A reticent and devastating sadness enveloped me upon hearing all that hierarchy of taboos and inviolable rules; my eyes swam in tears again. My helplessness and powerlessness, however, didn’t escape Dina’s eyes. She must have realized the enormity of my attachment to him, and I guess she felt for me. She hugged me, soothing and assuring me of her hand of help, but only if I submitted to her guidance and followed her instructions. Otherwise, she warned that she would fork it all over onto my parents’ hands. She also demanded that I arrange for her to see him without his knowledge, and she came up with a plan. Dina left nothing to happenstances. Her extremely scrupulous and meticulous nature overrode by far her emotionality especially in issues like this. Being in love, after all, was a delicately sensitive issue that embroiled honour and reputation, matters of priceless value in the life of any Iraqi, requiring consummate attentiveness to ensure that nothing had gone, or would go, wrong.
Her ploy was to keep me away from the eyes of my parents for the entire week of his absence. She deemed this necessary in order to avoid evoking my parents’ suspicions through my unmanageable fits of emotions and tears, which could have led to unpleasant altercations, particularly at a time when she wasn't herself incapable yet of handling the situation. Her scrupulousness manifested itself by digging deeper, in order to ascertain how intimately things had advanced between him and me. Though I had narrated innocently the entire saga from A to Z, her tenacious perseverance kept angling for hidden bits and pieces that I might have omitted or kept intentionally away from her. She trusted me implicitly, and her ingrained conviction was that I was far more of a puritan than she was, but her moral responsibility was holding the rudder now, fully aware that this was my first love experience. Her fears stemmed from thoughts of my succumbing to rash and reckless behaviour as a result of my young age and artlessness. And the realization that the darling was an American, one of those amply schooled in the affairs of the heart, gave her no sense of reassurance. Recklessness for Dina could amount to something as slight as a hand touch, which she would denounce as an unforgivable sin. I guess I took very much after her in this respect.
Throughout those seven days, he was my number one topic from the time I arrived from work until I put my head on the pillow. I talked about him unabatedly. He was my enthralling and riveting production for the entire week, enough to make poor Dina miss several of her favourite TV shows. Once in bed, I would doze off while replaying in my mind all his wonderful love talk, not to speak of his daring comments which had delighted my ears. Dina, however, would be listening attentively to every word, her eyes patently scrutinizing my body language and the features of my face. And her questions would scud when I’d be engaged enthusiastically talking about him, hoping that the eagerness of my tongue outweighed the discretion of my mind. She would often phrase the same question another way, once and twice and thrice. Protests or objections were not for me; on the contrary, I submitted obediently. Entrusting her with my big secret implicitly proclaimed her as my guardian, particularly in the absence of the wisdom and protection of my oblivious parents.
However, staying at her place for a whole week wasn’t an easy matter; she had to try and persuade my mum to agree to the arrangement. Both my parents hated those periodic stays at Dina’s. ‘No, Dina, not again, please’, mum would object strictly every time Dina called asking for an extension of a visit. ‘The house seems lifeless when she is not around’, mum would say, justifying her reluctance. A stay of one week seemed an extremely unattainable prospect, but we cunningly worked out a plan. Dina called mum claiming one of her chronic attacks of backache, and requesting my assistance around the house for a few days. Mum was adamant at first in withholding her consent, and suggested other alternatives. Dina insisted, and mum eventually surrendered.
Staying at Dina’s helped me somehow cope with his absence on the first three days. But it was altogether different at work, which turned out to be a real nightmare. I just couldn’t stand the place without him around. There were times when I’d be so immersed in thoughts of him that I would forget the thousands of miles that stretched between us. I would peer at my watch wondering what had kept him away. On realizing the bitter reality, I’d just sink further into helplessness, torturing sorrow and anguish. I prayed that time would not only pass quickly, but run at its fastest. I didn’t realize myself the depth of my attachment to him until those few hideous days. He left, taking my soul, my heart and my mind with him.
Fury, on her side, made it her job to uplift my downhearted spirit. She sought to jolly me up through her uproarious jokes, but things weren’t at all that simple.
My parents were not too pleased about my absence from home; mum called on the second day. She inquired if Dina had improved enough for me to return home. Hearing that there was not much hope of a change, mum and dad were eventually forced into the only available alternative, and that was to come and visit. They visited every second day during those seven days. On every visit, insistent attempts to take me back home would be aborted by Dina’s resourcefulness.
During those few days, however, Dina left no stone unturned, unearthing and hunting down every tiny detail about Martin and about the relationship, hoping for some gaps through which she could slip stealthily and steer things adversely prior to his return. Dina was never to become fond of Martin. She was well into the conviction that he was a wrong choice and that our love was doomed to a harvest of anguish and agony. The elaborate volley of questions that she asked during those few days sought to cover more than the entire time that we, he and I, had spent together. ‘How does he look like? What is he doing in Iraq? His likes, his dislikes? Is he short tempered or patient, or is he, at all, the jealous type? Does he drink or smoke? Does he have any children?’ All sorts of questions for which, in the majority of cases, I couldn’t provide an apt feedback. She was, however, incessantly asking, and I was obliviously and gratefully answering. Under the circumstances, no other delight and joy would have been equal to that of answering those questions, for I was talking about him, about my Martin. Was there any chance that I’d ever get tired or bored?
