By Amna Al Harmoodi
“Mom, find me a wife,” is not the typical beginning of a love story, but in this case Hamad used it as a strategic tool. Since he turned 23, Hamad has had countless phone screens held to his face of hijab-covered women. Thus far, his answer had always been no, until today. He uttered the phrase that released the sounds of ululations and wishful prayers, as if his whole life came to this moment and after being tied to a wife, he would finally be fulfilled in his family’s eyes. “Who do you want?” One of his sisters, Jameela, asked, “Is it the young and beautiful Athba? Is it our cousin Afra? Tell us what type of girl you’d like and we’ll have a list of options ready for you before you know it.”
“I don’t like frivolous, young girls.” Hamad’s answer led to an exchange of glances between his family members. Jameela rolled her eyes.
“Don’t worry,” his mother said, “I’ve married off three of my sons, I know how to pick a bride.”
Hamad never liked being the center of attention, and that’s all he was since he broke the news to his family. All his social circles in Al Ain hinted to Hamad about their knowledge of his private life. He needn’t mention how the women in his life prayed for his happiness in life and marriage and sent jokes in the family group about him—
the youngest in the family—as a husband; it was typical of Emirati women. It was the men, however, who caught him by surprise. His uncles at the mosque mentioned their prayers for a good match, and even a coworker who was friends with his cousin mentioned he had a few unmarried relatives. Hamad’s future seemed to be everyone’s business, but true to his nature, he rejected every girl that was recommended to him, for they were girls, younger than him and shared the same addiction that everyone around him had: gossip. The only girl that was an exception was Salama. What a woman she was. The first time he saw her was at work, where his desk was in close proximity to where the women at his work sat to chat but mainly spoke about other people. He overheard them beginning to poke fun at the secretary of their department when he heard an enchanting voice say, “I don’t think it’s right to talk about her that way.” How unlike the women that surrounded him she was.
Yet, his family advocated for the marriage of such young girls engaged in frivolity. With each no, his mother would ask for his type and even asked if he wanted younger. His mother belonged to an older generation of thinking, in which men married women younger than them for fertility reasons as well as their allure. Yet, this notion of marrying a woman younger than a man still managed to survive to this modern age, and everyone treated it as if it were perfectly normal. He disagreed with the notion completely, especially after he had managed to hold a conversation with Salama, and she only grew to be more interesting to him that day. He talked to her, at first, about the workplace, then the conversation flowed into topics of family, religion, and funnily enough they liked, not only the same music, but also the same Quran reader. He convinced her to give him her number and they soon found themselves in an intimate relationship. She was different from any girl he ever knew, or even tried to talk to in a romantic capacity. She never ignored his calls or was unreasonably jealous when he interacted with other women, she was the one for him, but he knew she was not the bride his family had ever pictured.
After a week had passed since he asked his mother to find him a wife, he decided it was time to let them know exactly what his thoughts were. He came home from work and walked over to the women’s majlis that was separate from the villa. He knocked and approached his family who sat on the red cushions that lined the border of the room with saffron tea, cardamom coffee, and burning incense arranged on the table in the center. His sisters were seated around his mother, as well as a few of his brothers’ wives and a nephew who waddled over to him.
Hamad picked up his nephew who, with his chubby hands, played with Hamad’s trimmed beard. “I already have a woman I want to marry in mind.” Hamad’s words froze the majlis in shock and anticipation of what he had to say next. “Her name is Salama.”
His mother replied with, “well, why didn’t you speak up earlier, son? You could have saved us the trouble of looking around.”
Jameela had to chime in, “yeah, Hamad, why did you have us call people if you knew who you wanted in the first place.”
His mother sighed and rubbed the spot between her eyebrows, “we don’t even have a Salama in the family. You know how I’d prefer if she were from the family.”
“She’s not.” His mother removed the burqa that covered her face, putting her dissatisfaction on fully on display. She didn’t need to say anything; her creased mouth and squinting kohl lined eyes said it all. Despite that, she waved her hands and said, “it’s no matter, just give me a number and we’ll move things forward.” Hamad took his mother’s older generation iPhone and entered the number while completely aware of the uncertain gazes being exchanged among the women. Jameela threw a hateful glance towards Hamad and whispered something into another sister sitting next to her, all the while looking at Hamad. He handed the phone back and said,“let me know what happens,” as he set his nephew down, and then proceeded to walk out.
Hamad got into his car and called a contact with the red heart emoji. “Hey,” he greeted softly once hearing the voice on the other line. “So, I told them about you and your mother should be expecting a call soon… She’s too old? Then let your sister handle that call once it comes in. I can’t wait until you’re my wife. No… I didn’t tell them your age. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me, why should it matter to them?”
A week had passed by and his mother walked into Hamad’s room exasperated, “what were you thinking?” She held a blue mask in her henna decorated hands, and the crystal crusted jalabiya that she reserved for special outings on. It had a larger decorated neckline of the embroidered flowers, resembling the patterns of the silk fabric. “What do you mean?” he inquired while sitting up properly from his bed and setting aside the laptop he was previously preoccupied with. “How could you let me walk in there to ask if their forty-year-old daughter would marry my twenty three year old son!”
“She’s not forty-”
“How could you do this to me? What would people think!? What would they say?!”
“Who cares what people think-”
“You will not marry her,” she firmly said as she tried to walk away, but Hamad quickly stood up and held her hand.
