Nasrin Parvaz




Coffee is a name sometimes given to unwanted daughters in rural Iran.



My mother’s wedding night



I had barely settled into my mother’s womb, when my father’s family cut off her long hair, sat her on a donkey, facing backwards, and returned her to her parents’ house, accompanied by two further donkeys carrying her dowry.

It was the morning after my mother’s wedding and a five-kilometre journey back to her village, near Hamedan. She watched the two boys who were guiding the donkeys, making sure nothing fell off and broke whenever they turned a corner. She could not remember whether she had met them yesterday, or before that. She thought it had been their mother who had pointed to the apples, telling them: ‘Eat, eat the biggest one.’ She felt exhausted and numb from lack of sleep and the last few days of running around. She was unable to see the old man who was holding the rope around the donkey’s neck, guiding it towards her village, but she knew he was walking with an air of proving no-one was going to cheat his people with a second-hand bride. My mother, fifteen years old, was treated as if she were an insult to the groom and his family. She felt too tired to ponder on what her own family and the people in her village would say about her rejection. She remembered, a year before, when a girl of thirteen was returned to her parents’ house in the same manner, she had been found hanged the next morning. Her family said she had committed suicide, but who would ever know the truth of it?

It was mid-March. They passed through the wood and she felt the scent of the oak and saw a baby rabbit watching her from behind a tree. In her mind’s eye, she saw the little creature in the jaws of a wolf at sunset. She wished she were one of the free partridges living in the oak wood. As they came out of the wood, on either side of the dusty road, people stopped working their land and watched my mother as she passed them. She saw their mouths moving, but the sound of birdsong in the fields drowned out what they were saying. Bumping up and down on the donkey, she was aware of these people, though in her mind she was already imagining her death.

The news about her being returned home in this position, which meant she was not a virgin on her wedding night, reached the village before she did. The village had no telephone in those days, yet by the time my mother arrived, people had already assembled. Children of all ages watched with their hands above their eyes to shield against the sun. As the figure of my mother emerged over the horizon, some of them ran home to let their elders know that she was coming. A group of shepherds set their flocks to graze behind the houses, so they could leave them for a minute and come close to see her for themselves. She knew they would be asking who was her lover, the thief of her honour? How would she kill herself? Would she hang herself? Would her family thrash her on her arrival? To avoid their gaze she stared at her hands which were painted with henna. As she got close and passed them, they fell silent, but their gaze told her everything. Neither my mother, nor those spectators knew that she was the last newly-wed girl who would ever be returned home in this humiliating way.

In front of her parents’ house, she got down from the donkey and watched the old man and boys unload her dowry; she watched them start to make their way back home. She didn’t need to knock at the door; it was open and that meant her mother knew she had come home. My mother carried in her dowry, piece by piece. My bibi was busy baking bread in a huge ground-level oven with one of the women next door. There was no one else at home. My mother approached them and said, ‘They sent me back. But I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of and I’m not going to kill myself.’

‘You didn’t produce any blood. Did you, Shirin?’ my grandmother asked, her voice icy and angry.

‘No. Perhaps God made me this way,’ replied my mother defiantly. ‘How is that my fault?’

‘No one had touched you before last night?’

‘I promise to God that I wasn’t touched by any man till last night.’

My mother, Shirin, went to the back room which was used as a storeroom. She stayed in there out of sight of the family, emerging only to eat or use the toilet when no one except her mother was at home, as if she needed to hide, to feel safe. When her father and brothers returned from tending the cows and sheep and working in the fields, there was an unfamiliar silence about the house. Sometimes she could hear them murmuring. There were a few arguments between her parents, which she knew must be about her.


In her parents’ house, there was a windowless room with nothing but a door opening on to the courtyard; she set up a loom there and began to weave a carpet. She lived in that room, and most of the time kept herself busy working at it, though the place was small, dark and cold. In there, she could hide away from the others – both from seeing and being seen – a prisoner. The first carpet had a red background. It depicted a number of animals fighting each other, as if the blood that she couldn’t produce on her wedding night was splashed over it and those animals represented her husband and the people around her. Perhaps it was to make up for the sheets that had enfolded herself and her husband for that single night, which had emerged as white as a ghost – like a dead creature that had already shed all its blood and was unable to join together the newlywed couple.

