To her father’s disappointment, it was not Fatima’s suitor at the door but her maternal grandparents. They stood side by side, small and shriveled like two dried figs on the same branch. Madarbozorg and Pedarbozorg had grown in similarity over the course of their fifty-seven-year-long marriage. Somehow, they had both managed to shrink down to the same stout height, take on hunched backs, and sport matching canes which they often use interchangeably. But despite their similar appearances, their personalities were as different as night and day.
Pedarbozorg was a stoic man; he always tried to avoid speaking unless it was necessary. It wasn’t because he hated talking or that he did not like socializing but rather he was content just absorbing the excitement around him. He was a simple man of few words and loved deeply. Although he never said so, he loved Madarbozorg and her tendency for non-stop chattering. He also figured that Madarbozorg spoke enough for the both of them, which was why he didn’t feel the need to speak at all.
Madarbozorg, on the other hand, could not stop talking if she tried. When asked by a friend in a joking manner, Pedarbozorg claimed that Madarbozorg even talked in her sleep. She had a talent for making friends, had a terrible habit of gambling, and often doted on all her grandchildren. People would come to her for the latest gossip, and they would not leave disappointed. Despite knowing dirt on almost everyone, she never had the heart to dislike anyone. Madarbozorg was a warm soul who always had something to add to the conversation. Most of the time her candor was greatly appreciated. Other times, it was less preferred.
“Ah! Madarbozorg! Pedarbozorg!” Fatima’s father had just barely begun to greet them when they welcomed themselves into the house. With all the grace and humility he could muster, Fatima’s father forced a smile and said, “I didn’t expect you to arrive so early!”
Pedarbozorg immediately shimmied to the couch and plopped himself down in a comfortable spot. The old man assumed the ritual, taking out his reading glasses and scrolling through the news feed on his phone.
Traversing on the side of action, Madarbozorg speed walked into the living room (as fast as a seventy-four-year-old lady could) and scoured the area for her daughter and granddaughter, turning her back against her anxious son-in-law.
“Of course I would arrive early! You know how bad traffic gets in San Francisco! It’s nothing like the open roads here in Piedmont. You don’t know how lucky you are, Omir. I wish it only took thirty minutes to get to my doctor’s appointment. Pedarbozorg and I practically live in our car! Have some mercy on me!”
Omir had to bite his tongue to prevent himself from pointing out that Pedarbozorg and Madarbozorg lived in a condo in the most lavish area of San Francisco and that they drove in a Tesla. The fact that they could stream Netflix while stuck in traffic didn’t sound all too horrible to Omir who drove a thirteen year-old sedan that occasionally failed on him half-way through his commute to work.
Madarbozorg located her daughter on the couch and ran to her in open arms. “Sara!” She examined her daughter’s complexion, stroked the sparse fuzz on her head, and took her daughter’s hands. Her gray eyes darted all over in rapid movements as she gauged her daughter’s health. “Has Fatima been caring for you well? Your hands are so cold! Why didn’t Fatima give you any gloves?”
“Fatima didn’t give her any gloves because she’s spent her entire morning preparing for the tea party.”
Fatima said as she pulled back the curtains to the window, letting in a burst of sunlight which bathed the entire living room in gold. Warmth washed all over her mother, and she leaned back against the couch, closing her eyes to enjoy what she could of the California sun. It had been ages since she last felt pure sunlight, the kind that was unfiltered by windows and curtains. It was like she was hidden from the world, or rather the world was hidden from her.
“Fatima. You always seemed to know what your mother needs.” Madarbozorg’s voice swelled with admiration for her granddaughter.
To which Fatima replied, “Of course. Who do you think has been caring for her for the last seven years?”
“And you’ve done an excellent job. Now come here and give your madarbozorg a kiss!”
The grandmother and her granddaughter conversed. Because the two ladies had gone through the ritual thirty-two times before, the flow of their conversation had become repetitive to the point that it seemed rehearsed. Madarbozorg would ask Fatima about her studies while Fatima would ask her about her health and the latest gossip on other relatives.
