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He married her for her hair. Oh, although she wore a veil, he married her for it. The anticipation of what it would look like, how long it was, how it would feel thorough his fingers. He had made love to her hair even before they were married.
He saw its promise in the long thick braids outlined through her clothing, in the large lump it would form when she wore it up. He knew its jet-black colour by the wisps that would innocently fall on to her forehead, which she never brushed away.
She never thought she would marry him. She, The Religious One of a Religious Family. But she had attended university, not really with her father's wishes, but not against them either, and had fallen in love with an ideal she could barely comprehend, something like freedom.
And although she had never really felt restricted- after all, she never considered attending parties, going to bars or nightclubs, sometimes she would ask her father to study late at a friend's house, and sometimes he would let her.
But sometimes he wouldn't, and a barely understood resentment flowed to her tongue, whence she bit her lips and obeyed.
But perhaps the resentment grew slightly more when she met Mohammad, secular Mohammad, as she called him. He attended the study sessions with her, always distracting them with his fascinating conversations about politics, secularism, socialism, nationalisms... ism ism isms, enough to keep her head spinning with unknown confusion, delight and curiosity.
Perhaps the resentment grew even more slightly when Mohammad began to sit next to her, and those dizzy feelings of bewilderment and delight at his shockingly free politics transferred into a thumping of her heart and excitement when he sat next to her, occasionally- even- sometimes- letting their shoulders or arms touch.
Perhaps her father saw the glow in her cheeks when she asked to attend these sessions, or the smiling silence in her black eyes when she poured him coffee, or her pursed lips as if she had a million things to say to her mother, or sisters, but said nothing at all.
How then, did she end up marrying him? She did not know herself, or quite understand it, except that one night, she attended a study session, went into the kitchen to make coffee, and he followed her.
Alone, he stood close to her, so close she could hear his breathing, as if it were her own. He bent forward and, raised his hands, and, smoothed a few strands of hair from her forehead, into her veil, leaving his hands there. He said, "Do you love me?"
The breathing was harsh, as if they were already- and she breathed, "Yes."
He whispered, close to her scarf, "After graduation. I will ask for your hand. Don't let your father marry you to anybody else."
And so how did it happen? On graduation day their fathers met. Father and son were invited for coffee and small talk quickly became affectionate.
The ease of it all confused her. Perhaps her father's soft heart, or her blushing and smiling happiness swayed him more than Mohammad's lack of wealth and strangeness. He agreed to it, despite his wife's pleadings that their daughter could do so much better if they were to arrange a marriage.
Thus she was married to secular Mohammad. The wedding night was one of hair, a black river which Mohammad knelt by and drank. She loved it and he loved it; touching her, touching it, touching and touching, and she never looked back.
There were nights when they lay together softly talking, on her side, on his side, facing each other, the hair between them, an ambiguous border, where two people were joined, where one person began, and another ended. When he was aroused, he would caress it and look in her eyes. Deep in thought, he would hold it in his hands and frown. When he was sorry he would hold it to his lips and kiss it.
From the night she was married, he would wash her hair, sitting behind her in the bath and massaging the weakest shampoo through it, and gently rinsing it out. Then to dry her hair- then the beautiful smelling oils to be combed through. Then he would brush it until she tingled with delight; and they would make love.
When the first child came, her hair extended to her thighs; how Mohammad had made sure, despite his meagre salary, that she would have only the best to eat, so that she would not have to sacrifice even one hair through her pregnancy, while other women lost their teeth!
Soon the washing became a necessity. Once a week, on Thursday for one hour and no more, for they could afford no more than that; she would hold the child in the bath; and he would hold her, and after he brushed it they would make love.
More children came and poverty inevitably followed. The burden of children and rent ate at Mohammad's fixed salary, despite his late hours at a second job, and attempts to gain a promotion. She was forced to find work, troding through the streets, feeling the dust within her eyes and between her toes, then the daily humiliation of shopping, bargaining for the cheapest potatoes and lentils, the cheapest clothing for ever-growing children, until her voice grew harsh and her body tired.
One night, as they lay exhausted in bed, he whispered, "If you want to cut your hair, cut it. Surely it is bothering you with so many other duties as well."
"Do not ask me to cut my hair. I am afraid," she replied, "that if I cut my hair, I will no longer be like a lover to you. This is all I have." He quietly fell asleep.
