“Fix everything in the apartment, my parents can’t know you practically live here,” Mariam said to her boyfriend Steve before getting ready to take her parents to a Father’s Day breakfast.
“I will, don’t worry,” Steve said, rolling out of bed.
The night before, Mariam told Steve she would be waking up an hour early. “I need to mentally prepare,” she said. “You know, come up with a list of talking points to prevent any opportunity for them to ask me anything personal, and you know… to prevent any judgement, any criticism…”
“Annnd to conceal any opening for the gush of guilt that could show up from hiding you.”
That morning, Mariam made a big cup of coffee and stared into thin air which brought with it an unexpected heavy weight. “I wish I could tell them. I wish it would be culturally and religiously appropriate, but it’s not,” Mariam said, placing her hands on Steve’s shoulder.
“It’s ok, when the time is right, you will tell them.” He kissed her on the forehead.
Mariam got to the restaurant thirty minutes early. “Table for three, under the name Mariam,” she told the hostess. It had been a year since she had moved out and successfully lived on her own. This was the first time she had invited her parents to a meal showing them that she was now, officially an adult. She felt a surge of energy that made her go up to the useless items in the store and consider buying them.
“We are ready to seat you,” the waitress summoned.
“Okay, but my party is not here yet.”
“That’s okay. We can seat you alone.”
The waitress walked Mariam to the back of the restaurant. Mariam looked at the side with two menus and sat down across from them. As she was about to place the bag on the floor, she was reminded of the empty seat next to her.
“Anything to drink?” the waitress asked.
“Yes, just one cup of coffee for now,” she said, with a half smile.
Her parents walked into the restaurant, on time, she knew, because of her father. “Ummi, Abu, over here!” Mariam yelled, as all the white people in the restaurant looked at her.
“Asalaamalaikum,” she greeted her mother. “Happy Father’s Day Abu,” Mariam said, leaning in. He patted her on the back with the familiar thud of a touch, the same thud that he gave her when she had told him she loved living on her own and would not be coming back. The same thud when she told him she needed to go back to rehab for a third time, and the same thud she knew would come when she finally told him about Steve.
Mariam sat down. Her father’s face looked like it did the last time she saw him. Gray strands of hair fell on his forehead, his hair combed back, his beard trimmed. His unchanged appearance gave her a temporary sense of relief. Through the silence, Mariam remembered her talking points.
“Oh my God, have you guys seen baby Yacoub lately? Let me show you.” Mariam began to scroll through her phone. “Here, look,” she said, holding her phone up.
“Oh my God…he is sooo cute,” Ayesha said.
Omar smiled and turned his attention back to the menu. “Two pancakes. That’s it for me,” he said, closing the menu.
“Two eggs, hash browns and pancakes for me, with extra syrup,” Ayesha said unabashedly.
“This restaurant always reminded me of Dr. Silverman,” Ayesha said looking around at the old country decor.
“Yeah, so sad, that not only is he gone, but his wife is too,” Omar said, gazing out the window.
“Oh my God, she died too?” Mariam exclaimed.
“Yeah. You know, they were good people. Good values. Very connected to the Earth. Simple, good people,” Omar said, chewing his pancake.
“Yeah. They were. I guess, there are some good people amongst them,” Ayesha said.
Mariam eased back in her seat and poured extra syrup on her pancake, surprised at how little guilt influenced her decision to eat it.
“So when are you guys going to go visit Ismaeel?” Mariam asked.
“The end of July, I think,” Ayesha said, glancing at Omar.
“That’ll be nice. It sounds like he loves Arizona.”
“Yeah, I think he plans on staying out there,” Omar said, cutting his pancake.
Ayesha grabbed three more packets of sugar and poured them into her coffee. “You know it is very important to stay near the family. That is very important for the children. How will they ever know who they are if they are not near us?” Ayesha took a big bite of her pancake, her face turned red, her cheeks looked puffier.
“Well, you know, we would see him like once a year,” Omar said, sipping his coffee.
“Yeah, like the Americans, we would be like the Americans.” Ayesha put her fork down.
The waitress slipped the check beneath Mariam’s plate, as Mariam had told her. “No, no, let me take it,” Omar said, extending his arm. Mariam took the receipt and shoved it in her bag.
“No, no, I got it, Abu.”
“This is good, Omar. Our kids taking care of us is how it should be,” Ayesha said, licking her fork clean.
“I want to take you to the park for a walk afterwards,” Mariam said as Omar got up and led the way out of the restaurant. Mariam watched her parents go toward their car, as she walked alone toward hers.
“Wow, it’s windier than I expected,” Omar said, zipping up his jacket.
“No, this is great, the breeze feels just right,” Ayesha said, moving her arms like she was ready to brisk walk.
“Have you talked to Yasmin lately?” Mariam asked in an attempt to make conversation that veered as far away from herself as possible.
“Yeah, you know, your sister is always complaining about the troubles of motherhood, but that is what she gets for having children so late in life,” Ayesha said, moving her arms faster.
“Well, women can have babies later in life. Up until menopause, right Abu?”
“Yes, yes they can.” He pressed his hand behind Mariam’s back, gently this time, without the thud.
“You know, my mother had a child when she was older, at about forty and that was far before medicine had advanced to where it is now,” Omar said.
Mariam glanced at Ayesha.
“Did you know that?”
“Let’s turn around, it’s getting far too windy now,” Omar said.
Ayesha rolled her eyes. Mariam looked at the well-aging white couple walking toward them. The woman wore a “Pilates Rocks” t-shirt and was carrying dumbbells, a tall man with a white walrus mustache next to her.
“Oh, Dr. Smith!” Omar said.
“Dr. Khan! So nice to see you here.”
“Likewise, likewise,” Omar extended his hand.
“So what brings you out?” The man glanced at Mariam and Ayesha.
“Oh, my daughter, she brought us out for Father’s Day. This here is my daughter,” Omar gestured. Mariam stepped forward, proudly, surprised that the expected wave of shame didn’t drown her.
“Oh, how nice! How lucky you are to have children who care…ours on the other hand…” They laughed.
“Well, I am one of three…” Mariam said.
“Oh…yes, gosh, we should have had more children,” Dr. Smith laughed. “So, are you still working?” he asked.
“Yeah, yeah I am.”
“How old are you now?”
“Oh you know…seventy plus.”
“Yes,” Omar gave a nervous smile.
“He is such a hard worker, you know. It is the work ethic of that generation,” Ayesha said, glancing at Mariam.
Mariam looked at her smiling father; the tender sweetness of his eyes seemed to erase the hollowness from his face. That face, that smile, if only I could give my dad that, if I could just give him that. Mariam looked back at her mother.
“So nice to meet you, have a great Father’s Day,” Ayesha said, as they walked away.
“He is such a nice man. I could talk to him all day,” Mariam said.
“Yes, yes he is. He is a good man. He wrote me a card when he retired. He told me how he always felt his patients would be safe with me. That he trusted their care in my hands.” Omar said.
Mariam looked at her father. He walked with a strong stride, like the kind that comes from knowing you spent your whole life doing your best work; the relief, the satisfaction, of oneself and one’s abilities. Mariam wished to walk that way, someday. But today, the only satisfaction she could receive was from knowing of her father’s self-acceptance.
Hina Ahmed is the proud daughter of Pakistani immigrants. She holds a B.A. in literature and history and M.A. in teaching from Binghamton University. Her writing explores hybrid identities, double consciousness, race, class, sexuality, and the impact of American imperialism on immigrant narratives.