A table for two

Published: June 5, 2012

He felt humiliated; he looked for somebody to blame, and, finding no one, felt worse.

“Goddamnit,” she thought as he interrupted her motion of drawing the chair for herself, his face clear, earnest and nervous, to do it for her instead, “He’s going to propose.”

And instantly she was gripped by a feeling of dread: it weighed her down; she felt her limbs filling with lead. But why was he going to propose? Why now? Why, why, why, she repeated, feeling helpless (and consequently angry), finally sitting down after feeling a bit silly standing there and looking at him, wondering. But surely he wouldn’t – he couldn’t. They had talked about things. It was absurd, it was positively delusional of him.

He smiled, unable to calm his nerves, and his smile came out a bit funny, a bit forced, a bit unfamiliar. He pushed his hair off his forehead, thinking, “And today she is going to say yes. After last night, she is going to say yes.” He was going to tell her how he felt, and how it had become clear to him the night before, as they sat on the rocks by the sea and watched the fireworks, feeling nothing but the pure ecstasy of being, that they belonged together, that he could never be as happy as he had been, though it had been a simple thing, a little thing, without her by his side, feeling the same.

The waiter came and gave them their menus. He, too, was smiling a bit funny. Perhaps all the smiles of all the people have gone funny today, or tonight, she thought. Maybe they were going to be that way forever, and there was nothing she would be able to do about it except stand at the sidelines and wonder  if she had just gone mad or had always been. The smile was like an imperceptible crack  in the crystal. She thought, “If it is true and the smiles are gone forever, I will be so lonely.”

But he was saying something: suddenly she realised they had been quiet all this time. Perhaps he was not going to propose after all; perhaps he was sad or upset or maybe somebody in his family was ill. It could be anything.

“No, I don’t know. I’m in the mood for squirrel fish, as always, but I’d say it’s too big for us.”

He’d contemplated ordering for her, but he knew she hated that; hated being told what to do, hated any demands on her as a person or on her freedom.

So he said:

“I’m in the mood for prawns.”

She agreed, and absentmindedly suggested Manchurian too. He felt he was losing her: perhaps she was in a bad mood. She seemed distant, somehow. He thought again of the night before, and how they had seemed to understand each other perfectly, how it seemed, in that moment, as the moon rose, that they were one with everything; as the sea lapped at their toes and tiny creatures scuttled in and out of their homes in the rocks, that the world was beautiful, beautiful, and that they were there in it together. It was different now. She was different now. Perhaps he could never recreate the moment; perhaps he was wrong. And as he thought frantically of a way to save the situation, determined as he was to ask her, because the feeling that they were perfect together seemed to be right, seemed to have been set in stone already, and letting it go or going against it would be blasphemous, she felt that he was not going to ask her after all (otherwise he would’ve been a lot more present), and smiled at him.

Instantly his worries vanished. He smiled back at  her, and she saw that this time it was genuine. Instantly her worries vanished.

“I wonder what’s taking so long,” he said.

“I don’t know. They always take forever.”

and feeling burdened no longer, she went on:

My theory is that they know exactly when you’re hungry enough to get pissed off and leave. Then they bring out the food. By then you’re not only grateful to have some food in front of you, you also think that you haven’t ordered enough, so you order some more.

“Sounds like you’ve thought this through,” he said, pleased that they were talking, pleased that things were getting back on track. She shrugged.

“What else is there to do when you’re waiting for food? Everything seems evil when you’re hungry.”

“So it does,” he said, smiling once more, and she thought, why can’t it be like this? And he thought, this is us. This is how it’s going to be at dinner every night.

As he began to wonder how to broach the topic of marriage, by saying, “I don’t have a ring right now, but…” she said, “Why the formal dinner?”

He didn’t quite know what to say to that, so he said:

“A break from yesterday, I guess, a contrast.”

He was beginning to realise that he hadn’t really thought it through very well, no sir. He felt humiliated; he looked for somebody to blame, and, finding no one, felt worse. Worse,  still he felt himself flush a little, and felt himself  to be an inexperienced schoolboy once more: grasping, fiddling, fumbling.

“What was wrong with yesterday?” she said.

To her it had seemed the perfect way to describe their relationship. It had been beautiful, spontaneous, light. He had not asked of her anything and she had not asked of him anything. Sitting there, enjoying the breeze, feeling so Pakistani laughing at junk food wrappers in the water (what was there to do but shake their heads and laugh, after having mourned for so long?) and at the boys on land (they came in packs, some to race, some to enjoy the sights and the air and the space), it had been perfect.

“Nothing…” and he thought, domino effect, as things were just getting worse and worse.

He felt like they were all piling up, one after the other, and soon there would be an avalanche of humiliation, and he would be buried under it.

Good god, how did I think he was going to propose? He looks so sad, she thought. She scolded herself for being so vain as to think he was going to propose, of course he was not going to propose, he was not crazy. And, she had been wrong, the smile had meant nothing except that he was probably tired and somebody at home was sick, and he did not want to burden her with it, their relationship being as it was. She felt a pang of something – she was not sure of what it was, but it was laced with reproach. She felt sorry for being annoyed with him earlier.

“What happened?” she asked him in Urdu.

“Nothing, just tired, I suppose.”

And he felt tired, too. He had been a fool.

“That’s it?”

she felt herself pushing an invisible, tacit boundary, one that stated that they were to not ask too many questions, and immediately felt warned to not keep going, to drop it.