With each passing day, nonetheless, Dina was becoming despairingly certain that my love for him wasn’t a transient caprice, or a flare-up of my youth and stupefied greenness. It was obvious, nevertheless, that I was growing uncharacteristically stubborn and visibly recalcitrant, and she hated him for that. With every passing day she hated him even more, for taking me from the life I had.
Towards the second half of the week, I perceived her shifting her techniques, trying a different method, turning me against him and against his love. She began skilfully utilizing the most powerful weapons: my emotions, my brittle nature, my enormous love for my family, my parents and my brothers, which was my Achilles' heel, as well as my strong bond with her, and my extreme love for my country, my people, and my life—a whole and happy life that I was bound to leave behind for the sake of a man whom I hadn’t even known three months previously. She was wrestling time viciously. His absence made him vulnerable, less influential. Out of sight, out of heart, or so she thought.
‘Why him, Liana? Why go the hard way? You could be the happiest girl, marrying an Iraqi and living here, surrounded by your family, your relatives, the people who love you most, in your own country. Why this bloody American?’ She said, quelling evident pain and holding back furious tears. She was my older sister that my mother didn’t give birth to. We were soul mates. We grew up together, shared similar wishes, similar dreams and similar hopes. She loved me as a niece and as a sister, and I adored her as a sister and as an auntie.
‘Because he’s different, auntie’, I replied firmly every time she brought it up. I was so sad for her conspicuously overwhelming sadness. ‘He’s just different, not for being American; several Americans, Britons, German and even French work with me, but he’s just different. He loves me crazily; he understands me perfectly. I don’t have to ask or explain or say much. It doesn’t take more than just one look into my eyes for him to realize my likes and dislikes. Besides, he’s the choice of my heart, please Dina try to….’
‘Men are the same just about everywhere’, she interrupted. ‘He seems different just because you love him’.
‘But it’s not only that’, I replied chafed. ‘It’s, it’s so many things, so many things that I don’t even know where to start; it’s his inconceivable determination to win my love from the first moment he laid eyes on me; it’s this defiance to get to me despite all the hindrances and all the differences; his wonderful respect for my traditions and culture; his patience in handling my bashfulness and inexperience, his most affectionate loving and tender nature’.
‘But would all that be worth it, Liana’, she interrupted again, ‘waking up someday from this ecstasy of emotions in a different country, to a hard agonizing reality, way too far from the love and warmth of your people, and all those with whom you shared your life, both in sadness and happiness? Is it worthwhile depriving your most loving parents of the thrill of seeing your children around? Watching them growing year after year? Is it worth it not being around when your parents need you most, in sickness, God forbid, or in their old age? Why Lu, what had this American done to you to make you turn your back to all those you love most?’
Sensing sadness spreading its wings all over my face, she knew she was on the right track. She sustained her emotional warfare, ‘It’s love now, Lu; you’re still young, and this is your first experience with love, and you’re overwhelmed with emotions and carried away with passion, but your pain will be intolerable, when you realize one day how much you’d lost and sacrificed for this love’.
She tried to dissuade me, employing every possible means; the third part of her plan was becoming clearer. She redirected the very same emotions he’d overwhelmingly won, against him and against his love. She wagered on my young age, my brittle emotions, and the unstable attachments of youth, which are branded often as superficial and prone to fluctuation. Her high hopes were that it was none other than a transient caprice that would diminish with time; she laid all her eggs on the one basket of youthful immaturity. ‘She’s young and she’ll forget; time is the best healer’. How little did she know then? But Dina was hitting below the belt, where it hurt most, ‘God, Martin, do you realize now how much I love you?’
Watching the forerunner of tears that threatened to course profusely down, she knew she’d hit the right spot, and believed a quick triumph over his spell was coming in sight. She was challenging him, and wagering still on my young age to uproot and get rid of all that he’d sowed.
‘Then there is religion’, she struck excruciatingly. ‘Have you thought of what people would say when they learn about this civil marriage? Have you thought of your parent’s social shame and embarrassment? You have always been an extremely devoted Christian, and have come from a richly religious background. To throw all this behind you and live with a man in sin!’
She bombarded me unmercifully, until I could no longer stomach it. I burst into tears on the fourth night.
‘Please auntie, stop it, stop it please, you’re killing me. It was only the pain of his distance that brought me here; now it’s him, you and all. Please Dina, I beg you, have mercy on me’.
Pain assailed me. I leapt in desperate ire from the bed to the wardrobe, and grabbed my clothes intending to return home, discouraged, helpless and devastated. I leaned against the wardrobe, sobbing, ‘Why does everything seem to turn against me? Why all this pain suddenly attacking me from everywhere? I was the happiest person until a few days ago. Now everything seems to be turning upside down’.
Sensing the anguish she had caused, she let up for a short while, leaving the rest, as it turned out, for another round. She hugged and calmed me down, and apologized. Had she stopped the ebb and flow of her onslaughts for the remaining three days? NO, she persisted indefatigably, brain-washing me, trying to ensure that things would look extremely bleak and doomed to failure on his return.
To Be Continued.......