May 22, 1996
I didn’t even need the alarm clock that day. I was awake by six in the morning, admittedly pumped up about today’s “date”. Was it a date? I made two huge breakfast sandwiches for both me and Jenna and the energy running through me made me restless. When I finished making the behemoths, I gorged half of it into my mouth and checked my phone for any messages on my phone. Hey, there’s one! I went to IM and looked for the message. When I found it in my heap of useless messages, I saw a number I didn’t know. It was Mahala. Urgh. I need to save her number! It read, “Hope to see you at Haandi! I’m going to be coming early.” I was kind of surprised because I wasn’t sure if I’d pick her up or something. I texted back, “Ok. Hope to see you, too!” I put my phone back in my pocket and paced, breathing deep.
I was way too excited, so I took off outside to run. When I ran down the stairs to get out the door, I turned on my favorite song, ‘California Love’ by Tupac. I got out the door and ran around the block, sometimes even sprinting. I ran until I had no more energy to spare and then I went back home, looking at the time. 7:30 Wow, only thirty minutes had passed. I walked into the apartment and I heard a groan of sadness. Jenna was awake. “Hey, Jenna. How was the nap?” I asked before flopping on the couch and turned on the TV.
“Good until the alarm rang,” she groaned. I chuckled and started zoning in a little bit on Friends. “Breakfast on the kitchen table,” I said.
“Thanks! Love ya! Oh wait! Your date’s today! I have to tell you what to do!” she exclaimed as she grabbed her sandwich. She started towards the sofa and started talking and I sighed, questioning why this person was my sister. “Ok. Number one. You’re going out for food, right?” I nodded. “Well then, you’re paying. If you don’t, she’s not going to get a good vibe ’cause she’ll think that money is more important than love to you –”
“It isn’t a date! Well, I think.”
” Yeah, no. It’s a date. Anyways, number two. Don’t wear formal attire. Wear a casual outfit, but not too casual, like a polo. Polos always look good. Especially on us white people. Number three. Don’t show that you’re nervous. You’ll accidentally say something stupid. Number four. Respect her, okay? If you don’t respect her, she’s gonna leave you like all your hopes and dreams. Non-existent.” Ouch. “Okay, that’s all you really need for the first date.” I was absorbing all of these and all of these seemed pretty easy except for number three: Don’t show that you are nervous. How am I going to do that? I thought it through and in the end, all I could do was hope for the best.
At 8:30, when Jenna left, I went back to bed and fell asleep again. At 10:30, I startled awake shouting, “I’m gonna be late!” I looked at the clock, heart beating faster than I could handle, and slowly started calming down. I got up, took a deep breath, and looked into my closet and got a light blue polo shirt. I got black jeans on and went to the kitchen to get a drink of water. I walked over to the TV and watched an episode of Full House along with the frequent, irritating ads. At 11, I walked out the door, heart pounding.
When I walked out of the apartment complex door, I was shocked to see a taxi waiting by my door. The driver was leaning on his car drinking from a water bottle, waiting for the next customer that needed driving. I told him the address to Haabil and we were off.
When I got there, I was greeted by an empty road. Well, that’s practically impossible in Manhattan, you’d say! EXACTLY! When I walked in, a fresh, spicy smell greeted me and I was instantly lured in, even though I was super nervous. A woman in what looked like a salwar kameez (Thankfully I knew what those were since there were many South Asian tailors nearby.) walked up to me and asked, “Are you Tristan?”
“Oh, yes!” I said, surprised at her knowing my name. Then, I remembered that Mahala said she’d come early. How long did I leave her waiting? Is she gonna hate me? STOP PANICKING TRISTAN. The lady gestured me to follow her and I obeyed. She escorted me to a table and then left. I sat down and in front of me, Mahala was waiting, looking as beautiful as ever. Besides her normal American outfit of a white blouse and jeans, she was wearing a beautiful, ornate set of bangles on both hands. There were so many! Most people I saw that wore bangles wore only two to three on each hand, but she was wearing about ten on each! I said, “Hi! How are you!”
“Great! How about you?” Mahala responded, her voice reminding me of sunshine.
“Oh, I’m fine! I hope I didn’t leave you waiting for too long.”
“No! I only came about five minutes ago. I was thinking about what I would order, but that’s about it,” she said, surprised at my response to her question. The waiter came to the table and gave me a menu and Mahala started to regard the options on the menu. I was confused as to what I would get. I didn’t know what kofta was, what haleem or channa was. I asked Mahala, curious, “What would you recommend on the menu? I don’t know too much about Pakistani cuisine.”
“Oh, right! I forgot!” she said, somewhat sheepishly and she looked at the menu for a moment, “Um, for the appetizer, I’d get samosas or some kofta. Whichever one you want.”
