Dadi Jaan’s Chai Shop

Originally submitted to NYC Midnight’s 2021 Short Story contest. (Genre: Romantic Comedy, Character: a grandmother; Subject: an apology.)

Determined to receive credit for her matchmaking skills, an underappreciated and widowed Dadi Jaan takes matters into her own hands at her daughter’s wedding.

Dadi Jaan was owed an apology. She knew she was owed an apology, and she expected an apology from the bride and the groom. Without her, she knew, they would have never found each other, and now they were spreading a lie that they had met at a local American—Amerekeen as Dadi Jaan said it—-coffee shop. There was no local coffee shop, except for the Dadi Jaan Coffee Shop, and because she never drank coffee in her life, it was more like a chai shop. It was the Dadi Jaan Chai Shop.

“I’m not going to the wedding until they apologize.”

“Ma, it’s just not cool anymore to tell people you got an arranged marriage.” Sara was Dadi Jaan’s youngest daughter. Whether Sara ever knew that was unplanned, Dadi Jaan trusted Sara the most because she would tell truths to her without the airy snobbishness of her other children. But Sara was still unmarried, despite Dadi Jaan’s repeated pleas and suggestions to marry one of the Khalid boys. “Danyal is still available,” Dadi Jaan started. “And Faiza has to apologize and tell the whole community that I matched them.”

“Ma, you have to be there. You know, and I know that Faiza is grateful for you finding Khurram, but there’s no way they’re going to tell their friends that they met through you.”

“It was the Dadi Jaan Chai Shop, not just any coffee shop. This is not right to disrespect me like this, I have a talent, and that is matchmaking, and I am not going to this wedding until they apologize to me.”

“Ma, please.”

“No.”

“Ma.”

“I am better than these apps shapps online. I am better than a coffee shop. I handpicked Khurram because I know his mother and he comes from a good Lahori family. And Khurram is a doctor-just what Faiza needs.”

Dadi Jaan was fond of rhyming words she could not understand. The word “app” was first introduced to her by Sara, who explained that young people of her generation did not meet in person as much as they did through their phones. The phone, Sara said, had an “app” that would present photos. You could swipe left or right depending on if you were interested. “This doesn’t have all the biodata. How do you know if this man is a doctor or if this woman is lying about her age?”

“I know you’re better, Ma, but you have to come to the wedding. What would the community say if you don’t?” Sara was smart because she knew how to weaponize Dadi Jaan’s words. Log kya kehenge? The thought of the community judging her for skipping her own daughter’s wedding weighed heavily on Dadi Jaan’s mind for the rest of the day. Guests were arriving, some staying at the big home and some others getting fancy hotels downtown. Sara was answering phones and emails nonstop for weeks, with Faiza nowhere to be found. And without Faiza, Dadi Jaan would not receive an apology.

Dadi Jaan walked through her house, counting her children in the different rooms as they unpacked wedding decorations or chatted with each other about the events of the week. Salman, Imran, Maryam, Humaira, Gol Gappa (Moees), and Baby (Sara). But there was no Faiza. Her children were mostly married, with little grandchildren running about in between Dadi Jaan’s flowing, light turquoise shalwar as she managed her heavy steps towards her bedroom. The nikkah was tonight, and there would be a huge gathering at the house, she knew, and then Faiza and Khurram would have to come and apologize to her. Even better, Dadi Jaan thought they should announce to the entire crowd before the ceremony that it was she, Dadi Jaan, who had made all of their dreams come true. They met at her Chai Shop, not one of those Amereekan coffee shops with bad tea and fake cardamom syrups.

Her bedroom was empty. Her husband Arif had died several years before when Sara was still very young, and the eldest Salman had just married, but it was too early for him to have children. She kept her husband’s clothes laid out on his side of the bed, with his walking cane resting so nicely against the wall. Unlike her children, he had needed her and often told her how good she was to him all of the thirty-six years they had spent together. He died of old age, or the fancy terms the doctors used to explain that his blood pressure had been too high because of eating too much salt. He was 89 years old. Had she cooked her food for him with too much salt? The thought was unsettling to her. Dadi Jaan pulled out a chain from her neck, revealing a small amulet. It was Arif’s favorite keepsake. He had kept it since a child, later finding a jeweler to set the green stone in gold. “I found that rock when I was running along the bank after the cowherd,” Arif used to tell everyone. Dadi Jaan knew this was not true because he had grown up in a city where they did not herd cows, and there were no riverbanks. She let him tell his story and eventually accepted that the stone had to be from somewhere outside of his city.

