It was the day of the picnic. Hina found herself sitting next to Ammi in the backseat of the car as Abbu sat in the front and Ray drove. There were bottles of mango juice clinking in the back. Hina rolled down the window, leaned into the wind and smiled. The wind fanning her face was short-lived as Ammi quickly told her to close the window so as not to ruin her hair. Hina leaned back in the seat and waited.
They soon arrived at the picnic venue, a little sheltered nook in the local park. Sameer’s family was already there and had reserved the picnic tables for them. Hina walked up to the picnic tables with her family and greeted Sameer’s parents, giving a small nod to Sameer as a way of greeting. She speedily secured her seat opposite Ray, which was very strategically chosen because Ray was going to sit next to Sameer. This meant Hina would have a diagonal approach to Sameer. She did not know how much conversation she could sneak in sideways, but she was going to try!
As Hina slipped between the two families taking their seats and sat herself opposite Ray, she could feel Ammi’s gaze boring into her back. Ammi would have wanted to have her sit with the other elders, away from the table with Ray and Sameer. Since Hina had expertly avoided Ammi’s guiding hand gripping her elbow, and Ammi did not want to bring up the issue in front of everyone else. Hina was free to sit with the other young people. There did not seem to be any form of visible objection from Sameer’s side of the family, though Hina did catch Sameer’s mother looking over at their table every now and then, as if to keep an eye on them.
As Sameer’s mother was busy looking after the other picnic table with both pairs of parents, Sameer himself presented the food at their picnic table. Ray told him they would help themselves, but Sameer insisted on serving them their samosas with chutney and chickpeas. Before Ray could say anything else, Sameer moved onto the next food item, which happened to be a tray of sandwiches. “It’s all right; being an only child, I’m used to it,” Sameer said.
Hina did not know where to look. She decided it would be rude to keep looking at Sameer as he filled their plates and she looked instead at the branches of the tree that was next to their picnic table. The low hanging branches were close enough to reach out and touch. The tree was in full leaf and cast a pleasant shade over them.
“Thank you, Sameer, now come on, join us,” Ray said. Hina shook herself from her leaf-filled daydream and remembered to thank him, too. “It’s nothing,” Sameer said. “Now you better not skip anything, everything’s good!”
“This samosa looks good,” Hina said, carving out a bite.
“Yeah, they’re really good ones from this bakery near our house,” Sameer said.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to tell us that,” Ray said.
“It doesn’t make them any less special,” Hina said. Sameer grinned.
It was so surprisingly easy to sit there with both of them, Hina thought to herself. It was hardly a complicated matter at all. She could not understand what Ammi’s warnings were all about.
“So, Hina,” Sameer said, “What do you like to do in your spare time?” Hina stared back at him with a half-eaten sandwich in her hands. “I just thought that we could get to know each other better, that’s all,” he added.
Hina remembered to replace the remains of the sandwich on her plate. She swallowed. There were so many little things that could go wrong when having a conversation and eating at the same time. Why was it even allowed to let both things happen at the same time, she thought furiously.
“She’s a very social person,” Ray said, sliding into the gap made by Hina’s silence. “She’s always hanging out with her friends.”
“Is that so,” Sameer said.
Hina finally caught up to the conversation. “I wouldn’t say very social,” she began, “but I do like to catch up with my friends from time to time. It’s nice to follow what everyone’s doing, like for instance...” Ray gave Hina a warning kick under the table. Hina aimed and missed several kicks back while responding, “I’d love to get their opinions on how today’s picnic went.”
Ray looked alarmed. Sameer looked interested. “Oh, so you take their opinions into consideration?” he asked.
“Yes,” Hina had to pretend that Ray’s facial expression was less worried than it really was, just to keep herself from feeling troubled. “They each have their own way of thinking, so I can get different viewpoints about the same thing. Anyway.” She sat up straighter. “What do you like to do in your spare-”
“Hina!” Ammi called from the other table. “I need you here for a moment.”
It took all of Hina’s strength to get up from the picnic table with Ray and Sameer and make her way over to the table with the elders, because she knew Ammi was going to need her for more than a moment. All through the time Ammi had her sit through a long conversation with Sameer’s mother about inconsequential things, Hina kept thinking how she had lost her chance to get a reply back from Sameer.
All the way back on the ride home, she kept shooting Ray angry looks in the rear-view mirror. It was therefore no surprise to Ray when Hina showed up at his door later on that night, phone in hand.
“I’m going to make this right,” Hina said. “I will do what our elders have failed to do. I will get to know Sameer better myself.”
“Did you even consider if I have time tonight to chaperone another phone call?” Ray asked.
“Of course not,” Hina said. “This is the most important thing you could be doing.” She sat down on Ray’s bed and dialed Sameer’s number.
To be continued...