Friday, December 11, 2015

Series 2: “Checkmate” Part 1 My near perfect life

I had seen the intermittent drizzle of rain throughout the day from my office window. But in Seattle, rain was like second nature. My car had gone for  an oil change so I had the option of either walking or calling Ali. Although the street in front of my red brick office building usually wasn’t very crowded at five in the evening, it was even less so today. I decided to walk the short distance home.

I opened my umbrella as I pushed open the office door. Maple trees, green with the celebration of spring, lined both sides of the double-laned road. Beads of water hung on to the crisp, fresh leaves and everything within sight looked washed and new. The musty scent of damp soil and callow leaves mingled pleasantly in the air.

I lived five blocks from work in the residential area behind the small office complex. The short walks I often took home had garnered friendships from the owners of some of the shops I passed. There were various stores aligned in a row, a donut and pastry store, a hair salon and a video rental. Mrs Price, plump as the donuts she sold, was standing outside with her arms crossed, eyeing the sky. Her face broke into a smile when she saw me.

“Hi Merrium. Pretty dreary and dull, huh?”

I stopped and smiled. My parents had named me Marium. But of course the Americans have their own pronunciation guidelines for Asian names.

“This light drizzle is not bothersome, Mrs Price. How was business today?”

“Pretty good. People will never give up eating, be it rain or shine. Especially hot donuts.”

I laughed. I chatted with her a little longer and the conversation came to an end as she went inside to answer the ringing phone.

I resumed my picturesque walk home. A red Mercedes purred by smoothly. The driver turned his head to give me another glance. I was used to the reaction by now. The combination of my shoulder length dark hair, unusually fair skin and black eyes was striking, even at the big ‘four O’ or 40. Ali, my husband, kept telling me that I needed to start looking older sooner before he started to get a severe age complex. Not that he was bad looking himself.

My life in general was near perfect. Ali and I both had our faults but we managed to keep the marriage going for 16 years. There were disagreements but none that weren’t resolved amicably. Perhaps it was because I believed that success in any relationship meant more acceptances than expectations. Ryna and Omer completed our little family. When selecting names for the children, we had made sure they could be pronounced without being distorted entirely.

My mind wandered to our latest unsettled disagreement about my present job at the adoption agency. I ruefully wondered if Ali would ever leave the matter alone. He didn’t mind me working, he just didn’t like where I was working. I kept arguing about the positive side of it; it was close to work and I only worked three days a week. But he kept insisting that I should find something else. I usually wasn’t obstinate about things but Ali’s insistence just seemed so unreasonable.

The rain had stopped as I walked up the paved, hedged driveway of our home. Large windows overlooked the crisp green front lawn. It was early spring so the flower beds were yet to fill up with colour. The Virginia creeper, patiently waiting to turn green, snaked unabashedly up the two pillars on either side of the front door.

I noticed Ali’s car in the driveway. He was home early. As a co-partner in an engineering consultancy, he often had the luxury of choosing his own hours. I hurried inside. As I put my umbrella in the umbrella stand and removed my raincoat, I heard him talking on the phone in the kitchen.

“….bring Lucy too, wives tend to get so suspicious if you go out without them.”

I could tell by his laugh that the response from the other end was equally silly. I walked into the kitchen. I guessed he was talking to his college friend, Alex. He heard me enter the kitchen, turned around and blew me a kiss.

“Yeah, Marium just walked in too… no… of course she won’t mind if you bring Lucy. Ok… we’ll expect you in about an hour… bye.”

He placed the receiver on the kitchen counter and walked over to me.

“Wait, let me guess,” putting up my hands, I pretended to think really hard. “That was… Alex?”

“Right,” he grinned. “I keep forgetting that my wife is getting more intelligent with the years.”

I rolled my eyes exasperatedly. He knew how much his quirky comments irritated me.

Two years my senior, with his square-cut face, dark brown hair and eyes, Ali could easily top the list of attractive, if not very handsome men.

“He’s coming over with Lucy for a little while. I hope you’re not too tired,” he said. “He wants to discuss his new job offer from Cincinnati.”

We walked into the family room.

“What’s to mind?” I said, sinking down into my favorite leather loveseat. “They’re good company. Did you call Ammi ji today?” I asked, referring to my mother.

“No. I figured she and Abbu ji were having too much of a good time to even answer my call,” he replied, sitting in his recliner in front of the TV.

Omer, 12, and Ryna, 14, were spending their spring break with my parents in Los Angeles. It was a long awaited treat for all four. The last phone call had confirmed our predictions. Abba ji and Omer were fishing to their hearts content and Ryna and Ammi ji were raiding the mall and catching every new release in the theater.

Besides the fun, it was important for them to keep getting the regular dose of Pakistani and Islamic-related basic values. Though we made sure this dose was given regularly at home too, Ammi ji and Abbu ji were a major influence. Omer was a sober child and absorbed things well. Ryna, on the other hand, had to question everything. She was so much like myself at that age that it scared me sometimes.

“How was your day?” I asked Ali.

“Nothing new,” he replied.

He was flipping the channels now.

“Do I need to prepare anything for Alex and Lucy?” I asked, mentally going over the snacks I had in the house.

“What do we have?”

“Well, we have samosas, which they like,” I told him. “And you can make your famous chai. Will that do?”

“Absolutely,” replied Ali.

“Well I guess I better get changed,” I said, getting up.

He nodded. He had flipped up the footrest now, a sign of serious TV watching.

As third generation American Muslims in the US, we conversed in English and answered our parents in English too. Though we understood Urdu, we rarely attempted to speak it ourselves for the fear of being laughed at. Our grammar was horrible and we had a very poor sense of gender nouns. Remorsefully, however, I had very little hope of our children either understanding Urdu or speaking it themselves.

from The Express Tribune Blog

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