Marry Me

by Ana Abdullah - May 13, 2018

— Summary: An old photograph of his childhood was the only evidence of his true love. Mocked repeatedly for his loyalty, he had become a grumpy old bear of love. Or can a single encounter turn things around? —

The prospective groom slurped his tea fervently. He flinched in his seat every time a waiter walked past. Across the same table, Danial was amused. He should really offer some kind words to the nervous young man. After all, nothing could be worse than meeting an anonymous future wife.

‘What if she’s actually ugly? You know, photoshop these days.’ But Danial never did play nice.

Tea snorted out from the boy’s nose. Panicking, he grabbed the table cloth instead of the napkin, saving himself quickly from the disaster. He then glanced around the restaurant. Fortunately, only empty tables met his embarrassment. Lunch was over hours ago.

Danial chuckled. At least the wait was entertaining.

‘My intention is simply to marry, s - sir,’ the young brother finally spoke. ‘As long as she’s willing, I’m good. Looks and the rest, I - I will leave it to Allah.’

Danial stared at the boy, long enough to make him fidget. Then he leaned forward, breaking into a slow canine grin. Sometimes, he liked to give these confident sods a little reality check.

‘Yeah, that’s all good, bro. But we know looks matter, right? ‘Cause what if on your wedding night, you can’t get it up - ’

‘How’s everything for our dearest client?’ interrupted an elderly man, sliding into a chair between them. He blocked Danial’s view of the nervous lad, cutting off his tease instantly.

‘We’re fine, Reza,’ Danial replied.

‘Wasn’t asking you, cousin.’ Reza glared. Then to the younger one, he assured, ‘Oh, no, no, don’t you worry, brother. All is good. She’s arriving with her father soon. They were just stuck in traffic.’

Mr. Nervous Groom-To-Be nodded in relief. He was willing to wait. He was a patient man.

‘Good, good. Now, if you could just excuse us for a moment.’ With that, Reza dragged the culprit to his feet like a child with his ear pulled. He believed a dark corner of the restaurant was a suitable time-out for all naughty little kids like Danial.

‘What if she’s ugly? Can’t get it up? Really, Danial, really? Astaghfirullah, are you trying to ruin my matrimony business?’

‘Hey, I was just giving him some manly advice. Ok, ok, I’m sorry.’

In truth, Danial was agitated the moment he met the young man. How can such a little prick, still in his early twenties, probably still had his Mama washed and ironed his underwear, be so confident about marriage - even if it was arranged?

So unfair.

‘No, you’re being unfair, Danial. Just because you won’t marry someone you’ve just met - ’

‘Anisa is my only true love.’ He cut Reza short.

‘You were only eight, Danial! Anisa is probably married by now. Look, it’s time you respect your mother’s decision to find you a respectable woman. Last I checked, being forty and single has turned you into a grumpy old bear.’

A pause.

‘I’m not grumpy.’

‘Fine, fine,’ sighed Reza in surrender. ‘I’m going to see to our prospective couple now. No, you can’t go home. My new assistant is arriving in a few minutes. Do me a favour, stay here and welcome her nicely. I mean it, Danial.’

Defeated, Danial slouched into the chair of his dark corner. He rubbed his sore chest, soothing out his past love wounds. Then from his breast pocket, he took out a small faded photograph. He smirked at his young mischievous past standing beside a little girl in pigtails. But his longing for her could go no further when the much awaited guests finally arrived.

‘About time,’ he grumbled, placing the photograph on the table.

‘They make a good couple,’ added a gentle voice.

Danial turned, finding a woman already seated at his table. She wasn’t attractive or unpleasant, only a bare face lined with age.  She dressed simply in a loose abaya and hair hidden in a plain  hijab. She smiled at him. It was - nice.

‘You’re the new assistant?’ he asked.

‘Are you Danial?’

‘Yeah, I was told to wait for you.’

‘I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Danial.’

She held his gaze for a few seconds. Something buzzed sharply within him. He frowned, not understanding its meaning. But it stopped when she turned away, now amused at the scene before them. Their young future groom had knocked his cup off the table, tea everywhere again.

‘What a way to impress a girl.’ She remarked. ‘But it’s breaking the ice. Look at how everyone's laughing now. How adorable!’

