A year and a half after He had left, two days after He had arrived, He sat at the dining table with his parents. Once their initial excitement at seeing him after so long and his craving for his mother's cooking had abated somewhat, the discussion turned to the topic of marriage. His parents did not know when He would be able to visit again so they saw this as a good opportunity to settle an alliance for him. His mother had painstakingly collected contacts for numerous prospective brides. They could arrange to have the families meet him and He them over the next few days...
"I want to marry that girl," he said, baldly.
They knew exactly what He was saying and who He was talking about. Only they were not prepared for it at all. They had fully expected it to be a problem of the past, something his long absence to have cured. The silence hung heavy as their minds raced, each of them worried in their own way, worried about the same problem but about the diametrically opposite solutions.
In that silence was planted a seed of a thought. What if? And there were many what ifs. What if they really had no idea of the depths of his determination? What if they hurt him so much that He was turned off? What if he really loved this girl? What if they gave it a shot and agreed to see this girl? What if it really turned out to be OK? So what if this was just not done in their orthodox family? Would it really be so bad? What would be so bad?
Of all the angles to this problem, they had been most worried about the relationship failing. They fretted that a relationship based on impetuous feelings, not one based on the tried and true method of two families coming together on the backs of tradition, would fail in the face of the next impetuous tide of emotions. If they did not have control of how the alliance came together then they would have no say over its disintegration.
But what if? What if they were wrong? What if He and She could really make the marriage work?
Perhaps it was the fleeting nature of his visit that helped crystallize every one's thoughts. But wanting to follow tradition and stick to known methods did not balance out a combination of not wanting to hurt and turn off their son and wanting to be practical in the face of how long this had dragged on apparently.
So that evening, when he came back from visiting his friends, they sat him down and told him to arrange for a meeting with her family.
I know. You feel like whooping and cheering. But hold your horses. Remember this is only one half of the equation.
For the two days since He had arrived, She had been walking on egg shells. How was She going to tell her parents? What would She say? What would it do to her parents? What had they done to deserve this can of worms? She longed for the simpler days when all She was was their daughter, a sister and a happy-go-lucky whirlwind of energy.
Her parents went about their activities, unaware of the storm brewing in their daughter's mind. They had been looking forward to a dinner with their friends for a while. So She decided She would talk to them once they were done with that engagement. She did not want to spoil their day out, She told herself. But perhaps She was trying to put it off.
Time marched on, relentless as usual. The dinner came and went. The next day dawned. Just before breakfast her mother heard the call of the vegetable vendor on the street and went out to get some tomatoes. This is it, She thought. She did not want to involve her mother in this discussion if She could help it. This was between her and her father. She did not want her mother to be a buffer any more.
She went into her parents' bedroom. Her father was shaving. Yes, She wore all the classic symptoms of panic - dry mouth, pounding heart, heavy tongue. She swallowed a few times and blurted it out, "Dad, I want to tell you something."
Her father turned to her, his razor raised mid-way and said, "Is this about your affair?"
She started open mouthed, confused. His face did not match the words. The words were supposed to come out stern and angry but he was smiling. She managed to nod, Yes. What he did next startled her even more. He put his razor down into his mug, with half his face still caked in foam, walked over to her where She stood quaking, put a finger on her cheek and said, "If you really want to marry him that much, go ahead. I'll arrange it."
The minute the words fell out of his mouth and She thought She understood what they meant, She wanted to pick them up and thrust them back. Through the fog of her swirling emotions She saw what was happening.
Her father was setting aside his most cherished convictions, his idea of what it meant to be a father, his notion of his responsibility to his daughter, his simple desire to do for his family what generations had done before him, and yes, his pride. Her father did not really know who He was, as a person or his family, but all he knew and believed in were traditionally arranged alliances. He had blinders on and was afraid of the unknown.
In those few minutes She saw these layers peeling away and She saw the core of him. She had come fully prepared for what She did not even know. But this was not it. What knocked her off her feet was that unlike in her mind's eye he really did not seem to be falling apart. There he was was, whole, happy and even excited about the whole mess, looking forward to the impending celebrations. "Call your mother. Where's she?"
Her mother came back in to find that nothing short of a paradigm shift had occurred in the ten minutes she'd gone out. Gears had creaked and moved and adjusted themselves and the cosmos had been rearranged, just that little bit. The air was different, the light was a little brighter. Her daughter was floating on cloud nine. Her husband looked a changed man. She swung wildly between awe at her daughter's gall in raking up the issue again, unfathomable relief at how it had all turned out, giddiness at the bushels-full of happiness that would visit the house again and just plain old joy.
Two days later He came to visit her house.
One day later her family went over to visit his. Every one laughed like giggly ten-year-olds, relief palpable in every look and word.
Two weeks later they were engaged.
Five months later they were married.
One year later they still could not believe they were married.
Six years later they grew their family and had children. Their families grew to have affection for each other and their parents took great joy in their grandkids.
In the meantime, they had spectacular fights, misunderstandings of galactic proportions, threw tantrums at the tiniest hint of disagreement. Of course. They were married, for heaven's sake! But in their minds and hearts lived those two young kids - the ones that had the courage of their convictions, had faith in each other and in their dreams of a future together, and had faith in the love of their families. And in the darkest times, it was the memory of those two kids that gave them heart. They were proud of the fact that they came through that period, their love and joy of life intact and knew, somewhere deep down inside, that nothing would chip away at them.
On the 10th anniversary of the day they met, He sent her flowers to her office. She was floored - that He remembered.
Twenty-one years later they still take pleasure in recalling and recounting the story of how they met.