Love with Your Heart
For the very first time in her life, Fatima had completely lost her appetite in the presence of sweets. Samir was seated directly across the table from her and had been engaging in a vivacious discussion with her father ever since they first sat down. Not once did he look her way, and for that Fatima was grateful. She preferred to judge people based on their interactions with others.
“My daughter is an excellent hostess,” Omir said, beaming with pride. “She made everything on this table, from the food you eat to the chai you drink.”
“Everything except the teapot.” Fatima’s amme (her father’s sister) chimed. She proceeded to laugh at her own joke and the rest of Fatima’s family joined her while the Mustafics only mustered a forced smile (if you could call their torturous grimaces a smile) in response.
Samir surprised everyone by interjecting. “Teapots and glasses aside, I really liked the food. I can get used to eating like this every day.”
To which Omir replied back in jest, “Then I suggest you look no further. My daughter can prepare a feast fit for a sultan! If only you were here last year for *Eid al-Fitr. Fatima was in charge of dinner, and we ate so much that we passed out for the rest of the night!”
In the midst of refilling her madarbozorg’s tea glass, the men’s laughter pounded Fatima’s ears. Agitation corrupted her mind. And as a consequence, she became mindless of her actions. The chai rose dangerously close to the brim, and her madarbozorg had to warn her before its scorching hot contents spilled over.
“So is Fatima just good at cooking or do her talents lie elsewhere?”
A big, fat, smirk burned itself across Fatima’s face as she carefully passed the glass of chai to her madarbozorg. Even with her eyes set on the glass, Fatima had never been more alert. Every word she heard only fed her brewing anger.
Omir took a sip of his chai before replying. “Fatima is studying to become a prosecutor. Isn’t that right, eshgham?”
“That’s right.” Fatima confirmed with cutting conviction.
The revelation spurred a few murmurs amongst the Mustafics. Having recently arrived from Bosnia in 1994, they were much more traditional than Fatima’s family who have lived in the States since 1980. To the Mustafics, it was a western concept to have a woman perform such a masculine job and albeit a dangerous one. For a family who had escaped ethnic cleansing enabled by a fragmented government, any career that was deeply rooted in law and politics was to be feared. And a job that involved convicting people of crime and locking sinners behind bars was surely to be looked down upon.
The eerie silence emanating from the Mustafics felt more stifling than usual, but Samir broke through the silence with an exclamation of awe.
“That is very impressive.”
“I’m afraid you’re alone on that.” Fatima had seized the attention of the entire room. Of all the faces that turned towards her, she was met with the blood-drained face of her father, the stone-cold stares of Samir’s baka (grandmother) and deda (grandfather), and the star-struck eyes of Samir. “Your family doesn’t seem to think so.”
For the very first time, Samir looked directly at her and locked her down with a gaze that was equally methodical as it was flirtatious. Fatima bit down on the inside of her cheek when she realized that Samir had been waiting for her to reply back to him the entire time. He had been baiting her, and she had fallen right into his trap. She could no longer delay their confrontation any longer. Now, she had to talk to him.
“My family’s opinion does not reflect my opinion.”
“But it would be ignorant to say that their opinion has no influence on yours. Or did you bring them here just to watch?”
Fatima smiled with a smug satisfaction. She expected Samir to remain silent from her initial sting, but he surprised her with his speedy recovery.
“Their approval is important to me, but it’s not the deciding factor. I brought them here because I wanted them to be a part of my life, which I suppose is the same reason why your family is here as well.”
Fatima considered Samir’s reply and took it with a grain of salt. Because she was still skeptical, she had to ask. “So you don’t care that I’m studying to become a prosecutor?”
“Actually, I do care. I said it’s very impressive.” Samir reached over to take a plate of baklava and offered Fatima a piece. When she hesitated, he pushed the plate towards her and she felt comfortable enough to take one. “It’s a brutal job, but it’s a necessary one.”
Fatima took a break to eat her baklava. She could taste the layers of sweet pastry breaking apart in her mouth. The crunch of sweet nuts and filling tenderizing her taste buds. It had the unintended effect of sweetening her temperament as well.
“You have an open mind.” Fatima said, licking the sugar across her lips.
Samir looked down humbly at his plate of uneaten flatbread. “I try my best to see things from all sides.”
“You might want to be careful.” Fatima said in between sips of tea. She poured herself another glass. “There’s a danger of bordering on indecisiveness. And if there’s anything I hate most in the world, it’s flimsy, indecisive people.”
Samir raised his gaze from his plate. His gray eyes shone silver, twinkling brilliantly like stars. Fatima was in more danger than she knew. Samir did not have a single dull bone in his body, and she was going to find out very soon.
“I can assure you that I am anything but indecisive.”
“So you’re stubborn?”
Samir threw his head back to let out a whole hearted laugh to the dismay of Fatima’s family. Across the far end of the table, Madarbozorg was clutching her purse, setting a precedent for the rest of Fatima’s relatives. Nearly half of Fatima’s family were holding onto their wallets for dear life. Samir was the first suitor to ever successfully endure being in the same room as Fatima for more than fifteen minutes. The fact that he seemed highly interested in Fatima meant that he was not only dangerous to Fatima’s defensive heart but also Madarbozorg’s jackpot. Samir was going to rob them of their money.
After his laughter died down, Samir blinked back a few tears before sighing comfortably into his seat. “You’re good.”
