Wedding Survival Handbook

Belal Rafiq
A photo of a black suit jacket hung on a wall.
Photograph by Gez Xavier Mansfield on Unsplash

Bust out the double mirror when you’re angling your goatee. Use a goddamn ruler if you have to. When the cuts from your new razor set in, you’ll wanna bail on the wedding. But you can’t just not show up. You’ll have to call the ariss tonight and imagine her in the white dress—struggling for her cell, with her moms, cousins, and sisters tugging, curling, and hair spraying her all over the hotel room. She’ll know a good friend can’t come, and she might get a little down, but not as much as you hope. 

Remember, the ariss invited you. “In fact,” she said, “you’d better be there.” You’ll try to put together how you didn’t end up being her damaad. You probably went down as a friend when you told her shitty jokes only you laughed at, or always paid for dinner, “No problem.” Could be that you always met up where she wanted to meet up and saw the jumpy horror movies she wanted to see and always asked if she was okay. With her, you were never an alpha male. Should’ve read those dating guides earlier. Hanging out versus dating. 

No use trying to swim to a ship after it’s left the dock, but if you wanna see her again, and see her most beautiful, you’ll go.  

If you go: lay out your suit. The black slim cut, of course. The shirt and tie you can take some risks, but nothing brighter than red. No, not red. Burgundy. Khar khoodah shawee if you take out those Aladdin-curled Diesel kicks. You only bought them so your boys will wanna borrow them. Refuse, unless they wanna buy them off you. Truth is you’re broke, but you can’t be weak in front of them, so clown your boys’ embroidered jeans or that taco meat sprouting out of their limp-tie button downs. 

Get in the M3. Tell the boys your knee’s been acting up cause of the humidity. The Afghan in them will let you sit shotgun. Wedge your boxers in your legs so your balls don’t stick and you’re not shuffling like a penguin the whole night. 

Don’t worry about directions. The wedding will be in the rich district at the Hilton where, at Trina’s wedding, the ariss dragged you to the lobby and taught you how to dance cause you knew your mahdar would make you. Shit, she had the hotel clerks—girls—calling her for lessons. 

Don’t use valet parking, unless one of your boys is gonna pay for it. Pretend to scramble for your wallet if they do. 

On the way to the ballroom, make sure you greet any black-browed brown people, in case they’re Afghan. Don’t get close, do it just like the funerals: put your hand on your chest, lean over, mumble, end with “salaam” or “tashakor,” and keep it moving. Remember the chest greet is only for dudes and older women you’ve never seen before. For the girls, use smiles and bad jokes that are obviously bad jokes. Spare a couple minutes by the automatic doors and talk to them. Keep it easy and general. Don’t do that knocked-over statue pose you do when you’re waiting for someone to finish talking. As a reflex, you’ll measure any girls against the ariss—wanting there to be something wrong with her. 

From the escalator, if you spy the ariss by the ballroom entrance, wearing the nikah green dress, get the hell out of there. She won’t mind you being at the nikah, but you can’t handle the corner-eye glances and whispers from other Afghans. Plus, you can’t just pop in halfway through. Why would you wanna see the marriage part of the wedding, anyway?   

Take the credit though. Tell everyone later that you were there and saw the signatures, the ring exchange, her makeup and hair and overripe nails.

Go upstairs to the bar, but take your time on the way. Don’t let anyone hear you order nonalcoholic shit. Stretch yourself out on the couch. Ask the bartender to put the news on, and pretend to pay attention. You’ll look classy, that is, if people there look at you.   

When the armoonyah and keyboard start slow and soft, you can head down. Don’t worry, you won’t be the first one in. Your boys will catch up. They’ll thank you for coming early, cause they already got dibs on some girls—always the cake faces with the mean, hook eyebrows. 

The ballroom will have beige embroidered curtains and chairs; white Christmas lights on the ceiling; those pukey, light, hospital colors; and a general lack of theme. At some point you’ll take the butterfly napkin and unfold it, then refold it perfectly. You could’ve turned the napkins into the Taj Mahal if you would’ve told the ariss. Yeah, like being the wedding planner is the way to the get the bride.  

Pick your table and greet any family that glances in your direction. Even though your tech call center’s been outsourced, tell them it’s cause of work that you haven’t seen them in forever. While greeting the ariss’s mahdar and baba, kiss their crinkled hands. Sit near them for respect. When it’s been a couple minutes, get up. The ariss’s mahdar will grip your sleeve like a refugee, but tell her you just gotta piss—but don’t say it like that. She’ll ask if you’re sure and raise her chin up like there’s something behind you. You don’t wanna find out if she knows about your failure with the ariss. Though it would be kind of nice to know if you could talk to someone about it. Khoodah knows your boys aren’t the ones.  

