My mother looked at me in a funny way trying to decide whether I was serious or joking. When she saw from the look in my eyes that I was serious, she gathered up all her papers, put them aside and said, “Work can wait until tomorrow. Now come here and talk to me.” She sat on the edge of the bed and I did the same. “Are you sure you want to marry this girl?” she asked. “Yes, I’m sure. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I wasn’t.” She nodded her head then said, “The other important question is: Does she feel the same about you too?” “Of course she does! We’ve been together for almost two years now.” “What’s the rush for then? Why not keep things the way they are now? Don’t you think you’re too young? God knows we’d be thrilled to see you engaged, especially your dad, but I have to know your reasons behind this decision. I mean why now? Why not wait one more year or so at least until you’re in your final year and then you’d be the perfect suitor for her or any other girl for that matter. I’m sure if she loves you she wouldn’t mind waiting for you,” she said.
I knew that there was no point in hiding anything from my mother because eventually she was going to find out. I was always an open book to her and she never failed to read me clearly. Therefore, I told her how Layla’s dad found out about us and what happened. “Well, you can’t blame him. Don’t tell me you don’t understand or see his point of view. The man is afraid for his daughter and I think he handled it really well. Someone else might’ve slapped his daughter, hit her, or locked her in her room. He was very moderate in his reaction to tell you the truth. You both should be thanking your lucky stars it ended up like this.” “I guess,” I said. “So you think proposing to her is the best solution to this problem?” “Yes,” I said and she smiled without a comment
“Tell me about Layla. You didn’t tell me a lot the few times you talked to me about her. Now I think I have the right to know all about her, don’t you agree?” So for a little over an hour I told my mom about Layla and how even her little imperfections are what make her perfect for me. I even showed her a picture of us together that I keep in my wallet and she said that Layla was beautiful.
“So, is it the right thing to do?” I asked. “Listen sweetie, you know very well that I’ve always supported you in every choice you have ever made, even the wrong ones, because that’s how you learn. I trust that you’re wise enough to know what’s best for you and I’m here only to advice you. I haven’t met this girl personally yet but if she’s half as wonderful as you describe her and if she’s half as crazy about you as you’re about her, then you have my blessings. I say let’s do it. May Allah write what’s best for you and guide you in every step you take into the path of happiness.”
She then hugged me and when she let go I saw her eyes tearing up. “What’s wrong, mom?” I asked. “My little boy wants to get married. I can’t believe this day has come. It’s only yesterday you were crawling and couldn’t even feed yourself!” I laughed and hugged her again then said, “Don’t start with the emotional and embarrassing stuff now please.” “I’ll make the call tomorrow and inshallah khair,” she said.
The next day in the afternoon, I was sitting in the living room with my mother when she made the call. I was nervous like I had never been in a very long time. My mom introduced herself and said that she was calling because her son wanted to propose to Layla. After some pleasantries, Layla’s mother asked how did we get her number and from where do we know Layla. My mom told her through Rima who’s a friend of Lama, Layla’s younger sister. Layla’s mother knew who Rima was and immediately the conversation became friendlier and even drifted into the topic of young teenage girls and hard it is to tame them these days. After a few minutes of chatting, my mom told her that I had seen Layla before and that she really impressed me with her beauty, elegance and intelligence and that when I decided I wanted to get engaged, I couldn’t think of someone else better. Then came the selling part in which my mom had to emphasize my good qualities. They talked some more and they agreed that my mom and my sister visit them at their house next Wednesday.
All of that took place without Layla’s immediate knowledge since I did not have a way of contacting her and had to wait for her to call me but I figured she would not really mind. The next morning, she called from her friend’s mobile sounding nearly freaked out. “You can’t do something like that without telling me first!” she almost shouted through the phone. “OK. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d react this way. Fine, I’ll tell my mom to call yours and cancel the whole thing if that’s what you want.” She giggled and shouted again, “You evil man! That’s not what I meant but next time, consult me first!” “Next time I want to propose to you I’ll tell you first! Now for my sake please dress up nicely and impress my mom on Wednesday.”
Wednesday came and apparently, it was a success. My mom came home ecstatic talking all about how sweet and funny Layla is. She also said that she and Layla’s mom hit it off from the start. I could not believe my ears. My mom does not like anyone easily so it is rather remarkable that she liked Layla’s mom. A couple of days later, Layla called me and told me that the joy was shared in their house, too. Her mom liked my family. They had agreed that next Wednesday, it is time for me to come along for the visit.
Layla had not told her dad that it was I, the guy whom he saw with her in the pictures, who is coming to their house. We thought a lot about it and figured it is best to withhold that information from him and see how he reacts. Of course, he was not going to embarrass us in front of our families. We predicted that he might sense it is I but he would not be sure enough to reject me before he sits with me, especially after the great success of my mom’s previous visit. We feared that if she told him that it was in fact me, he would probably refuse to meet my family and me, which would leave us in awkward position. However, if we left him in the dark and he met us, maybe his previous perception of my character would change into a better one. Perhaps after he gets to know a little more about my family and me, he would realize that I am good enough for his daughter and that we in fact belong together.
