He stepped inside the office, and started shaking hands with whoever was there. He began with Al, who was the nearest; next came Larry, Jimmy, then the three Iraqi engineers. My throbbing heart struggled to get out of its cage on winged feet; a crazy shiver rushed through my whole body. I sat feigning business with my papers, and glancing occasionally at him. God, how I longed for his arms; how I wished I could cry on his broad chest and tell how mean Dina had been; to tell him how cruel he had been, leaving me alone, in such unbearable anguish; how callous was the world to me in his absence; and how ugly, lifeless and sterile the office seemed without him around.
Having done shaking hands with the Iraqis, he turned to Gerhard who stood up to greet him. They shook hands. I sat, head down, eyes abstractedly fixed on my papers, waiting and wondering how it would be: just ‘Hi Liana’, or would he shake hands with me too? ‘No please, don’t, not in front of all these eyes’, I thought to myself. ‘Those seven days have worn out all my resistance, and I can’t bear the touch of your hand’. Having done with Gerhard, it was my turn next. I lifted my head, but, ‘WHAT?’ He just went past me. He didn’t even bother to cast the merest glance in my direction, as if I wasn’t there, as if I never existed. He moved on to Jack, and shook hands with him.
I sensed a huge powerful wave engulfing me, and dragging me savagely down to a deep cryptic ocean. I froze. My eyes stared fixedly at my papers. My mind was paralysed; my heart beat violently. ‘No, please, not again, I have had enough in these past seven bloody days; more than I can take, and I don’t need you, on top of all that, to finish me up’.
‘Hey Liana…?’ Gerhard’s voice brought me back from my sore labyrinth. He must have called my name more than once. I raised my head, and looked at him. He was smiling. I could see his lips were in motion, talking to me, but his voice was breaking up, so remote and obscure it seemed that I could not hear or comprehend him. It pretty much sounded like the voice of a robot, alternately near and distant. I finally managed to reply, which seemed an impossible effort. ‘Yes’, and I smiled my ‘abstracted’ awareness to him, with extreme exertion.
The always hyperactive, impulsive and hasty-natured Gerhard, too busy with his papers to take notice of the drama, carried on talking, but I remained at sea, baffled and drowned in shock and incredulity. I felt all the blood rushing to my head, and my ears seemed to be blocked. I could not concentrate at all. Gerhard’s voice seemed to chop itself off and fade into the distance. The only sound I could hear clearly was the throbbing of my heart and the vehement pulsing of my temples. Weakness swept over me, and I sensed myself nearing the brink of collapse. Fearing the worst, I excused myself for a cup of water. He was sitting near the door, talking to Jack, entirely oblivious of me. I left the office, appearing to brush him off, too. I looked towards Fury; she shook her head in perplexity; her eyes seemed filled with questions for which I had no answers.
The coffee-maker seemed all but unreachable for my debilitated and devastated spirit. I grabbed a cup and shuffled along with great difficulty to the water-cooler. I stood there oblivious to the world. I pressed the small lever of the water-cooler faucet and stood, breathlessly, watching the thin flow of water coursing down into my cup. I was shocked, lost, and overwhelmed by the sense of humiliation. I filled the cup once and poured it out, refilled it and poured it out again, and again, and again. I stood there resisting an extreme urge to cry, to scream, and to run out of that revolting place. ‘I can’t take it any more; that’s it, I’m out of here’, I resolved indignantly, nursing my bruised ego. ‘I’ll go back to the office, grab my purse and leave instantly, while he is still there’. But then I reconsidered, ‘How and what would I tell Gerhard or Jack? What would they think of me? What would they say of me? They probably have noticed things, more than “probably”; they would most definitely figure out the cause of my untoward behaviour; it would just finish what’s left of my self-esteem and dignity’.
My mind was settled, having now emptied numerous cups of water abstractedly. I would while away the rest of my day, leave, and never look back. ‘Dad told me I could quit. I am still on probation, and I can leave if I want to’.
