Something was wrong, Gul Naar thought. Her dolls were moving. They had turned into living things. They were laughing and talking to each other. Even her favourite doll Batur, with his thick black moustache, was giggling as his tiny hands continued to grip his metal sword that was hanging from his shoulder. And then there was Gul Naar herself. She was singing as her friend Speena was playing daf. They both looked so happy as if nothing unusual was happening around them. Something does not look right.
As Speena was hitting the daf with her small, skinny hands, Gul Naar switched from one song to another. For the moment she decided to ignore the unusual things that were happening around them. This is so good. I have never been this happy, she thought.
She switched to another song. As she did, she heard a strange sound; a sound that she had never heard before. She looked over Speena’s shoulder in the direction the sound was coming from. Her heart started throbbing when she saw a pack of wolves with their white fangs glimmering in the sun as they climbed down the tall mud walls of Gul Naar’s house. She stopped singing, but Speena continued playing and the dolls continued laughing. She started screaming, but nobody could hear her. She tried to scream louder but she couldn’t. She felt like someone was choking her. She gasped for air. She screamed again.
Speena was still playing and the dolls were laughing and giggling. She looked at Batur, he was still giggling and his eyes were closed. The wolves were now approaching them, roaring angrily. She could count them now. There were four of them; two black, one white, and the fourth one was grey. Their fur looked soft and fluffy and their wild eyes orange like small balls of burning fire, all eight of them fixed at Gul Naar.
When she realised that nobody could hear her, Gul Naar started slowly creeping back until her back touched the wall. She stayed there as the wolves got closer. Now she could feel the warmth of their breath on her small face. One of the wolves jumped on her and opened his mouth to dig his pointed fangs into her shoulders. Suddenly, she felt an unusual strength in her body and she started running towards her parents’ room. As she was running she looked down at her feet and realised that she was not running. She was just imagining that she was running. She looked over her right shoulder. The wolves were right behind her, still growling and trying to catch her.
She was jolted from her sleep and looked around in fear. For the first few seconds she could not say where she was or whether she was awake. Her brain was struggling to distinguish between the darkness and the dream. She tried to scream again, but her voice was silenced in her throat. Her mouth was dry and her vocal chords were glued shut. She looked around, but could not see anything, except for a single beam of moonlight that spilled through the only window of the room. She concentrated all her energy in her ears and tried to listen to the sounds around her. Once she heard the familiar sound of her mother snoring, her throbbing heart gradually stopped pounding. The same recurring nightmare, she told herself.
She listened to the sounds in the yard. Unlike other nights when a merciless wind would lash at the door and walls of the room, that night there was no wind outside. The yard was silent like a grave. Every once in a while an insect would chirp, breaking the icy silence
As she was listening to the chirping insects and her mother’s snoring at the other end of the room, she put her hand under the blanket and felt the wet sheets. Oh God. Not again. I have wet my bed
“Moor,” she called her mother in a low voice.
“Moor,” she called her again, this time in a louder voice.
The snoring stopped. She saw her mother sitting up in her bed and struggled in the darkness to find her veil. “Gul Naar!” she whispered back at her daughter as she wrapped her head and shoulders in her veil. “What is it? Did you have a nightmare again?”
“Yes,” Gul Naar answered with the same whispering voice.
“Same one with lewaan – wolves?”
“Yes,” answered Gul Naar, her voice shaking. “I have wet my bed again.”
“It is alright,” her mother consoled her. “We will dry you up. We will go to the Imam’s shrine tomorrow and get you a taweez.”
Gul Naar woke up to the smell of freshly baked bread. She inhaled as much air as she could store in her lungs and tried to enjoy the aroma. As she was lying in her bed she thought about the things that she had planned to do that day. There was not much, she thought.
We will play bride’s mother and groom’s mother game with our dolls again.
She was lying on her back and her eyes were fixed on the wooden ceiling of the room. She started counting the wooden beams in the ceiling. She counted until ten. There were a few more beams to be accounted for, but she could not count above ten.
She sighed. “One day I will count all of them,” she murmured in the empty room.
Then she remembered her nightmare. She slipped her right hand under the blanket to make sure that she had not wet her bed again. A smile appeared on her face when she felt dryness between her legs. Thank God it was a dream.
