A Suitable Match
By Irum Sarfaraz
After a week, Khalida’s patience finally ran out. She had been waiting for that call from the boy’s side and it still hadn’t come. She decided to call Mrs Ali.
“How are you Khalida and how is it progressing with the boy’s family?” Mrs Ali asked pleasantly.
“Progressing with the boy’s family??” Khalida was startled. “But they still haven’t called us. How could it progress?” It was now Mrs Ali’s turn to be surprised.
“What do you mean they haven’t called yet,” she asked, a little curious now. “By what I know, the boy’s father has already talked to your husband.”
“Already talked to Salman?” Khalida was amazed. “But Salman hasn’t mentioned anything to me. Are you sure he talked to the right Salman?” Mrs Ali laughed.
“How could he talk to the wrong Salman?” she teased. “How many Salmans have a daughter named Saira and who also have a proposal under consideration? Your husband must have forgotten to tell you.”
“How could he possibly forget?” Khalida thought out loud. “Do you think the conversation didn’t go very well and that’s the reason he didn’t bother telling me?” Mrs Ali smiled. At her age and with her experience with Pakistani couples, she was not wholly unfamiliar about the many eccentricities of marital relationships.
“Well my dear, that is something only your husband could tell you. All I know is that Afridi Sahib did call but I have no idea what they talked about.” By now, Khalida's surprise was turning to irritation.
As Khalida was fretting at home over all the reasons why Salman had not mentioned his conversation with the Afridi family to her, Salman was calling his daughter at work.
“Are you planning to go out for lunch somewhere?” he asked his daughter. When she said yes, he told her he would meet her where she was going. Out of the house was the only place he could think was where he could talk to her alone. She worked closer to home while he was ten miles away so he’d have to make an extra trip.
“Everything alright Abbu?” Saira was surprised.
“Everything is fine. Does something have to be wrong for me to have lunch with you?” he teased her affectionately. Saira laughed.
“No…I mean, we don’t always do this.”
“Just wanted to talk to you about something. I’ll meet you in fifteen minutes.”
Saira was sipping cold coffee when he arrived. She had also ordered one for him. Since it was a buffet, they could start whenever they were ready.
“So, what’s up Abbu?” she was quite curious to find out what it was he wanted to talk to her so ‘secretly’ about.
“I wanted to get your opinion on that Pathan boy,” he started cautiously. His daughter, born and raised in the US, would probably be more at ease talking to him about this than he was talking to her. These issues were usually discussed between daughters and mothers.
“What about him?” Saira looked surprised. “On the face of it, everything looks ok but we haven’t talk to the boy or his parents yet. So, I guess that would be the next step.”
“Actually, I have talked to the father.” Saira was taken aback.
“You have? But Ammi never said anything to me.”
“That’s because I haven’t told her yet.” This was strange. She knew how keenly her mother was looking forward to getting a phone call from the Afridi family. And now here was her father telling her that he had already talked to the boy’s father but had not told her mother.
“Why not? Is it because you don’t like the family?” This was the only reason she could think of. As she said the words, she couldn’t help feeling a small stab of disappointment. The boy and his family looked very decent in the pictures. Plus, there were no other contenders on the scene at the moment.
“Actually, quite the opposite,” Salman sighed. “The father sounded like a pretty reasonable man and the background appears to be solid too. Though Pathan families are reputed to be very conservative, he was the one who suggested that you and his son talk and decide whether you are interested in proceeding further.”
“So? Isn’t that good news?” What is so new about this? This is how things usually progress. Did you think I’d have a problem talking to the boy?” Saira was quite confused by now.
“I’m not saying you’d have problems talking to ‘a’ boy. I think you might have a problem talking to ‘this’ one.”
“The guy has a problem?”
“There is nothing wrong with the boy but with where he lives.” Saira was getting impatient. Her father was talking in riddles.
“You mean it’s a different state? But that doesn’t matter. Or does it?”
“Actually, it’s a different country...” Saira looked at her father blankly.
