This could go either way guys, if you’re bored this could entertain you for half an hour or if you were doing fine- this could bore you for half an hour.
It is so bizarre to be sharing any of this you know. It has lived on my laptop for so long not knowing that one day it will see day light. Each chapter is so long that I spent half the morning hacking through it to make it shorter and more readable.
Anyway this Sunday is boring me to tears, where did my weekend go?
When Leyla Met Sinan – Take Two
The next few days are mundane and routine. For the most part, everybody leaves me alone, no more intensive questioning. I think when I threatened Yara to cancel my rendezvous with Mr Awkward- word spread that the events that took place on Sunday were no longer up for discussion. It was wonderful not to be interrogated at home and work was bliss because no one there knew of my (not so) action-packed Sunday.
I was starting to regret agreeing to see this man. Although I had no interest in getting married, I also didn’t have any valid reasons for that stance. Education was done with, I was working and old as everyone (and by everyone I mean the gracious aunties of the Asian community) who saw me pointed out. So, I thought that if I agree to see one man, I would give my family some satisfaction that I at least tried to meet someone, before making some excuse about why I can’t see it through. However, this not so thought-out plan was starting to seem easier in theory than practise and cost me some valuable hours of sleep trying to figure out how to stop the matter from developing further.
On Thursday, when I came back from a late shift at the bookstore where I worked, I walked over to the kitchen where Yara was cooking and Khala, who was drinking her tea, informed me that we had a visitor coming tomorrow.
‘I’ll give you three guesses who,’ said Yara.
‘You should be stirring this food, not my anxiety levels,’ I warn her. ‘Who’s he coming with Khala?’ I turn to my aunty.
‘Maybe his sister, I don’t think his father will want to come again with no other man present in this house,’ she pours the remains of her tea into the sink and leaves the kitchen not before leaving me with a final reminder though, ‘make sure you wear something nice darling.’
I stick my tongue out at her departing back before casually reminding myself I’m twenty-six, not six.
‘What are you going to wear?’ Yara asks excitedly.
‘Erm, well I was going to go with clothes, but if my cavewoman sack is back from dry cleaning then we’ll go with that instead.’ I give her my best smile and two thumbs up.
She looks at me, bewildered. ‘Wear purple, it suits you and dilute the sarcasm before he gets here please, I’m starting to pity the poor man.’
‘You and me both.’ I mumble whilst putting the kettle on. Something I spend half my life doing evidently.
‘Right,’ she turns the stove off, ‘I’m going to go see Amber, she’s asked me to proof-read her assignment, God knows why, I know I’m a teacher, but I fall asleep marking my Rugrats’ books, never mind long essays. Are you going to check in on your mum?’
I nod, ‘hmm, right after I’ve made her tea.’
Whilst I’m making mum her drink, I think about how tomorrow’s meeting might go. I don’t even know what we’re going to talk about and I have horrible visions of a repeat of Sunday evening when we were both clueless and awkward until it was too late to have any real conversation. I cover my face with my hands and growl into them, frustrated.
‘It’s me Ma, I’m back.’ I knock gently on mum’s door and let myself in.
She’s lying down on her bed and smiles when she sees me, holding her hand out for her drink.
‘There you go, careful though, it’s still a little hot.’ I kiss her on the head.
‘Good day?’ She asks me.
This is a routine we have; she asks about my day and I ask about hers. Honestly, our answers are always the same but this repeated conversation has become a ritual I am fond of now. It’s one of the few times mum and I have a moment to sit down and chat. She quickly steers the topic to our esteemed guest’s arrival tomorrow.
‘Ask a lot of questions,’ she advises me.
‘Yeah? Not act all shy?’ I ask.
‘No time for that Leyla, you need information.’ She gives me a look on disbelief like I’m being stupidly old-fashioned.
‘What shall I ask?’ I wonder out loud.
‘I can’t tell you. People are unique and want different things out of marriage. Ask what you need to know,’ she shrugs and takes a sip of tea.
I stay in her room until she sleeps again before heading up to mine and finding Yara on my bed.
‘Of course.’ I nod.
‘Of course, what?’ she asks innocently.
‘Of course, I would find you here, where else would you be?’ I say as I shrug off my jacket, take off my headscarf and crash on the bed next to her, closing my eyes.
‘I’m exhausted Yara, keep it short.’ I say sleepily.
‘Do you think he’s good-looking?’
Okay, I expected something about dresses but this makes me open my eyes. I think about it for a moment then I laugh.
‘What? Oh my God you don’t, you think he’s ugly!’ She accuses.
