When pregnant with our first child, girls were on my mind. In our line of 13 cousins, only two were boys. My sister had three daughters. I was the second of two females in our family, delaying the arrival of the much-anticipated son, our brother.
Imagine my shock when the technician said that the person growing inside me was a boy. ME? The host to a male? My husband asked if I was okay. Apparently my coffee colored South Indian skin went white.
I am a feminist. I don’t apologize for thinking that women are equal to men, that we deserve equal pay and also respect for the work we do at home (often while juggling full time jobs). I don’t think all our struggles have been achieved and that feminism was for another era. I know all over the world girls can’t go to school; women can’t say no to their husbands if they have headaches.
My contemporary romance novel is not the typical bodice ripper. In fact, the action happens partly in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar where bodices are covered up, not exposed.
Perhaps the heroine, Hind’s, struggle against an arranged marriage to her cousin Abdulla is stereotypical both of the genre and perceptions of the region.
While I was writing Hind’s quest to live her own life, I had a startling realization. Another character in the story, Abdulla, was as reluctant as the heroine. As the hero, despite being a Qatari male, he was as restrained by cultural expectations as Qatari women.
When we expect women to be happy with their traditional roles, we put men in boxes as well. This was perhaps the most profound revelation I had while writing this book, made me not only more sympathetic to men, but also excited about being the mother of a boy.
Instead of anticipating their wedding day with the flowers, bells, whistles, and fireworks Hollywood, Disney, and Hallmark have ingrained in us, Hind and Abdulla saw their wedding day as the day of sentencing. They would sacrifice their own hopes, dreams, and desires for the expectations of family, hoping, eventually, the “love would come later” as the relatives around them promise.
Luckily for the reader, this isn’t quite what happened. I hope you enjoy the excerpt here of my novel LOVE COMES LATER.
Have you seen the myth of the perfect wedding distract friends or family from the important fact two people are joining their lives together?
Abdulla’s mind wasn’t on Fatima, or on his uncles or cousins. Not even when he drove through the wrought iron entry gate, oblivious to the sprawl of family cars parked haphazardly in the shared courtyard, did he give them a thought. Despite the holy season, his mind was still hard at work. Mentally, he clicked through a final checklist for tomorrow’s meetings. I can squeeze in a few more hours if Fatima is nauseous and sleeps in tomorrow, he thought, rubbing his chin. Instead of the stubble he had anticipated, his whiskers were turning soft. A trim was yet another thing he didn’t have time for these days, though longer beards were out of fashion according to his younger brother Saad, who had been trying to grow one for years. Beard length. Just another change to keep up with.
Change was all around him, Abdulla thought. The cousins getting older, he himself soon to become a father. Abdulla felt the rise of his country’s profile most immediately in the ballooning volume of requests by foreign governments for new trade agreements. By the day, it seemed, Qatar’s international status was growing, which meant more discussions, more meetings.
He slid the car into a gap in the growing shadow between his father and grandfather’s houses. It would have to serve as a parking space. The Range Rover door clicked shut behind him as he walked briskly toward his father’s house, BlackBerry in hand, scrolling through his messages. Only then did the sound of wailing reach him, women in pain or grief, emanating from his Uncle Ahmed’s house across the courtyard. He jerked the hands-free device out of his ear and quickened his pace, jogging not toward the majlis where the rest of the men were gathering, but into the main living area of Uncle Ahmed’s, straight toward those unearthly sounds.
The sight of Aunt Wadha stopped him short. Disheveled, her shayla slipping as she howled, she was smacking herself on the forehead. Then came his mother, reaching her arms out to him with a tender, pitying look he hadn’t seen since his pet rabbits from the souq died. But it was Hessa, his other aunt – Fatima’s mother, his own mother-in-law – who sent him into a panic. Ashen-faced, her lips bleeding, she was clutching the evil eye necklace he had bought Fatima on their honeymoon. At the sight of it, the delicate gold cord in Hessa’s hands and not around his wife’s neck, Abdulla felt his knees buckle and the BlackBerry slip from his hand.
“What has happened?” he said. He looked from one stricken face to another.
Numbly, he saw his female cousins were there. At the sight of him the older ones, glamorous Noor and bookish Hind, both women in their own right whom he hadn’t seen in years, jerked their shaylas from their shoulders to cover their hair and went into the adjoining room. In his haste, he hadn’t said “Darb!” to let them know he was entering the room.