We also hoped that Yasser would be a supporting element for us. He had arrived from UK on Friday and was genuinely happy for us. He even called me to say congratulations. I told him that we still do not know what his dad’s opinion would be so he should hold off his congratulations yet. He told me that I should concentrate on winning his mother because if I did that, she will deal with his father and I will not have much to worry about then.
On the promised day, we were sitting in their big salon chitchatting about trivial subjects such as the weather and the newest restaurants in town. We were waiting for Layla’s dad to come down and join us since we were all there.
Half an hour later, he showed up and shook my dad and brother’s hands. When it was time for him to shake mine, I could easily see the recognition look in his eyes. He knew who I was but he did not say anything. I said, “Honored to meet you.” He nodded his head. He took the seat opposite me and that declared the beginning of the interrogation-like event. I had expected that so I was prepared. They asked for all kinds of personal information. Which schools did I go to? What were my grades? What do I want to do when I grow up? Which field do I want to specialize in? Where do I want to live? What are my plans in case we actually got married Layla and me? I tried to answer all of their questions in the most gracious and respectable way, not forgetting to add a touch of humor every now and then.
Sometime in the middle of the evening, Layla’s dad asked me, “So, how do you know Layla?” I sensed that he meant to put me on the spot by that question. “Lama is one of my cousin’s best friends and I’ve met her before a few times. Through her I met Layla too.” I answered. At the end of the night when it was time to leave, everyone said goodbye and what a pleasure it was to meet each other. The most mysterious person was of course Layla’s dad because I did not know whether he liked me or not. He did not give me any indications whatsoever towards this or that. He seemed pleasant enough and polite enough. Overall, it was not exactly the dream visit I once hoped for but it was much better than what I expected it to be.
Later, I learned how true what Yasser had said was. After we left and while Layla’s mom and the maid were cleaning up, her dad voiced his objection. “I don’t think we should agree to this guy. We don’t know anything about him and frankly I don’t like him that much.” Her mother looked at him as if he is crazy, Layla told me. “What are you talking about? He’s such a gentleman. He’s going to make a really good husband for Layla. Anyone with a sane mind can easily see that. True that we don’t know him that well, but that’s why there’s an engagement period. It’s not like they’re going to get married immediately. They’ll probably remain engaged for more than a year and that’s plenty of time for them to know each other better and for us to know him better, too.” Her dad would not quit and said, “This is not the first guy to propose you know and he’s not going to be the last. Why wait around for him to graduate while there are other suitors who are more financially secured and career established than him. He’s still a student with a long way to go.” “But I like him and his family and obviously Layla likes him too. Didn’t you notice how they were stealing glances towards each other when they think no one is looking? I thought that was adorable,” she said. “Because they already know each other from before.” “Yeah well he told you that he had met her before. His cousin is Lama’s best friend.” “I’m not talking about that. A couple of weeks ago I saw some pictures of your daughter and Mr. gentleman holding hands meaning there’s more to the story than “We’ve met through Lama.””
Layla told me that her dad had a smirk on his face when he said that as if he has dropped the bomb that is going to win him the battle but her mom then simply said, “Oh Abdulmalik, grow up. So what? All the girls these days have boyfriends and guy friends. You think I didn’t figure out that there was something going on between them? I had suspicions that Layla was involved with someone a long time ago but I chose not to dig deep and prayed that I had raised her well and that she’d make the right decisions. Luckily, her boyfriend turned out to be a decent young man who did the right thing and came to our house through the front door with his family rather than play her and break her heart then disappear for good. I’m very fond of him and his family. I think Layla and Khalid are going to make such a nice couple that everyone will envy. Just be happy for your daughter please because clearly she is flying high now” And that was the end of the discussion.
Three weeks later was the day of Qira’at Alfateha, which is the official ceremony that announces us to be engaged. We had decided that it is going to be a small affair with only family and close relatives. We exchanged rings and then spent the rest of the evening mingling, receiving congratulations and watching the two families getting to know each other.
The real celebration, however, was the following night. The father of a friend of mine was the manager of a private compound so with his help we arranged a poolside dinner party. We invited all of our friends and cousins and told them that it is going to be a mixed party and that casual attire is required. We did not want any thobes or suits present. We just wanted to have a good time and celebrate our engagement with those who were genuinely happy for the both of us. We danced, drank, ate and laughed until tears came out of our eyes.
At midnight, my sister and a friend of hers emerged out of nowhere carrying a large cake that had a picture of Layla and me on top. We cut the cake and everyone cheered then after taking a couple of pictures of us with it, I took my piece and jammed it into Layla’s face and she, in a very fast reflex I must admit, did the same to me with her piece. Suddenly everyone was trying to get their hands on a piece of cake so they could slam it into either Layla or me. I was covered in cake and before I even knew it, I found myself being carried up by my friends and then thrown into the cold water of the swimming pool. A few seconds later, Layla was dropped into the water too by her friends. We got out of the pool laughing so hard we could not even stand up straight anymore. Probably the next day we are going to wake up sick with fever and we would not be able to get out of bed but still we will feel good. This was a night to remember, a night to cherish forever. Nothing really mattered then.
We were engaged.