Then Marry Only One
It was both Daniel and Damia who shared the credit for the reservation in the Lover’s Café. In actuality though, it was more Damia if one were to be scrupulous on the details. She had called, pleaded, pulled her contacts ensuring a table was ready for them, and it had to be the patio. She was insistent that it went her way and the manager who apparently had a soft spot for her, seeing how she took care of his niece when she was warded once for appendicitis, was very accommodating. It is not customary for doctors to exchange favors as such, but this was the Lover’s Café and though she didn’t bring up the past over the phone, it was implied that he owed her one.
The manager welcomed them all personally and walked each of them to their tables whenever they arrived. Damia and himself took a little time for some small talk; just about work and his niece and what she was up to. ‘Something different about you, Doctor,’ he couldn’t quite guess but there was a unlikeness he could sense in how she handled herself. There was a hint of melancholy, a deep sadness that glowed in that wide smile of hers. It only got more obvious when he asked about her family, to which she passed an even wider smile and casually replied, ‘they’re good.’
Daniel sat opposite Jenny, closest to the edge of the table, where they just casually smiled and nodded at each other. Tzen showed up and sat next to Jenny. ‘Been a while, Tzen.’ Daniel greeted, to which Tzen bobbed his head and grabbed his seat only to start meddling with his phone. He seemed to have been lost in his own thoughts, cracking his neck every now and then, his eyes always shifty and tired looking. Jenny took out her phone and giggled a little after reading a text. Daniel noticed Tzen doing the same right after her. He didn’t like it but he knew he wasn’t a child. ‘Tonight is for Ram,’ he told himself and dismissed his paranoia.
Damia drew out the chair next to Daniel, adjusted her long skirt, and made herself comfortable next to him, opposite a very frenetic looking Tzen still meddling with his phone, trying his best to avoid eye contact, mumbling under breath and smiling to himself. Only one chair remained empty and that was for the guest of honor at the very edge of the table. Then eventually, Ram showed up.
‘Hey guys,’ he masked his excitement with a sombre undertone, grabbed his chair to sit and greeted his friends. Jenny couldn’t resist. ‘Hey, I’m sorry,’ and immediately got up to give him a hug. She was almost tearing but still trying to hold it in.
‘Hey, it’s ok,’ Ram waited until she herself pulled away, dabbing some tissues over her eyes. ‘You certainly do have an ugly crying face,’ he tried to get her laughing and it worked, contagiously to everyone else on the table.
‘So, Damia. Been a while since we spoke. How’s everything? The husband, the kids?’ Ram initiated. The waiter just handed them their menus and by reflex, she held hers up to her nose. She knew she heard him but took an awkward minute for herself until she realised how rude she was being. ‘I’m sorry Ram. It’s alright I guess,’ and there was that smile again.
Two weeks before, on a regular Thursday just two days after Daniel had his heart broken, another friend of theirs was going through problems of her own. Damia had just finished a long day-shift, and her husband was about to begin his. He sang his little Atirah a lullaby and after feeding her some of her mother’s re-warmed milk, he hoped to God that she would finally fall asleep in his arms on the rocking chair. Exhausted, he was about to fall asleep as well.
‘Sayang(My love),’ Damia snapped her fingers before him instantly waking him up. He was happy to see Atirah snoring in his lap as her mother graceful took her from him and held her, blankets and everything close to her chest. The baby started to fidget, as she was wide-awake again, head slowly turning toward her mother’s bosom.
‘OK, sweetie, mommy just came home. Let me take a shower first alright? No? You need it now?’ she couldn’t resist laughing at her silly child. Exhausted she sat on the floor and started to drop the side of her collar. She moved her baby underneath her Burka and latched her on to feed.
‘So how is it like being part stay-at-home Dad?’ she joked casually, so exhausted her face was twitching to carve a smile. Not even for a joke, could she spare a chuckle, as it would hurt her shoulders.
Salim looked at his wife, filled with pride and joy he saw the family he had established. He always wanted to ask her something. ‘You live this amazing life. You ever considered just staying at home?’
‘We’ve talked about this. If I was the staying home types, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to get to where I am,’
‘I understand that Sayang,’ he arched his back and stretched his joints, ‘it just looks so exhausting. Being a mother is already such a tiresome job. Look at how it is to be a father,’
‘A father provides. And you do,’
‘So that the mother doesn’t have to,’
‘What are you saying?’ she winced as the baby was being very aggressive with her body.
‘I’m saying you have a choice. I would work. I would do my shifts. Then I can provide for you once I’m a medical officer, then maybe who knows, maybe a specialist,’
‘Don’t’ make me laugh,’ Damia retorted, ‘if only it were that easy, husband.’