Endure for a couple hours. You don’t have to sit down, but you do have to wait. Talk to the hired camera crew. Talk to some khalas and kakas you hardly see anymore. Call or text some girl that’s a guaranteed conversation. Again, tell everyone it’s cause of work you don’t see them anymore. It’s not because you’ve been avoiding people like they’re bad luck. 

Guaranteed, when one of the boys comes around, they’ll talk about the girls in the baggy, rainbowed piraan tumbas with the chimes, charms, and tiny sewn mirrors. They’re either the damaad’s sisters or cousins or really nosy friends. Probably cousins. You’ve seen a few of them at Leeway’s, dancing that ass away. Like, literally, giving that shit up. They’ll let you know at the after-party if they ever saw you there too.

When “Hasta Borough” starts playing, go downstairs and pick a good spot for pictures. You won’t know what direction the couple will be coming from, so just peep and stand next to the close family runwaying the ballroom. The damaad won’t look surprising because he’s just wearing a suit. But she will. She’ll dig and peel hangnails from that one thumb with her index.  

Keep your eyes in the camera. Make sure her eyes are looking in the lens before you snap, and don’t let the photo crew overexpose and glare shit up. The keyboards and tabla will be loud, so just mouth to her that she looks amazing or beautiful. The boys might get loud and whistle and make the ariss tuck her chin and blush. You’ll wanna make a joke or do something funny, like fake tripping backwards, but don’t. Corny-ass crap like that is why you’re here in the first place. 

When they enter the ballroom, back off, you don’t wanna get hit with any frosted almonds. Don’t get in the way of the camera crew. When the couple gets to the henna table near the dance floor, the lights will be tanning salon unbearable. 

The music will pick up and your boys will hook your arm to get you to dance, but you know you can’t, so for khoodah’s sake, don’t. You’ll study and map everyone’s movements in your head, but it’ll be just like every other time—you’ll look down and realize it’s about footwork, timing, and grace, and you have none of that shit. The dancers get all the girls, which, you’re sure, has to be how the damaad got his bride, cause that dude is vicious looking. Don’t worry about it. You’ll do the ataan later with all the men. 

You’ll have to wait a while before you go up there and get a picture together with the new couple. They’ll be sitting on elevated chairs behind the takt e henna, with flashes cracking the air. Don’t stare at her, in fact, pretend she’s not there. Truth is you’re resisting looking at the ariss and memorizing her dress and how she moves in it. Mostly how she moves in it. You’ll think of yourself as a pussy, and that’s fine, just don’t wear it on your face. 

Head to the bathroom and comb your muey. With your hand if you have to. Stroll to the takt e henna and hand your camera off to someone who’ll take the picture. Laugh and lean in close to the ariss. Be careful if the damaad stares. If she brings a hand up to your face, kiss it and the top of her head too and do it quick like you do your bebe’s. Give the damaad dap. It’s too bad that even your boys said he was a good guy. Step down and ask the little girls—somebody’s cousins—to plop a spoonful of that swampy henna in your palm. Wrap it tight with the cloth. 

In the food line, you’ll be playing games on your phone and your boys will cut and give you the lowdown on the after-party. They’ll get a couple rooms on the same floor and ask you if you can pitch in. Don’t break. Come up with an excuse: you gave your money to your baba, you’re still paying off your mahdar’s funeral from five years ago. 

When you dodge your way back to the table, the girls with the piraan tumbas will be there. If you peep an extra girl, you’ll have to sit next to her. Your boys fixed it up. Speak in perfect Dari for a hot while. Use any big-sounding words you twenty-five-year-olds know, but don’t use, like “esterahat” or “yaquin.” 

The khabili and mantu won’t be anything special, but you’ll love it because you’re starving. Don’t eat with two hands like you always do. Think. Maybe spoon toss some onions around the table. Steal a clean napkin and do some of those tricks one of the boys will ask you to do. You wish origami was a job. 

Your boys will talk about somebody’s old kaka on the dance floor and about people who smudged their kicks. The girls will bitch about their jewelry and how their feet hurt. Like somebody forced them to not eat protein and dance in shoes that’ll bunion their feet next year. You’ll only answer questions—how you know the ariss, the family, where you work, the usual. Say you knew the ariss from way back. That you grew up together or something. You could also kill two birds and tell the girls that you worked with the ariss at the bank. Just coworkers. Who cares?

Your boys will want you to drop the line about how you saved the ariss’s life that one day outside Owl Bar. You’ll say some tight-tanked bodybuilder’s hands were ruining her night, so you Muay Thai shinned his chin and snoozed him on the concrete. Truth is, you never stretch, so your kick landed below dude’s chin. Didn’t move him an inch. The ariss bottled him in the back of the head, and everyone peaced out of there. You still regret not punching. 

The grand room will be drinking chai like it’s going extinct, especially when they serve firnee and the ice cream with those classy chopped pistachios. 

Go upstairs to your room and watch TV. Maybe you’ll miss the ataan, but you could tell the ariss that you were in it for a hot second and tried to get her attention. 

