A Bangladeshi short story.
When Ma put on a small, gold nose pin on Ameema’s nose, she felt like a queen. That pin had a sparkling white stone in the middle. It set Ameena in a place of her own among her two older sisters. She was twelve years old and her mother decided to honor her first period and put on her nose pin. In the village of Bongaon, where Ameena lived, when girls got their first menstruation, parents lost no time in wedding her off. Ameena’s mother had invited three village women for the special day. They sang some folk songs and then one of them pierced her nose. It was the first celebration of an event in Ameena’a life. Ameena often wondered why her mother had given her such a special treatment. After all, she often heard Baba complaining how, as the third child, she had turned out to be a daughter. She sometimes wished that she could turn the events back and become a son, the torch bearer of the family. There are many women in the village who had two daughters and then the third child was a son. Ameena a feeling of having failed her parents, of being a third daughter. And l lucky for her, the gift of the nose pin seemed to raise her spirits, maybe her mother was not so disappointed after all.
Ameena lived in the quiet village called Bongaon in Bangladesh. The village held recognition of girls as grown up after they had their nose pins and looked up them as budding women. If a girl differed from the village culture, the nose pin came late. Ameena’s sisters were teenagers and were already married. And so her nose pin was like a light to remind her that she was ready to be wedded off like them. The nose pin was like a significant stepping stone to her looks as well.
Ameena was a dark complexioned girl, not welcomed in a society that doted on fairness. But she had the most beautiful eyes, large and dark. The curved eyebrows seemed to compliment the eyes that had a hint of sadness. Once you looked into the eyes you felt like knowing her more, to asking her if she was happy. The wide, generous mouth with the beautifully shaped lips held just a hint of smile. And over it the pert nose with the nose pin now added a hint of mystery; a mixture of the sadness and smile. A writer would say that Ameena’s face was sheer poetry. The white stone on the nose sparkled when it caught light and added grace to the face. Ameena spent long hours staring at her reflection in the small mirror that hung on the wall of her mother’s room. She liked her face so much more with the nose pin! Especially when the sun was pouring through the open window she would stand in the light so that the sunlight caught the stone fully and it sparkled just like a star! Why, even her father seemed to treat her with little respect after she had got her nose pin.
Every morning when Ameena washed her face in the pond she took special care of the nose pin, she was very careful. She did not want to lose her pin. If it fell in the pond she would never get it back. There were other girls around her in the morning. They all came to fetch water and wash their faces. Ameena felt proud of her nose pin when she wondered about the girls of her age who still did not get the nose honor. The little white stone made her stand out among other girls and showed her to be loved and cared for by her parents. At the same time she felt sad for them, maybe their parents have not been able to provide them with the nose pins. She felt lucky in that sense. Her parents were also like other villagers, relying on the daily earnings of selling their meager cash corps. But her mother had saved money bit by bit, to provide her daughter with the dignity of a nose pin.
Ameena often sat under the coconut tree near the pond with her village friends. The wind would sway the tree and the sunlight would make intricate designs on the ground. Ameena and her friends would feel refreshed as the wind blew for homes were full of chores for girls like them. The sky overhead would loom like a vast canopy. Birds twittered on the trees nearby. The village lay serene and beautiful below the pond. The yellow mustard flowers looked like sheets of gold under the bright sunlight. Quite often the friends would remark how beautiful Ameena looked with her nose pin. They would speculate when and how they too might get nose pins. Then suddenly across the quiet village, Ameena’s mother would call out her name and the girls would scamper and fill the pitchers to go home.
It seems as if by sheer magic of the nose pin that Ameena was soon wedded off to a rickshaw puller. Her in-laws provided her with a gold nose pin with a red stone, the only gold ornament. Her own parents were gave her a chain and ear rings made of silver. It would all be less significant than the nose pin. According to the village rites it was compulsory for the in-laws of a girl to provide the nose pin for the bride. During the ‘gaye halud’, the pre-wedding ceremony, Ameena’s mother opened her white nose pin and put on the red stone that had come from her in- laws. Red was the color of love and warmth for the marriage bed. White was not welcomed in matters of wedding. Ameena’s mother and other village women sang the folklores as she changed the nose pin,
“ shundori khulo tomar baper barir ful
phindo tomar shoshur barir nak- ful
hasho tumi ekhon shundori putul..”
