Invalid recipientWe must have been just another Asian couple to their eyes. Because he could have been placed anywhere from the Middle-east to South Asia. And I could be placed anywhere from South to the Southeast of Asia.
Once, when the train tunneled in, I reached out for him in reflex and my hands clutched his jumper briefly. I let go quickly, in embarrassment.
Some fellow-passengers stared at us. You know how it is when people look at you and then swiftly away like they never looked your way, and still keep an eye on you from the corner of their eyes?
We must have been just another Asian couple to their eyes. Because he could have been placed anywhere from the Middle-east to South Asia. And I could be placed anywhere from South to the Southeast of Asia.
He looked my way a lot. Like he was constantly watching over me. And always with that smile, as though responding to some sort of serendipity. For the first time, I actually noticed that he had a nice smile. I guess I had never really cared to look at him properly during our previous meeting two years ago. I noticed he had nice eyes, and his movements were graceful. Almost feminine, which made him attractive to me suddenly. But I remembered his face had carried those sure pair of eyebrows from my memory of him. It perked up now and then now, as he smiled at me. This man I had married!
I had married him in a hurry. Two years ago. In a random, impulsive moment.
I had walked into our regular cafe in Thamel, where my sister would usually meet her friends and found her seated with this man and an elderly woman. Over coffee, in the next hour, we had started talking about the mounting marriage pressure on Nepali women, the moment they were in their early 20s. And my sister made fun of me for how I was being hounded by relatives and how I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have my sister’s fierceness and rebellious spirit. Not then. And every day, I was terrified I would just cower down to the pressure.
And just then the woman said: Just get married to someone you like and then when they ask you to get married, tell them you’re married! She was clearly a confident, open-minded, opinionated woman in her 30s. I envied her.
“I can’t just get married!” I had said.
“Yes, you can!” She had said and then gone on to explain how I should find an accomplice. And before we knew, she had suggested I marry him!
“I can’t!” I protested. “We don’t even know each other!”
He had just smiled through it, exposing a neat set of teeth that put my tetracycline stained teeth to shame. He hadn’t said no, but had thrown his hands in the air for a bit and smiled, like he was being shoved into some sort of adventure.
So, before I knew, my sister and this woman darted off in the search of rings.
With them gone, silence fell between us and we were swallowed whole by the buzz in the cafe. Awkward. Then he raised his eyebrows and asked me about work. I finally had a chance to speak for myself. I think he did too. He didn’t seem to divulge much about himself, but he listened intently when I spoke.
Then they returned with two identical silver rings that looked like wedding bands. We exchanged them over sips of coffee and we were married!
They told me to wag a finger at the elders, anytime I came under marriage pressure. But what was I going to say? That I was married to someone I don’t even know? We laughed then parted, my secret pressed between my fingers, with my sister as its witness.
I didn’t see him in Kathmandu after that. We didn’t really have an excuse to see each other. In the months that followed, I heard from my sister that he had left for Egypt. That’s where he came from, in case I forgot to mention.
Two years after our hurried wedding, I found myself in the UK. I was trying to hide. From all sorts of things. From the world, mostly. Then one day, my sister wrote to me saying he was there and I should try and meet him if I happened to be in London. She had sent his email.
So, I wrote to him:
Dear Mohammed, I don’t know if you still remember me. I’m Looni’s sister. I’ll be in London next month and I would like to meet you if you have time.
Mohammed wrote back. (Yes, that was his name.) Soon, we were chatting over hotmail’s msn service.
We met in a garden. I can’t even recall its name or the location anymore. But I remember how he came darting towards me—white shirt, sky blue jumper, black coat and jeans— and gathered me in a hug. As though we’d always hugged.
How odd to think now that we were dressed almost identically.
I was carrying a homemade sandwich—cheese and lettuce and tomatoes—Walkers crisps and some Tropicana in my bag. We sat on a park bench, shared it and talked. He told me about how difficult it had been for him to find jobs in the past year since he moved to the UK from Egypt, and that he finally had one he liked.
Later, over coffee in a café, the setting of which escapes my memory, he asked me about my plans. I said I didn’t know. I didn’t. I had gone to the UK with no dream, only one of being able to put off getting married for as long as I could. But it looked like I was surrounded by everything that resonated with it. Because here I was, sitting next to my almost-husband.
He said I should move to London, look for a job. He would help me. I could move in with him. “I don’t know,” I said and smiled.
As opposed to everyone else who seemed to be going somewhere in a hurry, we sauntered around all day, until it was time for me to catch the last train to Cambridge. Then we jumped on and off Tubes, trying to catch the right line. When he saw me off at King’s Cross, he held me again, more comfortably this time, and said: “I’ll see you soon.”
It was the last time I saw him.
We kept in touch over msn and emails. Cell phone calls were expensive then, so he would call me on the landline some evenings and I would sit on the steps, whispering details about my slow day to him. There wasn’t much happening in my sheltered life then, but his was going through quick changes. Whenever he called, he always eventually arrived at the same question: “When would I go to London again?”
But when I did go again, it was Dashain and I was busy visiting family friends. We didn’t get a chance to meet.
I decided to move back to Nepal suddenly, in the midst of political changes in the country that made me feel like I had to come home. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to him. And over the years, we kept in touch for some time over msn and then Gmail took over and I no longer remembered my Hotmail account passwords. I guess we became blocked for each other because of a change in our email addresses. We lost each other to the ether.
A couple of months ago, he popped up in my mind and I asked my sister: “What happened to your friend Mohammed?”
She said: “Which Mohammed? Oh! Right. I don’t know.”
I asked: “What’s his full name again?”
She said: “I can’t remember.”
I did a Google search for “Mohammed + Egypt=UK” and the results were always overwhelming. His family name remains lost on my memory and with that, every possibility to look him up.