November 11, 1998
With a role model like Mrs. Mokri, we were often puzzled what Zarry's
problem could be. Mrs. Mokri spent most of her life in the kitchen cooking
fancy meals and gossiping with the neighborhood wives who dropped by all
too often. She was a short, robust woman, who relished hosting lavish parties,
and the mere mention of a family gathering brought a smile to her round
With a sister like that, we wondered what was the real reason behind
Zarry's spinsterhood. Pushing up into her thirties, Zarry was hopelessly
unmarried. She had sold her share of the old townhouse, where all three
of them had grown up, to her brother, Jafar, and moved out on her own.
We all knew that much. Mrs. Mokri had been the first to leave, when she
married the bazaar merchant. Then Jafar married and raised his family there
with a teenage Zarry living in one of the bedrooms upstairs until she graduated
from high school. But something happened during that last year, when she
was only seventeen, that would polarize the entire family
For fifteen years Mr. Mokri had tried to marry her off to no avail,
though she had a pretty face and an independent mind, with a permanent
teaching career. Her resistance to suitors who happened by was even more
baffling to us than to her brother-in-law. His choices, in particular,
were flat out rejected. If you paid close attention, like we did, you could
see the traces of doubt beginning to crack the glass of her disinterest
as the crow's feet deepened in the contours of her eyes.
Finally, a much older gentleman of the trade business appeared promising.
One early afternoon, toward the end of summer, a lively gala stirred the
Mokri residence. Women moved to and fro, carrying jumbo-size pots and pans
in and out of the kitchen. Mr. Mokri's cranked up old gramophone let loose
boisterous melodies of years past. Lightness and music hovered in the air.
Gleeful laughter followed the flight of neighborhood children who were
dressed impeccably; boys in dark blue jackets and gray pants; girls in
pink lace and ruffled dresses with red-blue-green-yellow flowers on them,
and their hair neatly tied behind.
A flabby, middle-aged neighborhood matron by the name of Batul Khanoum
was having a great time preparing to barbecue a pile of skewered kebabs
for dinner. Her facial hair suggested a certain masculinity that could
not be ignored. We had circled about her, dying to hear the nitty-gritty
details of Zarry's big secret.
"It all began when she was in the twelfth grade, you see,"
Batul Khanoum said, while fanning the embers. "Their next door neighbor,
Bijan, fell in love with her, you know. It may have started even before
that. Perhaps they had had something going for some time already. Who knows?
Anyway, he used to send her love-letters."
Batul Khanoum looked to her right and left to make sure there were no
spies, and continued conspiratorially, "He wrapped them around a rock
and threw them in her room by way of a window she left open. This is fifteen,
sixteen years ago, now."
A collective gasp went up around her, and she went on: "One night
when the Mokris were visiting, there was an enormous thunderstorm. Blackout.
Jafar insisted that his guests stay overnight and go home in the morning.
Mokri and his wife slept in Zarry's bedroom, while the children slept on
the first floor. But this time the window in Zarry's bedroom was closed."
Another collective gasp distracted her, but she soon resumed. "When
the love-rock hit the glass, it shattered into a thousand pieces. The stone
hit Mr. Mokri's left foot and he screamed, 'Thief! Thief!' Then the whole
house woke up (mind you, this was in the middle of the night) and everybody
took turns reading Bijan's letter."
Batul Khanoum passed the fan from her right hand to the left one, keeping
away from the smoke. We were hanging on to her last words and would not
"So, tell us," one of us said impatiently. "What happened
The delight on Batul Khanoum's face was obvious. "Mokri made a
big fuss, and soon after that the boy disappeared like a work of magic.
It turned out that there was bad blood between Mokri and Bijan's father,
so he was sent away to America.'"
The woman, who'd urged Batul Khanoum on, couldn't stand on her feet
anymore, and sat down on a nearby tree root. The rest of us huddled around
the storyteller who was now squinting her eyes from the smoke. "A
while ago he came back after all these years. Apparently, he's got some
kind of job somewhere in California. He sent a message that he wants to
marry Zarry and take her away with him."
