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Zainab Zainab, 18 years of age, had completed high school with very good marks and because it had always been her dream to become a doctor, she applied at a medical school. When she received the letter telling her that she had been accepted as a student, she was very happy. Reaching her dreams seemed possible and she felt she wasn’t too far away from the life she wanted to have. But then, someone in her family disagreed to let her go to study medicine and become a doctor. It was her uncle Jalal. He claimed that working in a hospital is forbidden for females because even in Saudi Arabia, men and women work side by side in hospitals and he could not accept to let his nice spend her time with men. At the age of two, Zainab had lost her father. She was her parents’ only child. She grew up with her mother, living in a small house in Saudi Arabia. Her uncle Jalal was a very religious man and married to two women. He used to pay Zainab and her mother’s living costs, but not out of generosity but to get power over the two women’s lives. Jalal enjoyed controlling them, especially Zainab. He said he felt it was his responsibility to guide her through life and decide about her future. Immediately after he heard that Zainab was accepted at medical school he went to his niece’s house to talk with her mother. Jalal asked her why he had not been asked for permission to apply for medical school. He was angry and disappointed. The mother tried to explain that Zainab had always dreamt of being a doctor, and when her marks at high school had been very good, the two women had seen no reason why she should not try to follow her dream. Both of them had not expected Jalal to disagree. Yet the uncle wasn't satisfied at all and ordered Zainab’s mother to bring her daughter into the room. When Zainab came, she explained how important it was for her to follow her passion and to study what she was interested in. She had studied so hard for it. But all her attempts to talk and explain did not change uncle Jalal’s mind. Shaking his head, she stood up and walking towards the door, he declared that he would ever accept Zainab to become a doctor and to work in a hospital beside men, or to treat men as well. Before he left the house, he asked Zainab to change her mind about studying medicine. For him, it had only been a

short visit at his niece’s house but for Zainab, his visit had changed her entire life, her dream and her future. After her uncle had left, Zainab went to her room and cried. Her mother was with her, hugging her daughter and trying to make her feel better, but there was nothing she could do to actually change the situation Zainab was in. In the end, they both were women, dependant on the decisions of Jalal. Desperate and angry, Zainab cried and asked how he could stuck his nose in her life like that, working in a hospital was all what she dreamt of and her future meant everything to her. But it had taken him less than fifteen minutes to destroy her hopes and dreams, the plans she had made for her future. ‘Do you agree with him, mother?’ she asked? Feeling powerless, her mother looked down. With eyes filled with tears, Zainab realized that she could do nothing, her future was not in her hands. There was someone more powerful that her, uncle Jalal, and unfortunately for her, he was very conservative and wanted to apply his ideas on Zainab. The weeks passed and Zainab had not started her studies. She remained at home with her mother, without hopes and dreams. By the time, the girl went into deep depressions, sitting in her room for hours every day and staring at the wall. Why should she move, why should she do anything when there was no aim, no reason to live for? One day, her friend Fatima came to visit her. Zainab told Fatima about what had happened, that her uncle didn't accept the idea that she might work in a hospital one day. Fatima understood the situation and told her friend that her oldest sister couldn't go to university at all because of her father. ‘So of course I know that as my sister is not allowed to go to university, I won’t be allowed either.’ She concluded. ‘We can’t change our fate.’ Zainab only shook her head. She had cried so much in the last few weeks that there were no tears left. ‘All I can do now is to wait to get married. Maybe I will get a husband who allows me to study and then I might continue my education. It all depends on the husband. If you pray, maybe you will get somebody who allows you to study medicine.’ Fatima said.

