By Nada Mrabet
KAIROUAN, Tunisia – MWN
“You are a girl. You cannot do this. You cannot do that.” Every time Hayet hears her parents say those words, she gives them a mysterious look and walks to her bedroom, swearing. She lies on her bed with her diary on her chest. Her eyes are closed, but she’s awake; daydreaming. Although marriage is probably her only ticket to finding a way out of misery, she does not dream of her prince charming the way her cousins do. She does not picture her future house, and doesn’t care whether she will have children.
Girls her age usually decorate their rooms with posters of popular musicians. Hayet has pictures of feminist writers such as Maya Angelou, Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. Girls her age usually have make up, perfume, and feminine accessories on their dressing table. Yes, books. The room smells of old books. Books are everywhere: on her dressing table, desk and even on her bed. She is not studious but is obsessed with reading. She uses books to build different worlds and lead different lives in an attempt to make a heaven out of hell. She escapes to her room every time she feels that she is treated like an ordinary woman. Her room is utopia.
“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where, I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving but this…”
Hayet reads these lines with a low voice, her hands shaking and a red face followed by a deep sigh. Her bookworm friend Warda asks her what’s wrong. She replies;
“Nothing is wrong. Everything is right. Everything is perfect. I think I’m aroused.”
Warda’s jaw drops. She replies in a sarcastic tone;
“What? Are you insane? Girl, you need to wake up right now and stop reading these worthless books full of mumbo jumbo about love or whatever it is called before your mom co….”
“Shush shush shush! You’re ruining the moment for me! Would you stop nagging, go to your corner, enjoy your scientific magazines and leave me in peace! I have enough nagging from my parents!”
Warda stares at Hayet for a couple of seconds and then takes her magazine and sits on the couch. Hayet stares back at her blankly. Then continues reading;
“ ..in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
A couple of hours later, Warda leaves. Hayet is in her room when her mother decides to pay her a visit to discuss something.
“Tomorrow someone is going to propose to you. He’s a sophisticated man with a six figure paycheck and good blood. He wants to see you before he proceeds to the engagement. He wants a small party, a simple dress and calm music. If he likes you, the wedding will be this summer. He said he’ll take you to any place you pick. Uh. I think you should wear the peach dress along with the pearl necklace I bought you last year. Try not to ruin it like you did with the last guy. God knows what you did to make him break the engagement. Now I’ll leave you to your silly books.”
Hayet remains silent as blood rushes to the capillaries of her face. She is only eighteen years old and her parents want to find her a husband. She doesn’t know how to deal with her mother’s wicked treatment. Every time an argument takes place, the same scenario occurs. And each and every time, Hayet keeps her silence because everything that she says will be used against her if her mother informs her father.
Her mother’s priority is finding a good enough husband for her daughter; one she can brag about when mentioning him to her sisters and relatives. He has to be wealthy and handsome. His family must be from an urban city, and must have a decent job. It doesn’t matter whether he is educated or whether he loves her daughter, or has good morals. It doesn’t matter to her whether he’s the kind of man who would beat his wife. It doesn’t matter to her whether he’s the type who would debauch all night long coming back late, smelling of alcohol and cheap perfume. As long as she gets to brag in front of her sisters and relatives, all those things do not matter.
Hayet is different from her mother. Although she wants a handsome man in a romantic way, she refuses to consider a man for his family or money. She wants a man who will appreciate, love and cherish her. She wants a man with morals who will never lie to or cheat on her. She wants a man who respects all women and who doesn’t feel intimidated by successful ones. The last thing a girl like Hayet needs is a misogynist.
She cries silently as she walks down the aisle. She is compelled to take a road she did not choose. She is going to spend the rest of her life with a man she considers a complete stranger.
The wedding ceremony is over. They are heading to their hotel room to spend the night before starting their honeymoon trip to Hawaii. She feels agitated and confused. She does not know what things will be like. She can hardly breathe. All she can think about is running away and how amazing her life would be if only she could live it her way and not her parents’ way. Her husband however feels extremely happy. He is married to the most beautiful girl in town, which is one more thing to brag about in front of his friends. The “ever after” trip has started and she does not know the destination.
Two years later…
I feel blessed for being your husband. I know that we have had our ups and downs and I am sorry for all the pain I caused you. I did not mean to hurt you. You see, I was not used to being with girls like you as I thought you were one of those shallow types who cared about nothing but my money. You came into my life and you turned it upside down in the most startling way ever. Everybody sees me as my father’s son. They do not know that I have changed. You do. I am sure you do. You are the only person who understands me. That is why I am sorry for every time I beat you, swore at you and cheated on you. I am sorry for the time I pushed you down the stairs and killed our unborn baby. I did not mean to do that. I was drunk. I was angry. I could not control my temper. That is not an excuse for what I have done. I know. If I could take back what I did, I would. But I can’t. That is why I am leaving. How different our lives could have been if we had had our child. I remember when we sat on the porch and started picking names. I am leaving you. It is not you. It is me. I want to set you free. And this is the only way to do it. I have left you some money. Do not worry. It is not my father’s. I know that you have always wanted me to depend on myself. And that’s what I have been doing for the last three months. I worked hard to make that money. I am trying to repay you. I know that money means nothing to you. However, maybe this way you can open the bookstore you always wished to have. I admit that I am a coward. I cannot even face you. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I love you.
Yours for life, Houssain”
Nada Mrabet is an editor at The Tunis Times, a Tunisian English- speaking newspaper. She contributed with some of her articles to The Halal Post, a Minnesota Muslim community newspaper. She is also a freelance writer and translator. She graduated with a BA in English Language, Civilization, and Literature from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of Kairouan and now is pursuing a master’s in English Applied Linguistics at I.S.L.Tunis.