Often I wondered whether it was my innocence and inexperience that had further intensified his passion for me. Or was it, perhaps, my brittle emotions and handy tears that appealed to his virility. Or could it have been all these together that made him see in me a dissimilar type of woman, one he hadn’t possibly met before? Whatever the truth of the matter, it was becoming more and more obvious that he delighted in demonstrating his overwhelming love as much as he had taken joy in its enkindling.
On our last afternoon together, prior to his final departure, he asked me if marriage to an American would jeopardise my safety on future visits to my country. I affirmed this to be a possibility. Well, just the mere thought of marrying someone from the enemy’s camp would have been sufficient to bring upon me the charge of high treason, and render me vulnerable to the grievous consequences following upon that. I would not be spared by those Baathists and informants from their ubiquitously intrusive and often fabricated reports, since by such omission they would lay themselves open to life-threatening outcomes. Hence, it would have been an unquestioned eventuality that I would be targeted by the tails of the regime, thus making any future visit to my home country extremely dangerous. Hearing my reply had him immersed in deep thought for a few moments, after which he declared in a firm tone, ‘I would not allow you then to visit Iraq before you obtain an American passport’. I was filled with exhilaration, perceiving how much he savoured the utterance of those few words. He seemed to be enjoying utterly this manifestation of his manly responsibility of providing love, care and protection. Although he was still incredulous at the thought of our marriage actually taking place, with those words he showed that he was enraptured by the prospect of it. However, when I asked him how long it would take to acquire an American passport, he averted his eyes away from me as he tapped the floor with his feet. ‘Two years’, he murmured. I wasn’t unfamiliar with such body language, to which he would tend whenever he sought to sequester certain things away from me. My question, nevertheless, was deliberate. Since the early 50s when Iraqi Christians had begun emigrating in noticeable numbers to the western world, just about every Iraqi Christian family had a relative living abroad, many of them in the States. Being a Christian myself, I would naturally know it would usually take about five years to get an American passport. Fury wasn’t impressed; she dubbed his answer a lie. I, however, refrained from condemning his equivocation, as I saw it as the proof of his love although the means he employed to that end were questionable. In spite of his utter certainty of my uncompromising love for him, I guess he thought that five years would be far too long a separation for someone as devotedly attached to her family as I was. His dragons of worries never abated but seemed contumaciously rearing their heads, consuming him, and impacting upon his peace of mind. Most of his concerns stemmed from moments of weaknesses and fluctuations induced by my young age, besides his anticipation of the agony that I was bound to endure when the time would come for me to leave behind my most loving parents, my brothers, my people, my country and the happy life that I had lived till then.
My feminine trust in him further intensified upon hearing the thrilling news of his dumping Fattin from the same previous source. I knew already that I could trust him; with every passing day he proved himself enormously worthy of trust. The BMS group held out Fattin as a contemptuous example, a good moral lesson for being reckless and fast. Our love needed extraordinary trust in order to withstand the rough sea of complications that we were bound to embark upon imminently, on acquiring the mandatory parental consent and advancing henceforth to the next phase, our marriage. However, just when things seemed sailing smoothly, the foundation of our love underwent a serious test that left its dark shadows over our relationship for a while.
Early one morning, following Martin’s first visit of the day, I encountered an unpleasant situation with one of the advisors who was notorious for his rudeness and quick temper. It was my first difficulty since I started work, and it sort of muddied my mood. Martin instantaneously detected the change upon his second visit. He sat on Jack’s chair seeking to figure out what had caused such an abrupt shift in mood in the space of an hour. I was on the verge of tears, and didn’t want to breathe a word about what troubled me so as to avoid further complications. He tried futilely cheering me up for over ten minutes. Eventually he left perplexedly upon Jack’s arrival. An hour into the gloominess, Gerhard, who bore witness to the boorishness of the advisor, and whom he severely rebuked when I left for the day, as I came to realize later, tried cheering me up by narrating a hilarious incident about one of our co-workers, who was infamous for his clumsiness. Apart from being single, and having never been married, Gerhard was also the youngest and the handsomest of my group. I couldn’t but laugh wholeheartedly when he related how this worker had fallen into a huge sewerage hole, while walking downtown one evening with another worker who had been striding ahead, totally oblivious to the dilemma that his mate was enduring a few meters behind. The Baghdad municipality was notorious for its half-finished public works. Such holes were often left uncovered, an unintended trap for unwary pedestrians. Sometimes the accidents were so nasty that some of the entrapped had to be hospitalised. Masters in the region for their outstanding professionalism, Iraqi cartoonists took action launching a sardonically stinging campaign against such neglect of duty. The cartoons were so popular that they would be the first thing that readers of Iraqi magazines and newspapers would look for. At the culmination of the mirthful exchange that Gerhard had provoked, Martin entered. He shot me a meaning look fraught with surprise at the unexpected fluctuation of mood. A look of instant displeasure pervaded his face. It suggested a strong sense of possessiveness and a bruised ego, both of which had to be placated by his penalizing my ego, simply for permitting Gerhard to succeed where he had failed. He walked straight to the copier. I grabbed a few papers and followed him some moments later, and stood next to him. He appeared absorbed in the task of copying, intentionally excluding me from his attention. He had a cigarette between his lips, while his eyes squinted avoiding the smoke. We’d had a few arguments over his smoking, and I was trying to help him quit. I stood silent, smiling and looking at him. His hands betrayed him, revealing how nettled he was. I, then, leaned slightly to his side and whispered coyly, ‘Hey, smoking is bad for your health’.
