Moonlight’s Story

The Story Behind this Short-Story:

My mom acquired Rahima a few months back to work for her as a domestic worker. Although it is clear that Rahima is definitely younger than me, even at this age she is already a single mother of a 2-year old toddler. Her husband left her and their daughter to remarry and never returned to her, leaving her with no male guardian since her father has been dead from a long time back. Her story epitomizes that of many young females in Bangladesh. Although my story is entirely fictitious, it was inspired out of the many Rahimas living and mixing with the crowd freely, keeping their stories to themselves and constantly struggling with life.

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Moonlight’s Story

 

The virgin sun of the morning rose up majestically, turning the sky into an endearing shade of an aesthetic yellow hue. Symbolizing freshness and tranquility, the sun was also serenaded by a gust of refreshing, celestial breeze blowing directly from the heavens. The city’s occupants, oblivious to the morning preparations of the sun, were still engulfed by their slumbers where they dreamt of happiness and ambitions at this particular hour of the day. The birds, however, were already awake, breathing their share of the wind that had been bequeathed by the Heavens themselves.

As the sun fretted over its newly achieved aura, inside one of the many slums of Dhaka a shabby bamboo hovel was stirring up slowly. The sun, seizing its opportunity, penetrated through the countless cracks of the shack and used its rays to illuminate the different corners of the humble hut. Sporadically, as the rays shone upon them, the rats and roaches began to move out and dispersed themselves off to their darker hide-outs.

Other than the parasites, the hut also housed an eighteen year old single mother and her two year old daughter. The mother was named Khadija, after the Prophet’s beloved wife, while the daughter was called Fatima, after the Prophet’s daughter. The two of them were sleeping peacefully, dreaming their dreams of happiness, of finding love, shelter and all the other necessities of worldly life.

As the chirping grew louder with an increased frequency, Khadija woke up with a start. Affronted by the glistening sun’s rays entering into the hut, she gasped for breathe.

It’s late again, she muttered as she got up and rushed outside.

Getting an ablution, she entered back into the hovel and unfurled her prayer-mat in front of the dawn’s silky rays.

Every prayer of hers since the last two years has been but towards one objective.

Please, my Lord. Let me and my daughter live the day as we had lived the day before. Let us survive through the next day without losing each other’s company. Do not separate us until you command death for one of us.

By the time Khadija’s prayers are done, Fatima wakes up routinely to greet her mom with a pair of morose eyes. The two of them then bathe using the waters from the tube-well before getting properly dressed. Powder-puffed with the cheapest talc, Fatima escorts her mom as the two come out of Korail slum to enter into the streets of Gulshan.

Mother and daughter are greeted by the glitz of Gulshan—the towering skyscrapers and the huge number of BMWs on the roads that symbolize prosperity in this God-forsaken country—-as they walk down the pavements that support the wealthiest tax-payers of the nation. They need to enter Khadija’s work-place soon; otherwise her mistress will not fail to reprimand her.

It was a beautiful summer Friday afternoon. The decorations were complete and the village elders were all set. The noon prayers had been accomplished and as soon as the bridegroom arrived the marriage ceremony was commenced by the local Kazi. Dressed in her impeccable best, and with henna painted over her brown face, hands and feet, the 14 year old bride was married off by her poverty-stricken parents at a meager dowry. Yet, everyone was happy, even the young bride who had resigned to Fate and was still too young tobe able to gather what was happening to her. 

The mother and daughter sat down in the kitchen and Khadija began to roll out the dough in order to start making chapattis for the family she worked for. It was still very early morning, but soon everyone would be up awake and breakfast should be available on the table.

It was on the wedding night that the couple consummated their marriage in accordance with the tradition. The girl felt safe in her husband’s arms; arms that were at least ten years older; and the man found that the girl could be trusted to serve his naiveties. So he took her off to the capital city where he worked as a day-laborer. They lived in an overcrowded slum by the side of Buriganga, and while the man toiled hard throughout the day the girl maintained his house and kept whatever frugal possessions they had abreast. A year passed by in bliss, and happiness. Albeit, a short-lived happiness.

