Of course, it took a while before Samiah was able to pass the No-Rishta Bill in the house. She hadn’t thought it possible, but after Lubna announced that she’d found her other half, the rishtas became considerably worse and more frequent. Due to the tag-team effort of her mother and sister, there was never a shortage of visits. Despite leaving work as late as possible, Samiah always found someone fished from the murky waters of a seemingly bottomless rishta pool seated in the living room every other evening. Her mother bribed the patience of these men with a continuous flow of samosas, pakoras and cake, insisting that Samiah would be home “any time soon”. No amount of grumbling and inhospitality towards the suitors on Samiah’s part could prevent her mother’s antics.
The last straw came when Samiah arrived home one evening after a particularly arduous parents’ evening at school and found an unknown car parked in the driveway. She parked her own car at the end of the road and considered her options. It was not possible to enter the house through the back door and sneak to her room as she had to walk past the living room to climb the stairs. It was too cold and wet to sit in the garden. That would risk catching a cold, calling in sick and being stuck with her mother and the Rishta Hunting Forces checking in every hour. She could stay the night at a friend’s house, but Samiah would then have to call her mother to inform and explain herself and she didn’t have the energy to battle her way through that conversation. And if she just sat in the car and ignored her mother’s continuous calls to her mobile, her mother would most likely call the police and send out a gigantic search party for her.
Samiah let her head drop onto the steering wheel. She would just have to go in, sneer and bear it. So she drove back to the house, slowly got out of the car, locked it and made her way up the driveway at a snail’s pace. The car parked outside was a red Polo. She was peering through the car’s window when her mother came out of the house and grabbed her arm, pulling her inside “What are you doing dawdling outside? Come inside, poor Faisal has been waiting hours for you.”
It didn’t take long for Samiah to discover that Faisal was the brother of a friend of Lubna’s, a friend Samiah didn’t even know existed until now. He was also eight years younger than Samiah.
Since she had depleted her reserves of sarcastic wit for the day with her students and then her political correctness on their parents in the evening, Samiah sat mute opposite Faisal allowing the boy to prattle on about his maturity and what he knew about treating a woman properly. Her mother nodded away, piling the food onto his plate. Samiah wondered if her mother ever thought about the fact that she might send Samiah’s future husband to an early grave with all the greasy samosas she fed each of these men in order to win them over. Her mother was setting her up to become a newly-wed widow.
To Samiah’s further disgust, Lubna encouraged Faisal. “Most of the boys at university are such immature mummy’s boys. It’s so refreshing to come across young Muslim men who understand what marriage entails, especially when Islam encourages Muslims to marry young,” she gushed. Faisal beamed at her and then at Samiah.
Samiah was not too tired to flash her eyes at her sister.
“Khadija was fifteen years older than the Prophet Muhammad,” Fasial informed them all, as if he was telling them something they didn’t know already. She stared hard at his scruffy unkempt beard that appeared to be gravitating to one side and the oversized hoodie that his mother hadn’t had time to iron. She hadn’t missed how haphazardly he had parked his Polo in the driveway or the rubbish from a chicken shop takeaway that had been thrown carelessly onto the back seat. She wished she was sitting closer to the coffee table so she could bang her head against it hard enough to knock herself out long enough to wake up and find him gone.
Instead, she replied calmly “I am not Khadija. And you are definitely not the Prophet.” Fortunately he left a little while after realising he was fighting a losing battle, and after thanking her mother and sister for their hospitality, he left with only a bruised ego.
And then all hell broke loose.
“What were you thinking?” Samiah was shaking with passion. She had saved her last energies for this. “I would have better luck finding a husband from my sixth form history class!”
Predictably a shouting match ensued and ended with the Tag Team complaining that Samiah needed to stop being so fussy and give guys a chance, to which Samiah cried out “I would give a guy a chance if you actually thought about who you’re inviting, but clearly a fried-chicken-devouring man-child who can’t iron his own clothes is someone that you think I’ve waited my whole life to marry!”