‘No, no, I just can’t picture him in my mind. I probably looked at him five times in total that day so I haven’t got the foggiest what he looks like. I mean, I know he was tall and had a beard, but that’s it. Wow, fancy that, eh?’ I close my eyes again, still smiling.
‘God Leyla, you’re no fun at this. Come on, give me something.’ She whines, poking me in the arm.
‘Ouch, alright. He had an interesting smile.’ I volunteer, remembering when he smiled at me at the end of our meeting. I still don’t have a clue why he was smiling. Perhaps I could ask him tomorrow. Then again, that might come across as odd; smiling was not against the law the last time I checked.
‘Interesting? Not even nice? Ooh, juicy.’ Though my eyes are closed, I know she rolled her.
‘Sorry, that’s all I got.’ I raise my hands in defeat, eyes still firmly shut. ‘Yara, no joke, I’m shattered, you need to let me sleep, like now.’
‘I think he’s good looking, you guys would make a good couple. You with your long black hair and big brown eyes and skinny figure. Him with his decent height and rugged handsomeness.’ She continues as though I haven’t spoken.
Looks are important to Yara, she feels that is the one gift in life that God has not bestowed upon her. This is why, in her words, she was fashionable, to compensate for the fact she was not good looking. I disagreed with this completely, in many ways she was prettiest in our trio. She had beautiful clear skin but was forever focused on her short height and curvy figure instead. She always told me she envied my height and slender frame. I told her looks weren’t everything and that she was the intelligent and mature one, despite being two years younger than me, out of the three of us. I wasn’t that tall anyway. Amber dwarfed me at 5 foot eight inches, despite being the youngest one in the family. I always suspected that those few inches were added by her big hair anyway.
‘If you leave now, I’ll wear whatever you want me to tomorrow.’ She has to know I mean business now.
‘Wow, you must be tired.’
‘Yes so, so tired.’ I yawn, rolling onto my side trying to find a more comfortable position, almost knocking Yara off the bed in the process.
Is she still here?
‘Hmm?’ my subconscious answers her.
‘Promise me to get a good look at him tomorrow.’ She pleads.
‘Good look, you got it.’
And then I’m aware of nothing.
I spent the next day mostly lounging around, reading and hanging out with my mother and it was heavenly, until Yara came back and started attacking my face with brushes and throwing various skirts at me to try on. The mood in the house was tense and my nerves were starting to kick in. Then at around 6:05 PM, several things happened simultaneously; the doorbell rang, the room fell silent, Yara rushed to answer the door and Khala, who must have heard the bell from the kitchen, ran into the living room and without saying a word to any of us, sat on her armchair, grabbed the remote and changed the channel to Sky News, pretending to concentrate really hard on every word coming out of the presenter’s mouth. Amber burst out laughing at this show her mother was putting on and even Ma started giggling to herself.
‘Is she kidding?’ Amber asks me, still laughing.
But I’m incapable of joining her, I can hear voices in the corridor and now my palms are sweating.
Yara walks into the living room followed closely by him and his sister. We all stand like we’re about to meet the Queen.
‘Guys, you remember Sinan and Aisha.’ She announces to the room.
They’re not two kids starting in your class, Yara.
That said, I didn’t know his sisters name was Aisha. Note to self; make sure you listen today.
They both make their way around the room greeting everyone. Aisha hugs me tightly and asks how I am- I’m only capable of smiling in return. I notice that he kisses Ma on the head the way only I do. She pats him gently on the arm, he lets her. Eventually, we all sit down with Amber on the floor due to a lack of seats. I notice his father took a rain check today just as Khala predicted and Saleem didn’t even get a second chance to redeem himself today.
‘We had tea last time, how about a change? Everyone okay with coffee?’ Yara asks politely. They all nod and Khala and Amber go to make it. Yara, God bless her, makes small talk with Aisha. The rest of us are quiet. A few minutes later, Amber walks back in with coffee and serves everyone except me and him.
I can see where this is going.
Khala follows Amber back into the room with a small tray with two cups of black coffee, a little jug of milk and a pot of sugar on it. ‘Darling, I thought you and Sinan might like to have your tea in the garden.’
‘Okay.’ I say weakly and then cringe at the sound of my own voice. That won’t do at all, I have to be confident. I repeat that to myself twice and stand up. Taking a deep breath, I make myself look at him and to his credit he’s helping me out by having his eyes on me already.
‘Is the garden okay for you?’
He stands and gestures that I should lead the way.
