I had just turned 20 when my parents began to have tea parties at our home on Sunday afternoons. These countless tea parties were held in my honor as I sat across from strange people I had never met before. I sat with my pasted smile as they scanned me, gaged my facial expressions, studied and assessed me from top to toe. It felt awkward and I hated being eye balled, so to say. Strangers, my parents had warned me against such people, telling me never to trust them but then they allowed them into our home. Mummy always kept the freezer well stocked with samoosa’s for my countless samoosa runs! I could never find any suitor suitable, so week after week, a ‘haaro poyro’ sashayed into our home with his parents and nani or dadi in tow. I rolled my eyes, I cringed, I clenched my jaws together, I even flared my nostrils nodding my head left to right indicating a NO to my sister Maryam as we peeked at some of these men from the crack in the passage door. Some were too tall, others were just too short. Some were too fat or too old or too thin or too quiet or too talkative, too round, too bald, too hairy. Some came with too many siblings. My list of imperfections was too long but the truth was, there wasn’t anything wrong with any of these men. I was simply too fussy and made up any excuse not to get married. No one would interest me, no man could interest me because my heart was set elsewhere. No, no! I didn’t have my sights on anyone else and I don’t think that my standards were too high, in fact they were non existent. I didn’t follow the norm. I didn’t have the vision nor the desire to find Mr Right and settle down. While most girls were looking to fall in love and marry a rich boy from a good home, I was a liberated young woman looking into my study notes, pushing back the glasses on the bridge of my nose. I did not want nor did I need a husband as my protector. In my fairy tale, I would be the hero. Alas, we plan and then, then our parents plot their own plans. The ritual was mundane and always the same. I’m certain that I could do the whole thing while half asleep. That’s how familiar it had become to my subconscious mind. I would carry the sarbat milkshake into the dining room exactly twenty minutes after our guests arrival. My sister Maryam fried the samoosa’s, secretly tucked away in the kitchen, the delicious aroma of their crispy golden scrumptiousness wafting through our home infiltrating the guests nostrils, making them salivate. She wasn’t allowed to enter the living room before I did. Its an indian thing; the younger sister does not show herself first in case the potential husband’s family mistake her for the girl they came to see and select her over the elder sister. Hardly anything is more insulting than the younger sister being chosen or being mistaken for the girl that the family came to view. So Maryam would remain in the kitchen, hidden behind the pot of oil and a slotted spoon. I would neaten my hijaab, check my reflection in the oven door and pick up the tray set with milkshake and glasses as I rolled my eyes for the umpteenth time at Maryam. On that particular Sunday I remember staring into the pink milkshake thinking how Maryam had thrown in too much rose syrup! The color was supposed to be rose pink but instead it was almost a hideous cerise. I had to press my lips together to fight back smiling. Mummy would be furious at Maryam when she saw the color. “What respectable family will accept you into their home if your milkshake is that color Maryam!?” As if the color of milkshake lead the way for love and a successful life! Mummy was dramatic, but I wouldn’t have her any other way. My parents were deep rooted into their indian culture, always doing things the way they had known, the way it had been done for them. But they had the softest souls, kindness beamed from them like rays of light and they would do anything to make Maryam and I happy. It was for this reason that I could never break their heart. I would endure whatever I had to just to make them smile. The ice cubes clinked together playing their familiar melody as I entered the dining room. As usual, I dreaded meeting the awaiting family, I dreaded meeting yet another ‘potential husband’. I was headstrong and did not see why a woman needed to be married to be considered complete. I would be a speech therapist improving the lives for so many others one day, why did I have to get married to consider my life complete or improved? Maybe the cerise pink milkshake would do the trick for me this time as it sent them running, I thought, I hoped! And yet although my views were liberal, my behavior was submissive and like a good daughter, I would never utter these words to my father. After all, it was his honor, izzat, dignity and his name that depended on who I got married to. I also couldn’t put off marriage for too long according to daddy. ” The clock keeps ticking, it keeps ticking Fatima, can you hear it?”, daddy said to me each time that I refused a proposal, dramatizing the whole episode with the tick tock sound effect. It was like we women have an expiration label or barcode attached to the back of our necks. Anyone over 25 is considered too old and mostly finds herself overlooked, discarded and shelved. So like every dutiful indian daughter, I swallowed my liberal views, entered the room, made salaam and then smiled politely at everyone seated. ” Oh Fatima, there you are beti. Come, come, come sit. Meet Yusuf’s family”, mummy said to me. The dialogue never changed, only names and faces did. I placed the tray with the glass pitcher down on the wooden dining table, I sighed heavily albeit silently as I released invisible fog into the air. I wiped my hands on the fabric of my black silk abaya. I stepped into the adjacent lounge and began to greet the elders. Before I looked at his face, I noticed his shoes on the cream porcelain tiles, immaculate, black and shiny. It reminded me of the night sky. It looked almost impossible that one could walk in such perfect shoes. I stared at them for a few moments wondering how long does it take a person to get their shoes to that level of shine. I swear that I could see my reflection in them so I focused on his shoes a little longer than was necessary. I think that everyone considered me to be shy, unable to look into the eyes of my potential future husband. This would be the reason that my husband and his family selected me as a bride I later learned, I expressed haya, shyness and modesty Yusuf said. But I was simply aloof, oblivious