Ariella uncovered the first stone herself, and sighed. The stone had been broken into pieces. Pieces so beautiful and tiny, the little ones’ eyes sparkled, while Ariella herself seemed rather unhappy about the emeralds being the first story she would narrate to an anxious-looking group of 16-year olds.
She knew her father had lost his job and that her mother was pregnant with their fourth child; that they had been struggling to keep up with the rent and that food was scarce these days; that neither of her parents whom she had always known to to be rather shallow and fashion-conscious -and detested them for the very same- had bought any new clothes in over a year, but she had no idea just how bad things had been.
She took note of the alternating sounds of arguments and whispers, fights and silence, the atmosphere of something unsettled and unsettling. Fearing her parents would divorce, she spent sleepless nights praying they would break the news sooner rather than later, as it unnerved her, frightened her, rocked her little up-until-then-perfect world.
Hence, Amina felt cheated the day her parents broke very different news- without caution, a kind warning or merely an advice to be seated:
‘We’ve accepted your bride-price. I know this may come as a surprise, but he is a really wonderful and God-fearing man. We’ve known his family for quite a while and are confident he’ll be a great husband to you. Of course he’s a bit older, but that has never proven to be a problem in itself; look at your father and me (at this she chuckled nervously). He’ll look after you properly. His family and friends all testify to his good and kind nature and we are more than persuaded he’ll be a great husband to you.. Besides, you’re 16.’
Hannah mentioned the phrase “good , great , faithful and committed husband, kind and loving father to your unborn children” a few more times, making Amina think she was trying to persuade herself, rather than her daughter. And what did being 16 have to do with it? It infuriated her. She didn’t listen for much longer; got up, sharply said, “No!” and took off. It was simply unbelievable and unacceptable. She would give it no thought at all. It was simply not going to happen.
Or so she thought.
The ceremony which was planned within a fortnight and was attended by a few invitees only, was over within an hour. Amina, who avoided Elkanah’s eyes throughout and had still not thrown back her veil, was eager to get it over and done with.
“I have a surprise for you” she told him, entering the chamber. She let her hair down and unzipped her wedding gown. While he stood- still at the door, watching her- nervosity shot through her body. Could he possibly see it in her eyes. Did he know already?
“Come on then, consummate this union!” she mocked him, laughing.
Feeling hurt, he sighed quietly, bowed his head and simply said, “I promised to love you, protect you, value you; believe it or not, I meant it.” Following a few more sentences, Elkanah walked up to her, looked her in the eyes and gave her a warm hug. It was the first time she actually looked into his face and saw how handsome he was. His deep eyes and bushy brows spoke of depth of character, while his neat trim and clean beard gave the impression of regular grooming. His strong arms- still around her- felt protective and possessive, without the slightest hint of aggression. She felt she belong.. within the arms of a man 8 years older. A feeling she hadn’t expected or anticipated.
Moving away, she knew she had done wrong. Him, her parents,.. herself- in a moment of hatred, madness, irrationality. She knew she would live to regret it.
“So are you going to do it now or what?”, she said sharply, still hoping not to have given herself away.
“Do what? Consummate a marriage you haven’t actually agreed to? We were joined in the presence of God and our families, but until you accept me as yours- just as I have accepted you as mine- I will not.” He boldly got up, took the pocket knife he had been carrying around, made a rather long cut into his right index finger (was he trying to make a point?), and stained the white cloth he knew all their visitors were anxiously waiting to be shown.
After a brief moment of fury- Amina’s, that is to say- they sat in silence for a while, and exited quietly.. shame covering her face.
The emerald earrings were Hannah’s gift to her daughter; earrings she had herself inherited from her mother the day she got married. A family heirloom. “Emeralds. Wear them and remember. They are a symbol of the purity and sanctity of marriage. Do your part, and let him do his. It takes work, hard work.. but with time you’ll love and cherish every bit of it. Let respect remain and love grow. The marriage union is worth far more than these, even on days you don’t think your husband is.”
Angry and frustrated, Amina took them off and smashed them. Knowing she had no control over when to break the news scared her. She had planned to do it much later in life.. but now, how would she cover the birth of a child that could not possibly be his? She had wanted to hurt her mother and father for “selling” her off, had wanted to hurt the man who had “bought” her against her consent, had secretly perhaps even wished to make the child suffer as much in her hands as she had suffered in her parents’ and would in her husband’s.. but she had wanted to do all this in her own time.
Within just a few months of marriage all these feelings had vanished. Months of him showering an equal stranger with attention and care she had rejected, explanations and love she had not demanded, seasons of patience and long-suffering she knew she had not deserved.. all the while carrying another man’s child.
Weeks into their marriage, when Amina confessed she gave away her virginity the day before their wedding- the very hour her mother informed her they had gone ahead with the wedding arrangements anyway and she was to be married within two day- his sincere tears shocked her.
When he explained what it meant to be a Tansy- how parents who had refused to give away their daughters older than 12 years of age, were heavily fined, rubbed of their businesses, and eventually excommunicated- her ignorance surprised him.
When Elkanah told her how he had insisted he would marry her and- against tradition- had paid 7-times the customary bride-price, she realized just what an undeserving bride she had been.
September 30- roughly 9 months after their wedding- she was due to deliver. Both families had come together again, eagerly anticipating and celebrating the arrival of their newborn. While the women were passionately arguing about the name the newborn would bear as it was obviously a blessing from above and sign their marriage would be a fruitful and everlasting one, the men were laughing loudly, commending Elkanah for his manly strength. Amina’s shape and size proved she would bear him a son. It was certainly not going to be a girl- a love child– they all agreed jokingly. After all, love came with time- the baby did not.
For Amina, it was a day of regret, shame, and depression. She had still not forgiven herself; and she certainly did not need a constant reminder of her mistake..
She couldn’t believe her fortune. The obvious shock and surprised shouts confirmed the doctor’s message. She felt sad, and yet sighed relieved. It would give them a chance to start afresh. Amina knew he didn’t blame her; that he loved her unconditionally in spite of it all; but right there and then, it seemed like the best thing that could have happened to them.
It was Elkanah who had picked up the beautiful green pieces and had kept them secure. He would treat her just like those broken pieces: precious and delicate.. with special care. Until the day she was ready.
On that unfaithful day, he knew she was. He cried.
It was a still birth.
The following day, Elkanah laid a stone of remembrance. Amina too would keep the broken pieces, the family heirloom. She would have someone to pass them on to.
And now- finally- they could consummate their marriage.
“The tradition hasn’t changed. On my wedding day, my father passed these very pieces down to me. Amina couldn’t; she had passed away giving birth to me. And in just a few weeks, I too must pass them on.”