At this point, her laid-back demeanor revs up the tiniest bit. She sits up and her speech takes on momentum. She seems to feel a certain joy in reliving this part of her story.
She clarifies that though she and Fayyaz spoke regularly, they were not yet committed to each other. They were getting to know each other, and as such, she remained properly restrained, never being the one to make the call.
“I felt I shouldn’t call a guy until I’m committed,” she says.
She didn’t have to. Fayyaz made his interest clear.
“He started calling once in the week, maybe on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, between the weekends. He would say when he’s calling next before hanging up. On Sunday, he’d say, ‘OK, I’ll call on Tuesday.’ Or Wednesday. Then on Wednesday, he’d say, ‘OK, I’ll call on Friday,’ then Saturday and Sunday again.”
She giggles at this. What girl wouldn’t love to tell how her man couldn’t get enough of her?
But even though her voice, body language, and the pink hue in her cheeks all confirm her excitement, she emphasizes the propriety with which she has behaved all along.
“We never spoke of anything that involved romance. Never. Until we were committed.”
Fayyaz added more days to their phone schedule until eventually “he was calling me almost every other day. We were speaking for one hour, two hours, sometimes three hours.”
Family is important to Afra, and from their conversations, she learned that Fayyaz spends a lot of time with his, that he treats his mother well, and that he is the kind of man who will sacrifice his own desires for the happiness of those around him. It was these qualities that made Afra know he was the one she wanted to marry. But she had to wait for him to ask.
Since she moved to San Diego, Afra has exchanged data with two or three other men, but she hasn’t met any in person aside from Fayyaz. In September, another man inquired about her. She told her family she wasn’t comfortable even sharing information with anyone else, but she didn’t tell Fayyaz about the inquiry, because she knew it would appear that she was pressuring him to move forward with her.
Near the end of October, Afra mentioned to Fayyaz that her mother would leave San Diego and return to Saudi Arabia on November 1. This information spurred him into action. Though he’s never said so, Afra assumes he made his move then, because it would be easier for their mothers to make plans without the voice-delay of an overseas phone call.
On October 31, Fayyaz’s mother called to say that Fayyaz would like to marry Afra. Afra’s mother accepted on her behalf, and the two mothers debated about the date. Afra’s family was hoping for the summer so she could finish her studies at San Diego State. Fayyaz’s family wanted December. In the end, they settled on January so Afra could complete the fall semester and make arrangements to take project-based courses that would allow her to finish spring semester coursework from Chicago.
After the engagement was set, Afra and Fayyaz began to talk twice a day, sometimes three times.
“He calls me first thing in the morning at eight or eight-thirty, depending on his schedule and my schedule. We speak from a half-hour to one hour, two hours sometimes. And in the daytime, we speak for ten or fifteen minutes once in a while when he’s free. Or when I’m on my way to the college, I give him a call, just to know what’s happening in the day. Then again at night he calls, after he finishes all his work. Just before going to bed he calls me.”
Again, she blushes and smiles, hugging her knees to her chest.
The tone of their conversations has become more romantic, at least on his part. He speaks of their future and everything they will do together. He tells her about Chicago, the places he wants to take her, the things he wants her to see. He describes the house they will share, leading her on imaginary tours from one room to the next so that when she arrives, she will feel at home. He tells her that all his hard work has paid off and that she is his reward. Afra clearly enjoys his attentions, but she remains restrained in her responses.
“I just say thank you,” she giggles. “That’s my usual reply to whatever good he says. I say thank you.”
Even when he tells her he loves her, she won’t say it to him until they’re married.
“I do love him, but I won’t say it. So many times he asks me to say it, but I tell him not every emotion needs words. You should just understand what my feelings are.”
In November, over the Thanksgiving holiday, Afra flew to India to shop for her wedding dresses and jewelry. It’s custom for the groom’s family to purchase the bride’s wedding and reception dresses, but since Afra was in India and would have more options than they would in Chicago, Fayyaz’s mother asked her to buy them herself. The arrangement pleased Afra, who felt lucky to have her own choice.
Red is the traditional color for the wedding-day dress, and green for the reception day. But these days, people vary their colors from maroon or pink and purple or blue. For her wedding, Afra chose a dark maroon dress with a green border. It is heavily beaded and embroidered and weighs nearly 30 pounds. Her reception dress is a deep green, equally ornate with beadwork and embroidery.
During her time in India, where she stayed with extended family, Afra spoke to Fayyaz on the phone every day, but she kept their conversations a secret.
“In our culture, it’s considered too bold to speak to a guy like that every day before the wedding.”
This is a cultural rule rather than a religious one. Islam, she says, allows a person to see and speak to their prospective spouse before the marriage “because you’re making such a big decision of your life. Even looks-wise, it shouldn’t be that you’re marrying someone you don’t find attractive.”