“What do you have to tell me about Sameer?” Hina asked Ray.“I just want to tell you Sameer can’t wait to see you in person,” said Ray. “I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this, but considering Ammi has you on lockdown until your wedding in a few weeks, it needs to be said.”
“How dare he tell you about personal things like that,” Hina said.
“He didn’t tell me,” Ray said. “I have sat in on all your phone conversations with Sameer. I have been judging him all this time. 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 Sameer, first,” Hina said.
“Let me walk you through your conversations with Sameer,” Ray said. “Whenever you spoke with him, not only did he listen to everything you had to say, he told you what he had on his mind as well.”
“Like any normal person would do,” Hina said.
Ray raised a hand for silence. “Remember the time you brought up shopping?” he asked. “You have a habit of going on and on talking about something without realizing whether the other person is interested or not. Sameer listened to you.”
“That’s hardly remarkable,” Hina said.
“He also didn’t tell you that you needed to spend less,” Ray said.
“Really? I don’t remember him saying that,” Hina said.
“That’s because he didn’t say it,” Ray said. “That’s what’s remarkable about it.”
“OK, I’m listening.” Hina sat up straighter. “What else did he say or not say?”
“I knew I’d get your attention with the shopping bit,” Ray said, grinning. “Anyway, you mentioned your friends and how you discuss everything with them. Sameer didn’t tell you not to talk to your friends.”
“Sameer gets points for basically not being a jerk? That’s hardly fair,” Hina said.
“The biggest takeaway from all your phone calls with Sameer is that he doesn’t mind your chatter,” Ray said. “That’s important.”
“Why?” Hina asked.
“He could have wanted someone quieter,” Ray said emphatically.
“Nonsense,” Hina said. “He has to be fine with me because his parents chose me for him. Though-” Hina looked out the window.
“Though?” Ray asked.
Hina looked back at him. “I wish he’d like me for the person I am. Not because he has to.”
Ray remained silent for a minute. Then he said, “Remember the time you and Sameer talked about your checklist?”
“You went over all the basic important things you should check about your future spouse,” Ray said. “Did you want to add something to the list?”
“Add something to the list?” Hina asked.
“Ask him something else about himself?” Ray asked.
Hina drew her arms around herself. “I wanted to get a sense of what kind of person he really is,” she said. “Talking about something for the first time, you can say anything you like, and get away with it. How do I know that he meant what he said? How do I know he’s for real?”
“That is exactly why I did some investigating myself,” Ray said. “I went to meet his close friend, his cousin and his neighbour to ask about him, and I called his boss,” Ray said, “and Ammi’s cousin has known his family for a long time. What I found out is that he’s not deceitful. He’s pretty honest and fair in his dealings.”
“When were you doing all this, and why am I getting to know just now?” Hina asked, glaring at him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I was going to, but then you’d have repeated it all straight back to Sameer during a phone call, and I didn’t want that to happen,” Ray said. “Now that there’s no chance of you talking to him, I can tell you.”
“That’s all fine and good,” Hina said, “but I want more than just other people’s statements with regards to Sameer as a person. I want my own satisfaction with regards to him as a person.”
“All right, let’s do that,” Ray said. “What do you want to know?”
“I trust your assessment of Sameer during our phone calls, but if I had more time with Sameer before our marriage, I’d have been able to form my own complete, final assessment of him,” Hina said.
“I think you can base your assessment off mine,” Ray said gently.
“Yes ... but no,” Hina said.
“I thought I covered all your bases with what I told you,” Ray said.
“What! Shopping, friends and liking to talk?” Hina said. “I need more than that from my future husband.”
“Can I be very honest with you?” Ray asked.
“Be careful,” Hina said.
“I honestly didn’t think you’d care about anything beyond what I already told you I’d noticed about Sameer during your phone calls with him,” Ray said.
“You think I’m that superficial?” Hina asked.
“I think you’re used to having everything taken care of for you, so you would take your life partner in the same way,” Ray said. “I was pleasantly surprised when you initiated conversation on your phone with him. I didn’t think you’d still need to talk more with him than you’ve already done, though.” He paused. “Can’t you be content that Ammi has chosen him for you?”
“You hit the nail on the head,” said Hina. “Ammi.”
“You don’t trust Ammi’s judgement?” Ray asked.
“Ammi’s choices are based on what’s convenient for herself,” Hina said. “I want to choose Sameer because I want to marry him, not because Ammi selected him for me.”
“You want to choose?” Ray asked.
“I want to choose,” Hina said.
“There’s nothing stopping you from choosing him right this minute,” Ray said. When Hina started to protest, he raised his hands. “I know, I know. You want more time. As your brother, I can tell you this. It won’t be easy, but if you really don’t get to choose Sameer, and you want a way out of this situation, just tell me and I will cancel the whole thing.”
Hina stared at Ray. “You can do that?” she asked. “You’d do that for me?”
Ray leaned forward and took Hina’s hand in his. “You’re my little sister,” he said. “Yes, I can do this for you. If at any time you don’t want to go ahead with this, just tell me and I’ll arrange something to throw it off.”
“I don’t want to cancel it if I get more time with Sameer and get to decide whether I want to marry him or not,” Hina said.
Ray sighed. “You can’t have everything, Hina. You don’t get more time with Sameer, but with my support, you do have a way out of this if you want it. Understand?”
Hina nodded slowly.
To be continued...