Not for Sale

by F. Ahmed

The applause was deafening. Klusener had hit another six, ending our brutal assault against the Australians. South Africa had won the cricket world cup! And I had witnessed it- I was at the match of the year- part of the excited, elated, enthusiastic crowd who strangely enough appeared to be.... leaving?

Awakening to the sickeningly sweet voice of an impossibly neat airhostess instructing me to "wake up sweetie", as the plane had landed, reality slowly began to resurface. Feeling disorientated and irritable I glanced around for mum who beamed excitedly at me asking, "Wasn't he just brilliant?"

"Oh yeah, I replied dryly, it was an awesome six".

Looking at me as if I'd just sprouted a second nose, mum leaned over to feel my forehead, wondering if I'd suddenly developed a fever.

"I was talking about the pilot she explained slowly. What a beautiful landing. Didn't you hear everybody applaud?"

"Oh no! So Klusener hadn't hit a six? And we didn't win the world cup?", I asked feigning horror.

Glancing sharply at me, mum looked ready to explode, so I quickly reassured her that I was just kidding, and yes, it must have been an excellent landing considering I'd managed to sleep and dream the South African dream, right through it!

Making our way carefully and slowly through the airport, we were suddenly jostled out of the way by an impatient man, muttering crossly under his breath. I threw him a dirty glance, upset because he didn't have the decency to notice that he'd just shoved a blind man out the way. The only reaction from my dad though was a slight tightening of his grip on my arm, so squashing my anger at being so unceremoniously pushed aside, I turned my attention back to my dad who wished to know how my mum was doing with the trolleys.

I couldn't help but feel my mood lighten a bit as the incident with the impolite man was forgotten. Two weeks of poor relaxation and fun! Or not.

I Suddenly remembered the purpose of this supposed holiday, cringing as I recalled the term one of my aunts used when she had heard the 'good' news. The Ahmed family were on a mission. An out of the blue trip to India, Dubai or any Far East country could only mean one thing. Their only daughter was finally proposed and preparations had now begun, initiated by the expected trip overseas, known by all and sundry as "wedding shopping".

Why the shopping couldn't have been done in South Africa was beyond me. I had long since given up trying to talk my mum out of this unnecessary expense but apparently it's a mother's prerogative and I'd understand when I have my own children.

What use would it be trying to stop this aspect of their mission anyway? I had no control over anything. Everything was taken care off. The choice of flowers, choice of groom, choice of venue...

Perhaps that was the reason I was hardly excited at the prospect of spending oodles of money on pretty much anything I might have wanted. I could barely muster up enough enthusiasm to pretend to be half interested in what was supposed to be one of the most important moments of my life. Marriage is defined merely by the Oxford dictionary as the uniting of a man and women legally for the purpose of living together. Somehow that particular meaning seems inadequate, empty, and harsh even, but the reality amongst people of my own culture was exactly that. There's no such thing as love they say. Love comes after marriage.

As mum and dad got into the taxi I quickly tipped the little Indian man with the stained orange teeth and mischievous grin who had helped get our bags into the boot. Turning around I once again encounter the impatient man who had earlier shoved us out the way, only this time he no longer looked impatient and in fact appeared to be smiling happily at the woman beside him. He even managed to pull off the gentleman act as I watched him graciously open the car door for her, kiss her soundly on her lips and then disappear into the drivers seat. I suppose that explains his earlier impatience. I can't help but wonder whether I would someday experience the similar excitement at the prospect of meeting my husband. I think about the dude back home, his clumsy appearance, immature nature, barely there manners and wince inwardly, urging the image to dissipate. Who cared is he was rich? I cant stand the smell of money anyway!

"What's the matter Fathima"? Asks mum as we make our way to the hotel.

I figure she must have noticed the look of horror the thought of my "fianc" brought to my face.

I try to find a suitable reply but nothing comes forth. Instead I look out the window at the sights passing by, saddened by the fact that I would probably not be doing much sightseeing on this trip. That would only impinge on the mission.

Six days later and I had had enough!

We had walked the busy, dusty, crowded streets of India until mum had found the perfect fabric for the perfect dress and the perfect shoes to go with the perfect dress and then the perfect handbag to go with the perfect shoes for that perfect dress and I had had enough!

I stormed out of the hotel and walked blindly, furiously down the street, refusing to think, until my energies were spent and the persistent ache of my tummy signalled that I was hungry. Looking around for anything western or rather anything "un-Indian" I cursed my fate as I noticed the various takeaways and restaurants advertising every kind curry under the sun, but not a Mc Donald's or Pizza Hut in sight. Eventually after settling for cup of tea and a samoosa my thoughts returned to the argument my mum and I had not so long ago engaged in. I had woken up on this glorious Saturday morning naively assuming that my dad and I would be allowed to lounge around the pool area sipping coconut juice and catching up on some sleep. Not too much to ask for one would think. But no, that's not quite how it had worked out. Mum had arranged for the final dress fitting to be moved forward leaving us with more time to purchase more gifts for future son in law and party. She even had the audacity to say that we were lucky she had managed to do this and that the extra time would be put to good use.

After telling her I had no intention of doing any shopping or wedding related activities today she immediately summoned my dad, and complained incessantly to him that I was ungrateful and rude and that any one of my many cousins would gladly have taken my place any day! Reminding her that I had quite gladly offered my "fianc" to one of my many cousins seemed to not go down very well with her, which was where my dad quickly interrupted and told me to take a break while he handled mum.

