Sameer’s mother looked at her husband before quickly stepping in and attempting to defuse the situation. “You know it’s just a heritage thing. We’re not really Biharis”
Shafina tapped her pen on her desk, trying to match the beat of the seconds’ hand on the clock she stared at intently.
The minute hand was almost there, just a speck away from hitting 12 and finally completing the circle that dictates our life ever so often.
A little more and she would be done for the day. While her boss was rarely satisfied with employees who left at 6:00 PM sharp, she had informed him beforehand that she had urgent matters to attend to.
Like clockwork, every other Thursday Shafina got up, grabbed her bag, and beelined for the lift, glancing at her phone in anticipation of the call that she awaited.
As Shafina stepped out, she saw him standing right there. A smile crept up on her face, which perhaps even she didn’t notice. Picking up her pace, she ran at the man and flung her arms around him, as he wrapped her in his.
“Hey babe”, he said in that deep and lazy voice she loved so much, smiling down at her.
The two stepped into his car and drove away into Dhaka’s ever-present traffic.
“Sameer, are we going to that new place in Dhanmondi?” she asked, as he turned to face her and gave Shafina that mischievous smirk she knew was confirmation.
“I booked us in advance last week. Wanted to keep it a surprise, but it seems like you’re a little too smart for my tricks”, said Sameer, chuckling.
“Takes one to know one”, she replied, blowing raspberries at him.
“So, did you get around to talking with your parents? Is everything set?” he inquired.
“Yes. We are all set. Can your parents come over tomorrow or on Saturday? We can get it all sorted.”
Sameer’s face lit up, “Yeah. Let’s do it tomorrow. I’ll get them on board, don’t worry.”
2:34 PM Friday
The two families sat opposite to each other on similar couches with their children in the middle.
Sameer had his hands wrapped together, nervous at the proceedings ahead, while Shafina looked down at her feet, shy to make eye contact with anyone.
Finally, Shafina’s father cleared his throat and said, “So, we have heard a lot of good things about Sameer. Shafina seems to really like him. As her family, we wanted to see if he would be the right person for our daughter’s hand in marriage.”
“Yes, we have also heard a lot about your daughter. Our son seems to really be in love with her. We would love to talk about the possibility of them getting married and making Shafina a part of our family as well”, Sameer’s dad replied smiling.
The two families began the formal proceedings, discussing all the nitty gritty that determine nothing about love, while the two youngins exchanged coy glances at one another.
Money, real estate, qualifications, salaries, and so many other topics were being discussed in the background while Shafina and Sameer imagined scenarios of themselves spending their future together.
“And where did you live before that?” the voice of Shafina’s dad asked in the background of the couple’s daydream.
“We lived near Geneva Camp when Sameer was just born.”
“Oh….how was it living with Biharis?”
“I mean, it was good. We are Biharis as well, so it was normal.”
Suddenly, the daydream stumbled and crashed. The colour drained from Shafina and Sameer’s faces.
“YOU ARE BIHARI?” Shafina’s father asked, clearly distressed by the fact.
Sameer’s mother looked at her husband before quickly stepping in and attempting to defuse the situation. “You know it’s just a heritage thing. We’re not really Biharis. No, no, we are pretty much Bengalis.”
The boy’s father sat in silence, unable to say anything, shocked by the situation.
“MY DAUGHTER WILL NOT BE MARRIED TO A BIHARI. MY FATHER FOUGHT IN THE WAR. NO DAUGHTER OF MINE WILL BE MARRIED INTO A RAZAKAR’S FAMILY.”
“Mr Rahman, what are you saying? This is such a bigoted idea. My family fought in the war too. We are not Razakars”, Sameer’s father replied, shocked to the point that he was close to blowing his own fuse as well.
“PLEASE, LEAVE. GET OUT OF MY HOUSE. WE DECLINE YOUR REQUEST FOR OUR DAUGHTER’S HAND.”
Sameer and Shafina stared at each other in shock. They had countless discussions about this day. At no point had they expected this to happen. Sameer slowly got off the couch, unsure of how to react, what to say or how to even leave.
Shafina looked at her lover, unable to say or do anything to give him comfort, like she usually would. All she could do was look on as he left their house with his family.
7:00 PM Monday
“What am I supposed to do about this?! Your dad hates Biharis and because of that we cannot get married? How does any of that make any sense?” Sameer exclaimed.
The two stood on top of their friend’s rooftop in Dhanmondi, trying to figure out the trials and tribulations ahead.
“Outside of the fact that it was an incredibly racist and rude thing to do to my parents, what does that change? Am I a different person because my family is Bihari? I am not even into the culture or anything”, Sameer said, his voice getting louder.
“Look babe, I am sorry for how my dad behaved with you and your family. I truly am. I’ve even told him how upset that made me. He is even willing to apologise for his behaviour, but–”
“But what?” Sameer asked.
“He says that he won’t let me marry someone who is Bihari. I tried convincing him. I told him I won’t marry anyone but you. All he said is that he will never let that happen while he is alive”, Shafina replied, her eyes now welling up.
Sameer put his face into his hands, rubbing his eyes and sighing heavily.
“So, what? Are we going to throw away a four-year relationship because of his prejudice? Because he thinks we are a certain way because my parents have a Bihari heritage? Even though they were both born here?”
“I don’t want to do this Sameer. You know how much I love you. But my father won’t change his mind. And honestly, I don’t know what to do”, she replied, a stream of tears rolling down her face.
“Shafina, WHAT THE F—,” Sameer almost screamed, before stopping.
He sat down on the floor, his face now back in his hands. Minutes passed while he breathed heavily, before finally letting his face out and wrapping his arms around himself.
“I am sorry. None of this just makes sense to me”, he said softly.
“Babe, I understand. I am sorry. If I had known about any of this, I would’ve told you beforehand and we could have figured it out.”
He looked up at her, eyes welling up, before a smile finally returned. “Let’s run away together. We don’t need them. They’re not going to be married to me. You are. So your opinion is all that matters. Come on, let’s run away together. We are both financially stable and can build our own family together.”
Shafina looked back at him with a weak smile.
“Babe…Listen, I get what you’re saying. But that’s my family. I know what my dad said was incredibly racist. But it doesn’t change the fact that he is my dad and I love him. I love you too, but I cannot abandon my family for that. I am really, really sorry”, she replied.
What seemed like a moment of sunshine and hope had not vanished from Sameer’s eyes. His face sunk into his chest, almost robbed of the momentary visions of the future he had glanced across in his mind.
Shafina didn’t know what to expect next. Guilt filled her heart, but she couldn’t just let 25 years of love and memories shared with her family go over anything in the universe. She realised this is what they meant when they said between a rock and a hard place, because she honestly didn’t know what she would do.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s alright. I get it, it’s your family. If I had the same sort of relationship with my family, I guess I would be doing the same thing. I just have one question”, he said, looking at the stars in the sky.
“You’ve fought for a lot of things with your family, from curfews to how you can dress. And you’ve won over time. Why can’t this be one of those things?”
“It’s because I have had so many of these battles with them, that I know the ones I can win and the ones I won’t.”
Defeated, Sameer got to his feet. He walked towards her and embraced her, one last time. His mind tried to take a mental picture of what this moment felt like, so he could remember it vividly forever.
Author is a sub-editor at The Daily Star