Layla’s father never approved of me. It was obvious that even though he was happy for his daughter he was not going to consider me a welcomed addition to his family. True he never failed to treat me with respect yet it was the respect you would offer a stranger rather than a dear son in law. Honestly, I could not have cared less if it did not mean that much to Layla. I tried to impress him in numerous ways. I was always on my best behavior whenever he was around. I attempted to engage him in conversations about topics I knew he was interested in but to no avail. After some time, my attempts became less frequent and my desire to gain his approval grew weaker. I made peace with the fact that my relationship with him is going to remain strictly formal. Layla, however, never gave up and she always had ideas regarding how to get her dad to like me better or to include him in our usual familial gatherings of which he often declined to join.
I remember once having a conversation with Layla early in our engagement about her father’s apparent unwillingness to embrace me into their family and what could be the reason for that and she said, “It’s not simply a dislike of your character or disapproval of the way we had met and our old relationship. There are many other factors too I believe. You see, I was always dad’s favorite and our relationship used to be strong especially when I was younger. He was my confidant you could say and I used to tell him everything. Therefore, it’s upsetting to him that I hid such a big part of my life from him for that long. It doesn’t make it easier too the fact that he discovered it by chance rather than my own confession which would’ve made it more acceptable to him in a way. I guess he feels cheated and it’s not an easy feeling. Maybe he’s disappointed that I had a relationship with someone to begin with. Perhaps in his mind he didn’t think it’s something I would do. You know how parents tend to be sometimes, thinking that their kids are angels on earth. You’re also the new man in my life. You’re the one he has to compete with now and eventually you’ll win and you’ll steal me away as it always the case with marriage. I also expect that dad would’ve preferred that the man I was going to marry came through him or by his knowledge. Last but not least, even if he changed his mind now and thought that you are indeed worthy of his daughter, that would mean he would have to admit he was wrong in his early refusal which is a very hard thing for my father to do. And of course there could be other things that neither you nor I know about.” I asked while she was sipping her cup of coffee, “So, basically what you’re saying is that he might just never like me?” “Don’t be so pessimistic. I’m sure with time he’ll love you,” she said with an assuring smile. Little did we know then of the chain of events that was going to take place later in time and serve to affirm that disapproval even more.
Just as the new school year started, Layla began working in Samba bank as a teller. She was not looking for a job then but when my uncle mentioned they were looking for females to hire in different positions, I brought up the subject and she said why not. Next day she was hired on the spot after my uncle made a call to one of his friends. She was in a good financial situation since she received 4200 Riyals a month while I was stuck with the monthly 990 I get from college. I jokingly demanded that she gives me at least a thousand Riyals out of her salary every month so we can have a better balance but she refused! It was not the best of sensations to know that for at least two more years, she would be the one supporting us. She liked working there and made a few new friends. It was not the dream job but it was perfect for the time being.
I would finish college around 4-4:30 and I would go pick up Layla from the bank and take her home. Sometimes we went out for lunch but most of the days we both would be very tired and cannot wait to get home. That year passed in a glance. Due to the extensive number of rotations, clinical exams, finals and the concomitant large amount of studying required not to mention maintaining my relationship with Layla, I was busy most of the year with barely time to breath. Towards the end of the year, I was exhausted. I had studied hard and performed well but had no idea how my grades were going to turn out. I felt drained and I could not wait for the summer to come. Layla, too, grew bored with the routine of her job and longed for a break. What we anticipated the most, however, was our Melka.
When Layla and I first got engaged, we had decided that our engagement period would be prolonged until I become an intern in two years time at least and then we would have our Melka and the Wedding to follow after a few months. We also agreed that we would leave to Canada after I finish my internship so that I could enroll in a Surgical Residency Program and hopefully upon completion; aim to get a Fellowship degree in Pediatric Surgery all of which will take probably eight years. During that time, Layla intends to get her Masters and PhD, too. After she is done with her studies, I will still have a couple of years left to receive my Fellowship degree so in that period, we intend on having two babies, preferably a boy and a girl. We had not decided on their names yet though. Layla would work in these three years left here until it is time for us to leave. Our families did not mind the general layout of our plans except a little for the long period of time that we would spend outside the country but they understood my need to do so in order to become a good surgeon. It seemed like we had our entire future figured out then.
During the second term of that year, the subject of the summer vacation often came up and discussed. I never had the chance to spend the summer with Layla since she was always abroad on most of its days and this time I wanted that to change. In the summer, my brother would be busy with college applications and admission exams that most likely he will not be able to travel anywhere and my parents would surely stay with him. My sister was going to Dubai with a couple of her friends. I was invited to go along with them and I almost agreed if not for the seemingly brilliant idea that came to my mind. Layla and her family were going to Italy in July instead of their annual summer trip to Egypt. Her dad cannot go with them because he is busy with work. When I told Layla about my idea, she got extremely excited and we agreed that we would discuss it with our parents the next time we are all together.
