An hour later, a sulking Zuhura was seated across an unassuming Swaleh at their usual coffee joint.
“Coffe? Tea? Milks-shake? Hot chocolate?” Swaleh asked her.
“I am not hungry,” she lied. She had had nothing to eat before rushing out of the house an hour earlier since his call found her outside hanging her laundry. She had planned on making French toast, sausages and cardamom-flavored tea which would have doubled up as her lunch.
“Thanks for making it on time by the way,” he said, placing the menu on the table. “I am sure it wasn’t easy hacking it on such short notice. I really appreciate it.”
“Don’t even mention it,” she said with a voice that was not hers.
“Are you okay?” Swaleh asked.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” she smiled, trying hard to regain her normally happy voice.
“You just sound mad. That’s all,”
“Why, yes I am mad, Swaleh,” Zuhura said, placing her hands on the table. “I’m glad you noticed!”
“What happened to your abaya?” he asked.
Zuhura looked at her apparel as if it was the first time she was laying her eyes on it. It was rather creased. In the haste of the unexpected call, she had rushed to iron it but a black out hit as soon as she had started.
“Nothing,” she said. “I am dressed, that’s what’s important, right?”
“Right,” Swaleh said.
“So, what was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until you got back from Saudi?” she asked.
“Qatar,” Swaleh corrected her.
“Subhanallah! What’s with you today?”
“What’s with me? You really want to know what’s with me, huh?”
“Duh, I’m not sure I…”
“Let me tell you what’s with me, Swaleh. First of all I don’t know who you think you are to rush me as I’m your wife. Second, who gave you permission to go see my mum?”
“It was just a mutual house call. She is like my mother too, you know,”
“So that makes me what, your sister?”
“No, I mean, why would you even go to my home to talk to my mother without telling me?”
“Well, I apologize then. Next time I’ll make sure to seek your permission, boss lady!”
“Don’t boss lady me. And stop acting like you are all innocent,”
“What did I do to make me guilty?”
“Swaleh, this is the twenty first century,” she said with all the calmness she could muster. “Women have a voice too, you know.”
“Then why would you go straight to my mother asking for my hand in marriage?”
“Yes,” she hissed. “Who even does that nowadays?”
“It would have been the right thing to do if that was the circumstance.”
“I said it would have been the right thing to do should marriage have been the circumstance,”
“Meaning I didn’t visit your mother to ask for your hand in marriage,” he said, beckoning the waiter. “Who even does that nowadays?”
“May I take your order please?” the smiling waiter asked.
“Yes please,” Swaleh said. “I’ll have toasted bread, scrambled eggs and coffee. I imagine my friend here will have the same, but get her a hot chocolate instead of coffee.”
“Right away, sir,” the waiter said, scribbling away on his notebook.
“So you didn’t visit my mother because of marriage?” she asked, playing around with the glitters on her creased abaya.
“No! Why would I do that?”
Zuhura shot daggers at him.
“Astagfrullah! I didn’t mean to sound mean, I just…”
“No. what I meant to say was that I wouldn’t jump the gun and go straight to your mother if I wanted to marry you.”
Zuhura raised her eyebrows.
“Why would you think that I was going to ask your mother for permission to marry you?” Swaleh asked.
Zuhura rolled her eyes.
“This is getting weird,” he said.
“Am glad you noticed,” she threw a fake smile. “So, now that we’ve established that the purpose of your mission was not to look for a wife, what was it then?”
“Like I said, it was just an innocent, well-intentioned, mutual house call. I treat your mother like I would my own mother. Besides, she has always been kind to me since I was a kid. Wema hulipwa na wema, sio?”
The waiter arrived with their order.
“I am actually flattered by your thoughts, just so you know,” he said as soon as the waiter left to serve another table. “It’s not every day that a good Muslim girl like you thinks I visited her mother to propose!”
Zuhura dug into her plate, devouring the scrambled eggs as if she had not eaten in days. Swaleh knew better no to comment.
“Why did you want us to meet so urgently?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” he said, biting into the toast. “It was about marriage.”
“I’ve had it up to my neck with this!” she said, pushing the plate aside ready to walk out.
“Hey hey hey,” Swaleh said. “It’s not for me. I’m asking for a friend.”
“So what now, life is so hard that you have to side hustle by pimping?”
“Subhanallah, what’s wrong with you today?” he asked. “Can you just chill out for a second. Relax. Let me make myself very clear. I have a friend from Dar who is currently in Nairobi. He wants to marry and asked for my help. I in turn have come to you, not to ask you to marry him but to help out just in case you know of a good Muslim sister who wants to get married.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” she sighed. “It’s just that I’ve had it up to my neck with people wanting to marry me without my consent.”
“Oh, is that right?” he asked. “How many people want to marry you?”
“Swaleh, this is neither the time and place to discuss that. Anything more about marriage and am out of here.”
“Oh, are you jealous?” she asked.
“Okay then, I won’t talk about marriage again,” he said, shaking his head. “What about my friend?”
“Tell your friend there are lots of good Muslim girls in Dar too. Am pretty sure his parents have one arranged for him already.”
“Funny that you should say so because he mentioned that his father is working on getting her married to a girl from Mombasa.”
“What’s your friend’s name?” she asked.