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 20, 2005

16. Had I Just Listened/Part Three

At about 10.45 I was standing at Frieda’s door ringing the bell, late as usual and the last to arrive. Sumer’s car was parked outside signalling the presence of the whole bunch. The weather was exposing its muscles with arrogance. The repulsive heat had started its merciless onslaught. Its nasty impact had already taken its toll on me; wilt and fatigue crept through my whole body. Tiny beads of perspiration formed on my forehead and above my upper lip. My shoes were drenched, and it wasn’t eleven yet.

Munching a sandwich, Mai opened the door. She welcomed me, exclaiming with admiration, ‘You look beautiful Lu’. We hugged, and I walked through the corridor to the living room. When the welcoming stream of cool air patted my face, it felt more like stepping into heaven from an ugly inferno. Frieda’s mum was sitting in the family room watching TV. I hugged her and stood responding to and reciprocating her courteous enquiries about mum. The girl’s giggly voices were emanating from the kitchen. I put my purse on the couch and moved a few steps inside, and there they were, four beautiful cheerful pigeons, gathered around the dining table, having breakfast, exchanging pleasantries and creating a mood of much- needed gaiety. Frieda was standing next to the fridge holding a jug full of water with some cubes of ice floating on top.

‘God, you look beautiful Lu’, she gasped in amazement. She placed the jug on the counter and turned to the girls with both hands akimbo and fingers almost encircling her willowy waist: ‘, Take my word for it girls, if we’re interviewed by a man, we’re most definitely done’. ‘What if it’s a woman?’ I jested while pulling out the chair.

The girls burst out laughing. Frieda stood still staring at me, and uttered a sigh, ‘How I wish you were a Muslim; we would make the best sisters-in-law’. My reply was the same every time she mentioned it, ‘Knock it off, Fury’.

Frieda, nicknamed Fury, never ceased uttering such a wish, though utterly aware of the absolute impossibility of marrying one of her two brothers, for a simple fait accompli: intermarriages between Moslems and Christians were strictly forbidden, not only in Iraqi society, but also throughout the entire region, and by both religions. There were occasions, nonetheless, when some adventurers threw conventions and religion to the wind, disregarding the perilous consequences that usually wound up with honour killing, or the enforcement of the Moslem faith on the Christian partner, especially if he were a male, in conformity with the Sha-ri-a codes of Islam, and aided by the vulnerability of Christians in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

Sha-ri-a marriage law countenances marriage into Islam but precludes marrying out of it. But then, such marriages are also absolutely proscribed by the extremely rigid, predominantly Roman Catholic, churches of Iraq, and even those of the surrounding countries. It was this stringency, in my belief, that contributed in the main to the survival of the Christian religion in an area where Christians always formed a minority.

It isn’t by any means odd for a Christian female eloper to retain her own religion when marrying a Muslim male should she wish to do so, only because the children bear the name of the Muslim father and are raised in his faith. Then again, the situation is entirely different were it a Muslim female marrying a Christian male. Honour killing inevitably issues from outbraving the obligatory conversion to Islam. Such transgressive marriages are forever ostracized and banished by both sides and suffer in the majority of cases and even collapse sometimes soon after because of the difficulty of fitting into society.

To all intents and purposes such events cast their dark shadows permanently upon the reputation of the family of the Christian eloper. They not only precipitate excommunication from the church, but the punishment stretches further to include the whole family, resulting in their expulsion from the Christian community. The family’s future marriages of remaining single males and females hang in the balance, on account of the Christian community not welcoming any marriage association with the ill-fated family. Under such fallouts, some families are left stranded with no other option but that of emigrating. Consequently, Iraqi Christians and Moslems, too, ensure against such mishaps through heedful household observation and constant religious preaching.

Having breakfasted, we set off in our exceedingly boisterous journey—five lively girls squeezed into a small sedan, all chattering at once. Frieda sat in the front, next to Sumer the chauffeur, and I sat at the back, with Ban and Mai both to my left. It was a fittingly convivial atmosphere for Fury to unleash her comical skills and mirthful jokes, encouraged by a cheerful zealous audience. The car stereo too provided apt accompaniment whooping and hooraying. Pretty much it sounded like ham-maam ness-wan, the buzzing of wadded Turkish old days public baths. The prevalent air was anything but that which should accompany a seriously taken job interview. No stress or anxiety, or even the least preoccupation or anticipation of what was forthcoming marred our gregarious mood. Rather it was more like a fun gathering, an adventure, a picnic or some sort of diversion that attracted the dewy-eyed inquisitiveness of five fresh gleeful graduates scouting an exotic world they’d never set foot onto before.

The massive double-shouldered six lanes of the serpentine highway leading to that establishment seemed endless. Induced by the desire to mitigate the effects of their long summer infernos, Iraqis have fought back with a crazy obsession for greenery. Iraq has more date palm trees per capita than anywhere else. Soaring palms beaming with hanging clusters of golden and brown dates lined all sides, with an unbroken chain of shorter white and pink oleanders hugging each other and nestling underneath those palms, pretty much as if they were imploring for the shade cast by their loftiness. Countless seeds of dates, which the scorching sun had mellowed, were dispersed all around underneath, waiting to no avail for someone to pick up and savour. But who would bother in a country that comes first in the world producing dates, and second, if not truly first, in producing oil.

