Editor’s note: This is a true story witnessed by our writer this past summer. The names have been changed to protect the couple’s privacy.

Zarin sits on an old courthouse bench, her face covered by her blue burqa, and thinks deeply about what she has just done.

Beside her on the bench sit other women, but no one is talking. On the other side of the courthouse, four or five men speak to each other. Everyone seems tired.

Zarin is really tired because she hasn’t slept for two nights while planning her escape from home with the man she loved, dear Ahmad. She rests her head against the wall, and thinks.

She ran away yesterday at 2:30 p.m. while her father was sleeping in his little room and her elderly mother, so skinny and sick, was at afternoon prayer. Her older sister Ruya was asleep in the basement because of the hot weather. It was a golden chance for Zarin to quietly leave the house as part of the plan she’d had in her mind for a long time.

She was scared, though, and she had to be quick. She took with her only some cash and her gold jewelry. But she did not forget the important thing, to put on her burqa. When she left the house, she was worried and walked quickly to the end of the road. It felt like hours and she constantly looked back to see if somebody was chasing after her. The road stood empty and silent as if in death. The whole neighborhood was asleep; the sun was at its fullest, as if it wanted to melt the entire city that afternoon.

When she reached the main street, she saw Ahmad waiting for her. She felt much better, but they still had to hurry so no one from Zarin’s family would catch them. Zarin thought to herself, “I am so scared.” Ahmad, tall and thin, his head wrapped with a piece of cotton fabric to protect it from the sun, walked one step ahead of her, saying hurriedly, “Don’t be scared. We will do it.” Zarin felt a little safer. But a strange feeling covered her heart, as if she was dreaming.

In the courthouse, somebody calls her name and she puts up her burqa because she recognizes the voice. It’s her aunt, and she is asking how Zarin came to that district from the big city, who she ran away with and how she could have done such a shameful thing.

Zarin feels nervous and tired, very tired of the same questions and people blaming her. Taking a deep breath, she tells her aunt they took a taxi for three hours. Suddenly she cries out, saying, “Aunt, please don’t question me about why I chose to leave the house with this man. You know my parents don’t want me and my sister to get married. I am 35 years old, why am I not married yet? Because my father rejected all the people who wanted to marry me and my sister, who is now 38. He avoided all the men since we were 18. He never asked us if we want to marry or not. His excuse for some of them was that they are very poor. For others, that they are very rich. He asked for a lot of dowry. Automatically people left us.”

Her aunt looks quietly at Zarin’s tears, thinking how she already knows all this, and how women are powerless in her society, like a piece of material. She knows the desires of women have no place here. They have no right to dream or decide their own lives.

Despite this, she wants to condemn Zarin and make her go home. Zarin’s case in court is not the only one. There are others but they changed nothing and only resulted in a painful life for the girls.

Sitting on the same bench, Zarin wipes away her tears and once again she drowns in bitter memories. She remembers how her old father was so harsh with them. He shouted at her for little things and wanted her to leave the house.

Day by day he added more discipline and sanctions on the girls. They could not go shopping or have cell phones or chat with other people. Ruya, who was older, was more patient. She silently accepted it, having neither hope nor expectations. She knew she would not have a family of her own and she had to stay and take care of her parents.

Zarin was different. She was rebellious. She wanted new things in her life. Still it was very hard to make the decision to break the cultural chains and disobey all the rules that had been rooted in the family for years.

She met Ahmad when he was working at her neighbor’s house. Ahmad was a laborer, a simple worker, and younger than Zarin, but very kind and mature, the kind of man Zarin had always dreamed of meeting. At their first meeting they exchanged telephone numbers. They began talking on the phone. At the same time, her father’s behavior worsened. He would yell at her any time of the day, and tell her to leave his house.

In the wedding court, Zarin hears a familiar sound. It is her brother! She is very scared when she sees him there. Her older brother followed Zarin after he found she had run away. Now he is trying to persuade the officials in the court to send Zarin back home with him.

When Zarin hears this, she quickly dials a number. A man answers. She tells him about her brother. She is talking to Ahmad, but he is sitting at the other side of the court because men and women are segregated.

Zarin knows if she goes home, she will be killed by her family for bringing shame to them. Zarin thinks of her aunt, just now, yelling at her for leaving her home and harming the family’s honor. Ahmad assures her nobody can take her away and the court will solve the matter in their favor.

In fact, Zarin’s brother is disappointed by the court. The laws support couples who want to marry each other. He calls the other relatives to tell them that after today, “Zarin is dead for us.” The same afternoon, Zarin and Ahmad sign formal papers and become husband and wife.

What their future would bring is unknown, and Zarin is scared and worried. She knows her family won’t forgive her, and she has no idea what awaits her in Ahmad’s family. But she is also very happy. Ahmad assures her he will stay with her under any conditions, and all he wants is her happiness.

By Shafiqa

Photo by Principle Pictures. Zarin’s story concludes in The Marriage Court, part two.