‘I can’t plan my life like that! Don’t you see, Fatima? I am only hoping for the mercy of some man? And if the man who asks for my hand is similar to uncle Jalal? What then? Then my whole life is wrecked.’ After Fatima had left, Zainab joined her mother in the kitchen. ‘I can’t go on like that. I just can’t, mother. Tell me what to do. Give me a solution.’ Seeing how desperate her daughter was, made Zainab’s mother feel sad, too but she had no solution either. ‘What can I do, Zainab?’ she asked and shook her head. ‘Uncle Jalal pays our food and clothes. If only your dad was still alive, but now, Jalal is our Mahram, our legal guardian. We can’t change it, he is the man.’ Zainab didn’t reply. ‘Why don’t you change your subject? If you study to become a teacher, he might agree. Female teachers don’t work with men, there are schools only with male teachers and students and others only for female students and with female teachers. I’m sure if we tell him you changed your mind and…’ ‘I won’t’ Zainab interrupted her. ‘I never dreamt of becoming a teacher, I don’t want to spend my life working as a teacher.’ Both remained silent for a while. ‘Just think about it.’ Her mum suggested but Zainab shook her head. ‘Talk with him again. Ask uncle Jalal to rethink his decision. Please, try to convince him, try to change his mind.’ ‘Ok. I will try. Tomorrow morning I will go to him and see what I can do. But, Zainab… don’t hope for too much.’ The next day, Zainab’s mother went to Jalal and asked him to think about Zainab future again. Once again, she told him that it was so important for Zinab to follow her dream and she had this chance now and didn't want to lose it. But Jalal's response wasn't encouraging. ‘Do you know if any of my daughters work in a hospital?’ he asked. Zinab’s mother stayed silent and Jalal continued talking. ‘No, none of them works with men. And why? Because I would never agree and because their husbands would never agree. If Zinab chooses to study something that won’t bring her into contact with men, I think I will agree.’

There was nothing Zinab’s mother could say. His decision was clear and she knew nothing would make him change his mind. ‘But don’t worry about your daughter’s future.’ He continued. ‘I am looking for a good husband for her. She will have children soon and be too busy anyway to think of studies.’ When her mother returned home, Zinab could see from the expression in her face that her uncle had not agreed. She questioned her mother about her talk with uncle Jalal and wanted to know everything e had said. All hope seemed lost. What could she do? ‘Why don’t we run away? To Bahrain, for example? Let’s run away from uncle Jalal and this whole life. We leave everything behind and start on our own, we make our own decisions and live our own life!’ Zainab’s mother looked down and shook her head. ‘We don’t have enough money to live somewhere else where he does not support us. And why Bahrain anyway?’ ‘Women there enjoy more freedom.’ ‘And even if we had the money to start a different life somewhere else, how could we get there? Jalal does not give us the permission to leave the country and I am sure he would never agree to let us leave the country, not even for a day. His wives have never left Saudi Arabia and neither have his daughters.’ Zainab felt powerless and stopped talking about university or studying. She remained silent and spent most of her time in her room, only leaving it to eat or to take a shower. During the time she spent in her room, Zainab was online a lot. She made many online friends from all over the world and enjoyed talking to them. Some of them got to know her story. In her own society, Zainab’s life was not uncommon for a young women, but her friends, who came from other parts of the workd, understood how much she suffered and missed her freedom and although they could not do anything to help her, they felt sorry. One of the friends she met online was a twenty years old man called Ali. He was born and raised by a Muslim family in the UK, but he almost never practice Islam in his life, and his family wasn't very religious. He asked Zainab if she could teach him

some Arabic as he was interested in the language. Zainab liked his peaceful and funny personality, he was calm person and enjoying to talk to. As the weeks passed, their relationship developed and became serious. Neither of them went to bed without writing one another. Zainab used to e-mail him a lot, mostly three emails every night before she went to bed. She really enjoyed their chats, and he could make her happy again and helped her to forget about her problems and the reasons why she was sad. One day, Ali and Zainab were chatting on Skype. Ali told her that was wanted to meet her, not only talk to her by messengers, e-mails and skype but to really be with her in real life. Zainab's eyes filled with tears as soon as she heard that. Ali started to apologize. Seeing her crying, he thought he had hurt her feelings because he knew in what a strict culture she lived. But Zainab asked him not to say sorry, and she explained to him the reason why they could not meet. She told him about her country’s rules, and for the first time she told him about her story, the fact that she dreamt of going to medical school and her uncle Jalal. Until then, she had hidden all that from Ali because she just wanted to enjoy talking to him without talking about sad issues. The second day, both of them met again to talk in Skype but this time Ali was honest with Zainab about their relationship. He told her that they could not keep on an online relationship forever, and he wasn't willing to continue an online relationship. ‘Whrn we aren’t together but can always only see or write each other, it only makes the pain of being apart more.’ He explained. Hearing his words, Zainab felt sad. She felt she knew what he wanted to tell her. ‘I know, Ali. I know… You know, I always thought you might say this one day and I can’t blame you at all! It is my fault and the fault of my bad luck that I have to live like this… In the end, I was born in a jail, without control of my own life.’ Quickly, Ali interrupted her. ‘That was not at all what I meant! I don’t want to break up with you!’ he said. ‘What I wanted to say is that I am serious about us and since we met, my world has changed. I want to marry you, Zainab.’