I stood there, white and fuming with indignation, engrossed in my pain and humiliation, and cursing him vehemently. I cursed the moment I saw him, and cursed my life, my whole life. I cursed Iraq and cursed America. I cursed my bad fortune that brought me down there, and I cursed the bad fortune that brought him into my life.
In those few moments I hated him intensely; I hated him as much as Dina hated him, and even more. I hated him for all that pain, for all that anguish, and for those seven long days of torment. I hated him for the worries and concerns he had inflicted, and for Dina’s ruthless and merciless torture, torture that was beyond what my young age could take then. I regretted all those hot burning tears that I had shed for him. I regretted all the agonizing patience and endurance. I was known for being a rashly impatient and spoiled girl, but those seven days taught me forbearance like nothing else had. I struggled to hold back tears of chagrin. It was my self-esteem, which he tampered with, and for the second time in one week. I just couldn’t stand the look of his face. ‘First I was less than a dog, not even a friend, then ignoring me as if I did not exist, as if I wasn’t even there, and that in front of every body’. He had stepped into the red zone, and he stood no chance of love or forgiveness.
I stood facing the huge window that was adjacent to the water cooler for a few moments, picking up the shards of my emotions and my dignity. I moistened my dry mouth with a few sips of water, and shambled down the hallway to my usual ‘asylum’, the toilets.
Fury followed me. I was furious with indignation. Before she opened her mouth I steamed, wreaking my wrath on her. The notorious Iraqi hot temper manifested itself most ferociously. ‘Not one word Fury, not one single word’, I hollered, threatening, with my raised open palm.
‘OK, OK, darling, calm down, please calm down’, and she just beetled off.
I scuffled to the window and flung it wide open. Summer was giving way to autumn, which had already brought with it cooler winds. I stood there inattentive to the world and oblivious to the fact that Gerhard would be wondering what had detained me. I inhaled strongly and exhaled, trying to let out some of my fuming rage. Having cooled off a bit, I swallowed a considerable amount of my wounded pride and returned to the office, shattered but assuming strength and posture. He was still there, talking to Jack. I turned my chair so that it was at an angle facing Gerhard more squarely. I buried my eyes deeply into the charts. A few moments later, he was gone.
Gerhard and I continued working together for over an hour. Then I carried on single-handedly, but counting the excruciatingly dragging moments of a seemingly interminable day, and fighting back tears over the debasement I had suffered and over my wilful lack of care and attention. He had slaughtered me with a blunt knife.
Around ten, I was done with the charts. The office quieted as a cemetery, with only Tom left in his office, and he too abandoned his post around ten-thirty for a meeting at the headquarters. Fury bounded in, ‘Take it easy, Liana, please, and don’t jump to crazy conclusions’.
‘Fury, one more word and I’d leave this place and never come back’, I bawled. ‘I swear, I’ll never come back, you hear?’
‘OK Lu, OK, OK; just calm down, calm down dear, please’. Taken aback, she trotted out, and returned to base. I pulled open the top drawer, tossed in some papers that I grabbed from my desk, and closed it angrily with a bang. I leaned back in my chair, shivering and phrenetic.
The phone rang; it was for Tom. I took a message and hung up. I was shaking still, in delirium, sadness weighing heavily. I inhaled deeply, and sat elbows braced to the desk, hands cupping both my eyes, summoning, momentarily, my strength, my mind settled on leaving that place once and for all.
Anguish, sorrow, and humiliation further spiralled, so did my love. Yes, and more than ever. God, how I longed to hate him, how I wished I could just turn my heart into a stone and crush it into pieces and throw it into the nearest waste bin, and lead my life away from him and from his endless torture. But I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. The more I tried hating him, the more those crazy emotions were fixated on love for him.
Moments dragged on. I don’t know how much time had elapsed when I suddenly perceived love tinkling in the air, again.
My heart jumped to my throat. Raging and sad as I was, I thought I was imagining, or hoping rather, that it’d be him. I remained motionless, my hands still covering my eyes.
To Be Continued.......