“Pakistan to be exact…,” he finished his sentence.
“Pakistan!” she stared at him in amazement. “You mean Mrs Ali suggested a boy to us who lives in Pakistan? How could she do that?”
“I really have no idea,” Salman honestly didn’t have a clue. “But I’ve thought a lot about this. Look at it this way; we are all basically Pakistani so what's wrong with marrying an eligible boy from Pakistan? Look at your friend Ruby. Hasn’t she married a guy from Pakistan too?”
“But Abbu, Ruby married her cousin. That’s different. He’s not a stranger. But what is the guarantee that any unknown boy isn’t marrying me just to get here?”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about this and that’s why I haven’t talked to your mother yet,” he said. “I wanted to give you the choice to decide freely. Think about it and let me know. If you refuse, I’ll call Afridi Sahib and say no to him.”
Saira didn’t know what to say. She was silent for a long moment.
“What would you advise me to do Abbu?” she finally asked.
“When your four aunts were ready to be married, I remember the find-a-boy-talk in my house. Every time there was a proposal from a family we didn’t know, some friend or family member would come to advise Amma to be careful of strangers. I remember Amma saying one thing to all of them, ‘Marriage is a gamble and whether you win or lose is your fate’. Neither she nor Abba refused a family without the process of doing a full background check and talking to the boy. As you know, they all married into new families but have lived very happy lives.”
“So, are you saying I should talk to the boy before saying no?”
“Yes, that is how I feel. I see no harm in it. Also, if you wish, you can talk to Ruby to help clarify your confusions about this across-the-ocean match. What do you say?”
“I don’t know,” Saira said thoughtfully. “I’ll talk to Ruby and see what she says. When are you going to tell Ammi?”
“I didn’t want to talk to her until you decide what to do. You know very well she’s likely to throw quite a fit. Her first target will be the poor Mrs Ali, who referred this boy to us.”
“Do you think Mrs Ali did this deliberately?”
“All I know is that everything happens for a reason. Deliberately or not, this is a good family worth exploring.”
“Don’t you think Ammi will shoot down the entire process even after I decide to move ahead with it?”
“That’s why we have to play this little ‘miscommunication drama’ very carefully.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s just keep the little fact about the boy being in Pakistan between us for the time being. Let’s see if she likes this family without the bias of Pakistan attached to the whole idea.” Saira laughed. Sounded very interesting.
“She’ll kill you Abbu!” she teased him.
“We’ll see about that…,” Salman smiled at his daughter. “Your next assignment is to think about it, talk to Ruby and give me your decision.”
The phone was ringing incessantly. It was noon and Meher Afridi was in the kitchen making kheer, her husband’s favorite dessert. One of her daughters-in-law, who was also in the kitchen with her, wiped her hands hurriedly and went to answer it. She came back a moment later and told her it was Seema.
“Salam Bhabi,” came Seema’s cheery voice on the line.
“How are you Seema?” Meher asked her sister-in-law. “Where were you this weekend?”
“I was afraid you were still upset at me,” Seema replied meekly.
“Upset with you?” Meher Afridi was surprised. She had totally forgotten the incident about the picture. “Why would I be upset with you?”
“Because you think I emailed that picture to Meer…,” Seema replied.
“Don’t be childish, Seema,” Meher reprimanded her affectionately. “Gul already admitted doing that. You think I don’t believe you?”
“Somehow I’ve started feeling bad about this, as if I’ve overstepped my boundaries and forced this rishta on Meer. I mean, I know you aren’t willing to send him to the US…”
“Remember Seema, who gets married to whom and ends up where is not for me or you to decide. We are all instruments in the hands of fate. You know I don’t hold people responsible for these things.”
“Thank you Bhabi. You know Farid Bhai is like a father to me and you a mother. I couldn’t bear to upset you both, even unknowingly.”
“Well we’re not upset and you’ve done nothing wrong so come and visit with the kids.”
