Work was increasingly becoming the blissful haven and the umbrageous oasis in which we were fed sweet nectar. Conversely, weekends, days off, and holidays were like the desert, barren, arid and desolate. The few hours away from work each day were an excruciating drag, whereas the time at work would just speed by until the loathed but inevitable hour of our daily parting. I could do nothing to avoid the separation inflicted by the hateful weekends, but he would adamantly refuse to take his two days off in the middle of each week. If personal necessity forced him into some time off, then it wouldn’t extend beyond two or three hours, during which he would call several times on various pretexts, and eventually return to work. He thus increased his weekly working days to seven. But then, notwithstanding my sheer certainty about his daily attendance at work, my eyes would apprehensively surf the parking lot each morning on those two days, in search for what signalled his presence, his car. My heart would leap out of my chest upon glimpsing the bluish-white metallic body gracing the park and standing out on account of the numbers on his temporary plate number, which bore a coincidental relationship to one set of a series of numbers associated with his occupational speciality. I had established the custom of going past his car every morning throughout those six months in such a strategically orchestrated manner as to allow me a grateful tender pat. Perhaps, the poor thing, after so many pats, must have become hooked on my arrivals no less than I relied on it being there every day. However, the obsessive attention I gave this darling object never escaped Fury’s cynical eyes, and mocking mouth.
Throughout our entire relationship, I remember him only twice or thrice taking one of his two days off. Five months of this arduous schedule eventually took its toll on him. My sense of guilt was intolerable when I learned about a visit he had made to the doctor one month prior to his final departure. The doctor’s diagnosis was exhaustion and fatigue. Recommendations for instant relief and some time off were thrown to the wind, however. He continued to maintain the same pattern, all the while insisting unreservedly and ceaselessly that I should always remain close to him, even closer than his heart.
Given the differences in our cultural background, his magnanimous respect for the rigorous rules of my culture was remarkable, especially as they posed the strongest obstacles to the expression of his mounting passion and his impetuous nature. His cultural sensitivity notwithstanding, he was not a scrupulous student of the intricacies of custom and tradition. On my part, despite my inexperience and my overwhelming love for him, I had to assume the role of a firm and strict coach. Apart from some occasionally unproductive mutiny or protests, he didn’t do badly as a student. He didn’t mind going overboard, travelling the extra mile happily and wholeheartedly on this excruciating journey so as not to upset me, or scupper our relationship, or, most importantly, jeopardize my safety. I adored him even more for the meticulousness with which he, having left Iraq, organized a cover for our correspondence, so as to avoid the risk of detection and the consequent danger to my safety, during the three-month period in which preparations were being made for our marriage, which, he had arranged, would take place in a neighbouring country.
Having to avoid the explosive landmines strewn on our path, we were forced to keep our relationship hidden at all times and under any and all circumstances. Those taboos were our Bible that we knew by heart, abided by and recognized as beyond discussion. The two-meter rule was imperative to avoid raising fatal suspicions, or giving the slightest hint about our love, particularly when were on our own in the office. Spurred by sudden excitement or by a rush of emotion, he would occasionally break this rule and impulsively reduce the distance. Any physical contact, even the mere thought of it, was forbidden, not only by my culture but also by my intractable Puritanism. First time love is super-sensational, being a “scentless flower”, nevertheless its physical expression was inconceivable to me. That was how I was brought up, and that was what I was taught, and that was what I knew. Romantic love and listening to sweet love talk was the farthest I could stretch my mind; yet this would weigh heavily upon me, pricking my religious and social conscience, besides filling me with self-reproach for compromising the trust of my parents.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the safest time to break the two-meter rule wasn’t when we were alone in the office, but when the offices were swarming with people and our nearness would be camouflaged by the hum and bustle of work. We would grab hold of such opportunities and sit chatting, or we would steal a few heavenly moments in the copying room, with him standing close, pretending to be waiting for his turn, while showering me with the sweetest and most ethereal utterances, for which any woman would give up her life.
