The Dowry Chest
My beautiful bride sat on the tiny red and gold divan, her modesty preventing her from raising her piercing eyes; tangling and untangling long delicate fingers in a lap duveted with her lavendar and silver lehenga.
My father-in-law stood poised beside the table, a flustered look on his face, probably from the weight in his arms. “I’ll place it here then, son.” It was more of a query than a statement. But, without waiting for a response, he placed it reverently on the table, and made his way out hastily.
I stole a quick glance at Zekra as soon as the bolt was secured. She was still absorbed in the sinuous patterns of her skirt.
I made my way towards the table and stared at the object which had brought about the total obliteration of my divine policies and prudent strategies. Thanks to that object on the table, an age-old tradition that had been abhorred for decades, had risen from the ashes.
The chest sat there modestly, its tantalizing fragrance making my fingers tingle to trace its contours and caress its richness.
It was made of opulent rosewood, an elegant coffer, beautifully carved and intricately embellished. The Arabic labyrinthine calligraphy that was sculpted in the edges translated :
“In the name of God,
this is what was made for the Noble Daughter, daughter of ‘Abd al-Rehman.
May God’s mercy be upon him.”
Zekra was a great-great-add-a-few-more-greats-grandaughter of binth ‘Abd al-Rehman, whoever she may be. The legacy had been bestowed graciously along the generations and now it was sitting before me.
It was regarded as a portent, an ill-omen for a bride from the ‘Abd-al-Rehman lineage to tie the nuptial knot without their exalted Dowry Chest. Thus to my utmost annoyance and disappointment, I was forced to accept a detested Dowry contradictory to my perspectives.
A delicate flow of flowers gently radiated from the centre of the cover – the floral pattern encircling the entire chest, spiralling radially. Dainty pomegranates and grapes filled in the gaps and the motif fused in splendidly.
The coffer must have been laced with musk on the inside for the delicious scent accentuated its prominence and intrigued my olfactory nerve endings.
With trembling fingers I lifted the latch and ever so slowly nudged the cover up, an unspoken yearning to see what present my wife had brought for me. There was a surge of musk so heavy that it was almost intoxicating. I sneaked another peek at Zekra. This time she had fastened her gaze upon my trembling fingers, an indecipherable expression on her beautiful face. I cursed myself again for breaking my vow to marry a woman for her piety and not her dowry. Circumstances had begged to question my policies and here I was, on the verge of opening a dowry chest, something which I thought was a disgrace to men.
The purest of red silk embraced whatever was to be my possession in their lusterous clasps. Again I turned my eyes towards Zekra. An amused expression greeted me.
With a heart that was ramming fiercely, I undid the fabric and looked at my dowry.
I must have gone into a trance while holding my breath since Zekra’s gentle touch on my arm made me inhale quite a lungful of air.
There lay in the confines of fine, sleek fabric, nestled cozily, a prize which was no match for the trivial treasures of the world.
She had gifted an invaluable dowry.
She had given me the Glorious Quran.
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