Translated from Dari to English by ” Parwana Amiri ”
Imagine you open your wings to fly, then angry men will clip your wings. What does it feel like when you learn to fly but are locked in a cage?
“Maryam,” a girl with high aspirations and motivation, was eighteen years old and was living in a family with an average economic status as her father was a shopkeeper and with this job he could only take care of their food and not their education. She was a very talented girl, very active, and was nominated as the best student of the class. When I asked her what she wanted to be in the future, she said: “I want to become a lawyer in the future. Sometimes she told me about her dreams, that she wished to become a lawyer and defend women’s rights against men. No woman should be tortured for being a woman!” she said.
It was autumn, the weather was getting cold, and she had not come to the university for thirteen days. One day, she had an engagement ring on her finger and her eyebrows were plucked. In traditional society, plucking eyebrows is a sign of marriage. I was shocked.
Maryam is a beautiful girl with eyebrows and black hair, half of which could be seen from under the scarf, almond-colored eyes, prominent cheeks that made her sweeter with a soft smile on her face. That day she was shining like the moon, her eyebrows were arranged, many changes had come to her. But she had sadness on her face, as if she didn’t want to tell anyone about the sadness in her heart.
Every day, Maryam would enter the classroom with energy, greeting everyone, but that day was much calmer than before. When she entered the classroom and greeted me, I was surprised and concerned. I didn’t greet her, but just directly asked her: ‘What’s going on?’ With a sweet and painful smile, she lowered her head and said: “As you can see, I am engaged.”
It was as if her tongue could hardly express this sentence, her eyes got wet, and a grudge could be heard when she was speaking. I said: “Are you kidding me?” But no, with a serious reaction she said, “No, I am serious.”
“What does that mean? How did you get engaged all at once? What happened that you didn’t intend? And you said that I will not get engaged until I build myself up and at least reach the age of 25.” “Age does not matter, I am happy.” But I felt that she said this to distract us and she did not want to tell the truth. I saw the sadness in her eyes, so just to close the discussion, I said: “Congratulations.”
She didn’t say anything and sat down. Every day when she would come, she was like running away from everyone and would not talk to anyone. She was lost in thoughts, looking confused and not concentrated as always, she was in her own space.
One day I went to her and said: “Can I sit?”
“Yes, sit down.”
“Tell me about the engagement; how is it going?”
“How did it happen all at once?”
She was lost in thought, her eyes were filled with tears, and she said: “If I tell you about my life, won’t you tell anyone?!”
“Feel being with yourself talking to me.”
She said: “I have an older sister who is in the fourth year of economics at the university. I was happy, I went to the nikah and did my hair and dressed up myself. I wanted to join the party.” They said: “Wait, we engaged you, not your sister. Wait for the groom to come.” I said with surprise: “Did you accept it quickly?”
She said: “No, I had no choice and no way back. They had given sweets (as a symbol of accepting the relation) that day when they said to my family that if they are kidding me, and started slapping me in the face, criticizing them for having my engagement without once asking me, that I deserved to decide about my future, about my husband, my life in short.
My mother came and hit me in the face aggressively and said: ‘Stop mourning! Your husband’s relatives will arrive now. Don’t think of playing with our honor; otherwise, we will not call you my daughter! We will never forgive you and you will not have the right to stay in this home; better to sleep in the streets.”
I wiped my tears, hatred was in my throat, that day was not for me to celebrate my engagement, but the day of my funeral. It happened that I got engaged and got married a week later.
“Are you married now?”
“Yes, everything happened in ten days.”
“Well, your husband would not object if you showed me his photo?”
“No, he does not object, I will show you his picture, just promise not to laugh.”
“Why should I laugh? Show me.”
She showed… a man with a long beard who had passed his age. I just looked and could not say anything, because apparently they were at least fifteen years apart in age. Then she said: “You know, his mother opposes my coming to the university and does not allow me to continue studying. When his mother opposes it, my husband cannot say anything.”
“Well, why are you coming to the university?”
“When my husband goes to work, he is also a cook in one of the establishments, I come in a hidden way. But most days I can’t show up, I can’t study at home and take a book in my hand so that they don’t find out.”
“Well, what if they find out?”
“Well, I am no longer allowed to study, and they are preventing me from going to the university, not only to the university, they may never let me leave the house.”
Hearing her words, my heart bled. I was very upset, but I didn’t want to face her and…
“Well, something has happened. We will help you study in the class.”
She said with a smile: “OK, thank you.”
“I have a question, I hope you will not be upset?”
“Why did your father marry you against your wishes?”
“You know that we have an average standard of living, my sister, who is in her last year. With the arrival of the Taliban, we suffered a big economic blow and could not meet all expenses at the same time. My father also used force and said: ‘Your sister will finish her studies soon, but now I can’t pay the university fees for both of you at the same time.” Therefore, when the suitor came, without asking me, he married someone whom I neither love nor we are the same age; he is my father’s age. It is very difficult for me to accept it. At this time, the teacher entered the class and our conversation ended. After four months, when she was pregnant, her belly was almost enlarged, she came again.
One day, when she was in a bad mood, the teacher wanted to call her husband, and Maryam said, “Please don’t tell anyone, teacher. If they hear that I’m coming to the university, they won’t let me come.” The teacher was in the middle of a lesson when suddenly, a woman’s voice interrupted, demanding, “Where is Maryam? Take me to her class quickly.” No one dared to intervene as the woman stormed into the room. Maryam’s distress was evident; her body trembled, her complexion paled, and she nervously sought permission from the teacher to leave.
Rushing to her side, her mother-in-law scolded Maryam with force, exclaiming, “Didn’t I tell you not to go to university anymore? How could you show up?” She struck Maryam across the face and continued her tirade, “I told you a hundred times not to go to university.” She then cruelly grasped Maryam’s hair, causing her to fall to the ground, all the while Maryam sobbed uncontrollably.
The classroom remained silent; everyone else was engrossed in their studies. Only my classmate and I were present. My classmate made a valiant attempt to intervene, reaching out to restrain Maryam’s mother-in-law. However, her anger was insurmountable, and no one could quell her rage. She released my classmate’s hand and commanded, “Fetch her bag and chador.” Maryam, still bewildered, hesitated on what to do. In a trembling voice, she implored, “I’m here with you, please fetch her bag.”
My classmate hurried to retrieve Maryam’s bag, and with a firm grip on her arm, the infuriated mother-in-law forcibly led Maryam away. Since that fateful day, Maryam has not returned to the university. As I pen down this narrative, I am left wondering about the life she now leads, how many children she might have, and the challenges she faces.
14 September, 2023