Jessa and Jamal’s wedding day dawned. It was a grey day in the city, but I didn’t think that it would rain. We walked along the Bridge side of the Opera House, watching the waters of the harbour. In the time to kill before the ceremony, we went to get a drink at a pop-up bar, that seemed ever so fancy. I sipped and stared out towards the grey. The fizz and pop of my Aperol spritz made me feel a little bit shaky, but I suppressed the sensation.
“They’re off in the cricket at the moment,” Greg noted. “It must be raining over there.”
He placed down his phone.
“They say it’s good luck if it rains on your wedding day.”
“Don’t they just say that to make you feel better about yourself?”
“What sort of dress do you think that she’s going to wear?”
“A white one,” Geoff replied.
I feigned a laugh. Natalie sat back in her seat.
“Good question,” she responded. “I don’t know, Belinda hasn’t told me.”
A smile came onto Natalie’s lips.
“I reckon that Jessa would go for something really classy, maybe even a little bit vintage,” she supposed. “Especially considering that it’s January, I would say sleeveless, but not strapless.”
Natalie removed her jacket from where it rested on the corner of the table.
“Alright, we should probably go.”
I finished my drink, as Geoff checked his watch.
“Sorry, I didn’t realise we were running late.”
“Oh, we’re still going to be there on time,” Natalie assured. “We just should make tracks.”
The four of us hopped down from the stools. Thanking the bar staff with a wave, we headed off towards the wedding, grey clouds brewing overhead. Geoff slipped one arm around my shoulders as we walked. I smiled with gratitude at his support. Already my feet were starting to ache. Heels are always ill-advised, but it’s very easy to be deceived. Our group arrived at the cathedral with about fifteen minutes to spare. We hurriedly rushed inside and greeted the ushers. They provided us with wedding programs. I scanned my eyes down the printing. We were, indeed, at the wedding of Jessa Laver and Jamal Nabhani. I flicked through the pages, where the wedding party and families of the couple were named. In the church, we found somewhere to sit in the pews on the bride’s side, with Uncle Sandy, Aunty Mithali and the kids.
“Hello, you look fantastic,” Natalie greeted, kissing her brother on the cheek as they hugged briefly.
“Thank you,” he replied. “Well, Mithali and the kids scrubs up alright.”
Indeed, Ike, Abe and Isabella were adorable in their wedding outfits. The two boys wore collared shirts, while Isabella wore a pale pink dress with a blue band under the bodice. As we waited for the wedding to commence, I continued to fan myself with my wedding program, wielding it like a shield against the early January humidity. When Jessa’s cousin, Judah, sat down behind us, we turned around to chat.
“You know Nina, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course, you’re Geoff’s girlfriend and Mitchell’s sister.”
I nodded my head, waiting for her face to fall, or for her smile not to falter, if she really had no idea.
“How are you today?”
“Yeah, I’m OK,” I answered, placing down my wedding program in my lap. “It’s lovely to be here, lovely to be here with Geoff.”
There was a handsome gentleman sitting next to Judah, whom I vaguely recognised. I suspected I ought to have already known his name, so I didn’t ask.
“Jamal, how are you?”
At the groom’s appearance, our small talk was halted.
“Good, thanks, really good.”
Once Jamal headed to the front of the church, we snapped a selfie of the four of us, wearing our wedding best. The pianist played, and we rose to our feet. Jessa had four bridesmaids, including Aggie and Lucia who were first into the church and down the aisle. They wore pale blue dresses. Each seemed to be of the same fabric, but with differing necklines. I thought I heard a soft, but collective gasp, as Jessa entered, arm in arm with Eric. She wore an ivory satin gown which came in at the waist, the bodice rising to a choker-style neckline. From Jessa’s blonde hair, a veil hung, cascading down her back all the way to the deep red carpet which ran along the aisle. The comb on the veil was adorned with three blue gemstones – perhaps Jessa’s ‘something blue’ for the big day. She kissed Eric on the cheek when they reached the front of the church. As he took his place with Belinda, Jessa pivoted to take Jamal’s hands in hers.
“We are gathered here today for the wedding of Jessa and Jamal. Please be seated.”
As one, we sat back down in the pews. I smile came onto my lips, even though I felt deepness within my chest. As I kept glancing to the side, I could tell that Geoff noticed, and he held me a little bit tighter. In the heat it was suffocating, but I leaned against him, which made me feel slightly less alone.
