girl in small doorway

In part one, Rabia wrote of how she used to love visiting her grandma’s house, and how her grandmother helped a neighbor deliver her tenth baby, a little girl named Sultana.

Sultana was a quiet, yet very naughty and fun girl to be around. We used to go to the grassland behind my grandma’s house where I would make a drum out of a pot and beat it and she would dance to the music of my band. She was my gang member. I remember I had fought with my cousin so Sultana and I decided to teach her a lesson. We locked her in a spooky shrine across from the house all day long. We used to broom the shrine for every girl we disliked, because there was a saying that if you broom a shrine mentioning your enemy’s name, God will punish them.

Sultana had a miserable life, but she never complained or asked for anything. She had dealt with life enough to not care what it brought. It had been a few years since we had visited my grandma’s house because the way had become too risky by car.

But one afternoon I came home from school and, after changing my clothes, my mother placed a bolanee and some yogurt in front of me and told me the story of my friend, Sultana.

“How is she going to handle this?” she began.

“Who,” I asked?

“Oh, that little girl from our village, Sultana.”

“What has happened to her?”

My mom sighed and explained, “She is getting married to a man the age of her father. Thirty years older than her.”

Sultana was only ten years old. Back then it was beyond my understanding what had happened.

I couldn’t comprehend anything as I continued eating my meal. Sultana had now entered a completely different stage of her life at ten. Her wedding was held just a few days later. I was not there, but my cousins say she wore the traditional dress, her little body covered up with a big veil. Her best friend, who was the same age, did her makeup. Sultana sat in the corner sneaking looks from the big shawl, enjoying the music and the crowd in the room. She was happy to be a bride, unaware of what was happening to her.

She thought it was like the game we played where each of us would take a turn being the bride, and now it was her turn. My aunt who attended her wedding said, “We asked her where was she going, and she replied ‘I’m going to my uncle’s house’.” The brothers had received a large dowry for her; they sacrificed her for their own comfort.

A few months after the wedding, Sultana was diagnosed with severe anemia. You could have predicted what the little soul had suffered—the responsibility of a family at an age when mothers are still running after you with a glass of milk to ensure your health. At age ten, she was cooking for a family of fourteen, washing the clothes of big men with her tiny hands, and cooking on an open fire.

She had no choice; these are the rituals for a bride. There was nobody to make sure she ate, no mother to hug her when she felt lonely and dispirited, no one to check her fever.

As I am writing this my mom is telling me about another seven-year-old girl found dead in her house with all her viscera hanging out of her vagina on her wedding night; and another one who escaped her father-in-law’s torture and spent almost a week in a well. These stories disgust me.

Those moments of laughter and fun, Sultana’s little round face, her cracked bare feet, her cold, fissured hands are flashbacks in my mind. She died a year after her marriage, after suffering from pernicious anemia. But I don’t blame infection or bacteria or medicine. I blame the society. I blame the people. I blame this cruel stone-hearted world. Sultana was too weak to fight. She was too gentle to carry that load. The demons had sucked her blood.

I can’t express the kind of feelings rushing through my body as I stood astonished above her little tomb in a far off, deserted cemetery. Thousands of questions streamed in my blood and I had no answer. My hands were too short to reach her. My voice was too low to awake her.

That little friend had disappeared. She was no more, but the world had not stopped, the sky had not fallen, the sun had risen. Humans were likely struggling to keep it going. As they say, life stops for nothing and no one.

By Rabia J.