and unaware of what awaited me when I lifted my gaze. And when I did, when I looked up, I looked into the eyes of a man that was about to change my whole world and everything about me. I held my breath against his commanding gaze. A strangeness filled my belly. I had never felt like that before. The chatterbox Fatima was rendered speechless. I felt a warm shiver creep up my spine and for the first time ever I was drawn to my suitor in every way. He was tall and like his namesake, breathtakingly handsome. I swear that he had a smile that would light up even the darkest night. The chime of his soft laughter was simply enchanting to encounter. Everything that I believed about marriage suddenly flew out of the open window behind me. I was his, from that moment, Yusuf Dawood was the owner of my heart. Little did I know that he would take ownership of even more than that. Was this what falling in love felt like? I had never fallen in love, so I did not know how it felt. But I know that when I looked into his eyes, I was frozen, it was like a paralysis with flushes of heat radiating through my plumpy cheeks. It was as if he controlled my every movement with just his eyes. And when he caught me staring at him, he smiled with a wink so handsome it felt like the floor was ripped from beneath me and I was falling through and endless hole. Immediately I looked away, my heart drumming a thousand dramatic melodies. I should have known at that moment, I should have known everything that was to come, the drumming in my chest, the feeling in my tummy, everything spelled out my future in silent whispers, but I didn’t know. Instead I was flabbergasted, stolen by his commanding glare, my cheeks turning the cerise shade of the milkshake I had placed on the table a few moments before. And that was it. I said yes. Mummy was elated and daddy couldn’t stop smiling. He would inform everyone that he met that I was getting married. ” My Fatima is ‘fixed’!” he declared proudly. It felt wonderful to see my parents so happy, knowing that my marriage was bringing such joy to them. Our courtship was non existent. Daddy was old fashion and we did everything the right way, the sunnah way. I had no elaborate wedding reception, no train of bridesmaids, no exchange of elaborate gifts or kuncha’s. A simple nikaah at the local musjid, a cream lace dress finished off with a soft chiffon hijaab and diamante scarf pins, two wedding bands and henna painted hands followed by supper and tea at our home with an emotional send off afterwards. In three months, at the age of 21 I was Mrs Dawood. The naïve girl that I was had no idea of what to expect from marriage or from a husband. I had very little contact with Yusuf before we married and I was stricken with anxiety laced tightly in it’s corset of fear. But my husband was nothing less than charming on our honeymoon. He pulled out my chair for me, complimented the way I wore my hair, he kissed my cheek, he did everything right. He scooped me right off my feet. How was I to know how wrong he would be for me? My honeymoon was set within the pictures of a travel brochure. Never had I seen such blue water or such white beach sand. I was in heaven, floating, still falling, losing myself in more ways than I could see. I remember going scuba diving with Yusuf. I didn’t want to scuba dive and I politely declined, many times. But Yusuf insisted that we would go scuba diving, he was relentless. No matter how many times I said no, he persisted saying that I had no choice. Initially I thought that he was just fooling around by forcing me. Without warning, his tone hardened as he said ” we are going scuba diving at 11 am tomorrow morning. Understand?”. Naïve Fatima thought nothing of his tone or the blank look in his eyes. I was deathly afraid of being eaten alive by a shark! Would I die and be buried on this island!? I bit my nails playing out all the ridiculous scenarios in my head. I was silly perhaps, a tad immature maybe, but I was also innocent, untainted and unaware of the swoop my life was about to take. I didn’t want to jump off the boat, instead I wanted to spend the day lounging on the beach or in my hotel room. But there I stood, staring into the brilliant blue ocean, my limbs felt heavy and knotted but Yusuf gently took my hand and said, “Let go” … ” Jump on three ok, I promise I won’t leave your hand”. His smile… Oh his smile was something else. How could I not believe him when his smile was so angelic. And so I let go of the boat, I jumped and I watched it all happen in s l o w motion… It was almost like an out of body experience as I watched the next few moments as an observer, like a dust particle floating by I saw the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds. I can still remember the scent that infiltrated through the balmy island air that day, salty with a tinge of sweet pineapples and something I couldn’t quite figure out. Maybe it was the subtle fragrance of fear or of imperfection. I saw a seagull and a paraglider both flying overhead and they seemed to have noticed me too. Was that pity that I caught in their gaze? I don’t know, perhaps it was, perhaps I imagined it all. My mind is still a war zone, tormented by these little moments – was it, wasn’t it, did I, didn’t I. It felt like a million seconds had passed by but it had just been a few. I was still afraid of drowning, afraid of dying! But he promised to catch me. So I closed my eyes, I smiled and I allowed myself to free fall into his grace. The water was cold and refreshing. And when I opened my eyes I gazed at my husband treading water beside me. Yusuf was wearing his scuba mask and even in that he was handsome. He gave me a thumbs up with his free hand as we swam along the reef with the bottom of the ocean parallel to us. Schools of fish colored in every imageanable color swam next to us, beside us, above us, even underneath us. I was grateful to be holding Yusuf’s hand for if I weren’t, I knew that my knees would buckle releasing me into the current to be swallowed by the sea, forever lost floating aimlessly for eternity. And even though Yusuf caught me that day, I still find myself lying here on the moistened earth of my memories, shattered, broken, my soul splattered everywhere… They always fail to catch you. Remember this. Human hands can never hold onto you. They can never save you, fix you, heal you, help you or even repair you. They can never catch you … ~H *Taken from the Muslim Woman Magazine*


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