(Editor’s note: This is based on a true story, although names have been changed.)
When I became a teenager, I began thinking about marrying my cousin Sahil. This had been discussed between my aunt and my father when I was born. I liked Sahil. He used to tease me, saying: “Oh, Vida, you’re too fat to marry.” I would get upset, but then he would say: “I am kidding.”
I was in eighth grade when my Aunt Bibi came from Kabul to our home in Quetta, Pakistan. She called me: “Vida, my daughter-in-law.” I hated when she called me that because I thought my mother-in-law would be my other aunt. My aunt Bibi had a son who was living in London. I heard her tell my mother: “Farid will take Vida to London to after marrying her.”
My mother said: “Oh, that’ll be great.”
I quietly entered the room. “My daughter, come sit with your aunt for a while.”
“No, mother, I’ve homework to do.” I left the room, taking my bag with me.
I told my cousin Farishta about it. “You’re lucky… Do you even know where London is?”
“But what about Sahil? I was supposed to marry him, wasn’t I?”
“Yes, but it’s fine. They are sisters so they’ll be happy for you too,” said Farishta.
On the way to school the next day, I met Sahil and told him about Farid and London. “Wow, London is so famous,” he said. “So, when are you marrying him?”
He didn’t care that I was going to marry Farid. I said, “Aren’t you jealous?”
“No, I am not. I am happy you’re going to London, dummy girl.”
Days passed, and one day I came home from school and went to the room my parents shared with my five siblings. As I entered the room, Farishta’s sister was dancing and everyone else was clapping. My mother stood and hugged me. Then everyone hugged me and congratulated me. “What is going on?” I said.
My mother said: “Your father agreed to your engagement to Farid, and you’ll go to London.”
I was shocked. “But none of you asked me.”
My mother stared at me. “When your father and I are agreed, then why shall we ask you?”
The next day was my engagement party without Farid. He called that night and talked to my mother and father. Everyone was very happy. I was neither happy nor sad. Days and nights were passing by, and my aunt returned to Afghanistan. I continued studying in the ninth grade, and when I entered tenth grade, my mother told me Farid would arrive from London and that my Aunt Bibi would come too for my marriage party. I was very sad that I would not be able to finish tenth grade.
Weeks passed, and when I came from school one day, I saw a new face sitting in the hall. He had round brown eyes. He was very thin, and a very tall, good-looking guy. I remembered my mother saying Farid would be here in a week, and then I realized a week was already gone. I said to myself: “That’s Farid, your fiancé.” My aunt and my cousins from Afghanistan were in the hall. They all welcomed me, and I shook hands with everyone. I shook hands with Farid too. He held my hand tight and hugged me. I was shy in front of everyone and ran to my room. The girls were all laughing. I didn’t come out of the room until the next day.
Everyone was very happy. Music was playing and girls were laughing, clapping, and dancing. Farishta was with me in my room. My aunt came in with new clothes, sandals, and jewelry. She asked me to shower, put these on, and then come to the hall because it was my Henna Night. (Henna Night is the night before the wedding, when the bride and the groom sit together and their relatives put henna on their hands.) I took a shower and dressed. Farishta did my makeup and everyone came to take me to the hall. I was a newly turned 15-year-old.
In the hall, Farid was already standing there, waiting for me. We sat next to each other. I could feel his legs touching mine and was not comfortable. He held my hand. The music was loud; girls were clapping, some dancing. Finally they brought the henna and put it on our hands. Farid whispered in my ear, but due to the loud music, I could not hear anything. He shouted: “Why aren’t you replying?” I said I couldn’t hear him. He asked if I was happy. I said yes.
The next morning, my aunt awoke me at 8 a.m. “We need to take you to the beauty parlor to pluck your eyebrows.” At the beauty parlor, they plucked my eyebrows, curled my hair, and did my makeup. My other cousins curled their hair too. Later they gave me a new dress and more jewelry. That night was my wedding night. We all went to a hotel, which I saw for the first time. Farid and I stood again together, and we held hands. He said I looked beautiful.
After that, we were taken back home to a beautifully decorated room. It was my uncle’s room. There were flowers all over the bed. Everyone left the room, and Farid locked the door. I said: “Farid, why are you locking the door?”
