Three days ago a car pulled up at my father’s restaurant, packed with people, all dressed up. Now, I admit that Chez Daddy is a nice place, but it’s hardly fine dining. Three of the people got out, one of whom was a neighbor from the house we just left two weeks ago. She was with her husband and father, and the rest of the people packed in the car were the miscellaneous ladies of the house. They sat down at a table in the restaurant and instead of ordering, they asked if my father was available. He was, and he went out to greet them. According to my goofy and irreverent father, the conversation went something like this.
Lady:…(with a big brassy smile) Well Saab I was wondering if you could help us with something…
Dad: Well let me know what it is and I’ll try to help you if I can.
Lady:…(proudly) We have a brother in Atlanta, and he’s looking for a good girl, we were wondering if you knew any?
Dad: (looking around the restaurant) No, none that I know of.
Lady: (appearing confused but still smiling) Would perhaps your wife know of any? A Pakistani family back in America?
Dad: (Dramatically) Oh no, my wife hates Pakistanis. Can’t stand them. Doesn’t know any of them.
[Here Aniraz and I interrupt my father in the telling of this tale and say ‘Dad, what are you talking about, your wife is married to a Pakistani! We live in Pakistan!’ Dad says, ‘Shhh, let me finish telling the story!’]
Lady: (even more confused, she reaches into a briefcase she carried into the restaurant) I brought my brother’s CV (resume) maybe you’d like to look at it?
Dad: No need, thank you. What does your brother do?
Lady: Oh he’s an electrical engineer, did his Master’s from here and then went to work in the US. Here’s his CV…
Dad: No thank you, and does he have a visa or a green card?
Lady: (nervously) Well, uh, neither. But he has a Master’s degree and…
Dad: Your brother is an illegal alien in the US?
Lady: Well your daughters-
Dad: What about my daughters?
Lady: They’re not married.
Dad: They don’t like living in the US.
Lady: (meekly) But maybe a paper marriage-
Here Aniraz and I go into shock. Of all the ridiculous citizenship-seeking proposals we’ve gotten, this was by far the most shameless. My father, however, seems amused. We ask, “Then what happened dad?”
Dad says: “I told her to look somewhere else. They looked very disappointed. I think they actually expected me to say yes on the spot. They had brought the whole family along, dressed up for the happy occasion. First they drove to the old house, but they found it empty. So they came to the restaurant instead.”
We collectively shudder at the thought of having to entertain seven happy, smiling, dressed up visa-seeking people in our living room, and suddenly I understand why the people at the immigration offices are always so cranky. We’ve been lucky that our father has fielded and screened out all the invalid offers we’ve gotten from various families so far (our daddy is awesome that way) and we just get the humorous version of the story later.
(Dad: And I said ‘of course after the marriage you’d like to settle in America?’ And he gave this stupid smile like he was caught and I told him to leave before I broke both of his legs. What a strange man…)
A friend of ours from a very wealthy family has the same problem, but not because of her citizenship, because of her family’s status. People will ask for her hand in marriage without even knowing so much as her name, just because they want in to the family business. We swap horror stories about it, hers about a man ten inches shorter than her asking for her hand without even knowing her height (she calls him ‘Tingu’), and ours about people asking that we be betrothed to their sons as children.
It has nothing to do with who we are or what we believe, about what we look like or even what we’re looking for- it’s just about people wanted to get to America so badly that they’re willing to risk a lifetime of misery on it. Think about it, say you marry a girl you don’t know just because she has American citizenship, how do you know she’s not man’s worst nightmare? How do you know she’s even sane? How do you know she’s even got all her limbs? You don’t, because you’ve asked without even seeing her, you just heard that someone had an unmarried American citizen somewhere and you thought that marriage might be quicker than waiting ten years in the queue for an American visa.
I’m not even going to bother complaining about how everyone and their momma are tripping all over themselves in a rush to get out of Pakistan, because I know people leave for different reasons, and not all of them are morally reprehensible. Some are even quite noble, but regardless of why people want to get to America, the fact remains that a marriage license is not a plane ticket. Or, in Tingu’s case, a meal ticket.
But back to Chez Daddy. What, according to our father, was the lesson to be learned from all this?
We moved just in time.