Publisher Page Publishing, Inc.
.” “Niki’s Honor” is a tragic and powerful story about an innocent victim of “honor killing” practices and the family she seeks to protect. Based on actual events still occurring in many parts of the world, this book reveals the realities of these unspeakable acts committed against girls and women, and usually carried out by their own family members.
The young father, in private, asked his wife Ozra to name their new- born girl Niki. In Pashto and Farsi, Niki means “goodness.” In vil- lages, it was embarrassing for a young man to choose a name for his newborn daughter.
The family lived in a small house in the same neighborhood as Ozra’s parents. Ozra’s husband loved to take his wife and daughter to picnics in the vineyards and orchards on the outskirts of their village. He also took them to the city, Kabul, and to its parks, ice cream stores, and especially to the homes of Ozra’s relatives.
Niki was about three years old when her father died. Ozra and her daughter moved to her parents’ home. Ozra’s parents were not rich, but they were very kind and well respected in their village. They were also related to the Khan’s tribe.
It was a tradition during Eids, the Muslim holidays, for villagers and relatives to go to the Khan’s house to show respect. On those days, Niki eagerly accompanied her mother and her grandparents. There she played with many children and the Khan’s wife would give gifts to them.
When Niki was six years old, her grandparents died. She and her mother moved to her Uncle Azeem’s house. Her uncle’s wife, Nassima, was considered a vicious woman by many of the villagers.
Ozra continued the tradition of going with her daughter to the Khan’s house during these religious holidays. Niki was eight years old the last time she went. On these visits, Niki joined the other children and played in the courtyard while her mother went inside to talk with the other women.
As always, the Khan’s wife, Shah Gul, appeared on the porch with a bag full of candies and coins: Eid gifts for the children.
The children eagerly ran toward her with happy shouts.
“Come one at a time. Tell me your name and your mother’s name,” she instructed them.
Her loud, bossy voice quieted the children. They stood in silence in front of her. It was this year, among all the children, that Shah Gul noticed a little girl with fairy tale beauty. She was the only child who, after receiving her Eid gift, kissed Shah Gul’s hands expressing appre- ciation and respect.
“Tell me, again, your name and your mother’s name,” Shah Gul demanded.
“I am Niki, daughter of Ozra,” she said, and then quickly ran to join the other children, all the while happily gazing at her gifts.
The beautiful face and good manners of this little girl stayed in Shah Gul’s mind. After the Eid, Shah Gul sent a message to Ozra that she wanted to see her. Without questioning the request, Ozra promptly went to the Kahn’s house to see Shah Gul.
It was at this visit, that Shah Gul asked Ozra’s consent to engage Niki, now only nine years old, to her son, Nur Gul, who was fifteen years old. It was a common custom to engage children. The young girl would stay in her parents’ house until reaching the proper age to be wed. For Ozra, a dream had come true.
Ozra immediately gave her consent, and told Shah Gul, “It is an honor that the son of a Khan will someday marry my daughter.”
Shah Gul was known for being arrogant. Even when she had asked for Niki’s engagement, she expressed this haughtiness. “There is a saying,” she explained, “when people in our status find a girl for marriage to their sons, they consider two things: a girl who has a well-known father, or a girl with extraordinary beauty.”
Ozra felt disappointed that Niki did not have a well-known father. But looking at Shah Gul, one could clearly see that, “Shah Gul must have had a well-known father!”
“When Niki reaches the age of seventeen, I will make the arrangements for a spectacular wedding that everybody will remem- ber for a long time,” Shah Gul added.
The engagement party was planned for a Friday, two weeks later.
The engagement party took place on a beautiful spring day in the house of Ozra’s brother-in-law. That morning, since the weather was very pleasant and warm, Shah Gul and her companions walked together to the celebration. Shah Gul, even though very heavyset, tried to walk at the same pace as the others, but with much difficulty. Her face became covered in sweat. She kept wiping it with a handker- chief, which quickly became soaked and barely usable.
As they walked along, two women, relatives of Shah Gul, sang special songs for the occasion, praising the beauty of the bride-to-be and the bravery of the groom-to-be, beating hard with their palms on their tambourines.
The women followed young boys, who were carrying on their heads oversized trays full of sweets, clothing, and accessories for Niki. For the engagement party, it was common to bring gifts on such trays, called khuncha, which were made of thin wood covered with colorful, glossy fabrics.