‘It’s still an arranged marriage, you know. It’ll be a different story after that.’ He wasn’t sharing the joy just yet.

‘Of course, it’ll be different, silly. By then, it’d be a story where they’ll laugh even more and romance each other even more. Let there be shy smiles, shy touches, shy hugs for life!’

‘You forgot loud burps, loud snores and loud stinkin’ farts for life too.’

She laughed.

Like a gentle patter of rain soothing a hot afternoon. Little feet in warm sands, someone shrieking with delight, his tiny hand gripping another one - Danial blinked. What was that? He fidgeted as the buzzing returned, much stronger this time. He huffed it away.

‘Alhamdulilah, a wedding in a few weeks’ time?’ She wondered.

‘Yeah, busy days for the team,’ he grumbled. The woman was just the new assistant. Nothing more. He wanted to go home now. His head hurt. His chest ached. Enough of these arranged marriages.

‘You don’t like them, Danial?’

He really needed to go home. He grabbed his photo on the table.

‘A childhood love?’ Too late, she had seen it. ‘What’s her name?’

‘Anisa.’ He frowned. Why did he tell her that? He felt really stupid now hearing her silence. It was best to settle the obvious mockery.

‘Yeah, why haven’t I marry her, huh?’ He growled. ‘I lost touch with her. She stopped writing to me when I was twenty. Asked everyone I knew. Tried finding her online - nothing. Yeah, I’m just a grumpy idiot now, still waiting with a stupid old photo. I'm sure she'd thrown hers away by now.’

Shit, that was a more than he'd ever told anyone. His thick fingers brushed back his wild hair, brushed back his bottled frustrations. He didn't dare to look at her.

‘No, you’re not,' she whispered. ‘You’re just a very patient man, Danial.’

He was surprised. Everybody else had laughed at his pathetic past. But she -  What was her name again?

‘Oh, how nostalgic! That's a sandy playground, right? They don't make them like that now.’ She leaned forward across the table, intent to see more of his old photo again.

‘Yeah, all hard rubber on the ground now. Where's the fun in that?’ Danial pushed the picture closer to her.

‘But sandy playgrounds always have earthworms crawling in them!’ She shivered.

‘Yeah, especially when it rained.’ He chuckled at the vivid memories within him. ‘I used to pull them out and all the girls would run away, except Anisa. She was terrified but she watched me play with them.’

‘They were so slimy, wriggling in your hands, Dani.'

What - what did she say?

He looked up immediately, capturing her gaze once more. And it was then he realized they were falling. He felt the ground beneath him gave way. Gone was the future newly weds before them. Gone was the dark corner of the restaurant. Both dropped fast into a beautiful nostalgia of his childhood: a boy and a girl together on a sandy playground - the beginning of his love story.

‘Do you remember the Dragon too?' she whispered, pointing ahead.

Danial stepped up beside her. The crimson stone dragon stood proudly on the sands with its huge mouth opened wide. Two high slides emerged from it, giving any kid the best adrenaline rush. But to get to those slides, its long belly twisted ominously with metal railings. A challenge for little hands and feet to scramble through.

‘Hey, wait up!’ He cried out.

The woman was already climbing up the dragon's tail. She was fast, disappearing into its belly, hands catching the railings quickly. As Danial clambered after her, she laughed, beckoning him to be quicker.

Once more so filled with joy, he didn’t find it odd to see himself shrinking with each step. Nor was it strange to see her reduced in size to the little girl he had always adored.

‘Wait, Anisa!’ He caught her hand in time. Both now stood before the high slides, too nervous to take the plunge. Yet both knew it would be fun.

‘Ready?’ He sounded so young.

‘Ready!’ She beamed wide, her cheeks round and rosy. Her tiny chubby fingers tightened in his grasp to assure him further.

Carefully, they sat on each slide. Then with hands still gripping tight, they fell onward. Winds roared into his ears. His heart pumped furiously. And then, he let her hand go as they  tumbled into the soft sands. His whole being was buzzing with life, loving every minute with her.

‘That was fun!’ Her hijab had fallen off, revealing little pigtails at either side of her head. They wiggled as she shook herself free of the sand. Her tiny feet sunk deep into it but with a strong huff, she kicked away a huge pile.

‘Hey, look, earthworms!’ Danial noticed in the sands. Carefully, he pulled it out then dangled it before her.

‘No, it’s disgusting!’

‘It won’t bite. See, it came out of sand, not poop. Here, if Anisa want to play with me, Anisa gotta be brave, right?’

The little girl nodded. She held out her right hand. Carefully, Danial placed the worm onto her palm. Instantly, she shut her eyes tight, trying her best to stop shivering. Then she dared a peek. The slimy creature squirmed frantically around her palm until eventually it curled itself around a finger.

‘Look, Danial, I’m wearing a ring.’

Perhaps it was then that he had decided. He didn't know why but his little boyish heart was so full of joyous warmth. He liked her. She was fun. It was just that simple. He wanted to play with her every minute.

Every day.


‘Marry me.’ He blurted.

And the vivid memory was gone. The little earthworm vanished from her finger. Little Anisa’s grin merged into a gentle shy smile onto a woman he had just met. Now, back in the restaurant, just two adults before each other, an aching pause in the air.

'Who are you?' He finally asked her.

'Oh my goodness, you’re here, sister!'

And as always, Danial frowned, his cousin really had impeccable timing. Reza stood before them, smiling too much for his liking. But seeing Danial beside her, his wide grin dropped instantly.

‘That’s rude, bro,’ defended Danial quickly. ‘I was a true gentleman to your new assistant.’

'Assistant?' Reza paused, confused. Then looking at the woman, he burst out, ‘Oh, no, no, my assistant called a while ago. She couldn’t make it. This lovely lady here is our new client. I didn't catch your name on the phone just now.’

‘Can we go somewhere private, Reza?’ The woman stood up.

And Danial could do nothing, could feel nothing as she was ushered away. She was laughing again, undoubtedly at his stupidity. He rubbed his face hard, the sharp bristles of his beard pricked into his palms. She was just another client, idiot. Really, what was he hoping for?

‘So who’s the lucky bastard?’ He grumbled when Reza finally returned to his table. She was gone now. Shit, hurt like hell now. Might as well make it a full tragedy.

Instead of a witty reply, he was shoved with a tablet, its screen bursting bright with his own image, snarling with wild beard and unruly hair. Hey, when the hell did they take his picture - The screen changed. This time a young girl in pigtails beamed at him. Beside her, a cheeky boy grinned, his hand tightly wound in hers. Both stood before the Dragon.

He stared at it.

A clearer image of his faded old photo.

He glanced up. 'Where did you get this?'

‘Dearest cousin,’ began Reza, a hand on Danial’s shoulder. ‘I’m so sorry for doubting you all these years, for wanting you to give up.’

Danial waited.

‘That woman you’ve just met.’ The grip on his shoulder tightened.


‘That was Anisa,’ whispered Reza. ‘She asked if you would consider meeting her again with the prospect of marriage this Friday.’

Danial stared at him.

‘Congratulations, cousin.’

He was hugged tightly. And the buzzing finally imploded within him, gushing out emotions he didn't even know he had. They rolled out one after another like huge waves against his heart until he was left shaking, left speechless, left unable to fully comprehend. Shit, he finally understood the young groom earlier. Was it this bad? O Allah, what should he do?

‘What should I do, Reza? What - what should I do?’

‘Calm down, Danial. Like usual, we'll set up a meeting with her and - no, wait, we must call your mother first! Oh, then there’s the wedding planner. Oh my goodness, so many things, so many people to call! Where’s my phone, where’s my phone?’

And Danial was left to the beautiful storm within him. It brought him to his feet then back to his seat. He was restless. He wanted to prostrate before his Creator with utmost gratitude. But he also needed to share this wonderful euphoria too. And there was only one person who would understand it.

He swaggered towards the young man, now left standing alone, watching the exit mahogany doors, shirt badly ruined with tea. Danial placed an arm over his small shoulders, a reassuring squeeze for good measure.

‘We're gonna do just fine, kid.’

The young man looked up, beaming like an idiot.

Just like Danial was.
Ana Says
Can I just confess that I am a little bit embarrassed by this story. Romance isn't my strongest genre, perhaps, having not much experience with love. And, I admit to being uncomfortable with two people falling in love with each other at first sight. Just not possible... Doesn't make sense because love is, well, complex, right? However, I still wanted to try writing it. So what is it like falling in love?

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