Ode to Expressive Eyes This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 26, 2012
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My best friend Ruzadeh unanimously got voted Person-with-the-most-beautiful-and-expressive-eyes on the night of graduation at our all-girls high school.

All my linguistic capabilities aside, I find it impossible to accurately describe the color of her eyes. The most justice I can do to her indescribable eyes is to portray them as orange-golden-brown-hazel, tinged with a smidgen of green.

With regards to expression, though, even “Most Expressive” would be an understatement. They were constantly laughing, evaluating and imbibing. Ruhi's eyes were often the first to ­realize if a girl's well-concealed stomach was too flabby or if a guy hadn't knotted his flamboyant orange-striped tie properly. Her eyes were the first to absorb the raw, bare beauty of the Rub' al Khali desert and the first to well up with tears over a miscalculated brushstroke on her treasured canvas.

However, I remember peering into my best friend's eyes on that fateful night on the eve of her marriage, desperate to catch a glimpse of the fire that once burned within. Instead of the joy, anticipation and coyness that one would expect from a prospective bride, I saw only an emptiness and resignation that made my own eyes wet. Ruzadeh – the funny, Saudi-Iranian, outgoing, Doritos-loving teenager whom I had grown to know and love – had somehow been replaced with this strikingly beautiful yet menacingly subdued seventeen-year-old woman, whom I didn't know how to approach.

I couldn't help feeling betrayed as I looked at the pile of medical-school books that were neatly stacked up on her study-table. When we were 12, we made up a five-years-from-now plan that both of us had framed on our bedroom mirrors. We had decided to study at the Batterjee Medical College together, so that we could annoy everybody with our bad jokes.

That frayed yellow Post-It was still on her newly varnished mirror. Only it now bore the weight of a partially fulfilled dream. Yes, Ruhi had been accepted to Batterjee, but her marriage to a man ten years her senior meant that she would be deferring her education for a year. Her dream of goofing around college dorms was shattered. Married students were not given hostel ­accommodations, and had to commute from home. Her dream of getting married to her handsome Prince Charming at Disneyland in Florida was shattered. The nikah was to be held at the Ritz-Carlton in Dhahran, in an opulent display of wealth and extravagance – true Saudi style.

Fear, anxiety and resignation: are these emotions that a new bride would feel? Overwhelmed by the silence and upset at her unwillingness to talk, I pressed a kiss on her white forehead, hopping onto the Jeep to ride home.

I couldn't help contrasting the current emotions of my best friend with the naive Cinderella dreams that she had long harbored. She, like every other teenager, cherished the notion of marrying for love. She yearned for love. For the kind of love that would make her dainty heart pound until it popped out of her porcelain skin. Her simple request – to be able to choose the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with – was denied.

Because marriage was not about a single person, it was about the alliance of two families, two filial tribes. Because marriage was an institution, merely a system of ensuring that offspring were produced in a controlled environment. Because the opinion of a woman, whose only means of reaching Paradise was by being a good mother and faithful wife, didn't count at all. Because falling in love would signify vulnerability and a loss of masculinity and control on the man's part. Even if the teenagers of today were to stoop as low as to fall in love, it was the duty of the elders – the gatekeepers of ancient wisdom and tradition – to prevent these vices from corrupting the community.

It wasn't until yesterday that I thought about Ruzadeh. Well, first, she thought about me. Seeing a Saudi number flash annoyingly on my phone, I picked it up. My heart skipped two beats when I heard Ruhi speak. Her normally excessively animated voice was devoid of emotion, except for her muffled cries. She spoke slowly and calmly, her sentences interspersed with short gasps for breath. During that three-minute call, my best friend told me all that I absolutely needed to know, and all that I really didn't want to hear. She was in Abha, with her in-laws; she had just had a miscarriage. Because the miscarried fetus was a girl, Ruhi was spared the reproach of familial rejection and ­disgrace, but her husband was still disappointed. She had called me ­because she knew I would answer.

After Ruhi hung up, I did what I do best. I curled up in an oblong ball in my bed, and I cried. I cried for all the beautiful girls who were married to men twice their age, simply because their families needed the money that an exorbitant bride price supplied. I cried for all the babies that did not make it, simply because their darling mums were still too young. I cried for all the heartache that new families undergo, struggling to understand why a teenager would have three successive miscarriages. I cried for the pairs of lovers, separated by tradition and time, who would have made their home together if they were given a chance. I cried for the agony that every young divorcée underwent – her realization that she would now be ostracized forever.

I cried for Ruzadeh. For her hollow, empty eyes.

I cried. I cried for the teenage bride.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Jimmy460 said...
Oct. 30, 2012 at 12:51 am
Well Done!  Heart breaking story... moves one who reads it! Good job keep it up!
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