In a time before we were overly self-conscious, my oldest friend and I used to sit on the cement and brick arms either side of concrete steps in front of the entrance of our primary school. Sometimes these arms were our sandy horses without saddles which made me feel like a warrior princess as I looked out across the playground. Sometimes we were each mounted on our own horse, sitting across from each other whilst discussing new ideas for games, imagined worlds and novels we’d started reading.
She always talked more, her manner daring and confident whereas I was always shy and reserved. Our conversations turned to how we saw our lives ten or twenty years from then and I loved to hear her predictions. Mostly they were of us being young and independent, living cosmopolitan lives which included having sleepovers at each other’s ‘apartments’ in between our jobs and going out for shopping sprees (ideas I’m sure were down to her love for the sitcom Friends). But sometimes we were traditional daughter-in-laws sacrificing a great deal of…we didn’t really know what…but having children and doing right by our families. Talk turned to laughter when we described what our husbands would be like, but these latter conversations were also tinged with fear or anxiety when she warned me that we’d have to get used to boy lurkies because marriage meant sharing a bedroom with your husband. Either way our weddings were going to be joint – a beautiful fantasy. We’d get married on the same day and sit together with our husbands by our sides – wouldn’t that be amazing?
Fifteen years into the future and my feet are firmly on the ground, a lot more stable in my heels than half an hour ago. My blue nikah dress touches the floor, dragging when I walk. Everything is blurring into something surreal as I fight away nostalgia in order to stay present in the moment. I’m stood as a witness between large banqueting tables in a hotel wedding suite filled with her family and guests, surrounded by lights and cameras, silk frills and friends we only met or really got to know in the past three years. The old farewell of ‘Babul ki dua’ain leti ja’ begins to play like a cruel but moving joke, and the emotional charge of the hall which has been building up like a ball of fire reaches its pinnacle point to burst. This is the point everything was long prepared for, including every napkin and left over morsel of food. We were so entangled in our bright clothing and light banter that we’d almost forgotten what happens next.
I’m stood in the crowd thinking about how formal occasions turn people into strangers, not just because we have to act out a role, but because the situation doesn’t allow for much intimacy…except stolen hugs to say goodbye. I wait for her to pass close enough for me to do that, but that moment doesn’t come, it passes me as I watch one by one the guests, family and friends crying and coming forward to meet her as she walks away. I’m frozen like the emotionally-stiff woman I predicted myself to be, but the closer she gets to the lobby entrance and the car waiting outside, the more flashbacks I see of times gone by. My mum is crying beside me, most likely thinking of how she had to let me go. I try to comfort her, but she likes to deal with grief alone. I hear my friend’s younger sister crying too and feel myself breaking at the sight of her because her shaking sobs are what I know to be the sound of the heart tearing apart.
As I begin to follow the crowd, I remember things I didn’t know my mind had kept away inside me, and more than anything I try to fight away my own tears. I feel our friendship, our past enmities, our competition, our sisterhood, our love, our hate, everything we shared together all hit me at once as if that ball of fire has been aimed straight at my heart. I recall years of us being the most influential people in each other’s lives although we wouldn’t admit it at that time. And then I remember the time before then when we used to be each other’s best friends before it became uncool to say. All that time of being important to someone – positively or negatively – feels as if it’s turned to dust as I stand in the crowd as an onlooker. And for so long I’ve acted like it was ok to drop such a relationship.
For once in my life I let an aspect of my ego go that I’ve never before. I cry because it hurts to be forgotten and also to forget. I cry because of the way we’ve treated each other in the past. Although we forgave each other in the build-up to our weddings, only in that moment do I realise there’s no such thing as regrets between two people who have deeply hurt each other as well as been each other’s support. I cry because I want to say goodbye as if we were still in primary school, but we’re no longer the girls who are afraid of boy lurkies or who want a joint wedding.
In that moment I ask Allah to console me through this grief, but He knows there’s no need for consolation; He listens to my inner plea. I see her mother look straight at me in the crowd with a slight smile and – despite her tears – she gestures for me to go to her because I haven’t had my chance to meet her daughter before she goes. I rush forward and hug my oldest friend and feel finally the reality of us both rush to the surface – no pretences, no holding back. A cry releases from both of our throats as if from our own wounds. It feels like a release. I didn’t cry at my own wedding because of the daze I was in due to the shock of everything that was taking place, but all of a sudden I feel like I’ve been given a second chance of sorts. We have shared something real and Allah has put us together to experience a new reality at the same time in our lives for a reason. All I really want to say is; ‘Look, I didn’t cry at my wedding, but here I am crying at yours.’
I want to laugh as I tell her that, but all I can do is nod helplessly as she finds her voice to tell me that we’ll meet at her walima.