Photo by Ed Kashi
I look past Mama’s camera to the engaged couple dancing behind her. Mama doesn’t notice this, despite her unofficial role as photographer in my sister’s wedding, which is why this particular dance isn’t being documented carefully in pictures. Samal, my sister, won’t mind though – my mother pretty much assigned herself the position as photographer. Sam said that all she needed to remember her rehearsal dinner were her memories.
Then again, she also said that nothing would change once she got married – “Ajda, I promise, everything will stay the same! The only difference will be that I’ll live with Sarif down the road, while you stay with Mama and Papa. We’ll be closer than ever, I swear,” she’d said. She shouldn’t have sworn that, and I shouldn’t have believed her. It would never be true.
Already, I could almost see things changing, right before my eyes. Yes, Sam would live right down the road but in a big, fancy new house with her fancy, new husband. Things had started changing soon after they got engaged. I remember the day they announced their engagement to his extended family, as well as ours. It was in our small, dinky house that our immediate family shares with my four grandparents and two aunts, and I remember thinking, “Well, at least he knows what he’s getting himself into. At least he won’t be surprised when she tells him that we’re poor.”
I was sitting on the floor, because all the chairs had been taken by grandparents, when my sister and her fiancé just came out and said, “Well everyone, we’re engaged,” simply, as if it were that easy. Immediately, the tension in the air, dormant for at least a little while, had become palpable. While our family looked overjoyed, his did not. In fact, they’d looked downright upset! I could almost feel the tittering of his aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Sarif’s parents only sat disapprovingly on out weathered and sunken couch, almost blending into the dull pattern.
“Oh my, how did she get him?” “How could he have made such an… unwise decision for his bride?” Of course, no one actually said anything that rude, but I could see they were dying to. It wasn’t that Sam was ugly, she’s actually quite beautiful, it’s just that most of our culture believes that people should marry other people in the same “class”. Sarif’s family is quite wealthy, which obviously makes him in a higher class than us. Despite Sam’s great heart, beauty, and intelligence, she is still, according to Sarif’s family, unworthy of him. How silly.
Of course, I had known for several days of my sister’s engagement. Late at night in the bedroom that we shared, she had whispered to me across the room, “Sarif asked me to marry him today.”
“Oh my god! What did you say?”
“I told him yes,” she giggled nervously. Then, I had been immensely excited, but that, too, had changed. I was beginning to realize that this wedding marked not the beginning of an era, but the end of one.
I start to remember the day after my sister announced her engagement. That afternoon, after I was done helping Mama with washing the dishes, Samal had struck up an unexpected conversation with me, about her love life of all things. Wasn’t that pretty much set in stone by now?
“I’m worried about Sarif,” she’d said. She rested her hand on her hip, something she always does when she’s nervous or worried.
I didn’t notice that, though, so without looking up from my homework, I had grumbled, “Umm. Why?”
“Because when I saw him this morning, he was just… I don’t know, distracted. And kind of…. angry? I tried to talk to him about it, but he didn’t want to.”
Not really interested and being distracted myself, all I said was, “Huh.” Actually processing what she had said, I asked with more enthusiasm, “Wait. Do you think that has to do with what his parents said to him last night when you guys told them you were engaged?”
“He said they were fine with it. They didn’t say anything to him last night,” she’d said, almost questioningly. I doubted that; I knew what I’d heard, but I wasn’t about to debate my sister on her own fiancé and his parents.
What Sarif’s parents actually said to him was something along the lines of, “Sarif. You’ve disappointed us. This girl- “
“Samal,” Sarif interjected.
“Well, yes. She seems like a very nice girl… but she is not right for you.”
“And how exactly do you know that?”
“Sarif, we only want the best for you. Did you see her shoes? They have holes!”
“They’re called sandals, Mother. They’re supposed to have holes,” said Sarif tiredly. From my spot behind the door, I could clearly hear Sarif sigh. His mother continued as though she hadn’t even heard him.
