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They Came To America And Found Love. But First, They Found 'Love' In A Dictionary

Tariq and Tabinda Sheikh, on a visit with StoryCorps.
Tariq and Tabinda Sheikh, on a visit with StoryCorps.

When Tariq Sheikh first saw Tabinda, he remembers she was wearing yellow gloves. A recent arrival from the Dominican Republic, Tabinda had just taken a job as a housekeeper at a New York City hotel — the very same hotel where Tariq worked at the hotel's front desk.

And when Tariq saw her, he was utterly tongue-tied. He couldn't even say hello.

"Oh, I thought you was rude and mean," she tells him, on a visit with StoryCorps in 2014. "I said, 'Oh my God, this guy don't even say hi.' You're just staring at me!"

But there was a very simple reason for his silence at the time, he tells her: She was the woman of his dreams. "Yeah," she answers, "but I didn't have that dream!"

Still, Tariq, who was an immigrant himself, from Pakistan, built up his courage to ask her out for coffee. And it took her two days to answer — but she had a good reason, too: "because I didn't know how to speak English," she explains. Eventually, with the help of a pocket Spanish-to-English dictionary, she scrawled her answer on a napkin: "OK, yes."

"Language is not a barrier for the love," says Tabinda, who — spoiler alert! — is now Tabinda Sheikh. They were married in 1991. But at the time, when he was courting her back in 1989, language still posed a few complications.

One day Tariq, who by that point had begun driving a yellow cab in New York City, asked if he could drive her home. When he asked her address, she told him simply: New Jersey. Just New Jersey.

"I say, 'Oh my God, today I gonna have a long night!' " he laughs.

Neither of them had family with them in the U.S. So, as her relationship with Tariq bloomed, she had to call back home to tell her family about him. "I am in love," she told them. "I have a gordito! They say, 'Gordito? Chubby man? You don't like fat men!' "

Of course, he begs to differ: "I was not that fat," he laughs. "Just chubby, yes."

At that time, Tariq had been working long hours — "like 72 hours, continuously," he says — and so, when they both stopped for a break on a park bench, he lay his head down on her lap. And there he slept.

"I don't even want to move. If I move, he's going to wake up," she says. "It was beautiful looking the moon, the stars."

In the morning when he awoke, he was shocked to find her still sitting there with him. "That was the moment I fell in love with you," he tells her, looking back from their vantage point in 2014.

"Love is a wonderful thing," she says. "This is my man! And we're gonna be married 23 years now."

"She's telling me 23 years," he answers. "For me, it's like yesterday."

Audio produced for Morning Editionby Liyna Anwar and Jasmyn Belcher Morris.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, atStoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.