Above each dinner table hangs a gold encrusted chandelier, perfectly symmetrical with eight teardrop bulbs outlining the middle. The tables themselves are decorated with burgundy cloth, clearly thick and extravagant. Ornate china settings dictate that eight guests will be seated at each table, with little room for maneuvering or the addition of any extra persons. Rose petals fill the center space, scattered in a mechanical, planned ‘disorganized’ fashion; perfectly arranged to look accidental.
A girl of eighteen years remembers listening to her mother explain the bride and groom’s story during the car ride to the hotel. “It was perfectly executed, thanks to the parents.” She chuckled, as her mother continued to explain. “They were introduced to each other at a mutual friend’s wedding. Their moms’ told them how both of them were studying business. She’s pretty fair and his family lives in the upper class neighborhood in Karachi. Now here we are, eight months later.”
The bride has not entered yet and the groom sits idly in the left chair on the decorated stage. Clearly uncomfortable, the young girl fusses with the ends of her scarf, making sure that the sides of her body are curtained.
Good. I remembered to wear the larger of the two ruby suits.
She refrains from fussing with her hair, worried that her disobedient curls will betray her. Frowning, she tugs at the sides of her shirt once again, hoping to ensure that no fabric clings to her skin or hangs too closely to her body. The bag hanging from her shoulder is starting to cause her shoulder to ache; the strap is digging into a fragile muscle. She opens it, hoping to reposition its contents as to relieve some of the pressure. Small plastic ziplocs and a book are chaotically stacked on top of one another. Each bag contains an abundant amount of specific vegetables: carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers. She is careful. None of the bags can fall, or worse, be seen. While in the process of reorganizing what can more accurately be characterized as a lunch box, as opposed to a purse, she sees a group of women and their respective daughters, acquaintances of her mother, making their way towards her. She quickly jostles the sack so each plastic corner is hidden.
Have they already seen me in this outfit?
The chandeliers are impressive and capture the attention of the adolescent girl that has just entered the grand hall. Their lights are grand and unlike the modest ones that adorn the living room of her household. Her childhood home resembles a castle to her; this room demeans it to a cottage. The size of the room was colossal, humongous. Is she were to scream, her voice would echo off of the cream walls and radiate the legs of the chairs and tables. She busies herself with counting the lights that make up each structure, fascinated by the proportionate nature. In the midst of this, she forgets that she is at a wedding at that she is supposed to eagerly be awaiting the arrival of the bride and groom’s family.
There is an unlit bulb in the orbs of one of the chandeliers and her precise counting and satisfaction with the evenness of the answers is compromised. Frowning, she moves onto analyzing the colored and patterned bouquets of lilacs and lilies that outline the platform that has been set up in the front of the room. This task is more challenging; seeing the flowers from afar and trying to count each blossom is much more time-consuming. A handsome man wearing a suit, one much more impressive than those of the other attendees, is already seated on the stage and she is careful to avoid eye contact. She has only gone through one third of them before she must allow her handbag drop so that she can use her left hand to rub the back of her perspiring neck. The sequined shirt is too fitted and highlights the unwelcome, plump parts of her body. Well, every part really.
My arms itch.
The neckline is tighter than she remembers and she pulls at it, annoyed. Already her arms are restricted by the two year old suit that constricts her upper chest as well as her breathing. The accompanying scarf, meant for the front of her neck, is improperly stretched and opened to its full length and width so that the entire front of her body is concealed. She pretends it s a shield; no one can see beyond the flimsy, transparent material to discover how tight her clothes truly are. More importantly, they will not be able to blame her body, forgetting the clothes, as she has done. Hopefully her colorful and vibrant bangles will distract them.
Her handbag is bright pink, stark and unattractive hanging off her arm that is covered in olive-green fabric. Forfeiting to the complexity of the lilacs and lilies, she opens her bag while waiting for her mother to find their assigned table and speak to her father. Pulling out a game console, mindful to keep her Jolly Ranchers spilling out, she pushes the power button and uncomfortably sits down on the nearest chair, bored. Her brother follows suit. She hears people exclaim congratulations as a familiar woman, most likely a friend of her mother’s, enters the hall. Her mother turns around immediately and motions to the young girl to put her game away and follow her to greet the groom’s family.
