She hadn't been testing him: she had really wanted to know, only because her own experience had been so different. She had been contacted by several men before George, and each time she'd wondered if this was the person she would marry. Once she and George had started e-mailing each other exclusively, she had wondered the same thing about him, and she'd continued wondering even after he booked the flight to Dhaka in order to meet her. She had wondered that first night when he ate with her parents at the wobbly table covered by the plasticized map of the world - which her father discreetly steadied by placing his elbow somewhere in the neighborhood of Sudan - and during the agonizing hours they had spent in the homes of their Dhaka friends and relatives, talking to each other in English while everyone sat around them and watched. It wasn't until she was actually on the plane to Washington, D.C., wearing the University of Rochester sweatshirt he'd given her, that she had finally become convinced it was going to happen.
It was the first week of September, but the leaves were already starting to turn yellow. George said that the fall was coming early, making up for the fact that last spring had been unusually warm: a gift to Amina from the year 2005 - her first in America. By the time she arrived in March most of the snow was gone, and so she had not yet experienced a real Rochester winter.
In those first weeks she had been pleased to notice that her husband had a large collection of books: biographies (Abraham Lincoln, Anne Frank, Cary Grant, Mary Queen of Scots, John Lennon, and Napoléon) as well as classic novels by Charles Dickens, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, and Jane Austen. George told Amina that he was a reader but that he couldn't understand people who waded through all of the garbage they published these days, when it was possible to spend your whole life reading books the greatness of which had already been established.
George did have some books from his childhood, when he'd been interested in fantasy novels, especially retellings of the Arthurian legend and anything to do with dragons. There was also a book his mother had given him, 1001 Facts for Kids, which he claimed had "basically got him through the stupidity of elementary school." In high school he had put away the 1001 Facts in favor of a game called Dungeons & Dragons, but there were now websites that served the same purpose, and George retained a storehouse of interesting tidbits that he periodically related to Amina.
"Did you know that there is an actual society made up of people who believe the earth is flat?"
"Did you know that one out of twenty people has an extra rib?"
"Did you know that most lipstick contains fish scales?"
For several weeks Amina had answered "No" to each of these questions, until she gradually understood that this was another colloquialism - perhaps more typical of her new husband than of the English language - simply a way of introducing a new subject that did not demand an actual response.
"Did you know that seventy percent of men and sixty percent of women admit to having been unfaithful to their spouse, but that eighty percent of men say they would marry the same woman if they had the chance to live their lives over again?"
"What do the women say?" Amina had asked, but George's website hadn't cited that statistic.
George had said that they could use the money he'd been "saving for a rainy day" for her to begin studying at Monroe Community College next year, and as soon as her green card arrived, Amina planned to start looking for a job. She wanted to contribute to the cost of her education, even if it was just a small amount. George supported the idea of her continuing her studies, but only once she had a specific goal in mind. It wasn't the degree that counted but what you did with it; he believed that too many Americans wasted time and money on college simply for the sake of a fancy piece of paper. And so Amina told him that she'd always dreamed of becoming a real teacher. This was not untrue, in the sense that she had hoped her tutoring jobs at home might one day lead to a more sustained and distinguished kind of work. What she didn't mention to George was how important the U.S. college degree would be to everyone she knew at home - a tangible symbol of what she had accomplished halfway across the world.
Excerpted from The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger. Copyright © 2012 by Nell Freudenberger. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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