She walked into the yard to find the little olive tarpaulin tent where she kept her dolls. There was no sign of it. She looked behind the big rock near the well. They were not there either. Next she looked in the storeroom. Her mother would sometimes put her dolls there. It was not there either.
She stepped back into the yard and looked up at the sun. It was above her head, slightly towards the east. She squatted where she was standing and put the tip of her little finger on the ground and stretched the rest of her fingers upward. She marked the point where the shadow of her thumb ended. She measured the distance between where she had put her little finger and the place that she had marked. It was one and half times the size of her lwesht – her stretched fingers. That is how she would always figure out the time of the day. Her father had taught her that. That meant that Speena would arrive any minute. I have to find the dolls and arrange the tarpaulin before she arrives.
“Gul Naar,” she heard her mother’s voice behind her. She was standing at the threshold of the kitchen door, wearing her baking clothes with her head covered with a smoke-blackened headscarf. “Are you looking for something?”
“My nawakais, dolls,” Gul Naar complained. “I cannot find them. I put them here yesterday under the tarpaulin.” She pointed towards the well.
“Forget about your dolls,” her mother said as she started walking towards her. “You are no longer a child. You do not need your dolls anymore.”
“No,” Gul Naar protested with an angry note in her voice. “I want my dolls. Speena will be here any minute.”
“She is not coming,” her mother said firmly. “She is not a child anymore either. Her parents won’t let her leave the house.”
“Where are my dolls?” Gul Naar insisted. “I want my dolls.” Her eyes brimmed with tears and she felt a lump in her throat when she thought about not being able to see her friend again. “I want my dolls.” She covered her eyes with her elbow and started sobbing.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and then heard her mother’s voice. “Let’s go inside,” her mother told her as she rubbed the back of her head with one hand and tried to remove her elbow from her face with the other. “I have made you your favourite breakfast; there is ghee, fresh bread, almonds and walnuts.”
They entered the smoke-blackened kitchen. Naaz, Gul Naar’s sister in-law, was peeling onions and garlic, and the cooking oil was heating in a black pot on the fire next to her. She smiled deliberately when she saw them entering the kitchen. Gul Naar sat beside the tandoor. She could feel the warmth of the burning wood on her bare hands and her skinny face.
Her mother poured her some milk from a small aluminum pot. “I saved you the creamy part,” she put the glass in front of her. “I know how much you like it. Naaz said that she would make you your favourite landi palaw. Isn’t that true, Naaz?”
Naaz forced another smile and nodded in silence
“She knows you how much you like dried meat and rice,” her mother continued.
Gul Naar took a bite from the freshly baked bread and a sip of milk, and looked at the salted red meat that was soaking in a big aluminum bowl near the fire.
“Speena did come this morning,” her mother said without looking at Gul Naar, “but your brother Zadran sent her home and told her to not come again.”
“Why?” Gul Naar objected, putting down the milk glass. “Why did he send her back and tell her not to come back?”
Her mother did not answer.
Gul Naar looked at her sister in-law and hoped that she might answer her question. Naaz squeezed her burning eyes. She put the onion and garlic in the boiling oil and pretended that she could not hear them talking.
Her mother grabbed a knife and started scraping the burned and black parts of bread that she had just taken out of the tandoor. “He also told her that you had gone somewhere and that you wouldn’t be back any time soon,” her mother continued.
“But why?” Gul Naar complained. Her eyes brimmed with tears. “Why did he lie to her?”
“Because you are not a little girl anymore. You are a woman.”
Gul Naar did not comprehend what her mother was telling her. How could she have become a woman when she did not notice this herself? A woman? How does someone turn from a girl into a woman? What is Moor talking about? She looked at her own body and then she looked at her mother and then at her sister in-law to find similarities between them. She couldn’t. I am still a girl but why is mother saying that I am a woman? Mother is a woman. Naaz is a woman. Not me. I am a girl.
Her mother splashed her right hand in a bucket of water. “My mother, may God forgive her sins, would say that girls are temporary tenants in their father’s house,” she said, picking up a dough ball and stretching it on all sides until it became thin. “She would always tell me and my sisters that a girl’s real house is her da bakht koor, her destiny home,” she said without looking at Gul Naar.
