Dinner at 7

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My mother was very proud of her family.

“My sons are kings in my house. I have a daughter—her five fingers are five lights. If she cooks for long hours and does the housework, she never complains of being tired. I think all girls must be like my daughter.”

My brothers were so proud to say how “We have a sister that yet neither the sun nor the shadows have seen.”

Thursdays were special days for me. I’d done all my school subjects, homework, and exams well—these were the things that were important to me. So Thursdays when I returned home from school, the view of the roses and the greenish grasses of our small garden made me happy and full of energy.

On one such day, I passed the shadows of our oak tree in front of our living room, put my school bag in a corner, and said hello to my mom. She looked angry and didn’t reply. My brother saw me when I came from school and he said to my Mom that tonight we will have thirteen guests.

A storm of worries came to my heart. I was shocked about what to do. I had three hours and at 7 o’clock the dinner must be ready for the guests.

Cooking was not a difficult task for me. From my childhood, my dear mom had broken my single happy moment by telling me that I must learn to cook because one day I will marry and if I am not a good wife they will say that I didn’t have a good mother.  I was forbidden to play outside the house from early childhood. I stayed in the kitchen and watched mom while she was cooking.

I became an expert in cooking delicious Afghan foods, but one thing I hated was washing the hands of the guests and family members before dinner was brought to the table. This was a sign of respect for them.

I felt annoyed. I thought that cooking the food was my job because I will be a wife of a man one day. But what is the benefit of washing the hands? Why must I see the dirt on the hands of everybody? Why can’t everyone do it themselves? I thought if it was an act of respect or giving honor why should I do in our home? Why is there no respect for me?

I tried to concentrate more on the food, the smoke, the smell of spices, the cold water washing the vegetables for salad, my tears while cutting the onions. But then my brother opened the door of the kitchen and screamed how it was getting late for the guests, how dinner must be ready at 7 and I was not worthy to live in that house. I deserved nothing and then the door slammed and with my nervousness I felt I cooked my heart together with the dinner. I was focused on making the food the best. It must look like party food; everybody would love its smell and it would be delicious as they all ate their fingers together with the food.

If I didn’t make it perfect, if the guests didn’t comment about my food, then I was beaten and slapped on the face. By the end of the dinner, nobody had thanked me for my hard work. I didn’t know the guests. They were my brother’s friends and I was not able to see them or greet them and talk with them. I only saw their shoes. Sometimes they wore shiny, new shoes and sometimes they had dirty, ugly shoes. 

The nights when we didn’t have guests, there was enough time for everybody at home to watch me with critical eyes, check my school books, make sure I had no postcards or girlish things in my bag. They’d follow me to school so that I didn’t have a relationship with a boy or buy a new collection of songs of Sarban. Once they found where I hid my cassettes and CDs and they destroyed them. 

We had an old fashioned television and I followed some of TV serials when I had time, if  I didn’t have too much homework. In order that my brothers show me their love, they destroyed the TV and threw it into the garden yard.

I didn’t understand them. I didn’t know why they were doing all this to me, why they wanted to teach me how to obey them and respect them.

I didn’t hate them. I felt pity for them and I wished that one day they would listen to me and know who I was and what I thought.

Although my self-confidence was ruined and day by day I was feeling desperate, I learned my own way to love myself, to respect life and forgive them. Yes, it was hard but I forgave them. I really did.

What hurts me a lot now is why the sweetest days of my life, my youth, when I was fresh like an apple, when I was a teenage girl and later on, why everything in my life was devoted to something that meant nothing.

For my family I was just a virgin girl and they worried—it was a kind of madness in their minds, as they thought about a young girl plus sex.

I feel deeply sorry that what I loved in my life was sacrificed by this kind of thinking. I wish I was able to talk with my beloved friends, listen to my songs. I wish that I could say “I love you” to a boy I really loved.

I couldn’t have such wishes. Yet I at the same time I couldn’t accept that I deserved nothing.

At night when everybody went to sleep, I went to my bed, but kept the windows open to hear the songs played at our next door neighbor’s. I smiled with my eyes, opened the first and second buttons of my dress so that the wind touched my neck. I kissed the lips of the moon and followed my dreams and I slept with the hope of having, not the same life, but one with a good future.

By Anonymous


Comments

  1. A stunning, stunning, essay that I hope will have a million readers. God bless you, dear Anonymous. How you tell your story! How you share your dreams! Yes, you deserve a good future! You deserve the world! Beautiful, heart-wrenching storytelling. Please keep up the excellent work! Stacy

  2. Dear Anonymous: I am still haunted by the image of you having to wash the hands of the guests. Such an intimate act. When this is something you are pushed to do, this indeed feels like a violation. Please know that you are being remembered. I hope that you will get to control who you share such acts with in the future. Stacy

  3. You are a brave, remarkable woman. Our world needs true forgiveness more than all else. As we have all seen in the life of Nelson Mandela, it is not weak. It is the light that destroys the darkness, and releases prisoners—and prison guards from their soul’s prison.

  4. This has left me speechless. Stunned. The writer has great gifts. I am reminded of several novels I have read lately by Afghan writers, Hosseini among them. The environment the writer describes here is just as vivid as those works of fiction. I hope that the writer continues to tell her story. I agree about the image of washing hands. It is a tradition I knew nothing about, and I am host to a wonderful Afghan women who studies here in the U.S. via SOLA. This writer has given me more valuable insights into a world so different from my own.

    Thank you.

    Liz

  5. Mahnaz Rezaie says:

    Beautiful writing. Stay strong dear. You can do it. Stand up for your rights.

    “At night when everybody went to sleep, I went to my bed, but kept the windows open to hear the songs played at our next door neighbor’s. I smiled with my eyes, opened the first and second buttons of my dress so that the wind touched my neck. I kissed the lips of the moon and followed my dreams and I slept with the hope of having, not the same life, but one with a good future.” this is a beautiful paragraph, loved it.

  6. Charles Fisher-Post says:

    This essay is so vivid, so thoughtful. It’s one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever seen. It’s mesmerizing. I’ve heard it read twice at two different AWWP events, and I can’t stop thinking about it. We are all so privileged not just to be transported so adeptly into your life experience, but to also benefit from your perspective on what you have been through. To have remained strong, unbroken, through what you have endured is remarkable. This essay is a staggering achievement, you are a gifted writer, and I only hope you continue to submit work, because it needs to be read.

  7. Kat Fitzpatrick says:

    Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for writing. I am practicing my speaking skills in a club called Toastmasters International. Tonight I will read some of your words to my audience and they will be inspired to learn more about your culture, your writing and about the way Afghan women are forging ahead in the face of such hardship. Your spirit is reaching world-wide!
    Kat

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  1. […] “I couldn’t accept that I deserved nothing”  - Anonymous […]

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