“What’s taking you so long?” the mistress asked Khadija referring to the chapattis, and then “You,” pointing at Fatima, “How many times do I have to bloody tell you not to sit against my newly-painted wall? Get off and go to the balcony.”

To which Fatima silently obliged.

The job is a blessing, Khadija thought. How else could I have earned 2500 taka working throughout the day! We would have starved to death without the job. 

But mistress wanted everything picture perfect. And fast. Mighty fast. Punctuality was on the top of her agenda.

And so Khadija worked faster to appease the mistress.

It was around a year of marriage. Khadija founded out that she had missed her most recent period. Blushed, feeling ashamed and happy at the same time, she confessed her pregnancy at first to her neighbor. But there was something wrong on the middle-aged women’s face. “You don’t know?” she countenanced. “Know what?” Khadija enquired, perplexed. “Your husband fucks whores all the time. He won’t ever father your child.” 

With the morning chores over, Khadija began to do the washing and the cleaning. She mopped the floors religiously, while Fatima stayed silent on the balcony.

She has been trained to stay silent, Khadija pondered and breathed a sigh of relief. A cry-baby was the last thing she could have managed.

“What garbage are you talking about old lady?” Khadija began a storm of assaults at her and breathed out madeup stories about how the lady’s husband sees the girl living in the next quarters and how she was sure that the lady should be managing her own home before destroying another. But deep down inside, a fear lumped down her throat. A fear that was a multipleheaded ferocious monster. A fear that weighed her down and caught her fervently…….

She meandered away with her lunch, so that Fatima could be apportioned enough to fill her hungry stomach. Gulping down the remains in one go with several glasses of water, she again set to work while her daughter resumed her old position in the balcony. By then, the maiden sun had been replaced by a more ferocious one. The glaring Dhaka heat was drowning out all of Khadija’s energy.

………….”Do you or do you not?” she enquired after her husband. “Fuck whores? Of course not; I am your husband, can’t you see? I took a dowry from your father.” But his eyes emitted an indistinguishable glare of pretense which the young bride could easily discern. She called after him as he was leaving for work diffidently, “I am pregnant.” The husband stopped dead in his tracks, rattled at such a sudden news. Without flexing any muscle or turning back he said grimly, “Well, we’ll see about that later on tonight.” He strode away confidently, denying a wife her right to a husband; denying a daughter the right to fatherhood; denying a family the very fabric of society……

The family had completed its dinner. The leftovers were dumped for the servants and drivers. Each took their own share. Khadija had to share her own with Fatima once again. But seeing her child eating voraciously was enough to feed her hungry stomach. After the eating and resting was over, they left for Korail once again. Climbing down the stairs, Khadija felt a strange nausea of pain on her ankles. But she had trained herself to accept, and to survive. It was just a matter of getting used to.

On the pavements, the two walked hand in hand as a yellow taxi cab stopped beside them.

“Hello there, lovely ladies!” the driver of the cab began, “Need a ride? It’s free. Only the older one needs to bounce on my lap. Okay? Agreed?”

“Back off motherfucker,” Khadija shouted back at the top of her voice, “Fuck your own penis if you feel so hungry, you fuckhead.”

With that the mother took up her daughter and ran into a dark alley to take the shortcut into her hut.

It was a serene moonlit night. The drunkards were singing out loud at the top of their voices, while the drug addicts were using needles to get into a daze. As she opened the façade of her hut she found it slightly opened. “Anyone there?” she called in. But there was no answer. “Must be a cat,” she thought.
Closing the doors from the inside, she laid down Fatima and sang her back to sleep. Exhausted, she then laid herself down on the mattress to get some sleep before morning creeps in once again.

Immediately through the moonlit rays entering into the hut she frighteningly discovered that a dark black silhouette was moving squarely across the room. As the figure approached her she could discern that it belonged to a fully-grown man. The man placed a hand on her face and cupped her mouth to drown out her remonstrations. With the other hand he reached beneath her kameez and began to open the knot tying her shalwar.

Forced to fear the worst, inside the dark gloomy hut through which countless rays of the moon were at that time dancing with the love of life, Khadija felt the stranger’s body descend upon her. She prayed to God this wasn’t happening in reality.

