Malalai's Forced Marriage
This is the condensed version of the original story that was written by my Afghan son, Fazilhaq
Everybody was shouting for help as the fire flames danced in the dark night. The fire changed the happy ceremony to a sad one. The women who were singing wedding songs were left to scream and mourn. Their loud cries woke my family and our sleepy neighbors. Everyone went to check what had happened. By the time we got there, the fire was killed. The burnt body of the young bride lay on the floor. The wedding car which was decorated with flowers and ornaments took the girl to the hospital.
I came home and my mom told me, "Malalai disagreed to marry this man who was almost as old as her grandfather. She would rather commit suicide then lie with that old man." She continued, “Gull Bibi is her mother and a friend of mine. She's a really nice woman, but her husband isn't. He’s very greedy and loves money and would do anything for it. She told me just three days ago that their daughter warned him that she would kill herself if she had to marry that man. Poor Malalai!"
The next day, the funeral prayer time was announced from the mosque's loudspeaker. The coffin was taken on the shoulders of those who came to celebrate her wedding ceremony. Malalai’s mother chased the car that held her daughter's coffin down the unpaved streets of Sar-e-pul. She screamed, “Please don't take her away. Please don't put her in the grave. Please don't. She's my child. Please don't take her away…….”
It was almost dinner time. For three days, meals are brought to the family by relatives or neighbors. My mom prepared dinner and told me to take it to Malalai's family. I entered the house and gave the meal to one of the family members. Inside the house, I saw Gull Bibi sitting in the corner leaning against the mud walls. I saw her red eyes. She had no more tears.
Seven days after Malalai’s death, Gull Bibi came to our house to see if her daughter had borrowed anything from us or owed us anything. My mom quickly answered her question, "No, No, Gull Bibi sister. Malalai was like my own daughter. She doesn’t owe anything to me."
Aunt Gull Bibi requested me to write a list of the things that her daughter owed to some people. "Look my son Fazilhaq, I asked almost all the people who knew my daughter if she owed anything to them. I told them I would pay them for it, but nobody is ready to tell me. They say that they've forgiven her. I remember some of the things. Could you please note them in a list?" She started, "Once when she was four years old, she took 2 Afghanis from her uncle's wallet without informing him. It sounds like stealing. Let's call it ‘stole’ - so she stole 2 Afghanis from her uncle's wallet to buy herself 2 lollypops. Whenever I see another child chewing a lollypop, I remember Malalai. How can I forget her while her memories are stuck with me in every moment of my life? I can't forget her! I can't forget her!"
As I looked at her weak, old and wrinkled face, I saw big drops of tears falling from her wrinkled eyes. She couldn’t stop this rain of tears falling from her eyes. My mom tried to comfort her. A few seconds later she started again, "When she was five years old, she didn't have sandals. Her old ones were torn and not useable. She used to cry when she walked barefoot on the cold earth." Gull Bibi dried her eyes, "so our neighbor who died two years ago brought her a pair of sandals. I think it cost him 20 Afghanis at that time. Since our nice neighbor is no longer alive, I'll pay his son." She cried mournfully again.
Consequently, she became angry, "It was all because of her father, my husband, Zalmai Khan. I told him that our daughter doesn't want to marry this man, he didn’t listen. He was too greedy. Saifuddin offered him a huge dowry. Malalai was 16 and he's 62 years old. She told us she would kill herself if she was forced to marry that old man. But my husband threatened to cut her tongue and told her she was shameless and disrespectful.”
Gull Bibi continued, “Malalai didn't speak another word for an hour. She just cried. He said that my Malalai was Bihaya. Is it being shameless when you tell your parents that the decisions they make for you are wrong? He said 'study, knowledge and education don't fit our society' How can they fit our society while we've closed all our doors toward it?”
After hearing this sorrowful story, we all cried - me, my two sisters, my mom and aunt Gull Bibi. This story filled our hearts with sadness. Gull Bibi mumbled, "Sorry, instead of telling you the things she owed. I told you the whole painful story… How much money do I owe so far?"
"It's ok that you told us this. She owed 2 Afghanis for the lollypops, 20 Afghanis for the sandals and 60 Afghanis for the Eid clothes. The total is 82 Afghanis.” I said.
Something came to her mind and she turned to my mom. "Look my dear sister; we have to stop all these forced and arranged marriages. Don't let your daughters go into a situation like this. Whenever someone comes to my home to show sympathy, I have the same advice for him or her. I don't want the same thing to happen to another girl like my Malalai."
She was quiet for a while and dried her eyes, but suddenly she remembered something else to add to the list. She looked at me and said, "My son Fazilhaq, since she killed herself on her own wedding night in her in-laws' house, she also owes something to them."
I replied with a shocking gesture, "She didn't spend one night there and didn't touch a thing in their house so what does she owe them?"
She replied with tears growing in her eyes, "Could you also add the money for the gasoline which she used to burn herself to death?"