When Arif died, she swore to herself two things: that she would never again cook with salt and that she would never take off his amulet for as long as she lived.

A shout from Salman followed a knock at her door.

“Ma, you’re coming.” The door shook, but the lock prevented him from entering. She tucked the amulet back under her kameez and threw her scarf across her shoulders.

“No.”

“Ma, open the door.” At the risk of upsetting her eldest, Dadi Jaan unlocked the door. Salman appeared, his eyes widening at the sight of his father’s clothes. “Ma, what are you doing here? What are dad’s clothes doing on the bed?” Dadi Jaan felt her cheeks flush from embarrassment and anger because his reaction was an invasion of her privacy. So what if she had his clothes out? Couldn’t she admire them and how good Arif looked when he was alive? At least he appreciated her more than her nosy kids, who also felt embarrassed by her matchmaking talent.

“Ma, you are coming to the wedding, please don’t cause a scene. Everybody knows you found Khurram for Faiza, but some may not know. What does it matter? I know, Sara knows, let’s call it the coffee shop and have fun.” Salman was pacing around the room, waving his arms about like a businessman who kept a straight gaze and thought very seriously while he walked.

Dadi Jaan shook her head. “No, it is not a coffee shop. It is Dadi Jaan’s Chai Shop, I matched them, and they are lying to the community. I am not going unless they apologize and tell everyone the truth before God.”

Salman sighed, the sigh collapsing into a groan as he grabbed at the hair near his temples. Dadi Jaan remembered when he was young, and he would follow Arif around the house and mimic his father’s tired state after returning from a long day of work. “Ma, maybe it would be better if we found you, someone. I’m worried about all of this.” Salman waved his hand over Arif’s clothing and made his way to the door. “The guests are coming soon for the nikkah. Please don’t cause a scene.” The door closed behind as a gust of the house chaos swept through into the bedroom.

***

Dadi Jaan stayed in her room until night fell, and the rumble of the house loudened as wedding guests poured in for the opening ceremony. A series of pleas from Sara followed a faint knock at the door. “Ma, please, we need help setting up. The Imam is due any minute. Please, let me in.” At the risk of upsetting her youngest child, Dadi Jaan unlocked the door.

Sara fell in, her weight surprising her as the door flung open. “Ma you’re not even dressed!” Dadi Jaan turned, shaking her head and tidying up the bed.

“They never apologized; no, I’m not coming.”

“Ma, did you take dad’s clothes out again? This is a bad omen. You have to put all of this away before someone comes in here. Here, change and meet me downstairs in the kitchen.” Sara hurriedly placed a stack of ironed wedding clothes on the bed next to her father’s clothes. She pulled the door behind her, hushing out the festivities once again. Dadi Jaan remembered that Arif was very fond of socializing and took pride in donning his finest suits for a celebration. She pulled out the amulet again, holding it in her hand. Arif would have been very disappointed if she did not attend Faiza’s wedding. She could not be absent, but that did not mean she would have to participate. People needed to know, no. They deserved—she deserved—to know how the lucky bride and her groom had met. And it was no Amereekan coffee shop. This was her shop, the Dadi Jaan Chai Shop. Dadi Jaan took the pile of clothes and promptly headed to the bathroom to change.

Salman, Faiza, and Sara were of no help to her. She decided that she would take the matchmaking matter into her own hands.

***

Dadi Jaan struggled down the stairs as the crowd hum grew louder. The hallways and rooms were filled with chatter and people from everywhere. “Ma, thank God, come here!” Sara shouted from the top of their heads, motioning her mother towards the kitchen. The crowd was loud, and it was tight. Dadi Jaan managed her way with several repeats of “Excuse me’s,” “Welcome’s,” and “You look so young’s,” to the standing guests. The kitchen was full, but Sara had managed to keep many more out while preparing the food.

