The Mystery Singer

by Abdul Sulamal

As a village girl burst into song on the stage of a wedding celebration, singing, “Oh, lover of mine, your eyes are red… for today, you have cried for such a time. Oh, lover of mine…,” the hearts of the young men listening burned with the fires of love.

Suddenly, one of them, Jabar said, “My oh my! Who in the name of God could that be! Even Kamar Gulla’s voice is not as good as that.”

Gul Marjan proudly answered, “I think her voice is sweeter than that of Bakht Zamina.”

When his turn came, smiling Salaam said, “It’s as lovely as Naghma’s voice, and enough to purify the heart of the most stubborn man.”

But Raz Mohammad was quick to interrupt, “That voice is already driving me crazy.”

As they were discussing the singer, she began a different song, “Let’s, in the forest, a hut build…”

Then, as if a magical spell had been cast on him, Jabar said, “My oh my! Oh Lord! It’s enough to capture the heart of any man. Each song is sweeter than the last.”

Then, addressing his friends, he asked, “Who could it be?”

Kamal replied, “Only God knows. It could be a guest at the wedding. The groom’s family has a lot of relatives and many friends in Herat and Kandahar provinces.”

Jandad agreed with him. “Yes, their fathers, unlike ours, are educated men. They have climbed the ladder in Afghanistan, from teaching positions to become head local officials – they have had some important jobs.”

Jandad, who had been bowled over by the singing, suddenly made a proposition to his friends, “Come on! Is there anyone brave enough to go and find out who owns this enchanting voice?”

Without hesitation, Walajaan said, “What would the reward be for accomplishing such a feat?”

Jabar chipped in, “Come on, son of Janee, if you do it, I’ll practically be your slave.”

Walajaan jokingly said, “Leave slave shmave, accept the stakes!”

Jabar said, “Go on, name them!”

Walajan answered, “Go and get your mother to act on my behalf at the engagement consultation.”

Jabar said, “And what if this singer’s ugly?”

Walajaan replied, “Even if she’s an evil witch, I can say that her beauty doesn’t interest me, only her voice.”

Jabar said, “You son of a gun! If she’s gorgeous and has this wonderful voice, you’d think all your Christmases had come at once!”

Walajaan retorted, “Very well. In that case, you be brave enough to do it! And on my head be the engagement consultation!”

Jabar laughed, “No friend – I’m not that brave, or I’d be beaten to a pulp!”

The two of them hadn’t finished discussing this when Mohammad Allah piped up, “Go on Walajaan! This is an easy for you. Do it! You’re as lithe as a lizard. Climb that tree over there and you’ll be able to track her down and feast your eyes on the other girls at the same time!”

With that, Walajaan headed for the edge of the compound, ran to the tree, and quickly climbed it just as the girl started another song, “The edge of my pot is red, but my skirt is white, no? Around my neck can you hear the chime of my amulets?”

Straight away, Walajaan started scanning the girls at the wedding party, until his eyes fell on the singer, and he jumped into action, “Oh my God! That’s Khobana!”

He took a second to admire the other girls as his friends had encouraged him to, and quickly climbed down from the tree.

Once back with his friends, Jabar spoke up, “So, what was she like? Was she as gorgeous as her voice?”

Walajaan was silent but a surprised smile spread across his face.

Jabar asked him, “What are you smiling at? As if you didn’t enjoy it! Tell us, was she a guest or a host?”

Along with Jabar, all his friends kept asking Walajaan: Who is she… Is she really that beautiful?… Was she dancing too?… Was she light or dark-skinned?… What did she look like?

Walajaan could no longer stay silent, and turned slowly to Jabar and said, “Well she’s just like my sister, you might be disappointed.”

Walajaan’s comment did not impress Jabar. “What do you mean? Why don’t you just tell us? Who is she? Whoever’s sister she may be, why are you ashamed?”

And with that Walajaan slowly said, “It’s your sister… Khobana.”

As soon as Jabar heard Khobana’s name, he became red with fury and angrily said, “God help me if I don’t break your legs. I will never rest.”

As he started to storm back to the party, Walajaan grabbed him from behind, “Calm down! It’s a village wedding. If my mother and your sister won’t sing, who will?”

Jabar angrily replied, “Is it my wedding or my father’s? No, it’s a wedding of outsiders my sister barely knows!”

Kamal continued, “Don’t be upset. It’s our village, and in a village, everyone is like a brother to us.”

But Jabar wasn’t listening to his friend. He broke away from Walajaan’s grip and with his eyes a fiery red he hurried away.

 

 

The Wedding Night

“Run your hands up inside my sleeves and caress the Kandahari pomegranates within.”