“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
Eric stood again.
“Her mother and I,” he confirmed.
Eric was seated.
“As family and friends of Jessa and Jamal, thank you for joining us here today, on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.”
A child cried at the back of the church – there’s always one at every wedding.
“If there is any reason why these two people should not be joined in marriage, speak now or forever be silent.”
The requisite awkward pause followed, broken by the minister’s chuckles.
“That’s always a strange one.”
The minister chuckled, as the rest of the guests pretended to be amused.
“Please stand if you are able for our first song.”
We rose to our feet and sung a hymn, guided by the words on the projector screens. When the song concluded, we sat back down, guided by the guests in the front rows.
“Our first reading will come from the book of Ruth, chapter one. Judah Robinson, cousin of the bride, will read verses sixteen and seventeen.”
She stood and let herself out from the pew behind us, making her way up to the lectern and pulling the microphone closer.
“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Judah returned to the pews and I praised her with a smile.
“Our second reading will be from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. I’m sure you all know this one, chapter thirteen.”
One of Jamal’s relatives rose to give the reading, an older gentleman with a beard. Once he’d read the passage, he made his way back to his seat, allowing the message to commence.
“Marriage is a solemn commitment. Some might say it’s the biggest day in a person’s life, perhaps only matched by the birth of a child. Our society would say that marriage is about love.”
I thought he might have been about to launch into a conservative tirade. Thankfully, he didn’t, instead explaining how love is an action, as well as a feeling. Finally, we approached the moment in the ceremony we’d all been waiting for.
“I now pronounce you to be husband and wife.”
Their eyes gleamed with joy.
“You may now kiss the bride.”
I wiped a tear away from the corner of my eye. They kissed, and we rose to our feet. As we applauded, I happened to glance over towards Hilda, grinning and trying not to cry. When Jessa and Jamal finally parted, they swung put, bouquet held aloft.
“The bride and groom will now light the unity candle.”
Jamal and Jessa walked over, hand in hand, to the table, where three tall, white candles were burning. They each grasped one, one from either side. Carefully, Jessa and Jamal used the small flames, to light the centre candle. In a moment, two became one. Three candles burning, the musicians started to play again. Another small, wooden table was whisked out, so that Jessa and Jamal could sign the paperwork. Photos were taken, then we stood again, and the bride and groom walked down the aisle of the church. They were showered with applause. Finally, the wedding guests, including us, started streaming out. I kissed Geoff on the cheek. We spotted a rainbow, in the direction of the harbour. Jessa and Jamal departed with their bridal party for photos. I found myself watching them, marvelling at the beauty of the bride, until it was time for us to head off. The reception was to be held just a short walk away from the cathedral. We arrived at the venue in the botanical gardens, a beautiful old building painted white, with views out through the windows all around, looking out at the foliage. Even more, the interior was decorated with ferns. The four of us had been seated at table five, but we could take our pick of the spots there. We sat around one end, taking a moment to breathe. I noticed a camera in the centre of the table. Once the formalities of the wedding reception commenced, the bridesmaids and groomsmen were first to be introduced.
“And, finally, Mr and Mrs Jamal and Jessa.”
They launched themselves into the room, to the applause of their guests. Shortly after, lunch was served. I made myself a plate and sat back down, answering questions from the others.
“Yeah, I’m studying teaching at Macquarie,” I confirmed. “I’ll be heading into my second year this year.”
I didn’t want to ask their names. Of course, they knew Jessa and Jamal. And, as it turned out, they knew me, at least well enough to make small talk. I noticed a lack of favours on the table. That didn’t bother me, although the tablecloths did. I was a little terrified I’d spill wine on the stark white. Luckily, I didn’t have too much more time to ponder it. Jessa led Jamal onto the dancefloor. They twirled around to a Prince classic, then were joined by their parents and bridal party. At the conclusion of the second song, the bride and groom smooched once again for the photographer. The rest of us were allowed to dance. Some of the tunes were a little funky, but it honestly didn’t matter. Cake was served, the butter cream sweet, delicious and reminding me of my childhood – quite literally, as it was Aunty June’s recipe. I appreciated the bright blue of the icing. As soon as the slices were consuming, we were dancing again. I found myself shimmying beside Jessa, watching while Jamal was grooving with his father, who had once been estrange. The bride leaned closer to me, her hairdo beginning to fall apart.