‘Enough with your counselling, you’re not my wife, you’re not my mother’.
‘How about a friend then?’ I carried on coquettishly.
‘If I need a friend, I’ll buy a dog’.
I just couldn’t believe my ears. I stood in stunned silence, flabbergasted, stupefied, paralysed in brain and body. The most harrowing aspect of it was that he carried on with his copying as if nothing had happened, continuing to ignore me in the most humiliating manner. After a few moments that seemed everlasting, I summoned up my bruised pride and dashed out of the room, straight to the toilets. My stomach was turning; my whole body was shivering. Seeing me bolting out like that, Fury sensed something bad had occurred; she followed me. Certainly, it was one of them days, first the rude advisor and now the dearest. I broke into tears the moment I saw Fury entering the toilets. She hugged me, calming and comforting me.
‘What did the choice of the heart do?’ She asked laughing.
I sobbed out the details, ‘It’s jealousy Liana’, she said soothingly. 'This means he truly loves you; stop crying; you should be the happiest woman for that. Besides it can’t be all love—love today, jealousy tomorrow, fits of anger and a few fights at other times; these are called the spices of love, honey’.
Fury made every effort to moderate the drama before someone entered the toilets and spotted me crying like that, which would have rendered me the talk of the week, or weeks rather. In her attempt to cheer me up, she related the tale of a relative who had been badly beaten up by her jealous husband. ‘But he’s American, Lu; this is perhaps how they beat their women, with words, not slaps. Frankly speaking I wouldn’t mind being beaten this way myself; it seems more civilized’.
The funny manner in which she uttered those words had me cracking up with laughter. I was crying and laughing at the same time. She calmed me down and suggested I wash my face, wear fresh make-up and hide from him and from the others the red marks that crying had left on my face. She rushed back to my office to fetch my purse. When she returned there, she reported him sitting in Tom’s office, evidently waiting for my return. Seeing her grabbing the purse, and familiar as he was with my proneness to tears, he must have realized the effect of his cruelty. She described him shooting her a meaning gaze, ostensibly hoping for some sign that the situation had alleviated, but her face was lacking in largesse. Fifteen minutes into the drama, I returned to the office, my fresh make-up camouflaging the swollen eyelids and the red nose. I sat behind my desk utterly ignoring him. He must have realized the red zone he had stepped into, and that he had no chance whatsoever of talking to me that day. A few moments later he was gone.
He just vanished for the rest of the day, and for the following day, and the day after. I went nuts. Those three days were hell. All I could do was pray and wait in hope that he’d somehow show up, speak about the event, punish me, even hit me, do whatever it took to sort it out. But, he seemed to retreat to his old torturing style. I was positive the situation wasn’t any less hard on him than it was on me. I was filled with mercilessly excruciating thoughts and feelings. Wave after wave of terrifying jealousy brutally assailed me. Fattin seemed to flash back again. My distressed imagination would often project her rising while I was submerging. ‘Perhaps he has taken an angry, irrational, hasty decision to end the whole thing.’ Then I ruled it out, ‘He can’t just forget about it easily like that; if he can, then it’s not love, not real love, and I would forget about him too’. But I knew I couldn’t, so he wouldn’t either.
Gloom pervaded my face during those three days. My parents were worried sick. Mum was relentlessly and anxiously probing; when she gave up, she handed me over to Dina. We were close and shared lots of secrets. Mum hoped I would unfold to Dina what ailed me. I remained obstinate, however, with both of them, ‘I’m only tired, some problems with some colleagues’, I said briefly. On hearing that, dad suggested pulling up stakes, ‘You’re almost at the end of your probation; if that’s how it is, then quit now’. The rigorous regulations that were issued during the dictator’s regime prohibited anyone from quitting once they had passed the probationary period of three months. However, I assured my parents that it wasn’t anything serious that I wasn’t capable of dealing with, and that things would return to normal in no time.
