24 June 2017

Traditions

(Credit: NoePhoto)

(Credit: NoePhoto)

She is in a room full of women who crowd her and expect her to understand

If there are reasons for these traditions, no one speaks of them

They point only to the expectations—

List them off one by one as she struggles to grasp the meaning of it all

A new bride needs to look beautiful for her husband, they tell her

Dress nicely for him, everyday. Put on the best jewelry you have. Brush your hair.

They scrub at her skin until it is light enough to please her mother

Until the blemishes and the beautiful ebony that was her grandmother’s gift to her are gone

Their hands rub oils that smell like history into her scalp and on her skin

She sits still while they laugh knowingly, these girls who aren’t much older than her

But they have already done this dance, and so they rattle off advice and opinions

And she listens to them because she is expected to

An aunt dabs perfume behind her ears, on her neck, at the crook of her elbows

She had seen the women grind and mix for days before the final product was ready

Now the sweet fragrance envelops her, that bride scent: concentrated and somehow familiar

They press vials of the homemade concoctions into her hands, their smiles playful

She does not carry herself the way the rest of them do,

With a certain air that says, I never forget who I am or where I come from

She only looks like them on the surface, and the shame of this is more stifling than her perfume

In a room that holds so many traditions, she feels the weight of her foreignness

 

She is not sure why she feels ashamed. It is acceptable to have more than one culture, after all

Mostly she just wants to please her mother, who doesn’t believe in an American heritage

Her mother, whose eyes shine with the bitter knowledge that her eldest will be leaving soon

Who comes into her room most nights and tells her things only mothers know

 

***

 

Her skin is glowing, radiant. She looks in the mirror and does not recognize herself

Wrapped in red and gold, she is closer to becoming like the rest of them

She still does not understand, but it is her wedding day and she is expected to pretend

A recurring thought: A new bride needs to look beautiful for her husband

 

Her thoughts are saturated with sandalwood and frankincense

Her cousins tell her not to cry, that her mascara will run if she does

Smile, they say, laughing. This is your day.

Is it? she wants to ask. But her smile is there, tugging at the corners of crimson lips

 

Her hands are heavy with bangles and lined with intricate henna designs

They are delicate hands, graceful even as they shake

Her smile is practiced now: wide and inviting

Look at me, this smile says. Today I am a bride. And I am Sudanese.

 

Nihal Mubarak is a self-proclaimed poet and short-story writer. As is the case with many second-generation immigrants, she struggles to preserve her Sudanese culture in a western society, and hopes to re-discover herself—and her heritage—in her writing. 

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