Ek Kaam Kar
By Wagiha Mariam & Brigid Duffy
This piece has two narrators: a broken bride and a defiant teenager. They are both at the same wedding and they communicate through a connection that transcends words.
Part 1: After
Surrender usually comes in white—but mine is bright.
The sari, imported from Dhaka, is a royal flush: Pinks, the center of a seashell. Reds like sunset. Deep maroons, like a dried scab. The gold buta is embroidered so tightly, it might yelp for air. The flowers are cut, killed, and displayed to perfection: burgundy berry dahlia, white calla lily, peach gerbera daisy, violet anemone, pale baby’s breath.
I glance in the bridal suite mirror, looking too hard for myself. An apparition beneath a tikka. I wonder if my mother was right: After today, I will never be more beautiful. Am I not, already, half-gone?
The room is full of family, strangers. Cold-blooded guests in lenghas and sarees, slithering into each other.
My cousin Aari, balancing a glass of Coke on his head.
Jaabir, riding the back of Taavi like a horse.
Aunt Vinati, gently placing her palm over the hand of her husband, Shripati.
My father, so proud.
My mother, relieved.
I am no longer a Hossain; they couldn’t be happier.
Is this pomp and ceremony all for proof of life? Photos to distill the myth of happiness in surrender, to be passed onto our children? Carbon copies of carbon copies of carbon copies of generations past, smeared over time like mascara in the rain, or after a long cry?
From nowhere: she appears, wearing a scowl intent to poison, wither, dismantle. A childish smock dress, but too young to be a child.
The room goes slant. It feels like something is leaking out, seeping into the parking lot. Untethered by gravity, I feel I could float up to the ceiling, grab hold of the wax candles, feel them slowly burn into themselves.
Was she real or did I conjure her from a dream? Yearning for her warmth, my heart rises and spills into hers, and I pray she knows, somehow, when I utter “I do” to the man who owns me, it says to her: “there’s another way.”
Part 2: Before
My head pounds to the boom boom boom of Arijit Singh, but it’s nothing like the dissonance that is my mother’s voice. Dressed head to toe in gold embroidery in a cardinal red chiffon sari, she tells me to straighten my posture. I crumple like a dead slug in defiance.
“Aasku fita khaybe,” my mother says with a scowl, bending down to peer into our car window and reposition the Kundan on her neckline, just so.
Suddenly, her demeanor changes from threatening to saccharine. I watch her grimace convert to a grin as we enter the Banquet hall.
I slide my heels across the floor, head lowered, face pinched, dreading our entrance. The berry coloured salwar kameez and plastic beads that fall to the side of my dress, gives me the flattering look of a kindergartener.
Copper chandeliers with glaring wax candles barely break through the dimness of the venue. The blue and purple strobe lights and heavy carpeting is far from the palatial and candle-lit dream I imagined; a dream that slowly grows bitter, leaving bile in my mouth. The longer I am here, the longer I swallow.
The room buzzes with chatter and children run between the tables, knocking down flowers that wilt in their vases. After shooting me side glances, guests embrace my mother with laughter and hugs; one pokes at my rib cage and whispers you’re next. I tell her that her son looks like a kutta.
The expressions of lizards adorned in scales—ornate designs on gaudy, flamboyant sarees—beseech me. Their tongues flick in and out as they speak, watching each other with crabbed eyes. The crowns of their smiles release a snort for every joke dropped. They finally acknowledge my existence with a salam—one that I do not return. Voices from—everywhere—nowhere:
“Do you think she’s three months in or four?”
“Is that why she looks so muta in her dress?”
I turned around to see her for the first time.
The bride: the creases around her mouth hint of once-long laughter. Her forehead lines are like candles that blow out unfulfilled wishes. Yet to count a more miserable face in this banquet hall is out of the question. She is in her early twenties—maximum—but looks as if gravity caught up to her too quickly.
She looks like someone who was once beautiful.
Laughter bounces around the room in heavy vibrations; it seems like everyone, every brightly colored thing surrounding us, is contributing to the sound. Except for us.
To be honest, she frightens me. Her lack of awareness of the entropy around her, her coldness to every change in the room, it reminds me of my own internal flame. I feel my heart pound at the same pace as hers; her dead eyes as if in a trance. And in that moment, I vow: I will find another way.
Ek Kaam Kar – Hindi for “do me a favor”
Aasku fita khaybe – a threat to hit someone; “get your act together”
Kutta – a Hindi slur for “dog”
Muta – Hindi for “fat”
A week after Wagiha shared a tragi-comedy about a horrifying wedding experience, Brigid got engaged. They realized they were destined to craft a wedding story. What does it mean when two people experience a communal event with radically different perspectives? Brigid and Wagiha each crafted a first person personal narrator: Brigid examined the voice of a bride who has already surrendered to family expectation and societal pressure, while Wagiha explored the voice of a teen whose defiance underlies her fear.
Wagiha Mariam is a student who challenges herself with her pieces. She loves writing for different purposes. It allows her to express moments of resonance and reflection: the feeling of making brush strokes to a piece without seeing a single color or physically speaking without uttering a word. She has written anecdotes, some of which are her own, but explore important topics like honor killings, race, and some of her personal interests like sign language. In her free time, she can be seen exploring a true crime podcast or catching up on a thriller novel.
Brigid Duffy received the writing award in kindergarten. She is a Creative Director for a New York City advertising agency by day and is currently working on a short fiction collection.