On a Wednesday evening while we were all on the dining table in Layla’s house, we asked everyone to hear our idea. “Khalid and I have been doing some thinking, about this summer vacation, and we thought it would be really nice if he could come along with us to Italy,” Layla addressed her mother. Both her mother and mine looked at us as if they did not know whether to laugh or to strike us with the big wooden rice spoon! Luckily, Lama shouted, “That’s a great idea!” We had told Lama, Noor and Badr about our plan and instructed them to support it. I felt bad for Badr because he would not travel anywhere while Noor did not seem to care since she was going away anyway but they encouraged me to suggest the idea. Lama was ecstatic from the moment we told her. Yasser, however, was, as usual, a mystery and we did not know if he would welcome me coming along or not but we figured we would deal with him later if we managed to convince our parents first.
It took us a couple of weeks and continuous nagging until our parents, surprisingly, agreed. However, Layla’s mother had a condition. “I spoke to your Dad.” She looked at Layla and continued, “As you might expect, he wasn’t crazy about the idea but he also knew that there’s no point in fighting it so he simply said it was fine by him. But I do have a condition to give you my final approval.” Now she addressed me, “I don’t think it would be appropriate for you to travel with us while you’re still just Layla’s fiancé. It doesn’t look good for us, for Layla and even for you. In the end, we live here and it’s just not that ok. I know that we had spoken about this before and said that we would wait until you finish school but if you want to come with us to Italy then you should have your Melka done before that, preferably in the first weekend after your finals. It would put my heart at ease this way. What do you think?” Layla and I exchanged glances and I said, “That is a great idea.” We would have hugged each other if her mother were not sitting right in front of us.
Our Melka was set to be a traditional affair because we figured that since our wedding is going to be far from traditional, at least our Melka should be. My last exam was on Tuesday. Our Melka was on Thursday a week later. The men’s Melka was in my house while the women’s took place in Donyaty Hall in Westin Hotel. At my house, I was trying to sense how Layla’s father was feeling as the guests were arriving but he was vague as usual and I could not tell much but he seemed happy. When it was time for us to sit with Alma’zoon and for him to pronounce Layla and me officially married, I was nervous and excited at the same time. When he asked Layla’s father since he is her guardian if he accepted me to be Layla’s husband, there was a moment of hesitation I do not think anyone else had noticed. I thought to myself, “Holy shit! He’s going to say no!” Thankfully, he did not and he said yes. I let out a silent sigh of relief. After that, we danced and sang with Al-Jassesah and had a good time.
After dinner, the guests started leaving and less than an hour later, I headed with my family and Layla’s to Westin Hotel to participate in the celebration that is taking place there. I always thought that the entire concept of Al-Zaffah is funny but when I stood there next to Layla, holding her hand in front of all the women present in the wonderfully decorated hall, suddenly it seemed like a fairytale that I never quite pictured myself as a part of before. I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming sensation of happiness that took over me that moment. Layla was absolutely beautiful. I could not believe that this piece of perfection, which God has created, this heavenly angel on earth now belonged to me. I could not believe that now I get to call her my wife. She was breathtaking in every meaning of the word. I felt like the luckiest man that has ever lived and I said a silent prayer of thanks. I leaned over and whispered to Layla, “I love you.” I felt her hand shaking in mine but it could have been my hand that was shaking. We squeezed each other hands tight and started descending upon the stairs accompanied by the sound of music and happy cheers from everyone there. We had the most magical time that night. I remember when I went back home that night when it was all over, I lied on my bed thinking to myself, “What good deed have I done to deserve all of this happiness in my life?”
A week or so after our Melka, my exams results were posted. I passed by Layla, took her with me and headed to college. I went to see my results while she waited for me in the car. I found out I had gotten my badly hoped for B and I was thrilled. I rushed back to the car and told Layla. “What do you want to do to celebrate?” she asked. I said, “Let’s just get out of here and we’ll think about it. Maybe go have a day at the beach or something. Let’s call the others and see.” Just as we were entering King Abdul Aziz Square near college, Layla said, “I’m proud of you.” Then she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I smiled and looked at her. I was distracted only for a second in which I took my eyes off the road ahead of me. In this senseless second, my car got hit in the left front tyre by another car heading right that I failed to see. I was speeding and when I pressed the breaks hard which is something I should not have done, I lost control of the car and it headed insanely towards the sidewalk. We hit the pavement and the car literally flew in the air.