Samia is looking in the mirror. Her hair is washed and her mother tease it, so it's light and fluffy. Her face is caked in makeup and her eyelids are painted with special silvery eyeshadow. Her eyes are outlined with black like Cleopatra and red blush is applied to her cheeks, making it appear rosy. She's wearing that itchy, heavy-sequined kameez again. Her expressionless reflection stares back at her - the concealer hiding her eye bags.
On any other day, Samia would have told her mother that the makeup was too much. Today, the girl’s lips are completely sealed. Silent as a mouse.
Fatima bites her nails while watching her daughter quietly. The doorbell rings.
"Please behave today," the woman pleads softly.
They can hear the guests chattering downstairs - typically they're loud. Samia can hear the guests praising the house and decorations - Fatima hung up special ornaments in the mantelpiece, particularly for this occasion. Someone made a joke downstairs and they're all laughing, seeming completely oblivious to the upset girl fuming above them. Then she can hear name being mentioned.
Holding her daughter’s clammy hand, Fatima leads her into the living room. The chattering instantly dies down and attention is solely focused on Samia. The girl examines the faces of her fate. A mother, a father, and their son, Kasim. Just like Ibrahim and his family. Nothing special. Nothing new. Samia can't understanding why her parents fuss over these guests so much.
"Samia, make some tea," Hussain says with a sterner expression than usual. Wearily, the girl disappears into the kitchen like a dutiful house-daughter. Hussain’s warning eyes move to Fatima, who obediently follows after Samia.
With anxious eyes, Fatima watches her daughter prepare the tea. Samia feels sorry for her poor mother - she can’t help feeling that Fatima is being bullied by her father.
"You can sit down if you want. I've got this," Samia says, whispering so the guests cannot hear her.
"You can't fool me again," Fatima snaps, clearly dismissing her daughter’s concern.
In no time, the tea is ready. Samia serves the cups on a tray, setting the tray down on the coffee table. She's looking down, ignoring the guests’ and her father's intense stares. Everyone else reaches for whatever cup they desire. Samia sits down on an armchair, her body slouching down as if she wants to slide to the floor.
Samia feels irritated when she hears Kasim slurping his tea. She feels even more irritated when he looks directly at her.
"Wow, beautiful tea! So, Samia, I hear you have a job. What is that you do?" He asks her, grinning. Surprisingly his teeth are in good shape.
"Chef," Samia replies bluntly, turning her head away.
Kasim nods eagerly, as if she told him a secret. "Oh! So I guess we’ll be expecting delicious food from you then."
The girl stays quiet.
"But you might have some competition though. My mum makes some awesome somosas," Kasim continues.
Oh great. Momma’s boy, Samia thinks bitterly.
Hussain laughs - a deep throaty laugh that makes Samia appreciate his good mood. The girl doesn't want to jeopardize his rare display of happiness.
"Oh wait until you try Samia’s somosas. Samia, go make some," Hussain orders, his tone seeming more lighthearted.
Yesterday, Samia had already made somosas, which were frozen. She simply takes them out, fries them up in oil, and turns them into golden-brown beauties. Fatima watches her yet again. Very quickly, Samia serves the hot, sizzling somosas to the guests. She hopes their tongues will be burnt.
Kasim bites into it, his white teeth crunching into the golden substance. He can taste the beautifully seasoned chicken and the well-cooked vegetables. He's nodding his head, slightly moaning in thorough enjoyment.
"Very impressive," he praises, "but I think it’s obvious who the winner is. Sorry, mum. I think we found someone who makes better somosas. Who'd have thought?"
Everyone in the room laughs, apart from Samia. The girl merely looks at the guests with a straight face, as if she is watching a boring documentary.
"So, son. Tell us your first thoughts about Samia."
Kasim’s smile stretches. "I think she's very gorgeous," he replies.
Samia grits her teeth. She wants to say, Of course you think I'm gorgeous when my face is caked in makeup. Do you honestly expect me to look like this every day? Is beauty the only thing you care about? Are you freaking shallow?! Instead, Samia bites her lip, holding back her tongue. She feels awkward with her dad in the room, witnessing this ‘romantic’ interlude.
Hussain, however, doesn't seem to mind Kasim’s comment. In fact, her father looks younger than ever with a proud grin across his features.
"Well, of course. She has good genes," Hussain says jokingly. Everyone laughs again - except for Samia.
Soon, it is time for the guests to leave. Fatima holds the door open for them. This time, the woman is not apologizing and, instead, she has a big smile across her face. Kasim looks back over his shoulder.
"Goodbye, Samia. Hope I hear from you soon." He waves goodbye at her. Samia deliberately looks away while Fatima waves goodbye at the young man.
The door slams shut and both parents turn to look at their daughter with shining, expectant eyes.
"So, what do you think?"
"Can I just get changed please?" Samia asks, still looking away.
"What's wrong, Samia? Did you not like him? I thought you were having a good time," Hussain says, his tone hinting that he is annoyed.
"You mean you," Samia whispers.
"I think he's promising. So, is that a yes?" Hussain asks her with forced eagerness. He's almost asking it as if he were asking a rhetorical question.
"He's very polite, but I just don't think he's right for me. I'm going to have say no," Samia answers.
Hussain frowns. "He's a handsome man. He's got a good career. He's well educated and he obviously has an interest in you. What more do you want?" His tone definitely sounds more frustrated like it pains him to explain this.
Samia shrugs carelessly. "I feel like he's putting up an act. He's trying way too hard."
"At least he's trying. What does that show? He's trying for you. And that's all that matters. To be honest, I found him quite charming," Fatima states in a matter-of-fact tone.
Hussain shakes his head, seeming fed up."If you say no, you're gonna miss a good opportunity and settle for something worse later on. Do you want to end up with a man who doesn't treat you with respect? Kasim will treat you right, believe me. We know what's best for you."
Samia’s brain is spinning in confusion. She feels torn apart. A part of her wonders if her parents are right. Is she making a mistake by rejecting Kasim?
She shakes her head again and thinks, no, they could be wrong.