Prevailing darkness covered the yard, the garden, the whole house. A
bald man with a massive belly stepped in from the street. He wore an undersized
jacket whose buttons were on the verge of bursting off.
"Groom is here," someone shouted, "Oscar-the-Groom is
here," and we ran off, laughing, some of us dashing up the stairs
into the kitchen.
A molla, carrying an oversized black briefcase, followed the groom.
Wearing a black mantle on his shoulders and a small, white turban on his
head, he emitted the sweet aroma of rose-water. His clean fingernails were
squarish and henna-colored. He trailed the groom into the building.
The groom joined the guests in the big hall, while the molla stepped
into the adjoining room, converted into the ceremonial place in which the
couple were to exchange their marital vows. In one corner was a giant mirror.
In another, two tulip candleholders with brass handles stood with a Koran
in between them. Sitting cross-legged on an easy-chair, cleaning his glasses,
the molla spoke languidly to Mr. Mokri who stood before him in the middle
of the room.
"We've seen this sort of thing many a time, Mr. Mokri," he
said with patience. "She's uncertain, and doesn't quite know what
to expect. Her whole life is about to change. It's only natural for her
to have doubts. But I tell you one thing: this man and that woman are made
for each other. Have no worries, The One up there will fix everything good
and proper." "Yes, I see that," Mr. Mokri said. "But
I wish she would come down and get it over with. Marry in haste... She'll
have the rest of her life to think about it."
"At any rate," the molla responded, "I'll be at your
service until ten o'clock. Then I'm needed elsewhere." He held both
his palms up and shrugged his shoulders.
The hall and the reception room were packed with guests. A blue haze
of cigarette smoke, thick and still, filled the air while the gramophone
churned out a popular old wedding tune:
"What night is it tonight?
It's the night of yearning tonight.
Candles and blazing light,
This house is full of, tonight."
Men were strewn lazily across the old English davenport and on the rented
chairs placed around the room. Women were immersed in their conversations,
mostly standing. Servants held trays with small, golden-rimmed tea tumblers
before them, or passed around platters of fruits and baklava.
Presently, a chadori woman, a total stranger, found her way through
the yard into the building. A quizzical hush fell over the reception room;
the music stopped.
"I'm going to make such a groom out of that Oscar," the woman
shouted at the top of her lungs, "that books will be written about
it! And to think I wouldn't believe it when the man told me my husband
was getting married!"
The Mokris, the molla, and everybody else rushed into the over-crowded
room to find out what all the fuss was about. They found the cherry-faced
chadori woman hitting herself on the head, shaking as if she had come down
with a serious case of malaria.
Batul Khanoum opened the hall door with haste, and led the children
out into the yard. She stood in the doorway and warned: "Stay out
there and play until I call you in for dinner." She was breathing
hard, her face drenched with perspiration, when she spotted a neatly dressed
man approaching the building. It was Jafar.
"Excellent, Excellent," he was saying, rubbing his hands together.
He walked through the yard with a grand posture; showing off his black
tuxedo and silk cravat with a matching breast kerchief to all who might
be watching. Before stepping through the doorway, he looked up as if trying
to locate a star in the black of the night.
In the reception room, Mrs. Mokri and her brother stood in opposite
corners of the room. The chadori woman had fainted. Mr. Mokri was pacing
the room up and down. The bewildered molla tried to calm down the guests,
but we didn't pay him any heed. He sat in quiet disappointment.
"What's a wedding party without music?" Jafar went to the
gramophone and put on a record without waiting for an answer. Music filled
the air again. The molla pulled himself together, and approached Mr. Mokri.
"Well, Mr. Mokri," he said, "I don't suppose you're going
to need me here anymore. Better be leaving." He rubbed his forefinger
against his thumb. Mr. Mokri searched his pockets, pulled out a bundle
of folded bills, but Jafar grabbed his wrist in one hand, guiding him and
the molla toward the window.
"Excellent party, Mokri," he said. "Pity you're letting
this gentleman leave so soon."
"Got other engagements, my good sir," the molla said. "Must
"What, ahead of time?' Jafar said. "Didn't you promise to
be ours until ten? What's the rush for?" He lowered his voice, "I'll
take care of you . . . manifold."
The mullah was perplexed.
"You see," Jafar explained, "we might have a wedding
after all. Please allow me to be at your service a bit longer." He
smiled a meaningful smile. The molla took Mr. Mokri's money and said: "Well,
I'd have to make a phone call."
Regaining consciousness, the hysterical newcomer opened her lids and
peeked around the room to locate Oscar-the-Groom. As soon as her eyes caught
a glimpse of him, she sprang up, shaking her index finger in the air.
"By the full moon of the 14th, Oscar," she said, "I'll
make you so miserable, that even the flying birds will weep for you."
There was something disarmingly helpless and at the same time so determined
Oscar looked like a child caught in the act of stealing candy. Slowly
he walked to the door with his head tilted to one side, followed by his
chadori wife who was counting the ways in which she was going to deal with
Jafar had been sitting with one hip on the window-sill, arms akimbo,
a broad grin on his face as he watched the scene unfold. He then filled
two glasses with red wine, and walked over to Mr. Mokri. The latter took
the wine and gulped it down in one rapid move.
"Excellent. Somebody fetch Zarry. The monster is gone."
"Leave her alone," Mrs. Mokri said. "Enough harm's been
done for one evening."
"If you allow me to say," Jafar glanced at his watch, "her
presence will shortly be required."
The words hadn't fully exited his lips, when an unusual sound came from
the yard: a heavy object dropping to the damp ground: THUMP. Mr. Mokri
looked out the window, and noticed a tall figure emerging from the dark;
trying to keep his balance. He watched the figure saunter his way toward
We too stuck our heads out the window.
''Excellent, Bijan Khan. Just in time.'
Mr. Mokri's annoyance at the sight of the new arrival was all too obvious.
"Who said this hoodlum could step into my house?," he said. "What
the hell's going on?" His anger, everybody realized, was directed
Bijan was in a satin suit; his formal pants and black jacket glowing
in the dim of the yard. A red bow-tie hung loosely across his throat like
a faulty propeller. His hair was a bit long, but smoothed away from his
face. His floundering ended when he crashed to the ground. Batul Khanoum
dashed out to help him back on his feet.
"Throw this bum out in the alley," Mr. Mokri yelled. "A
lot of nerve he has, coming in here drunk."
"Mokri, calm down," Batul Khanoum ordered. "The poor
guy might have hurt himself."
We were protruding three-quarter's way from the window while Batul Khanoum
strove to bring the nose-bleeding man inside. Bijan sat on a chair, next
to Mrs. Mokri, his head tilted skyward, a tissue-holding hand on his nose.
Mrs. Mokri stared at him with disbelief.
"Excellent. What a coincidence indeed. Who would have thought we'd
have a wedding after all?"
"Cut the crap, Jafar," Mr. Mokri said.
"You embarrassed your sister on her wedding night," Mrs. Mokri
piped in. "How can you look her in the eyes again?"
"Just a moment. What are you people talking about? What wedding?"
He shook his head, left to right and back again. Bijan regained his self-control,
got up and listened. The faint sound of descending footsteps came through
the walls. Mrs. Mokri was as befuddled. She glanced about, then rose to
her feet -- exactly at the moment the door flung open and Zarry strolled
into the room.
There she was, mascara running down her eyes, drawing maps of unknown
territories on her cheeks and nose. She wore a white, long, wrinkled dress
with dark make-up stains here and there. Her puffy, blood-red eyes, squinted
at the light, but did not affect her indifferent look. She walked in and
dropped listlessly into the softness of the sofa. Standing not three feet
away, Bijan turned to her, and opened his arms as if to say, "have
a good look, Zarry." Patches of dirt were drying on his knees and
The molla produced a black, leather volume of the holy book from his
briefcase, and put on his glasses. Jafar bent over the sofa, and kissed
Zarry's cheek. She did not even attempt to make it easier for her brother;
just sat there, and looked ahead.