( My beautiful open the nose pin of your father
wear the nose pin of your in-laws
now smile my beautiful doll…”
After her marriage, every time Ameena went to fetch water from the pond in her in-laws house, the other women would praise her nose pin. They would say that married life added to her grace. Indeed the nose pin made her look so very happily married!
“Manik Mia had got his bride with a red, gold nose pin! How lucky you are!”
Manik Mia was Ameena’s husband. He was liked by the villagers for his gentle manners. He was hard working and came home to his wife at least twice or thrice a week. He was dark complexioned like Ameena, but very handsome and manly. Shyness was a sign of modesty and every time he said,
“The nose pin makes you look so lovely, my Bou!” He would call her “Bou” (wife) over and over again as if to make sure indeed Ameena was his newly married wife.
Compliments from her husband made her blush and she would cover her face with the end of her sari to hide her face. Her husband would pull the end down and hold the face, the lovely dark face and say,
“ amar bou kalo, kintu jogoter alo…” (My wife is dark but the light of the universe, a well rounding saying for highlighting beauty in dark skins), and then he would love her endlessly. The wife, just into her puberty with a man in life, the very first, felt like a queen her husband roused her through the dark nights. No proper wife would allow her husband near her in day time and so after long night of loving, came the early morning must bathing before woman could enter the kitchen. When Manik Mia was home, dawn would find them both lying in each other’s arm till dawn came and her husband would be deep in sleep, purring like a contented cat. Bathed and pure, on such day’s Ameena would look at the face of her mother-in-law very shyly and ask her what to cook for the day. Her mother-in-law would suppress a secret smile and sigh. Her son was very happy indeed with his wife.
Ameena , happy beyond words often opened the little box in which she kept her old white nose pin and stared at it. It seems as though it was this pin that had brought her all the luck. But alas, good things last so short.
Within a year of her marriage Manik Mia died on a road accident. A truck hit the rickshaw and he was killed on the spot. By that time Ameena was already the mother of a two month old son. The villagers carried home the dead body of her beloved husband. She stood over the dead body, dumbfounded. The baby was in her arms, crying in her lap, wanting to be breast fed. Ameena just could not go inside the house to feed the baby. Her place was there in the yard where her dead husband lay. It seems as though the red marks from the oozing blood on the white cloth covering his body was like the red stone of her nose pin. She felt as though she was wearing a drop of blood from her husband. She touched the pin as if to make sure that it was there, the gift from her dead husband. But the village had rules and her mother-in-law came and gently took the baby from her, told her that the nose pin and other jewelry had to come off. Some village women sat around her and took off her bangles, her chain from the neck and her ear rings. A widow was not supposed to have any jewelry on her body.
“Nakful…nakful….oita khulo” cried some women. (Open the nose pin…)
“ Ameena held on to the nose pin as if to say “No, no, no…” to their requests. Her husband was there with the nose pin, this was the symbol of her marriage. Her heart cried and she seemed to feel an evil string pulling her somewhere down, down to a dark void. Then her mother- in- law came near and told those women who were taking off her nose pin,
“She has a son and so she can wear a nose-pin. Let her keep her nose pin. But let her wear a white one. Red should not be worn by a widow.”
Someone got Ameena’s old white nose pin from the house and a woman was soon changing the nose pin from red stone to white. At least was given the dignity of being a son’s mother through her old nose pin. Sobbing hard, she looked at the white cloth covering Manik Mia’s dead body.
The white stone and the white cloth; all looked so alike. Red blood from his wounds seemed to shout of her red pin. Ameena tried to find a reason for her bad luck: maybe if her mother had given her a pink stone all this would not have happened. Maybe the white nose pin was not all so good after all. Ameena stared on at the dead body of her husband. Her son continued to cry on for her milk. Overhead the sky suddenly darkened and clouds gathered and the sun disappeared behind the clouds. Crows started cawing ominously from the trees nearby.
“White nose pin, red nose pin; how did those touch her life real life?” An inner voice lamented endlessly in her head. Being a son’s mother had saved her dignity as a woman. Widowhood was regarded as bad omens, no man would marry he again. Which nose pin would come next? She could not envision any colors on a new nose pin in the emptiness of her life.
Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA.