don’t understand!” yelled Amani back in reply. “They’re all getting their happily ever after!”
“Man, I’m going to miss this show,” said Jehan.
“Me too. I wish we had more sisters like them, though,” replied Amani. “Oh well, it’s 20:30, bedtime.”
“There is something seriously wrong with you,” said Jehan, shaking her sister by the shoulders. “No 17 year old besides you goes to bed this early.”
“Well I have a big brain. It requires more rest than most others.” She joked.
“Whatever. Well, get some rest, you have a big day tomorrow!” Jehan winked at her, walking out of the room.
Amani went to bed with her usual bedtime drink of a mild coffee. Unlike with others, coffee somehow helped her relax and settle in for the night, a fact that none of her friends or family could understand. That night, though, she spent the night tossing and turning. Her impending meeting with Sami would change her life forever.