‘But it can be. Right? ’ Salim was trying a make a point. He quoted a famous Imam, Imam Rida ‘The greatest gain for a man is a faithful woman who, when she sees him, becomes happy and protects his property and her own honor in his absence.’ It was clear to her that Salim had been thinking about this for some time.
‘And you are sure the rent can be paid on time? The loans, the car, everything? How about for our little angel here?’
‘If I work twice as hard, and you take care of things at home, I think we can have another one,’
‘Woah!’ Damia was shocked to hear of her husband’s intent, ‘it’s only been a year husband. Another one already?’
‘Yes, why not? You are only doing God’s work by granting your family more gifts. Isn’t that a blessing?’
‘I rather do God’s work well with one first. Plus, you know how important it is to space.’
‘Damia, Damia, Damia,’
‘Yes, husband,’ she beckoned with her eyebrows raised playfully.
‘Please stop being condescending. It’s not appropriate,’ Salim remarked.
‘I was simply teasing,’
‘A smart wife would know how to judge situations,’ Salim then quoted another famous Imam, the Imam as-Sadiq who stated, “A woman who respects her husband and does not harass him, will be fortunate and prosperous”.
Atirah was full and pushed herself away. Damia readjusted her garment while her husband turned away out of respect for her modesty. She placed Damia over her lap, watching her little eyes doze off again for another couple of hours of slumber. ‘I’ll put her in her crib,’ she excused herself to the bedroom.
Salim was thinking hard, stroking the few hairs that popped from his chin until Damia came back to the living room and dropped her back on to the couch.
‘You know I only want to help us. If you can take care of things here, I would be able to do so much more outside.’
‘You mean not babysit,’ she sneered.
‘There you go again. An ounce of respect is all I ask for.’
‘Tell me I’m wrong then, dear husband.’
‘I love spending time with our daughter. I could just fulfil more of my duties if I were doing what husbands do. Bring the bread, learn for myself and then provide you with knowledge, to deepen our faith. And maybe, just maybe even be blessed with another spouse to add to our growing family,’
‘So, that’s what this is about,’
‘No, not like that,’
‘You have been beating about the bush husband. Just say it.’
Salim clenched his fist, feeling his ego scratched but he was always patient, and never quick to lose his temper. ‘Fine, you want me to be blunt about it, yes. I have been thinking about it. Since you aren’t even willing to go for another child, then…’
‘WHO IS SHE?’ Damia’s voice deepened as her brows furrowed. Her exhaustion had reached a limit and it was fuelling a temper that wasn’t there before. Her husband’s wishy-washy attitude was getting to her nerves, and so she asked again, ‘WHO IS SHE?’
‘It’s not like that. We have been together for many years, and we just had Atirah, the love of my life. Work is going good and I just thought…’
‘WHO… IS… SHE?’ Damia demanded an answer.
Salim watched her staring cold at him.
‘Do you not trust me?’ he asked.
Damia did not flinch. She didn’t want to judge the man, but she was at her last nerve and she quoted the Surah an-Nisaa, “but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one…”
‘And I believe I would.’ Salim replied.
‘I won’t allow it,’
‘Sweetheart, please be reasonable,’ Salim kept insisting.
‘It’s that MA (Medical Assistant) girl isn’t it. That perky 22 year old. What’s her name again?’
Salim face started to flush.
‘Mira!’ it came to her and seeing her husband’s face sheepishly embarrassed confirmed her suspicions.
‘She would make a wonderful addition to this family,’
Damia was feeling very cold all of a sudden. Her face was stern and angry but tears started to roll down.
‘Sweetheart, I don’t mean to hurt you ok?’
Damia was lost in her thoughts. Why did this conversation take place? Why was she so blind not to see it? Why would he ask her this even though he knew very well that she would never share him with anyone else? She had her suspicions about this “Mira” character and although she didn’t want to believe it, she was now forced to know.
‘Salim, have you slept with her?’
‘What? How could you ask me that? You dare ask me that question. Your arrogance has no limit has it, woman?’
‘Salim, Husband,’ she started to tear, her stone cold face slowly melting into a sobbing mess, forcing to speak against a lump slowly expanding in her throat, ‘please tell me if you have had sexual relations with that woman,’
Salim jumped off his rocking chair furious with his face all red. He stormed into the kitchen, and locked himself in the bathroom.
Damia started baling, crying out to her hearts content. Every aching muscle in her wished it could just detonate, which made her scream out her lungs. All this until she was instantaneously stopped by the cries of her startled baby through the paper-thin walls of the bedroom.
Salim had left to work for the nightshift. He kissed his baby on her forehead and headed to his wife for an apologetic embrace but she only withdrew signalling she was not ready. She looked at him different, not anymore as someone she respected, but a betrayer with a tongue that spewed only lies.