The small well-dressed group entered the rough and dirty alley, which was lined with shabby small houses on each side. Many girls and women residents of the alley were up on their rooftops, waiting to see the wealthy guests bringing the engagement gifts for Ozra’s beautiful daughter.
Some of the young girls looking down were counting the trays, wishing that one day somebody would bring them engagement gifts like these. A few even bet that the heavy woman was the mother-in- law because she walked funny. With each step to the left or to the right, her whole body leaned that way, causing the observing girls to laugh.
When the guests arrived, Niki was playing in the courtyard and singing with her friends, “Koo koo koo, barguee chenar.” It is a Persian little girl’s play song, which Niki had learned from her relatives in Kabul, and had taught to her Pashto-speaking friends in the village.
The simple play song came from a short story: “Pigeons are coming to a river where girls are sitting under the willow trees and eating pomegranates.” The girls made a circle, held hands, and joy- fully sang, “Koo koo koo, barguee chenar, doukhtara shishta qatar, mik- horand dana anar . . . ” They stepped forward and made the circle smaller, and then they stepped backward and made it bigger.
Shah Gul called for Niki so she could get her dressed for the occasion. Ozra and a few other women followed them into a humble small room to help. The engagement dress selected by Shah Gul was pink velvet with golden tiny flowers, including a white satin shalwar, a small pink chiffon veil with a golden silk margin, and a pair of shiny white shoes.
After dressing Niki, Shah Gul said, “For the wedding, I will give her my chamkaly, that old styled Afghani necklace that belonged to my grandmother. And I will give them a big wedding that this village will remember—forever.”
Ozra told Shah Gul, “Your words take me into a daydream. I see my daughter in her wedding dress with a gold necklace, looking like a fairy tale bride in the ancient tales.”
“I chose the beauty of the world, a perfect match for my handsome son. Their wedding will fulfill my wishes. They will bring handsome sons into the world!” Shah Gul was talking excitedly while holding Niki’s chin up and looking at her beautifully shaped hazel green eyes.
Shah Gul said to Niki, “Look, those trays full of gifts and sweets are for you—all of them!”
Niki had no idea what was going on. She told her mother that she wanted to join the other girls playing in the courtyard.
Her mother explained to her, “We are celebrating your engage- ment to Nur Gul. When you grow older, you will marry him and then move to their big house. You will then always have good food and nice dresses.”
Niki asked, “After the party, will I still be able to play with my friends?”
“No! Starting today, you are engaged to the Khan’s son, and it does not look good that people see you in the alley playing with other children. Now it is time for you to learn about housework,” Ozra said and continued, “Now sit still. I have work to do.”
For the guests, Ozra had furnished a side of the courtyard with worn-out cheap carpets, mattresses, and nonmatching cushions.
Shah Gul’s guests were dressed in expensive clothes, but their makeup styles were the same as Ozra’s guests—white chalk-colored powder on their faces, hot red lipstick, and hot pink-colored cir- cles on their cheeks. They used surma, a charcoal-colored powder, grounded from natural black stones, on their eyebrows, and drew lines around their eyes.
The women were singing, dancing, and showing off their new dresses and their typical village-style jewelry. The sharp odor of the perfume used by the village women was in the air and became stron- ger the more they danced.
At last, the guests sat down for the engagement ceremony. Shah Gul and the other women in the room came out and joined the guests. She occupied an entire mattress herself and also helped herself to a few more cushions for her back and elbows. She had Niki sit next to her.
Ozra had fixed a small tray full of sweets for Shah Gul. This was a sign of consent from the girl’s family making the engagement official. The tray was called qhand wa destmal, and it was full of tra- ditional Afghan sugarcoated almonds called nukle. These almonds, however, were shapeless showing a lower quality. There were also two sugar cones wrapped in golden-colored foil. The tray was covered with a silky scarf, which had cheap tassels on the corners.
“If I had the money, I would have bought gold tassels as Safia Jan did for her older daughter, Nasrin’s, engagement.” Ozra was refer- ring to her relatives in Kabul, whose younger daughter, Roya, was the
same age as Niki. They were now out of the country, and like Ozra would have been well pleased with Niki’s engagement party.
Next, Ozra carried the tray carefully across the room and placed it in front of Shah Gul. At that moment, the other women started to sing a congratulatory song in Pashto: “Mubarak dee sha, Mubarak dee sha.”