“I will Bhabi,” Seema’s voice had regained its usual chirpiness. Then she added, “Bhabi, I was wondering if the girl’s father called back Bhai yet? Has he said anything?”
Meher Afridi smiled. Seema’s dolefulness at having possibly overstepped her boundaries certainly hadn’t waned her keen curiosity about the proposal.
“No the girl’s father hasn’t called back yet but I promise that you as soon as he does, you’ll be the first to know, even if I have to call you in the middle of the night to tell you.”
‘Thank you my dearest Bhabi! I love you!”
“I know you do. Now let me get back to my kheer before it burns.”
When Salman Zia got home that evening, he found a very impatient Khalida waiting for him. He had barely taken off his shoes when he was confronted with the question of the day.
“Why didn’t you tell me that Afridi Sahib called you?” Khalida demanded.
Salman was taken aback for a moment.
“Who told you?” he asked her, trying to figure out who could have told her.
“Well it certainly wasn’t Afridi Sahib himself or his wife,” she answered annoyingly. “Never mind who told me. The question is, why you didn’t?” Salman decided that the best way to handle his wife was to act like it was no big deal.
“Yes, he called. But I wanted to think this thing over before I said anything to you,” he told her. He was in his favorite chair in the family room now. “I know how you tend to get your hopes up and then you go and tell Saira immediately and then she starts getting her hopes up too…” Khalida was confused. Her husband was acting strangely.
“How silly Salman,” she said exasperatedly. “What’s to get hopes up about? It’s not like we’re fixing the marriage date or anything. Anyway, tell me what happened.”
Salman gave her a synopsis of the conversation, editing out only the part about Karachi, and that he had told the gentleman he would call him back after consulting with his family.
“Do you feel like it’s worth pursuing?” Khalida asked her husband. Since she hadn’t talked to either Mr or Mrs Afridi and didn’t know what they sounded like, she couldn’t decide if they were interested enough in Saira. Much as she was keen to marry off her daughter, she had no desire to consider people who sounded stuck-up or snobbish.
“I think there is no harm in letting Saira talk to the boy. Much as I liked talking to Farid Afridi, this is after all Saira’s decision.”
“I’ll ask her tonight and see what she says,” Khalida’s hopes were already going up.
“I’ve already asked her…,” it slipped out before Salman could stop himself.
“Asked her already?” Khalida looked at him in amazement. “Whenever did this happen?” Despite all the time he had spent in the US, she knew Salman was not comfortable talking to his daughter on these subjects.
“Actually, I called her at work today about something else and mentioned this too.” To add to the drama, Saira walked in the front door just then from work. After a cheery hello, she joined them. Khalida watched her closely.
“Your father tells me he told you about his conversation with Afridi Sahib.” Saira was taken aback. She hadn’t realized she would have to talk to her mother so soon about this. She shot a look at her father. He was acting like it was no big deal. She took the cue.
“Yes,” she said casually. “I’ve told him I’ll think about it before deciding if I want to talk to the boy or not.”
“Think about it?” this was a day of surprises for Khalida. Salman Zia had quietly slipped away. He knew Saira could handle the situation well enough. “What is there to think about?”
“I have to think about whether I like the guy and his family well enough to initiate a conversation with him that will eventually lead to my marriage,” she explained patiently.
“This is a good proposal and you’re going to ‘think about it’?” Khalida seriously thought her daughter was joking. “Plus, your father had a pretty good conversation with the boy’s father, it seems.”
“Yes, Ammi,” Saira said firmly, getting up from the sofa. “I’ll let you know in a day or two. So, what are we having for dinner?”
Khalida couldn’t help but wonder if both her husband and daughter were coming down with something. Letting such a good proposal slip away would be nothing short of criminal.
“Yes, while you and your father both go on a philosophical thinking spree,” she told her daughter in a vexed tone, “the Afridi family will find another girl and his son will be married off by the time you come around.”
Saira had a hard time suppressing the giggle that came to her lips. (Continued next week)