Gul Naar did not say anything. She was hardly listening to what her mother was saying. She had laced her small fingers around the milk glass and her gaze fixed on the orange ember of the oak wood that was burning slowly at the bottom of the tandoor. She was thinking about what her mother had just told her about her friend Speena. For a moment she pictured a smiling and happy Speena, dressed in the same green dress that she was wearing yesterday, walking all the way from her home on the other side of the village cemetery to Gul Naar’s house. She pictured her covering her head in her pink scarf, knocking on their door, hoping that Gul Naar would open the door for her and bring her inside as she would always do, only to be lied to by her brother Zadran.
“Gul Naar,” she heard her mother’s voice. She was stretching the brims of the flat dough that she had put on her right hand. “Were you day dreaming again?”
Gul Naar shook her head to say no.
“You were somewhere else again, weren’t you?” her mother asked as she lowered her right shoulder and stuck the flat dough with thin edges to the hot wall of the orange tandoor. “Did you hear what I said?” she asked as she pressed her finger on the surface of the white dough to make patterns on it.
“Yes,” Gul Naar answered innocently, confused. “Girls’ real house is their da bakht koor,” she parroted.
“Do you know what that means?”
“It means that this house does not belong to you anymore,” her mother explained. There was an angry note in her voice. “This house belongs to me because my husband, your father, lives here. It belongs to Naaz because her husband, your brother Zadran, lives here. It belongs to Gul Bashra because her husband, your brother Dawlat, lives here. Your home is where your husband lives.”
Gul Naar and her mother were alone in the kitchen. Naaz had left the room. Silence engulfed everything in the kitchen. The only sounds were those of the burning oak wood at the bottom of the tandoor and the sound of boiling oil in the large aluminum pot on fire.
Gul Naar took another bite of the bread and silently chewed on it. She looked at her mother but did not know what to say. Why is mother so angry today? She asked herself, looking at her mother’s face. Have I done something that has upset her?
“Have you ever asked yourself why your father does not love you as much as he loves your brothers?” her mother asked.
Baba has always loved me. He still loves me, Gul Naar wanted to say but she remained silent.
“Because he knows that girls are other people’s property,” her mother said. “Sooner or later you will go to your da bakht koor. You will take care of your husband and his family. You will not have time for us.”
I will take care of you. I will cook. I will clean and I will water the cows and the donkey, Gul Naar wanted to say but she remained silent again. She just looked at her mother’s face, hoping that she was joking.
“When God created Baba Adam from dirt, he blew from his own soul into him. He noticed that Baba Adam was bored and lonely. So he created his wife Bibi Hawa from one of his left ribs to comfort him,” her mother said with a softer tone.
There was a sizzling sound in the bottom of the tandoor. A small plume of grey smoke and steam rose towards the ceiling of the kitchen. Gul Naar’s mother grabbed a metal hook and lowered it into the tandoor and brought out a big aluminum teapot with boiling water spilling out of it.
“God has created all women for the comfort of men,” her mother continued as her face flushed and her eyes stung from the heat and smoke. “Your da bakht koor is where you will live and where you will die. My mother, may God forgive all her sins, used to say that a woman enters her husband’s house alive and leaves it when she dies.”
Gul Naar’s face lost its crimson hue and turned pale. Just a week ago she had accompanied her mother to one of their neighbour’s house to attend the funeral of an old woman who had died a natural death. The image of that day swam up before her eyes. She was covered in a black shawl with verses of the Quran embroidered in gold on it, as the men carried her on a stretcher. The sound of villagers shouting Allahu Akbar as they carried her to the village cemetery echoed in her little ears. Then she imagined her own little lifeless body, covered in blankets, leaving her imaginary destiny home.
“Do you remember Zareena?” her mother asked.
Gul Naar nodded yeswithout saying a word.
“Do you remember how old she was when she got married?” her mother asked, and before Gul Naar could answer her question she continued, “She was thirteen – a year younger than you.”
“Why are you talking like this, Moor?” Gul Naar complained. Her voice was tearful. “Why mention Zareena?” She felt a lump in her throat and her big black eyes sparkled with tears. “You are scaring me.” She dropped her head.
