Much later after the guests had left and the dishes had been done and kept away in their respective places, the three women sat in a circle on the maroon Egyptian carpet in Mama’s sitting room. Uncle Jaffar’s strong cologne, which he was never shy to let all and sundry know that he had picked it up from a shop in Dubai, still lingered on.
“My child,” Mama said, putting one teaspoonful of sugar in her cardamom-flavored tea. “At times as women, you’ll be required to exhibit unimaginable patience and restrain when dealing with issues.”
Earlier on, Mimih had to literally talk Zuhura down when she decided she would let Uncle Jaffar know her stand in front of his guests. Mimih knew Zuhura was capable of throwing ridiculous fits of temper and she had never seen her exhibit such anger before.
“Hush darling,” Mimih had whispered to a fuming Zuhura in the bedroom. “Like I said, just because they are here doesn’t mean you’ll get married today. Besides, I doubt whether Muadh would even like you right now, not with your face as red as ketchup!”
“Zuhura,” Mama had said. “Remember your father’s favorite phrase whenever he had to deal with situations he disliked. Mtu hakatai wito, hukataa aitiwalo. Let’s just play along; I’ll put Jaffar in his place when his guests leave. You never know, one may be a stranger today but come into your aid tomorrow. You never know,”
Zuhura had stilled herself and heeded her uncle’s summon thirty minutes later, appearing before the guests fully dressed in a flowing jilbab to conceal her anger and face veil, docile as a sheep.
“So, this is my daughter, Zuhura,” Uncle Jaffar said. “As I had mentioned to you, she is currently in university. I have watched her grow up into a responsible adult,” stopping briefly to look at Zuhura. “Allah is my witness when I say that unlike other girls her age who are up to every kind of mischief, my daughter here has only been up to beneficial doings that have made us proud as a family. She is a ray of hope for young girls.”
This had been a total surprise because Zuhura had expected Uncle jaffar to go on a full scale demeaning attack, saying how stubborn she was and how he was irked by her attending university instead of getting married, and how above all insults and arrogant exhibitions, she had turned down his son’s proposal.
And she had been armed for war, to defend herself and let them know that she will get married when she decides.
“My daughter,” Uncle Jaffar said with a calmness that seemed out of place in him. “Would you kindly draw your face veil so our guests can at least see you face?”
While on other days she would have adamantly refused to do so, she lifted the face veil, gaze searching the patterns on the carpet for consistency.
“Unfortunately, Muadh might not make it today,” Uncle Jaffar said. “But in due consideration that you are a responsible Muslim girl who has only brought goodness in our family, I apologize profusely for bringing this upon you without consulting. Believe me, I respect you opinion,” looking from her to the other guests. “That has been the principle in our family; to respect each other’s opinion in every matter, and that’s why, my dear friends, we have been able to maintain tight family ties.”
The other guests nodded, murmuring MashAllahs and Alhamdulillahs. At that moment, Zuhura stole a quick glance at her uncle and felt like hugging him for the first time in her life. She felt guilty for treating him unjustly all along, yet he was such an endearing gentleman. Heck, she even felt guilty for not getting married to Abdallah! She however erased these thoughts from her mind because regardless of how sweet Uncle Jaffar could be, especially before his own guests, he was still the same old Uncle jaffar.
“But to say the truth he kind of surprised me, subhanallah!” Zuhura said, adding sugar in her own tea.
“I don’t pray much but leo nimeomba like never before,” Mimih said. “I just hoped all along that the devil who had made your head grow hot with anger would not cajole you to open your mouth before the guests.”
“As women,” Mama said. “You’ll find yourself on the receiving end when it comes to marriage issues. We should, however, never blame the men because they are engineered to see every woman they meet as a potential wife material, and proposals will be thrust on you till you feel like going crazy.”
“Was it like this in your day?” Mimih asked.
“Maybe, and maybe not,” Mama said. “See, things were different during our times. Men were men, and they knew how to take care of us. Take my marriage for instance. Babake Mody married me when I was vey fresh from university, and while I wanted to pursue my own career, I chose to be a mother instead. And I have never regretted that decision because Allah has blessed me with the most amazing children. I would not wish my daughters to follow my path because each one of us has his or her own path already set before them.”
“Oh, Mama, has Zuhura told you that she wants to get married by Swaleh?” Mimih said, laughing.
“Swaleh?” Mama asked.
“Wachana na Mimih. It’s not as she says,” Zuhura said, looking down.
“He is a well-mannered boy,” Mama said. “That would explain his regular visits then.”
“Regular?” Zuhura asked.
“Yes. Regular. And he doesn’t say much when he comes. Though I know he wasn’t just coming for a normal house call or my mahamri and flavored tea. He is a nice boy though. Has he spoken to you about marriage?”
“No. and I doubt I even want him to,”