“Three weeks!” Hina gasped. “My wedding is in three weeks?” Ammi looked at her, unmoved. “Yes, that is what we have decided.”
“Ammi — but—I’m not ready!” Hina threw her hands in the air desperately.
Ammi seemed to wake up from her usual state of always being still and composed. “You will do as I say,” Ammi said. “That is all that matters.”
“But—” Hina hesitated.
“Go to your room!” Ammi turned away from her. Hina remained standing where she was.
“This isn’t fair!” Hina said, starting to shake all over.
“Look at the state you are in,” Ammi said, not looking at her. “Don’t disobey me. I won’t repeat myself again. Go to your room!”
Hina ran all the way to her room and collapsed on the bed, crying. In a little while, the door creaked open slightly.
“I can’t even have a normal conversation with her!” Hina said, pounding her fists into the mattress.
“Hina-” Ray began, but Hina cut him off.
“She does whatever she wants without caring about how it affects me,” Hina said, grabbing a pillow and squashing it.
“Hina-” Gohar spoke up, but Hina interrupted her, too.
“This isn’t right, and I told her so!” Hina buried her face in the pillow.
Calm, gentle hands caressed her head. Hina felt Gohar move the hair out of her face and place a soothing hand on her forehead. She could feel Ray’s presence, just out of sight, watching and waiting.
“You didn’t actually say anything like that, did you?” Ray asked Hina.
Hina pushed herself off the pillow and turned around to face him. “I did! I did! I did!”
Ray just stared back at her.
“Well, of course Ammi needs to know what’s going on with Hina, right?” Gohar asked when neither of the two spoke up. “She won’t know unless Hina tells her.”
“Gohar, you don’t know our mother,” Ray said.
“She’s so nice, though!” Gohar said. “I’m sure she would listen.”
Ray and Hina burst out laughing. Hina wiped the tears from her face, but couldn’t stop her laughter.
“Gohar, Ammi does what she wants and we obey her,” Ray said quietly. “We’ve never told her what we think about what she tells us to do.” He turned to Hina. “What did you say to her?”
“Aren’t you curious?” Hina sat up, pushing her hair back. “I told her I wasn’t ready to get married in just three weeks without prior notice, and that it wasn’t fair of her to decide that.”
“What did she say?” Gohar asked.
Ray smiled. “I don’t think Ammi would have any real response to that. Right?” He looked at Hina.
“Not really.” Hina shrugged. “She just told me to obey her, and told me to go to my room.”
Ray looked thoughtful. “I wonder if you speaking up will have any effect,” he said.
“She’s not going to change her mind or the wedding date,” Hina said. “What difference does it make?”
“I meant that Ammi might just think for the first time in her life that we...well. Forget it.” Ray shook his head.
“That you, what?” Gohar looked at him with wide eyes. “What wouldn’t she already know about her own children?”
“Plenty,” Hina said.
“Lots,” Ray added.
“It’s not like she ever asks us what we think,” Hina went on.
“She never knows what’s going on in our minds,” Ray continued.
“Come on,” Gohar said. “A mother always knows.”
“It’s more like...it’s a bit difficult to explain it to you, because you weren’t raised by her.” Ray frowned. “It’s like all she wants from us is our agreement to whatever she says, and she doesn’t care about whatever else is going on with us. Leave it.” He shook a hand in Gohar’s direction. “It’s too complicated for you to understand in just one conversation.” He looked at Hina. “So, you said it.”
“I said it.” Hina sat up straighter. “It’s not going to make any difference really, but I said it.”
“At least you’ll feel better that you told her what’s on your mind,” Gohar said.
“Feel better?” Hina closed her eyes. “It’s more like, I went somewhere I’ve never gone before, and I don’t know what it means.”
“It means you reached your breaking point,” Ray said.
“How do you think Sameer reacted to the news?” Gohar asked.
“It’s not like I can call him to ask anymore,” Hina said.
“There’s a small loophole in this, but you don’t have to worry about it,” Ray said.
Hina stared at him. “Are you going to call him? What if Ammi finds out?”
“Did I mention any such thing? You’re imagining things,” Ray said, smiling broadly.
“If you don’t mind, I need to do something in my room,” Gohar said, getting up. “You’ll be all right, Hina! You like Sameer, after all.” She left the room.
“Do I?” Hina asked in the silence left behind after Gohar left.
“Don’t you?” Ray looked surprised.
“I’m not sure,” Hina answered.
“What about all those phone calls?” Ray asked. “Didn’t you manage to get some idea of him from talking to him all the time?”
Hina frowned. “I would have liked to meet him several times. Get to talk to him in person. See how he carries himself. Ask him things you can’t ask on the phone. Stuff like that.”
“What on earth couldn’t you ask on the phone?” Ray asked. “What more do you want to know?”
Hina thought about it. “I just want to see what he’s like face to face,” she said. “For more than just the one family picnic. Married life isn’t lived over phone calls. I wanted to get to know him for real.”
“You know we don’t do it like that in this family,” Ray said.
“You know Ammi doesn’t do it like that, you mean,” Hina said.
“Did you really not get any idea of what he’s like?” Ray asked.
“Why, do you think I should have?” Hina asked.
“I got a good idea of what he’s like and I was just listening in on the calls,” Ray said. “You were talking to him. Where were you?”
“What did you get to know about him?” Hina asked. “Maybe you looked at things from a different angle and saw things I didn’t see.”
“For starters, Sameer can’t wait to see you in person,” Ray said.
“How can he tell you personal things like that,” Hina asked, “when he didn’t even say this to me?”
“He didn’t say this to me,” Ray said. “I have sat in on all your conversations with Sameer. I have been judging him all this time, and I have come to the conclusion, based on my observations, that he is looking forward to seeing you. Aren’t you looking forward to seeing him?”
“I want to be sure of him first,” Hina said.
“Hina, Hina, Hina.” Ray leaned forward in his seat. “Let me tell you something.”
To be continued...