So I wrote this piece about two months ago for a contest. Ended up not winning it, but you never really lose in life, you only learn. It’s a fiction piece, one style of writing that is a mind challenge for me sometimes. This one was inspired by an issue that really breaks my heart. I don’t write much fiction to be honest, so please go easy on me as you read this one. Here we go.
SHE HAS NO NAME
I walked downstairs to the kitchen to get a drink for my mother. “I think she said she wanted orange juice”, I thought. Or was it apple juice now? It was hard to remember. Well, considering the order of events from yesterday up till this early afternoon, I was surprised I could remember that she wanted juice at all. The sun rays streamed into our kitchen. I stood in its reflection for a few seconds, cartoon of orange drink in hand. In those seconds I hoped that maybe, just maybe, the beautiful sun rays would somehow seep into my heart and bring along their effervescence into me to brighten up the gloom that was currently overpowering it. Obviously I realised that my hopes were not going to come to fruition, and the end of my wishful thinking coincided with the scream of my name from upstairs. There was juice that needed to get to its owner. I hurriedly ran up the stairs to meet my mother, who was tying her scarf rather neatly atop her head.
The house was in a state of hustle and hustle. Today was my immediate elder sister’s wedding. It looked so grand, that is, judging by the décor of our compound which could now pass for a botanical garden, the array of food trays ready to be piled high with assortments of many kinds, and the most intricate designs I had ever seen on clothing. Everyone who came into the house was greeting and congratulating my parents. Everyone seemed to be so happy and pleased about this whole situation. Everyone apart from the bride and I.
I went into her room to be with her till it was time to come out for the ceremony. She wore the most expressionless smile I had ever seen. It was just both of us in the room, the other bridesmaids went to get lunch. I could see the sorrow in her eyes, I recognised this sorrow because that was what I saw staring me in the mirror this morning. I do not know if there was a word to describe how I felt. I was very sad, and equally very angry. Why was there so much merrymaking over the marriage of a 15 year old girl? People ought to be crying, mourning, wailing. They ought to mourn, to mourn a childhood lost. They ought to mourn with my sister as she too mourned her grand entry into a lifelong bondage.
My sister, my beloved elder sister, was the most playful soul I ever met, and possibly would ever meet. Born just about 6 months apart to different mothers who did not exactly take kindly to each other at first, the odds were already stacked against the favour of our relationship, but somehow we managed to tolerate each other, even genuinely love each other, I may say. As we grew so did our fondness for each other. Both of us, along with our three siblings, one elder and two younger, attended the same school. Our father was particular about that for some reason.
Every afternoon we would all run down the estate street to our home after the school bus dropped off us at its gate, making a temporary stop for frozen yogurt on our way. We loved our life. We had fun, we had good experiences, and most of all we had each other.
Everything was rosy until one warm Thursday afternoon, three months ago. We had run into the house as usual and we about to go to my room to play, but sister was summoned to the living room where my father, her mother and my mother sat. This was it, I thought, our crime had been exposed. She accidentally broke a flower vase last week while we were playing, so I certainly thought today was her day of reckoning. Looking back now, I wished it was about the vase. I watched from a distance, their voices barely audible. “We have found a good husband for you. He is a very noble man, and we want you both to get married as soon as possible”.
Ending with these words, our father stood up and left the room. I thought I heard wrong. Marriage? Now? Really? I knew I heard right when I saw the tears on sister’s face as she begged her mother frantically to not let this happen. “What do you mean you’re not ready? I was your age when I married your father. If I can do it, so can you. You are marrying that man whether you like it or not.” Her mother refused to see reason. Perhaps she did see reason in her heart, but the fear of father’s decisions was the beginning of common sense in our household. Our mums left sister in the living room, crying. I ran up to try and console her, but what could I say that would make her predicament better? I was as confused as she was.
In the week that followed, I came across so many new faces in our home. Family of Sister’s husband-to-be, I supposed. Apparently the suitor was a man described by everyone as rich, he was rumoured to be in his early forties. My honed eavesdropping skills had informed me that Sister was going to be a third wife. He lived countries away, so that meant she was going to live countries away from me. From us. His family seemed a bit too loud for my liking. Maybe they were not loud at all, but I wanted to use any excuse I got to dislike them. In two weeks a wedding date was set, and just like that, my 14yr old sister became the bride-to-be.
With each rising and setting of the sun, Sister’s despair grew. First she was, like myself as well, in denial. How did everyone think this was okay? She was dreaming of finishing university and finding the man of her dreams like in the movies. Now she was going to marry someone she barely knew, who could pass for her father. She was not emotionally or physically ready for marriage. What did she know about life that would make marriage the next step for her right now? She would marry and immediately be expected to give birth to and raise children. How could a child possibly raise a child? We cried a lot during this time, afternoons that were previously spent playing in the sun with no care in the world, now she wept her out while I consoled her or tried to, and she told me how she felt. She asked questions that my naïve mind had no answer to.