After a month, she realised she had missed her period. She talked to her mother, who said to her, ‘Don’t tell anyone. I’ll see how you can have a quiet abortion.’

My mother was shocked. ‘Why? Why should I get rid of my child? Perhaps this is the only chance I’ll ever have in my life to have a child. I’m not going to kill her, I adore her and she was conceived in a lawful marriage. No one can blame me or my child.’

‘How would people react to such a child? Do you want them to chant “bastard” whenever they see your baby?’

‘Is it my fault or my baby’s fault that they are stupid?’

‘It was just my luck to have a damaged girl like you, unable to produce a few drops of blood!’ my bibi retorted. She stared at her daughter in disgust, because she had never seen a woman in those circumstances defend her unborn child. She had been told stories about girls who consented to abortion, rather than committing suicide.

My mother started the second carpet soon after the first. This one depicted a calm, sunny sea, with a little boat floating and enjoying the sun. She told her younger sister, Simin, the only person who was there for her, that the sea represented her womb and the boat represented me, the child growing inside her. It was my aunt Simin who told me, years later, everything that happened after my mother was sent home. Simin, alone of Mother’s siblings, stayed close and watched over her.

Months passed with me pushing my mother’s belly outwards. Not many people knew about her pregnancy, because she didn’t go out much. We still didn’t have a shower at home and she had to use the public bath, so she would go in the early morning with her mother before anyone was about. She didn’t want to have to put up with people staring at her or hear their whispers, so she became the prisoner of her house, her family, her village and their customs. But it seems she was happy, very happy indeed to be having me, for being pregnant. She talked to me often, as if I could hear or would be able to respond and I feel I heard most of her tales.

She made three carpets before I was due to leave her world and come into this one. The third had a gold background dotted with trees and full of beautiful, colourful birds, with a phoenix in the middle. My mother told Simin that the phoenix was the baby growing inside her – that it would emerge out of a cold, hidden fire that would burn her.

On a stormy night, when thick snowflakes danced in the air and villagers imagined wolves on the prowl for humans to hunt, I started knocking on her belly. I pushed hard and insistently, as if knocking at a door opening on to the outside world. My mother told Bibi, who went to see if my grandfather would fetch the midwife who lived in the next village. But he said that the weather was dangerous and it would be risky to make the journey. So my bibi called on the old woman who used to help deliver babies. My mother struggled to stay alive, but the old woman was only able to save me from my mother’s blood. All the blood she had been unable to produce on her wedding night poured out of her body in the act of delivering me, the fruit of her only night lying with a man. My mother made her own mother promise to look after me and my bibi assured her that she would care for me like her own child. My mother was in great pain till morning, but she pressed her lips to my face. As the sun started to rise, I opened my eyes.

Her voice shaking with shock, my bibi muttered to herself, ‘Her eyes are green.’

My mother whispered, ‘Mother, my husband doesn’t deserve her.’ Then she closed her own eyes and flew away.


My mother left me with the three carpets.


Submitted: May 07, 2022

© Copyright 2023 nasrin parvaz. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:



A very, very touching story indeed! Well done. Far too many people choose to be monsters. The human race is a sad bunch. I sometimes think God should start over with Squirrels.

Sat, May 7th, 2022 9:11pm


Nice Job

Sun, May 8th, 2022 12:16am

jeffrey a. corkern

This is brilliant. This is absolutely brilliant. From the first sentence it was clear. I can't believe you didn't win.
My only comment is find yourself an agent.

Tue, August 30th, 2022 9:32pm


Thank you.

Tue, August 30th, 2022 3:17pm


Wow, that was amazing. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. What a beautiful woman.

Tue, September 20th, 2022 7:18am

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