The moment he stepped out, the panic of losing him instantaneously kicked in, honing its rusty edges and showing its ugly teeth. And I sat numb, baffled, mystified, and on the verge of tears. Fury bounded into my office in a trice, her face apprehensive yet eager for details. Seeing him leaving with anger clouding his face, she must have realized that I had messed things up badly with him. She went nuts when I related the coldness with which I had responded to his proposal. She shot me a furious glance, making no secret of her desire for a logical explanation for such outlandish behaviour.
‘You’re weird, Liana, really weird. How could you do this to him?’ She asked, unable to stifle her evident astonishment. ‘What was it about then that week of mourning? He proposed to you, idiot!’
Fury’s words added more fire to my sense of confusion and puzzlement; sadness too weighed heavily on me, plunging me further into agonizing silence. My eyes remained fixated in a sad and helpless gaze at a point on my skirt. Fury, however, wouldn’t spare me her racking berating. ‘This is the man you love proposing to you, telling you he loves you enough to choose you for his wife. What more, for God’s sake, do you want? Are you out of your mind, Lu?’ She put her hand on my forehead feeling for my temperature, ‘Are you sick or something?’
My pensive silence continued, coming heavily between us, and it seemed to ignite her restless curiosity. She erupted, ‘Don’t you start this foolish silence with me too, Liana, or I swear to God I’ll hit you with ‘this’ to bring those misplaced senses back to your stupid head’. The notorious fiery Kurdish temper fumed warningly as she stood facing me, and holding in her hand a stapler that she had grabbed angrily from my desk.
I could hardly manage a sad and powerless reply, ‘Because I’m scared’.
‘Of what, idiot?’
‘Of him, I’m scared of him’.
‘Are you out of your mind?’ She asked, shaking her head disbelievingly. ‘This is the man you love, telling you how much he loves you, proposing to you. Why would you be scared of him, weirdo?’
‘You wouldn’t understand’, I replied.
‘At this moment I admit I’m the most dull, thick-headed person on the face of this planet’, she replied sarcastically, ‘but try me’.
‘I love him more than anything else, Fury’, I said, trying to reveal the secret behind my enigmatic attitude. ‘I can’t imagine my life one moment without him. Those few days of his absence were just a small example of the hell that I would be enduring without him in my life, but marriage? Now? It made my whole body stiffen with fear upon hearing his proposal’.
‘La Ilaha Ila-Allah, May God give me enough patience’, she exclaimed perplexed. ‘What’re you talking about?’
‘I never doubted for one moment that his proposal was coming, but I never expected to be so overwhelmed with fear on being faced with it’. I explained to Fury that it was the male who brought on my fears, and not the lover. The lover I knew perfectly and trusted unquestionably. Love was the lesson I had relished learning from his hands. He was the first man who had ever reached out to me enough to stir my bashful emotions. He was the first man ever to teach me what being in love meant. And I was thrilled, for I had learned what it meant, and known how it felt. But marriage and a husband? I had never been married before. Never been touched by a man before. The bashful innocent girl within me was lost, shocked, petrified, and not quite ready yet.
I elaborated on how accustomed I had grown for three months to seeing him around. We would talk, we would laugh, or argue and make up, or we would sit with two meters separating us, while he showered me with his heavenly love talk, tackling gently, tenderly and most cautiously my extremely bashful and reserved nature. But apart from that incident of running into him, and apart from that handshake, I had never experienced his manly touch. I did not know how it felt. Those seven days of parting were hell, but to marry him? I couldn’t, I couldn’t even countenance the prospect. For in marriage there was what I had been strictly and consistently enjoined to avoid; there was what I didn’t know or experience before. In marriage there was a great deal of that which scared me, and which, because of my ignorance, I couldn’t even dare to envisage. And I feared the male in him. I feared the alien who would invade my innocence, who would invade my body, my shy and sacred body. The standards of our culture, religions and code of honour obligated respectable and well-mannered girls to save themselves from even the hint of a touch from a man so that they could come to their husbands without a flaw. Such life long stringency couldn’t be easily obliterated by the three months of pure chaste love. I knew that the girl within me was struggling for her innocence, while the emerging woman had still to find herself.
We, he and I, were both but moving in parallel directions towards different objectives. He sustained a confident straight line, heading for something he yearned for, something he’d experienced and was familiar with, something he already knew and wanted. And I was impatient for more of the love that he’d taught me. I was quite thrilled and content to continue savouring what I had learned. This marriage thing, however, had not, till his proposal, entered into our discourse, and there was perhaps no way he could teach me about it until we were married. I wanted him to safeguard the fledgling female who had been newly introduced into the world of maleness and that only through him. It is a world that is a complete enigma to most of our females until their marriages. And I wanted him to tread gently with the utterly ignorant girl for whom a few words of explicit passion from him were enough to cause consternation. Still dewy-eyed, she had heard covert and obscure stories about first night difficulties, which had been secretly whispered and circulated among girlfriends, and which had petrified her sufficiently to cause her to throw up. I was the little girl who against the will of her protective and pampering parents grew up in body, but remained utterly pure in mind and heart.
