Refreshed after a quick shower, I returned to our bright and airy living room with its high ceilings and brick fireplace. We spent a lot of memorable time here, as a family and with our friends. The positive side of our association with the Islamic center was that we had both Muslim and Pakistani friends. This was very important for maintaining the Islamic spirit in our family. I hoped our children would understand and maintain this connection too despite being ‘die hard’ fourth generation American Muslims.
Ali was still in his recliner, engrossed in the evening news.
“How was your party today?” he asked without looking away.
One of my colleagues, Alison, was leaving and we had organised a going away party for her.
“It was fun. Alison’s found a very good, full time position so she’s happy.”
Alison’s leaving reminded Ali of the gist of our still-running argument.
“You know that the offer to help run Candice’s day-care still stands for you,” he said.
A mutual friend from our college years had invested heavily in a day-care/afterschool in a nearby suburb. She had been imploring me to join her as her partner given my child psychology degree.
I was in no mood to address this argument with Ali right now. But I had to answer him. I sat down directly in front of him on the sofa.
“Ali,” I started out hesitatingly. “I understand how you feel about the adoption agency but I enjoy working there. You know it’s more for the philanthropic cause than the money.”
“I don’t see how a day-care is not an equally philanthropic cause,” he replied, sounding a little irked.
“But this is part time and so close to home.” I responded.
“Marium,” he had now pushed back his foot rest, a sign that he was gearing up for a serious conversation.
“This is only 10 miles away and if you really do want to work, it’s a low stress philanthropic job.”
He put stress on the word philanthropic.
I looked down at my feet and didn’t reply. I could tell by his expression that this argument was bound to be as fruitless as all the previous ones regarding this topic. I couldn’t understand why he had started this discussion right when we were expecting company.
“Can we talk about this later, Ali?” I requested more than asked. “I really don’t want to start a never-ending argument just when we’re expecting people.”
“Well you’re the one who doesn’t want to end it, Marium. And it’s not really as much of an argument as stubbornness from your side.”
I had nothing to say in return.
Ali’s cell phone started to ring. He picked it up without looking at me.
“Hello? Yes, Salam Ammi jee. How are you?”
It was Ammi jee. I sighed with relief. She couldn’t have called at a better time. I desperately needed this distraction right now.
“How are the kids? I hope Omer is reading those books he’s supposed to read. Yes, she is fine too. Why don’t you talk to her. Tell the kids to call me when they get home. Yes, sure”.
He handed me the phone.
“Salaam, Ammi jee. How are you?”
I took the phone and walked into the kitchen. I wanted to start frying the samosas before Alex and Lucy arrived.
“Is everything alright?”
Ammi jee sounded concerned.
“Ali sounded a little tense.”
No wonder she hadn’t corrected my Salaam. She rarely forgot to correct me that it’s Assalam-o-Alaikum, not Salaam. Trust my mom to smell fish even in a lion’s den. Even though Ali had not talked any differently to her, she was still suspicious.
“Of course not. I think it’s because he just returned from work,” I replied, making the effort to stay relaxed.
It was hard to fool Ammi jee.
“Are you two having a fight again?” Ammi jee had smelt the proverbial fish. “What is it this time? Is everything alright at work?”
It was better to just tell her the truth than play guessing games.
“Ammi jee, he was asking me to join Candice’s day-care again.”
I tried to sound light.
Ammi jee sighed.
“And I’m sure it’s because he wants you to leave the adoption agency?”
Of course, how could Ammi jee not get to the bottom of it in a second.
I answered resignedly. I fumbled with bottles in the fridge door for the sauce for the samosas. There was silence at the other end. I knew she was trying to think of the right thing to say to convince me.
“Marium, why don’t you just let it go”, she said a little firmly. “It’s just a job. It’s not worth these arguments you two are having over this.”
Ammi jee was a mother and no mother likes tension to be a part of her daughter’s home.
“I’ll talk to you later about this Ammi jee,” I said, wanting to wrap up the conversation. “Ali’s friends will be here any minute.”
It was bad enough arguing with one person over this issue, I thought dryly. Trying to change the topic, I reminded her to make sure the kids didn’t leave anything behind, especially their books, when they left for Seattle two days later.
“Marium,” something in Ammi jee’s voice kept me from saying goodbye right then.
“It’s too late. You can’t do anything about it now.”
I couldn’t answer. We rarely brought this angle into our discussions over leaving my job.
“I know Ammi jee,” I finally said in a very low voice. “But it helps when I make sure that the children who go through the agency go to good, stable homes.”
“She’s in a good stable home too.”
Ammi jee answered. I was speechless.
“How… how do you know?”
“Trust me. I know.”
She replied. Then in a firm tone she added,
“Stop trying to use this job as your healing agent because it is creating nothing but hurt for Ali.”
I just hung up the phone.
Ammi jee never lied. If she said she knew, I’m sure she had found out one way or another. I just wanted to sit on the kitchen chair and stare out into the dark night outside. The dark was soothing. The light hurt.
He had been expecting the phone call from New Orleans any day, his stress and anticipation rising as he waited. He kept going over his decision, wondering whether it was the right thing to do even when he knew that there’s no question of right or wrong; it was the only thing to do.
Stay tuned in for Part 3 of this four part series.
from The Express Tribune Blog http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/25160/series-2-checkmate-part-2-am-i-philanthropic-enough/