Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013 - No comments

View from the Backseat of a Wedding Car (Wedding Part 2)

“Turn that up, Samet!”  Nurcan tapped a French-manicured nail on his shoulder from the back seat.  He turned the radio dial and filled the car with a lively melody.  

“This one’s from our hometown,” she said to me proudly.  She began to wiggle her shoulders, satin and tulle vibrating to the beat of the darbuka.  I laughed as she  snapped her fingers, shaking off her wedding day stress, the gold bangles on her right arm clanging along to the music.  In the passenger seat, Ipek grooved along with her.  I’ve always been jealous of the way people in this country can shimmy.  I think they come out of the womb with something Canadians don’t.  

“Samet,” Nurcan leaned forward again.  “What kind of husband do you think Murat will be?”  

He was quiet for a moment, his eyes on the road.

“I don’t think he’ll beat you.  But,” he pushed up his glasses and turned left onto the dirt lane that led to the bride’s house, “just don’t make any waves or expect too much from him right in the beginning.”

She twisted the diamond ring on her right hand round and round.

“I know you’ve waited a long time for this.”

She exhaled.  “Ten years.”

“But he’s only been out a month.  He’s not back to normal yet.  He’ll get there.  Just be patient with him.”

I eyed her, wondering what it would be like to marry someone you’d loved since you were fourteen and pined away for while he spent five years in jail on false charges.  Probably a bit like marrying your first love and a stranger all at the same time.  

I’d only met Nurcan and her fiance, Murat, the previous night at the henna party.  A common friend had asked me to take pictures as a favour, and while I don’t usually do weddings, their story had intrigued me.  So I’d donned a sparkly outfit and fired up my flash for a long night of circle-dancing, henna-lighting, tongue-trilling, and and the traditional pinning of money on the happy couple.

We’d spent much of the afternoon shooting portraits at a park downtown, the bride practically melting in the late Mediterranean summer sun, the groom alternately smiling into his love’s eyes and looking like he was somewhere else.  Perhaps back in a cell with the friends he’d left behind.  

Having dropped Murat at friend’s place, we were now headed to Nurcan’s house to wait for the groom and his entourage to come and claim her from her family’s home.

We pulled up in front of the house - single-story, with peeling beige paint and a grapevine shading the entryway.  In the daylight, the empty lot next door looked even uglier than it had under the forgiving cover of darkness the night before when almost a hundred people had packed in for the henna party.  The ground was littered with candy wrappers and cigarette boxes and the uneven pavement was cracked and strewn with rocks.  It’s a wonder no one twisted their ankle dancing the halay in those long dresses and glittery high heels.

The door to the house opened and a squealing gaggle of sisters, cousins and aunts spilled out.  Nurcan wrestled her hoop skirt out of the car and let herself be enveloped in kisses and compliments.  I snapped into photographer mode and started clicking away, eager to capture every moment of the day that this bride had waited a whole decade to see.

In the living room, several more covered teyzes (aunties) sat stiffly on modern upholstery and leather couches that looked out of place next to the colourful woven carpets on the floor.  On the TV, Prime Minister Erdoğan an impassioned speech about  the martyred soldiers who had recently lost their lives fighting terror in the east.  

Nurcan bent down to kiss her mother’s hand and pressed it respectfully to her forehead.    “Maaşallah, maaşallah!” said her mother with a grin.  “May Allah protect you, my daughter.  You look beautiful.” 

“Let’s take some pictures of you and your parents,” I suggested.  Nurcan pulled her father and mother down onto the couch, arranged her tulle and smiled brightly.  A black velvet scroll decorated with glittery outlines of mosques and palm trees and the words “Memory of Cyprus” graced the otherwise bare wall behind them. 

“Me, too!  Me, too!” yelled Nurcan’s five-year-old neice, worming her way up onto her grandfather’s lap and striking a silly pose and causing everyone to laugh.  

A hundred or so bursts of the flash later, I had captured every possible combination of Nurcan and her relatives, each one presenting her with a piece of gold jewelry, her smile getting progressively more forced with every click of the shutter.   

The oldest teyze, her head wrapped in the white scarf reserved for someone who has been on the pilgimage to Mecca,  pointed to me and said something I didn’t understand.

“Speak Turkish, teyze.  She doesn’t know our language.”  Ipek turned to me.  “She says you should sit down and rest.  Your çay is getting cold.”  She motioned towards the tiny glass cup of dark red tea on the end table behind me.  

“I will, one sec,” I said, crouching down to get a few more shots of Nurcan by herself.  

More buzzing and glances my direction from the teyzes on the couch.  I took this as my cue to step out of work mode and into guest mode for a minute.  I stirred two sugar cubes into my tea and took a sip.  This seemed to put them at ease.

“What happens now?” I whispered to Ipek.

“The groom’s side comes to get the bride.  Then we’ll all go to city hall.”

Nurcan’s brother entered the room with a wide red ribbon in his hand.  The aunts and sisters clapped excitedly.  

“You’ll want to shoot this,” said Ipek, taking my tea cup.  

