By Laylah De Bruyns
As the sun started to set on the horizon and twilight tinged the lingering hues of the day, the muadhin began his call to the Maghrib prayer. The people gathered in the courtyard at simple trestle tables murmured a prayer before breaking their fast. A mass supper was a frequent occurrence during the holy month of Ramadan. Everyone had a sip of water and a date and then went into the Masjid to pray.
After Maghrib, every one settled to eat. Ladies on one side of the courtyard and men on the other side.
Mariam was sitting next to her best friend Samiah. She nudged Samiah under the table. “Is that him?”
“Yes,” Samiah replied.
” He arrived just yesterday. He has finished memorising the Qur’an and he is going to help Sheikh Anwar teach the boys Madrassah to supplement his scholarship.”
“Oh,” Mariam said absentmindedly. ” He is very handsome, isn’t he? “
” Mariam!” chided Samiah, ” lower your gaze! You shouldn’t be looking at the boys! And besides…” she said hesitantly, ” he is studying medicine at the University, he is here for THAT purpose aaaaaand well…
“He isn’t from our community. I know. I’m just looking, Samiah!”
Just then, fathomless dark eyes that flashed whites looked up and Mariam locked eyes with the new boy. They immediately both glanced away, but just that small tremor and Mariam had felt her world shift.
After the night time prayer Esha and the elective Ramadan prayer Taraweeh, Mariam and her family got into the car to head home. She was sitting next to her brother in the back seat. He was quite a few years older. He worked as a pharmacist at the Pharmacy on the main road of their small town. He was also engaged to be married at the end of the year. Mariam’s home was filled with preparation for the day and her brother had acquired a cute little home to move into after the wedding.
” Imran?” she whispered. “Yes?” Imran replied.
“Did you talk to that new boy? Who is coming to teach the young boys to recite Qur’an?”
“Yes. His name is Dawood. He asked about you too. He asked if he could write you a letter.”
Mariam startled as he pushed a piece of paper into her pocket.
” Mariam, he seems to be a decent guy,” he whispered, glancing at his parents in the front of the car.
“You can write a reply and I will give it to him.”
As soon as they arrived home, Mariam kissed her parents good night and ran to her room to read her letter.
It turned out to be no more than an introduction and a politely worded request to correspond with her. It held nothing that her parents might find untoward, but still Mariam knew to hide the letter, just as she knew she would immediately write a reply.
As they exchanged letters, Dawood found out about Mariam’s sweet tooth and sent her some chocolate. Mariam took Dawood’s expressions of homesickness so much to heart that she would send Imran to sit and talk to him at his dorm. Dawood admired Mariam’s passion for journalism and was certain her innate curiosity and yen to know everything would serve her well. Mariam learnt that
Dawood wanted to be a doctor because of a kindness bestowed upon him by his town physician when he had been gravely ill as a child.
All the while, they hadn’t spoken. They had exchanged nothing more than a few stolen glances and the many many letters.
Gradually, the letters changed. The tone of them suggested more than getting to know you ,friendliness. Even more than light hearted affection. Finally Dawood asked to speak to Mariam and they arranged a meeting.
Dawood set his boys to reciting their lessons and walked to a small subdivision that abbutted the classroom walls. Marking the distinction between the boys and the girls classroom. Mariam stood with her back against the other side. He leant against his side. They were unlikely to be seen or disturbed. Everyone was in class and it was between prayers.
“Mariam,” Dawood whispered, “I think it’s time that I spoke to your parents. I want to visit you openly.”
Mariam was aghast. “No no no! My parents would never approve!”
“Then what are we doing?” Dawood asked urgently. “You know how I feel. I want to marry you. How do I do that, if I can’t speak to your parents?”
“Okay.” Mariam reluctantly agreed. “I will ask Imran to approach my parents and we will arrange it.”
Mariam got home that day, put away her things, washed dressed and anxiously waited for her brother to get home from work. She sat on the verandah of her home. It went in a circle all around the house. She smelt the scents of her childhood. The rich red earth, the mangoes green in the tree. “Ready for pickling,” she thought. She also thought, “I am no longer a child.”
Her brother arrived home.
She explained what Dawood had said. Imran looked at her solemnly.
” I agree with what he is saying, Mariam, I told you he is a good boy. He wants to
do things the way we are taught. My wedding is in two weeks, we will speak to mum and dad then. Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.”
Mariam shook off her anxiety, feeling comforted by her brother’s assurances.
The day of her brother’s wedding flashed by in a whirlwind of joy and colour. There was an appetising feast and the warmth of relatives and friends gathered in celebration.
At the end of the day, her brother did something strange. Instead of driving off into the sunset with his bride, he took her hand and the two of them escorted Mariam and Dawood into an office at the back of the venue of the wedding. Mariam’s parents were waiting.
“You wanted to speak to us Imran?” Mariam’s father began in confusion, glancing at the young people.
“Dad,” Imran cleared his throat. Began again..
“Dad, Dawood would like to marry Mariam. He loves her.”
Mariam’s father’s eyes rounded, he looked as if he had been struck. Mariam’s mother looked at her knowingly and with empathy, making her think that it must be true that nothing can escape a mother.
“What?!” sputtered Mariam’s father. “No, No! I forbid it.”
“Why?” asked Imran calmly.
“He isn’t from our community! He doesn’t know our ways!”
“He is a good, decent boy, dad. Any other boy with his accolades, you would have embraced,” Imran shrugged matter of factly.
“Do you know, these things are very rarely successful,” Mariam’s father said outraged.
“Marrying outside of what we know doesn’t work!”
“What about my sister?” Mariam’s mother said gently and quite unexpectedly. Laying a hand on her husband’s arm.
“Marrying that professor from the arts department? They are very happy.”
“That’s once in a blue moon. That can hardly be used as an example at all,” Mariam’s father huffed.
” No no no!I am Mariam’s father! I do not give my permission!”
“I thought you might see it that way dad,” Imran said sadly.
He turned to his wife Shamiela standing beside him. “Is it still ok with you?” he asked.
“Yes,” she smiled.
With that Imran and Shamiela took Dawood and Mariam to the Imam who was waiting in the hall of the venue.
” I give permission for this marriage,” he said to Mariam. “You can live with us until the two of you are on your feet.”
Mariam looked at Dawood. And she would hold in her heart till the end of her days, the smile he gave her. They stepped forward and were married.
Five years later, Mariam was pushing a stroller down the road. She was thinking about her wedding day. She was thinking that Dawood was well on his way to completing his studies and she was interning at a small broadcasting station in the small university town. So much had happened she thought. Mariam also thought with great sadness about her parents, who were not speaking to her or to Imran since that day.
She looked up, and she saw the house with the verandah all around it. She could smell the mangoes. Her thoughts had drawn her to her parents home.
“Why not?” She thought.
She squared her shoulders and knocked on the door. Shushing the baby in the stroller as she waited.
Her father opened the door. When he saw her his features darkened into anger. Before he could speak, she said,
“Dad, the blue moon has come. Remember, you said it’s once in a blue moon that these things work? Well it’s working, so? I thought you might like to meet your grandson.”
Mariam held her breath.
She watched as her father’s expression morphed from anger to bewilderment and then to bemused pride.
“Well, well, Mariam. It looks like this old man can learn a few things also..”
He looked down into the stroller. ” Can I hold him, do you think?”