And so I do, carrying our coffees and praying all the way that I don’t trip over the damn skirt Yara insisted I wear. When we get to the garden, I set the tray on the round table and gesture to the four chairs around it, ‘Sit anywhere you like.’ He takes a seat; I add milk to his coffee and ask how many sugars he would like, he weirdly requests one and a half. I oblige, place his cup in front of him and sit directly opposite with my own cup.
‘I think we got off to an awkward start last time for which I apologise, I was very jetlagged and unsure how to go about the whole meet up but I feel we will do better this time, what do you reckon?’ He smiles warmly at me.
I’m slightly taken back by this change in attitude. It’s almost like I’m meeting another man.
He extends his hand to me, ‘Sinan.’
I hesitate for a moment before shaking the hand he offers very briefly, ‘Leyla.’
This time when he smiles, it reminds me of the first time I met him, that peculiar, hopeful smile he gave me, before we parted ways.
Getting to Know You – Sort Of
‘Nice to meet you Leyla, so seeing as I did all the talking last time, do you want to tell me a little, or a lot -I don’t mind- about yourself?’
This isn’t going the way I envisioned, the plan, on some level, was to tell him that I’m not interested in marriage and send him on his way. But seeing as he told me about himself last time, I decide to humour him a little.
‘Anything in particular you want to know?’ I ask as I look towards the patio doors and see Yara staring back from the living room, giving me a discreet thumbs up.
‘Who do you live here with, what’s that bunch in there like?’ he smiles and gestures to the living room behind him.
‘I live with my mother, she had a stroke a few years ago now (he nods thoughtfully) she can’t walk very well and her speech is still affected, only we can understand her that’s why she doesn’t talk in front of many people. But she’s fine otherwise. Then there’s Khala; mum’s sister and her two daughters; Yara and Amber. That’s pretty much us.’
‘You call her “Khala”, that’s-’
‘Arabic for aunty,’ I clarify.
‘Aisha tells me you’re like us, both Arab and Indian. My dad’s Arab, mum was Indian, she passed away years ago now. How about you, is it your mum or dad that’s Arab?’
‘Erm, Mum’s the Arab one, I identify with both cultures to be honest.’ I start praying he doesn’t ask anything about my father. It’s no secret in the community that my dad deserted us years ago and I’m sure he did his research before he came to meet me but still, it’s no walk in the park talking about this topic.
‘Do you work?’ He changes the subject, almost as if he sensed my discomfort.
‘I work part-time in a small bookstore, not far from here; my friend’s dad is the owner so she hooked me up. I do whatever he needs me to do really. How about you? What age group do you teach?’
‘You have a good memory,’ he smiles sounding impressed, ‘I teach adults actually, foreigners wanting to learn English.’
‘At one of the local colleges?’
He hesitates before he answers, ‘No, not exactly. At the moment, I work for a company that sends me to different countries where I teach English for three months at a time. I’m teaching, or eventually will be teaching, in around eight countries because I have a two-year contract with them. They are wanting to renew but I’m not thinking that far ahead yet.’
I nod with what I hope is an impressed facial expression. That is pretty amazing what he does, so amazing in fact, it leaves me speechless for a little bit.
‘What do you like doing when you’re not working?’ Apparently I needn’t have worried; he has more questions up his sleeve.
‘Reading, movies, quality time with Ma, this and that. Yourself?’ I turn the question on him.
‘I guess socialising you can say, I’m away from England a lot as my job involves travelling, so I like catching up with old friends when I come home.’
Having run out of questions and not knowing how to broach the whole I am not going to marry you thing, I decide to go with; ‘your coffee’s getting cold.’
Round of applause for Leyla. Excellent.
He takes a sip and looks around; admiring the ancient swing we have at the very end of the garden. I deliberately did not sit us there because it would mean I have to sit next to him and I’m not comfortable with that. While he drinks his coffee, I remember my promise to Yara and brave a stare in his direction.
Is he good looking? He’s not bad to look at. I’m facing his profile and so can’t quite determine what colour his eyes are, so I move on to something else. He has a stubble today, a far cry from the bushy beard he sported that day. His hair is jet black, but every now and then a ray of sunlight will hit it, making some sections look almost light brown. It seems like it would be soft in texture and it is on the long and dishevelled side, some strands reaching the lower part of his neck. I can’t tell if he hasn’t had a haircut in a while or if this is how his hair is usually styled.
Suddenly his head turns back and he looks directly at me. My heart starts beating so rapidly it is in danger of bursting out of my chest. I feel like I have been caught stealing. In the interest of not seeming guilty, I don’t immediately look away, instead, I gaze long enough to know that his eyes are actually a light shade of brown; almost golden, like honey. Pocketing that information in a deep and dark corner of my brain, I calmly turn my head the other way and take a sip of my now frozen and disgusting coffee. Well, I’ve done my homework; Yara has to give me an A.
