I proposed to S when I was 2.
I don’t remember that. My father tells me I was 2 when I first told him I was going to marry S.
My first memory of the ‘proposal’ is somewhere in prep school when I told S I was going to marry him. (You didn’t for a moment there think I asked, did you? Of course I told him we were marrying each other. End of matter) He said nothing and smiled. That would place me at 5 years of age and him at 7.
We were inseparable friends. We sat together in classes, we sat together at lunch, we sat together in the break, and we sat with each other while waiting for our cars. I use the word ‘sat’ because that’s literally what we did. We sat. He wasn’t allowed to run, or to push other kids on swings. Our ‘sitting together’ was enforced by the teachers because there was no safer kid he could be paired off with.
He was a baby who was born premature. His fingers were slightly fused together so he had trouble holding a pencil. He was born with a defective heart and lungs so he couldn’t be allowed to run or exert himself. Most significantly, he had a cleft palate that made speaking clearly and making himself understood very hard for him.
I was the most brilliant kid in the class so I helped him with his school work. I had three younger siblings so I was also considered more ‘responsible’ as far as behaviour and following teacher’s orders was concerned. I was a gentle child so I didn’t push or shove him. I was incredibly patient and I could understand what he was saying… if a teacher couldn’t understand him, I would translate for them. We had grown up together; I understood every single sound.
I thought we were such good friends, it would be incredible fun to live together. Instead of being separated when school was over, we could be together all day. That’s what married people did: lived in the same house. So, how about we get married? Neat! I remember one of these conversations with my father when I told him I’m going to marry S. I still remember the shocked/amused expression on his face. ‘Okay,’ he said, and that was the end of the matter as far as I was concerned. I even told S that my dad said okay about me marrying him but he did also say that I had to grow up first.
We would’ve carried on this way were it not for the fight.
We were in second grade. I was arguing with a classmate, Rameez, about a swing.
‘Come ON!’ I yelled, ‘break’s almost finished. We want the swing too.’
‘Please!’ said S.
‘I don’t give swings to retards,’ sneered Rameez.
The word retard was all I heard and S backed off two steps and murmured
‘lets go Specy’.
That’s the last thing I remember before I launched myself at Rameez. Dwn we both went clawing and scrabbling but I had the obvious advantage because he was caught unawares.
That is an age when boys don’t really have any physical advantage on you. And I already had three siblings at home. So I wasn’t about to go down in hand-to-hand combat. Unluckily for R, while we were rolling about fighting, he flung his hand out and his watch caught me directly on my mouth.
Split lips look much worse and painful then they are. And they are incredibly bloody. The next thing I know, we were both in the principal’s office and her eyes were popping out of her head ‘Hitting a girl?!?’ she was yelling at Rameez, ‘You hit a GIRL?!?’ It never crossed anyone’s mind that I might have been the one to start the fight. Cutting a long story short, he was suspended for a day. And I was sent home to, er… rest. My Dad, however, wasn’t about to be fooled into believing in the halo around my head.
‘A boy hit you? And you didn’t hit back? That’s shameful’ he tut-tutted.
‘I did hit him,’ I said.
‘Who got hit more?’
‘Good!’ said my Dad much to the horror of my mum.
‘What…what…WHAT are you trying to teach her?!? For God’s sake!’
‘I’m not ‘teaching’ her anything wrong. Look here, Specs. Don’t start a fight but once you’re in it, do NOT make it easy for the other person. Okay?’
‘Okay,’ I said.
‘What really happened, though’ he asked again. And I told him.
That was when my parents decided that I was getting too over protective and over attached with S. The next day when I went to school, I was moved to a different section. With chance meetings only at break time and after school, we both soon found new friends. Two years later, I was moved to an all-girls school and S went abroad for extensive corrective surgeries. I thought we had seen the last of each other.
Except that Islamabad is a very small place.
S’s mum came back to Pakistan with his younger sister because she wanted her daughter to be bought up in Pakistan. Coincidentally, she was working in the same place as my mum.
My Dad and I were picking my mum up one day when I saw him. S. Oh my God. He had changed so much yet so little. He was about six feet tall which is TALL. Specially if one is as thin as he was. His face was as normal as normal gets; plastic surgery had corrected much.
I looked at him. He looked at me. And we recognized each other right away. So, we both politely changed the direction of our glances because to go up and say hello would be extremely inappropriate ‘just because’…were it not for my Dad who took one look and yelled, ‘Specy, LOOK! There’s S, the guy you wanted to marry!!’
‘Daddy’ I let out a horrified gasp, ‘What the…’ and horror of all horrors, S heard. He looked at me with a really amused expression and that goofy half smile I remembered so well.
‘Hey’ I mumbled trying my hardest to politely smile but I was too mortified to even look at him.
He and my Dad shook hands and my Dad asked him what he was doing, where he was (some Uni in Canada, halfway through his bachelors in something)…he spoke really clearly with each word separate and distinct (good speech therapist, I thought).
While noting all these things, I decided it would be a good time to leave because I was too embarrassed to start chit chatting so I politely excused myself and ran to my mum’s office.
‘You know S is here?’ my mum’s all excited.
‘YESSSS I know’ I hissed.
‘So? You don’t want to meet him?’
‘No, thank you.’
‘Really?’ she looks up from her desk with her glasses perched on her nose (which is a VERY typically interrogative stance of hers)
‘Yes yes really. Whatever’ I waved my arm hysterically so she let it go.
On the way home my Dad excitedly told her about meeting-the-guy-who-Specs-wanted-to-marry and I said ‘he TOLD him. He actually YELLED it in front of him’
‘That was…’ my mum said before my dad interrupted, ‘They’re just children. It doesn’t matter’
‘She is TWENTY’ yelled my mum horrified ‘not a kid anymore. Bacchay nahin ab! (they’re not children now) And you know he has just four or five more years…’
‘You know, with his heart condition and all. His mum was crying the other day because it’s such a drawn out torture to know your child is dying’
‘The doctors said he couldn’t survive ten years… he’s 22 now,’ I said.
No one replied.
There was nothing to say.