“I was sceptical that using the fact that it was his wedding to make everyone get along was going to work, but it seems like it has.”
Amidst the feared chaos, we’d tracked down an oasis, a moment of calm. Twirling around, I felt fearless. Finally, we gathered together, raising our arms to form a tunnel. Jessa and Jamal rushed through, then planted a kiss on each other in front of their getaway car. He opened the door for his bride, as she helped herself into the back seat, before being followed by her groom, who waved farewell to the wedding guests. We scurried in, breaking the tunnel formation. The vintage car drove away, the ‘Just married’ sign sprinkled with rain. Geoff and I travelled back with Greg and Natalie on the bus, to the Devereux house where I’d left my car under the carport. We hugged them, then headed off, ensuring we brought Sofia and Ashton’s engagement gift with us.
“You’re navigating, because I can’t use Google Maps.”
Being a police officer, Geoff understood immediately. He brought up the directions on his phone. While I drove through Sydney, Geoff assured that I knew exactly where I was going, even though I wasn’t permitted to gaze upon the map for myself.
“Do you know if Sofia is having all of her sisters in her bridal party,” Geoff enquired, “or just some of them? Or none of them.”
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know,” I answered. “I haven’t asked them.”
“It’s the sort of thing which would be a little bit awkward to do.”
Finally, I pulled up outside the small house in Clyde, just near Granville, and parked beside the overgrown nature strip. Retrieving my handbag from the backseat, I climbed out of the driver’s seat, while Geoff removed himself via the passenger side. We locked the car, then ambled down the driveway. I flicked a glance over to him. Geoff reached out and grasped my hand, smiling. Holding hands, I rested my head against his shoulder as we approached the door. I longer to stay there, to lean in further and by cradled by Geoff, but we separated a little before we knocked. After a moment, I heard footsteps scampering along the hallway and the front door opened. A woman beamed at us.
“Hello.” I held my hand out to shake hers. “I’m Nina, this is my boyfriend Geoff. We’re friends of Ashton and Sofia.”
The woman reached forward suddenly, not for my hand, but to embrace me.
“God bless you dear,” she murmured, “and God bless your family.”
When the lady spoke, I recognised exactly who she was – Ashton’s dear mother.
“Thank you,” I replied with sincerity, taking Mrs Fernando’s hands in mine. “God bless your family, too.”
Surely she must have known about Mitchell. Food was served – a delicious selection of curries and rice, which I heaped onto my plate. Geoff and I found somewhere to sit down. Our conversation died down while we tucked in. Once I finished off dinner, Sofia wandered over, drink in hand, and sat down next to me.
“I bet that there are a million questions which everyone wants to ask you about the wedding,” I mentioned.
“Tell me about it.”
Sofia sipped from her drink and I raised my chin a little, as if I was asking a silent question.
“I have been thinking about my dress. I’d like something pretty simple, I think, style-wise.”
“So, not a ballgown?”
“I don’t think so?” Sofia breathed out in thought. “I mean, I will have to be thinking about the weather.”
The summer humidity was bad enough. Across the room, I spotted Alexia recording a video.
“Oh my goodness, flowers cost so much money. I mean, of course, I know why they do, because they’re beautiful and they’re natural.”
I pulled myself back into the conversation.
“It depends on what’s a priority for you and Ashton, really,” I mused. “Not that I’d really know.”
“No, that’s true, that’s very true.”
Ashton needed to excuse himself to greet some of his high school mates as they arrived at the party, seemingly larger than life young men.
“I think that I would only have one Maid of Honour. Some people have more than one, I know, but I don’t want to seem like I’m picking and choosing, too much. Alexia is my closest in age sister, so she would be the obvious choice.”
I noticed the blonde across the room, wearing a short pink dress.
“Nobody would begrudge you that.”
“Ashton’s going to have his brothers, obviously, and I would love him to have my brothers, too.”
“I’ve already lost count.”
“Yeah, so have I.”
Her nose wrinkled and she coughed into her hand.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Sofia downed some of her drink.
She smiled towards me.
“Where was I?”
“We were talking about your bridesmaids.”
“Yes. That’s right. I would like to have all my sisters, and then I would love to have friends as well.”