Her brother fumbled with the ribbon, trying to tie it around Nurcan’s waist.  She swatted him and said something in her language that I assumed to be the equivalent of “clumsy lout.”

“What is the significance of the ribbon?” I asked.

He shrugged.  “It’s just tradition.”

“It represents purity,” explained his mother.  “To show that we protected her namus until we gave her to the groom’s family.”

Just as the ribbon was finally successfully in place, there was a commotion and a loud knock at the front door.

“They’re here!” shouted a younger cousin who had been keeping watch at the window.

The room erupted into a flurry of motion.

“Quick, get the veil!”

“Who’s got my purse?”

“Someone turn off the tea!”

Nurcan’s brother placed a sequined red veil over her head, covering her face completely.  While sisters and cousins kept the crowd at the front door at bay, Nurcan made the rounds again, kissing the hands of her older relatives.  When she came to her mother, they leaned their heads close, the elder dabbing at her tears with the younger’s veil.  Amidst increasingly demanding cries of “Send out the bride!” they reluctantly pulled apart and made their way to the door.

Wiping her tears, Nurcan allowed herself to be engulfed by tongue trills and applause.  Murat stepped forward and kissed his almost-in-laws’ hands and then took that of his bride and led her through the crush of bodies to the waiting car, all decked out in tulle and rosettes.  

“You’re riding with us,” Ipek called to me as she slid into the front seat beside her father and brother in law.  I squeezed into the back beside Murat.  The late afternoon sun reflected off the silver sequins on my blouse, causing a pattern of light to dance on the car’s ceiling as we bumped off down the dirt road, a trail of cars honking exuberantly behind us.

As we pulled through the lot where the henna party had been, a clump of boys who had been waiting in ambush jumped out to block our path, demanding money before they’d let us pass.  Murat, who was obviously prepared for this, laughed and pulled out a wad of American one dollar bills, handing them to the driver to distribute to the mischievous urchins.  They pounded their fists on the side of the car, whooping and waving as we pulled away.

Murat leaned over to his bride and said something in their native tongue.  She leaned her head back and took a deep breath.  With Nurcan’s hoop skirt taking up half the back seat, there wasn’t much room for polite distance, so I did my best to hug the door and give the couple some privacy.  Then I laughed to my Canadian self; there were six of us crowded into the wedding car - clearly privacy was not a priority.  

“So, now we go to city hall?” I asked, wanting to get my camera settings right before we arrived.

“No, to my parents’ house,” said Murat.  “To kiss my mother’s hand.”

“Oh.  They’re not coming to the ceremony?”

A pause, a look exchanged with Vedat in the rear-view mirror.  

“No.”  He shifted uncomfortably.    “They’re not.  We’re distant relatives, Nurcan and I, and there’re some....bad blood between our families.  They’re not very happy about all this.”

He lit a cigarette, puffed and exhaled slowly.  Nurcan grabbed his wrist.  “I need one, too.”

Murat handed her the cigarette.  He carefully lifted her veil, holding it up while she took a drag, his face close to hers, whispering.  I looked away, feeling like I was intruding.  

A minute later, as we approached his parents’ house, she handed the cigarette back, pulling her veil over her face.  He took a few last puffs and then leaned over me to toss the butt out the open window.

Murat’s mother received the caravan with a gold-toothed smile, eagerly lifting the scarlet veil to kiss her new gelin.  Murat kissed her hands and tenderly patted her cheek, a farewell gesture.  His father never appeared.  Getting back into that wedding car cost him a lot, I imagined.

Nurcan’s gold bangles set off the metal detector at City Hall, but the security guard waved her on through with a smile.  In the “bridal room”, we shot dozens more family photos, Nurcan pacing nervously in between, everyone speculating as to whether or not they had time to run outside for a cigarette before our group, the last of the day, was called in.

A good half hour after the nikah was set to take place, the wedding official finally called them up.  And with a five minute ceremony, eager “yeses” from the bride and groom, and much clapping and ululating from the audience, their ten year wait was over at last.

Back in the wedding car (they insisted on driving me home, though I would’ve happily taken the bus) I no longer shared the backseat with a nervous engaged couple, but a relieved husband and wife.  As we pulled out of the parking lot, amidst waves and well-wishes, Nurcan leaned into Murat’s shoulder.  She exhaled, releasing the stress of the day and the years of tortured waiting in one long breath.  He whispered to her and wiped a tear from her cheek.  

After a moment, she pulled herself together.  “Look at this,” she smiled up at him, opening their marriage certificate.  “We’re married!”

At a red light, two boys knocked on the window demanding money.  Murat tore himself away from his bride and pulled a few bills from his wad.  Then we continued honking down the road, the entire caravan in tow.  

When we pulled onto my street, Murat and Nurcan thanked me for documenting their special days, and promised me a good, spicy Mardinli dinner as soon as they got their house set up.  I thanked them for allowing a stranger into the most intimate parts of their celebration and got out, leaving them alone in the back seat.

As they drove away honking, I was halfway disappointed that there were no neighbours around to witness the parade and ask what I was doing getting out of the back of a wedding car.

**Names have been changed.