Love was to me the brittle and dreamy romanticism that I had read about in books and magazines, which reached me only after the stringent double censorship of government and parents. Love was for me coy and reserved hugs and kisses, which I’d seen in the strictly censored Iraqi TV. The farthest my imagination could stretch its wings was to the pure, innocent, romantic love of the princess and the knight. This was what I could allow myself to ache for or dream of, being always mindful of my honour and that of my family as well as of the laws of a rigorous and unbending church. If a hand touch had meant taking me to purgatory, a kiss would have most definitely taken me to hell.
His winning my intense emotions was a slam dunk that he never doubted, and marriage was the natural thrilling end to crown our romance. He never doubted a positive reply to his proposal. He had worked hard and anxiously towards that end. But the proposal, which he had impatiently delayed for the right time, till when I would be ready, he had suddenly on impulse put before me at the wrong time. I was angry still, and puzzled, and coming to terms with the sudden unexpected behaviour he’d manifested twice in one week. And Dina was over my shoulders with her endless list of inviolable taboos. Besides there was the as yet unknown reaction of my totally oblivious parents to the romance, which would have been regarded as odd by the standards of the day.
I told Fury how much I longed to say yes. How desperately I was searching for words to tell him how much I loved him, words to tell him that I was unlike any other woman he’d known before. I was desperate for words to ask him to wait. To tell him I didn’t say yes, yet I didn’t say no, either. I searched for words to ask him to teach me with his love how to be rid of the girl in me, and to bring out the woman whom I knew he adored and anxiously waited for. But that abominable bashfulness that he loathed as well as adored, and those awful fears evoked by his ebullient passion, eclipsed my love and muffled my tongue.
Despite her fiery nature, Fury’s virtue was that of being a good listener. She listened and never interrupted, not even once. It wasn’t inconspicuous how pleased she was that I was for the first time letting loose, expressing unreservedly my emotions.
‘You silly’, she said tenderly while sitting next to me, ‘you don’t learn about marriage, it just comes instinctively. How do you think your grandmother or even your mother got married in those harsher and stricter days?’
‘I know Fury, I know, but it’s I, not them, not anyone else, and I know I can’t, I just can’t. I must love him more, and I must love him enough, enough to marry him. Please try to understand’. She knew what I had said was the truth, which she had to accept without argument.
‘Besides, have your forgotten about Dina’s list of taboos? I must tell him about all that first. There are hurdles we might never be able to jump over, and just the thought of it chills my body’. I could no longer control my tears. I asked her desperately, ‘Do you think he’ll come back Fury?’
‘Undoubtedly’, she comforted. ‘He loves you and he’ll understand. He’s smart, and one way or another he’ll figure it out. ‘God gives walnuts to the toothless’, she mocked. ‘He would have saved himself all this hassle, had he chosen me instead, the idiot’.
The perplexed astonishment he registered in response to my reception of his marriage proposal must have been because it had come as a blow to his utter certainty that he had won over completely my mind and my heart; moreover, my attitude to his proposal must have run contrary to everything else about my demeanour, which suggested that my consent was a foregone conclusion. My conduct would have been enough to snuff out the three months of nascent romance, if it had been manifested to someone with a more fragile and easily bruised ego. Given his ample self-assurance, he must have been able to see beyond my words and manner, for he persevered in spite of how I behaved towards the attainment of his goal. Fury was quite right. For the first time he didn’t play his cruel vanishing game. He was back within an hour and, for the first time, with some charts. He told me that his assistant had called in sick. Having already obtained Jack’s permission, he asked if I could take over and help him with some urgent stuff. While other assistants could have easily filled in for the absent one, choosing me was a gesture designed to reassure me that he understood, a thoughtful message aimed at saving me from any undue worry or agonizing apprehension. He grabbed a chair and sat next to me explaining what and how. He had this wonderfully forthright and professional approach that it seemed as if the episode of the proposal hadn’t occurred. He was engrossed in explaining while I listened and looked delightedly at him, thinking how lucky I was for having him. His eyes were overshadowed, however, with enormous pain, but as ever, he was most loving, pledging still through his manner patience and perseverance. Deep down, however, I knew that this would not be for long, definitely not for long.
With his proposal he laid down the foundation of our romance, proving his great love and good intentions, but leaving the ball in my court. Our emotions understood and speechlessly agreed on the wisdom of leaving the proposal open until the right time, until when I was ready. But then again, I was aware that I’d be pushing my luck right to the deadly edge if I left it longer than I should
‘Are you sure you can manage on your own, sweetheart?’ He asked, with the tenderest gaze, when he was done with the necessary explanation.
I nodded smiling.
He smiled back. His eyes were full of love and affection, now more than ever. He stared delightedly at me for few moments.
‘I love you’, he whispered.
‘I know’, I replied coquettishly.
For the first time I saw his lips faintly moving, sending a kiss, an air-kiss, from half a meter away. It was the first time ever that he practised in such a liberal manner, though still from a distance, some of the rights of an unproclaimed but acceptable fiancé and future husband.
I gasped, and turned frantically towards Tom’s office, checking if the ‘obscene’ act had passed unnoticed. And for the first time his kiss was exchanged with a tender reprimanding pat on his arm. It was the maximum reward he could ever fancy getting in a land where love was so hedged with prohibitions.
He got up, elated and ‘content’, walked to the door, and swung back, looking at me affectionately. ‘I’ll be back for those charts within an hour’, he stated with a meaningful wink.
I raised my fingers gesturing a V sign.
‘Two; Jack comes “first”, you know’, I said teasing. ‘I’ve got a few things to finish for him first’.
To Be Continued.......