By Dana Husam Abdallah
He’s tall, he’s good looking, he’s a mid-level accountant, and he’s… selfish, greedy and a miser?
“Another day, another bachelor.” Lina sighed to herself. She sat at her desk, unable to focus on the task at hand while her mind wandered to the suitor currently pursuing her.
After the first awkward meeting – the blind date / arranged traditional kind of set up – she and Hussein seemed to get on relatively okay. Nothing really compelling about him and not much for her to get too infatuated, but nothing to make her detest or dismiss him… yet. That was the case at the beginning.
And then the outrageous discussions came along.
“We will set up a joint account, my money and your money, we will, after all, become a family. No such thing as ‘your’ money or ‘mine.’ My family back home is financially dependent on me, and they have access to it through a debit card. They withdraw only as much as they need. You see, dear, it’s charitable and this kind of good deed will come back to you in the form of rewards, multiplied.”
She swallowed hard.
She usually got up at 7 am, drove 35 kilometers to work during rush hour, and got home at around 5 pm. Her job was quite demanding, as they were understaffed due to budget constraints. During the evenings, she usually perused her passion for painting, make up and baking in her evening hours. When it came to dreams, she was torn between the three: Does she become an artist and set up regular art exhibitions? Does she open her own bakery? Or become a professional makeup artist? As her family and friends attested, she was equally talented in all three. Her uncle suggested she could combine the three: Sell housewives paintings for their homes, and they’d receive a complimentary home-baked dessert as well as a free make-up session, all as a package deal.
However, staying at her job where she helped her employer make money? Be strapped to her work hours? Cater to her boss’s whims and needs? No, thank you.
When she conveyed this notion to her fiancé, he rejected it.
“You need a stable income to afford the high cost of living, sweetie. Dreams like those are for fools in this shaky economy and a total waste of time. Dream, instead, of getting promoted.”
She argued that she would personally fund the business with savings and parental support; any business risks would be hers alone. But until the business flourishes, they could make do on his income alone, even if it means cutting down on unnecessary luxury expenditures, and living in a city where rent was cheap. He shook his head. “I will not live in a city that is overcrowded and is crazy to reach during rush hours, and where parking is not easily available… just to save some money. My wife, if it’ll be you, will need to work at all times so we can both live close to where our jobs are. Most women are able to manage it these days.”
She sighed. So he wouldn’t support her in pursuit of her dreams. He would not even let her focus be on taking care of the household in between focusing on her passions; she had to keep her office job.
What if they had children, would he support her financially so that she opt to be a stay-at-home mom? He shook his head.
“The reason I am only considering educated women, baby, is so that she helps with the burden… not add to it. You wouldn’t be the first working mother, nor the last. Just do what everyone else does.”
She rubbed her temple. Did she sound lazy? Was he correct? Her best friend honestly told her he wasn’t marrying “Lina,” he was marrying a “cash cow.”
Her family thought he was correct and that her best friend was merely jealous of her, and why would Lina not want to work anyway? Most women in her family held down full or part time jobs at least until they retired. Did they not send her to university so she could pursue a career? Were respected women not powerful in the workforce?
Lina and Hussein went on a first chaperoned “date.” He took her and her brothers skiing and then for coffee. It was sweet. After they got engaged, she found herself paying at their dates. “The fact that you sometimes pick up the tab or go halfsies shows me you’re responsible. I’m proud of you for being supportive. I have a wedding to save up for,” he said solemnly, hands full of shopping bags with brand new designer clothes for himself, a bag with the latest Apple phone he gifted for himself, and bags with state-of-the-art toys for his favorite nephew.
Her family and friends thought it was reasonable, why should he have to entirely pay each time? Who says that just because he’s a man, he has to pay every time they went out? It wasn’t fair. Did she not work and have a salary? What was the problem, then?
She didn’t know anything anymore.
One day, she asked a mutual friend between her and Hussein about his childhood. She understood that his father was a simple blue-collar man. Often, they had to skip meals to make ends meet.
Her parents told her that this information sheds light on why he valued a lavish lifestyle as an adult, and why he would ensure his own future kids would never suffer as he did.
She prayed for an answer to her concerns.
“So, listen,” he told her dad one day over cigarettes. “I decided that weddings are a total waste of money. A party for a bunch of guests so they can stuff their faces for one night. That money could go to better use.”
Her dad laughed. “Oh Hussein, you jokester. Funny.”
He tapped the cigarette, dispelling ashes, and turned to him with a frown. “I wasn’t kidding. In the Egyptian culture, the bride’s family shares the wedding costs in half. In the Western world, I believe it’s the bride and her family that pay for the wedding entirely. All I’m saying it, we put a small figure to rent out a 3-star hotel hall, no snacks, but we’ll distribute coffee and soft drinks. Each guest gets a slice of the wedding cake. But I’ll need you, sir, to chip in for the wedding planner. As you know, it’s tradition for the bride’s family in our culture to host an engagement party. I didn’t ask you for one. All I need is for you to pay for the planner.”
Her father’s face turned red. “We’re not Egyptian, Hussein. And we’re not Westerners. Surely, you jest. You cannot tell me you are serious. This was not the agreement!”
Hussein folded his arms. “I assure you I am perfectly serious. I have to buy gold, dowry, honeymoon, pay for a new apartment and furniture. I’m not a billionaire, unfortunately. It’s a perfectly reasonable request; you did not throw an engagement party.”
“The engagement party is not compulsory! And-” Her father’s shouting was interrupted with Lina arriving to stand between them, pulling them apart.
“Dad, don’t listen to him.” She said. “He just asked me to secretly share with him the rent and furniture.”
If it weren’t for Lina standing there, her dad would have punched him.
“Get- Out! The wedding is off. You and Lina are not fated to be together.”
“Not so fast,” Hussein said slowly, looking at them squarely in the eyes. “I want all the gifts I got back. The gold ring. The unopened pack of scented candles. The vase in which I bought the flowers. The tray in which I got the chocolates.”
Lina laughed. “You are impossibly cheap and greedy.”
She piled them up in a garbage bag, and yelled before slamming the door behind him, “And don’t ever come back!”