On the fourth day, around nine, just when the office was jam-packed he turned up. Unable, naturally, to engage in anything more than the normal exchange of greetings, he confined himself to talking to Tom. Fury described him later as glancing often to my side. I totally avoided looking at him. I was truly thrilled at seeing him, but was also sad and hurt. He left after fifteen minutes, and returned an hour later. Jack and I were busy working together. He said a few words to Tom and I saw him taking off hastily again. Another hour and he was back again while I was on my own. He strolled into the office, and stood a small distance away, seemingly waiting for a sign or a gesture that would assist his overture. I kept to my work, head down, my tears held in strict check.
‘How much longer is this gonna take?’ he asked in a gentle tone.
I raised my head. He smiled, but his face was overshadowed with pain. I slightly tilted my head, my eyes questioning.
‘Not talking to me’, he carried on softly.
‘And why should I?’
He sustained an uncomfortable silence, his eyes sad but, as ever, abounding with love.
‘People talk to each other as relatives or friends’, I replied calmly. ‘I’m not your wife; I’m not your mother, and if you need a friend, you’ll buy a dog, so why would you need me to talk to you?’
‘Sorry, Lu … I’m terribly sorry, honey,… I was in a bad mood… and lost my bloody temper’.
I just couldn’t say anything more. Those few warm, affectionate words said it all, and were more than what I had wished for. They instantaneously washed away all the mortification and indignation. My heart unconditionally forgot and forgave. It was, however, way too early to show leniency, I thought. ‘This lesson he must never ever forget so as not to repeat the hurt he had inflicted’, I said to myself as I maintained my silence.
‘I’m leaving tomorrow morning, and I don’t want to leave while you’re still mad at me’.
My heart throbbed, and my adrenaline rushed. ‘Leave? Where to?’ I asked anxiously.
‘Greece, for one week, I’ll be back next Thursday’, he replied, seemingly relieved by my transparent anxiety.
A few bewildered moments and I broke the fraught silence, asking sadly, ‘Am I the last to know this?’
‘It wasn’t planned. I arranged it just a couple of days ago’.
Shock, anger, love and sadness were tossing me back and forth. Strangely enough, my ever handy tears delinquently held themselves in abeyance; my source of relief, my means of discharging my agony and pain had just vanished and were no longer as handy, just when I needed them most.
I stared at him powerless, ‘Are you punishing me, Martin?’
He smiled a meaning, loving smile. It was the first time I had bared my feelings in such an unwonted manner. And it was the first time that I had addressed him by his first name. Maintaining appropriate formality in front of others, and shunning unnecessary suspicion, I always addressed him by his surname preceded by the appropriate honorific, though more than once, and in the presence of other advisors, he’d say, ‘Martin, the name is Martin’. But it took me a while before I got used to saying it.
‘I need some time off. What happened was awful, and shouldn’t have happened, with you, or to you’, he replied, his eyes stifling enormous sadness.
Head down, I was engrossed in thought, ‘Trip? Overseas? Tomorrow? Seven days? And telling me just now? How could he be so cruel?’
‘Liana’, he called my name, bringing me back from my painful labyrinth.
‘What time are you leaving tomorrow?’ I asked, getting up.
I was puzzled, a thousand questions thronging my mind. His unwillingness to answer any was not lost on me.
‘I must leave now. I’ve got a few things to take care of’.
I stood silent, staring blankly at him. Words had vanished. There was nothing in reality that I could say.
‘God, how I wish I could hug you, and kiss you’, he murmured softly.
He wished, but the munificence of my culture wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination go beyond a handshake, just like any formal collegial farewell. With eyes riveted on me, he moved closer, and stretched his hand; tentatively, I stretched mine. My whole body shuddered the moment our hands met. It was the first time ever that any part of our bodies touched intimately and closely, with intent. His hand was warm; mine was freezing. I sensed all the blood fleeing away from my fingers. He took my hand, and tenderly covered it with his other hand. His thumbs gently rubbed the palm and the back of my hand. My hand trembled like a small bird, but it was enjoying immensely the warmth and the shelter of his love. I tried pulling it away, but he wouldn’t let me. He held it even tighter.
‘Martin… please’, I pleaded softly, my eyes apprehensively wandering around.
His grip weakened; he returned my hand, and he dashed out.
To Be Continued.......