My earliest memory is of an arranged marriage between a bride, not more than fourteen or fifteen, and a groom twice her age. Ahmed was a huge man who used to work in my father’s bakery. He had pockmarks all over his face. Partially blind due to a childhood disease, he would scare all the children with his one glaring eye.
It was the 1960s. I was not more than four years old but I remember vividly the dazzling beauty of the bride in her red and gold wedding outfit. Rana had long, shiny, black hair, delicate features in her bronze-coloured face and enormous black eyes, lined with kohl, which made them shimmer. She also wore a look that I recognised as fear.
Like all Kurdish weddings at that time, the celebration lasted for three days. On the first day, which was like a hen night, Rana went to the hammam with her bridesmaids before having her hands and feet elaborately painted in henna. On the second day, the music began and the guests of the groom came together to dance. Three brothers, the Zizi brothers, who were well known in Saquez, the small city in the middle of Iranian Kurdistan where I lived, sang and beat a huge drum.
The music was joyful, rapid and loud, as everyone held hands in a circle. The younger guests began to show off and move faster and faster. I felt dizzy just watching them. The guests took turns in leading the dance and I felt proud as my handsome father held a glittery scarf, a chopi, aloft to lead the dancers round and round.
On the third day, the bride’s family brought Rana to the ceremony in a car through the city and her father handed her over to Ahmed, who was dressed in a traditional white shirt and dark blue trousers, known as a kava and pantol.
The dancing and singing continued into the night and then suddenly, as though the lights had gone out, the atmosphere changed.
My mother took my hand and we went into the dark and smoky bedroom. It was a messy room with the bedclothes all in disarray, with just one dimly lit lamp in the corner. I could see a long white piece of material lying on the mattress and a beautiful rug on the floor. In a corner sat the lovely Rana holding her knees and crying quietly. She was trying to cover herself with her long dress. Her long black hair tumbled all around her body.
Ahmed was standing towering above the bride, his expression cold as ice. He appeared completely unmoved by his new bride’s distress. Rana’s mother was also down on the floor, holding onto Ahmed’s legs and crying: “Please don’t send her back home, her father and brothers will kill her.”
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