There was no escaping, there was nowhere to hide, I couldn’t be a wall flower today, I had just found out that today was day I was to be signed over. I called my other, she did not come. There was no taunting today, no Sleeping beauty to my Cinderella, today was the day to let down her hair and come save me.
One of the older sisters had summoned me after Morning Prayer, she asked me to sit on a low stool and began to paint intricate designs in henna on my feet and hands, her designs were basic, I could do better.
I asked her why, she smiled and said, ‘Your time has come’.
‘Time has come for what’ I asked, ‘am I to be released, am I to be killed or what?
She smiled again, fake smile, the kind that showed your teeth but never reached your eyes.
‘Abdul Rahman has chosen you, you are lucky’
And so it dawned on me, I was to be married to Abdul Rahman, a man child I had never met, I had heard the other women say he was one of the mean young ones, he was assured martyrdom, a chosen one, he tricked some of new the girls into speaking English and got them punished, western education, western languages were banned, in defiance all my thoughts were in English, I prayed in English, I sung to myself in English, I counted each day in English, they could steal my freedom but not my thoughts.
And so I waited for my turn, I was told by one of the older girls that it was to be between Zuhr and Asr prayers.
‘It won’t be that bad’ she said,
‘Just think of past good times, at least you will belong to someone’.
I can’t imagine why she thought it was a good thing, may be the sun had got to her head, she’d been here too long.
The call to prayer went out, we washed and prayed… and then it started, I and five other girls were ushered into a room, the youngest was 9, I knew her, we lived on the same street, her parents were rich, they had the big house with a bore hole and would open their gates to let people fetch water for free. They were nice to me when my other decided she had had enough, the world was too cruel, people were too cruel, she was the smart one and I was the beauty. What does beauty do for you when you’re trapped?
‘I told you to come with me, but you wanted to stay’ she whispers.
She has an annoying habit of whispering.
‘Mum and dad would have got over us, they would have had more children, now they don’t know whether you alive or dead’.
We were each given a clean Hijab, a pair of new shoes and a gold bangle, the older sister rubbed my feet with camwood and cheap perfume, the smell made me gag, throwing up might put the Nikai off for a day or two, but would also get me punished. The Imam called my name – the new name.
‘A Muslim husband must look after his wife, she is his property and he is her property, she must do everything he says without question’….
She who submits to Nikai is truly blessed and highly favoured
And he went on and on quoting made up verses, while dabbing his forehead with a dirty handkerchief
I was led over to Abdul Rahman, dressed in a flowing white Kaftan with a black skull cap, he didn’t look at me, I doubt whether he knew any more than I did about marriage, his beard, which all the men were encouraged to grow was a sparse as the hair on his head, he couldn’t be more than eighteen, I doubt if he knew one end of a women from the other. He looked familiar. The Iman asked if he was willing to marry me he said, yes, I was not asked for my opinion. I looked at him again and understood why he couldn’t look at me, what holy book says that a man can marry his half -sister?…
‘Be quiet, don’t say a word and you will go home soon’.
Maybe there was light at the end of this dark tunnel, maybe the parents will get one child back.