I have dodged all attempts to pin me to a prearranged marriage. My father left me alone and gave me the breathing space I needed. My mother and two aunts didn't hold their fire back for a single day though. I was thirty and unmarried and they have vowed to put an end to my solitary existence. I loved mother dearly but she suffocated me as much as she neglected my father. It hurt her how close we were, he and I. She couldn't understand that by letting me fly on my own, by setting me free, by watching from a distance daddy was in fact with me every single moment. As hard as I tried to understand her motives behind her insistence on getting me married I couldn't. It was as if my life and hers depended on it.
"But mom I don't love him. I don't care that he's a doctor or about his family. I don't wanna get married now, and certainly not to him."
Their professions varied but they were all the same. Big boys who plunged head on into marrying a girl they didn't even know because she was pretty, came from a good family and passed their mothers discerning taste in women. This place suffocated me and if it were not for dad I would've not returned from abroad. I knew he was ill and I knew how my mother felt about him, or perhaps did not. As I grew up and witnessed their parallel lives I thought that her desultory journey would prevent her from committing her parents' mistake with me. I was wrong. Father was twenty years her senior and a century or two ahead of her and the town's folks' arrested development. He was undemanding and unobtrusive but when it became increasingly more difficult for him to be in his beloved bookstore, as he did everyday since as far back as I can remember, he called me and conveyed his message shyly. He wanted me near him but more importantly he wanted the bookstore to remain open.
I sold seven books to four other customers by 1:30. One of them, an elderly lady bought two dozens of red and white carnations too. I called dad over the phone and excitedly informed him about my first day's bounty. Delight tiptoed in between the chords of his frail voice. He asked about the seven books as if they were his flesh and blood. It was never about the money for him since he inherited plenty to make him and his family live comfortably. It was only about the books, my little brothers and sisters as he used to tell me when I was in first grade. I hesitated then...
"Dad, I met someone this morning."
"Here in the bookstore."
"What did he buy?"
"A bouquet of beautiful flowers."
"Then he gave them to me dad."
He swallowed his thoughts, rolled them around in his head. "You sound happy habibti."
"Don't let anyone take that away from you. Follow your heart my Fatina."
He hung up, tired but not weighed down. I could see him lying content in bed with an open book over his chest. Oh how I love him. Tears swelled in my eyes when I remembered how ill he was, how lonely his life had been and how I'm going to lose him soon. The chimes over the door trilled with a distant song. I rubbed my eyes quickly with the back of my hand, straightened my dress and looked up. Bassem stood there with his enchanting smile.
"How are you?" He eyed me with tender concern. "Is everything alright?"
"Yes it is. " His worry dispelled the tears and spilled a gentle wave of quiet in my heart. He saw that.
"Listen. I was wondering if..?"
"Yes!" I answered. "I've been waiting all along."