Leila was just over forty and her husband was still madly in love with her. He had never stopped feeling attracted to her, even though her body (having gone through three childbirths) didn’t look exactly the same as it had when they first got married. He made sure she knew how much he appreciated her by showering her with compliments on a regular basis. All things considered, one could say Leila had no reason whatsoever to complain about life, considering she had a doting prince-charming-like husband by her side. That is why, when she began to flinch from his touch every time he tried to show her affection, became squeamish about enjoying life for the sake of it, began to pray often and intensely, and eventually to shun human contact, he suspected something had gone terribly wrong.
Leila’s strange behavior began after she decided it was about time she learned to read and write. She started attending classes at an institute with adult education programs designed to combat illiteracy among the female population. There, once a week, women of all ages were given lessons for free, on the alphabet and—because the teacher, out of the kindness of her heart, offered to pep up all that dry technical knowledge she had to impart with advice on a subject of a slightly more practical nature—also on the standards of decency.
One day, this overly solicitous teacher told her students that all of God’s creations had an expiration date, and women were no exception.
“While they are still young, men are allowed to prey on women and play with them to their hearts’ content, but after they have reached the age of forty, men are to stay away from them,” she said.
The class started chuckling nervously, wondering whether they were meant to take these observations seriously. Dispelling all doubt, the teacher resumed. “After their wombs have dried up, there is no point in keeping their men’s interest in them alive. They should slowly distance themselves from their husbands in order to get closer to God. From then on, they should devote their time to fasting, praying and exhibiting exemplary behavior.”
These words left a deep impression on Leila, who from that day on felt it her duty to become an ice queen who wouldn’t let her husband’s honeyed words melt her resolve to conduct herself the way mid-aged women apparently should. First, she acquired a false veneer of composure to mask her inner conflict. She didn’t want anybody to take advantage of her hesitancy; to try and sway her decision on whether or not she should thenceforth set her sights on increasing her odds of entry into the heavenly kingdom. On the one hand, she didn’t want to destroy the intimacy she enjoyed with her husband in order to please God. On the other hand, she didn’t want to infuriate God and risk losing the appeal she held for her husband.
The teacher’s admonition continued ringing in her ears. “Women on earth hold their value until they are forty, but in heaven, their value never expires. For that reason, you, my girls, have to focus on getting into Paradise after you have reached that age when you are no longer capable of reproduction and thus no longer useful to the living.”
It didn’t take Leila long to realize that her arguments to ignore her age and contravene God’s will were untenable.
Meanwhile, Leila’s husband didn’t understand why his wife was pushing him away. At some point he decided to ask her directly.
“Why are you constantly trying to avoid me lately? Has something changed between us? Why won’t you let me get close to you anymore? Don’t you miss me, the way I have been missing you?”
“Forget what we had,” she replied curtly. “From now on, we have to start preparing for the hereafter. I am not worthy of your attentions now that I am passed the age of forty. My heart now belongs to God and God only. Hallowed be His name.”
He gently took her hand and ushered her to the bedroom. There, they lay down on the bed and he kissed her tenderly. As he stroked her hair, he said, “Fuck whoever told you that you were not worthy of my affection! I love you, more than words can express. And I need you here by my side. Please, do this for me. Wait to live for the afterlife until you find yourself in it.”
Her face lit up with joy and, after pressing a reassuring kiss on his lips, she fell asleep in his arms. She would never return to class at that institute.
Written by Abdul Majeed Taam.