The family had gathered in the small sweatbox of a fibro house with the too neat yard and that smell of precisely arranged second hand furniture. The edges of the lawn had been trimmed around the concrete pavers leading up to the wire screen door. There weren’t any trees in the street. Nothing between your head and the steady weight of sun held in still air.
Next door at forty-six, the young blokes were leaning over the bonnet of a car drinking energy drinks and two of them didn’t have any shirts on. They laughed with a rippling edgy sense, rough and short staccato bursts. The sound of their abrasive words and genial abuse floated in through the door mixed with the dull roar of hotted up Nissans.
Zaid stood weightily to close the glass paneled door that led to the outside.
The dense air sank.
“Yes, I know all of that,” said the woman’s sharp voice in English from the kitchen where the happy plant sat on the window sill. “But is he a doctor?”
“Not yet,” answered the rumbling voice of Zaid in his mother tongue as he settled back into the vinyl recliner, his paunch showing impressively atop his belt. Even though he carried the weight of his father, and his father before him, Zaid still had presence.
He leant forward, legs apart and sipped on his small delicate cup of black coffee – the taste was different here and he hadn’t quite come to terms with that yet.
Leyla’s door was closed. She wouldn’t be coming out for while. Not while this discussion continued.
Zaid’s guests were perched on the velour sofa. They could smell the severity in the air, and they looked away. Up to the ceiling, at the artworks from the old country, the framed photograph of the older sons graduating from university. A throat cleared, but no one owned it. Zaid leant forward again.
“She is a clever girl,” he said again. He rested on the word clever. She was clever.
Zaid’s wife, fiercely stern with her kohl eyes, lightly charged the room with her return and with her standing in the centre with her hands on her hips. The painstakingly learnt English words that fell from her mouth sounded cold and shredded. Zaid caught her reference to the suitor’s family’s status, their faction, their connections “back home”. She wasn’t pleased but she was doing her best to mask her ferocity. Zaid could see the fragility of his wife beneath the direct questioning and negotiation; see through the shaking of her rich dark hair and her cool smile. Leyla’s future was at stake, they both knew that.
Things were different here in this country with its supposed wide open arms and barren smile. Zaid and his wife clung to what they knew, the rituals and discussions of a delicate conversation. An exchange, a bartering.
But here in this place of cul-de-sacs, windblown litter and brown grass they no longer had landmarks to guide them and history to assist.
“When will he graduate?” Zaid’s wife was demanding while proferring a plate of sweet pastries.
Everyone looked down at the food, the intricate knots of their shared heritage laid out on the tray. The suitor’s mother ducked her head, listening carefully to her own heartbeat.
‘To market, to market’ – when the produce for sale is something a little more serious.