A short story series on arranged marriages
Um Zareef wanted a boy not a girl. Her daughters and her husband did not care. They were happy to see a baby in the house. Yasmeen now was busy with the baby with no help from the grandmother. Her days were full and by the time her husband came home from work she was exhausted.
Yasmeen asked her husband early in their marriage to make her a box to collect loose change or what they call a piggy bank. It was made out of steel and there was no way of opening it. She kept feeding the little bank any time she came across loose change. In the back of her mind she had made a decision to be independent and live in her own house away from his family. She was not allowed to go shopping by herself. She would apologize to her friends that she could not accompany them when they went out shopping. She never had enough money in any case. The old lady controlled the spending and disbursement of funds to all members of the family.
Yasmeen was constantly telling her husband that she preferred to live independently of his family. They now have a child and are a separate family. He would always promise to move out but was reluctant because he knew his mother would object to the move. She wanted to keep him under her control.
One early afternoon while the mother-in-law and her daughters were out visiting or shopping, Yasmeen sat at the side of the bed nursing her baby girl. Suddenly her uncle came home for something and did not find his wife and daughters. He went into Yasmeen’s room to inquire about their whereabouts but she did not know. He then sat beside her on the bed to wait for them. As he was a little closer to her than her than is normally accepted, she felt ill at ease. She kept her cool while the baby was nursing. All of a sudden her uncle leaned over and kissed her on the lips. She felt like an electric current went through her body. She put her breast back into her blouse, put the baby down on the bed and ran out of the room and began to vomit. Her uncle quickly left the room and walked across the courtyard and went out on the street.
When Zareef came home late in the afternoon, she sort of gave him an ultimatum. She was not going to stay in the house at any cost. He had to go and find another place for her and her child. She could not tell him what happened as he was liable to kill his father. Alternatively, he may have not believed her. How could she tell anyone what happened and how did she expect anyone to believe her. Had anyone knew, she would have been shamed. Women in that kind of society mostly bear the pain internally. Not often do they find a shoulder to cry on.
The years she spent with the in-laws forced her to mature really fast. A few things bothered her especially that he used to give his monthly salary to his mother and she would give him his allowance. She felt it was an infringement on her rights as a wife. She wanted to have some control over her family’s finances. She resented the idea of asking her mother-in-law for money to buy her own undergarments. A few other usual issues were bothering her. Zareef was well aware of the tension as each one of them complained to him about the other. He had control over his wife but not the mother.
Within a week, Zareef found a two room apartment with a separate kitchen and shared outhouse. He showed it to Yasmeen and she agreed to move into it with no hesitation. Although the place was even worse than the house she shared with the in-laws, she was content. Independence was beautiful.
The relationship between Yasmeen and Zareef began to get worse although he was now away from his mother and sisters. One hot afternoon she lay half asleep beside the baby while Zareef was in the other room. She heard him talking to someone, so she got up and looked through the half opened door to see Zareef kissing a girl from the neighborhood. Her entire miserable life appeared in front of her like a movie. She cursed her father and the day she was born. However, she was too afraid to confront her husband and kept it to herself. There was no one to turn to in that God forsaken little village. She could not call her mother especially that her father would never allow it. He was a dictator who ruled with an iron fist and would beat up her mother in front of the children. He always seemed like an angry man. She left the house without his blessings and refused his choice for a husband therefore she became ostracized. She knew her father would not bend.
Prior to this incident, Yasmeen became pregnant and everyone was happy to hear the good news. The pregnancy lasted two or so months then bleeding started. She saw the village doctor who informed her that she needed an ultrasound. The only place to get it was at the regional hospital. She went with Zareef and had the ultrasound done and headed back to the village. The next day the doctor told her that the baby was dead inside her womb and it was incomplete. It had no brain. The news was received with mixed feelings. There was sadness on Yasmeen’s part for losing a baby but also hope that Zareef was apt to father another baby.
One of Zareef’s sisters was engaged to be married. The wedding day was going to be in about a month. His mother asked him to go to the city and get a few things that were required for the big party or reception. Zareef was going to accompany one of a cousins’ husband. Zareef arranged for her to stay at the cousin’s house while the two husbands were away. He knew she would never stay with his family. She was close to this cousin and they visited each other quite often. Yasmeen’s cousin was a nice woman and a little older than her. Let’s call the cousin Wardeh.
As the two cousins were talking in the evening while their two daughters had gone to sleep, Wardeh’s younger brother showed up. He was a 20 year old young man roughly the age of Yasmeen. As they talked late into the night Wardeh asked her brother to stay with them possibly for security as the village was not very safe. There were many armed men who were part of the rebels different groups opposing the central government. The civil war had never really ended. The brother went to sleep on the couch in the sitting room. Wardeh and her daughter slept in one room while Yasmeen slept in the daughter’s room with her own daughter.
A little while later Yasmeen felt someone breathing beside her. She opened up her eyes and saw the young cousin with his hand covering her mouth. Without going into any detail, Yasmeen was raped that night. She could not yell, her little daughter was beside her. Again, she was in no position to tell anyone.
The next morning the young boy was gone by the crack of dawn, Yasmeen was up all night. She washed herself and her little daughter and left to go to her home. Her cousin was surprised that she did not want to stay. Nothing was said.
Zareef’s sister’s wedding went smoothly. Life seemed to go back to normal for everyone but Yasmeen. The young cousin would not show his face around Zareef or Yasmeen. Again Yasmeen would not tell her husband what had happened. It would have been a big scandal. There would have been a killing of the young cousin; she would have been shamed if not killed. The entire family would surely disintegrate. That is the dilemma of some of the woman in the Middle Eastern conservative societies. The little precious princess daughter would have her father in prison and her mother in the cemetery.
In the meantime the civil war was getting worse. Armed men were roaming the streets; many of them were strangers not from the area. The government forces were shelling them while they were hiding among the civilians. That was the reason Yasmeen’s father had decided to leave the village some years prior.
It was time to leave, but where to? The cities were a little safer as they had a concentration of government forces. Still, the danger was not too far away. They decided to leave the family behind and slip over the boarders into the neighboring country. Yasmeen’s steel box came in handy. The box was cut open to find it contained the equivalent of two thousand dollars. The conditions were not good but they were out of harm’s way. The life of a refugee lacks the stability necessary for a normal life.
As refugees, they had no income except the meager rations distributed by the relief organizations. Yasmeen began to sell her jewelry one piece at a time at very low prices. The locals shunned them and took advantage of their vulnerability. Somehow, Yasmeen met a relief worker/volunteer who was involved with a nongovernmental organization. Through this man they managed to register as a persecuted minority with the United Nations.
As they were waiting for a refugee visa to Europe, Yasmeen began to look pregnant. Zareef was happy especially he was not one to count the days. He was going to be the proud father of a child when he was told he couldn’t. Yasmeen, her husband and daughter were accepted in Europe. She delivered her second baby there.
The End of Yasmee’s saga
Writer’s name withheld
For Part 1 of this short story series click here:
For part 2 of this short story series click here: