Shaima was one of my best friends in eighth grade. She loved to talk, but she had a hearing problem and was tormented by the loud shrieking of students. So she didn’t do well in her lessons, but she was very friendly and that was important to me.
Every day we went to the basketball stadium to play games. Shaima and I were some of the laziest players on the team, but we were happy. I was happy all through eighth grade until the day of our final test in geography class. When I came to school, I saw that everyone was crying rather than studying for the test.
“What’s up, guys?” I asked. “Why are you crying?’’
“Shaima is not coming back to school,’’ they answered.
“Why?” I asked.
“Her father forced her to get engaged,” they said. Shaima’s family was not in a good financial situation. Her father wanted Shaima to bring in money for the other children so he forced her to marry. She was 16, too young to be married, but she didn’t know how to avoid the biggest trap of her life.
I didn’t do or say anything. I was too afraid. My friend needed me more than ever, but I knew nothing could be changed. Now I feel only sorrow. Is Shaima alive? Is she happy?
Another good friend, Vahida, sat next to me in school. She was very afraid of our English teacher because her family didn’t allow her to go to the English course outside school. She had lots of problems in English, but I helped her by doing her homework.
One day when I came into class, I found Vahida crying. “What’s up?” I asked.
“I have no friends,” she said. “No one in class thinks about me, even for one minute.’’
“I’m your friend,” I said.
“Really?” she said. “I never thought I would be your friend.”
I didn’t want to become friends with a lazy girl. But Vahida’s sweet, caring nature and her kindness influenced me, and we became best friends. She taught me the meaning of friendship. Every time I saw her smiling, school seemed perfect to me, until one day, a day that changed my life.
“Are you Alia?’’ It was Vahida’s cousin’s daughter.
“Vahida won’t be coming back to school. Her mother is sick and wants her to do the housework instead of going to school.”
I don’t know how I passed that day. I cried for two hours in class. Vahida was just 15, too young to stay home and do the housework. She should be learning. The next morning Vahida came to school to say goodbye. I asked her to stay, but she said, “I can’t.”
That was the last sentence I heard from Vahida: “I can’t.”
By Alia, age 13