It was his right after all, his privilege to unpin her veil, his entitlement to look at her in her bridal finery.
Seeing her in the crowded airport hall, lost in the swarms of grey people, he wondered how he could even for a second fear that he wouldn’t recognise her. Here she was, nearly within his reach, his bride, his lawfully wedded wife upon whose sublime face he was now legally allowed to look for as long as he wanted. She was dressed in her bridal finery, in a full length bright red lengha dress embroidered with sequins and crystals, with a heavy veil pinned to her hair, so heavy that it forced her head down in that classic bridal pose. Her hands, and her feet in high-heeled sandals were adorned with intricate henna designs and her wrists and fingers decorated with gold and jewels. His precious bride, she was a jewel thrown among the pebbles, looking out for him too, searching for his face among the faces of strangers.
He thought how out of place she looked here in this crowded airport hall. Of course there were people looking at her, commenting on her unusual outfit, yet not understanding anything, not giving her the attention and respect she deserved. How different it should be. How different it should have been! She should be sitting like a queen on the throne on a scene decorated with velvet and fresh flowers, in her maternal home in a beautiful valley of Neelum. And there should be people coming to see her, wedding guests loudly commenting on her beauty and appreciating her shyness. “Masha Allah! What a beautiful bride,” she should hear, instead of the hushed whispers of strangers passing her by, spoken in languages she couldn’t comprehend.
At that moment, he was so sorry for her that he felt his heart shrinking in his chest. She came here just for him. All the way from her village hidden in the high mountains of the Pakistani province of Kashmir, she had had to travel for hours on bumpy winding roads, partially destroyed by landslides so common in that area. He thought that she must have left in the middle of the night to reach the airport in Islamabad on time. Or maybe she spent a night there, anxious not to miss the flight. He wondered if she had ever before travelled as far as the airport? And then she would have boarded the plane, her heart beating fast from the fear of the unknown, from the fear of flying. Each bride has to go through this, through this apprehension of the new and mysterious future that lay ahead, but for her, for his bride, it was so much harder. She had left her country and her people and had flown, all alone, to her husband whom she had not seen since they were both children, because he was not able to arrive for their wedding due to visa issues, and a nikah brother, his chosen delegate, had signed the wedding contract on his behalf.
How tired she must be after such a long journey in all those fancy clothes and jewellery! Why did they even make her wear it for the journey? he thought angrily. But he knew the answer. It was his right after all, his privilege to unpin her veil, his entitlement to look at her in her bridal finery. He was angry with himself. Why did he make her go through this? Of course, he could justify himself saying it was not his idea, he could wait, he was in no hurry to get married. It was his parents insisting on his wedding, the sooner the better. And then, he remembered her face, her smiling eyes and delicate curves of the cheeks. He remembered how they used to play together, how much they loved each other as children, how many times he had promised to marry her when he would grow up. He remembered walking her home up the mountains on the moonlit nights and helping her carry the water from the streams when no one looked. They were happy there and then. Why couldn’t it stay that way?
Because he was fortunate enough to get the UK visa, to become the chosen one among his brothers and cousins, the one upon whom the family survival would largely depend. He would travel to the land of plenty, where he would feel no cold and no hunger, and he would earn to support his family. All of them unfortunate enough to be left in Pakistan – poor and corrupted Pakistan. But it turned out that the Promised Land was not as good as he had imagined. Yes, there was money, but a poor person remains a poor person wherever he moves. It’s just a different quality of poverty. He could afford to send pounds to his mother, so she wouldn’t worry about the cost of food or the school fees for his siblings, but he couldn’t afford the fresh air, the lush greenery, the open space and the beautiful scenic landscape of his Kashmir, the sense of belonging. His freedom! All that was truly beautiful and worthy, he had to give up. Of course this wisdom came after years of hard work, after his eyes got accustomed to the sights of fully stacked shelves in the supermarket and after he got used to the idea that he could afford a new jacket, even though he didn’t need it. He was free to have, but he was not free to be.
And now her – his wife. Would he ever be able to make her happy here? Here he was alone, and so would she be. Here, he looked every day at the grey sky and missed the clear blue skies of his motherland. Would she miss it too? He could promise to buy her whatever she wished for, but what if she wished for things money cannot buy? Could he ever give her home? Could he ever make her feel at home again?
And then they stood face to face. Whatever could be said was too much and not enough. So he took her by the hand and carried her suitcase, walking with her to the taxi that he drove. Together they would return to his house, now their house. His heart was beating fast and he longed to embrace her. To feel home again.
Klaudia Khan is a mother of three lovely daughters, masha Allah. Her passions are travelling and writing.