Liana telling the story in a nutshell

Love is the twin of a beautiful dream that survives birth to reality; but my love was a reality that survived arduous parturition only to remain a beautiful dream

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February 09, 2005

12. The First Step Along an Inauspicious Path/ Part Two

Though quite cognizant of my intention of enjoying a six-month minimal gap prior to picking my way ‘cautiously’ in the world of employment, Frieda urged me to apply. She reckoned that the opportunity of working at such a prestigious establishment was not often obtainable and too good to miss. She further spurred me on with the information that she had spread the news among our “group” and they were all keen on applying.

‘So what do you say, lazy bum, would you go for it, or do you want to give some more time to resting?’ She asked teasingly.

‘Sounds interesting’, I replied when she had finished reading the ad to me. ‘When did you say you were going?’

‘Tomorrow at eleven’. She told me that she had arranged for the girls to gather at her place, and that Sumer was to chauffeur us all in her car

Albeit I had to acquire the parental consent first, yet I hung up promising Frieda attendance at her place next morning around ten-thirty. Then in a mood of gaiety, I bespoke a lavish breakfast of my favourite ‘Gaemer’, famous Iraqi crème de la crème with honey

Nicknamed the bunch of five, Frieda Mai, Ban, Sumer and I graduated after four wonderful years in college, all five of us holding the same major. Getting on as fabulously as we did, we were a colourful and fantastic emblem of unity, assembling amongst us what dirty politics dispersed and divided of Iraq’s oneness and integrity. Belonging to three sectarian groups—Chaldean, Sunni and Shiite— Christianity and Islam were practised in three languages in our group—Aramaic, Kurdish and Arabic. We were, I suppose, a palpable reflection of the fact that were it left to themselves, people, anywhere or everywhere, irrespective of origins or races or religions, would hold tenaciously to peace, rejecting the enmity and antagonism engendered purposely to serve the ugly world of political and economic interests

Our indivisible union outlived the period of our academic endeavours by many years. We were famous for our devilry and naughtiness, and for our good-humoured capers that spared none of our college mates. Sitting next to each other in auditoriums was our normal wont that brows would arch were it ever otherwise. Likewise, rounding a table in the cafeteria, we would be discovered emitting childlike laughs, and roasting our mates with unremitting jests; or we would be seen seeking dupes for our japes while strolling the aisles leisurely between lectures. Our mirthful zest never abated or waned but challenged even exams’ most feverish days, times when we’d all turn into inflated balloons, which all it took to explode was a prick of a pin. We were freewheeling urban youth beset with no worries or concerns whatsoever. What worries would we have, after all, when blessed with wonderful families, always loving, supporting and providing for our lacks; all they requested from us was only that we study and excel. Innocent playfulness was the farthest our imagination dared to stretch its wings, yet we never idled, but rather the five of us excelled, always taking our place among the first ten percent.

The group’s most placid were Mai and I, who were more like the back stage performers, or the cheerful avid audience out front. And who was it who played leader with cunning and resourcefulness but Frieda? She was never starved of a sense of humour, which made even the most reserved and solemn of our professors crack up with laughter.

Of all our professors, Dr. Salem was the sternest who never tolerated students’ late arrivals at his lectures. To junior Frieda’s bad fortune, he gave the opening lecture twice a week. Frieda was repeatedly late, and the professor’s patience ran thin. He warned that he would deny her entry for any such future indiscipline. For two weeks, she was punctual, but on the third, she regressed to her old habit. It was on a cold, showery, and stormy morning. Fifteen minutes into the lecture, whilst the professor was engrossed in his talk, and the students were absorbed listening, suddenly the door swung open, and Frieda entered. Professor Salem stopped talking and turned towards the door; so did all eyes, first to the door, and then to the professor in anticipation of the forewarned penalization. He stood a few moments examining her, then he smiled, and the students joined cracking up with laughter. The solemn and serious atmosphere turned into one of hilarity. Frieda stood at the door, sopping wet, with her jacket buttoned in the wrong holes and a miserable pleading expression on her face. “Sorry Professor, blame it on the alarm clock’, she explained breathlessly. Professor Salem declared defeat when confronted with the misery sketched cunningly on her face. He waved gesturing her to get inside. ‘You’re a hopeless case’, he said shaking his head, while he turned towards the board, struggling to keep a straight face.

Were we naïve? Or did we exude the overconfidence of fiery inexperienced youth that conceived it not an impossibility to grab even the most remote stars. I guess both, as it turned out. Our group, however, farewelled college with academic earning and with the determined pledge to stick together, apply for the same job, challenge life and break its arrogance and condescension by taking and never asking. What did we know then of life’s cruelty and heartlessness?

On the same evening Dina called to tell me about the ad. Dad had read it too, though without enthusiasm. ‘I still think pursuing your postgraduate studies is a far better option’, he declared.

That was Dad alright, sparing no exertion to push me in the direction of further studies. ‘You’re twenty-one; starting now would mean that you would get your PhD by the age of twenty five, or twenty six—most perfect. By then you’ll have better and wider opportunities for work and for life too’. And I smiled, thinking how inexorable he was, beating the iron while still red-hot. ‘No dad, please, not again’, I would reply chafing every time he brought it up. ‘We have gone through this heaps of times, not now, couple of years later, perhaps’.

The prospect of pursuing my postgraduate studies wasn’t, nevertheless, dad’s only reason for his frostiness towards the concept of working. Dad regarded governmental jobs as disguised slavery. Copping out was not in the least allowed once one was ensnared. The complex tapestry of constraining decrees and regulations devised by the despotic regime rendered quitting a mere flight of fancy. Iraqis, nonetheless, had been addicted to governmental jobs for decades. Principally they offered tenure of employment and security in retirement, besides being undemanding due to slack procedures and weak discipline. Only political justifications, or, to a lesser extent, cases of corruption led to the termination of employment. Despite the notorious nepotism prevalent in a tribal society, acquiring a government job was never a difficulty for Iraqi graduates in the state economy of the Baa’thists, the ruling faction. Accordingly, it was not unknown for Iraqis to go around sometimes resourcefully seeking evasion from being channelled into government jobs as was the fate of the vast majority of university graduates. Graduates of particular majors and fields of study even knew the jobs they would be allocated well ahead of their graduation. The Baa’thist influence penetrated cancerously into each and every governmental business, and further reinforced the regime’s stronghold, thus divesting the Iraqi work force of its right of choice and sense of security, rendering such jobs the least appealing, especially, in the few years preceding the downfall of the regime

Employment, however, never carried any pecuniary urgency for me given the shelter of the parental financial security I was basking in. Rather it was an opportunity to prove myself and was coupled with the urgings of volatile youth, hankering to plunge into the sea of working life and fulfil the big dreams of a small heart stepping forward shyly and cautiously into a new phase that it had never set foot upon before.

Mum, however, stood by dad, believing a space of one year was quite vital for unburdening her girl from the stresses and strains of the final year of college. ‘You worked hard, and it’s necessary you take some time off before you plunge into the endless whirl of work and responsibilities’, she advised.

It was only Dina who concurred with Frieda that the opportunity was quite rare. And she insisted and ultimately succeeded in securing the parental approval.

The irony was that six months later Dina cried her heart out in remorse for what she did then.

To Be Continued........