Now the day, so long awaited and so meticulously prepared for, had come and nearly gone. His house had been full to bursting from first light. Muhsine's younger sisters, her cousins and friends and aunts, had arrived early. He had heard them chattering and laughing and the rustle of their wedding clothes as they made their way to the harem – the private rooms in the house – to await the coming of the bride.

She came at last, carried in a chair beneath a baldachin of rich silk so that she still remained invisible, and accompanied by a noisy procession of musicians and male relatives. Even then he wasn't allowed to see her.

He had instead to go to the neighbourhood mosque with his friends – and what a lot of friends he found he suddenly had! And what a fool he felt, although normally no one enjoyed being the centre of attention more than he.

But at last, on his return, he had been led, with a great deal of good-humoured pushing and shoving, to the door of the harem. Some woman (he had no idea who she was) had taken his hand and led him up to a motionless figure dressed in rose silk.

Later, when he thought about it, he was compelled to admit that all he had felt at that moment had been impatience to get the whole thing over. He was tired, he had expended too much emotion onwhat? He didn't know, but he did know that he had not felt fulfilment or anything like it.

Afterwards he remembered her hand, small, olive-skinned, perfect, with its oval fingernails and henna-tinted palm. It appeared from the materials and rose to her head and drew back the silk veil. Well, she was beautiful, no doubt about that, but she was also a complete stranger.

While she took his hand and kissed it and murmured something, he didn't hear what, he thought about that. The perfect face that had been revealed to him was empty of meaning for him, except that he thought he could detect signs of strain around the large, black eyes.

Well, he could sympathise there; and suddenly he remembered that something was expected of him. He searched in the folds of his sash, and finally brought out his gift of one perfect pear-shaped pearl. Since she seemed as confused as he, he pressed it into her hand.

Then it was all over and he had to return to the selamik – the reception area in the house – there to suffer the curious or sly glances from his friends, and to remember that in his confusion he had forgotten that he should have embraced his wife when he gave her the pearl. Now, no doubt, she must think him a complete boor.

He felt embarrassment rise, and took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. Ibrahim, my friend, he commanded himself, control yourself. Remember who you are, and never let it be said you were upset by a. woman.

The wedding feast, of which he could eat little, seemed to last forever and he longed to escape from it, even if it meant making himself agreeable to this strange girl ...


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