Before the March

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

The thoughts of a woman preparing for her wedding to a man she has never met.

Before the March

 

What does marriage do?, I asked myself as I took off my clothes.

Why do I have to marry? For love? But we're getting married even if we don't know each other. I don't understand. There had to be some other reason.

I looked at my naked self on the tall mirror, its length taller than mine.

"I’m ready, Mama."

"Here, try out your dress." Mama stood, holding up a white dress, smooth and shiny in the early morning light. It looked misplaced in the brown hues of our humble little hut.

I let my mind wander. I thought about the very first wedding. How was it like? I think it was a shabby, spur-of-the-moment thing. Two lovers, making love in the woods. Then they decided that they love each other so much they had to swear it to the Gods. They didn't have dowries like ours. No grand ceremonies like what I would go through. They only had themselves. I thought that was romantic.

Mama held the dress wide. I inserted my arms into one armhole, and then the other. I buttoned the front, smoothed the garment, and looked at the mirror.

"It's good, Mama."

"It is. It fits you, brings out your brown eyes. You look beautiful."

I didn't know what qualified as beautiful while wearing a dress, but Mama said it. She knew more than me, so it must be true.

I felt the cloth. I've never worn such a thing before. It felt light as feathers but also tough like hide. These are exquisite clothes, Mama said, from the traders from the East. She said it was made from the webs of worms. I didn't know what that meant, so I asked her. She said they had worms different than ours, worms whose webs can be harvested and weaved into clothes. I wondered how those worms looked like.

I didn't know a lot about those things. The traders from other lands always seemed scary, so I didn't want to talk to them. Whenever I'd pass by one, I'd just look to the ground so I don't have to look at them. They’d buy things from us and sell us things from other places. That was all I know.

But I knew other things, too. I was good with housework. I could cook and clean the house. I had soft hands, Papa said, and that I'd give good massages once I learned. Mama said my weaving was exceptional, that I was one of the best in our village. She said I was a prodigy. Or was it a progidy? I can't remember.

Mama then pulled up the tiger cloak from the bed. It was way wider than my body and longer than my height. It looked alive, its black and orange patterns breathing if you looked long enough. She put it over my shoulders, and I knotted the strings below my throat. When I was done, Mama stepped back. I looked in the mirror.

The cloak enveloped my whole body, and about half a foot of extra cloth sprawled onto the floor. It was heavy, making my shoulders ache a little. It felt like carrying an actual dead tiger on my skinny back.

I didn't want to wear the tiger cloak. I did not like the fact that my soon-to-be-husband had to kill an actual tiger so I could have something to wear. I asked Mama why I had to wear it. She said it was Tradition. That damned word again.

I remembered that day in the well near the woods, some years ago. Us five friends were playing, and the two boys started scooping some water and spraying it at us girls. We had fun, but we were soaking wet. Papa was angry when I went home, though. He said I shouldn't play like that with other boys. I asked him what he meant. He just said I was too old to play with boys my age, so I shouldn't anymore. When I asked him why, he said it was Tradition, and that I shouldn't break it. I asked him again why. He said, "You just shouldn't."

But I didn't understand it. So the next day, I played in the well again. When I went home, Papa was livid. He smacked me in the face twice, pointed a finger at me, then said, "You're not playing with boys again, you understand? It's not right."

That day, I understood what Tradition meant.

Looking at myself in the mirror, I tried to untie my cloak's strings to free myself of its weight. When Mama saw what I was doing she stopped me, putting her soft hands on top of mine.

"But Mama, it's heavy."

"You have to do it, my love. It's heavy but you'll get used to it eventually."

She was right. I only had to do this once, and never again. I put my hand away. Mama smiled.

Only the flower crown remained on my bed. I picked it up, its flowers red and purple and white, fresh from the flower field on the plateaus to the north. I put it onto my head and smiled. It was my favorite of the whole ensemble.

 

 

That night, I laid on my bed. I couldn’t sleep. The wedding was tomorrow. It had only been a month since my parents told me I'd get married. Now, in a few hours, I'd be facing my husband in front of the tribe's Majors, with the whole village as witnesses.

I've never really thought about marriage. I was content with my life - doing household chores and weaving so we could sell something to the traders and talking with my friends in the late afternoon before Papa comes home from the quarry. Nothing extraordinary, but I was fine with it.

Maybe I could look at Mama and Papa to see what happens. Mama was also young and Papa was older. They didn't know each other before marriage. They worked a lot, didn't talk much. Maybe because they were always tired. Mama was caring, prepared the food and all that. I can do that. Papa was stern, always wanted his wishes fulfilled. Will my husband be like that, too?

They would fight sometimes. Mama told me that's normal. How can fighting be normal? When I’m with my friends, we don't fight. Maybe when we were younger, but now we don’t. Is that it? Do people become like kids when they marry? That doesn’t sound right.

