Labli was woken up by the dawn chorus. It was hard not to smile at the chirping of the sweet birds. She grabbed her long scarf from the foot of the bed and threw it over her head. Brushing back a loose strand of black hair from her forehead, she opened the door quietly so as not to disturb her younger brother, Joynal. He still had a few hours of sleep before waking up to go to school.The door squeaked as she pulled it shut behind her.
Labli looked down at her red shalwar kameez and tried to brush out the creases. It didn’t look as rumpled as it had before. Anyway, it would have to do; her only other set was still drying in the kitchen after yesterday’s thunderstorm.
As she felt her way along the cold, dark hallway, she noticed her parents’ bedroom door was ajar. Her mother was stirring on the bed; her father’s place was empty. Labli unlocked the front door and made her way to the tube well at the bottom of the veranda steps. The air was crisp and cool. Doel birds flapped overhead and one landed in one of the betel palm trees, lifting its white tail as it whistled. The Adhan, the call to prayer, blared out over the masjid’s loudspeakers. She filled up a plastic jug with water and made ablution. After praying the four units of the dawn prayer, she collected firewood from around the courtyard and milked the cow. She had just lit the fire when her mother walked into the kitchen.
“Labli, where’s your scarf? You should still wear it in the house.”
“Oh sorry, Amma.”
Labli’s mother had become very strict about Labli covering herself ever since the marriage proposals started coming. Although she was only eighteen, Labli had already received several proposals. At the moment, two were still ongoing.
It had all started when Labli attended her cousin’s wedding a few months ago. It was an extravagant wedding because the groom was from London. There was even a camera man. Amma normally wouldn’t have let Labli go but she had made an exception this time. She’d even borrowed a nice saree and jewellery from someone for the occasion.
Amma’s intentions became clear soon after the wedding. Whilst watching the wedding film in England, a few women had liked the look of Labli as their future daughter-in-law. Abba wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of marrying off his only daughter abroad, as he feared the wedding might cost him triple the usual amount. For his niece’s wedding to a groom abroad, Abba’s sister had had to provide a lot not just for her own daughter but even for her daughter’s in-laws. They had requested a television, video, sofa set, dining table and chairs, bedroom furniture, freezer, stove, pots and pans, rugs and much more. This was all for the town apartment that they stayed in when they came to Bangladesh every couple of years.
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