When I had initially said no to the proposal mum wouldn't hear of it. She had made use of every single guilt trip trap she knew.

"Your dad is disabled Fathima. You're an only child Fathima. We worry about you. We need to be sure that you'll be taken care off".

Her wishes and constant pressure from the family had sealed the deal.

I have been reassured by various females family members that arranged marriages weren't quite as bad as I made them out to be. Aunts from various families get together, mostly at the weddings of their most recent victims and share information about the latest eligible males and females, their qualifications (it's a major plus if he has some degree or the other), whether their great grandfather was a lawyer or teacher and what car or how many cars the family owns etc, all of which reveals magically whom shall make the best match with whom.

When an aunty comes up to you at a wedding and enquires why you aren't proposed yet, be warned! This generally means that you're being eyed as a potential for some poor sucker out there. Hmm, perhaps if I hadn't replied, "just as soon as he learns how to cook aunty", I might not have found myself in this situation as quickly as I had.

Distracted by the oh so disturbing thought that I could have prevented this farce, I suddenly notice a guy seated opposite me casually sipping his coffee and reading the paper. He looks up unexpectedly, smiles openly, shrugs apologetically, and indicates by tilting his head toward the crowded seating arrangement that there really isn't any space.

"I don't mind", I reply unnecessarily for he has already gone back to reading his paper.

In the quiet that proceeds I stare out of the window at the chaotic culture before me. 3-lane traffic has become 6-lane traffic, not including the cows roaming freely between it. The traffic situation in India easily permits for normal conversation to ensue between the passengers of different cars who happen to be next to each other. A man and his monkey entertain fascinated tourists, while snake charmers enthral those daring enough to approach. A woman tries selling fruit to a lady who has just tied her cow to the light pole outside a store she wishes to visit.

"I should be out there", I say, hardly realising that I'd spoken out loud. The guy sitting opposite me looks up and I apologise quickly.

"So why aren't you?", he asks.

"Oh, I'm getting married", I reply dejectedly, a look of distaste apparent on my face.

He laughs at the comic expression and congratulates me.

Curiously, he never questions my lack of enthusiasm but rather tells me that he would like to get married someday also, but that it would never be anyone from his own culture. Not that he has anything against his culture. Infact quite the opposite. He'd therefore like to marry someone who knows nothing about his culture so that he could fascinate and teach her about the many amazing aspects and characteristic of it, while she teaches him about the many amazing aspects and characteristics of her culture. That way they both gain new and exciting information and life should thus never be boring.

"Interesting point of view", I think. It makes sense. Why do people persist in marrying within their own culture? Why do they assume that it's the best thing? My aunties would surely have married him off by now had they heard his opinions.

"Very liberal that one", they would say. "Best we set him up quickly before he gets out of hand".

I would shudder at the thought of introducing my mum to a hot Italian or German potential. She'd...well she would not take it well. Maybe I'll try it sometime-as a joke.

However, before I get a chance to tell him any of this, he gets up, apologises once again for intruding on my privacy and exits without further delay. I follow him with my eye for as far as I can but soon he is one with the crowd...a pedestrian of unexpected encounter that serves to remind one that different notions exist within people.

I decide to head back to the hotel, elated by the idea that the system, any system can be beaten, even one of age old traditions and rituals perpetuated by people who don't have the bravado to stand up for themselves and claim their own rights.

This time I was fully aware of screech of the tyres as they hit the ground and the pilots tone and calm voice as he informs us of Durban's' fine weather conditions, and the shuffling of fellow passengers as they attempted to get their 'stuff' together before leaving the plane. I glance over at mum as she gathers our belongings and we share a smile. I'm glad that we made up after out argument. It would have been a truly miserable flight if we hadn't. I apologised for being rude to her and promised to try and be as obliging as possible.

I'm also fully conscious of the fact that next weekend I will be getting married. Before the wedding reception, a Moulana (priest) will come to my house and ask me if I consent to marrying Muhammad. I'm supposed to say yes and start crying etc, just like every other bride before me.

I am ready for it.

The day dawns bright and clear. Aunties nudge me irritatingly in the ribs asking if I was ready for married life? Hadn't they already decided that months ago?

The Moulana arrives amidst the chaos and confusion one expects to encounter at a wedding house. He is meant to perform what it called the 'nikkah'; that is, gain my consent and then bless the marriage. My mum is present, teary-eyed and standing tall, proud to be the mother of the bride. My dad stands at her side, a constant source of strength for both of us, always there when we need him, and various assorted aunts, those responsible for the negotiations between both the grooms side and the brides side, eagerly anticipating the closing of their deal and other aunties who just always seem to be around.

The ceremony begins with a prayer and soon I am asked that inevitable, life-threatening question.

For the first time in months I feel like I am in control of my life, my destiny, my fate.

The last thing I glimpsed as I assertively walked out of the room was my dad as he grinned knowingly at me, for once, clearly ignoring mum as she ranted and raved on about how ungrateful and cheeky I was, and how I had obviously gained these particular characteristics from his side of the family. Some of the aunties vainly attempted to quieten her down, some muttered curses at me for ruining my family name and some of them were already on their cell phones passing along the good news.

"I told you we needed to watch out for that one said one aunty to the other...too much freedom these days...that's their problem..."

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