The great day has arrived sooner than expected. The courtroom is full. Shada’s media campaign has paid off—I have never seen so many cameras. Beneath my black scarf, I’m perspiring heavily.
Deep down I feel frozen solid, unable to move. Just how does a divorce happen? What if the monster simply says no? If he begins threatening the judge?
“I was gentle,” said the monster.
“That’s not true!” I yelled in anger.
I shiver: I recognize Aba and … the monster, escorted by two soldiers. The prisoners look furious. Passing in front of us, the monster lowers his eyes, then abruptly turns back to Shada.
“Proud of yourself, hey?” he snarls.
Shada doesn’t even blink. The look in her eyes reveals all the contempt she feels for him. I’ve learned a lot from her.
“Don’t listen to him,” she tells me.
My heart pounds. When I look up, I find myself staring into Aba’s eyes. He seems so upset. “Honor,” he had said. Seeing his face, I begin to understand what that very complicated word means. I can see in my Aba’s eyes that he’s angry and ashamed at the same time. I’m so furious at him, but I can’t help feeling sorry for him too. The respect of other men—that’s so important here.
It’s Judge Abdo’s turn to speak.
“Here we have the case of a little girl who was married without her consent. Once the marriage contract was signed without her knowledge, she was taken away by force into the province of Hajja. There her husband sexually abused her, when she hadn’t reached the age of puberty and was not ready for sexual relations. He also struck and insulted her. She has come here today to ask for a divorce.”
The big moment is coming, when the guilty are punished.
Al-Ghazi raps the desk a few times with a small wooden hammer.
“Listen to me carefully,” he tells the creature I hate. “You married this little girl two months ago, you slept with her, you struck her. Is that true, yes or no?”
The monster blinks, then replies, “No, it isn’t true! She and her father agreed to this marriage.”
I clutch at Shada’s coat.
The judge turns to my father.
“Did you agree to the marriage?”
“How old is your daughter?”
“My daughter is 13.”
Thirteen? No one ever told me I was 13. I wring my hands, trying to calm down.
“I married off my daughter for fear she would be stolen.”
I don’t really understand what he is talking about. His answers are vague and complicated, and the judge’s questions are increasingly incomprehensible. Voices are raised. The accused men defend themselves. The uproar in the room grows louder as my heart pounds faster.
The judge motions for us to follow him into another room, away from the public. “Faez Ali Thamer, did you consummate the marriage, yes or no?” asks the judge.
I hold my breath.
“Yes,” admits the monster. “But I was gentle with her, I was careful. I did not beat her.”
His answer is like a slap in the face, reminding me of all those other slaps, the insults, the suffering.
“That’s not true!” I yell, beside myself with anger.
Everyone turns to look at me. But I’m the first to be astonished at my outburst. After that, everything happens quickly. The monster says that my father betrayed him by lying about my age. Then Aba becomes furious and says he had agreed to wait until I was older before touching me. The monster announces that he’s ready to accept the divorce, but on one condition: My father must pay back my bride-price. And Aba snaps back that he was never paid anything at all. It’s like a marketplace! How much? When? How?
In the end, I am saved by the judge’s verdict.
“The divorce is granted,” he says.
My divorce has changed my life. When I go out in the street, sometimes women call to me, congratulating me. I recently left my uncle’s house and returned to live with my parents. We all seem to be pretending to have forgotten what happened.
My nightmares stopped a few weeks ago. Instead, I’ve been dreaming about school. When I grow up, I’ll be a lawyer, like Shada, to defend other little girls like me.
Update: Proceeds from the book about her experience have lifted Nujood and her family out of poverty; they have their own home in Sana’a and a steady income. A friend and adviser of Nujood’s says that the now 15-year-old has had trouble adjusting to her celebrity but is studying English and wants to continue her education abroad.
In April 2009, the Yemeni parliament raised the legal age of consent to 17, but it was overturned the next day. Today, Yemen is in political turmoil, and men can take brides of any age.