Aleppo Wedding Chapter 4

In the event, it turned out to be quite a pleasant experience. The first on his mother’s list happened to be related to an old friend of his, who was waiting for them in the front room when they arrived, his mother preceding him into the room with three of his sisters in a cloud of French perfume and accompanied by the subdued jingle of heavy gold bracelets and necklaces, and the twinkle of diamond earrings.
After handshakes and greetings all round, everybody sat down on the gilt and velvet imitation Louis Quinze furniture, and the usual polite enquiries were made about the health and general wellbeing of various members of both families. So far, Nury had not seen the girl, Fatma, but her mother was there, dressed for visitors in a rather bosomy dark blue dress and a grey scarf. Like his mother, she was wearing generous amounts of both jewellery and perfume. One of her rings particularly caught his eye, it was a big solitaire diamond which picked up gleams of light from the enormous, sparkling crystal chandelier whenever its wearer moved her hand. The effect was as if its size were changing according to the angle, which he found mildly hypnotic.
About fifteen minutes later, Fatma, whom he mentally tabulated as Candidate A, brought in a large, heavily ornamented silver tray loaded with cups of Turkish coffee. As she went carefully around the room, serving Nury’s mother and then him and his sisters before her own family, he had time to notice that she was quite pretty. Her hair was very long and dark, falling far below the scarf with which, like most of the other women in the room, she at least conveyed the idea that she was covering her hair. As soon as the coffee was served she sat down and Nury’s mother attempted to put her at her ease by asking her how her studies were going, (she was somewhat unsuccessfully trying to study Maths at the local university). However the poor girl was so embarrassed at being the centre of attention, and at knowing herself to be ‘on trial’, that she made little sense.
Very soon the conversation settled into the usual topics of the marriages or deaths of various neighbours (the women not knowing each other well enough to share scandal), and the price and availability of various items in the shops, so Nury was free to let his mind wander. He watched Fatma as discreetly as he could as he sipped his coffee, and tried to imagine her face at the breakfast table, the way he often remembered Sarah. It was impossible. He couldn’t do it. He wondered what their faces would be like if he stood up and said,
“I’m sorry, but Fatma can’t possibly replace the girl I used to live with. Goodbye.”
His mother spoke his name quite sharply, and he realised he had not been listening, so he quickly pulled his face into a suitable expression because goodbyes were being said. He joined in correctly, not forgetting to invite the whole party to their house at some unspecified time in the future, as etiquette demanded.
As they went down in the lift his mother told him off for daydreaming, but before they had reached the main door of the building she and his sisters had turned to the much more entertaining task of discussing the occasion. They dissected Fatma (a nice girl with a good reputation, but so dark, poor thing), her mother, her sisters (one of them looks like a troublemaker to me, don’t you think so?), and every one of her relations that anyone had ever met or heard of. Now the ordeal was over, Nury felt sufficiently detached to wonder what Fatma’s family were saying about him.

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