I hate to admit it, but my mum’s at it again. When I entered home last evening after a long, tiring day at work, she was putting down the phone, saying, “I’ll talk to my son and we’ll let you know by tomorrow morning.” She turned to me with a self-satisfied smile and said, “We’re going to meet some people over tea tomorrow.”
As if I don’t know what that means. That’s always code for Another Trolley Scene.
I vividly remember how the last such meeting went. As the tea trolley rattled into the drawing room and an aroma of hastily micro-waved chicken patties and still smoking K&N kebabs enveloped all and sundry, I had only one thought on my mind: Get me the **** out of here.
But what exactly is it that I find so abhorrent about such meetings? No doubt, the other party always takes great pains to ensure that the visitors are left with a good impression. The lawns are always neatly manicured, the cushions on the sofas carefully fluffed, and the drinks meticulously chilled. Heck, one girl’s father even pointed out most helpfully that while my current job sucked, he could help me in securing a high paying position with a better employer. Another hinted that there was a gym located not too far from where I live where I could enlist with his reference and burn off some excess calories. However, in spite of these most supportive offers, in no particular order, I attempt to list the reasons why the Trolley Scene truly freaks me out.
Getting there: Before a bunch of bloodthirsty feminists trace my address and show up outside my house with scalping knives, allow me to state that I am all for women’s rights and their inherent sense of direction. I suppose, then, it is my mother and her cronies that have some twisted navigational skills, to put it mildly. While in no way restricted to the Trolley Crawl, I do admit that these are the trips on which my car’s driving seat will be invariably occupied by my mum. On one of these trips, when we got to the vague vicinity, I asked her what street we were supposed to turn into.
Her reply was most insightful: “I don’t know the street number, but she said it’s the fourth turn after the main road. Have we crossed the main road?”
Brake. U-turn. Back to main road. Count ‘til the fourth street.
“Okay. We’re outside the fourth street now. Did she tell you what way we have to turn; left or right?”
“Well, she didn’t do that, but it shouldn’t be that hard. She said it’s the house with two palm trees outside it.”
The awkwardness: “Did you say you went to Beaconhouse right ’til your ‘A’ Levels? Batch of 2006, you say? Then you must have known my son! He finished school in 2006! He was the batch topper!”
Yes, Uncle. I was better off knowing your son as the guy who wet his pants in kindergarten, and the one I borrowed notes from for exam prep. Since I won’t marry your daughter, now I won’t be able to attend a high school reunion ever again, without having to purposely avoid running into him. Thank you for ensuring that.
The interrogation: Who wouldn’t enjoy a barrage of truly probing questions directed at oneself at the speed of light? On the last such visit, after the usual exchange of niceties and the serving of refreshments, I was flippantly asked by the girl’s father about the status of my job: was it contractual or permanent? After grudgingly handling the question by telling him that it was contractual, because I only joined three months ago, it just got ridiculous:
Uncle: “So how much do you earn?”
Me: “Uncle, I think this question is rather inappropriate at this stage.”
Uncle: “But I don’t think there’s any harm in telling this…”
Me (more firmly): “No, I’m sorry, this is a bit too early.”
Very long, uncomfortable pause.
I swear, I was wishing that damn trolley would sprout a motor which I could jumpstart and drive out into oblivion. Thankfully, the family pet walked into the room at the moment to divert everyone’s attention.
Big Brother’s watching you: Any man who survives the awkwardness and the interrogation will be subjected to the watchful gaze of Big Brother. So it has been written. So it will be done.
This stage involves the ‘kids’ being given a chance to “talk to each other.” That’s real sweet. Only, they have to do it while everyone stares at them. And strangely enough, everyone else stops talking once the kids start talking.
I remember one such visit where the matchmaker lady very cooperatively suggested, “How about the kids sit closer together. Beta, why don’t you move to the other chair?”
Girl’s mum, who until then had been a perfectly amiable character, suddenly morphed into the school matron without warning.
“I think everyone’s fine where they are. No need to move around, is there?”
And she actually placed a restraining hand on her daughter’s hand, as if to stop the girl from leaving her seat. That was the last that we saw of those people.
I could go on and on. But suffice it to say that the Trolley Scene can be summed up as a bad episode of reality TV where everyone is outdoing each other to pretend to be someone they’re not. In the process, they end up acting like utter fools. The fake laughter. The anecdotes about childhood. The lies about helping around the house. I do wish all the men would wake up and smell the coffee. Do they not realise that as soon as they leave, the bone china will be put away and the mugs will come out again?
As for myself, I have come to despise the tea trolley like no other four-wheeler. Those trembling wheels, struggling with the rugs and gliding over wooden floors, carrying layers upon layers of clinking glasses, sweetmeats and savoury treats make me want to run out screaming.
Oh well. Let’s bring out the starched shirt for tomorrow.
(Warning: Trolley Trolls are a viral feature observed most often in drawing rooms in Pakistan, trailing their mums in the guise of prospective suitors. Trolley Trolls will claim that they are victims themselves, but statistical evidence suggests otherwise.)
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, August 5th, 2012.