The boundary was sacred. But she went on, ignoring her instinct,

“Everything okay at home?”

He felt immediately roused. “No. I mean, yeah, everything’s okay.”

“Okay,” she said, “Food’s good.”

‘Yes, food’s good.’

“Here, try some of this,” she said.

She impaled a prawn on her fork, dipped it into the Manchurian gravy, and helped him to it.

It was delicious. He looked at her and she at him, and he remembered all the reasons he wanted to propose… but they didn’t seem to matter anymore. She thought, “Damn, the prawn thing really is amazing.”

“Cute couple”, said a particularly benevolent aunty, eyeing them.

Oho,” said another, “I don’t even think they’re married. They look too happy.”

 Read more by Najia  here or follow her on Twitter @nskyz

Najia Sabahat

Najia Sabahat

A student who is interested in literature and sociology. Najia tweets @nskyz.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

More by this writer

  • Rehan Ali

    “Oho,” said another, “I don’t even think they’re married. They look too happy”. excellent insight!Recommend

  • Saad

    and the point is?Recommend

  • mr. righty rightist

    I think, most of these bloggers are wannabe filmmakers and novelists.

    They will always remain wannabes, if this is the standard of their writing.


  • Munis

    Oh my ! Vividly written, beautiful to imagine

    Forever AloneRecommend

  • Kay Jay

    And what was the point you wanted to make?….eh?… come again please.Recommend

  • Nida

    Mind.Blown! Need-more-of-this!! Well done Najia Sabahat! I’m a fan!Recommend

  • mishall

    At first confusing,then became interesting and in the end funny. Recommend

  • mishall

    hmmmm. Happiness can come in many forms. It does depends on the person. So i do not agree on what the woman tried to say. She may have said it as maybe she is not happy in her own marriage or life. My Dadi and Dada’s marriage was i hear and believe was true happy content marriage. Yes they may have some disagreements but they were different personalities but they had till end pure love for each other. Recommend

  • Shahbaz lodhi

    Totally Rubbish”””’Recommend

  • Good job Najia. I had fun reading. BUT I am not too comfortable with the idea of this becoming a space for short stories. I kinda come here for my opinion pieces. Recommend

  • Sonia

    what the hell was that?Recommend

  • Ann

    What a waste of time. What are you trying to portray by showing these kind of relationships ?Recommend

  • GlobalNomad

    Completely meaningless!!!Recommend

  • Hamid

    Wow, I don’t think a lot of the commenters here have any idea what a blog is supposed to be.
    “Blog – A personal journal that is published online.”
    Meaning that it could contain anything the writer wishes to publish.Recommend

  • http://thedabbabrigade.wordpress.com RiffyR

    Haha, there’s always someone who has a problem reading about “these kinds of relationships”. Recommend

  • Atiya

    All you poor, uncivilised folks who cannot appreciate a well written piece, asking stupid questions like what the point is, please go and try writing a piece like this yourselves. If you do not get it then do not insult either.Recommend

  • Just a gall

    Omg! I actually smiled a lot of times reading this beautiful piece! It was soothing and vividly written! Amazayn! <3Recommend

  • Saba Khalid

    i LOVE it! I’ve been in that girl’s place in some relationships and been that guy in others, can’t wait to read more from youRecommend

  • http://safdarsikandar.wordpress.com Safdar

    nicely written. Recommend

  • OMG

    GUYS. Why don’t you understand that this is the creative writing platform for bloggers on the Tribune blog? If you want opinion, go to “the way I see it” or “videoscope” or “the verdict”. This section’s intention is for creative pieces – poems and short stories – these aren’t op-eds or anything else. Read these things as creative pieces not political commentaries. Recommend

  • Well Done

    Really enjoyed reading it!Recommend

  • Clarus

    perfectly written ,at best the words could describe. takes me back to the days when i use to be in that guy’s place but things went down the hill. We were too at the Chinese restaurant and ordered prawns and Manchurian and our way back i was appreciating her skills of impaling chicken cubes from Manchurian. haha Recommend

  • leila rage

    @Ann: what are you trying to show by portraying these kinds of relationships?

    Well, here’s a question for you: what KINDS of relationships? I can’t believe that you’re offended because the writer’s written a love story. How utterly silly.I dont see what is wrong with “portraying” (as you put it) loving and happy relationships. I mean are you trying to say that being in love is somehow improper/immoral/wrong? Your comment reflects the problem of our society very well, for some reason even married couples smiling at each other, or even holding hands in public is considered ‘bay sharmi’ (shameless). I mean really its no wonder that so many people want to leave this country because its culture and mindset is one of complete emotional and psychological suffocation and at the same time it allows and even accepts the most vile transgressions of basic human rights.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/#!/SaraMuzzammil Sara Muzzammil

    Wow. You write beautifully Najia. I love this piece.Recommend

  • Taboo 101

    Great post :) i have like REALLY HIGH fever, and tbh this made me feel a little better :)
    @ann: yes? What KINDS of relationships lol :p like the poster earlier said, being in love isn’t a bad thing lady! growup. Sheesh! Some of the comments really get under your skin -.- Recommend

  • Junaid Khan

    I mean what was the POINT ? Recommend

  • random1

    excellent piece.. deep !Recommend

  • http://pakistani-revival.blogspot.com Ovais

    Like seriously et … like seriously et … give me a break … what was this about …what was this about ??Recommend

  • wat da eff

    What is this :/Recommend