“I think I know what samosas are, but what are koftas?” Mahala gave me a brief but clear intro to the South Asian meatballs. I asked the waiter for those when she came around and for a Coke. We started talking about life and how it was forming us. When food came, I was fondly surprised to see a piece of bread come with it. Not the cheap sandwich kind, but like a thick, egg-shaped bread flavored with herbs. I didn’t know how to eat it, so I gingerly took apart one of the four meatballs with a fork and put it in my mouth. An explosion of flavors took over, spice leading it, along with salt, sweetness, slight amounts of lemon, along with other things I didn’t know about. It was so different! I looked at Mahala and she was using her hands. I guessed that using your hands while eating was customary for them, so I tried it. I ripped off a piece of the naan, as it was called, and dipped it in the sauce the kofta was marinated in, as well as tearing off a hunk of meat along with it and I put that in my mouth. It was a bit too much to fit into my mouth, but the flavors were all still there, just with some new ones. The bread was made to be savory but this time, I didn’t know how to explain the palatable sensation. Once I finished, I noticed that I made a mess of my hands. I got the napkin that was put next to the plate and I wiped off the remaining sauces onto it. Next was the entree. I chose a lamb biryani and a spicy sauce. The waiter asked, “Are you sure you want the spicy sauce? It’s really spicy…”
“Yeah, I’ll take it.” Mahala stifled a giggle and I started getting confused.
We started talking about life again and we waited for the food. When we got the biryani, I was surprised at the amount of food they gave us. The platter was as big as my head and even bigger at the other ends. I wasn’t that hungry, but I didn’t want to waste any food, so I continued on to eat. I started with the meat and I put it in my mouth. It was tender and juicy and marinated with many other sauces and spices to make it taste better than ever. Again, it was like nothing ever before. When I got the sauce, I was relieved. The sauce was green and made out of yogurt, so it couldn’t have been too spicy, I poured half of it onto the biryani and I mixed it up. I shoveled a handful of rice into my mouth with my hand. I loved how simple it was and It refreshed my system and it made me happy. As for the sauce though, I started coughing and panting. It was so spicy! I grabbed my glass of Coke and I chugged it ’till there was nothing else. It was still spicy, so I got a piece of the naan and shoved it into my mouth and sucked on it. It made it kind of better, but it was still burning. Mahala was laughing so hard and I noticed how pretty she actually was. It captivated me, but I quickly looked back to my food so that I wouldn’t be caught staring. I ate more, but I made sure not to eat too much of the sauce so I wouldn’t look like an idiot. When I finished, my mouth was burning, but I could control it. I had to drink three glasses of water, but I survived. How did Mahala survive that? I praised her skill in my head and I was happy. The meat with the spice had made it less intense, but the sauce was still crazy. I wasn’t ready for dessert because I was as full as a pig, but I still got some either way.
I got rasmalai, after asking Mahala what it was, of course. It was this type of cake made out of sugar and flour and cream. Mahala described it as a rich cheesecake with sauce. When it got here, the smell invigorated me and I got super hungry again. I got a fork and I stabbed one of the four pieces of the sweet dish and let it soak up some of the soupy, white sauce. I put it in my mouth and I was brought to a whole new level of happiness. It wasn’t too sweet, but it was sweet enough to make me energized. It had a little amount of sourness inside it and the cake itself was succulent and creamy. I was so energized, I felt like I could run around the restaurant for about an hour. Mahala was eating her keema, as it was called, happily and I couldn’t help but stare. When the waiter came with the bill, I was ready. It was only 65 dollars and I was happy that I didn’t spend too much money. I got out my wallet and I put 80 dollars in the thing that they gave us. I never knew the name of it.
When we left, I asked if I should walk her home and, after a minute of talking about it, she agreed. We sauntered down the sidewalk, talking about the food, about college, about how life was. We ended up holding hands. When I got to her house, I was surprised at how pretty the apartment complex was. It was half glass, half metal and bricks and I was shocked at how she had the money to own it. Well, I should never assume. She said, “See you!” I walked back home and I jumped on my bed, happy. Jenna walked in and said, “So how was the date? Do you think that she likes you?”
“I mean, I followed your rules and I made her laugh, so yes?” I said, unsure, “All I can say, though, is that Pakistani food is so good! I ate a full thirty dollars worth of food for once! But I did make myself look like…” My voice trailed off.
“Like what?!” she asked, half shouting, half groan.
“Like an…… idiot. I wanted the spicy sauce and the waiter warned me it was spicy, but I still got it. When I got it, it was green and Mahala told me it was made out of yogurt, so I was less scared that it was spicy. Then I poured it on my food and I took handful of rice with the sauce and ate it… before I knew it I was crying!” I whispered the whole story to her and she laughed so hard, she was on the ground and I wondered if she was okay. For the rest of the day, I just watched Friends, ate food that wasn’t half as good as the food I had at Haabil, and thought about Mahala.