“Because I want you to be prepared for what comes next in your life,” her mother said firmly. She lowered her head and her eyes searched for Gul Naar’s. “Now stop that petulance and start behaving like a real woman,” she said, her voice rising. “Look at me.”
Gul Naar kept her head down and continued sniffing and snorting.
“Zareena accepted her fate and married the person that her parents chose for her,” her mother said. “Despite marrying a man as old as her oldest brother she is happy in her life and now is raising two kids.” She grabbed a bucket of cold water and started splashing it on the half-burned firewood at the bottom of the tandoor. Steam and smoke rushed up to the black ceiling of the kitchen. “Soon you will have children as well… many of them I hope.” She laughed silently. It was a bitter smile. It looked more like a smirk than a laugh. Then she started coughing.
Gul Naar rushed to bring her a glass of water.
“Everything happens for a reason,” her mother said as she cleared her throat. “There is God’s will in everything that happens. The ups and downs in our lives are all from God. That is what every Muslim is required to believe in. Thank God we are Muslims. There is a reason that God created you and me as women. He has plans for us.” She put the glass down.
“You scare me mother,” Gul Naar complained again. She was standing over her mother “You want to tell me something, don’t you? Do not torture me. What is it that you are trying to tell me?” She said it all in one breath. She had stopped crying and was watching her mother with alarm. “You first told me that I was not a girl any more, then you told me about my da bakht koor, and now you are talking about Zareena and fate and God. I am scared.”
“I just want you to be prepared.”
“Prepared for what?”
“Prepared for…” her mother almost, shouted. Gul Naar could feel the frustration and anger in her mother’s voice. “I want you to be prepared if one day your father or brother decide your fate.”
“Why are you saying these things Moor?” Gul Naar started crying again. “Baba will never marry me off.” She covered her face with the hem of the small green headscarf that she was wearing. She slowly sobbed as her shoulders shook.
“Women do not make such big decisions,” her mother said with a sorrowful voice. “It is the men who make them.”
Naaz entered the kitchen again. She saw Gul Naar sobbing but she ignored her. She walked to the fireplace and stirred the garlic and onion and then she added the meat. She also soaked some brown rice.
“It was not Naaz’ choice to marry your brother,” Gul Naar heard her mother’s voice. “Men in her family decided that she should marry Zadran.”
Gul Naar removed the scarf from her face and looked at Naaz from behind a wall of tears that was blurring her vision.
Naaz continued pretending that she could not hear them.
Gul Naar did not remember Naaz’ wedding because she was only two when Naaz married her brother but she knew the story. She was given to Zadran, Gul Naar had heard, because Naaz’ older brother had got into a physical fight with Gul Naar’s uncle over water. It was during this physical brawl that Naaz’ brother had hit Gul Naar’s uncle with a shovel in the back of his head and killed him. A jirga of elders then forced Naaz’ family to marry her to Gul Naar’s brother Zadran in order to prevent further bloodshed between the two families.
“Men get into fights, kill each other and then make their sisters and daughters pay the price,” her mother continued. “One second you are sitting in your home, thinking that everything is alright and that nothing can disturb the peace of your life, the next second you hear that you are the sacrificial goat for your brother, your father or your uncle’s cowardice or machismo.” She paused for a short few seconds. She fixed her eyes on a piece of ember at the bottom of the tandoor that was covered by a grey dust of ashes. “This is a world for men and in a world where men think of themselves as Gods, women are always treated like a herd of goats. They slit our throats whenever they want.”
Gul Naar had seen how a goat’s throat is slit. Just three months ago, before the winter started, her brothers and father had slaughtered one of their goats in the yard of their house for landi. She was standing there, close to the ditch where her brother Zadran put the knife on the helpless goat’s throat and she saw blood shooting in all directions a second later. She remembered feeling a pain at the pit of her stomach.
She looked at the black pot in the mud fireplace. She could see the meat of that same goat floating in the black aluminum pot. I am not going to eat that meat, she promised herself.
“Baba loves me,” Gul Naar said with confidence. “He will not marry me off now.” She looked at Naaz and hoped that she would agree with her. Naaz did not say anything. Will baba really marry me off? she asked herself, looking at Naaz’ meek and submissive eyes.