‘Leyla?’ He sets his cup back on the table.
‘Are you okay? You seem lost.’ He smirks.
‘Sorry, yeah I’m fine just thinking; did you have any more questions?’
Please say no.
‘Not for now, but if you have any for me, by all means, shoot.’
‘Oh.’ I say stupidly. Unbeknownst to him, I didn’t plan to take this relationship forward so as far as I was concerned we didn’t even need to be here having this discussion. Before I tell him this, I indulge myself one last question.
‘Why do you want to marry me?’
He scratches his stubble and gives a small laugh. ‘God, you don’t beat around the bush, do you?’
‘Well, like I said last time, I feel I’m ready to settle down, I’m not opposed to meeting someone through a set up. You don’t know until you try really, do you? I’ve met people myself before where it hasn’t always worked out and so I’m open to the alternative; arranged marriage, if you will, though I hate that term. You seem like a nice person. My sister knows of your family and when she told me about you I thought why not get to know her. If it doesn’t work out, we both go our separate ways, no broken hearts and no mess.’ It’s him that shrugs now.
His answer is so clinical it leaves me a little cold inside. But then, we only just met, he doesn’t know me; I’m a stranger to him. What else was I expecting? In all honesty, it’s a fair enough response- very realistic. None of it matters though and I plan to tell him why in a few seconds. But before I open my mouth, he shoots another question my way.
‘Do you want to marry me?’ He looks at me directly. No smile, just a serious expression.
I take a deep breath. ‘No…’
‘Quick and painful.’ He laughs and starts to kick a random leaf laid on the grass next to his foot.
‘No, no,’ I hasten to defend myself. ‘Honestly it’s not you, I mean I don’t even know you, it’s just…’
Don’t say complicated, Leyla. Do NOT say complicated. My brain chants at me.
I give you ONE job Leyla.
Shut up brain.
‘I don’t think it’s the right time for me to take a step like this after all,’ I’m struggling to find the right words but I soldier on. ‘I have things that need taking care of here. My mother is my biggest priority, I can’t leave her, and I’m her main carer and provider. Everyone helps of course, but they have their own life. Ma and I, all we have is each other and we like it that way. So it’s not you at all.’
‘Okay, I understand what you’re saying. Although, you say it’s not the right time which implies that sooner or later there will be a right time but at the same time you say that you can’t leave your mother which means that really, there will never be a right time because you have no intentions of leaving her. You’re contradicting yourself.’
Oh my God, just drink your coffee and go please.
‘Maybe in the future when Ma is more independent and I worry less, I’ll decide to get married who knows, all I know is now not the right time.’
‘What if I was Mr Right and you blew me off?’ He smiles.
‘Mr Right does not exist; he’s a myth, a rumour spread by lonely and desperate women so you are definitely not him. Therefore, I’m not worried about that at all.’ I laugh in spite of myself.
He leans his elbows forward on the table and stares directly at me, ‘you never know, maybe you and I are meant to be together and it just seems wrong to walk away from something that has a chance of working.’
‘What are you basing that assumption on? We have met all of two times.’ I hold up two fingers for emphasis. ‘I know it was misleading to agree to meet you when my mind was already set on not getting married and for that I apologise, sincerely. I just wanted to make my family happy. I always say no without meeting the guy so just this once, I decided to meet the guy to appease them. It was selfish of me not to consider where that would leave you, I’m sorry.’ I place my hand on my heart when I say all this and try to look as genuine as possible. If someone were to place a mirror in front of me right now though, I bet the expression on my face would be; guilty.
He looks at me, deep in thought as thought trying to figure out what’s going on in my mind.
Good luck buddy, I don’t know what goes on up there myself.
‘Honestly, you seem like a nice person and I’m sure you’ll find who you’re looking for soon, but I am not she.’ I try and say this in the least patronising way, hoping he will end the meeting once and for all.
‘Is that my cue to leave?’ He asks quietly.
Is that disappointment I see on his face? Surely not, he barely knows me. I don’t answer him. What am I supposed to say? Yes, it is?
He seems to give in, ‘ok, well, what are you going to say to your family? I’m thinking our stories should match.’
‘Just, that we want different things in life. It’s half true. You want to settle down and get married. I do not.’
‘Fair enough. Don’t feel bad.’ He reassures me. ‘No hard feelings ok?’
Oh God, now he’s smiling at me, like genuinely smiling.
But if anything this makes me feel even more rotten.
I told you to shut up, brain.