Saturday, January 20, 2007

A sleepover

It’s not often I get to have sleepovers these days, as well as the late night heart-to-heart among girls that usually accompanies them.

When I stay at Nigora’s house, I sleep in the guest bedroom and she sleeps with her family in a separate part of the house. But here, she slept on the fold-out in my living room. We were enclosed in a small space, with plenty of time to talk.

As she reclined on the sofa, she told me again how she hadn’t wanted to marry.

“My father didn’t pressure me to marry,” she said. “He said as long as I married by 30, it was fine by him. But when I was 25, he said he and my mother would probably die soon. It was his duty to marry me. But if I didn’t marry soon, he probably wouldn’t be there for the wedding.”

Because of that, she married. And sure enough, her parents died within the year.

She’d told me that she didn’t want to marry, and both she and Shavkat said that she didn’t want to marry him. Shavkat said her rejection spurred him on, made him more determined that he would marry her. The way they tell it now, they make it sound like a joke. But listening to Nigora tell it as she lay on the couch, she truly didn’t want to be with him.

“I didn’t like him,” she said. “And honestly, at the beginning, I really wanted to run away.”

When I asked why, she said it was uncomfortable to be with someone she hardly knew. And, she added, his family lived more poorly than hers did.

“They never had food or money for the next day. They didn’t plan ahead. And that’s how my life has become.”

Six months later, Shavkat’s mother had appendicitis. While the doctors were
sewing her up after the operation, they sewed a large vein to the appendix. Later, when she coughed or sneezed, it ruptured and she died. She left several children who still needed to be married off, a responsibility and an expense that Shavkat assumed.

Her death made Nigora feel sorry for Shavkat and convinced her to stay. “Over time we got used to each other,” she said. “And we even learned to love each other.”

She said it as though it might be the case, even his love for her comes through clearly in his speech and actions.

“Now there is no running away from this man,” she said. “I have three sons with him.”

She was pleased to see that Shavkat is genuinely supportive of her going to America. She feared he might be jealous or upset. But instead he is happy for her and proud of her, announcing it to all the neighborhood before it was even certain.

“For him to be truly happy for me, that makes me feel good,” she said. “He passed a big test.” And she drew a plus sign in the air, his good grade.

Things worked out in the end. She and Shavkat built a life together, a life that is better than average in Osh. They’ve raised educated, polite, promising sons. While they don’t live luxuriously, neither do they lack for any essentials.

“I’ve never experienced true love,” Nigora ruminated out loud, “the kind that makes you want to drop anything for that person.” She seemed a little regretful, as though that magical moment so often portrayed in books and in media had passed her by, thereby making her life a little less full.

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