But alas, reality happens to be one of the most enigmatic substances of existence.

With the moon’s rays as the only witness over the act, the man entered into Khadija. He did not need to drown out her voice anymore. By that time fear and physical dementia had wired her out and teleported her into her wildest nightmares. It was all done smoothly and quickly, with only a few breathing moans emanating from the man and his victim. No neighbor would ever be able to enunciate that. Wobbly and tired, the man then entered out and panted heavily as he tied back the straps of Khadija’s shalwar and got up to leave.

The eighteen year old, however, lay lifeless on the mattress, with her eyes closed; refusing to believe what had happened to her; hoping time and again she wouldn’t have to bear the fruit of injustice once again.

But injustice, also, happens to be one of the erudite forces governing subsistence.

It will be a new sun tomorrow; a new dawn. And both Khadija and Fatima will have to go on as if nothing had happened under the wistful eyes of the moon that night.

There was nothing that the moon could do, except hoping time and again that injustice would not have to bear a new fruit in their lives because of that fateful event.

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Save Childhood

The scene is a rural setting in the Middle-East/South-Asia/Africa. 12 o’clock midnight.

The entire village is asleep. However, one of the houses, located in the deepest part of the indolent village, was buzzing with activity. Everyone was in his or her best clothes. The fact that child marriage is illegal was known to every single person present there. Yet tonight,when most of the more responsible in the society were sleeping inside their homes, the 10-year old girl will be successfully married off as the 45-year old bridegroom’s 5th wife.

The little bride, clad with the most resplendent colors her poor father could afford, lay huddled in a corner. Eyes swelling with tears, she hardly had any idea what was going on. All she knew was that she was about to be sent away from the comfort of her father’s home to live with the big, fat man whom she despised. No one was there to understand her. Her father had justified himself by saying that he had incurred huge debts from the fat man and will never be able to repay them even with his life. The only option that the fat man had given him was to lend his 9-year old daughter’s hand in marriage. And thus there was no other way………………..……………..

Child marriage in Afghanistan

A couple of months back while reading the Reader’s Digest Asia I came across an article on child marriage in Yemen. The subject of the article was Nujood Ali,a hapless second-grader whose parents had married her off to a man in his 30s. Although her poverty-stricken father had requested her husband not to touch her before she had her first menstrual period, for two months the young Nujood had had to endure physical tortures and rapes by her husband when she refused to commit sexual intercourse with him. And then when she could take it no more she escaped to her father’s house where her stepmother, who did not hold the matter with much gravity since such incidents were not uncommon in that part of the world, playfully asked her to go to the court to seek a divorce. Young Nujood, then did what she was told. She went to the court and spoke with the judge Mohammed al-għadha who, submitting to humanity, took her to provide a

Nujood Ali & her lawyer Shada Nasser

temporary refuge and had both her father and husband taken into custody. Renowned Yemeni women’s rights lawyer Shada Nasser then took up the case for a divorce and finally on April 15 of the same year she was granted the much-needed divorce.

Child marriage in Muslim countries and certain other conservative nations like Niger, Chad and the Caribbean is not at all an uncommon incident. But the link between child marriages is with something different: poverty. Families in the less-developed countries marry off their young daughters to ease their economic burden since after all, one family member deducted means one less person to feed or clothe and particularly if it is a female, who typically remains dormant in these conservative societies, the sooner she is got rid off the better for the family. And perhaps more importantly these families tend to be big, like really big. According to Muslim traditions you are not allowed to undertake sex during menstrual periods so there is actually a high possibility of giving birth to a large number of offspring. You are not allowed to use birth-control methods either since these things promote Fawahish (illegal sexual intercourse). And with the shortage of jobs and repression of women the prime bread-winners of these families are limited to one or two males. There is also the matter of dowry. I do not know whether dowries are given in the Middle-East or Africa but in countries like Bangladesh, India and Afghanistan they are an extremely pervasive issue in the rural communities. The more aged an unmarried bride is the higher her parents will have to count for dowry. Our society is also a big problem because it looks down on older females who have not yet secured a marriage for themselves and perceives them as having sexual difficulties.