“Mother, I don’t ask for much and I love her dearly.” Hamad wasn’t a man of many words, especially when it came to affection.
“Son, this isn’t the way things are done.”
“What am I supposed to do? Marry a child? That’s acceptable?”
“They’re not children, they’re twenty!”
“Well, they act like they’re in middle school.”
“Son I love you, but the people-“
“So you care more about people’s feelings than mine?”
His mother walked away and Hamad stood in the hallway in front of his bedroom torn between the woman he wanted to marry and the woman who wouldn’t let him. “If they can’t love the woman that I love, then they’re not family to me.” Jameela walked into the halls at the exact moment Hamad made up his mind and said aloud, “I’m leaving.”
“Where?” Jameela said in an aggressive tone, “off to meet your grandma girlfriend?”
“You know what, yeah I am. I’m leaving to get married and I won’t come back.”
Her eyes widened and she just looked at him. She unfroze after he went back into his room with a mission. “You can’t, we’re your family.”
“I know a family to be supportive.” He grunted out as he hauled his suitcase onto his bed and started throwing items in there. Jameela panicked and headed out the room and into the hall to call on their mother. Hamad, however, didn’t feel like talking to anyone or waiting until his mother came. He zipped his suitcase closed, moved quickly down the stairs, and headed out of the villa to his car. He threw his suitcase into the back seat, seated himself into the driver’s seat, and drove off watching as a crowd of his relatives grew by the front door of his family’s villa.
He called the person who he wanted to create a home with, “Aloo?”
“Hala, Hamad, your family was just over to see us… They didn’t look too keen,” Salama’s low voice and low mood was impossible to miss, especially to Hamad.
“Forget them, I don’t need my family. You’re all I need.”
The line on the other end grew silent for a moment. “Say bismillah, and come to the spot. We should talk about this.”
Hamad couldn’t drive up to her house, what would her family think of an unmarried woman receiving a male visitor? Even if he was in the process of asking for her hand. So they have a spot. On the drive, Hamad would usually play romantic songs that made his heart full and excited to see his love, but this car ride only had the musical company of his ringer. His mother was calling him nonstop, but it did not deter him from rebelling against the unjust treatment towards him and the woman he wanted to marry. A fine woman, unlike the women that often popped up on his Instagram feed with their lips done and their hair peeking through their hijab. He parked his car and could see Salama parking hers next to him. She left her car and walked up to the driver’s window. The sun was in her eyes, so she was squinting and her crows feet adorned her dark eyes that left Hamad breathless in a way millennials’ eyeliner never could. He looked at her a bit before rolling down his window, she furrows her untouched eyebrows which made her look funny to him. Her brown edged lips were more alluring than any red glossed ones, and her hijab barely allowed for a centimeter’s worth of hair to show on her head. He loved her modesty.
He rolled down the window, “Hala Salamy.” She hated her nickname.
“Now is not the time for Salamy, Hamad,” she rolled her eyes at the name jokingly but he knew she was about to be serious. “You can’t abandon your family like this.”
“But their thinking is so backwards.”
“The prophet said that heaven lies beneath the soles of your mother’s feet, why would you disobey her like this?”
“Why is this only applicable to me? I am hurt as well.”
“Regardless, they’re your family… if I become your family and make a decision you won’t like, would you leave me as well?”
“Then prove it.”
She was right, and Hamad knew it. The only way he could prove it was to go back home. He smiled at her, “this is why you’re the only one for me, anyone else would have told me to forget them.” She stepped back and waved him off as he reversed and drove off from where he came. He parked his car in front of the empty driveway, and as he slammed the car door shut did the incessant ringing stop. He inhaled a deep breath, said bismillah, and once more entered the lionesses’ den. He entered the majlis where his whole family was gathered, the women were in hijab because even his brothers were standing around. They looked at him and right before anyone could break the silence, Hamad spoke, “I came back because you are my family, and I think that your way of thinking is wrong. Why should you care about what people think and speak? People will talk either way. Or are you willing to lose me?” Hamad stood there waiting for their responses. His mother stood up and embraced her son.
“Habibi, never leave again.” She looked up at him in almost a knowing glance, and with a low voice, “did she convince you to come back?”
Hamad nodded which made her nod in turn. Still holding onto his arms, she looked behind her shoulders at her daughters, in-laws and sons, “So, what do you lot have to say for yourselves?”
“Uh,” Jameela hesitated, “I know a good catering company..?”
One of his brother’s wives suggested a tent in the courtyard. Another sister spoke about a tailor. One by one, the women of Hamad’s family had almost planned the entire event. His mother stood up and held Hamad’s hands, “if it’s one thing we can’t afford to lose, son, it’s you, and not our reputation among people. If you love her, then we love her too. The gossip will be there, but it doesn’t matter as long as you’re there too.” Hamad was speechless by their act of support and especially from his mother. He could only kiss her head and say, “I’ll tell Salama the good news.”
Amna Alharmoodi is an Emirati writer passionate about writing the hidden Emirati stories. She won second place in Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation (ADMAF) Annual Creativity Award in 2019 for her short story “Transit”, which she co-wrote. She has been published in the NYU Abu Dhabi literary magazine, Airport Road, the NYU literary journal, Brio and the Paris-based literary magazine Postscript. She is currently interning at Sekka.
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