It was July. I was four years old, and we were in Algeria.
Our family members dashed up on us as bees to honey, as soon as we arrived. Their dress looked like a meadow full of blooming flowers in the sunlight. I was awfully confused by it all. Rattling of bracelets, hand-clapping, laughter and voices issuing bird sounds like torture. They also spoke a completely different language, a foreign language which intimidated me, so far. Even if their faces were sun-drenched, the tone which they spoke to us was as a destructive hurricane destroying everything around us. I didn’t know how to react, initially. Afterwards dad said that this is their normal way of speaking. Ugh, I don’t want to see them arguing.
National Literary Award For Young Writers
I woke up to a new, all-the-goodies-on-the-table-scented morning. The day, which I rose to meet each morning, as if by a magic wand, was transformed into a day full of surprises. Scarcely had I opened my big chocolate eyes and I was immediately flooded with a great refulgence of my aunt’s wedding dresses. She looked like a princess. Her dress looked like a clear blue sky interwoven with sunrays. The overall visage of a princess was completed by a crown, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and various other accessories. As soon as breakfast ended, and my aunt was ready, she went to sit before the house. I went with her and followed her as a thirsty man follows the desert mirage.
Of course, I was not the only one who followed her. The other members of our extended family went with me in tow behind auntie. We sat down and I even couldn’t count how many people, even strangers, came to her and told her how gorgeous she looked and wished her all the best to her future life. Suddenly, the other aunt stooped to the bride and began whispering into her ear. I couldn’t resist asking what she whispered to her. I was told that it is a habit. Every bride gets a "mentor" who must be already married, so she teaches her about marriage in all respects on the wedding day.
I was very surprised that my aunt changed her dress every hour into new fabulous dresses. She always looked different. And she was always beauteous. It was almost unbelievable that almost 50 women helped her with all the finery!
Everywhere were only women. I started to worry. Where did all those nice uncles of mine go? I slowly sniffed. Finally, I was hushed by the rest, assured that our men’s part of this family went to prepare a colossal feast. As is the case of small curious children, I could not resist and I rattled off one question after another. I was totally out of my mind when I found out that they have special buildings where a wedding can take place. Uncles and aunts, who didn’t help the bride, prepared a banquet for 500 people.
We began our journey in the afternoon: the journey which should bring a new life to my aunt. I had butterflies in my stomach. My thoughts flew through my head here and there and could not stop. Till that day I had never seen her future husband. It must have been strange for my aunt, that she didn’t know him to this day at all. She had become a symbol of bravery for me – she had never seen her husband before, but she was able to marry him. Everyone looked forward to the monumental celebration; only the bride struck me as so sad. As if someone had thrown over her face an eternally radiant, matte shawl.
She looked like a bride in sadness.
We went out of the town. We left behind the various ceremonial halls. What was wrong? Where did they want to be married? Was this real life? Or was I in some fairy-tale? I heard many voices in my head, talking over one another, who asked me these questions. As If everything around me stopped. When auntie noticed my puzzled expressions, she asked me what had happened. So I asked her if she would really get married. She told me that for them is marriage a little bit different than ours. Their marriage was sealed by their parents’ signature on the contract.
We went as the wind. During the journey women peeked out the window and emitted the strange sounds that the wedding took place.
We got there. In front of us stood a giant, iron monster stood apart, resembling hall serving as a storehouse for wholesale. Everyone who had at least a little in common with our families was there. Their paths, winding through the whole of Algeria, took a day of traveling. We had arrived.
The wedding guests surrounded our car and did not get out in a jiffy. We brushed through the crowd like adventurers through the impenetrable jungle. Finally we succeeded. We had achieved the objectives, at least for now.
Before long, another shock came. Instead of giving presents like blenders, irons and glassware, they had a special competition: a competition in which wedding guests competed over who gave more money. Grandmother appointed one of her friends who collected money and registered the data. Meanwhile, there stood huge trays full of choice sweets, on tables. Honey squares, almond pieces and many other delicacies perfumed the entire hall. There was no place we couldn’t smell honey, almonds even roses, jasmine or dates, but also, behind the curtain prepared couscous, tea and coffee. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
When all the wedding guests arrived, it was time for one of the most interesting things I had had ever seen. The friend of grandma, who collected money, moved on to reporting who gave what amount of money. This ritual was accompanied by vociferous yelling and great applause by the ladies.
The banquet started and the soup was served first. As soon as I sniffed, the smell of the spices stroked my cheek as the sun caresses the sleepy country after the dark night. I felt like I was in paradise. Nevertheless, the feast continued. Waiters carried huge bowls of couscous, grilled meat, variously prepared vegetables, sauces, home fries, fried chicken, salads, olives, fish, and many other delicious dishes of Arabs. We could have matched any royal feast.
We ate for a long time. As usual we also conversed during eating and naturally we felt happy because of the newly married couple. After lunch, lasting two hours, we had coffee or tea. Both of them tasted terribly sweet! Very strong, too. During the time we spent eating, a band played somewhere. I was in a euphoria. The music sounded as it was from another world. I could feel the vibration, rhythm, and quarter-tones, which I’ve never ever heard before. It sounded like a bird’s orchestra in the morning when you wake up.
Time flowed by like water in the river and evening came. After a while people came running out onto the floor like a giant wave and real Algerian fun began. Both the husband and the bride went to a prearranged room. Wedding guests had to decide between them. Ten women were chosen to stand in front of their room. When the work was done, the newly married couple had to show the bloody sheet to elected ones. It just depended on the women, whether it was indeed blood. They agreed that this was real blood. Then they left to tell the wedding guests that the marriage was consummated.
Meanwhile, the guests had had danced, talked, laughed and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere. As soon as we got to know the news, we began to clap and yell. We danced until the sunrays touched again the peacefully dozing country. Even young children bounced about the entire time. We left at different times, until the place was completely depopulated.
But over the next days, the wedding went on. We danced and sang. But now the newlyweds held each other. The wedding lasted for around seven days.
There was just one sad point at the end. The bride had moved from her native town into a new one, where, before their wedding, her husband had made a love-nest. The pearls ran down her cheeks, her eyes sparkled with hope and hands spasmodically clasped the skirt of her dress. She got into the car and spread her hands onto the window like starfish on the wall of the aquarium. Her lips moved gently but she could not breathe a word. Slowly but surely she said goodbye.
Sometimes I think about it. The only thing that I always think, in my memory, is… You can’t be serious! How can some live like that? But why not?