“And do you see this house?” she had whispered loudly, waving her arms around our dingy, dimly-lit kitchen with gusto. “It’s like they don’t even… well, it doesn’t matter. Sweetheart, try as you might, no amount of money is going to make that girl tame, and we have your sister’s wedding to worry about paying for.” At this, my jaw dropped. Why should my sister be “tame”? What does that even mean? Sam is the gentlest, sweetest girl they were ever likely to meet and Sarif was lucky to have her. In fact, I was expecting him to say exactly that to his parents. What he did say though, surprised me a lot more.
“Mother, Father… no. Please, don’t. I love her…” his voice trailed off.
“Think about what we have said,” his father asked. His parents both kissed him on the cheek and walked out of the room, leaving Sarif standing, bewildered, in the middle of my kitchen. Had they really just threatened to disown Sarif if he married my sister? That’s… That’s… it’s just ridiculous! Well, it doesn’t matter anyway; they would never actually do that to their precious baby. I shook my head to clear it, and quietly crept away from the door to my room.
Over the next couple weeks, I’d almost forgotten about the conversation I overheard between Sarif and his parents, and figured that his parents had just decided not to go through with their threat. Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed that, but I had more important things to worry about. Like the actual wedding. Sam was getting more and more stressed by the hour, and I was, of course, the one who was forced to deal with her mood swings and screaming rants. Both were happening longer and more often, now that the wedding was tomorrow. I couldn’t blame her for it; I was sure I’d be the same way when my time came. We were sisters after all.
I come up to Sam and Sarif and say, “Oh dearest Sam, may I have this dance?”
“Well, fine, but you know I’m taken,” she giggles. We twirl around the dance floor for a few minutes, joking and laughing.
Suddenly she says “Sarif’s been acting weird. Kind of like he’s… undecided, somehow, about our wedding. I mean, he asked me to marry him! How many doubts could he possibly have? It’s the night before our wedding; he probably just has wedding jitters. Do guys get that?” I could see her hand slowly inching it’s way towards her hip, so I decided not to tell her about the conversation between Sarif and his parents that I’d eavesdropped on. It would only cause her worry, and it wasn’t like anything would actually happen. My sister would marry Sarif, she and her husband would live together and eventually have teeny babies together and live happily ever after. That’s how life worked, wasn’t it?
I realized my sister was still waiting for me to answer her, so I said, “Yeah, I’m sure that’s it. He loves you.”
“Where’d he go, anyway?”
I looked around me, and sure enough, he was gone. “I don’t know, probably to the bathroom.” I wasn’t too worried; he was a big boy and could take care of himself.
Fifteen minutes later, I was getting a little nervous, where was he? Sam was getting on edge too, after all it was her rehearsal dinner and her fiancé was missing. I tried not to worry too much; he had probably just gone off for a drink or something. When it came time to make the toasts though, I was really uneasy. I went off to find him while my sister socialized with her guests.
First I checked the bar, then I ran down the street to his house, and then to the park. But he’s nowhere to be found, and I’m on my way back to the rehearsal dinner when I pass the train station. Sarif is there, huddled by a ticket kiosk.
“Sarif!” I yell. He immediately looks over and recognizes me.
“Ajda, hi… what on earth are you doing here?”
“No, I think the better question is what are you doing here? Why aren’t you at the rehearsal dinner with your fiancée?”
“I just… I can’t do it. I need to leave,” he says miserably.
“Umm… why?” I ask angrily, although I’m quite sure I already know the answer.
“My parents would disown me! I wouldn’t be able to provide for Sam, I couldn’t… I just couldn’t do it to her.”
“You know what, Sarif? I really don’t think your leaving for her. You know that your leaving will hurt her more than it will hurt you. But you don’t care, because you value your money over Sam.”
“Ajda, please. Try to understand! I would have nothing, I would be no one… What am I supposed to do? Honestly, Ajda, it’s the best thing for everyone.”
“Don’t you love her?”
“Yes, but sometimes love isn’t enough!” he says, clichéd and predictable as always. Excuses.
“You’re weak,” I say, and for a moment I almost pity him. Then I turn on my heel and walk away.
Southampton Intermediate School, grade 8