Maliha was one of the smartest students in our class. With her long black hair, small upturned nose, tall slim body and large eyes, she was beautiful. She was polite, but so remote. Despite the fact that everyone wanted to befriend her, she preferred to be alone. I was her only best friend. We had been classmates for three years, since 7th grade. From the beginning I knew there was a world hidden behind those gorgeous eyes, a world she didn’t want to share with others. I never asked her about her past life because she was my best friend and I didn’t want her to feel sad and those lovely eyes become full of tears.
One day in the fall of 2005 on the way to school, I saw that she looked extremely tired. One could see redness in the white of her eyes, as if she’d spent the entire night crying. This time I couldn’t help it. My friend needed sympathy and I had to be of help at least by listening to the pain she suffered, giving her hope so she could see a future for herself. But I had no idea what was she suffering from.
“Is she in love?” I asked myself. “No, this is impossible.” She was so young, and more importantly, it wasn’t only recently that this deep dark cloud of sorrow had sealed her life. As least since I had known her, she could never feel the warmth of the sun behind those depressing clouds. This time I found the guts to ask her: “Maliha, what is wrong with you? Tell me what you are going through. What makes your life so miserable that we can hardly see your sparkling teeth behind your pink and soft lips? Why don’t you laugh when we girls talk about funny things, and why do you give us a fake smile while your eyes fall to the ground at any happy thing we share with you? You are the Noor of our class and every single student and teacher loves you, so tell me the truth and let me feel that you consider me as your best friend.”
“Emaan, you are the greatest person I have in my life. Wait until we reach the school. I will tell you everything,” she said, and we continued walking toward the gate of the school.
We arrived half an hour before the first class. She asked me to go sit on the porch behind the administrative building, where there was no one except the old white-bearded farmer of our school watering the flowers and grasses. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath while staring at her toes.
“My dream to become educated has not been easy,” she said. “Today I can read letters. I can write poems. I know some English. I have the ability to read the names of my mom’s medications and when and how she should take them. I have gained the power to cope with stress no matter how extreme and hard it is. Above all, I am still going to school, which is the goal of my being alive.
“I have been in Kabul since 2002. Before, I lived in Farah Province with my uncle. I used to go to school there and our family was supported financially by our uncle. We inherited some properties from our father, but after his death, my uncle became the owner while we received only a stipend from him. From the beginning, my uncle was against my education since he was a quite famous elder of our village and didn’t want to be called coward or “American” just because I went to school. But my mother didn’t give up and continued to support my education. As a result, my uncle made a fake document and legally owned our property and kicked us out of his house. My mother decided to sell her gold stuff, and desperately took me and my small sister to Kabul. For some time, we lived with our aunt. Then my aunt was fed up and asked us to leave. To rent a house and earn the money for living and my education, my mom decided to sew handcrafts and do cleaning and cooking for the family who gave us a room in their house. I also used to help mom, but she wanted me to focus more on my studies. She told me I was her hope window through which she could see a future for our family so I had to study hard rather than do chores.
“She did all this for almost three years. Every day I left home for school, and all I could see was my poor mother working and working tirelessly. Now you tell me how I could smile and be happy?” She closed her eyes and roared as if there was a heavy fire in her heart. She called my name and I could hear the vibration in her voice and suddenly tears filled her eyes. “My poor mother, she can’t see anymore!” she cried. “I can’t come to school anymore; I have to do something to help support my mom and my small sister. Emaan, now it is my turn and I can’t watch my mom lose her vision, I can’t see my small sister not going to school, I can’t watch my family die because of hunger. I will do something. I know it is not easy to find a job as a young girl, so after thinking and thinking, I came to the conclusion that I will marry.”
I pulled her shoulders so I could look at her eyes, and I shouted: “What did you just say? You’re going to marry? What about your dream, Maliha? What about your writing?”
“I shouldn’t have dreamed this,” she said. “My dream of an education will never be true and this is the end of it. I will marry that guy no matter how old he is, as long as he can pay for my family and support us.”
I thought, then, of destiny as the cruelest thing in our lives. I thought of dreams, hope, ambitions, and time. I realized one thing in that moment: Despite our extreme struggle, time has the power to take anything it wants from us, be it our beloved grandmother, our love, or our desire of education, which meant everything to my friend Maliha.
“Who is the guy you think will support you and your family?” I asked.
“It is the man in whose house we live. His wife cannot bear a child. Once he asked my mom for me, but my mom refused and said I would go to the university and become the best writer in the world. I think now I have to marry this 43-year-old guy. I know I am a teenager and I am going through weird emotions each day and night, but I have to kill my inside feelings, I have to kill everything in me to help my family and let my mother get her eyes treated. I talked to Hamed last night. He said if I marry him, he will let my mom and sister live in his house and will support us financially and pay for Mom’s treatment. But it doesn’t end there—he wants me to stop going to school! I will marry this guy anyway. I cannot wait for my imaginary prince about whom I wrote my poems. My mom doesn’t have much time before she will lose her vision.”
At that moment, I wished I were a man so that I could work as hard as I could to help my friend reach her dream. I hated being a girl, at least in Afghanistan. I felt so helpless. I was deeply involved in these thoughts when suddenly the bell rang and we had to go to class.
The day after that, I had to come alone to school. Maliha got engaged to Hamed, and after one week, they got married. Always when I passed through the door of our school, I wanted to kiss and hug my sweet friend and see her looking like an angel in her black-and-white school uniform. But I couldn’t see her anymore. Hamed didn’t allow her to see her friends. She is a housewife now. I don’t know whether or not she writes, or whether he beats her. But I saw deep in Maliha’s eyes the light which will take her to her destiny through all this darkness. She will become a writer and her poems will touch our veins and arteries one day.
Maliha, best friend, you will make it!