The day Sister realised that this was really happening was the day her suitor came to our house. I watched, as always, from a bit afar off. I got my glance of him while he alighted from his rather shiny black car. He was plump, bald-headed and had a scanty moustache; not a particularly good-looking man. The buttons around his belly region on his shirt looked like they were a second away from being popped off. He had the aura of one who was in money, his clothes and shoes looked newly bought and polished, and he carried this expensive-looking smartphone in his left hand. I watched him walk rather slowly into our house. He and our parents exchanged greetings for a few minutes then called on Sister to get introduced to him. Sister told me that immediately she saw him she felt like either vomiting or convulsing, she felt like doing something drastic to cry out for help since no one was listening to her words. But she did not do either, rather she stood and smiled weakly as she looked at the person who was going to become her husband.
From that moment forth, her despair and depression began. Sister slowly became a shadow of herself, she became withdrawn at school. Her education was going to end in a few weeks anyway. Her once-vibrant spirit was slowly replaced with a constantly downcast one. My friend was slipping away.
The climax of events occurred on the eve of the wedding. Sister woke up sadder than she usually had been these couple of months. I walked in on her bawling her eyes out. She stopped crying after some minutes and said, “I’m going to meet my mum”. Probably to beg her one last time, I supposed. I walked with her to her mother’s room two doors away, and stayed outside she entered. She walked out sadder than I had ever seen her in her life. We both sat on her bed for a while, probably about an hour, in silence. I did not say anything at all, because I did not need to. “I’m going to take a shower, I’ll join you downstairs to eat lunch”. I went downstairs and waited for her. Thirty minutes passed, then forty-five, and I was getting worried and a bit impatient. I went back up to check in and see what was taking so long. It was then that I walked into my sister face down in her bathtub full of water, looking lifeless.
With all the air I had in my lungs, I screamed. I began to pull her out. Two of our maids heard the scream and joined me in seconds and Sister was brought out. Her mum rushed in, and almost immediately began to scream when she realised what was going on. Then came in my mum, also screaming but with lesser intensity and calling for her cousin that was temporarily staying with us who happened to be a doctor. He rushed in and started compressing her heart and blowing air into her mouth. We were cramped in the small room, with Sister lying semi-conscious on the floor rug in our centre.
At the moment I could not really grasp the intensity of what Sister did or tried to do. There was so much shouting and wailing all at once that I got so confused. One of my aunties who lived with us came in and led me out of the room in the midst of it all, but not before I saw Sister coming to the shores of consciousness, coughing out parts of the water she had swallowed. She was alive, I heaved a sigh of relief.
The adults kept all three of us kids in our playroom all afternoon. I looked around, apparently I was the one concerned for our sister, I thought. To be fair though, I doubt they knew anything was wrong. Everyone else seemed more concerned about the television show they were watching. It was actually my favourite cartoon that was playing on the screen, but I was in no mood to enjoy it, or this false sense of peace either. After what seemed like a century we were finally told to come out for dinner. I rushed out of the room and ran to our dining. Sister was there, seated, looking more distraught than ever. My father was also there which was a bit weird, he hardly ever ate with us. He always looked so serious to me so I did not think he looked out of the ordinary at dinner. There was small talk, as usual, but it could not hide the pensive air that clouded the dinner table. Everyone talked with a certain caution. I kept looking at Sister, who did not look up even once during her meal. As I was leaving the table my mother told me that I was to sleep in her room that night, I guess that was due to events of the day.
It was not until late that night that I knew what happened while I was in the playroom. Both our mothers, obviously very disturbed by what happened, went along with Sister to plead with our father to at least postpone the marriage because the health of his daughter was at stake. He blatantly refused. “I have set a date, and there is no stunt that she can pull that will make the date change. She is fine, this is just unnecessary drama. She will marry her suitor tomorrow and be fine”. As she narrated this story to me she looked so tired, too tired to even cry. Behind her on a hanger was her wedding dress. I had no words to console her with, so I just hugged her and remained in that hug for a long time. We both went to bed after that. I did not ask her about the bathroom incident. We ushered in our sleep, and the dreadful day ahead, with silence.
The other bridesmaids returned and we were then called out to begin the procession. We all walked down to the wedding venue and formed a human tunnel that Sister was to walk through. On our way there I made up on mind on this fact: my sister probably did not matter. Not to father, not in society, not anywhere. She cried out for help but nothing changed. Her life was a pawn to be manipulated in whatever way others deemed fit, and there was no way to escape out of it. Nothing about her mattered then; not her opinions, not her concerns, not her voice, not even her name. If she did not matter then the same must apply to me. I guess this is our new reality.
I looked at her as she walked between us, with her heavily powdered face and the thick veil that hung from her crown to her feet, almost hiding her completely. A small tear found its way down my cheeks which I swiftly wiped off. I had to smile while greeting all our relatives and in-laws today but it could not have been a sadder day in my life. It felt like my heart was shattered in a thousand pieces. I mourned for my sister and for myself. For my Sister, because her childhood was coldly stolen from her. For myself, because I knew I was going to be next.
Thank you for reading.
Photo Reference: https://goo.gl/images/U5gvoa