By Omar Bihmidine
By Omar Bihmidine
Morocco World News
Sidi Ifni, Morocco, December 30, 2011
Aicha, the second oldest girl in the Oussaid family of Morocco, was upstairs, tired from grazing cattle and toilsome work in the meadows. Her father started shouting to her at the top of his voice to go see her mother. Aicha, fourteen and a short, plain-looking girl, immediately did as her father ordered. Her father, Ahmed, a greengrocer, was fierce-looking and merciless, and his terrible mood swings frightened everyone at home, and his clients at work.
Aicha’s mother called to her daughter again. Khadija was aged, generous, and kind-hearted, though overly submissive to her husband’s unreasonable and foolish orders. As Aicha descended the stairs, she heard her mother and neighbor women talking about visitors expected the following day. Astonished to hear that company was expected, Aicha stopped for a while to listen then shrugged her shoulders and continued. She found her mother waiting for her on the doorstep and they went into the living room together.
“Dear Daughter,” said Khadija.
“Yes, Mum!” replied Aicha, curious.
“I called you to tell you that you have to dress well tomorrow.”
“What for, Mum?” inquired the surprised Aicha.
“We are expecting some visitors from the nearby village.”
“OK, Mum, I promise I will,” said Aicha.
As she went upstairs, her mother called her again.
“Don’t forget to do the washing-up!”
“Don’t worry, Mum! Everything will be all right,” replied Aicha.
“What a very obedient girl she is,” Aicha’s mother said to herself. Then added, “I’m sorry that she is going to leave this house so soon. It really is a pity.”
Unaware of the plans for her future, the little girl finished her chores. Her family and neighbors waited with expectation for the visitor though she was never told his purpose. He was coming to ask for Aicha’s hand and she was not even consulted on the matter. All her friends felt sorry for her. There was no doubt that she would marry the visitor. Her marriage could not even be discussed with the father she feared.
That day, at lunchtime, Aicha and her mother were seated at the table when the doorbell rang.
“Who could that be, Mum?” asked Aicha.
“It is just your father coming back from the flea market,” replied her mother.
“Hey, Dad!” said Aicha as she opened the door.
“Where is your mother?” asked her father, ignoring her.
Aicha could never understand why her father treated her with so little regard. Still, she loved him as much as she did her mother. Ahmed had just sold Aicha’s beloved calf to provide a meal for the visitors coming the next day. Aicha was dismayed when she learned that her beloved calf was gone. She cried but no one comforted her, not even Khadija who feared her husband. Every time Khadija said something in defense of her daughter, she received harsh blows from Ahmed. So no use!
Aicha was the last to wake the next day. It was the first time Aicha was allowed to sleep late and wasn’t made to work outside. Briefly, she wondered why. She still didn’t understand she was soon going to be married. After making the bed and having breakfast with her mother, she went to her wardrobe to get out her best clothes.
As soon as she had dressed, she ran gaily to her mother.
“What a very charming girl you are!” said Khadija.
“So kind of you to say, Mum!” replied Aicha, blushing.
Aicha still thought that their company was just coming to pay a visit and nothing more. But then she heard her mother weeping very quietly. Khadija was in Aicha’s bedroom, arranging her daughter’s belongings into a bundle.
“Dear Mum, why are you crying?” asked Aicha.
“No reason, Darling! Go and prepare some tea for your father,” she replied,”he will be back in a minute.”
“Ah, what are you doing with all those winter clothes of mine?” asked Aicha, “it’s summer now, isn’t it?”
Her mother finally explained. “Please, don’t get angry. The visitor is coming to take you from us! He will marry you.”
The little girl was at a loss for words. It was the first time she’d heard she would be married and didn’t really understand. She couldn’t respond to her mother’s questions and her mother began to worry. If her capricious father had not begun to shout, Aicha would neither have moved nor have gone to open the door. Aicha grew pale and panic-stricken. She tried hard not to utter a word of objection that might upset her peevish father.
Like other girls, she might have looked forward to marriage at some point. So what made her sad then? She had remembered her father’s conversation with a shopkeeper about a very old, affluent man who had worked abroad for some years and now was living in the village next to theirs. The man had already been married to three women who he divorced after only five years. She feared he was the visitor. Aicha’s father did not care who his daughter’s husband was, just so long as she was married.
Aicha went to the roof, where alone and pensive, she contemplated her future. She came to the conclusion that she had no other choice but to accept her suitor and her fate. From the roof, Aicha saw the visitors approaching the house. Immediately she came down to tell her mother, who was busy setting the four tables in the living room. The clock struck three o’clock.
“They are coming, Mum, they are coming!” cried Aicha, melancholy.
“OK, dear Aicha!” replied her mother, “everything is ready! Where is your father?”
“I am here! Remember, don’t do anything that might make us lose face, OK?” he warned.
“Right, Dad,” said his daughter sadly.
Apart from the little girl, everyone welcomed the visitors with open arms, even the neighbors. Aicha’s parents were glad that somebody had at last come to ask for their daughter. Aicha felt sick at heart but never showed it because she knew very well that if she did, her father might hurl insults at her.
As soon as everybody was in and well served, they discussed the matter of Aicha. The suitor Mohamed was excited to see the little girl. He was notorious for his interest in young girls but this did not concern Aicha’s parents. In villages like this, money and worldly possessions were all that counted, with little concern for feelings and emotions.
