The excerpt from Eva Sallis’s short story “Music” deals with the wedding reception of Abbas,
an Arab, and Janet, a white Australian.
Zein was the first to hold a real wedding when her son married an Australian. Half the
community boycotted, and the other half sat grim-faced, even crying, at the white tables filled
with uneaten food. Zein held her head high and sailed through the whispers, holding Amin up
with her, and Zein kissed her new daughter-in-law with enough seemly affection to raise the
whispers to murmurs but to shame the community into congratulations and kisses too. Zein
carried herself impeccably, and kept Amin ramrod straight at her side, even though she felt
like curling up in bed and having a good cry.
At first it was a nightmare evening but Zein in the end was rewarded with something.
Whenever she felt she was bleeding to death through a hole in the family made by her
daughter-in-law, she also saw, and sometimes forced herself to see, a thin white filament
stretched between her son and his wife, and then she heard music. She was given a moment
in which she knew without doubt that God had blessed her.
She was sitting at the head of the first table, her stomach stiff against the pink silk of her
dress, distended with gas and racked by griping pains. It was almost impossible to keep her
face smiling, not wincing. Amin by her side was silent. The mask of parental pride that was
stamped over the wash of inner shame gave him an unusual pallor and a sunken look. Zein
knew he was angry that she insisted on a wedding rather than a discreet event. The bride’s
parents and people all hung to the other side of the room and were the subject of some
savaging in Arabic. They were behaving badly, haughty and dismissive with the Arabs,
drunken and loud with each other. They were clearly unhappy too, something Zein was
utterly shocked by, but stored up; her amazement that they despised her son made her
fleetingly like her daughter-in-law but raised her irritation. She dimly perceived that this was a
messy, hard marriage on both sides. She tried to give her stomach more room by leaning
back and was suddenly furious. Until now she had not really blamed her son, but really,
Abbas! Her rage grew. She got up and circled, to ease her anger and her tormented middle.
She smiled and chatted to Ibtisam and Sa’d, Haifa and Walid, who had all staunchly
attended, bringing a tear of gratitude to Amin’s eye. Then she distinctly heard the word
‘sandnigger’ from the other side of the room, and her fury drove her to the toilet. Really!
Abbas, how could you do this to us? Why try for something so difficult, so divisive, why enter
a family in which you were despised, when this could have been a celebration, in which she
and Amin almost died for joy and her son set himself up to be helped and beloved by all. (…)
It was not like Abbas, not at all, to do something like this.
Why did he do it? Why did she? She looked across to the young couple. The bride, her son’s
wife, was a plain girl. Brown hair, brown eyes. Too skinny. She was pale and tense,
obviously not enjoying her wedding at all. Abbas was strung taut, going through this because
he too was tough.
Zein felt her rage die away and settle to a sadness. Life was going to be so hard. They were
going to hold everyone at arm’s length and do it all alone, as if they were the first humans on
earth, cast out of the garden. They were going to punish everyone here, Arab and Australian,
by seizing their independence. She could see them in a small flat, made pleasant and clean
with their efforts, small ornaments, sunlight and the air, but not with the gifts and help of
brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles. They were, sooner or later,
going to struggle together with a wailing baby, rushing by taxi to the doctor, and paying a
babysitter once or twice a year when they went to a movie. She saw Abbas laying concrete
all by himself, no team of relatives joking, teasing, arguing over the job around him. They
were, she saw with sudden sad prescience, going to shut her and Amin out. (…)
At that moment Abbas leant towards Janet and pulled at a thread in her bodice. She looked
down at his hand as the thread lengthened and lengthened between them. Zein feared that
the thread would unravel some part of the dress and the beautiful satin would fall open, fall
away. Janet raised a white hand on which the heavy ring looked uncomfortable, and she
touched the sinews along the back of his hand, spreading her long fingers over it and just
touching the white thread with her little finger. It was a sensual, wondering touch, as
mysterious as the thread. And then Zein feared that the thread would break. She felt herself
to be at some boundary she had to know and had to cross, watching, but if the cotton
snapped, if it snapped too soon! The thread was nearly half a foot long, and Abbas had
stopped; in that moment Zein had a vision of Janet playing his hand like a lute. She couldn’t
see Abba’s face, but just then Janet looked up at him and Zein saw a girl she had never
before seen. Flushed, glowing, giving. And Zein saw the curve of her son’s chest, and the
electric happiness he gave her back as a secret, strengthening gift.
Zein was suddenly clear-headed. She clapped her hands, signalled to the band to step it up,
and turned to Amin, shrugging off the sight of his stiff shoulders.
‘Let’s dance,’ she said. ‘This is a WEDDING!’
Source. Barry Oakley (ed.), Secret Lives, The Five Mile Press, Victoria, Australia, 2003;
seemly (formal) - appropriate for a particular social situation
impeccable - perfect, without faults
ramrod - straight with a very straight back and looking serious and formal
filament - thread
distended - swollen
to rack - to make someone suffer great pain
to wince - to suddenly make an expression with your face that shows that you are feeling pain
to savage - to criticize someone severely
to store up - to remember something, especially so that you can tell or ask someone later
staunch - strong and loyal in your opinions and attitude
sandnigger (sl.) - offensive term for a person of Arab descent
taut - tense
prescience - knowledge of things before they happen
bodice - the top part of a woman’s dress
lute - musical instrument with strings, played like a guitar
Work on a total of three tasks.
Tasks 1 and 2 are compulsory. Choose one task from 3.
1 Summarize the excerpt from Eva Sallis’s short story in no more than 200 words.
2 Briefly describe the atmosphere evoked by the text and analyze the language devices
the author employs to create it. (30%)
3 A Explain Zein’s attitude towards her son’s marriage and comment on it, referring to the
short story and your knowledge about the problems and chances of intercultural
3 B Choose one of the following relationships depicted in Sallis’s short story:
- Zein and Amin
- Janet and Abbas
- the Australian guests and the Arab guests.
Describe the relationship and compare it to that of any other couple or group of
people in a similar situation from a film or a literary work you are familiar with.
Comment on the relationship you have chosen from the above text. (40%)
3 C The above excerpt from Eva Sallis’s short story has been made into a film called “The
Wedding Reception”. You have been asked to design a poster for the film. Describe
the poster and give reasons for your layout and illustration(s), taking into
consideration the excerpt from Eva Sallis’s story as well as any other relevant
material you are familiar with. (40%)
You are expected to write at least 700 words in no more than 300 minutes.
Source: Berlin: Senatsverwaltung f. Bildung, Wissenschaft und Forschung