A wedding game… a game no more
Fairy lights flicker near her bed and her face is aglow. Hues of green and yellow set the room ablaze but the fire is melancholic. These festivities are not of happiness, they’re the kind you see before a tortuous ritual.
The fairy lights make my tears glisten and the mirror in front of me shows a woman aged beyond her years. I shake my head and continue to focus on the palm held out in front of me.
I love applying henna. I love the patterns I can make, the unpredictability of my own mind is almost shattering. I know I’m forlorn when I weave beautiful patterns. I know I’m desolate when my shaking hand draws things near perfection.
She smiles at me and says,
“I love these flowers on my hand, Ma.”
As I kiss her forehead, I reply,
“They’re reflections of you, meri jaan.”
She pouts and looks at me intently.
“Ma, why are you so serious? We’re only playing a game. You can be the groom, okay?”
On any other day, I would have laughed and played with her but this was not a normal day and this was not a game.
She thinks she knows this game. We’ve only played it for so long. I’m her groom and she gets to be the bride. She gets to wear all of my adornments for an hour and she gets to be the shy woman of the night. She gets to be in the limelight. What she doesn’t know is that this is the last time things will ever be a game for her. I wipe my tears and gaze at her face.
As I caress her face with motherly affection, I tell her,
“You make a beautiful bride.”
As she caresses my thigh with her foot, she replies,
“You make a beautiful groom.”
Soon after, she pleads,
“Ma, sing me that bridal song again.”
A cry escapes my mouth as I recall her favourite song. It’s one that I imagined singing to her on her wedding day 15 years from now. I didn’t imagine singing it today, not right now. Yet, this is what she wants and today, her wish is my command.
I clear my throat and begin to sing,
“Kunda lag gaya thaali nu, kunda lag gaya thaali nu. Hathaan uttay mehndi lag gayi, eik kismet waali nu”
(The platter of henna’s been locked up now, the platter of henna’s been locked up now. Yet, one girl was lucky enough to get henna on her hands just in time)
“Chitta kukkar baneray tay, chitta kukkar baneray tay. Kaasni dupattay waaliye, munda sadqay teray tay”
(A white chicken sits atop a wall, a white chicken sits atop a wall. O’ girl with the purple dupatta, a boy’s fallen for you)
I stifle a cry because I know I can’t go on further. I look at her for forgiveness. She replies sympathetically,
“It’s okay Ma. You sound a little off beat anyway.”
The song sounds melancholic but she doesn’t notice. She doesn’t notice the irony of the song at all.
She’s indifferent to the gravity of this situation.
She’s in love with the fairy lights and the glamour.
She’s in love with the henna patterns I’m drawing on her tiny hands.
She doesn’t know how much I’ll miss her.
She doesn’t know she’s never coming back to play another game like this with her mama.
A tear drops onto my seven- year- old child’s palm as I put the henna cone aside. I can only hope that the tear brings colour to her henna.
I can only hope she finds eternal happiness. This is the only gift I can give her as a mother.
I have failed her.
As she picks at her bridal dress and gnaws at her jewellery, I pick her up one last time and hug her. I kiss her forehead and her innocence goodbye one last time. Tonight will be the last time I will ever see her being a child. She giggles and jumps off the bed as her cousins swarm in to take her out of the room. As they escort her outside, I’m left to look in the mirror amidst flickering fairy lights and hues of green and yellow.
I am a helpless woman who couldn’t save her only source of happiness.
I am a woman who succumbed to the wrong sacrifice.
I am a woman who has sold her daughter for slaughter.
I am a woman who let her daughter think this was only just a game.
I am a failed mother.
I am the mother of a child bride.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.