Neither the Oussaids nor Mohamed’s family celebrated Aicha’s wedding that day. The main order of business was for Ahmed to request the dowry.
“How much do I have to pay?” asked Mohamed.
“Well, I think a cow would do, don’t you think?” replied Ahmed.
“OK, let it be so!” said Mohamed.
Ahmed was thrilled by the substantial dowry. Poor Aicha was not around during the discussion; she would not have been consulted anyway so why should she be around?
Later, while Aicha was preparing to go, her mother wept quietly. Parting with her daughter affected her deeply. Her father, by contrast, smiled all day. Aicha had become Mohamed’s fourth wife.
Two years went by and Aicha gave birth to her first child. She thought of this child, a boy, as her consolation. The tenderness she felt for him made her less forlorn and lonely.
“Such an old man as my husband is repulsive to me,” she once told a neighbor.
“Just be patient, Dear!” the neighbor calmed her, “this child of yours will soon help you.”
“I really hope so, but when? My life is full of disappointment,” said Aicha in despair.
Seldom did she hear from her parents and she did not take the initiative to inquire after them. With the passage of time, Aicha began to forget about the past. When her son, Ali, entered high school, she turned over a new leaf. Towards the end of 1995, Ali’s last year in high school, Aicha felt happier. Her son seemed to grow up faster and faster.
“Time flies, doesn’t it?” Aicha asked her son.
“Sure, dear Mum!” replied Ali jubilantly, as he obtained his baccalaureate degree.
As for Ali’s father, he had left the country two years before to live abroad for a while and was rarely heard from him. He sent a little money each month, though hardly enough for a dignified household. One day, Aicha heard that Mohamed was thinking of taking a fifth wife.
“What an unlucky wife she would be,” she thought. “May God stand by her!” she prayed.
Aicha took no notice of what people were saying about her and her husband. All that mattered was that her son would find work. Three years after he earned his B.A in Arabic Studies he found work as a teacher. “He got it at last, thank God!” Aicha said, breathing a sigh of relief. After Ali became a teacher, he and his mother no longer had to worry about having enough to live in dignity.
When Mohamed learned his son had found work, he did not express approval, but instead stopped sending money warning his son not to waste his salary. Eventually, Aicha and Ali learned that Mohamed was returning.
Two weeks later, Mohamed arrived bringing a new car. All the neighbors were happy about his arrival except his wife and son. They knew very well that his moody character would bring fights. Aicha wisely made up her mind to dare to face him finally and the first fight ended in divorce.
“Please, enough is enough!” said Aicha angrily.
“What has become of you?” responded Mohamed mockingly, “I am not used to such behavior.”
“I propose we get divorced as soon as possible!” added Aicha, defiantly. “OK, as you like!
Tomorrow you will have everything you are asking for!” said Mohamed.
“Is that the best you can do!” said Aicha, enraged.
Aicha had seldom heard from her parents but she found out that her father no longer worked and spent his days lying in bed. He was not able to move—or shout—like before. He was bald and senile. His wife attended to him faithfully at his bedside but after two years, she had been diagnosed with cancer. From that time, she too suffered.
Aicha shed tears when she heard of her parent’s situation. What a kind-hearted, forgiving woman Aicha is! Glimmers of love for her parents still resided in her heart. She immediately paid them a visit, reflecting during the journey on how she had been mistreated in her childhood but also about happier times with her friends.
She knocked on the door and entered. Her older sister Fatima was there taking care of her parents. In the living room, she found her father and mother lying in their separate beds. She looked at her mother, pale and bony, then her father, who was hiding his face. Aicha didn’t have much time. She and her son were moving for his job and he was waiting for her.
“Dear, Mum, I hope you recover soon! May God be with you,” cried Aicha.
“Dear Daughter, please don’t ever cry. I beg you a thousand times to forgive me,” uttered her mother with difficulty.
“Don’t bother yourself, dear Mum! I forgave you fifteen years ago,” Aicha assured her mother.
“Never worry about that again, OK?”
“I’m overwhelmed! How sweet you are!” said Kadija as she kissed Aicha on the forehead.
Aicha bade her mother good-bye and moved towards her father’s bed only to find him dead. “May Allah rest his soul in peace!” she uttered as she wept. Everyone wept, including Kadija. Aicha left quickly but hadn’t been walking five minutes when she heard someone calling her name. She stopped and looked around but saw no one. She stood and contemplated her parent’s house, sure she would never return.
Upon arriving back at home, she found that Ali had prepared everything for their long journey. The next day, they traveled to Mhamid, the town in which he was appointed to teach. They settled down and lived happily. Ali married and had two sons and a daughter. Aicha was the happiest woman on earth, as she once said to herself while cooking lunch for her dear son.
Now, as the narrator, I must tell you that Ali is my colleague at school. And one day, as I was telling him about my parents, he told me my mother’s history was the same as his own, and he told me about Aicha. I then sat down to write our mothers’ poignant stories, here called “The Wife Whose Permission Was Not Asked.”
Omar Bihmidine is high school teacher of English. He obtained his Associate Degree at Choaib Eddoukali University in 2008. His writings take the form of short stories, poems and articles, many of which have been published in Sous Pens magazine, in the ALC magazine in Agadir, and in the late Casablanca analyst newspaper .
Edited by Jasmine davey
© Morocco World News