As soon as she sang these words, a small grin danced onto her lips, but soon she shied and became silent. Moments later, many questions tortured her mind: How will he cuddle up to me?… How will he kiss me?… What will he talk about?… What will he say?… What if he just manhandles me without asking?

At this point, she laughed, Oh Lord! There are nine buttons on my trousers; it will take him to first prayers to get them undone!

Then another thought occurred to her, Just wait until I add another button!

At this, she slowly added another button to her belt. Once done, she laid down on the white handkerchief her mother-in-law had given her.

To this bride, as with every other Pashtun girl before marriage, such things were simultaneously exciting, scary, and interesting. Since childhood, she had been waiting for this night. For the first time, she would be naked with a grown man.

Feelings of happiness and excitement cast a shadow over her. These feelings, thoughts, and ideas filled the waiting time. Night was closing in but there was still no sign of her husband to whom she had just handed over control of her body for their pleasure.

Just as fear and doubt were creeping in, her husband slowly entered the room. On seeing him, his bride quickly replaced her veil and remained silent to see how he would initiate the ‘bedroom drama’ that awaited these two lifelong friends on their wedding night. However, her husband was as still as a statue and lay lifelessly on the bed. He didn’t whisper sweet words into her ear, nor did he excite her by moving his body closer to hers.

This coldness shocked and worried the young bride. Countless questions, thoughts, and ideas crept into her mind: Maybe he doesn’t like me and feels his parents have forced me upon him.

As the hailstorm of such questions rained down in her mind, she had an idea, Jingling your head bracelet or bangles a little may have an effect on him.

She did this, but still her husband made no sound or movement in response. He just remained in the same motionless fashion.

Then she thought, Maybe he’s argued with someone, or he has crossed harsh words with his uncle?

Night descended further, and she was at a loss as to what to do to get her husband to react, to kiss her, to touch her, compliment her.

Since the bangle shaking had initiated no response, another idea occurred to her, Move a little closer to him, nudge him with your elbow, get close to him to get him to say something!

But she quickly felt ashamed, shied away, and said to herself,  No! Others will say that’s a shameful thing to do.

As these worries swamped her, her husband turned onto his side and moved his chest close to her. That movement pleased her a little, but the long yawn that followed immediately wiped it away again. She slowly turned to face him and asked quietly, “Are you hurt?”

Immediately, her husband replied, “No, sweetheart.”

On hearing him say Sweetheart, she was filled with joy, and asked gently, “Why so glum?”

Her husband replied slowly, “It’s nothing… nothing at all.”

Gently, the woman said, “It’s okay. God will make everything easy, don’t worry!”

Her husband let out a long sigh and said, “Why shouldn’t I be hurting? Why shouldn’t I be worried?”

His wife was surprised. “Why, what’s wrong?”

Quietly and in a sad tone, her husband muttered to himself, “How to make you understand… which words to use?”

But his wife heard and was only more surprised. “Don’t you like me. It’s true that I am not worthy of you. You’re as tall as a poplar and I’m small and fat… how can we be matched? But what can we do? God has brought us together, what can anyone say to that?”

Calmly, her husband said, “No sweetie, it I is I am who am not worthy of you. No one is as beautiful as you; no one can match you. It is as if God has drawn you with his own fair pen.”

“In that case, how come your heart has grown tired of me already? You made me wait for you all evening. What will people say?”

“My heart has not grown tired of you; my heart is tired of me and of the world.”

His wife was still shocked and became pensive, “Why are you talking such rubbish? Please just tell me what’s wrong.”

This time her husband was on the verge of tears. “I’m flawed. And I don’t know how to make you understand.”

His wife was starting to panic, “Flawed?”

Her husband couldn’t wait any longer. He shot up and reached for the buttons on his belt. His wife was shocked. She was afraid that her husband had lost his mind.

Now terrified, she asked him, “What are you doing? What’s got into you?”

But her husband slowly replied, “I’m showing you my flaw.”

With that, he quickly undid the buttons on his trousers. A moment later, they fell down and he murmured, “Look! You ask what difference there is between you and me. How can I ever get close to you?”

His wife covered her eyes in shame. Feeling faint, she fell forward on the bed not making a sound, but her husband broke down in tears. “I have avoided every woman because what else could I do? How could I have spared my father from the shame that would have befallen him?”

Screaming, his wife replied, “So you made me the victim of this instead, you cruel man… you monster!”

Her husband ran to the corner of the room, took a large knife from the wardrobe, and turned to his wife. “Sacrifice me to God, I deserve it. God made me this way.”

With tear-filled eyes, the bride replied, “How will your death ease my pain? You have no brother for me to marry in your absence.”

 

Translated  from Pashto to English by N. Atal

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