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A love story in no man's land - Chapter 3.2

Chapter 3.2. Wedding bells

As Zahira took the photo in her hands, her eyes were wet with tears and the thoughts took her back to the past.

3 years ago (April 1996)

Zahira belongs to the Druze community, a minority in the country, but a majority in the surrounding villages. Zahira was married to Emir and had two sons and a daughter. Her elder son and daughter-in-law died during an attack in Beirut two years ago, leaving their 3-year old son, Walid behind. Her daughter was married to a trader from the neighboring village and they settled near Tyre. They were soon blessed with a baby girl. While the entire family planned a visit to Tyre, Walid was infected with some viral disease forcing Zahira to stay back along with him. Her husband and younger son reached Tyre and were celebrating the birth of the baby girl. But, in a fateful turn of events, the city soon found itself in midst of a conflict between PLO and Israel, who had the support of the Free Lebanon Army. Their younger son, who was with the army, joined the Lebanese forces the next day. While fighting on the bank of river Litani, he was shot twice in his chest and neck. He fell into the river and soon drowned as he fell unconscious due to excessive bleeding. The conflict ended and the PLO withdrew from South Lebanon following a bitter loss. As the news reached Wazzani, Zahira too was happy that their army's side has won, still unaware of her son's death.

However, as she opened a telegram she just received, she did not have just one bad news. Her husband, daughter, and her family have all died in the heavy shelling and airstrikes on the city. She could not hold her grief. Holding her young grandson in her arms, she bitterly wept for the loss. Her parents and other relatives died in another set of attacks on their hometown a few years back.

Her grandson is all she had and he refers to her as mother. Keeping the grief to herself, she worked hard in the farms to ensure he received a good education and a good life. 18 years passed since then. After finishing his graduation, Walid is returning home this week, after four years. He is 23 now and Zahira has also found a suitable bride for him, Raya. In the Druze community, a marriage will not happen without the consent of both the bride and the groom. Zahira is confident that her son and Raya will like each other. She is busy in making all the arrangements to welcome Walid.

"Zahira, can I borrow a glass of milk?" a neighbor just came to Zahira's house

"Sure. Bringing in a second"

"How are you, Nahida?" greeted the neighbor, "Great to see you after a long time"

"I am good," replied Nahida, Raya's mother, "Will be here for two-three weeks"

"Where's the bride-to-be?"

"Not yet. I should meet Walid first" sighed Raya as she was knitting a woollen sweater

"For walid?" the neighbour pointed at the sweater

"Yeah, if we agree for the marriage," smiled Raya as she got back to knitting

A postman arrived at Zahida's house, "Possstttt..."

"Coming..." Zahida ran outside the house expecting that the post is from Walid

"Careful, Ummi, watch your step," said Raya, "You aren't a little girl"

"From Walid?" Zahira asked the postman

"Yeah, but Walid reached earlier than his post," smiled Walid as he was walking towards the home, "The post was to inform you about my early arrival."

Zahira was in tears as Walid hugged her. She took him inside and made him sit in a chair. Raya, shy fully, ran into the adjacent room.

After taking some rest, Zahira called Walid for lunch.

"There's a girl I want you to meet," said Zahira as Walid finished his lunch, "Her father worked along with your dad."

"They lived just a few houses away before they settled in the Tripoli city (of North Lebanon) about 15-years ago," Zahira added as she introduced Raya's parents, "Have a word with the girl and let us know your decision."

Raya and Walid went into the backyard and sat on a well. They discussed their interests, opinions, and ambitions. Raya is an independent girl and helps her father in his business. She is also a great artist. Walid instantly developed a liking for her but did not let tell Raya anything about the same. Raya too liked Walid and was waiting for him to say that he liked her. Walid is a man of few words while Raya is very talkative. She kept telling him about her life in Tripoli and how she missed the village. She suddenly became silent as they made eye contact for the first time. Both understood they liked each other.

"I need to tell you something," Walid broke the silence.

"Possstttt..." interrupted a postman standing outside their house.

"You never came twice on the same day," Zahira expressed her surprise as offered him to sit down and offered some water.

"An important letter for Walid," said the postman as he handed over the letter to Walid.

Walid seemed to be extremely happy as he read the letter.

"I am posted as a Military doctor," he announced happily, "In Yater."

