You say I proposed to you, down on one knee, at the traffic lights opposite Dean Gardens on West Ealing Broadway, waiting for the traffic to come to a halt. As you were thinking about it, the green man said “Go!” and you agreed with him. “Yes,” you said, and there we crossed to the other side. But me: I thought we were already good to go, for we’d already been down to the town hall to book our civil marriage. Suffice to say, I wasn’t exactly worldly-wise.
I have my own story from those days, in the months before we met. On Saturdays, I’d head into central London to hang out with my posse at Regent’s Park mosque. I’d attend the converts circle in the afternoon — turns out you did too, but you were on the other side of the Berlin Wall, so I never noticed you — then we’d saunter down to Malaysia Hall in Bayswater on foot to enjoy super-strength curry and really strange conversations. We were an odd band of friends, that’s for sure. In the evening, I’d take the tube back to Ealing Broadway and then go through the motions of waiting for the E1 bus at Haven Green.
Motions only, because I’ve never had the patience to wait for a bus. I’d rather be in motion, even if it doubles my journey time, than stand in a queue. That’s how I’d come to walk that route every weekend: Gordon Road to Denbigh Road, left onto Arlington Road, across the avenue onto Sutherland Avenue, my footsteps being carried on to your road. I’ve told you this story many times: that evening I stopped midway along Sutherland Road to listen to a beautiful blackbird singing from a chimney pot. A sweet serenade, as if to tell me, “She’s behind you!”
I wouldn’t visit your flat until the day we married, arriving in my red Ford Fiesta with you at my side, a white ribbon still attached to the bonnet. What a day that was. The start of our life together. You made me feel at home — well, it was home now. And then we headed off along the M4 to Wales, where we got caught in a thunderous downpour, and then got completely lost, which you took as an opportunity to find out what sort of man I really was: would I remain calm or would I blow my top? I’d like to think I passed that test.
For sure, we’ve had our trials since then. A week after our walima in September, barbarians crashed passenger planes into the World Trade Centre in New York. A month after that, I’d be made redundant, and I’d struggle to get a proper job for the next three years, bringing in a meagre wage from freelance work and crappy jobs. I’d work in an internet cafe in Green Lanes for a while. I’d later manage a restaurant on Dover Street in Mayfair, serving coffee and Thai cuisine to diplomats and investment bankers.
But all the same, you stood with me. Through thick and thin, you were there at my side, always forgiving of my immense shortcomings. Through difficult diagnoses and interventions, you kept me close; through my heavy blues, you kept faith, encouraging me to strive hard, reminding me that after every difficulty comes ease. Through tests from within and without, we drew closer to one another. Every day I marvel at that. Two souls, born three thousand miles apart, united by the One.
“And among His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.”Quran 30:21
How true is that. We’ve spent over a thousand weeks in each other’s company now, 250 months. I remember so many moments through these two decades together. As well as tests, we’ve experienced uncountable blessings. The past decade has raced by, raising two precious souls, already teenagers. How the world has changed in unimaginable ways in the time we have walked side by side. So grateful you smiled at the traffic lights and chose to say, “Yes, I will!”