With all these monstrous social and ethical issues child marriage has grown into a significant headache for human rights’ activists all over the world. It is not only about a female who is deprived of a proper childhood but also the perfectly-productive society that we all dream about. One daughter sent off for good might be a blessing for a financially-troubled family but for the economy as a whole it has profound consequences. It limits the literacy rate of the country and does not allow a productive working population. And especially for all these developing countries these nationals represent exorbitant sums of foreign income through machine-oriented industries, remittance, hand-loom enterprises etc. It is imperative that the government closely monitor this issue if it wants to edge ahead in the economic race.

I must mention something here. The fact that only the poor-class families adopt child-marriages is actually not the entire picture. In Dhaka I have come across an extremely wealthy family with one daughter and no other children. Although it might make you feel uncomfortable, this well-to-do family got their only daughter married off at the tender age of 16, when the girl had barely passed her tenth-grade! The reason you ask? The bridegroom was wealthier than them!

But I must also acknowledge that in the past few years Bangladesh has made major strides in combating child marriages not only in the cities but also in the rural areas. It is not uncommon to open the newspapers and read how the local police arrested a bride’s father and husband for being associated with child marriage after being tipped off by the local councilor. Even if it is in the middle of the night inside the deepest part of the village the local magistrates and the police departments are always aware to bring down the number of child marriages or marriages with dowries. According to UNICEF, Bangladesh, after its partition from Pakistan in 1971, has successfully brought about a decrease in this brutal treatment of children through increased awareness programs all over the country.

Perhaps the success of Bangladesh in fighting against child marriages has more to do with the fact that every single government, despite all its cons, has always given women’s education the topmost priority. And the result has been beneficial as well. Not only has this brought down the number of child marriages significantly but it has also allowed the women population more self subservience and a more productive role in the country’s rapidly growing economy. In fact the country’s renowned textile industry, the second-largest

Women workers in a garments factory in Dhaka.

cloth-manufacturing industry in the world market as of 2011 and also the country’s primary source of foreign income, employs more women than men. For the factually dependant, 9 out of 10 workers in this thriving industry of 2 million workers (2005) are women.

As an ending note I should like to reiterate the story I wrote in the beginning but this time I will change the ending.

The scene is again a rural setting in the Middle-East/South-Asia/Africa. It is again12 o’clock midnight.

The entire village is again asleep. However, one of the houses, located in the deepest part of the indolent village, was buzzing with activity. Everyone was in his or her best clothes. The fact that child marriage is illegal was known to every single person present there. Yet tonight, when most of the more responsible in the society were sleeping inside their homes, the 10-year old girl will be secretly married off as the 45-year old bridegroom’s 5th wife.

The little bride, clad with the most resplendent colors her poor father could afford, lay huddled in a corner. Eyes swelling with tears, she hardly had any idea what was going on. All she knew was that she was about to be sent away from the comfort of her father’s home to live with the big, fat man whom she despised. No one was there to understand her. Her father had justified himself by saying that he had incurred huge debts from the fat man and will never be able to repay them even with his own life. The only option that the fat man had given him was to lend his 9-year old daughter’s hand in marriage.

And then all of a sudden the roaring engines of a Police jeep were heard and policemen poured out of it in numbers. Behind them came the college-going village councilor, who had been appointed by the local authorities. All the relatives and the guests in the marriage ceremony fled immediately for fear of a police scam. The bridegroom was handcuffed and the bride’s father was shoved into the police van. At the Police station the father was made to sign a document stating that he will not get his daughter married off before she was at least of age, i.e. in the Bengali tradition the age of 18. The bride was kept arrested. The local magistrate will give him a jail sentence and a small fine. Perhaps one day child marriage will be successfully eradicated from this society…………….

[The above story is entirely fabricated but incidents like this happen all the time in Bangladesh]

For those of you who want to check out the ebook version of Nujood Ali’s autobiography ‘ I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced’ click here. You will need to scroll to the bottom of the page if you want to download via a torrent client