His rapturous pleasure at being in love was counterbalanced by the excruciating pain that issued from the tantalizing untouchability of the beloved. The happiest and also the most hapless of men were titles he could have borne with equal justice. Suppressing his passion would at times seem all but impossible, and throwing cultural restraints and political dictates to the wind, his eyes would invite reckless abandonment. Although he’d be watching me unceasingly, quite positive that I belonged to him, most certain he had exhaustively won my emotions and my utmost love, the mere thought of laying one finger on me would be none other than a flight of fancy. I could sense his relatively liberal cultural background ostensibly rearing and rebelling now and then. There were times when, driven by the intensity of his passion, he would become insistent about seeing me outside work. His awareness, however, of my established negative response, besides the risks we would be taking if we ventured down such an insane path, drove the male in him despairingly crazy. Eventually, it was I who would be the recipient of those blows of painful fits of passion. He’d take it out on me, either by going rude and aggressive, or by keeping away for a while, or by becoming uncharacteristically reticent. Most harrowing of all were those times when he’d show up extremely downcast and shrouded with melancholy. And if, driven by my concern, I were to inquire the cause, he’d just stare at me, silent, for a few moments, then draw closer and whisper with such torturing sarcasm, ‘I’m in love… do you know what the heck that means?’ Then again, when the pressure of work increased, he’d leave his office and hurry thirstily to me, his eyes imploring me, hankering for the relief of a few words that I would, usually, not have, ‘Please Liana, let’s get out of this bloody place; let’s go out somewhere, somewhere green, just you and I, please’. Those moments were my absolute crucifixion. I would just stare at him, silent as a mummy, and no less helpless and powerless than he was. Abiding by those rigorous rules was progressively becoming an unendurable torture for him, but he was also no less adamant that he would get the better of them. On looking back, I realize how naïve and stupid and cowardly I have been. I have lived all these years in torture for the agony that I’d inflicted on him and upon myself by heeding some silly tradition and fearing some bloody minders and their informants. Little did I realize then that we live only once: would it not have been better after all to have lived a happy life? But then, what could a naïve and ridiculously innocent girl have done, or even given, when she had always been strenuously regimented and instructed against the ways of men and of her emotions?
Talking was all that we could afford; even that would seem at times all but an impossible mission. We were never able to indulge our emotions or share them like any other couple in a relatively liberal environment. Our love was always apprehensive for its life, scared of being caught and mutilated, always tired, in hiding, deprived and starving. We were always short of time, always in a hurry, stealing a few moments here, and a few moments there.
Everything around us was cruel, mean and alienating. We’d often cut short an intimate love talk that he could’ve started only instants before, once we sensed someone approaching the offices, or if we got a warning signal or a phone call from our trusted surveillance tower, Fury. Everything around us was mercilessly strangling and crushing the love toddler that was blossoming preciously between us. But we both knew it was there, and we both treasured and embraced it, loving and caring for it. Despite all that excruciating and unbearable agony, he never dropped or fell by the wayside or lost hope, but confidently steered our love-boat with his experience and resourcefulness, tenaciously bent on setting us ashore. And once those fits of pain and powerlessness faded out, he’d get back to his usual pattern, finding the time, contriving the means, so that we savoured a few moments of celestial intimacy.
Our eyes stood loyally in for our mouths, discreetly conveying what the blue rules would not permit us to do of our feelings and emotions at times of happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, or else. Whilst most bashful and reserved were mine, most daring and explicit were his. Our minds and thoughts were getting incredibly bonded too. There were times when we’d be attending a meeting, or be in an informal gathering with others while at work, and a certain hint that just happened to touch upon our feelings or desires, or a shared interest, would be enough for each of us to glance at the other. The moment I’d turn my eyes to him, I’d be astonished to find his starry eyes impatiently waiting for mine, immensely thrilled by such intimate and spontaneous sharing of thoughts.
As much as he disliked my emotional obstinacy, he also adored it. Once I had this apprehension that our relationship had been discovered by one of his closest friends. Notwithstanding my utter certitude about his circumspection, I wanted to be assured that our intimacy had not been chanced upon. Running into him fortuitously down the hallway, I asked, ‘Does Bill know?’ He replied with a question, acting provocatively naïve, ‘About what?’
‘You know,’ I replied coyly.
‘I know what?’ he asked calmly, eyes glowing with excitement, eliciting, and forcing me to unveil my bashful emotions.
‘About us’, I replied softly, with a nervous hand gesture, pointing to him and me. I sensed the soaring heat engulfing my head.
‘What’s there about us to tell?’ he asked, sustaining a soft, tender, gentle, step-by-step interrogation, pushing me to say it, his eyes sparkling and focused.
Running out of words, running out of the means, powerless with such doggedness, I stood silent.
‘Lu, sweetheart…what…is…there…about…us…to…tell?’ he repeated the question tenderly, emphasizing each word, slowly, softly, his eyes ardent with passion. It was evident he was losing fortitude, losing self-control, which had me retreat a few steps backwards. The usual bloody glacial exterior overmastered me, and I stood impotently looking at him, chucking up the sponge once more, giving up playing such a fruitless game. I had to give up; he was way too experienced, and sophisticated for my greenness to cope with. I guess I sounded more like a naïve creature from a previous century.
‘Nothing, forget that I asked’, I replied, and walked away, glowing red in the inside, as well as on the outside.
‘One of these days, Liana… one of these days, sweetheart’, he said turning to me. A few steps, and then I turned too, louring and angry, or feigning anger rather. His eyes were warm and most loving. He was smiling, but still, and as ever, pledging patience and perseverance. My trust in his prudence was re-affirmed a couple of hours later. ‘Bill knows nothing’, he reassured me with the most loveable smile.
To Be Continued.......