Mine is not the conventional love story. It’s not even the perfect love story nor is it the most memorable love story one would ever read. It did not play out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a ship called the Titanic and I doubt that anyone would want to scribe it down on paper for generations to come and read like Romeo & Juliet. But mines is the most amazing love story that I have read to date albeit only on the imaginary lines within my mind. And after all these years, I find myself still summoning the pages, wanting to escape to the memories from that time; memories of those makeshift and tear stained pages within my mind, memories of those moments as they play out on a projector before my eyes. I sit staring into nothingness,staring into space, becoming nostalgic for days gone by, becoming homesick for days that I could only retrieve through stored memory folders in my mind for I would never get to touch or to feel those images ever again.
My vision becomes clouded over and misty as tears pool within my eyes. A smile curves on my aged face as I remember…. As I remember the color of his eyes and the way that they would penetrate my soul like the tips of spears that had been dipped in the sweet poison of love. It was like a hundred arrows were launched in my direction when he would look at me and each arrow went straight to my heart….
Let me backtrack as I allow you to make your way into the front seat. Allow me paint for you the pictures, allow me roll out for you the scenes, one by one, and allow me to make the emotions of my not so unique love story enter your being as if this story were your very own… Perhaps for some it may just be fragments of your own love story written before your very eyes….
I saw Zaheer for the first time when I was just five years old. He had recently moved into the house across the street from mine. I was riding my bicycle in the front yard on a Sunday afternoon when I noticed the skinny, lanky boy standing on the opposite side of the street just staring at me awkwardly. His jeans were torn and filthy! His hair was greasy and unkempt. He was creepy! He smiled widely revealing his mouth of rotting teeth as he waved a little too enthusiastically at me. The sight of him gave me a chill! I turned my face away in distaste as I reminded myself that boys were slimy rascals who were also grotesque, annoying, appalling and nothing but trouble!
But as the days, weeks, months and eventually years took their customary course, we became best friends, bike buddies, study mates and eventually we fell in love.
Ours was a secret love just as most love stories were in those days….
How we fell in love and when it happened, I wonder till this day. It was as if one moment everything was normal as I showed him how to do quadratic equations on a Wednesday afternoon and then suddenly every time that I was around him something would happen deep down in the pit of my tummy. It was like a pulsing or a hum. An electric current would wrap around my flesh and bones every time that we were together sending my face into different hues of pinks and reds.
He says that for him it happened that very day that he moved into number 88 Oak lane. He saw me on the opposite side of the road riding my bicycle with my head of golden curls and he thought immediately that this is the girl that I am going to marry….
If only life played out like fairy tales do. Each princess would find the perfect prince that was made just for her and of course each prince would find her. Love would flow all through the hearts of the world and no soul would have to traverse their days and their nights lonely or sad ever again!
Unfortunately we arrive at the last page of fairy tales and fiction novels eventually and all too soon. We close the book and return to the reality of living. We grow up and we start living in the real world as the make belief world beckons to us in our imagination and in our dreams every once in a while. Our hearts shatter and break as we live out what we come to accept as “life” and as we begin to see the truth for what it is and the lies for what they are…..
Zaheer was going to come to ask for my hand in marriage as soon as he turned 22. He was studying law and I was studying towards a teaching degree. We had it all worked out acting as though we were in control, acting as if we had any part or say in our destiny, acting as if we could choose the setting and the weather too! We planned on getting proposed, then after a few weeks we would have a small intimate engagement party on a Sunday afternoon with just our closest family, exactly how its always been done within the indian community. We would marry the following year in the hopes that by then he would have landed a job serving articles at his fathers friends law firm. It sounded perfect. I was light headed and giddy every single day counting the days until Zaheer brought his parents to my home to ask for my hand in marriage. My world swirled around as I watched the sky spin before my eyes.
But it seemed that my life would not be scripted that way, the way that I had scripted it in my mind…. After all, no one made me the scribe, I just thought that a girl gets whatever she wants, even a fairy tale life…. I was wrong….
