After Asr we walked to the library to pick up my books, much to the dismay of Nasser who said that me walking around with books made him look stupid. So I let him carry my books. We bumped into one of his cousins on the bus ride over to his house, so the 3 of us made our way together to the communal iftar. I actually knew of his cousin, which made things a little more bareable for me. I was fine with spending time with Nasser but I knew this was his family and didnt expect him to spend the whole evening with me, however I didnt want to look like the gooseberry in the corner of the room. The white guy! I wasnt used to being the odd one out, but I knew it was something I would have to get used to. At least in other situations I was usually mistaken for an arab, maybe from North Africa where european features are seen more, thanks to my latino roots. The eyes usually threw people off though, and thats when they thought more palestian, or maybe afgani... whatever they thought, I enjoyed hearing their reasonings.. helps you figure how their minds work.
Nasser had told me a few of his aunties didnt speak much english so to not be surprised if they started talking to me in urdu, he had already told them I was coming and it seemed the ladies were excited. I raised my eyebrows quizzingly and they both burst out laughed... 'bro, dont be modest' Nasser's cousin Hasan said to me 'our family arent into marrying in our culture, and we have many female cousins' Ok, so now I was freaked out and contemplated turning around. I actually stopped dead in the middle of the street and refused to walk further until Nasser assured me there were plenty of places to hide in his house and to just shout him over if I was nervous at the extra attention. That didnt make me feel better, but the thought of seeing Sadia for this short time made it worthwhile.
We got to the house, Id walked past it a few times before now but never knew whos it was.. It had always stood out to me, its architecture, the colours and the materials used, but now... knowing who lived there made it extra special. I tried to think back to when I first came across this street and decided to take a few shots around, I believe I actually took a picture of this house and I think there were some people outside. I told this to Nasser who told me I would have to look for the shot and show him insha'allah, I agreed and was actually excited to think who was in the picture and to remember any thoughts I had had at the time. Walking through the front door was like stepping into a different world, the smells, the colours, the furniture. A mix of modern, exotic and old school, i loved it and made several mental shots of the rooms as I got the grand tour of the house Nasser had lived in since moving from India when he was still in nappies. Then he took me to the best room, the outside, the garden. It was a neat and tidy 50 foot square patch of green grass that his mother took care of. There was a vegetable patch, and area for the babies to play in, the soil was so supple that I felt like I could take off my shoes and not worry about weeds or stones. His mother, Aisha, came out to tell me a few stories about the relationship she had with her garden and the life it had lead. I asked her if she minded if I came over one day and took a few shots in the sun of her working in the garden, or not working I squeezed in so she didnt feel like I wanted to take pictures of her. The garden had a sense about it, you know.. where you could sit there for hours and not remember what you thought about.
Nassers father eventually came out to join the part of his family who were sitting in the garden with me. He shook my hand strongly and welcomed me to his house 'Ive heard alot about you Ethan, and I hope you live up to what Ive heard' I was nervous, what had he heard? from whom had he heard it? 'now theres a relative in the living room asking for your details my good friend for her daughter' I shot a look to Nasser who smiled and pushed me towards the door, 'dude, dont be rude... just give her your details, it doesnt have to go further' I stopped dead and turned to him shaking my head 'I cant do this bro, it isnt me... this isnt what Im used to' He smiled and patted my arm, 'you do realise that whoever you marry you are going to have to go through this?' I nodded.. I knew that, but I wasnt ready for it just now... to my relief the adhan sounded over the speakers from the masjid behind their house that I hadnt even realised was there. Nassers youngest sister Amani brought us some milk and a few dates, we drank the milk and ate the dates on the walk over to the masjid to pray magrib salah. He looked at me and said quietly so noone heard 'listen we can take off after this if you want' I shook my head.. I was being selfish, this was his family and he was right, nothing had to go further 'Dude, Im hungry!" I told him breaking the silence, he laughed and put his arm around my shoulder protectively. I wandered if he would protect me against the ladies as he would his sister from me, then I stopped myself 'was he protecting her from me?' I tried to clear my head as I walked through the doors and followed Nasser to the prayer area. I was pleased to see no separation between the female and male congregation and shocked myself when one sister stood out to me from amongst them all. She was stood up praying the sunnah salah of entering the masjid wearing a long turquoise dress that skimmed the floor with a long sleeved black open cardigan and a black hijab. Sadia. At that point in that first glimpse before I lowered my gaze to the floor infront of me, I knew this situation wasnt going to be easy to get through.
As I prayed I made duaa that things would work out for the best and I asked my creator to give me strength to stay away from the temptations around me and to realise what would be better for me in this life and for my deen. I noticed that they did things a little different here than at the other mosque, things were a little quicker because it was ramadhan and because people wanted to eat. So they made the khutbah shorted and recited smaller verses which made things a little easier on my spinning head as I stood up from ruku.