“We are bride and groom.” I thought, so? He came and kissed me on the cheek and said, “You are very innocent.”
I screamed: “Mom, Mom! Farid is so bad, he kissed me,” and I started crying.
He said: “This is something normal between a girl and a boy, especially when they get married.”
I liked him, actually. I loved his warm touch. We slept apart for ten nights because I was very shy. The next five days, he slept next to me but didn’t touch me at all. It was the sixteenth night when we both obeyed the married people’s rule. We slept together… I finally became a woman.
After one month, I was told to pack my luggage to leave with my aunt and Farid. It was 3 a.m. when Farid woke me. “We have to leave now.” I started crying and put on my clothes. They took out my luggage, and everyone waited in the hall to say goodbye. We cried and hugged for half an hour, until the driver told us to hurry up. Sitting in the car next to Farid and Bibi, I slept for more than nine hours. Finally Farid woke me.
“Where are we now?” I asked.
“We are in Kandahar. We will stay the night, and early in the morning we leave for Kabul.” I had to hide my face with a scarf. I never used to hide my face when I was in Pakistan. I only used to wear the headscarf, as it was a part of our religion. I could not breathe properly when my face was covered with the scarf. We went to my cousin’s home. We ate supper together and slept in the hall all together. Early in the morning, we took a car to Kabul. Then I had to wear the burqa. It was very hard for me but they asked me to, so I did. Finally we arrived at a big building with lots of apartments next to each other.
Our apartment was on the 4th floor. I asked Farid if I could remove the burqa because I could not walk with it. He said: “Yes, you can take it off.” I was still wearing my scarf. The stairs were cleaner then I imagined. Inside, Bibi showed me my room. My luggage was brought and I washed my face in the bathroom. Everyone went to their rooms and rested. I went to my room where Farid was already lying on the bed. I could not sleep so I stood on the balcony and watched life outside, cars moving and people walking. I felt cold and returned to my room to sleep next to Farid. He put his hand on me and slept. I could not fall asleep for a long time. I missed everyone back home. I cried and then fell asleep.
The next morning, Farid said: “I’ll be leaving to London in two days.”
“So, I should not unpack?
Farid said: “Why aren’t you going to unpack?”
“Because I’ll be going with you to London, right?”
It was then that Farid told me I was not going with him for a few years. He left after two nights. I spent those two nights with him crying. I cried day and night. I was eight months’ pregnant when I next heard his voice on our neighbor’s phone. I was so happy to hear his voice after such a long time.
I had my first baby girl, and got very busy with her and my alone life. At that time, Farid’s brother Sameer became my best friend. He used to sleep in my room because I felt scared. I liked Sameer’s company. He used to bring everything I needed. One day he told me that he loved me a lot. I told him I loved him too because he helped me all the time and used to take me outside whenever I was bored.
I didn’t know what falling in love was like. I just felt like Sameer was my husband because he took care of me like a husband. I never had any sexual relationship with him but, yes, I spent all my time with him. One day, Sameer said Farid was on his way from London to Kabul. I was very sad, thinking Sameer would be separated from me.
Farid returned from London within two weeks. He was so happy to see his daughter, and loved her a lot. I felt strange whenever he touched me. I missed Sameer. I didn’t eat my breakfast with Farid. I waited until Sameer came, and then I would eat with him. Farid used to get jealous of this behavior but it was not my fault, because I spent three years with Sameer and not even three months with Farid.
Farid returned to London after a month in Kabul. After some weeks, I found out that I was pregnant again. Sameer took me to the doctor who said it was a girl. Sameer said congratulations.
One night I felt very cold and it was snowing outside. Sameer came and slept next to me. I loved it a lot. Again, we didn’t have any sexual relations but I enjoyed his body touch.
Then Bibi arranged for Sameer to be engaged to a girl from Kandahar who was an American citizen and had come from the U.S. I was happy for him, but sad that I was losing someone I loved the most. The marriage was a month later. I cried not only because I loved him, but because he was leaving for the U.S.
After he left, I was alone again, as I am now. Farid said he will be home soon but until now he hasn’t. There is nothing I can do but wait.
Photo from the Globe and Mail‘s “Behind the Veil: An Intimate Journey into the Lives of Kandahar Women”