Ozra, after placing the tray down, kissed Shah Gul’s hand. Shah Gul then kissed Ozra’s face, turned, and kissed Niki on both cheeks. The women continued to dance and sing. The lunch, prepared at Shah Gul’s house, was brought out. It was enough for all the women of the alley. The main dish was brown rice with lamb, with side dishes of meatballs, potatoes, spinach, and breads. The aroma
The poor women and children of the alley, always ready for a
celebration, came with their containers to get food. They stood or sat on the bare ground in the courtyard, watching the rich guests with amazement.
Ozra’s sister-in-law, Nassima, hated Ozra, and was always trying to please Shah Gul. She kept running back and forth, offering tea and drinks to Shah Gul, hoping that she would engage one of her daughters to marry her younger son Zalmai.
That day, Nur Gul, who was wearing an Afghani embroidered white shelwar kamis, accompanied his father, Hajji Khan, to the mosque for the Friday prayer. After the prayer, Hajji Khan announced his son’s early engagement. The mullah and the village men who were at the mosque congratulated him, saying, “You are a good man to take care of that orphan girl.”
Later, Shah Gul told her husband, “I am very happy with my choice, but if Niki’s widowed mother remarries, it would damage our reputation because remarrying a widow is embarrassing, with Niki still living with her mother until she reaches the marriage age.”
Ozra had a very hard life living at the house of her brother-in- law, who was a good man, but whose wife treated Ozra as though she were her slave.
A while later, in a gathering, two old women, Bibi Shirin and Babo, had a conversation. During their conversations, Bibi Shirin talked about her niece Ozra, and Babo spoke about her son Baz Gul.
“My poor niece has a hard time living in the house of her broth- er-in-law. I wish someone good would come along and marry her,” Ozra’s aunt told her friend. Babo lived in Sheen Klay not far from Angur Dara.
“I am looking for another wife for my son, Baz Gul. What if Ozra would marry him?” Babo asked.
The old women continued talking more about this between themselves. The next day, Bibi Shrin went to see Ozra and told her their plan. Ozra, although she was having a miserable life, did not accept the idea of remarriage. She was afraid it would bring Niki’s status down. The engagement of Niki to the Khan’s son gave Niki a prestige among the other girls, which was most important.
Bibi Shrin, who admired Ozra’s love and sacrifice for her daugh- ter, said, “I just want you to have a comfortable life with Niki. Baz Gul’s mother will treat you well. She is a good woman. Other news I have for you: Safia Jan is back from abroad. Last week, I was in her house. She asked about you. Go visit her.”
Bibi Shrin left, feeling very worried about Ozra.
After Niki’s engagement to the Khan’s son, Nassima had taken on a deeper grudge against Ozra and Niki. She tried to find ways to hurt them. It started when she refused to give them permission to go to their relatives’ house in Kabul. One day, she threw a pot full of hot soup at Ozra which burned her legs, blaming her for making the soup too salty. Then she rationed their food: only one portion for both of them. Ozra always shared her food with Niki, while staying hungry herself most of the time.
The torments continued daily. Ozra cursed the custom requir- ing widows to live with either her parents or with her husband’s family. She wished to be free and go work someplace else to sup- port herself and Niki. However, she was a prisoner of the custom. Ozra endured all the punishments and humiliations, until one day she overheard a conversation between Nassima and her best friend, which gave her goosebumps. Ozra was on her way to serve them tea and was just behind the door, with a tray in her hand, when she heard them talking.
“You know how much I despise Ozra and her daughter, who is the fiancée of the Khan’s son. At the engagement party, I envied her so much, especially since Shah Gul said that she is going to give Niki her chamkaly. You remember that chamkaly? Her famous cham- kaly that she wears especially during Eids. Oh, how much I want to deform Niki’s face,” the sister-in-law said, grinding her teeth.
“Then do it! When her mother is not around, and she is asleep, pour a small amount of acid on her cheeks. They would blame it on the sting of a scorpion, which is not something unusual in our vil- lage,” the friend said.
“I do not have acid,” Nassima said.
Her friend said, “Hold on, I remember something else! I know a woman in another town who sells the root of a special tree, which makes people lose their minds. I will bring it for you to boil and then give it to Niki. After a few days, she’ll become crazy!”
“I want to see Niki become ugly and crazy,” the sister-in-law said. Both of them laughed loudly and acted crazy themselves for a moment.
Ozra, shocked by what she had heard, pulled herself together and entered the room. She patiently served the tea even though her heart was pounding and her mind was still full of their evil deeds. She was extremely worried about the safety of her innocent, beautiful daughter, Niki.
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*Laila Anwarzai Ayoubi