“Have any of your sisters been a bridesmaid before?”
“No, they haven’t.”
“Then, that will be special for all of them.”
“Yeah, it will be,” she agreed. “Thank you.”
We both slipped from our drinks.
“I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do with my name.”
“There’s time for that.”
Sofia looked at her father across the room.
“There is a process in place, but it’s relatively straightforward,” Geoff outlined. “I’m not trying to pressure you into anything. Just thinking, if it’s something you would like to do.”
Sofia wrapped one of her curls around her finger.
“Do you reckon I should have an updo?”
“What, right now?”
“No, for the wedding.”
“Well, I think that you should wear your hair for the wedding however you would like.”
Before long, Sofia needed to head off, to speak with some of her other party guests, which didn’t bother me at all. Geoff leaned in against my side. I loved the way that he could make me feel like we were the only two people in the world, no matter the context.
“There are too many people here.”
Without asking him, I planned our exit. It only occurred to me when I was striding across the room that I had decided for the both of us to revolve my life around Geoff.
“Honestly, it’s fine,” he corrected me, given the speeches hadn’t been held yet.
Brigitta, though, needed to leave for another engagement. We hugged briefly.
“Thanks for your time,” I farewelled her, like it had been an interview.
Brigitta exited the house and disappeared into the summer night. I listened to gentle music, which calmed me. The guests gathered around, in time for the speeches. Somehow, Sofia’s father, John, had organised a microphone, which Ashton took and switched on for his speech, his other arm around his fiancée’s shoulders.
“What can I say about Sofia?” Ashton began.
“She is a brilliant, clever law student, an Enneagram 2 and an Aquarius.”
Sofia offered an adoring smile in confirmation.
“And she is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.”
Sofia and Ashton pashed, to the applause of their nearest and dearest. Finally, they parted for air.
“Having you here with me is the biggest gift which I could ask for.”
Sofia snuggled into Ashton’s side. I smiled towards them with joy, not jealousy, even though my heart ached for Mitchell. Sofia’s mother, Carmel, wheeled out the engagement party cake and handed over a knife.
“I guess that it’s time to do the honours.”
Sofia and Ashton, together, plunged the knife into the cake. Us guests applauded, then the cake was whisked away, to be returned shortly after, already cut up into pieces. Eleonore gave me a slice, on a small plate.
“Thank you.” I accepted the cake. “Thanks so much for having us.”
“You’re most welcome. I’m not sure if we’ve met properly before. I’m Eleonore.”
She was one of the many sisters, younger than Sofia.
Finally, it was time for a dance. Sofia and Ashton grooved. I had just as much fun watching him sing ABBA, considering my feet were aching. Even though it had been a long day – a wedding followed by an engagement party – at least it was a long day celebrating love. We departed the party. I drove back to Geoff’s place. We started kissing in the car again underneath the carport.
“Do you want to come inside with me?” Geoff offered.
I breathed out, with a thoughtful sigh.
“As much as I’d love to come in, we’d better not.”
I gave Geoff a final kiss, then he slunk out of the car, waving me goodbye while he shut the door behind him. Once Geoff was safely inside, I returned home and parked out the front. I lingered outside in the evening for a moment, then continued on inside. The screen door had been left open. A light was on in the back room, indicating that at least one of my parents would be there – or as it turned out, both of them. It was good to be able to fill them in on what Geoff and I had gotten up to at Sofia and Ashton’s engagement party. Then, she said something, seemingly out of nowhere.
“I think we should go,” Mum suggested. “Go somewhere. Go anywhere. We had go up to Port Macquarie. We can’t stay at home this week. Well, we can, if you want to, but I think we should go.”
Dad glanced up briefly from his laptop.
“The apartment is empty all next week,” he mentioned.
“Good, book it out, let’s go,” Mum stood abruptly, “I’ll go and ring Natalie, see if she, Greg and Geoff want to come with us too.”
I grabbed my phone and texted Geoff.
Mum + Dad want 2 go 2 Port Mac on Monday. U in?
It beeped less than a minute later.
Will apply 4 leave. Do you wanna come over 2moro. Xxxx
“Geoff’s in,” I mentioned.
Mum dawdled back to the back room.
The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She has recently commenced a teaching degree at Macquarie University. Nina loves her family and friends and is deeply committed to finding answers and justice for the families of missing people.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.