That’s when I learned that I played no part in anything that happened in my life. I felt like a pawn being dragged and placed into places that I never consented to being in, being placed within a life that I never agreed to live through…
My father turned Zaheer down. No discussion, no consideration, no argument even. A straight and irrevocable “NO” came as the answer. His voice was flat and his eyes were blank, unreadable and expressionless, as he stared at Zaheer and his parents. I don’t even think that he blinked. I think that for a few moments I stopped breathing.
You see Zaheer’s family was from a different village in India to my paternal (and maternal for that matter) great grandparents. We were from the upper-class “Kholvad clan”, he was so called “urdu speaking”. He didn’t match the criteria that one would need to have in order to marry a girl of “my supposed stature”! I never even knew that any of this would matter until that dark and fateful day and then, as if an epiphany had hit me, little pieces fell into place around this heartbroken pawn.
According to my nani he wasn’t the right color. ” He’s so dark”, my nani would say to my mother, but I thought nothing of her words until the day that my father turned Zaheer’s family away without any reason….
I remember how my mother would never set the plate of food Zaheer’s mother sent over on the eating table for us to eat. “Your father won’t eat it, he has terrible acid reflux“, she’d say as she threw it out…..
They were never happy that I spent so much time with Zaheer, riding bike or climbing tree’s, they always looked for every excuse to keep me inside…..
And then finally, everything made sense… Zaheer and his family were not like us, according to my parents…
On that fateful morning, I remember that the sun shone a little brighter for me, the clouds all seemed to be making heart shapes in the sky for me, the breeze wafted past me kissing my cheeks delicately as I blushed with a pink flush. I knew that the day would deliver Zaheer to my home with his parents as they asked for my hand in marriage. I sighed happily as I sat staring at my reflection in my bedroom mirror just hours before. I naively thought to myself that after today, years of planning and years of falling in love would set into motion the construction of our futures, the building of our lives together as we placed the pieces into one complete portrait….
Within a matter of minutes, everything turned around and changed course. Instead, I watched Zaheer and his family walk back to their home across the street humiliated as imaginary lightning and thunder sounded in my ears. It felt as though my life seemed to be ripped from within me. Zaheer was slipping through my clammy and clasped fingers and there wasn’t a thing that I could do about it…..
That night I cried myself to sleep as I replayed my parents words to me while I sat at the window watching Zaheer walk away from me…..
” He’s not good enough Sameera! We’ll never let you marry a boy like him! Think of our Izzat! Think of your grandparents! Do you want to bring shame to this home and to our names?”
they said to me….
I could not understand it! I was a 21 year old woman living in a time, age and country where surely I should be allowed to choose whom I marry or at least have a say in the matter! Even islam afforded women these rights! Right? Well at least that’s what I thought, But it seemed that although we lived in “modern times” and a “civilized nation” we were perhaps more “backward” in our intellect and thinking than our predecessors!
Three months later I was proposed to Umar Mohammed, my mother’s cousin’s son who lived in the United Kingdom. Umar was in his second last year studying medicine. I guess that the UK was far enough for my family as they felt it a safe distance for me to be from Zaheer.
I was told that I had no choice in the matter! The answer was already given to Umar’s family and the answer was yes!
That word “YES“..
When my father spat it at me, it whispered at first…. “Yes”…
then it screamed and eventually it echoed with a ring in my ears as the words sliced through my heart. I was going to marry a stranger…. Was this really happening? How could it be happening?
I begged, I pleaded and I cried!
“I don’t want to marry him mummy“, I pleaded with my mother…
But my mother just turned her face away.
Then I screamed, threw a tantrum and hurled obscene words at my parents….
” You’ll understand this when you have a daughter of your own Sameera“; my father said as he closed my bedroom door behind him.
I threw my bedside clock at the door as I screamed in frustration. I watched the clock sit innocently shattered on the beige carpet and I couldn’t help but think how my life resembled that clock. Broken to pieces with no way of assembling anything back together as it was before…..
As it appeared in the Muslim Woman Magazine 🌹