Head up to the bridal suite. If one of your boys sneaks a champagne bottle, make sure to tell the ariss it’s from all of you. The piraan tumba girls will drop their head and wristbands in a pile by the dresser. Their fake jewelry will go in one of the drawers. They don’t wanna cut anybody. 

The girls’ll grab the stereo remotes like it’s their room and play some Hindi shit. You’ll kill for hip-hop, so sneak a Jay CD from the M3. 

The girl your boys set you up with will be there. She’ll try to impress you, so she’ll have a beer in her hand—massaging it warm cause she doesn’t want it. 

You’d think they’d wanna be together, but he’ll leave the hotel and go out with his boys, cause he promised them. For some reason, she’ll be okay with it. 

The Patrón and champagne will be flowing hard. Don’t drink the liquor, lightweight. 

The cheap shit will be shooting all over the room. Everyone will look forward to the Cristal, so spray it all at the ariss after everyone gets a taste. It’ll be fun. She won’t be using that dress again, anyway. 

When everyone’s loud and surrounding each other in the living room, the ariss’ll ask if you’re eyeing a girl. If you say “all of them are nice,” she’ll try to hook you up. If you say no one, she’ll try to hook you up. Key: change that subject. Talk about how soaked and golden she is, and laugh about it, even though you’re serious. 

It won’t take her long to get beat, so carry her, in your arms, not over the shoulder, to the separate bedroom and brag about how much of an awesome Muslim you are. She’ll laugh again. Put her softly on the bed and tell her you’ll be back. She’ll fade. 

The boys will have paired up with girls. Go back to the living room and talk to the girl from earlier. Watch TV with her, but only what you want. She won’t tell you she likes reality and gossip shows, but you can guess it cause she’ll flinch or pop a little when you scroll the menu. Pull together any knowledge about celebrities, and she’ll brighten and hug your arm and won’t stop talking. She’ll be glad she met you. 

Take the fullest bottle of whatever’s left and go back to your room across the hall. The girl’ll wanna follow, so she’ll watch you. She’ll be in the suite doorway with no clue what to do. Smile and wave her over. She’ll rabbit down to your room quick. 

Turn the TV on and ignore her. She’ll wanna kiss but won’t know how to start it off. When you do, be in control. That heavy ass dress’ll hit the floor like glass. This’s when you look at her. She’ll cover her tits and pussy until she gets in close enough to hold. She’ll be scared to unbutton your collar. Kiss her slow, real slow, and under the covers so everything gets warm and comfortable and she passes out. The old you knocked home runs out of virgins, now you strike out on purpose, making sure the catcher doesn’t let the balls hit the ground, get dirtied up. It’s an honorable feeling better than scoring. 

Put the blanket over her and flip on the news—that’ll keep anyone asleep. Go back to the suite. 

The damaad’ll still be out. When you get back to the bedroom doors, put your ear to the door. The ariss might be on the phone with the damaad, hopefully yelling, or there could be nothing. No matter what, go inside. Some of your boys will still be there, and they’ll be making out with the girls, so turn on some blinders and off some lights. Pretend to pass where the ariss’s sleeping—somewhere close, but not too close to the bedroom doors. You’ll keep watch, even though there’s nothing to keep watch for. 

The damaad’ll come in when it’s barely morning and kick you and tell you you’re a crazy dude. He’ll be too baked to care about the others in the room, but he’ll ask you if you got with one of the girls. Say yeah. He’ll thank you for coming to the wedding, and you’ll see the blue flower bouquet in his hand. “We should chill for real, kid,” he’ll say. If you hang around waiting for the ariss’s reaction to his lateness, you won’t get shit. The damaad’ll hum a tune while he takes off his suit. He’ll smirk at you and throw up a peace sign after he gives you a pillow. The door will close. If you fight the guy, you’ll lose, cause you can’t take a punch. Plus, if he calls his boys to fight your boys later, it won’t be good for anybody. You don’t wanna risk what you have with the ariss either.

If you fall asleep, don’t worry about it. If you didn’t, pretend like you were and wait till you hear your boys wake up and head down to the free breakfast in the lobby. The Afghan in them will hold off eating until you get there. Wash the crusty browned henna off your palm. 

Eat the pancakes. Make a waffle if you want. Don’t trust the eggs. Your boys’ll ask how that girl in your room was, cause she looked “makbul as hell last night.” You’ll be talking about the ariss and say that “she was only alright” and “she went down hard” and “if you were a girl, you’d never go out like that.” They’ll dap each other up. They’ll push and ask you the details of what you did with the girl. They’ll think you’re bullshitting when you spit the truth, and say, “Not a goddamn thing.”

Belal Rafiq grew up in the Washington, DC metro area. He was a fiction fellow at Columbia University, where he received his MFA and was an Emerging Writer’s Fellow at the Center for Fiction. He currently lives in Brooklyn and is at work on a novel and collection of stories.