Her brother was young, very young, and immature, only about 21 or maybe 22. In this culture, men can take forever to grow up, whereas women can be married and mothers at 13 or 14. He was young, he was immature, he was with friends; they were playing cards. One friend began to taunt and tease. “Promise me you will do the same thing I am going to do on Friday.”
“No, how can we?” he, they, protested. “How can we promise something when we don’t know what we are promising?” But the friend teased and taunted. “Be a man! A real man would do it!”
The fragile ego of a young man is a thing familiar to us all, no matter our culture or background, so they all promised.
The friend announced, “I am getting married on Friday.”
A storm of protest broke out—We are young! We don’t have the money to get married!
Her brother said, “I can get the money, but my parents will not allow it. I am young.” The friend said accusingly, “You promised.”
Her brother went home. The eldest son, firstborn male, pride of his parents, raised that the world was his for the asking, said to his mother, “I want to get married this Friday. Choose one of our relatives for me—I don’t care which one.”
His mother protested. His father put his foot down. No, this was ridiculous. His son was young, so young, so immature, plus had no money of his own.
The son took this crossing of his will in stride, as firstborn sons, favored of their mothers, will do. He said to his mother, “I will get married this Friday, and you will find me a wife, or you will never see me again. I may kill myself, I may not, but you will never see me again.” And he left the house.
Three days later, his desperate mother came up with a plan. She went to her relatives and told them the truth. They will refuse, she reasoned, and I will tell him I have done what he wanted, and he will return home, and all will be well, and all will be well. So she said to them, “He is young, so young, and immature. He has no money. His wife will have to live with us if he marries now. The wedding would be Friday, this Friday, in two days.” Relieved, she sat back and waited for their refusal.
But the relatives liked this family, and this family’s money and connections. “We agree,” they announced, and his mother gasped. And on that Friday, they married their 14-year-old daughter to the brother of Leila.
She moved into his room in his father’s house and quit attending her junior high school classes. Perhaps her friends envied her—so beautiful and desirable to marry so young!— perhaps they didn’t.
For he was young, so young, and immature, only 22 or maybe 23. And soon he began coming home at 1 a.m., then at 2 a.m., then at 3 a.m. or not at all. She, poor child, often slept with her husband’s little sister Leila, who was a year older than she, rather than sleep alone. “He is your husband,” urged her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, “Speak to him!” But she shook her head and bit her lip. “I don’t want him to be angry with me.”
Finally his mother spoke to him, but he didn’t listen. His young relative was boring; he would rather be with his friends.
She, in the meantime, did all she could to ensure a pregnancy, and soon was able to announce that a baby was on the way. They fussed over her, her husband’s family, and every day the mother of her husband gave her a gift. She would pack a small bag and spend the day with her family. Maybe her friends came to see her, maybe she even put on airs—a married woman, and to be married young connotes great beauty, and already pregnant, so fertile. And maybe (please God!) it would be a son, to bring joy to her heart, pride to her eyes, prove her worth to her husband. She might return home to her husband’s family in the evening or she might not, and it didn’t matter, because her husband was often traveling now, or out with his friends, meeting other girls.
Her young body was not even beginning to swell and round when she miscarried. Her husband was traveling with friends in another part of the country; it didn’t concern him, and he didn’t return to the city.
He had been gone well over a month when he sent a letter to his mother. “Tell Fatima I divorce her,” it said.
Her mother handed the letter to Leila, but she refused to be the bearer of such bad tidings. Another sister also refused. So they phoned another relative and asked her to come over and take the letter to the young wife’s room.
“And she cried—can you believe it?” Leila tells me. “I never thought I would see a divorced woman cry. I was so embarrassed.”
I explain carefully that the girl’s tears do not seem strange to me.
“But it is a great shame for a divorced woman to cry,” Leila argues.
”That means she loves someone who does not love her, and that is a great shame.” And it seems that with her tears, little Fatima lost any sympathy she had in the eyes of her sister-in-law.
Or perhaps it is just that the passage of time has proved blood, especially the blood of the immediate family, to be thicker. Because the young man is no longer so young and immature. He grew up and remarried, but this time, says Leila, he really loves her, and he is now father of 3. She beams with pride.
Fatima? Oh she hasn’t remarried and lives still with her parents. She is dismissed with a wave of the hand. She lost.