Samana was doubled over with laughter.
The door to her room flew open.
Her brother, Wasim, was standing in the doorway. “Then there are guests in the house. Have you no shame? What will they think? You better quiet down, alright? Otherwise I will take away that cell phone and throw it in the gutter.”
Samana sobered. “Sorry, Bhai Jan.”
“I’m trying to study, and you know it. You have no consideration. And girls making noises like that. Do you not fear God at all?”
Samana motioned zipping her lips.
He left after another glare and Samana returned to the phone call with her best friend, Fatima, who heard the exchange.
“Intense! What’s Wasim Bhai studying for?”
“Some sermon he has to deliver in a few days. He does that for his workplace friends.”
“Does he still have that beard? It looks so strange on him.”
“Oh I’m just so sick of it. He has started asking me to give up music and movies and suggests I get married after a year. Imagine, Fatima, I’m just finishing college! He’s actually suggesting I get married before I get a proper degree! In this day and age!”
“Who are the guests? Prospective in-laws?”
Samana snorted. “Oh God I hope not. Just old and boring relatives with old and boring stories to tell.”
At the dinner table later, Samana almost choked on her soup when her mother informed that the guests were indeed prospective in laws.
“I can’t get married, Ammi!” Samana gasped.
Wasim stared at her. “And why not?” He turned to their father. “It’s bad enough that she’s going to that co-ed filthy school that fills her head with all kinds of nonsense.”
Samana stared at him. “I’m eighteen. None of my friends are getting married. We make fun of those who get engaged. And I want to go abroad to study. I’ve already told Abbu about my plans. I don’t need your permission.”
Wasim’s face contorted in anger and shock. “Go abroad to study? Have you lost your mind?”
Hameed Khan, their father, put a hand each one of his hands on their shoulders. “Wasim, Samana wants to spend four years studying law in Boston, where my sister is. If she gets into the school of her choice, what is the problem?”
Wasim stared at his father. “Abbu, a woman traveling alone is not allowed. She cannot live in Samreen Aunty’s house because she has two boys of Samana’s ages, who are her na mehrems. If she wants to study, she can do it in Pakistan. If we want to call ourselves Muslims, we can’t go against the rules…”
“No one is going against the rules, son. We are all believers and,” Mrs. Khan reasoned, “aren’t a bunch of those rules outdated…”
“Those rules are forever!” Wasim stated loudly. “The fact that these Western ideologies have corrupted our thoughts and our ideas makes us think that these rules are outdated. We all know that God has made men superior to women! These rules apply today, now and forever!”
Hameed Khan was a god fearing man. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat wondering if his son was in the right. It was news to him that a woman couldn’t travel alone. He certainly didn’t want to burn in hell for just a few years of college.
Samana was staring at them open mouthed. “Abbu, human beings are equal! All of them! If God has made us unequal then why are there rules of fair play and justice? Ammi, please, reason with them. I’m not a child and I am not illiterate and I can travel alone easily. Samreen Aunty is my phuppo! Why can’t I go live with her! This is silly!”
Wasim waved a piece of roti in her face, “Hold your tongue! You are calling God’s rules silly!”
Samana took the piece of roti and shoved it in her mouth. “I’m calling YOU silly.”
Hameed Khan stared at the two of them and held up his hands. “Okay, I have a way to settle this. Wasim, if you can bring me a verse or a proper quotation where it says a woman cannot travel alone, I will not let Samana go – ”
“But if you are unable to do so, I will let her go, okay?”
Wasim’s eyes were gleaming with triumph. “Give me a day.”
They finished their dinner in sulky silence and the next evening, Wasim produced a hand-written note from his religious teacher which proved that women indeed could not travel alone. It was also inadvisable to live within a house which had non-mehrems and since she had the option of studying in Pakistan in an all-female institution, she did not have to partake the choice of going abroad for studies. It also stated that women should marry early if possible and that education was secondary to marriage.
Hameed Khan looked distressed but the words he uttered were clear, “I suppose we know what we have to do…”
Samana’s eyes were stinging. She stared beseechingly at her father, “Abbu…”
Before Hameed Khan could reply, the telephone rang. “Hello?” Mrs. Khan answered.
Mrs. Khan motioned a hush and leaned near Hameed Khan. “It’s Mrs. Irfan. They want to come with their son this weekend. To meet Samana.”
They exchanged meaningful looks and looked at Samana, whose face was now completely tear streaked.
Wasim broke their glance and sat in front of them. “You must do what is right in the eyes of God, what is good for a woman.”
Hameed Khan let out a deep breath and avoided Samana’s gaze.
Mrs. Khan nudged him. “What should I tell them?”
Samana whimpered, “Ammi, Abbu, please…”
“Tell them we will be happy to have them for tea this weekend.”
And Samana’s cries were silent.