Extract 3: Farah and Nadeem’s wedding night.
“Have a lovely evening,” said the porter. “And enjoy the complimentary champagne.” He smiled and did an awkward bow before disappearing behind the door. Farah glanced at the bucket of ice, bearing a green bottle, and the fluted glasses beside it. She wondered if she should have asked the porter, to take the celebratory beverage, for himself.
Farah hadn’t had much of a religious upbringing, but her mother had insisted on adhering to some fundamental rules; do not eat food that is not halal and do not consume any alcohol. She wondered though, if Nadeem drank, like her dad did. The thought, made the hairs on her body, stand on end. Her thoughts were interrupted, as the door shut nosily after the porter. The sound echoed painfully in Farah’s ears. She shut her eyes tightly for a moment, willing herself to melt into the wonderfully soft red carpet, under her sandals, or evaporate into the cold night air. But she remained there, solid and still. She wondered if she could will him to disappear. Maybe, if she was really quiet, and didn’t turn around to look at him, he would simply go away.
Click. Farah heard the sound of a lock, turning behind her. She swung round to face the closed door, of the en suite bathroom. She hadn’t even heard him move. Probably a good thing she thought. If he remains this quiet, maybe I can pretend, that he’s not even here.
Farah sat down, on the edge of the chaise lounge, and pushed the jewel-encrusted sandals, off her tired, swollen feet. Gosh, how she hated wearing heels – they made her ankles and toes hurt, and she could never walk in them. The five inch stilettos, that rested on the floor seemed to mock her – they had nearly injured her twice today, and had made her lose her balance numerous times. She sighed in relief as her feet revelled in the sumptuous carpet. Now, alone in the room, she relaxed a little, and began to remove her heavy, gold jewellery. As she sank into the chair, she surveyed the plush honeymoon suite.
The décor was French rustic, with stylish bespoke furniture and vintage lighting. Beautifully etched mirrors lined the room, bringing it to life. The French windows, had been opened by the porter, as they had come in, “to let some fresh York air in,” he had explained. But Farah could feel the chill of the cool night creeping in now, and she hurried to close the windows. As she flipped the latch to secure them, she heard the bathroom door open. Farah’s hand gripped the latch, as a wave of panic swept through her. The rich layers beneath her feet, felt hot and uncomfortable all of a sudden, and her crystal scattered wedding clothes grew heavier, weighing her down. Farah tensed as Nadeem cleared his throat to speak.
“Would you like to you use the bathroom?” he asked in Guajarati.
Farah relaxed a little. What had she expected him to say? She wondered. She turned slowly to face him. He was dressed in a hotel bathrobe, the belt tied tightly around his waist. Farah gulped as she wondered if he was naked underneath. His hair was still wet from showering, and beads of water ran down the side of his face. Nadeem spoke again.
“Sorry, I should speak in English…
“Oh – no… I-“ started Farah. She wanted to tell him that she’d understood him and that she did speak Guajarati, but she couldn’t find the words.
Would you… err… want – like to use the bathroom?” he asked. Then, “sorry… my English… not so good.”
He threw her a nervous smile and his shoulders slumped in embarrassment. Farah nodded, slowly.
“Yes,” she said. “I would like to use the bathroom.”
The scent of vanilla and sandalwood filled her senses, as Farah stepped into the bathroom. The pale, limestone tiled walls, gleamed under the warm lighting and the ornate mirrors perspired with the steam from Nadeem’s bath. The steam seemed to be gathering momentum. Farah’s eyes swept the room in confusion. They settled on the cast iron bath, resting by the bow window. The steam was rising from the hot water that filled the tub and scented petals floated on the surface. Nadeem had prepared a bath for her and Farah had no idea what to think of it, or how she should feel.
Under normal circumstances, where the couple were in love, or at least had mutually consented to be married to one another; this romantic gesture would have delighted the bride and she would have been grateful for her husband’s consideration of her wellbeing. But this wedding night was not a normal one and definitely not a romantic one. Farah walked over to the bath and put her hand into the comfortable concoction of silky water and sumptuous fragrances, and pulled the plug.
Farah hurried to remove her lengha; the fishtailed, floor length skirt, and fitted top, that made up her bridal outfit. Her hair seemed to be carrying hundreds of pins and she grew impatient, as she struggled to release her hair from their grasp. In the shower, she turned the dial to full heat and welcomed the scalding needles of water that drenched her tired body. The tears that simmered beneath her eyes, now ran down her cheeks and into the flowing water. Anger filled her tiny form and nails dug deep into her shoulders, carving ribbons of red as they scraped down to her elbows.
How dare he? She thought. How dare he think that he had the right to behave like a loving husband? He did not love her. He did not know her. And neither had he attempted to get to know her throughout their short engagement. After Nadeem’s relatives in the UK had made official his wedding to Farah, Farah had hoped that he might get in touch. Perhaps, if he called, she may be able to make him understand that she didn’t want this, and just maybe, he would understand and conveniently break off the engagement. Of course no such thing happened. Farah knew that no man from the Asian sub-continent would refuse to marry a British citizen – it was their ticket to a world they had only dreamed of.
And now he had what he wanted. Their marriage had paved the way for Nadeem to acquire the all-important red and gold book that would give him the right to an easier life, western pop culture and civilization. But he would never have her. It was a promise she had made to herself and Farah would always honour it.
She switched off the shower and stepped out to embrace the coolness of the tiles beneath her feet. She dried herself slowly. She knew she would have to return to the bedroom at some point, but she needed to be alone for a little while longer. She took her time drying her hair, gently squeezing the towel around sections of her hair. She wasn’t fond of using a hair dryer; they made her hair fall out and what would remain of her curly hair would end up in a heap of tangles and knots. To Farah’s knowledge, Indian men preferred women with straight. Farah only hoped that were true. Maybe, Nadeem would be put off by her curls, and would not attempt to be physically intimate with her. It would make what she was about to do so much easier.
Dressed in her comfortable cotton pyjamas, Farah opened the door and stepped into the bedroom. Her cousins had insisted that she buy something special for such an important night, and she had obliged them, but the silk negligee lay untouched in it’s fragrant wrapping, at the bottom of her over-night bag. She could hear his shallow breathing, and glanced cautiously over at the bed. But the bed remained undisturbed. She caught sit of him in the mirror. He had laid out a clean towel on the floor, beside the bed, and on it he knelt, with his forehead resting on the floor. He was praying, Farah realised.
Only her mother was constant in praying five times a day. Her father had cared little for religion and God, and had often mocked her mother for her ever-present faith. Evening classes for the teaching of Islamic history and Arabic had been considered a waste of time, by her father, so the little Farah had learnt had been taught to her by her mother and Maliha. But even then, she had rarely ever prayed. She wondered now, more than ever, whether there was a God and if so, why he had let this happen to her.
Farah laid her overnight bag on the luggage stand. She gazed over at Nadeem – he was still praying. The room was silent, except for the cool breeze that swept the room; Nadeem had opened the windows again. As she tugged on the covers, a strange sound – a gasp or a whimper, held her attention. Farah looked over at Nadeem; she wondered if he was crying. Then just as fast as the thought had entered her mind, she disregarded the thought. Crying? Nadeem? Why should he have anything to cry about? Farah threw open the sumptuous silk covers and glided into the bed. She brought her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. She shut her eyes tightly, willing herself to sleep.
It wasn’t easy. The tick tocking of the alarm clock on the bedside table seemed to be growing louder and the breeze seemed to grow heavier. It was no use. She couldn’t sleep. She knew she had to try and relax, but how was that going to be possible in this far from pleasant, situation. Then she heard the sound of movement. Nadeem was getting up from his makeshift prayer mat. She tensed and moved closer to the edge of the bed, as she anticipated his next move. Her heart beat faster and her arms tightened their grip around her.
“Please…” she pleaded. Her face remained hidden under the covers and her eyes closed. “I… I’m on my period.”
She wondered if the lie held the conviction in her voice that she was trying to convey. She had her answer soon.
“You are… in pain?” he asked her
His question threw her and the concern in his voice confused her. She wondered if he’d leave her alone if she told him the truth. That she wasn’t menstruating, that she didn’t want any relationship with him, let alone a physical and intimate one.
“I’m… fine,” she replied.
He didn’t say anything then. Farah heard him rummaging through his over-night bag. Then he moved away and switched off the lights. Farah gasped. Slowly, she unhooked her knees from beneath her skinny arms, and laid her legs straight, her face towards the wall and her arms around her waist. She waited, but he didn’t come to bed. Yet Farah knew that he hadn’t left the room; the doors were closed and she hadn’t heard them being opened. For a while, she lay in bed, motionless, listening to the sounds in the room. Slowly, Farah lifted the covers off her face and looked out into the room. Darkness filled the room and she could see nothing. She sat up and let her eyes adjust to the black. Where was her lurking? She wondered, her heartbeat quickening. She listened out for the sound of his breathing and found her gaze reaching across the room to the chaise lounge. And there he lay; his head rested on a cushion and a towel hung loosely over the lower half of his body. Farah threw herself back into the bed, exhausted and perplexed.