Do I have to? I just sat down.
The group of women approach them, focused and decorated elaborately. The makeup on their faces is clearly the work of a professional, though it seems as though the amount of cream and powder that is used to camouflage the lines of life’s wears and tears almost highlights them instead.
“Asma!” they exclaim, embracing my mother, careful to keep their earrings and golden chains from entangling. Comments on the splendor of each other’s outfits are exchanged. Recent trips taken to Pakistan are discussed and spouses asked about.
“And Beti, how are you?” the entourage turns to face the anxious teen girl. Her hand clutches the strap of her bag tightly as she nods her head, offering the formal and expected greetings of her mother’s native tongue.
“You’ve gotten so slim. Tell me, how did you do it? This old bat could use some new tricks. All I’ve had today is an apple for breakfast and tea during the trip to the hotel this afternoon.” These words, courtesy of the bride’s mother, sting. The girl cannot come up with an answer for a few seconds, fumbling with the words in her head. Instinctively, she pulls the loosened shirt farther away from her torso.
“Thank you aunty,” is all she can manage.
“Now don’t get any thinner, you’ll look skeletal. No one goes for that look, don’t believe the Bollywood hype like other girls your age.”
She forces a smile and nods.
“Of course Aunty.”
Another woman, shorter and stouter than the one she is presently conversing with, joins the group. Her gown is extraordinary; silver with elegant and efficient embroidery. What is more interesting though is her hair; it is evidently dyed an unnatural blonde and is artificially curled to frame her made up face. Before her staring can be noticed, she looks back to the schedules that at this point have littered the tables, reading and re-reading the times for the bride’s entrances and dinners. These times will provide her with distractions from the hunger that is tempting her to reach into her bag.
“Beti, it’s been so long! Look at you, so small now.”
“Hello, aunty, how are you?”
“Your hair has grown. Have you heard of the new Keratin treatment? I think it’s available in the city and probably in New Jersey. You should try it, I promise you will not regret it. Your hair will be so straight, and you won’t have to use an iron. Just wash your hair, dry it, and be sure to –“
Thankfully, the sound of the crackling loudspeaker echoes throughout the hall, announcing that it is time for the guests to take their seats so that the bride can make her entrance. Her mother motions for her to sit down at a table near the back. After taking her place and setting her bag carefully behind her, securely, she looks up to stretch and sees the burnt orb of the compromised fixture that is hanging above her.
Maybe I can have some of the peppers now, while the music plays and she enters.
Begrudgingly, she pushes herself up from her chair, shoving her console into her bag. The stampede of women encroach rapidly and her brother and her exchange irritated looks. Her mother begins the carousel of compliments and the women surround them. They sound familiar and repetitive and the girl cannot be bothered to pay attention past the first few, required introductory questions. The air around them adopts a claustrophobic aura. She tugs at the collar of her shirt again.
“Beti, your dress is so pretty. Did your mom pick it out?”
She nods yes, obediently.
“Oh Beti, how are you? I wanted to tell you the last time we met about the club that opened in the neighboring town, but we didn’t get a chance.”
The girl can see where this is going. An elephant is approaching her, much faster than it should be travelling, and she has no means of escaping the room.
“They have dance classes, very good for sweating, filled with girls your age. You can have fun, hang out, and go to the gymnasium afterwards for their other activities. Beti, oh my kids just love it. And did you see Amina?” She motions to a girl a few years older, a childhood acquaintance, who is standing on the other side of the room. A pretty pink ensemble covers her now thinner body.
She nods again.
“Oh she has been doing it for only a few weeks and look at how thin she’s gotten. You’ll be like that in no time.”
She fingers the outline of the Jolly Ranchers at the bottom of her bag, nodding again.
“Would you like me to tell your mother about it? So you can sign up right away? Just imagine how nice that suit could look on you.”
Thankfully the loud music, signaling the entrance of the bride, begins and a flurry of activity starts as everyone makes their way to a table. She is relieved of her interview and her family rushes to the nearest table with ample seats. The chandelier above her, she realizes, is the one with the missing bulb that complicated her counting.
When will they serve dinner? I’m starving.