The first time Sameer had any idea that any sort of celebration was to be held on the second Eid of the year was when he saw the receipt for the dry cleaning as he took a super fancy suit out of the car on his way back from work.
“Oh, Amma, what’s this?” he asked. “It says celebration cleaning? Do we have something to celebrate?”
Sameer’s mother patted the spot on the sofa beside her. Sameer sat down. His mother took Sameer’s hand and looked him in the eyes. “My dear son, I’ll be taking you to see a dear girl I’ve asked for to be my daughter-in-law, and I want you to look your very best when we exchange rings.” She drew Sameer in to hug him. Sameer emerged from the hug desperately in need of air and information, but all his mother would do was tell him where to put away his suit, and not to be too curious, and that he’d find out everything in time. Sameer’s brain buzzed with the image of the girl who had opened the door for his mother at the last Eid celebration, the one he hadn’t attended.
“That’s all well and good, but-” Hina paused to swallow a mouthful of pastry, “I’m not interested in whatever ‘looking at each other’ moment you had with him. He should know better than to assume you’re me.” She picked out a napkin to wipe the grease off her fingers.
Amani raised her eyebrows. “For all we know, your guy’s family is keeping him as much in the dark as your family is,” she said.
“How do you know that?” Hina looked irritated.
“Forget about him for a second,” Amani said. “We need to make a plan for your engagement day.”
“What does that include?” Hina looked curious.
“It’s a surefire way to get a good look at him,” Amani said.
“Oooh, is it the one where you hide behind the curtains and watch him get out of the car?” Gohar looked interested.
“Not that one, don’t be an idiot,” Amani said. “Now listen carefully...” She stood up straight, dove for her dupatta and tossed a combination of ponytail and dupatta over her shoulder. Then she pulled her ponytail back into place, streaming over her front, and the dupatta followed. She patted it into place as well.
“What was that?” Hina asked curiously.
“It’s a sharp way to take a look over your shoulder at the men’s side, and you can catch a look of your fiance,” Amani said, pulling the dupatta out of her ponytail.
“Amani, you are full of stories,” Hina said, irritably.
“Also, that was much too flirtatious,” Gohar added. “And with a real parlour-made hairstyle, there’d be way too many pins in it to toss it anywhere.”
“I don’t know what type of parlours you go to,” Amani said, tossing her ponytail back again, “I’m all about a truly movable hairstyle. You wouldn’t know about that, though.”
“Whatever! Hina just wants to take a look at his face,” Gohar said. “Isn’t there any plan we can come up with for just a look without anybody noticing?”
“There’s no such thing as nobody noticing,” Hina said. She wrapped her arms around her legs and leaned forward on the bed. “I’ll just have to make the most expressionless face ever, and turn around slowly to try to look at his face. Then I’ll look back at the floor in full shyness mode again.”
“The best way to see him really is in the engagement photographs,” Gohar said. “You can get a good look at those photos and nobody will say anything.”
“Yeah, those photos in which the couple looks like deer caught in headlights,” Amani said. “You’ll get the best set of terrified face photos ever.”
“Don’t distract us with nonsense,” Gohar said. “Come on now, Hina, show us the engagement dress already.”
“I’ll go get it, but it’s a secret, all right?” Hina quipped. “Don’t tell anyone I showed you.”
Out came the dress in all its finery and splendour. Hina draped it over her arm in a dazzle of colour, and her friends did the compulsory displays of oohs and aahs. Back it went in the box.
“It’s all very pretty and everything,” Hina said. “It makes me happy to see it and know I will wear it, but I wish I had more to be happy for.” It was a strange feeling, and Amani and Gohar laughed it away, but when they had left for their own homes, the feeling returned.
The feeling persisted. When Ammi called Hina into her room and finally told her that she was throwing a party for a boy’s mother who wanted to come and ask for her hand, Hina felt shaken. It was the first time Ammi had ever brought up any sort of talk on marriage with Hina. It left her flustered, and it didn’t look like Ammi was doing too well either, because she dismissed Hina from her room quickly, and didn’t see her for the rest of the day.
It was the gold set that did it. A few days later, when it seemed to Hina at least that everything of importance had been done and said, Ammi pulled out all the stops. She called Hina into her room and showed her the gold set she would wear with her engagement dress. Hina’s eyes nearly fell out from staring. Hina knew gold meant serious business. It signified to her that something to be happy for really was going to happen. The feeling that there should be more to be happy for, however, remained.
“It’s your engagement tomorrow.” Ray bumped Hina’s head gently with his fist as she sat slouched over her laptop. “You’ll get dark circles from doing that. Take a break.”
“I just have to dress up and look pretty,” Hina said through a series of vicious mouse-clicks.
“That takes a lot more than it looks,” Ray said. “Or so I’ve heard.” He nudged Hina’s foot with his own. “You all right?”
Hina burst into tears. Ray put one arm around her and pushed the laptop away with the other.
“I thought nobody would ever ask me that!” Hina gasped, her sobs muffled against Ray’s chest.
“There, there,” Ray patted Hina’s head, a little awkwardly. “I knew there was a special reason to get ice cream tonight.”
“You didn’t,” Hina said, stopping mid-sob to squeak excitedly. “Ammi banned all sweets for me forever.”
“Not forever...” Ray held Hina at arm’s length. “Will you be all right while I go grab some ice cream bars from the freezer?”
As Hina’s response was only to resume crying, now louder and harder, Ray fled for the freezer and returned with ice cream pops.
Hina squeaked and gurgled her way through two ice cream pops while Ray silently and slowly finished his. He pretend-punched her shoulder.
“You’ll be fine,” he said. “You’ve been through worse.”
“Hey, excuse me!” Hina slammed her popsicle stick down on its wrapper. “You’re not the one whose engagement food is going to be basically Eid dinner!”
Ray threw his head back and laughed. “That’s what you’re worried about?”
Hina sighed. “I’m worried I won’t be as happy as the occasion merits,” she said.
“Mixed feelings,” Ray said. “You have an official case of mixed feelings and it’s the same for everyone getting engaged.” Hina didn’t reply, thinking that she had 24 hours to find out for herself.
To be continued...