In the first, I was on a street in modern day Tehran, carefully dressed the part again, though resenting it, and in the company of a former female Iranian relative who felt the same way about it. Afam?
We stroll in the sunshine, heat bouncing back at us off the crowded sidewalk, when my attention is taken by what’s obviously a bridal shop. In its front window are bouquets of flowers, a swath of white silk, pink and blue sugar cones, an ornately framed mirror, a small crystal goblet of honey with a tiny spoon in it, trays of gold and silver painted nuts… I insist on going in. I want to see if there are bridal gowns too. I love looking at and touching beautiful clothing.
Afam cheerfully follows me in. To be separated, in any case, would mean being questioned by the Pasdaran for going about without an escort.
There are indeed a dozen or so beautiful frilly gowns displayed on headless black velvet manikens but we’ve only begun looking through them when something behind the display glass of the clerk’s desk catches my eye: a Barbie-like doll set. One doll is that of a black bearded man, a few gray streaks in his hair, in a gray suit. His expression is unsmiling, stern. The other doll is that of a sweetly smiling little girl wearing the typical female uniform here of light blue roosari and dark blue monteu. The back of the hard plastic packaging is extended enough that I can see there are changes of clothes for the girl in there… what looks like a fluffy white wedding dress and a silky black chadur. In the front compartment between the man and girl, however, is what looks like a child’s story book but I can’t read the title because it’s in Farci and though I can speak some, I didn’t really learn to write or read it and have long since forgotten what little I had learned.
I point to the set and ask the clerk, “Podarei doktari coocheek?” (“Father and little girl?”)
He gives me a slow eye roll, perhaps taking in my foreigness by my pale skin and blue eyes, and gives me the rude form of “No,” a click of the tongue against the back of his teeth.
Beside me, Afam bristles at him and says quietly to me, “Naher Junam. It is bride and groom. The title on the book says, For the Young Bride.” And then she bargains with the man to buy it for 300 rials, somehow evading his suddenly friendly questions about the young bride she is buying it for. I can’t understand all they’re saying, but she’s very brusque and cool to him while still remaining polite. She is the queen of propriety but it’s clear she doesn’t like him and he seems anxious to get back in her good graces.
We took the purchase back to her apartment and she passed the book to me to look at. I identified part of it as being quotes from the Quran in the original Arabic in including some ayat from the sura Al Nissa (The Women).
The rest of the text was in Persian and I couldn’t hazard much guess as to what it was about except that this part was accompanied by pictures of a pretty little girl dressed not like the little girl doll, but rather in some more archaic garb. She’s playing on swings with other little girls in a courtyard… She’s running hand and hand with her mother to a house… A big bearded man in turban and thobe sit before her on a carpet, saying something to her while she looks at him with eyes grown huge and mouth gone small… She is sick abed and bald, she is playing on a swing again with long hair now… Still small, she is being taken by the big man behind a curtain hanging over a doorway… She is playing with dolls and a toy flying horse with other children and the big man.
“What does it say?” I finally ask, feeling sick with a strange trepedation.
“It is the story of Ayesha, the prophet’s favorite wife. Before she was born, it says he dreamed of her as a beautiful baby wrapped in a swath of white silk carried to him by angels. He knew then that she’d be his wife. Her parents had planned to marry her to someone else but everyone peacefully agreed to it when the prophet said that he wanted her. When she was 6, her parents watched as he asked her to marry him. She stared in wide-eyed silence at him and so the prophet said it was proof of her consent.”
“My guess is that she either didn’t understand what he was asking for,” I noted drily. “What was he thinking of, asking a little girl to marry him? How old was he anyway?”
I’m sure the disgust must have twisted my expression somewhat but I couldn’t help asking, “Then what?”
“She was wed to him without the usual ceremony of an animal sacrificed for her, but wed all the same, though she became very ill before the consumation could take place. She ran some very high fevers, became very, very weak, and all her hair fell out.”
“In terror?” I asked, but Afam ignored this interuption.
“They thought she might die. So the prophet left her in the care of her family and went away for a long while, coming back when she was getting healthy again and her hair had grown back. She was 9 then and playing on swings with some friends in one of the house’s courtyards and didn’t know he’d come until her mother came running out to retrieve her. She was still weak and out of breath from the run while her mother washed her up at the doorstep before taking her in and giving her in the care of some Ansari tribal women to prettily dress and perfume her for the prophet. Then they brought her to him in another room and he consumated his marriage with her right there.”
“Excuse me?” I asked. “He had sex with a 9-year-old?”
“Some scholars say she might have been 10.”
“A kid! A little girl who could suffer permanent psychological and physiological damage as a result! Vaginal fistula at the very least, not to mention the terror and pain!”
Afam raised her hand to me. “I know Junam. I know. I was very young too when wedded against my choice or even knowlege of what it would mean. Not THAT young, but still, I was terrified and it was very painful to me. Others are younger still. This is why such books are published for little girl brides and why the dolls with them are anatomically correct so they can better understand what will be expected of them and know they have a companion in the spirit of Ayesha.”
“What? They’re antatomically correct?”
“Ba’alleh. Bebein…” she affirmed and took the dolls out to show me beneath their clothes. “I wanted you to know this, Junam, so you know not to bring your grandaughter here. She wouldn’t be safe. Whomever can claim guardianship of you – as every woman must have – can give her away to whomever he pleases, whenever he pleases.”
Transistion… The next dream was place not Middle Eastern or so unfavorable to women. I was a wedding planner or in a wedding planner school of some sort in a huge mansion like place. We were watching a film about different wedding styles to suit a variety of cultures and gender orientations, but that’s all I can remember of it now.