“They’re in the parlor, the Imam just arrived, we should start soon because this food will get cold. Are you alright, Ma?” Sara floated from the island to the oven, to the fridge effortlessly as Dadi Jaan nodded carelessly and headed out. Squeezing herself through the crowd, she made her next stop: the parlor. Dadi Jaan could see a familiar head of hair from the hallway—her Faiza’s hair—tucked back and draped with beautiful red silk. She was almost unrecognizable with makeup. Khurram looked sheepishly on, his eyes falling on Dadi Jaan before hurrying back to his soon-to-be-wife. Khurram nudged Faiza, turning her attention to her mother. “Ma!” Faiza lept from the couch towards Dadi Jaan. They hugged reluctantly, Dadi Jaan uncomfortable with the sudden burst of excitement. Khurram’s mother smiled, straightening her son’s embroidered wedding vest.

“There was no coffee shop.” Dadi Jaan’s words stopped the small room, which to the bride and groom’s relief was not yet occupied by anyone too important. Faiza frowned. “Ma, come on, not right now.” Dadi Jaan frowned.

“Say sorry.”

“Ma, we’re so happy that you introduced us two, but you have to understand we have our bosses from American firms coming tonight. They don’t understand these things,” Khurram interrupted. His mother pulled him back, motioning him to stay quiet.

“Then tell them it was the Dadi Jaan Chai Shop, what is not to understand? It’s the truth. Even your father would agree this is no way to treat your mother.” Faiza groaned and buried her face in her henna-laced hands.

“Ma, please.”

The Imam appeared, his entrance silencing the room and calling in more guests. Dadi Jaan stormed out of the parlor, back towards the kitchen. The crowds politely pushed their way past her towards the bride and groom. “I just need some chai,” Dadi Jaan lied as guests tried to pull her towards the parlor where the ceremony was starting. “Just some chai.” Dadi Jaan watched as Sara’s figure reappeared in the doorway, hurrying from one end to the other, finalizing the food trays and sending each tray off with a servant into the adjacent dining room. She hardly noticed an older man standing next to a large pot of tea, pouring himself a cup as Sara rushed out. Dadi Jaan also reached for a cup, pulling it into her puffy old hands.

The man was perhaps her age or maybe even a little older than that. His mustache reminded her of Arif’s mustache. Oddly, she had not seen this man before, nor could she remember any of her girlfriends having husbands who looked remotely like him.

“Who are you?” Dadi Jaan blurted out.

“I’m visiting my son and his wife. They invited me to come out to the wedding. I don’t know the couple here, but I heard they met at a coffee shop! Kids these days, isn’t it remarkable?” He hadn’t mentioned his name.

“They did not meet at a coffee shop. They met at the Dadi Jaan Chai Shop.” His smile aside, she could swear that his eye twinkled at her. The spoon clinked against the cup as he stirred in a dash of sugar.

“Is that right?”

“I’m a good matchmaker if I say so myself because no one else will say it.”

“Then perhaps you could help me next. It’s been a few years since my wife died, and I’ve been looking for some company even though nothing really could match her company.” He stared down at the floor as if he was looking for something. Dadi Jaan’s face flushed, this time warm with embarrassment and a feeling she had not felt for many, many years.

“It’s been a few years since my husband died too.” Dadi Jaan had not thought about whether she would ever want another’s company until this man had mentioned it.

He turned back to her again, offering his tea and coaxing the empty cup out of her hands.

“I’m Ejaz. Here, take this, I’ll make myself another cup.” Dadi Jaan pulled the tea to her lips, sipping as she felt her heart racing. Ejaz turned, motioning towards the ceremony.

“Shall we?”

Ejaz engaged her in small talk as they walked to the parlor. “Your name isn’t really Dadi Jaan, is it? That’s what the little kids call you, don’t they? My gosh, you’re like an old classic film. You look like Lata with those sparkling eyes of yours.” He chatted some more, leaving Dadi Jaan nearly bursting from his compliments and forgetting entirely about the apology owed to her.

“I feel like I was just working at the Dadi Jaan Chai Shop in there.” She felt a slight nudge in her side. The crowd cheered as the couple exchanged vows.

A compliment crossed Dadi Jaan’s mind. “I never thought to employ anyone.” She smiled, and Ejaz smiled back. When he wasn’t looking, she pulled at the amulet under her kameez and remembered how Arif loved his social events.

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