Wear something nice: a full length ball gown or a hat with an ornamental rose on the front. This will show that you have made an effort.
As you walk into the living room crowded with his family and yours, try to look humble and bride-like and not trip over Chubbs the cat winding her way between your steps. Your father will say: this is my daughter, Sidra, which is the cue for you to make salams and sit down in whatever space you can find. Do not ask the boy’s mother to stand so that you can sprawl across the sofa with one arm behind your head like Kate Winslet in Titanic being painted by Leonardo DiCaprio. That pose works well for Kate Winslet but it will not work for you and there will not be enough room for the boy’s mother to sit back down, unless she lifts your feet and puts them into her lap.
She will not do this.
Your mother will serve tea and snacks on a silver tray that is reserved for guests and says this is important, everyone on their best behaviour, please. Do not eat more than your share of samosas, and when your mother urges everyone to eat, please, enjoy, remember: she does not mean you. Do not drop pastry crumbs in the folds of your headscarf while your grandma asks the boy’s grandma which school she went to back home. Do not then flap the bottom of your headscarf so the crumbs fall on the floor as your grandma says she thinks her old neighbour’s brother went to that school, small world, isn’t it?
Laugh if anyone makes jokes, but not too loudly, and cover your mouth. Practice in the weeks before the meeting, running scales of laughter, loud to quiet and back. Add in hysteria and then bleed it out again. When your grandma comes into your bedroom and says Sidra-bethi, what are you doing?, take her two thin hands in yours, feel the bones and the warmth, the blood, and say I love you naani. I want you to be proud of me.
Somebody may ask you what you are looking for in a partner. Do not say the Michelin man, because he’s strong with kind eyes that make you feel safe, and would be able to teach you how to change a tire. Do not ask if they know that the Michelin Man’s real name is Bibendum. The boy and his family have not come to your house to squeeze four people into a two seater sofa while Chubbs stretches up a leg and starts cleaning herself, to find out that the Michelin Man’s real name is Bibendum.
It is best not to mention the Michelin Man at all.
Do not talk too much about your job. You don’t want to be labelled ‘career focussed’. Say you like to go with the flow. Say you like cooking. Do not start smoking, during the introduction. Do not address the boy for the first time, asking if he has a lighter.
The boy may or may not speak to you. If he does, under the bright glare of his family’s observation, it may be stilted. If he does not, it may be because he feels shy. Or it may be that he feels it would be a betrayal of his secret university girlfriend Natalie Bishop, and he already feels bad enough about lying to his parents and to Natalie, and about drinking chai out of your mum’s best teacups, especially when the chai is so good. Or it may be that he did not know why his parents asked him to dress in a shirt and smart trousers and come to your house and now he finds himself trapped, trying not to look at you or at Chubbs while he waits it out. If this is the case it may be that he will start arguing with his parents as soon as they get back into their Mercedes while your family crowds inside the porch, smiling and waving. His family will smile and wave back from the car as they reverse off your drive, and he will say through gritted teeth that he’s told them he isn’t ready, that he wants to focus on his career. If he’s feeling brave he might even add that ‘this is the twenty first century, for god’s sake’.
Later, when the boy and his family have gone, your family will relax in the kitchen, drinking the rest of the chai out of mugs and polishing off the Bombay Mix from the good bowls. Now you may have the last samosa that you have been eyeing. It is cold but still perfect, your grandma’s spices, your mother’s homemade pastry. The coriander and mint swirl in your mouth, the balance perfect and as unique as DNA. When you swallow, your grandma will say that the boy was very handsome but perhaps it was his first meeting and that’s why he didn’t say anything. She will say that the family is very nice. She will ask you what you thought of the mute tea drinker.
Your father will pause, the last pakora inches from his mouth; your mother will hesitate, dishwasher open, saucers half stacked. They hope you will talk of an instant connection, the ‘clicking’ that modern couples hang so much weight on. They hope that you know something they do not. Most of all they hope that you are sure. They know the truth is there are always Natalies and confused motives and and wrong matches that have to be folded away, and never talked about again. They know that the right decision now might be the wrong one later, that there is no way to be sure, not really. Still they hope.
Tell your parents you don’t think this boy is right for you.
Let the words drop into the kitchen, twisting worries of the future back into concerns of the present. There is the crunch of your father biting into the last pakora, here is the clink of the dishwasher being loaded. As you wipe down the counters and put away the oil, your mother raises suggestions of her friend’s sister’s son, a doctor, very jolly and a good salary. Your grandma, with intentions so pure you can’t defend yourself, reminds you not to be too picky.
When you go to bed, take Chubbs with you and with her secret cat intuition she will consent to be cuddled while you fall asleep. Dream of the Michelin man sitting in your lounge, pausing in his painting to drink tea while you sprawl across the sofa like Kate Winslet and say to him I know your name, yes, I know you. See him smile back over the teacup, his giant hands delicate on the handle. There is a delicious, foreign excitement running through you. Whatever is on the canvas, you can’t wait to see.
When you wake in the morning your bed is full of cat fur and your worries from the night before have washed away. The dream is still very clear to you, both the feelings and the details. You’ll remember that smile, you think. You’ll look for it the next time you meet a boy.
And one day, a lifetime later, your own daughter will take a break from studying for her finals and join you in the kitchen to help you fold samosas. As she separates the sheets of pastry she will move her mouth but not talk, silent with worry of what the future she will have outside of a semester based timetable. Your daughter will fold tight triangles just as you showed her, as your mother showed you and her mother before her and when the tray is full and ready for frying she will ask you “Ma, how did you you know Papa was the right one?”
“No one really knows,” you will say, smiling and sad at the truth of it. “Only God.”
“Then why did you say yes?”
You watch the samosas tan in the oil then lift them out to drain in the colander. When they are cool you bring a few to the counter and sit with your daughter. You remember the meetings that came after that first one, the parade of families through your parents’ living room, the cycles of anticipation, nerves, preparation, anxiety and disappointment that coloured that period of your life.
You lower your voice so she has to lean close and whisper: “Your father...he told me that he liked to paint.”
Sarah M Jasat grew up believing her family was very strange but later discovered she was Indian. She writes short fiction exploring individuals' struggles within the constraints of traditional families. She dreams about writing a novel for older children if only she could get her own child to go to sleep. She lives in Leicester, UK.