Zainab’s eyes were wide open and a big smile could be seen on her lips. Surprised, she murmured that she didn't know what to say, she had mixed feelings and was torn between being happy and being worried. She told Ali she that she couldn't believe what he has just said because she had expected him to break up with her. Ali told her that he was serious about his words, and he wanted to get to know how he could help her to escape from her country. But before he planed for everything, he wanted to hear her agreement first. Zainab agreed to be his wife. She finally confessed to Ali that although she had never been brave enough to tell him abut her feelings before she loved him very much. He was happy to hear that. And he had already thought of a way to let her escape from her country. ‘Is there any way you can come to Bahrain?’ he wanted to know. ‘Because we can meet there. If we plan it right, I can wait with a flight ticket that brings both of us to Britain and there, you are save from your crazy uncle and anyone who wants to stop you.’ Once again, sadness filled Zainab as she thought about his idea. ‘Uncle Jalal never allowed his wives or daughters to leave the country. I am sure he won’t let me go…’ ‘Well… why don’t you ask your mother and see what she can do? If he lets you go, it would be perfect!’ ‘Ok.’ Zinab agreed. ‘I do hope there is a way so badly!’ The very evening, Zainab opened the topic when her mother was cooking dinner. She had thought about giving her excuses why she wanted to travel to Bahrain, but in the end decided to just explain the whole situation to her mum. After the mother got to know that her daughter wanted to get married to a man called Ali and intended to leave Saudi Arabia for good, she did not like it at all. But after a long talk in which Zainab explained to her mother that if she didn't leave and find her future on her own, she would be just caged in her house until death. Her mother told her that she couldn't imagine living without her only daughter, therefore, Zainab suggest that her mother could run away with her, but the mother didn't agree. ‘My place is here, Zainab. I don’t know any other way of life than the one I am living in. I can’t just go to another country and start again. But I would like to talk to this Ali.’

The next day when Ali was online in Skype, Zainab introduced him to her mother. Her mother was very interested to get to know the man who wanted to marry her daughter and asked him many question. She found Ali to be a nice and likeable person and in the end of their conversation, she asked him to take care of her daughter, to not hurt her feelings and she also made him swear to Allah that he would never make her do something which might get her into trouble. He promised to be a good husband. Ali and Zainab were very happy that Zainab’s mother had approved their relationship. It had been easier than both had expected. But her mother had seen her daughter becoming sader and sader with every day she spent in her room since uncle Jalal had not allowed to go to medical school and she felt relieved to see her daughter happier again. Yet one big problem was still not solved. ‘I wish I could help you to het out of the country.’ Said her mother. ‘But I just don’t know how we could make uncle Jalal allow you to leave the country.’ ‘Unlce Jalal, uncle Jalal… I’m not going to wait until he is dead to make my dreams true and to lead my own life. We have to do something.’ The mother said that she would try to talk with Jalal and ask for his permission to go with her to Bahrain as a visit. The nxt day, uncle Jalal surprised the two women by his visit. He asked to talk to Zainab's mother alone. Zinab’s mother served him tea and when they had both taken place in the living room, Jalal explained the reason for his visit. ‘I have very good news for your daughter.’ Zainab’s mother looked at him and waited for him to explain. ‘A man has asked for Zainab’s hand. His name is Ahmed. He is a good man, wellknown in the society. He has everything a girl can wish for. A good job, money, he is very religious.’ For a few seconds, Zainab’s mother did not know what to say. She was shocked and could only stare at her brother in law. ‘I hope you know that there is no reason to reject him. The two will get married.’ Then, he asked her to tell Zainab about the fact that she was about to get engaged. ‘You only have to decide on a date for Ahmed’s family to come for a visit and have a look at Zainab.’