Military? Zahira's face turned pale as she said to herself, I had lost all my family in wars. And the only surviving one wants to serve the military again?

"Ummi, I wanted to tell you before" Walid tried to comfort her, "But thought that I will surprise you with the appointment letter." He continued, "After finishing the mandatory service, I wanted to serve the country. That was my dream since beginning."

Zahira showed no signs of relief.

"I know," Walid continued, "Had there not been a war, there would not have been just the two of us. But Ummi, millions of our fellow countrymen lost their lives in wars and conflicts. As a military doctor, If I go along to the war scene, think of all the lives that can be saved by me"

I have given him all the strength to dream, to aim. Now when he is about to realize his dream, why do I cut his wings, Zahira said to herself. She took his face in her palms and kissed on his forehead as tears rolled down from her eyes. She agreed.

Now, Walid turned towards Raya. Raya was overjoyed, He is looking for my consent. I am lucky to have Walid in my life. That moment, Raya realized Walid is her man. She nodded yes, "Congratulations, Walid!"

Raya's parents took her to the adjacent room, "Every other day, there is a conflict in the country. It is unsafe."

"Insurgents have attacked Beirut as well," Raya tried to defend Walid's choice.

"But war isn't a lucky omen for this family. They have all died in wars."

"You always told that a true Druze never fears death!"

"But why take the risk? He can work in a hospital in Tripoli or Beirut."

"Does that guarantee 100-years of his life?"

"No, But ..."

"Abu, you have made millions over the years. You trade with Europeans. Why did you not consider emigrating when you knew the country has constantly been in several crises? Why did you not give up your business when you know the militants might target you and your properties?"

"This is our country. These are our people. Why would we emigrate? And the business, that was my dream. How can I leave it?"

"This is Walid's dream," Raya made her decision clear and sat down to continue knitting the sweater, "And his dreams are mine."

The silence sounded Nuktub Khtuboui

(Nuktub Khtuboi is a phrase to indicate interest in engagement)

The wedding bells rang. Walid had two more weeks before he needs to report at Yater.

It was evening by then. As everyone headed for Magrib, Zahira prayed for Walid's long and happy life.

(Magrib refers to the evening prayers)

It is decided that the engagement would be held the next day.

The next morning, Zahira, Walid, Raya, and her family assembled near the prior hall with most of the villagers in attendance, along with the Iman.

It is customary for the groom's father to make the formal proposal and hence, the proposal was put forward by Zahira's close neighbor Abir on behalf of the groom's family.

"Do you accept the proposal?" asked the Iman. As per the Druze customs, a wedding will not take place if the girl denies the proposal.

"Wheat or Oats?" giggled Raya's friend who was standing behind her.

"Wheat," Raya accepted the proposal as she looked at Walid with a bright smile on her face.

(Oats means a "no" and Wheat means a "Yes." Oats have tiny, sharp edges and are fed to animals. Wheat, on the other hand, is soft and hence, the girls use these aliases.)

"Let us finalize the Mahr now," the Iman proceeded ahead as he blessed Walid and Raya.

"We offer the bride a 24-carat gold bracelet, diamond earrings, two gold necklaces, a pair of gold earrings for the bride's mother and a gold bracelet for the father. The Mahr also includes the cloth required to stitch the bride's wedding dress and her parents' dresses."

Raya's father nodded in agreement.

"Fine. Let us also discuss the delayed Mahr. How much do you demand?" the Iman asked Raya.

"Any amount would be fine," Raya replied as she did not see a need for delayed Mahr.

(A delayed Mahr is the amount paid by the groom and his family to the bride in case of a divorce)

"50000 LL," Abir put forth an amount which is accepted by the bride.

"The bride and groom stay in respective houses till Katabet Elekteb," the Iman drafted the marriage contract.

(Katabet Elekteb is the official registration of the marriage in the Druze court)

Advance Mahr is paid. The couple, along with their near and dear arrived at the bride's house for Hatou-el-Khutbi.

The couple exchanged their engagement rings.

"Maktoubeen" "Maktoubeen" "Maktoubeen"

(Hatou-el-Khutbi refers to the event of exchanging the rings. Maktoubeen means "They are engaged")

It is decided that the marriage will be held on the coming Friday.

3-day wedding celebrations will begin the day after tomorrow.


(Move to chapter 3.3...)