Afra struggled a bit with her sari as she carried a tray of chai for the guests in her parents’ living room. Her mother followed close behind her, barely able to contain her excitement.
Too many people either sat or hovered in the cramped area. There were the boy’s parents, all the way from the Defense, a wealthy section of Karachi, joined by his older sister. The star of the show, the boy himself, sat comfortably in the center of the room.
“She’s so pretty,” the boy’s sister exclaimed to his mother.
Afra walked the perimeter of the living room, handing people their tea. She was quiet, decidedly avoiding anyone’s gaze. After she had finished this first test of propriety, she sat down next to her mother.
“Our daughter loves keeping things neat and tidy around the house,” her mother exclaimed, though absolutely no one had asked.
“That’s very good,” the boy’s mother responded. “It is important to know how to run a household after all.”
People grunted and nodded.
“Our daughter has amazing skill with words too. She could be a world-famous writer if she wants,” Afra’s father interjected.
“But that’s not her priority,” her mother admonished him with her eyes. “She’s going to build a happy home for her husband and children. Everything else can be a hobby.”
Afra could feel the boy staring at her. She lifted her gaze ever so slightly to see him through her peripheral vision.
“I’m Amir,” the boy said suddenly, extending his hand to her across the table.
Afra outright stared at him. Did he expect her to touch him in front of both their families?
She quickly calculated the likelihood of being penalized for a return-handshake. She could technically argue that it would have come across as rude to ignore him.
She lifted her hand and shook his. “Hello,” she whispered.
Smiles abounded. “He’s very confident,” Amir’s father chuckled, patting his son on the back.
“Afra, you are very pretty, but there is one thing,” Amir’s sister began, a smile on her face. “Do you go out into the sun often?”
“Sometimes when I write, I like to sit on the rooftop,” Afra said.
“Exactly. I was thinking there was an easy solution to this one tiny problem.”
“What problem?” Afra’s mother asked nervously.
“Her skin is a bit, you know, tan,” Amir’s mother joined the conversation.
Afra’s father shifted in his seat.
“Oh,” Afra’s mother said. “This will be fine. She’s not going to have time to do such things after marriage anyway. If you look at her wrists, you’ll see her real color is much lighter.”
“Sure, sure. We were just saying this for her own good,” Amir’s mother responded.
“Afra, beti, why don’t you go get more samosas from the kitchen,” her father said. “There’s some sauce in the very top cabinet.”
“No, I left it on the counter,” her mother interjected.
Her father motioned knowingly at her.
Afra walked over to the kitchen, thankful for the momentary break from this madness.
She reached into the cabinet for the whiskey her father had tucked away. After taking a gulp, she waited for the numbness to hit her.
Then, she carefully balanced the tray of samosas and walked outside.
“Did you find it?” he asked her.
“I did,” she responded. He smiled sadly at her.
She sat down, patiently waiting for the charade to end. After this, she planned to make her way up to the rooftop and write. She needed to jot down everything that happened.
One day, she would thread together all of these experiences and make a book out of them. She would be world-famous, just like her father said.
You can follow my journey at rebecaansar.com