Atherton Place, Southall: that’s where I was introduced to my wife-to-be. Allingham Close, Hanwell: that’s where I was living. Between the two, Brent Lodge Park and the Wharncliffe viaduct.
I don’t recall how I arrived there. It must have been by bus, disembarking at Southall Park, opposite Holy Trinity. I don’t think I owned my red donkey yet; I believe I bought that the weekend I travelled up north to visit my parents, who had summoned me to explain my sudden announcement that I was getting married to a woman I had only just met.
I don’t remember the journey to that introduction at all. I remember my preparations that afternoon at BHS on West Ealing Broadway. I had high hopes because I considered the invitation an answer to prayers. Indeed, I believed in that so strongly. She was already there when I arrived, seated in their living room with my friend’s wife. His wife gave me a funny glance when she saw me: my first faux pas.
Still, we seemed to hit it off immediately. For me, like at first sight. For her: she had just clocked off from a long shift, coming on straight from work and so was absolutely exhausted. I was in luck then: she has always claimed she didn’t notice what I was wearing — scruffy jogging bottoms — far more interested in my personality. Our stomachs filled with the delicious spread served by our hosts, we struck up conversation, sharing tales of our different worlds.
Biryani must have helped break the ice. She looked very elegant to me. Pretty too. Eventually our hosts left us to speak alone, disappearing to make tea. I immediately felt at ease. She did too. Already we were speaking of profound affairs. Our hosts returned smiling, serving us dessert, happy to find us still on speaking terms.
Afterwards, our host gave me a lift back to my lodgings. I recall sitting in his BMW in the car park outside and him asking me what I thought of the woman I had just met. I liked her, I said. He smiled, then rebuked me. “Some advice, Tim. Assuming she wants to meet you again, dress properly next time. She’s a smart woman. My wife was very embarrassed.”
I smiled back. “You told me she was a convert, very religious, so naturally I was going for the salafi trousers above the ankles look. I bought a pair of clean socks specially.”
Face in his hands, he shook his head, marvelling at my sincere stupidity. I had a feeling that he was waiting for me to invite him inside for a cuppa and further conversation. However, I was sure that if he knew I was renting a room from my Trinidadian sister-in-law my chances of ever being taken seriously were zero. Plus, there was a high probability that the cat would have vomited in front of the door again. “I’ll let you know how it went,” he told me instead as we parted company.
He would then have headed back to his flat to quiz his wife on that lovely lady’s feedback on her meeting that shy gentlemanly brother with zero fashion sense. A few days later, I learned that she was keen to meet me again and another meeting was promptly arranged. More conversation followed, all of it leading to one thing: maybe we should get married.
That’s when I decided to share my joyful news. “Dad, I’ve met someone, and the wedding’s in June.” His initial reactions: “Wow, congratulations!” Then, a couple of days later, all hell broke loose. My eldest brother drove down south for an urgent chat, seeking reassurance that I would put the whole daft idea out of my mind. When that didn’t help, I was summoned up north for a serious conversation with my parents.
At the end of those conversations, I fell down on my face on my prayer mat, complaining to the Lord of the universe that I was not strong enough to walk this path. In tears, I asked the One to take me away back to Him, to free me from these trials. Later, I’d dispatch an email to the friend who had introduced us, telling him that if she couldn’t wait longer, maybe she should just forget about me.
Fortunately, my beloved was the more stubborn of the two of us, and insisted on marrying me anyway. In concession to my family’s concerns, she offered a compromise: instead of marrying in June, we would marry in August. Of course, in my culture, we were expected to date for at least two years before considering anything like marriage. My eldest brother first proposed to his wife while still at school, but in the end had to wait six years for her to say yes.
With hindsight, we could have approached the whole thing so differently. We could simply have done the religious nikah between us and then pretended to be dating until a sufficiently long timespan had passed in order for us to go through with the civil ceremony. But we were young and naive — and might I say, desperate — so went with plan A, and were married four months later.
My eldest brother still witnessed our marriage, as did my two grandmothers. A year later, my parents came to our Turkish wedding in Istanbul, as did my middle brother. So peace, at last. It took my sister years to come around to embracing us as a couple, but we got there in the end.
From one perspective, we went about the whole affair completely wrong. For my family, it was a crisis, for what we were doing wasn’t part of our culture at all. Plus, it confirmed in their mind that the whole “Muslim thing” wasn’t just a passing phase of rebellion: it turned out I was really serious about it. I appreciate that was difficult for them at the time. Fortunately time is the great healer, and we’re all on good terms today.
But for us, as a couple, it was absolutely the right thing to do. We followed our hearts. For us, it was an answer to a prayer, and we both trusted and believed in that completely. That was our faith, and that was our time. Strangers united by a Merciful Lord.