There was silence at Samiah’s outburst. Although prone to sarcasm, Samiah did not often raise her voice nor did she become emotional. She blinked back angry tears and promised herself she would not show weakness in the face of her oppressors.
“If you were just a little more open-minded, baji,” her sister began.
“No!” Samiah warned her “You have no right to say that to me. You should be grateful that because of my failure Ami and Abu have accepted your little love-marriage when that was off limits to me. You have no idea what it feels like to be on this side of the battle, so do me a favour and stop trying to do me favours.”
Lubna burst into tears and ran out of the room. Her mother glared at Samiah: “Now look what you’ve done. Your sister is trying to help you and you are so ungrateful.”
Samiah threw her hands in the air in frustration. “I’ve had enough, Ami. You are going to call up Daniyal’s mother right now and set a date for the wedding.” She held her hand up to silence her mother’s protestation. “You are going to marry Lubna off in the next few months and the rishtas are going to stop. If you don’t do this, I am going to move out. I can’t live like this anymore.”
She slammed the door on her way out, signalling the finality of her decision.
No-one believed Samiah would actually move out until she asked Sajid to view a flat that she had seen earlier in the week. Sajid looked at her unsurely.
Her mother was more shocked now than when Samiah had first threatened, but she had neither stopped making rishta calls nor called Daniyal’s mother. “You can’t move out!” her mother exclaimed.
“Ah, God forbid that an unmarried woman could ever leave her parents’ house without a husband. What a harlot!”
Her mother didn’t know what harlot meant but she still retorted sternly “I won’t have that kind of language in my house.”
“I’m leaving anyway!”
Samiah’s father was dragged from his armchair in front of the TV and made to stand in the hallway where they all stood awkwardly having this conversation. “Tell her!” she ordered her husband. “Tell her she can’t leave.” Her father looked at Samiah wearily and shook his head.
“A girl does not leave her home until she is married,” her mother repeated, irritated by her husband’s lack of response.
“I’ve given you my condition Ami, either you set a date for Lubna’s wedding or I leave. The choice is yours.”
“Tell her that if she leaves I will never speak to her ever again,” her mother insisted, ignoring her. “Tell her, for Allah’s sake!”
Samiah’s father looked up at his daughter tiredly and said: “Your mother says that if you leave this house she will never speak to you ever again. And I am telling you that if you leave this house, I will never speak to her ever again.” He returned to his armchair and increased the volume on the TV so he wouldn’t have to witness the aftermath of his declaration.
His wife slapped herself repeatedly in the head and wailed dramatically.
Samiah waited patiently until her mother had exhausted herself from her drama and said to her quietly but firmly: “Call Daniyal’s Ami right now”.
“Fine. Fine! You and your father. Always so stubborn. Always making me miserable!”
So she called Daniyal’s mother. By the end of the following week, the hotel for the reception had been booked and Lubna had transformed into a manic bridezilla, wanting to perfect every last detail while constantly complaining about the lack of time to plan.
Although Samiah was relieved that the pressure of Lubna’s wedding had removed so much from her own shoulders, the thought of being the unmarried sibling, the spinster auntie who babysat her scores of nephews and nieces, the pitied one, the one who wouldn’t even have cats because she disliked them, began to gnaw at her. Was this to be her legacy?
And as much as Samiah tried to ignore it, underneath her mother’s irritation with Samiah, there was deep-seated pain that prevented her mother from being entirely happy for Lubna. There was more sadness for giving up on her eldest than the sadness of giving away her youngest. Samiah wondered if witnessing her mother’s pain was worse than being tortured by the Rishta Hunting Forces. For her mother, this wasn’t accepting fate and the higher plans of God; this was accepting defeat and failure.
Hafsah Zamir is a part-feminist part-traditionalist who hopes to publish a novel one day. She blogs at http://www.esotericsips.com.