“The clock is ticking,” Hina said to Sameer over the phone.
“I know,” Sameer replied. “I asked for some time before I can figure out a way for us to meet, remember?”
“I remember,” Hina said. “I’m just reminding you.”
“I know,” Sameer said again.
“I’d prefer sooner rather than later,” Hina said.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Sameer said. Hina laughed at hearing the smile in his voice.
There was a knock on Hina’s bedroom door. “I have to go,” Hina said, ending the phone call.
“Come in,” she added in a louder voice.
The door opened to reveal Gohar.
“Nice timing,” Hina said, patting the side of the bed next to her. Gohar came and sat down, smiling brightly.
“I just made a sweet dish,” she said. “I hope everyone likes it at dinner.”
“Of course, we’ll like it, your stuff is always good,” Hina said.
“This is the first time I’m making it at my in-laws, though!” Gohar clasped her hands together.
“I’m sure it will be just great,” Hina said, patting Gohar’s arm.
“I had a nice chat with Ammi too,” Gohar said.
“Ammi? A nice chat? Stranger miracles have been known to happen,” Hina said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, she’s a sweetie,” Gohar said.
“You must have been going on and on about something as usual,” Hina said, shaking her head.
“I do not! I just like to get into the conversation, is all,” Gohar said.
“I do wonder what you were talking about—” Hina was interrupted midsentence by her bedroom door being flung open by a distressed Ray. He fixed his wild eyes on Hina and said breathlessly, “Just remember Hina, it’s not her fault.”
“What happened?” Gohar asked, getting up.
Hina remained sitting. “What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Promise me that you’ll remember,” Ray said shakily, “it’s not Gohar’s fault.”
Gohar clapped her hands to her mouth. “Did I do something wrong?” she asked. “I can apologise.”
“You’re not apologising to anyone because you did nothing wrong,” Ray said. “Hina, you need to go see Ammi right now.”
Now Hina got up. “What on earth is going on? Did she ask for me to go to her?” she said.
“Yes, and you need to hurry, it’s urgent,” Ray said, “and remember—”
“I don’t need to remember anything,” Hina said. “I’ll find out myself what Gohar said to Ammi.” She flashed Gohar a look before leaving the room.
Ammi sat quietly by herself in her room. When Hina entered, Ammi did not move or acknowledge her presence. Hina sat down across from Ammi and waited. When Ammi was in one of her moods, Hina knew better than to rush her.
Finally, Ammi turned to face Hina. “Give me your phone,” she said.
Hina stared at Ammi but did not risk asking a question. She held out her hand with her phone in it. Ammi picked it up and tucked it into her arm.
“You have crossed the boundaries of what is proper in this family,” Ammi said. “You have gone behind my back and cheated us all. I am ashamed of you. I will talk to Sameer’s mother about this so we can fix this problem as soon as possible. You couldn’t keep up your engagement with dignity. I will correct your wrongs as quickly as possible.”
Hina felt the breath get knocked out of her. Could Ammi be possibly talking about...?
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you mean, Ammi,” Hina said.
“You have done it, so don’t try to avoid admitting it,” Ammi said. “You have been using this” she held up Hina’s phone, “to adopt a shameless attitude with your fiancé. I did not permit you to speak with him alone, yet you have disobeyed me.”
Hina’s eyes widened and she gripped the arms of the chair she sat in. “I didn’t—I didn’t—” she gasped.
“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say,” Ammi said. “I will tell you what we have decided about you very soon. Go back to your room.”
Ray and Gohar were still in Hina’s room when she returned. Their faces turned up towards her with worried looks.
“What exactly did you say to her?” Hina asked.
Ray and Gohar looked at each other, then Gohar turned back to Hina and said, “It was my mistake, but I just mentioned how you talk to Sameer on the phone...”
“Did you say I was, uh, adopting shameless attitudes with him on the phone?” Hina asked, crossing her arms. Gohar just stared back at her. “Did you say I didn’t keep my engagement with dignity?” Hina added.
Gohar spoke up. “No, Hina, I just mentioned in passing how you talked on the phone with him.”
“Yeah, I figured all those were Ammi’s own words,” Hina said. “Just checking.” She went and sat down in the middle of Ray and Gohar. “I don’t know what Ammi is going to do now.”
“It’ll be alright,” Gohar said.
“The worst is over,” Ray said.
“You’re just lucky Gohar didn’t mention your involvement to Ammi,” Hina said. “Otherwise, it would be us both on the line.”
“I thought Ammi knew about you talking to Sameer,” Gohar said. “You mentioned it to us so openly, I thought your parents knew.”
“Well, they didn’t, Gohar,” Hina said.
“I’m sorry,” Gohar said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me as a result of what you did,” Hina said.
“I said I’m sorry, Hina,” Gohar said.
“You don’t need to keep apologising,” Ray said.
“Yeah, I’m too worried about what’s going to happen next to care about you,” Hina said.
Gohar grinned weakly. “It’ll be alright.”
“What am I going to do about Sameer? He’ll wonder why I’m not answering his calls,” Hina said.
“I think Sameer is going to find out about this when Ammi calls his mother about it,” Ray said. “He’ll know why.”
Hina was so preoccupied the rest of the week that she barely noticed how Gohar made time to sit down with her and talk to her, and how Ray came over to her room more often instead of waiting for her to knock on his door. She had trouble sleeping, and when she did fall asleep, she was lost in stressful dreams. One morning, after waking up from another dream wandering around endless corridors, she said to herself, “This waiting period had better end soon.” Later on in Ray’s room, Ray told her, “Ammi did call Sameer’s mother, she’s just waiting for her response about something.” What could it be? Hina wondered.
As the day progressed, Hina got the feeling that Ammi had some news she was keeping to herself. She waited, and soon enough, Ammi called her to her room. Ammi fixed Hina with a stern gaze and said, “I have spoken to Sameer’s mother and we have finalised your wedding for three weeks from now.”
Hina’s mouth fell open and she stared at Ammi in shock.
To be continued...