When the mother told Zainab about the news, Zainab couldn't believe what had just happened. She cried and begged her mother not to agree, to think of any excuse that could save her from having to spend her life with a man she did not chose. But this time, her mother was on the uncle’s side. ‘You have the chance to marry a good man from the society. Here is your place. Anything else is just wasting time. When you escape, you will be well- known for having run away and our family will get a bad reputation. No, this time, Zainab, your uncle is right. And you better stop talking with Ali. Protect your future,’ Zainab broke down again, this time she had nothing to say and remained silent. Her uncle and mother had already arranged an appointment with Ahmad's family to come and meet Zainab and test her character. Zainab told Ali about what had happened, she was so sorry, she couldn't do anything. ‘Everyone can decide about my life except myself. My uncle, my mother… They all have planned my future.’ She felt as if her heart was breaking and only wished she could close her eyes and never wake up. It was a never- ending nightmare and saying goodbye to the man she loved was more than she could endure. ‘Please continue learning Arabic, be a good Muslim and one day you will meet a nice girl and will be happy with her. I wish you all the best!’ Ali was angry and told that he did not like what she had said. ‘I don’t want to see you so weak! Don’t give up your dreams for them. Please… I know how hard it is to stay positive now but don’t give up.’ ‘Please, Ali, don’t say that. Don’t you see the situation I’m in? Only a coward will still keep hoping. I’m just a strange person with strange dreams and hopes and they won’t come true.’ He apologized and did not want to make it harder for her. And before they said goodbye, Ali asked her to promise that if it didn't go well with Ahmad, she would write him because he would always be there for her. She promised him and then swiched off her Skype window. She had heard Ali’s voice only seconds ago but now there was only silence.

Ahmad family came and had a look at Zainab. They liked her look, her beautiful dark black hair and natural long eyelashes. Ahmad family made the final decision to let her become the wife of their son and arranged a date to sign the documents so that the marriage would be legal. During the visit of Ahmed’s family, Zainab wasn't happy and her face didn't show any emotions. After all the guests had left the house, Zainab went to her room, thinking of Ali, the man she loved. She opened her email and saw a new email from him. She opened the message and read: We should not give up so quickly. I believe we are made for each other. Ali Zainab’s eyes filled with tears as she replied to his message: Ahmed’s family and mine have already set a date to make the Islamic Nikah. I am so sorry but it is better to move on now. She clicked ‘send’ and switched off her computer. Finally, the day came when Zainab and Ahmed met to sign the documents so that they would officially be married. Zainab felt much better, she was trying to accept her fate. That evening, she saw Ahmed for the first time. He was among his family and although his short beard made him look serious, he wasn’t a bad looking man. Zainab remembered what her friend Fatima had said to her before about marriage, so Zainab hoped that Ahmad would be fine to let her continue her education and study medicine. She was so weak and tired after all what happened to her, after all the pain she had gone through, after seeing her dreams falling apart and only wanted to try to make peace with her fate and hope for good things to happen in the future. She looked at Ahmed and he looked back and smiled at her and she smiled back. During the next weeks, Ahmed would often visit Zainab and her mother. They would sit together in the living room, drink tea and try to get to know each other. Ahmad often talked about their future together. Ahmed told Zainab that once they had celebrated their marriage day and would move in together, they would live with Ahmed’s mother. All his sisters were married and his mother needed someone to