That night Damia sat in the cold dark room, nursing her child, keeping her close to her chest trying to keep the shattered pieces of her heart together. With her other hand she flipped through her phone. For hours, she scanned and scanned, trying to distract herself from the pain pulsating out of her chest.
For some reason, she saw that Daniel was online and decided initiate conversation.
‘Yeah!’ he replied almost instantaneously.
‘Want to hang out?’
‘Let’s go somewhere. I can call a babysitter for tonight,’
‘I feel like going somewhere too, but you might not like it,’
‘Anywhere is fine, you and Jenny,’
‘I’m afraid it’s just me,’
‘Well, sure no problem. Anywhere but here,’
‘No, nothing is,’
‘So? You want to go?’
‘Put on something nice, we’ll make an evening out of it…’ and Daniel ended the conversation right there.
He got into a funky turtleneck top, a vest over it and paired that with some loose jeans. He picked her up from her place. She got into a moderately expensive evening gown, let her hair loose without the Burka, padded her nipples, put on some heels and got a Gucci handbag to keep her wallet, her make-up, her keys, and most importantly, her pumps, all packed in ready for the night out. Her babysitter was kind enough as to ask her not to worry and to just have fun. She cleverly figured something had happened, and that was why the last minute notice but she didn’t care to prod.
All through the car ride, Daniel and Damia talked about work, gossip, and everything except each other, as well as anything to do with Sheila. It was not a pity party for sad sobs, and so they decided to hit a club in the more happening side of town.
‘This is a good place?’ Damia enquired while Daniel escorted her out of the vehicle, just with hand gestures though making sure he never actually touched her. It was impolite in their culture to touch a woman you were not married to and though Daniel never really cared for that, for Muslim women though, he stayed observant, though he did gentle hold her sleeve to help her out of the car. She clopped her heels on the pavement and looked around. There were people going in and out of the club, and each time the door opened, loud bass music escaped for a few seconds until the door was shut again behind the bouncers that guarded it. Damia found it rather thrilling. The vallet parked Daniel’s Hyundai as they were invited inside. There was loud music and neon lights everywhere, boys with bottles in their hands, and girls in skimpy outfits hanging out, laughing, touching, dancing, and partying together. Damia shyly watched all the absurdity.
‘You ok with this?’ Daniel brought his mouth close to her ear. Damia felt a little awkward at first but then realised that was the only way they could talk with all the loud music, other than text messages.
They were ushered to a table and offered the menu. Damia was shocked to see the prices.
‘Just some mocktails. Surprise me,’ Daniel told the sweet ample-bosomed server girl.
The DJ had just switched the tracks, and a very catchy Techno tune start playing. Daniel started bobbing his head. His wanted not to think about Jenny for a moment and the music helped. He got off his seat and started moving his body unapologetically, comically and without a single bit of flare or rhythm. Damia started laughing at how he was willingly embarrassing himself in front of her, but deep down part of her wanted to do the same.
‘Come on,’ he ushered her. ‘Come on,’ he called out again.
Damia was hesitant, and that was the one time Daniel felt it was necessary to be just a little aggressive. He grabbed hold of her wrist and pulled her away from of her comfort zone and her orange juice. They stood about a meter away from each other, Daniel danced like a clucking chicken as others around him imitated. Damia was stooping, grabbing her opposite elbow, unsure of what to do. Coming out here was hedonistic enough, but dancing? She had only done that once in a birthday party during her college years. Could she really do this now? She was a mother for crying out loud.
‘Hey,’ Daniel smiled. ‘Forget everything else. Just listen and move,’ he shouted while waving his hands in the air.
She wanted to listen and looking at him making a fool of himself was oddly inspiring. How bad could she be if this idiot could do all this and get away with it? She silenced her mind, imagining herselg alone, then she noticed she started to bob her head, quietly, then she tapped her feet. She started to see the other girls around her to draw some inspiration, then started to raise he elbows and snap her fingers, and soon enough her hips were swinging as well, far more rhythmically and in tune then Daniel was.
‘Wow,’ Daniel laughed impressed at her moves. Her face blushed red. Soon they had people joining them, dancing along, teaching them moves and following theirs. Daniel even got some phone numbers that he unwillingly accepted.
Her muscles were aching, her breasts swollen, soaking up the padding, and her shoes were killing her but she was finally having some fun. She learnt something about Daniel that night, as she finally understood what Jenny saw in him all this time. Daniel never intended to share what had actually happened. He just needed to feel disconnected, and this was doing it for him.
As they danced the night away, she forgot who she was for that one night. Daniel was impressed at her. She was a conservative mother who decided to come out of her shell for one night and she made the night hers. Then, there it was, the saddest smile he had ever seen, and she saw it in him too.