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Silver saris and raging reds of glamorously decorated individuals beamed with faces masked with makeup and jewelry. Twinkling yellow lights hung above her head like shimmering stars and breathed pure radiance over her. Standing before the myriad of wedding colors, she saw herself at the pinnacle of her life’s journey, a complete asset to her parent’s pride and a pretty art piece for hundreds to stare at. In eager hopes of a new and promised life, she stood on stage and stared into the eyes of the stranger her family had chosen for her. In that moment, she was a product of celebration and a symbol of success for her parents to prove to our community that they had fulfilled their duty. In the eyes of the audience that lay before her, she was now well taken care of, complete: sixteen and married.
Her youthful smile hid behind the painted red of her lips; her arms masked themselves under henna designs and the rich golden embroidery of her veil. Yesterday I had witnessed her hands doodling on scrappy pages of a notebook, today; I looked upon them decorated with the shimmer of a diamond ring. With the power of one wedding band, our small community’s social hierarchy escalated her position far above mine. Her whisper of “I do” introduced her to a world of adulthood that I was suddenly far too young for. In those very moments, I lost a young cousin and friend to the realms of post-married life, hidden and secure from bachelor girls of the same age. I was stamped with a branding iron screaming the fact that I was the only unmarried sixteen-year-old girl left in our little community.
Years of whispering aunts and uncles penetrated my ears as I drifted ring-less from sixteen to seventeen. As those voices of pity resonated in my mind, the soft caress of my parents supporting the novelty of my life choices faded. I began thinking what could possibly be wrong with me to not have received a single proposal. Soon, others had also been given away like fresh fruits from the farm while I was the rotting apple that was spoiling her youthful juices. When those whispers grew into dinner table conversations, my eyes almost succumbed to the pity with which the elders of my community viewed me. Though academic success tried to paint an alternate image of me, I was still viewed as one whose time was running out. My cousin had by now become the subject of her father’s boasts by bearing him a grandchild while I remained stressed over the contents of a mathematics book.
To this day I wish those whisperers had shown a greater interest in my ability to write poetry than in my inability to attract a stranger’s proposal by sixteen. I wish those aunts and uncles that plucked their daughters like flowers out of high school and showcased their virgin scent to receive proposals, saw that these daughters did not have to be married by sixteen to be happy. Whether a woman freely chooses marriage or education, my concern lies with this small social structure that shames her for any choice she makes.
From a young age, our extended family’s girls have been told that happiness lies in the glimmer of a ring worn on the left hand. I have spent my time, therefore, in the face of pitying eyes weighing the elements of my supposed misfortune. After years of listening to opinions of what does or does not define a girl’s happiness, I wish to attend college in the attempt to break away from the chains of a community that decides a girl’s future. At eighteen, I wish to announce my priorities-not a compulsory ring on my henna coated finger, rather, a pen in my palm, a book on my desk and a world of knowledge to conquer.
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