The weather was becoming extremely nasty. The sky was more of a pinkish blue hue. The air was motionless, and the greenery around stood still, with not even the slightest hint of movement. After a ten-minute drive in this hideous weather the car’s air-conditioning lost its vigour and functioned more like a fan, circulating the same takings of the suffocating heat. The assaulting bright sunlight and the intense heat permeated stubbornly through the dark sunglasses I was wearing, turning my eye sockets into balls of fire. Sweat streamed, trickling down my whole body. My shirt stuck to my back, and my skirt glued to my inner thighs causing some nasty itchiness. I took off my shoes, but it felt more like wearing socks of wool once my feet touched the hot carpet. I much regretted not wearing sandals and exclaimed my dismay: ‘Such outrageous inferno leaves no chance whatsoever for a dress up’. I asked Sumer to turn the cool on high. ‘But it is on high, Lu,’ she replied. The impact of the enervating heat on me was not dissimilar to its effect on the asphalts of the streets: we both melted. I thought of winding the window down, and had brought it down just slightly when the dry smouldering air the car was racing against descended with a scorching slap on my face. I rolled it up fast. The drive seemed to be taking forever and conditions exacerbated with every kilometre. I never tolerated well the outings of summer, particularly at such hour. The last ten minutes were a real torture. Fury, though, found it quite hilarious watching me dissolving like a cube of ice, and it was obvious that I was becoming her amusing pick of the day.

Of the whole group Fury was the closest to my heart. We were true soul mates. Each never forsook the other in her need, but constantly supported and stood up for the other especially at trying times, such as when Fury was on the verge of suspension from school for her devilry, and in desperate call for salvation through a false testimony that I did not refrain from granting. A heartfelt confession ensued, nonetheless, on the following Sunday. Her devilry never faded, nor did my confessions of similar misdemeanours ever halt. And this almost triggered off a crisis with the priest in the local church who seriously threatened, following patient advice and futile preaching, to breach the code of confession and report me to my parents if I didn’t stop my unorthodox charity services to her. She was proverbial in her generosity and kindliness, and she bore a cordial heart, as good as gold. When it came to bravery and obstinacy, Fury was a typical Kurdish, cavaliers of the towering mountains, famed for their courage as well as for their intransigence and fiery temper. Her fits of temper, for which she earned her nickname, were absolutely unbearable at times, but for the large part, they were transient momentary waves that died out usually sooner that they were kindled, and were always followed with sincere apologetic hugs and kisses.

Fury was a real good looker, with her beautifully shaped body, long thick chestnut hair, big round brown eyes and translucent rosy skin. Unchallengeably the loudest of the group, prone to extensive and amusing body language, constantly excited and hurried too, she was never starved for energy so that it caused giddiness just watching her swift un-abating movements. ‘Fury, sit down and calm yourself; you are crossing my eyes’, I would shout, patience running thin, every time she got into one of her frenzied whirls of twists and turns. And she’d abruptly stop moving, draw closer, bow slightly, hands cupping knees, while seriously staring at my eyes, with some funny left and right quick tilts of the head, and, eventually having forced a smile over my annoyed lips, would say, ‘I’d be so happy to get crossed-eyed if that’s how beautiful they look’.

Mtte-llan Liana, ghthar-tta d-ath-ia, we’re almost there Liana, it’s the next turn’, announced my fellow Christian, Sumer, provoking Fury’s anger by talking in Aramaic. Fury, in such odious heat, wouldn’t take long to kindle. She turned to Sumer, eyes squinting, and shouted threateningly, ‘Talk Arabic, fool’. Sumer ignored her, adding more fuel to the fire, by striking back with more Aramaic, ‘Kloe’ w-lakh', piss off you’. Parroting Sumer’s words, Mai and Ban cheered up, though clueless of the meaning, but assuming those words incensing enough to ignite a fight between the two, which they would watch with amusement, taking sides, applauding, whistling and betting. But their hope went disappointed, as things seemingly didn’t steam enough. Sumer gasped when she glanced at the rear view mirror. ‘God, look at her tomato-red face, girls! Are you alright, Lu?’ She asked, worried.
‘Yea, yea, I’m alright,’ I replied sapless. ‘This is the result of being roasted in this bloody oven. I must be insane to go out with you at such hour. Who was the idiot who decided on eleven?’ I asked roaring and mustering the remaining of my played-out strength. The girls giggled and pointed their fingers at Fury. ‘Needless to ask’, I said shaking my head. ‘A suggestion no less stupid than you are’. ‘Yea, like eight or nine, for instance?’ Fury, replied sarcastically, turning to me now. ‘We would have gone most definitely without you, sleeping beauty’. I took off my glasses and looked at her, face flushed and eyes reddened with the heat they had absorbed to the hilt and no less with anger, ‘I would have gone earlier to bed….’

Sighting the security checkpoint we were approaching had me halt in mid sentence. The atmosphere turned outright to one of gravity. Sumer slowed down; the girls hushed each other up, and the stereo was turned off. A guard carrying a rifle rushed towards us. Two other guards stood aside on the alert, while a fourth one sat in some sort of glass compartment. Finally Sumer pulled up. ‘You’re here for the job vacancies, right?’ He asked, and lowered his head looking hard at each one of us. ‘Yes’, Sumer replied apprehensively. ‘Get in,’ he said, and waived to the other guard to lift the car-park barrier arm.

Sumer drove through. The girls shared meaningful glances. Ban curled her lip in a supercilious smile.

To Be Continued......


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Hoodia said...

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You give me strength to carry on " Strange day or what? :-)

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