On the way back to Nassers house I made him promise not to leave me alone with any older ladies to which he replied 'dude, you dont have to be alone.. they have already seen you, now the interesting bit starts' I hit my forehead to show my frustration in his obvious enjoyment of the situation. When we got back to his I was pleased to find the ladies eating in the living room and the guys outside in the garden. We all sat down to eat around a low table in the midst of the flowers, colours and fragrances, I was passed rice, salad, meat, sauces, and some things that I kindly passed on when Nasser or Hasan wasnt there to tell me what it was. It was enjoyable and I resisted the temptation to fill myself, I still had to walk home and I wasnt used to such a big meal in the evening. After eating, tea came out to everyone, now mint tea I was used to from a moroccan family who had adopted me back home, I missed home I suddenly thought and made a note to phone my mother in the next few days. She was always worrying that I was going to collapse from not eating all day, so I tried to reassure her.
I stood in the corner of the garden, the furthest from the house, drinking my tea and staring out at the stars. I finished my tea and held the cup next to my side as I bent down to gently push a frog that seemed stuck in the moist soil, I smiled as it sort of stared back at me before jumping off into the darkness. I was lost in my own world until I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned around and nearly fell over as I saw Sadia stood over me looking at me with her big deep blue eyes 'I asked if you wanted more tea' she asked shyly, probably embarassed at my reaction. 'Sorry,' I muttered standing up, 'I didnt hear you, sure why not.' I handed her my cup and awaited the tea to stop flowing, was it my imagination or was it taking forever? 'Its such a lovely house you live in, this garden is amazing, your mother must spend a lot of time out here' she nodded smiling, 'yes, masha'allah she loves it out here.' She was silent, 'she mentioned you wanted to take pictures out here, you never mentioned you were into photography' I laughed, 'more a hobby really, your brother calls me a geek' she noticed the camera hanging from my shoulder. 'Take no notice, did you take anything today?' I nodded before realising she was hinting that she wanted to see 'would you like to see some?' I asked, she smiled shyly 'if you feel comfortable' We sat down on the stone wall, so close I could feel the heat radiating from her but far enough to not disrespect her or her family. I think I actually moved away when I realised I could feel her presence so much more than I should have been. She flicked through my 5" digital screen and I watched her reactions to my shots, I watched her bare toes moving in time to an internal beat only she heard. There were a few that she really enjoyed, and it made me smile to see how much she liked them and how she envisioned them on canvas, on a wall, in a frame and I made several mental notes at the enthusiasm and ideas she gave me. She laughed at a few I had taken of Nasser and some of an unknown Hasan as he walked infront of me before the whole marriage incident. I told her about the incident, dont ask me why. She laughed and said they were probably right, that the aunties were probably in there now discussing my credentials. 'Did you see how he stands? such a straight and affirmative posture. What is he doing with his life after university? I heard he has good relations with his peers. He looks in good shape, important for a future family. Good eyes, shows strength in his mind. Looks comfortable in himself, in his surroundings. Masha'allah' I blushed when I realised that everything she was saying was from her own mind because she hadnt been in there with them. So to change the subject I stood up grabbing my camera from her and focused on the daisy just left of her hennaed foot, from my position on the grass I looked up and saw how the moonlight reflected on her face as she was looking over to the group of guys to the right of me. A picture with a thousand memories I told her before she was shouted over by her father. She picked up the teapot, handed me my cup, our fingers brushed and the electricity flowed 'I hope I havent gotten you into trouble' I said softly, she smiled and shook her head... 'it would take more than that, and thats more than Im prepared to do' I laughed and let her go to her father and his friends.
Hasan walked over to me and commented that he was going my way after here so we could walk together. I agreed, it would be good to know him a little more as he was in my department at school and it would be nice to have other brothers that I could rely on. About 30 minutes later we set off after saying our salams to the family, I made arrangements with Aisha to call around one day over the next few weeks while the weather was still warm to take a few shots. I told Nasser to call me when he was free and I said goodbye to all the people who I had met and chatted to in those hours spent away from my 4 walls. I felt free, I felt wanted and I felt at home alhamdulillah.
It took us about 20 minutes to get back to where me and Hasan parted, which we did to a shake of the hand and I stiffer hug than I was used to. We agreed to meet up for lunch once ramadhan was finished and swapped numbers and email addresses. It took me a further 10 minutes to get back to my crib, I walked in, kicked off my shoes and headed to the fridge for some water. I noticed the answering machine flashing, so I hit the play button as I filled up my glass.. as I gulped down the cold liquid I stopped mid swallow, nearly choking on the once refreshing liquid and almost dropping my glass. There was a message from Nasser 'Yo bro, gimme a ring back.. I got a lady here from tonight thats very interested in hooking you up with her daughter. You'll like her insha'allah. Peace, assalamalikum.'