I was never the girly girl. I chose shorts over skirts when I was 8, I related to the adventurous, reckless tomboy Georgina in the Famous Five and if I were one of the Sweet Valley twins, I’d be nerdy Elizabeth. I can’t stand sappy, clichéd rom-coms, and baby animals cuddling don’t make me cry. Roses look better in a garden than clutched together in cellophane and doves shouldn’t be trapped only to be let out as the groom slips a diamond onto his swooning wife’s finger.
And he knew all this because I told him. “I can’t stand all this hype over valentine’s day,” I had rolled my eyes in freshman year – and so he had burnt me a CD of our shared music and given it to me on 13th February in the library.
But like all non-girly girls, every now and then I’d secretly crave for a cliché to be pushed across a white-table-clothed table in a candle-lit restaurant. And so, I’d become a little nasty on those silly college society carnivals when he wouldn’t send me a rose dedication or buy me a hand-painted card, and the poor boy would be befuddled.
I don’t think we were the kind of couple that people glance at and instantly realize what makes them click. We weren’t always together, and our worlds were definitely not the only two celestial bodies in the solar system. We had different majors, we didn’t coordinate our class schedules and we had our separate friend circles (we occasionally ventured into the other’s circle but not all the time). We weren’t one for grand gestures, and really expensive gifts, we didn’t remember the exact day we started going out and I don’t quite remember when marriage came into our conversations. We were walking the same pace, hand in hand, and we came to that decision together, the obvious station stop. There was no drama over “I can’t believe you haven’t told your parents about me yet!” or “you don’t want to get married? What do you MEAN you don’t want to get married?” and just like that that, (Alhamdullilah), our parents met and again, and two years after graduation we were sitting together awkwardly in front of our families as they clicked away on their cameras, and beamed and joked about why there was an elephant-sized space between us on the couch.
I kept nagging him about a proposal. “You haven’t actually, formally asked me to marry you,” I told him, prey to the hundreds of media images in our heads about how one must be proposed to. “I’m thinking of something really special,” he would promise and I wouldn’t believe him, because, well, we just aren’t that kind of a couple. “It better not be something lame like a ring in my food.”
Truth be told, we’re a private couple, we don’t gush over one another in public and we barely ever infantilize one another in front of our friends so I wasn’t really sure what kind of a proposal I wanted. But unable to fight my nagging instincts, I’d always bring this up in any or all fights.
The first anniversary of our engagement came and went, and I’m finally home after seven months of America. And yes, family is great and I feel like a spoilt princess in Islamabad but the feeling of being in Karachi, where the humidity comes to rest above your lips and on the bridge of your nose in little drops of perspiration, where the sea breeze messes up your hair no matter how tightly you pin it up, and where little street children woo you with their learned English phrases – and even a rap song or too in a Pakhtun accent – the city of dreams and gunshots and resilience and love, and I feel like I’m finally home.
So we went to this pretty restaurant in a strangely residential location, and contrary to his lack of planning inclinations, he had made a reservation at a precise table that he knew I’d love because it was in the corner and outside on the patio. Candles cast out puppets of pale light, and the breeze played violin music on sharp green leaves, the sound of water trickling in unobtrusive fountains; there weren’t that many people in the restaurant and we had a waiter who I related to because he kept coming to fix our table, placing the water bottle in the exact spot he wanted to no matter how many times we messed it up. “I have something to say,” he closed the menu in my hands and launched into the most adorable, stiff impromptu declaration of his omniscient, eternal love and then proceeded to take out a small velveteen black box. There was a beautiful silver ring with a single zircon in the center. “Will you be my wife?” he ended and I saw the waiter hovering hesitantly nearby, and I said, “of course”.
Movies, books and songs are forever trying to kick our brains in certain directions, implanting stereotypes and clichés in our minds, ruining emotions and sentiments by their repeated renditions and crass commercialization, nothing seems original anymore or it seems to fall below the mark.
But if there could ever have been a perfect proposal, it was this one, that melted my heart into a puddle of warm chocolate, and reminded me of how amazingly lucky I am to have you. It was not so much the words but the person uttering them awkwardly, stepping out of his comfort zone for a nagging, insecure, torturous brat like me. I love you too, mister. From the economics 101 days of suppressed crushes and aloo key samosay to the day we’ll sit together in uncomfortable finery lit up beneath hundreds of wedding lights and the warmth in our hearts, I will treasure the person that you are and the way you make me feel.