look after her. And why Zainab would stay at home and look after his mother and later on after the children she and Ahmed would have, he would open shops and become a successful businessman. Zainab did not like the idea of living with his mother. She often used to go to her room after his visit and cry, feeling desperate about her bad look. She realized that she had lost everything, all her dreams and hopes. Ahmed did not agree to let her go to study because he said she was needed in the house more than outside. She had been brn in a country that was a jail but living with her mother had been good because her mother was not too strict usually and wanted her daughter to be happy. But now she was exchanging her jail with an even smaller one and this time, it was final. And what she suffered from most was the fact that she had lost Ali. Zainab used to slap her face almost every night as she was crying. She imagined herself looking after her husband and his mother for the rest of her life, and maybe her husband was one of men who loves to have many kids and she would have to have as many children as he wanted her to have. Sometimes Zainab even wished that she wasn’t able to have any kids, or that he would just marry a second wife and have kids from her, because she couldn’t imagine having children with a man she wasn’t in love with. She told her mother about her feeling towards Ahmed, but her mother told her that she would love him by the time, or after she get the first child from him. Her mother explained that she didn’t love Zainab’s father from the beginning but fell in love with him after she was pregnant and the same was going to happen to Zainab, too. Hearing her mother’s words, Zainab felt worse. She yelled at her and told her that she was a different person with different feelings and she shouldn’t have to live in the same way like her mother, especially as her mother had never been very happy about her life. Then Zainab went to her room and closed the door, all what she could do was crying in silence. After a few days and while she was sitting with her fiancé Ahmad, Ahmed asked her if she would like to go with him on a trip to Bahrain. For a moment, Zainab closed her eyes. She did not want Ahmed to notice how sad she suddenly felt. With Ali, she had planed to go to Bahrain and to escape to a better life from there. Slowly, she shook her head.

‘I think I better stay here. I can’t leave my mother alone. She needs me.’ She explained. But Ahmed surprised her by telling her that he asked her mother before and already had her permission to take Zainab with him to Bahrain for one day. ‘Your mother is informed and does not disapprove. We will leave in the morning and will come back the same day. I plan to go by airplane, it is the fastest way and we will only spend some hours there.’ ‘Ok.’ She agreed. Zainab didn’t want to go to Bahrain, not with Ahmed, but in the same time there was no excuse she could give him and before he would wonder why she did not like to go, she said that she would come with him. Around one week later, Ahmed came in the early morning to pick Zainab up. They went to the airport and took a flight to Bahrain. During the entire time they were in the airplane, Zainab could not think of anyone except Ali. The man she loved so much and she could not forget. When they arrived in Bahrain, Ahmed asked Zainab to wait for him while he went to the toilet. He put his bag next to her and walked away. After a few minutes, Ahmed went out of the bathroom and looked for Zainab. On the place where he had left her was only his bag, but he could not find her. He started looking around and searching for her but she had gone. Yes, Zainab made it this time. She had sent an email to Ali the evening when Ahmed had told her he would take her to Bahrain. Ali had booked a ticket for himself to Bahrain and two tickets, one of them for Zainab, back to Britain. He was waiting for her in the airport next to gate number six, which was going to his country. They finally met but there was no time to hug or to say anything except ‘Lets hurry, the airplane is about to depart.’ They checked in and went into the airplane and to their chairs where they sat down. Zainab’s breathing was very fast. Ali looked at her and put his hand on her scared face. ‘Don’t worry, the airplane is about to move, he won’t be able to stop us.’ She closed her eyes strongly, trying to control her fears until finally the airplane started to move slowly. Zainab was scared that Ahmed had noticed her running through the airport and would ask to stop the airplane she was in but the airplane didn’t stop, it moved smoothly to the main line and then the speed went up, and

finally the tires started to take off from the ground and the airplane rose into the sky, taking her farther and father away from her country. After arriving UK, Ali and Zainab got married immediately, and after settling down, Zainab got an offer from one of the biggest universities in the UK to study medicine. She continued her education and after she had completed her degree, she found a good job in a hospital. After three years of working full time, she asked the hospital to let her work part time because she was pregnant. Finally, Zainab found the life that made her happy. She had always been different from the other girls in her society. She had always dreamt of being free and she had finally reached the life she had hoped for. The only problem she had with her husband was deciding on a name for their child. Zainab wanted to call her baby boy Ali but her husband disagreed. He explained to her that there should not be two people called Ali in the same house.

The end

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Short Story The author tells the story of Zainab, a desperate young Saudi woman who tries to follow her dreams under hard circumstances. Int...