Love is Learned

Mom walked into the TV room where I was watching my favorite Indian soap opera and told me she had something to tell me.  I followed her into her room, and my little sister Aissata followed us, but my mom shoo’d her out and shut the door.  I noticed she had tears in her eyes and her cell phone in her hand.  My heart stopped and I sat on the corner of the bed, watching her intently, waiting for her to tell me what was wrong.  She wandered over to the other side of the bed and pretended to fold some of Aissata’s little shirts, blinking away the sadness in her eyes.  “Your father called,” she said.  “Is he well?” I asked.  “Yes, he’s fine…” she smoothed a pleated skirt with her hand.  “You… you are going to be married.”  I couldn’t breathe… I just stared at her, hoping she would start to laugh and say it was a joke, but she looked at me steadily, watching to make sure I understood.  “Ok.” I said, hoping there would be more to this that would help me to understand why this was happening.  “Who’s marrying me?” I asked her, trying to keep calm, still hoping it was all a joke.  I could hear the younger girls squealing down the hallway and a patter of footsteps.  The show must have ended.  “Your older brother (also meaning cousin), Mamadou, the son of Baaba Hamidou, your uncle.”  “What?? But he’s my brother!  His dad and my dad have the same mom and dad!” I exclaimed, furiously.  “Yes, I know,” mom said.  “But that’s what the fathers decided since last week.” “Who are they to decide?  They aren’t even here!  They’re in France and Italy!” I hissed, fuming with anger but not allowing my voice to carry outside the room.  I looked around the room, it was spinning in my rage, tears escaping from my eyes, I picked up a lotion container and threw it at the wall.  “Why? Why now?” “Because they are about to come back for Tabaski. Also, it’s going to happen as soon as they get back because Baaba Hamidou’s visa has to be renewed in Italy by the first of October, so we only have three weeks in which the wedding can happen.” I collapsed on the bed, crying, and mom shushed me, telling me to calm down.  It has been decided.

Mom left the room, tears still hanging from the corners of her eyes, she walked to the room of her sister-in-law, leaving me to accept the inevitable.  I just started middle school last year, this is my second year out of four before I even make it into high school.  Maybe if I get married though, I can drop out.  School is so hard.  I know my mom wouldn’t want me to quit school, but I’m so tired of studying… It’s so difficult.  We’ll see.

The day arrived that the men would return.  My mom had traveled down to Dakar to go meet them.  Baaba Hamidou (from France), his son Mamadou (from Italy), Baaba Souley (my father, from Italy), Baaba Abdul and his wife (who live in Dakar) and the youngest of the brothers, Baaba Musa, who was also in Dakar.  This was a big day, and the entire village stopped by our house to come greet them.  It’s been 6 years since Baaba Hamidou and Mamadou have been here in Mbolo Aly.  Mamadou was a child when he left, he’s now 26 years old.  I hid in my mom’s room all day, too embarrassed from all the attention I was getting.  It was terrifying, all these faces laughing at me, so happy about my marriage-to-be, but me, so frightened and nervous.  I couldn’t bare to look at them.  My friends and I played with the doll in my room, braiding her hair and unbraiding her hair, putting on my mom’s perfumes.  Could I still play with this doll when I was married?  What about what people would say?  I guess I will soon be an adult.  I think maybe it will be fun.

My wedding day arrives and as I am getting my hair done, I begin to feel excited.  Today is my day.  I will get photographed by Ibra Gaye and he will make me a beautiful photo album that I can take out and show my friends all the time.

My hair turns out great and my outfit is this beautiful complet that has been made for me in Dakar.  My brother, Abou the tailor, was supposed to make all of my clothes for me, but his machines have been having all kinds of problems lately.  He will still make my whole wardrobe (I get an entire new wardrobe because I’m married. All of my old clothes I will give away, because now I am an adult).

All of the girls in my age group are here, getting our photos taken together.  We stick together, all of us.  I am the second one of my age group to be married.

Soon, we all will be, and our gatherings will be so much better because we will all have money from our husbands to buy snacks and drinks.

Afternoon, I change into my second outfit, and continue with the photographs.

Mamadou stops by to see me and to get photographed together. When I see him, my face flushes.  I huddle my friends back into the back room, because seeing him makes me feel so shy.  Everyone, of course, is watching me and sees this.  The all giggle.  He’s really not ugly though.  And in his fancy clothes… He’s actually a really nice guy.  And I’ve known him for so long; it’ll be like being with an old friend again probably.  He knows so much about the world that I can’t wait to learn from him.  You know, this might actually not be so bad.  I sneak a look at him, and I see him looking at me, beaming.  I turn away quickly, just to have Ibra Gaye jostle me towards him to have our photo taken.  I keep my face solemn, it’s more beautiful that way.

Standing next to him, somehow, feels right.  I feel him squeeze my hand secretly and my heart flutters.  That thing people call amour… I will soon understand.  The excitement wells up inside of me and I think of my life ahead, married to this wonderfully kind man.  How much I can learn from him and the fun times we can have together before he goes back to Italy.  Then I will continue to live here, in our family’s house, but I will never be the same.  I am now an adult.  Never again will I be a child. My status in my village has changed.  Forever.

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