A woman in a headscarf and wearing a flower wreath on her head, sits happily next to a man in glasses and a brimmed hat, on a rowboat on a river.

It was on our second phone call that Ovi asked what I thought about us getting married. It was in the early hours of the morning and we had been talking for so long that it was now almost time for Fajr, the first prayer of the day. I sat up in bed. We had been properly getting to know each other for about a month at this point. Without missing a beat, I said that getting married sounded like a wonderful idea.

Ovi was one of those people I’d “seen around”. We mixed in similar circles, except there wasn’t a great deal of mixing going on – we were attending the same Islamic classes and events in Sydney. I snuck the occasional glance at him across the room and we spoke once or twice at the refreshments table. Through these minuscule interactions I formed an initial impression of a kind and interesting person, if a little nerdy.

My Googling turned up that he was a PhD student in an obscure engineering discipline and was interested in space travel, but that was the extent of my knowledge, and given the minimal opportunities for conversation, it seemed that was where it would end. But there was always a little help from my friends. Through them, I learned he was single and interested in getting to know me too.

Our first date, if you can call it that, was with one of those mutual friends present. We drank tea, he asked me what I was looking for in a spouse. I tried not to look as startled as I felt. As observant Muslims, it was understood that marriage was always the endgame, but my previous relationships had been slightly hazier on the details of when and how to get there.

‘We drank tea, he asked me what I was looking for in a spouse’: Zeynab Gamieldien and Ovi in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2023

I walked away from that cafe meeting with his email address and a feeling of general ambivalence. His teenage relic of a Hotmail address didn’t fill me with confidence either.

Within hours he emailed saying he was honoured I had considered him, but that he would be busy for some time and wasn’t sure when we would be able to meet again. I wondered if that was his polite way of brushing me off. I didn’t yet appreciate that what Ovi said was invariably what he meant.

Over the next few weeks, we began a chain of correspondence that grew more detailed and frequent, to the point where we were sending several essays per day. We exchanged histories and family photos and memes. He was funny and thoughtful and remembered details of my life, but I was unsure of his intentions: did he just want a pen pal? Would our correspondence fizzle out once we had memorised each other’s favourite ice-cream flavours and movies? He had asked me for my phone number and I had shared it, but we hadn’t spoken on the phone or arranged another meeting.

In between our flurry of correspondence, we happened to be at the same event. At the end of the evening I left without saying goodbye, but as I was changing into my pyjamas my phone rang. Ovi was driving home and wanted to say hello. Somehow the conversation extended well beyond a hello, into the early hours of the morning.

The following night we talked again. Our conversation was relaxed and meandering, a continuation of all the threads we had covered off in our emails and much more. I felt somehow that I knew this person, the essence and bones of him if not all the factual details. That was why I wasn’t terrified when he asked me what I thought of getting married, and why just one month later we were in fact married.

Eight years on, six addresses and two cross-continental moves, a thesis (him) and a novel (me) later, I still can’t explain how quickly it all fell into place, except to cite a touch of divine intervention. It could have turned out horribly, marrying a man I had known for just a few months. But instead it was by far the best 4am decision I’ve ever made.

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