I was finishing my paperwork after the meeting. Endless blank pages of sketchy words, irrevocable plans, and mounting incomes filed one after another, a never-ending tale to a forgotten business.
My eyes blurred from lack of color, watering as I blinked to bring moisture back. I sighed, a knuckle cracking and a numbing ache began to clench around my hand. Leaning against my chair, I stretched, my gaze landing on the scenery behind me.
Baltimore wasn’t as big as New York City, but it was a good place to have less competition. Skyscrapers seemed as if they touched the skies. Cars were zooming past one another on the roads, birds chirping. I sighed. This was the life.
I turned back to my paperwork. My eyes scanned over charts and graphs of our company’s income this month. The board of directors had filed into my office earlier about new property investments. Earlier, I had asked my secretary, Thomas, to take notes, cringing at his caricature drawings of the directors on the graph. I should have known he was barely paying attention. Why did I give him this job?
Thomas was my companion in life. I had decided to give him a job at my company, considering the fact that he was organized and methodical about proceedings. Well, most of the times. Thomas was a known jokester, which is probably why he was quite a ladies’ man. He also got on the directors’ nerves.
Speaking of the devil. “Hey, you got the paperwork done yet?” asked Thomas, poking his head out the door.
I tilted my head at him. “Have you ever heard of this thing called knocking?”
Thomas deadpanned as he walked into my office, “Very funny, Tarkan.”
“It was a genuine question,” I smirked.
“Genuine question my ass,” he grumbled as he took a seat in the leather chair in front of me. He handed me the files, “Those are the notes from today.”
I quickly skimmed over them. “You certainly are attentive to detail,” I observed as I checked how accurately he pinpointed every point and advice the directors gave us. He even took notes about the exact measurements of the new property.
“Don’t let it deceive you. I was bored as hell during that meeting.”
“I can imagine,” I chuckled, deeply. I signed the last page of the paperwork and checked my watch. “Did you send someone to pick up my brother?” I asked. My brother and I were suppose to meet my grandparents for dinner today.
“Did that a while ago,” he replied, checking the clock on the wall. “He should be here right about-”
“Now,” he grinned. He stared at his hands as if he yielded magical abilities to bend time, “I think I’m a wizard.”
I rolled my eyes at him, “Trust me, being a wizard is a little too far fetched even for you.” I got up to answer the door.
“You know, maybe if you weren’t such a dick to people, you would have found a wife by now,” scowled Thomas.
I opened the door, completely ignoring his comment. Wife? Yeah, right. I was still in my prime years. I didn’t need a woman to drag me down and keep me tied to a family. I was used to my independence that the idea of marriage seemed like a faraway land to never be touched. I didn’t mind. Marriage seemed too constricting, too complicated.
Besides, women were a hassle to deal with.
“Assalamualaikum!” chirped my twelve year old brother, Bashir.
Bashir and my grandparents were the only blood relatives that I still had alive. I had migrated with a three year old Bashir to America when I was a teenager. Bashir shared my pitch black hair, but his eyes were a light brown.
“Waalaikumsalam,” I smiled. “Aren’t you in a cheerful mood?” I asked as he took a seat next to Thomas. They did their weird handshake.
“Yep, went to a dessert shop on my way here. The lady makes amazing shakes,” he recalled, excitedly.
I closed the door.
“Did you bring me something?” asked Thomas. His eyes were gleaming with hope. That pig.
Bashir smiled apologetically, “Sorry. I forgot you worked here.”
I stifled a laugh as Thomas grumbled a string of curse words under his breath. I walked over to the desk to retrieve my coat, “File the paperwork and then you can leave.”
“Heard you loud and clear, Boss.”
Again, I ignored his comment. “Just do it.”
* * * *
As I drove my car, I noticed Bashir had gone utterly silent. His lips were etched in a frown as he leaned his cheek against his palm. His elbows rested on rolled down window. The summer breeze brushed through his black locks. Bashir silently gazed at the blur of cars.
“Everything alright?” I asked, keeping my gaze on the road ahead.
“Yeah,” he mumbled.
“Bashir,” I sighed. “What’s wrong?”
He simply shrugged.
He turned to look at me. An expression of boredom planted on his face. “It’s just school,” he said.
“What about school?” I questioned.
