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  • The Newlyweds
  • Mahreen Sohail (bio)

The girl’s mother said the man would make a woman out of her. Three nights before the wedding she said, “Listen, I want to tell you something.” There was a long pause. “About the wedding night.”

After the conversation the mother left, shuffling her feet as she went as if ready to turn back any second. It was a hard, hot day, and the girl boiled on her bed. She called her best friend that same evening and asked her to sleep over. At night, the two friends crept into her sleeping brother’s room to find the CDs, holding their hands over their mouths to keep from laughing. Then they tiptoed back to the girl’s room and waited.

The parents’ bedroom door clicked shut, and the sound of the father’s snores rose and fell like a tide through the house. Finally, the girl opened one of the cases, and her heart beat faster at what was inside: a CD imprinted with the image of a man and a woman embracing, unclothed, the man’s face buried in the woman’s chest as if he were hungry or dead.

The friends muted the volume on the television before pressing Play. A man pushed into a woman from behind, holding onto her hips as if she were a misshapen anchor. His face stayed taut like cutlery in the small, blue-white screen. After the movie was over, the girl sat cross-legged on her bed, facing her friend. She practice-whispered the moaning sounds. At first they laughed as they did this, both moaning a little and then bursting into fits of laughter, but soon they became serious about the sounds. They practiced for thirty minutes and then went to sleep.


Luckily, the man the girl ended up marrying was careful in bed, and shy. He asked permission before touching her. He booked a hotel room for [End Page 14] the wedding night, one that smelled of jasmine flowers and had little chocolate roses placed carefully on the pillows. He sat at the very edge of the bed and told her she was very pretty even before she’d stepped out of the bathroom, as if he had been practicing saying it over and over when she was inside. He stumbled over the words to get them out, looking up at the corners of the ceiling, so embarrassed that he reminded her of herself the night she had practiced the sounds with her best friend. This made her like him a little more.

Her best friend married a month after her. They met once after their weddings on the rooftop of a recently opened cafe. The girl wore a black kameez, covered in small, silver sequins, gold hoops in her ears. Her friend was equally dressed up, her hair cut in a new way, the bangs angling to the right, making her look permanently surprised. They felt suddenly awkward and could not talk about much, instead saying over and over again that life was so different now, and then nodding without really wanting to dwell on the specifics of the differences.

When they said good-bye, kissing each other gently on the cheek like real women, the girl became conscious that distinct lines had been drawn in the short time after their weddings, containing new still-unknown loyalties. Perhaps this, she later thought, was what made a woman: this easy shifting into new mental territory when it came to other people.


Now, according to her mother, the girl was a woman. The woman had been living with the man in the neighborhood for only three months, but already she had been invited to the women’s weekly get-togethers four times. At the first meeting, she made it clear, after the older women asked, that it had not been a love marriage. Her voice was high, like a child’s, and a smile that came and went from her face quickly enough for her to seem nervous.

This added to her growing reputation for strangeness.

It was well known in the neighborhood, for example, that the newly married couple kept a...