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

Blog Archive

February 17, 2005

15. Had I Just Listened/Part Two

My train of thoughts was interrupted when, stealthily, mum opened the door checking on her girl, as was her custom every morning, to ensure I was properly wrapped up against the chilliness of the room. She opened her eyes wide with astonishment upon realizing that I was already up at that uncommonly early hour. Mum was hopeful that my sudden enthusiasm of the day before for work may have diminished through the hours of the night. Her face, however, didn’t reflect the least bit of satisfaction upon realizing otherwise. She hugged me kissing my head while she sat on the edge of my bed. ‘Now that you’re awake, come then and breakfast with me’, she urged, taking advantage of the rare opportunity. Dad had already left for work. My brothers were eating rice with the angels, in keeping with an Egyptian metaphor that has become a pan- Arabic saying to suggest profound sleep. Not infrequently on school holidays, they would not retire to bed before kissing the sun’s first rays good morning, having been busy all night chain-watching movies on VCR, or blabbering over the phone with friends, or joking and laughing so loud to have mum and dad repeatedly castigate them, and not forgetting, of course, to placate their rumbling stomachs with the usual post midnight plates-and-forks sonatas. And they would not embrace the new day, therefore, earlier than an hour or two past midday, breakfasting at lunchtime and lunching at dinnertime.

Having promised Frieda to breakfast with her and the girls, I settled for a glass of juice. Hastily, I helped mum in the kitchen, had my morning shower, and around nine I was in my bedroom getting ready for the trip to the unknown— my first step ever in the world of employment. Apart from what Dina and dad had briefed me on and some interviews I had occasionally watched on TV, my knowledge of how or what was yet a cipher. I didn’t even have a CV. What on earth would a fresh graduate, who’d never worked before, put into a CV anyway, just the personal details? Acquainted as I was, like any other Iraqi, with the regime’s oppressive politics, I was secure in the knowledge that some previously prepared forms would stand in its place. The regime had comprehensive forms for everybody and for everything. Iraqis literally were nonentities. A mere form outlined their entire history, based upon which they were eventually sorted out according to the criteria of blind obedience and sheer servility to the dictator, and summed up in one of two words only—for or against.

Job interviews in Saddam’s state economy were carried out in an entirely different manner from that of the capitalist world, and, even, from that of the Iraqi private sector; it was much easier to get a job in the state sector, for the main purpose was to incorporate the vast majority of university graduates into the government network. Consequently, it contributed to recruiting more than the requisite work force, ‘disguised unemployment’ as Iraqi’s saw it. The majority of governmental establishments could have been easily run with one third less of their existing manpower. Such oversupply naturally led to tongue wagging and gossip during work time, or employees calling in on each other, ‘feasting’, socializing, making endless personal phone calls, and finally performing less than four hours of work at the most during a six- or seven-hour working day.

I stood a few moments facing my opened wardrobe, scrutinizing my clothes, with the intention of donning the latest line of fashion, but eliminating whatever that could have provoked the harsh critique of a culture that circumscribed its initial moral judgment within the boundaries of the visual aspects. Our culture prized, inter alia, physical modesty, and had scarce tolerance for provocatively dressed women. Nothing short of scorn, disdain and definite social jeopardies ensued from recklessly underestimating the stringency of our society. The more a woman reveals her body, the more she sheds her social reverence. Following ten minutes of bewilderment, simplicity got ahead. I settled on a white viscose rayon shirt, and a straight ankle-length navy blue skirt with a knee length side opening. Of all the colours white and yellow suit me best, making the most of my light skin and the darkness of my eyes and hair. White corresponds well with blue, I thought, and gives some sort of formality. I’d seen lots of employees wearing them for uniforms. With a quick look, I chose classic high heel navy blue shoes, and a small similarly coloured purse with two white diagonal thin straps. I looked in the mirror, ‘not bad, tall and slim’. In less than ten minutes I was done with my make up: a hint of blusher, crimson lipstick, and most importantly the eyeliner ‘ko-hul’. The majority of Middle-Eastern women never dispense with ‘ko-hul’, and I always loved wearing it. It gives the eyes a stunning depth, and the fabulous defining look of the eyes of Arabia.

I opened my jewellery box and picked up a slim handcrafted neck chain, and a tiny ruby pendant and matched them with petite earrings and an elegant bracelet. A final look in the mirror, and I snatched the purse and went flying through the staircase. Mum was in the family room watching TV. An expression of dissatisfaction crossed her features upon seeing me all set for leaving:‘I’m still against it, Liana. So is your dad. I think you shouldn’t go’. I smiled and hugged her, ‘Please mum, we discussed it last night. Let’s not go through it once again, please’. Mum reluctantly buckled under. She hugged me and placed one of her usual tender kisses on my cheek, with the perpetual advice I heard every time I left home, ‘Take good care of yourself sweetheart’. I kissed her too. ‘Your prayers are needed most of all today mum’, I cried out while trotting towards the main door.

Those were my first steps along an inauspicious journey that harvested much anguish and misery. Often mum has described how she shuddered with premonition the moment she watched me disappearing through the front door, heading for that establishment. Her silent tears over the agony of disappointed hope have conveyed, for years now, her forlorn wish that I had listened and obeyed. Well, what could I say other than that I believe it was all predestined. Though in some transient moments of weakness, particularly, at times when my agony and excruciation rocketed to its ultimate boundaries, I too wish I had somehow listened. But again, looking back, I realize how well those six months of pleasure compensated for the pain of years and the price was well worth it. And I would have still gone for it, and, yes, with the same ebullience, had I somehow known the foreordained.

To Be Continued.............