Like this one time, Mama and Papa fought, and Papa hit her in the face. Later that night I asked Mama why Papa hit her. She said it was normal, mothers and fathers fight sometimes. But only kids hit each other. Is Papa a kid? He doesn't look like it.

Will my marriage be like that, too? I have no way of knowing. I know little about the man I'd marry. He’s from another village, Mama told me. She also said I'd like her, that he's nice and kind. Maybe I should believe her.

But if he isn't, then I'd make him be. Mama didn't like talking to Papa, but I'd be better. I'd help my husband be kinder. We're not kids anymore. I'm a woman, my Mama said so. I'd show him how to be kind. I'd show him he can be kind, too. I know he'd change with that - I know he will.

I wondered what he looked like. He’s older, only that I knew. And also that he came from a family of merchants. Mama and Papa didn’t tell me much. I'd like to think he's tall, with beautiful brown eyes like mine. Maybe he's a bit scruffy, with all the work he had to do. I also think he's smart, because merchants are smart. Or at least he's smarter than me. I can't even count past twenty. Maybe he can teach me how.

And after we marry, he can teach our kids, too. They'll know how to count more numbers than me. He can teach our boys things like how to farm for food, or how to fetch water from the wells. I'll teach our girls how to take care of the home, and weave. If I learn how to do massages, I'll teach them, too. They'd be good little girls.

And I’ll let them play with whoever they want. They won’t have to worry about Tradition as I did. I’d let them bring their playmates into our home. Maybe I can play with them, too - I'd teach them all the games I know. I could show them how to make dolls, or how to play hide and seek. Just last week, my friends taught me how to play hopscotch. I could teach them that, too.

Oh, my friends. I'll miss them. I'll miss Anita and her sweet laugh, and Luella and her skinny body like bamboo. And Elfego and Jin, the boys from the well. Maybe I could still play with the girls after I get married. A few hours a day should be enough. I'm still young, after all, just five-and-ten years old. I think I still deserve some time to play even after I get married.

Oh, my friends.

My mind wandered to my times playing with them, and it made me smile. I slept with these thoughts on my mind.

 

 

I looked at myself in the mirror. Only now was I starting to appreciate the grandness of my clothes. I noticed the fine patterns on my dress. Some ran parallel to each other, some intersected and formed shapes. I touched the collar, felt its fold and rounded tip.

I'd be wed in a few minutes. I felt nervous. Just outside is the whole village, the Majors, my spouse. I wanted to see him but can't. Not allowed to.

Part of me just wanted to get this over with. It's just a ceremony. Does it even matter if we go through this? Besides, it's all so expensive. Too expensive.

But I knew those thoughts aren't true. It wasn’t just a ceremony. It did matter if we go through it. And it's expensive, but my husband paid for all of it.

I shouldn't think those things. I should be more mature. I am a woman now. Mama said so.

My husband and I will make a great couple. We will make a lot of kids and raise them well. We will never fight and always talk to each other. He will not hit me or shout at me because I'll teach him how to be kind. And we will stay like that until the end of time.

Mama entered the room, the smile on her face wider than yesterday. She asked me how I was. I told her I was nervous. "You look beautiful. You can do it," she told me and kissed me on the forehead.

I looked at her eyes. "Mama?"

"Yes, my love?"

"Do you have some advice for when I get married?"

Mama answered, without missing a beat, "Follow your husband. Always do as he says. It is written, by the old Gods and the new." She smoothed my dress. "Follow him, and you will have a fruitful marriage."

"Just follow him? What about what I want?"

"My love, I know you sometimes have thoughts of your own. But remember, your husband is five-and-thirty years old. He is older. He knows more than you."

I was confused. "Five-and-thirty? What is that, mama?"

Mama paused. "It means that by the time you were born, he was twenty. You can count up to twenty, right? That's how much older he is. Do you understand?"

I nodded.

Mama took the tiger cloak from my bed. She put it over my shoulders, and I tied the strings to hold it in place. I felt its weight again. A tiger, hitching a ride behind me. Mama stepped back.

I looked at myself in the mirror. I remembered the day Papa hit me, the day I understood Tradition.

"But Mama. What if my husband is wrong?"

Mama took my face into her hand. She gazed deep into my eyes and kissed me on my forehead.

I reached for the flower crown and put it on my head.


Submitted: February 19, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Christian Jerome. All rights reserved.

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Comments

AdamCarlton

You've certainly laid out the argument here. Would be interesting to see a story from you supporting Tradition against personal indulgence and compelling (but ultimately disastrous) 'whims and plausible innovations'. Did you ever read Jo Heinrich's "The Secret of our Success"? Thought-provoking.

Fri, February 19th, 2021 8:57am

Author
Reply

Thanks for reading! That's certainly an interesting subject for a story, although I have to admit I will probably find it challenging because I'm not really a fan of some traditions. May comment here again if I'm done so you can rate the story.

Also, I haven't read that book, but it looks good, so I might try it sometime. Thanks for the recommendation!

Sat, February 20th, 2021 1:47am

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