“Bad grades,” he muttered under his breath.
I hissed, “It’s the end of the school year!”
“I know,” he said quietly.
I inhaled a breath to calm the bubbling anger deep within my chest.
“What happened?” My voice was strained, fighting for control of my emotions. I practically raised Bashir. I refuse to let him fail.
“I guess all this moving around because you’re so busy took a toll on me.”
“If you need a tutor, just ask me,” I reassured.
“I probably do.”
I parked the car as I shot him a pointed look, “We’ll talk about this later.”
We were outside of my grandparents large house. The house was three floors, mostly made from marble. Grandpa used to own the business, but he gave me ownership once I graduated. I gestured to Bashir to follow me. I rubbed my temple. His grades were now added onto a list of problems. Honestly, I was just hoping this meeting with my grandfather would go well.
My grandfather was a very strict Muslim. He had been trying to get me married for years, but I always refused. I liked my independence. From a young age, my grandfather taught me everything I should know about being a practicing Muslim, like praying. I admired how strong he was in his faith. May Allah bless me with that much iman (faith) one day.
* * * *
After I led the Maghrib (sunset) prayer, we had gathered around the table. My grandmother was very traditional to the Turkish culture. My grandfather and Bashir were laughing about a funny lecture they had heard.
“Ibrahim, could you pass me some rice?” asked my grandfather.
“Sure,” I replied as I passed the bowl of rice to him.
I piled my plate with rice and menemen, which was a dish that consisted of eggs, tomatoes, green pepper, and various other spices. It was my grandmother’s specialty. As soon as the taste hit my tongue, I felt a moment of bliss. Without a doubt, my grandmother’s cooking was the best I ever had.
My grandmother cleared her throat, “We would like to talk to you about something very important to us.”
I stayed silent as I put my metal spoon down. Bashir raised a brow at my grandfather, whose gaze did not leave my own. I could sense the mood shift in the room as my grandparents exchanged glances with each other. The heartfelt laughter was gone and instead replaced by an uncomfortable silence.
“Well?” I asked, picking up my glass of water to drink.
I felt the cold water going down my throat when my grandfather spoke, “You’re getting married.”
I spluttered out my water.
“What?!” Bashir and I exclaimed, simultaneously.
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.
“You’re getting married,” he repeated. His voice was stern, leaving no room for arguments.
“Are you saying I don’t have a choice?“I questioned with narrowed eyes.
He nodded, “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” He put his utensils down as he dropped his gaze to the floor. “Ibrahim, we’re getting old.”
My grandmother hummed in agreement. “You know we don’t like to force things on you, but one day we won’t be here,” she smiled sadly, “I’d - no we would like to see you get married before our time runs out.”
I jumped out of my chair. “What are you guys saying? That you’re going to die?” I rushed out in panic.
“No one knows when Allah decides to take us, but it doesn’t mean we get younger,” she said. Her eyes pleading for me to understand what she was proposing. The wrinkles on her face deepened as she frowned, “I know you don’t want to, but please hear us out.”
My fists clenched at my sides. “To whom do you suppose I get married to?” I forced out.
Anger welled inside me. It was as if a flame had been ignited from within. They were demanding I get married even though I had told them many times that I would not. Bashir and I were fine on our own. We didn’t need to add a female into the equation.
“Preferably a Turkish Muslim woman, but the choice is yours,” replied my grandfather. “However, we do expect you to be married by the end of this year, or else I will hand the business down to someone else,” he threatened.
Bashir’s eyes widened as he glanced between us.
I felt my right eye twitch. “Isn’t it wrong to force someone into marriage?” I asked, my voice dropped to a deadly tone.
My grandfather huffed, “It’s not forcing, and I’m giving you the choice of who you can marry. I just set a time for when.”
“Big difference,” I rolled my eyes, annoyed.
My grandfather got up. “The point is that you get married and keep your position or lose it,” he said.
I was about to speak up when my grandmother’s gentle hand held my arm. “Please, Ibrahim. Do this for us,” she begged in her soft motherly tone.
Instantly, my willpower to fight back crumbled. “I’ll do it, but only if I get to pick my bride.”
My grandfather’s lips slowly curled into a smile. The glint of satisfaction was still in his eyes. “Deal.”