It seemed that the gossip was the only thing to refresh their conversation. Madarbozorg dished out the latest details of her uncle Davoud’s strained marriage and the circulating rumor of his impending divorce before quickly jumping to Fatima’s cousin Zahra’s not-so-secret side job of selling edibles to anxious college students and stressed out corporate workers alike.
Gradually, the rest of Fatima’s extended family arrived at the party, and the house became flooded with conversation and excitement as all her relatives came to wish her luck. Fatima was caught in a lengthy lecture with her aunt when Madarbozorg pulled Fatima to the side and opened her purse, cracking it just enough to reveal a red satin pouch protruding from the opening.
“This year, I finally got your cousin Shapoor to play. He put in a hundred. It’s the biggest bet of the year!” Madarbozorg whispered.
It wasn’t so much a secret as it was a secret vice in which the entire family (except Fatima’s father) were involved. For all of Fatima’s matchmaking parties, Madarbozorg would host a bet where people would vote on the possibility of success or failure of Fatima’s match. Because they knew Fatima’s prickly disposition so well, they often voted on the side of failure. Thus, profiting off of the hopes of those who wished Fatima well in the department of love.
Most granddaughters would be offended that their family would bet against their happiness but not Fatima. In order to keep her quiet, Madarbozorg always split her earnings with her, which is why her poor father had remained oblivious to the entire affair.
Before Fatima could respond, her aunty Atena replied with a snarky retort. “Madarbozorg, isn’t gambling haram?”
Atena earned laughs from everyone around the living room, everyone except Fatima and her father. Fatima’s father was pacing anxiously at the front door while Fatima displayed an ambiguous reaction that could have easily been taken as disinterest.
Madarbozorg puckered her lips like she was choking on a warhead. She retorted back with conviction equal to her bold daughter.
“Of course gambling is haram. But I think Allah could forgive me just this once.”
“Once?” Atena scoffed with indignation. Like Fatima, she was known for being direct with her opinions. But unlike Fatima, she had no filter when it came to authority, especially with her own mother. Probably because she knew her mother’s ridiculousness so well. “I guess you must have lost count after the last thirty-two times. What kind of grandmother does that to her own granddaughter? Betting on her failure to find love for money...you should feel ashamed!”
“Oh come on, Atena!” Said her brother, Habib. “Relax your grip on poor Maman. As if you’ve never done anything haram.”
Thankful that her son jumped to her defense, Madarbozorg exclaimed, “Your brother’s right, Atena. No one here is a perfect Muslim. Your ingratitude to your mother is also haram.”
“What?” Atena’s eyes bulged out of her head. “I’m not being ungrateful! I’m worried about your soul, that’s all!”
Madarbozorg only laughed. It was a cackling laugh, the kind that was dry and reminiscent of wicked witches. She pointed at her daughter with a bony finger and said, “Azizam. You worry about your own soul, and I’ll worry about mine. Besides, we all have our vices. Habib likes to sleep in and avoid fajr (morning prayer).”
“Maman!” Her son’s face turned beet red in horror.
“And I know for a fact that Leila is far from being the Virgin Mary.”
Her niece Leila wished she could die on the spot as all eyes turned to her.
“Maman!” Atena shrieked, but Madarbozorg was merciless.
“And how could we forget Omir’s little drinking habit? I think I smelled it on the way in!”
Fatima had heard enough. It was one thing to have to listen to Madarbozorg expose everyone’s secrets, but it was another thing to be reminded about her father’s most shameful weakness.
Fatima stood frozen in a state of stoicism as her entire family looked upon her with pity. Although her family had good intentions, their sympathy acted as a double-edged sword, exacerbating the chagrin that wounded Fatima from the inside.
The dead silence made Madarbozorg come to her senses as she realized what she had believed to be all fun and jest was really slanderous and harmful.
“I’m going to get dressed,” Fatima said before retreating to her room.
The silence was deafening.