When It Is Forbidden

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Copyright © 2011 Suzanne Yost

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          I smiled at myself in the spot of a mirror that I kept in my room, and then frowned.  I was studying my face, memorizing the details-perfections and flaws.  When I grinned, a dimple formed by the corner of my curved lips on the left.  When a frown overcame my face, three little wrinkles were nestled between my eyes.  My coffee colored skin was spotless, which I was glad of.  Not that it really mattered.  No one was going to see my face anyways. 

            Taking a vibrant red ribbon, my most prized possession, I tied my raven black hair into a neat, low ponytail.  This ribbon was one of my secret weapons, my way to rebel against the government, the Taliban.  Anything beautiful was not allowed.  I placed my headdress on, covering my treasured splash of color. 

            Silently padding down the stairs in my slippered feet, I made my way from my room to the front door.  Reaching it, I smoothed out my burqa and hummed an almost inaudible tune while I waited for Rafi, my older brother.  He came downstairs without a sound, sneaking up behind me without my noticing.

            Turning to find him waiting behind me, I was not surprised.  This was how every morning went for the two of us.  Rafi frowned at me, as usual and said the same thing as every other day.

            "Layla, you really should not be humming."  His voice was melodically delicious, gentle and soothing.  Comfort always filled me when he spoke.  I suppose it makes sense, for his name means comforter.

            "Who should hear me, here and at this hour?"  I inquired of him, continuing our familiar conversation.

            "You never know," was all he ever said.  Then, he came over to me and helped me arrange my veil correctly.  But I lifted up the bottom to reveal my mouth and I smiled at him, white teeth gleaming. 

            "I love you, brother.  I don't know what I would do without you," I spoke softly to him.

            "I love you, too, sister," he practically breathed.  He reached forward, smiled at me and tucked a strand of black hair back into my burqa, so that it was unseen.

            Then, the two of us stepped out into the pre-dawn haze of Afghanistan.  Some people milled around, the ones who wished to get an early start on their day.  My brother and I's secret walks were always in silence.

            I was so thrilled to be outside again.  I had been stuck inside the house with mother for days now.  Rafi had been ill for the past few days and mother wouldn't let anyone go into his room unless to bring him food for fear of more of us catching his disease.  I had not been able to see him and had had to skip our walks, because I needed a male blood-relative to take me out of doors.  Father would never take me, so Rafi was my only option.  But I would gladly have him as my companion.

            We walked along the paths in silence, thinking.  I thought of the birds, and the people around us, the sunshine that was beginning to peep out above the horizon, and how lucky I was to have Rafi.  I have a friend who has no brothers, only sisters.  Her father is the only one nearby who can take her outside.  I felt so fortunate.

            Then I thought of music.  Oh, how I loved it!  Singing, instruments, or language, it did not matter to me.  Though I could not understand other languages, just the thrill, and pure joy of listening to it was enough to satisfy my hunger for it. 

            It is the year of 1999.  The Taliban took over in 1996.  I was 12 then.  They have ruled for 3 years over us, torturing us each and every day.  I am now 15.  They have outlawed music.  I feel a part of me missing.  I break the law each day by humming.  Occasionally, if I felt extra brave, I would sneak up to the attic and sing softly.  But every time I did so, I felt as if the police would break through the door any minute.  I didn't fear for myself, but for my family.

            Rafi, now 17 walked beside me, completely absorbed in his own thoughts.  He was handsome, I saw girls sneaking illegal looks at him every now and then.  When I talked with my friends, at one point or another the conversation would turn to him.  We had found that we both thought the best in the early morning fresh air.  It was his first day free of his illness and outdoors, and I could see him breathing deeply, taking in as much of the air as possible.

             I too was utilizing the air supply to its fullest and breathing gallons full of oxygen at a time as if I hadn't been outside in years.  Synchronizing our rhythmic breathing, my brother and I walked on.

            I yearned to take off my required gear; it was all too warm inside the folds of my burqa and headdress.  How I wished I could walk around in the sunshine without them for just one day, just one!  But that could not happen; at least as long as the Taliban and its police were still around.

            Then we came back to our home just as a bit of sunlight began to show itself to our world.  It was time for our first prayer of the new day.

            The day moved on at its regular pace; slowly limping along.  Rafi went off to school and I cooked and cleaned as Mother sat around the house sewing.  After my chores had been finished, I sat on the floor by Mother.  I stared at the bookcase, by the fireplace, which contained Father's books.  I was not allowed to go to school.  I could not read them.

            Just after the sun had reached its peak, Mother and I said our next prayers.  The day continued in this pattern.  We would sit, Mother would sew, I would think, and then, as all good Muslims who wish to go to heaven do, we would pray.  Rafi made it home before our fourth prayers and then afterwards we went to my room to talk.  I had something to ask of him.

            "Rafi," I started.  I was nervous, unsure of what his reaction would be.  "May I ask a favor of you?"

            "What is it my dark beauty?"  He would never dare say something like that in front of Mother.  Dark beauty was the meaning of my name.

            I inhaled deeply, and the words rushed out of my mouth.  "Can you teach me how to read?"

            A look of shock broke his calm composure for a moment but then went almost instantly back to his impassive face.

            "Layla," He began.  But I interrupted him.

            "Please, Rafi, please.  It would mean so much to me."  Then from a hole in my mattress I pulled out some papers.  I showed them to him.

            "I can't read these."

            Squinting he said, "What are they?"

            "Song sheets," I replied sheepishly.

            Rafi's eyes widened and he quickly reached forward and plucked the papers from my hands and stared at them for a moment.  Then he said, "Layla, where did you get these?"

            "I found them," I replied quietly, seeing the fear in his eyes.

            He was silent for a moment then he spoke.

            "Where?"

            "A few years ago when people were clearing things out of their houses, that the Taliban outlawed, I found them in someone's garbage pile."

            "Oh."

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