As he slept that inarticulate fear welled within her, from where it lay dormant since their impoverishment had began. She was growing old and poverty was wearing her thin. Her body had been invaded by children growing within her and leaving, conquerors raping and burning as they left. She could see her body from above, watching mountains and hills slowly melt away and sag. Were those lines around her mouth, her forehead, black smudges around her eyes?
Then Mohammad was promoted. One promotion and their financial problems were solved. The house was furnished with new money. They ate the best foods and shopped for new clothes. But while Mohammad remained as handsome as he had always been, she had changed. She could see in the reflection of a million mirrors, a fattish woman with many children, hair covered by a lose scarf, undesirable and undesired, while he walked in front of them, as if with a purpose.
She had fallen behind somewhere. Her life stopped when she had children, while he went on, still attending political discussions, absorbing new ideas, always staying current and dynamic. Their late night talking had faded into silence long ago, as she ran out of words and ideas. In poverty -at least- they had struggled together; and oh, he didn't have time to look at her body and compare it to others. He didn't have time to discuss all that he heard to discover that she worshiped him, and could never rise to be his equal. Wealth would make their differences apparent.
Despite the promotion, Mohammad continued to work late. She used to feel a loving apprehension for him, working in lowly jobs, lonely and humiliated, wishing he could come home to a soft bed and her loving arms. Now she felt apprehension. No, fear.
Yet she would not ask him why he continued to keep a second job, why he would only come home at the latest hours, sometimes after the fajr adhan. She would frown, and try summon courage to speak to him about this, perhaps anger to confront him, or hatred, at his neglect, but she could not.
No, she would keep the peace so that on their one precious day, for that hour in the bath when she could sit close to him and he with her, and just lie there, not even make love. She would not let him be bothered by her fears, or do anything to make him upset. He was neither cruel to her nor ungentle. He simply grew away from her, a distance she could not breach nor reverse.
It became her obsession, Mohammad washing her hair. As if this was the proof that she had not changed, that they were still lovers, that he needed her for something- as much as she desperately looked at him from afar and worshipped him.
Soon his late nights became every night, sometimes a weekend as well. Sometimes.
"Mohammad," she ventured one night, as she lay on her side, but he- with his back to her- he didn't even hold her as they slept any more,
"Mohammad," she hesitated; "why don't you wash my hair like you used to?"
Hearing the stupidity of her own question, she bit her lip. As if she was a child- why she could wash her own hair! Yet through this, she understood what she meant. She meant to say, "What's happened? Why have you let us grow apart?" but she was too afraid of the answer- that she had lost her beauty and her youth with every passing child; and he had not lost his. More than this, that she had no life without him, and he had life without her, and she could not understand why. The secret of freedom eluded her still because he was her freedom.
His reply was disinterested and sleepy, "I am too busy."
The next morning as he left for work, he informed her ,"I'll be late, don't bother making me dinner. I'll buy it."
She frowned. "Mohammad today is Thursday."
He looked up from the food he was busy eating, "So what?"
"Today" Oh, how she felt silly! "Today aren't you going to wash my hair?" That she had to ask!
Silence. Annoyance riddled his features. "Wash your own hair tonight. I am busy."
He came home late that night; no longer did she try face him as he slept, or even leave a pyjama for him neatly on the side of the bed. She faced the wall and stared.
Thursday. "I'll be late," he told her, "don't bother making me dinner. I'll buy it."
She frowned. "Mohammad today is Thursday."
He looked up from the food he was busy eating, "So what?"
"Oh," he snapped. "If this is about your hair again cut it off if you have to!"
"Mohammad please!" she pleaded. Then silence.
That night he came late. She was not in bed silently awake, but in the kitchen, dressed in her nightgown, staring at the window. "Up this late?" he asked.
Then, as he was heading for the shower, she asked, "Mohammad?"
"Do you want me to cut my hair?"
"What?!! Is this what you want to talk about at this time of the night? For God's sake, I am tired!"
"Mohammad," she said quietly, turning to face him, "I am asking you. Do you want me to cut my hair?"
He continued to head for the shower, replying, "Do what you want."
The next day after he left for work and the children to school, she did not head for hairdresser. She filed for a divorce, citing, "My husband no longer washes my hair."