“I’m just getting started.” Fatima noticed Samir’s empty tea glass and refilled it. “Once I’m done with you, you’ll never want to see my face ever again.”
“What a shame. You’re so beautiful.”
With the teapot still in her grasp, Fatima looked up from the glass and met Samir’s eyes. Her gaze cut deep into his soul. What should have been an unnerving experience was wholly welcomed. Samir did not feel the pain.
“Did I also mention how much I hate sweet-talkers?”
Samir grinned. “You seem very determined to dislike me. Do I intimidate you?”
“Not at all. I’m usually the one that does all the intimidating.”
“Then I’m afraid you’ve met your match. You can’t intimidate me.”
“Is that a challenge?” Fatima asked.
She suddenly became aware of her body sitting more erect and stiff in her seat. Samir surprised her by mirroring her movements. As they leaned in closer across the table, a small storm brewed as a result of their tension, bridging the distance between them both. If Fatima was thunder, then Samir was lightning. Their families were at the mercy of their storm.
“It is. Feel free to question me as you please. I’m an open book.”
“Fine. How many people have you slept with?”
“FATIMA!” Omir protested, but she was deaf to his reprimand.
“Five,” Samir replied cooly.
“Premarital sex is haram.”
“But love is *halal. I really did love them, all five of them.”
This time it was Fatima who threw her head back to laugh. Unlike Samir’s, Fatima’s laugh was a cold one. Her laughter could lower the temperature in the room and cause drafts. By the time Fatima’s laughter died down, half the guests, specifically Fatima’s relatives, were shivering in their seats. The Mustafics, on the other hand, rather enjoyed the sudden drop in temperature. It reminded them of home and white winters.
“You love with your heart. Not with your dick.”
“Maybe for you. It so happens that both my organs are interconnected.”
“SAMIR!” A woman seated beside him leapt in her seat. Her fair complexion had darkened three shades of red as she glared at whom Fatima believed to be her son. Their resemblance was remarkable. It was she who bequeathed to Samir her gray eyes and dark hair. She also seemed unnaturally young for her age. While Fatima’s father and mother were nearing their sixties, Samir’s mother was bordering on the age of thirty-seven years. “That’s enough.”
Samir’s gaze shifted from his mother to the rest of the guests whose eyes were glued on him. He underwent a series of conflicting emotions: embarrassment, pride, and excitement. Instead of hiding it, he decided to shamelessly display it all.
“My mother can attest for me. I so happened to inherit my impulsive behavior from my father, who isn’t here as you can see.” Samir gestured to both seats beside him. To his left was his mother who was still standing with her hands on her hips. Despite her youthful appearance, she exerted a maternal essence that said she was thinking of all kinds of ways to punish her wayward son. To his right was a woman who was a few years older than his mother. She seemed far less angrier than Samir’s mother and wore a gaze that showed she was deep within the confines of her mind far from the chaos around her. She could have been Samir’s aunt or some other distant relative. Whoever she was, the evidence still stands. Samir had proven his point.
“You like to expose all my flaws, but it doesn’t bother me. I’m used to it. My entire life, it’s all everyone has thought of me. A mistake, the living evidence of my mother’s sin. I was born out of wedlock, so technically my very existence is haram. And I’ve spent nearly my entire childhood and adolescence living up to my reputation until now. Fatima, I really did come here with the intention of finding love. I want you to give us a chance.”
Fatima considered Samir’s testimony in conjunction to her better judgement and came to her final verdict.
From across the table, Madarbozorg and her cousin Shapoor sighed in relief as they loosened their grasp on their wallets.
“I cannot love a man who gives his heart and his body so carelessly as he would give *alms. Furthermore, you have proved yourself too flattering, too open, and lacking conviction. I believe that our differences make us incompatible, and I have no interest in you as a potential suitor.”
Fatima expected Samir to jump out of his seat to defend himself, but he remained where he was. His eyes fixed on hers, and she judged based off of his unwavering stare that it took all the self-discipline in his body to restrain himself.
“I know my worth, and I don’t need to prove it to you or to anyone in this room. But I don’t believe that you know yours. I see someone who takes out her frustrations at others, who loathes herself to the greatest abhorrence, and has allowed her loneliness to transform her into a bitter woman.”
Although it did not show, Samir’s words had wounded Fatima to the most severe degree. She rose from her seat, noted Samir’s empty tea glass, and chuckled.
“Baba. I believe Samir has finished his chai. We’re done here.”
Fatima stormed to her room, fuming. Her father’s calls went ignored, and the whole table lingered in silence once more until Fatima’s pedarbozorg spoke up. His little comment stunned them all.
“I think that went very well.” Pedarbozorg said and sipped his chai.
Omir’s jaw hung lower when Samir’s deda agreed.
“I think it took five years to win my wife over.”
Samir’s baka laughed like a little girl to the dismay of all the guests. “Well, I couldn’t resist your beautiful smile forever.”
Deda curled back his lips to reveal two rows of toothless gums which caused Baka to burst into laughter. The rest of the Mustafics slowly broke into a smile and Fatima’s family was pleased to learn that they were not the cold and unfeeling creatures they had made them out to be.
“So does this mean we won the bet?” Shapoor whispered to Madarbozorg. They glanced across the table at Samir who was trying his best to console a very distraught Omir. He exuded kindness through the cracks of his teeth and his unapologetic laughter. They mutually agreed that Samir was unlike any suitor they’ve come across.
“Not yet, Shapoor.” Madarbozorg shook her head grimly. “Not yet.”