Dina’s swooping visit, as it turned out, was not actuated by the desire to verify Martin’s suitability as far as that could be ascertained through appearances. Culture dictated that such aspects as age and looks were few among several others that constituted the major yardsticks for determining the suitability of a marriage partner. Despite the courtesies that our culture granted Dina as a close family member in approving my prospective marriage partner, she wasn’t there to evaluate Martin according to the usual criteria. And that wasn’t because her open-mindedness relegated such matters to my discretion. Rather she had come to the realization that the matter had already been clinched by the unfaltering intensity of my emotions for Martin. But she was not yet ready to abandon the effort of dissuading me from the whole thing.
Paradoxical as it may seem, and despite her certainty about my steadfast Puritanism, Dina was inordinately hopeful that she would chance during her visit upon something, or anything, which could serve as a pretext to absolve her from the burdening promise that she had resentfully given, in capitulation to my persistence, that she would not pass the matter on to my parents’ hands, at least not for a while. Dina regarded this binding promise as contradicting altogether her moral integrity. Hence, unduly immersed in her mission, she took her post like a sentinel on duty during a starless night, watchful for any sign that could have vindicated the breach of her promise. I guess her highest hope must have been blunders produced by the incautiousness of the oblivious party. I frustrated her project, viciously repaying her in her own coin and denying her the least hope of achieving her mission. I avoided Martin altogether from the moment he stepped in until she was gone. And I wasn’t actually assaying to screen any wrongdoing from the hawkish eyes. There was none such perpetrated in her absence, after all, for it to be held back now in her presence. But an extreme urge stubbornly flooded me to vex her and undermine her mission. I was responding to the distrust of me that her visit and her covert arrangements reflected.
The reviewing process continued without interruption. She sat intently engrossed in her mission. Her eyes remained predictably fixated on Martin, impassively observant. My share of her attention wasn’t any less. Moments passed slowly and excruciatingly. I felt bedevilled by her presence, hardly able to marshal my thoughts. Despite the appearance of busyness that I had designedly assumed, I impatiently waited for her departure with feverish anxiety.
Given the lengthy drive between her office and mine, I speculated that her visit, which was managed within the schedule of a working day, would be brief. She proved me right. Half an hour after Martin’s arrival she left, while he was still busy conferring with his two colleagues.
Fury escorted Dina past the checkpoint in the same manner that she had escorted her inside the building, in accordance with security regulations. She returned a few minutes later. Once inside her office she rang me. The moment I heard her voice I hung up on her. She tried three times; my response did not vary. Jack inquired about those ‘weird’ calls, and I explained that they were unsuccessful connections. I brushed her aside for the remainder of the day, not bothering to cast the merest look in her direction. For her part, presumably dreading the backwash from her ‘treachery’, she too sensibly kept out of the way for the rest of the day, avoiding my crazy Iraqi temper that she was familiar with.
On the trip back home, Bann was astonished to see me sitting next to her, away from the closest of friends, ‘the dearest of all’. And she mocked us, by launching upon some conniving comments and asking sly questions that we both stubbornly did not heed, maintaining a steady silence. Fury, however, realizing her ‘unpardonable’ blunder, advanced a cautious reconciliation. She jumped lightly off her seat when I was getting ready to leave the bus; she giggled as though trying to rob me of my sense of umbrage. Hitting me gently on the back, she said, ‘I’ll call you, silly!’
It was an absolute and severe boycott that penalized both plotters, Dina for a whole month and Fury for a whole week. I just wouldn’t talk to either, refused to take their phone calls, and when they visited, I would just lock myself deliberately in my bedroom. All hearty appeals and entreaties were tried but to no avail. The traitor forced her rapprochement by showering me with her apologies, pinning the blame on diffidence, for joining forces with Dina who had called her earlier that morning to arrange the visit. Dina made Fury promise not to make any mention of her visit, with the intent of maintaining the surprise element. Dina, as she put it to Fury, wanted to make an impromptu ‘inspection’. Fury respected Dina too much to object or even decline ‘collaboration’. Besides, Fury’s ratiocination was that it would have raised gratuitous suspicions, and probably would have further exacerbated the situation, had she done otherwise.
Dina, for her part, sought a reconciliation. All her efforts were aborted by my unrelenting stubbornness. I just wouldn’t talk to her. Given our lifelong closeness, eyebrows arched in astonishment at such unprecedented severance of ties. It wasn’t abnormal seeing us arguing or even ceasing to talk to each other for a day or two or even for as long as a week. A whole month seemed peculiar enough to arouse my parents’ inquisitiveness. My mother mocked, putting the blame on our possibly ‘fighting over the same suitor’. ‘You’re close mum, quite close’, I thought to myself.
Given that my relentless attitude had killed all Dina’s remorseful apologies, Uncle Sam tried to intercede on her behalf. He came into my bedroom one day while on a visit with Dina and grandpa. He sat on the edge of my bed, and he asked, as he hugged me and kissed my forehead, ‘Are you cross with me too honey?’
‘No uncle, not with you, but with her. She’s mean and malicious’.
‘This suspension of ties seems to be taking longer than usual this time, isn’t it?’ he asked laughing.
‘Correction, uncle, not suspension, a break-up’, I replied in a firm tone
‘Oh, break-up, em’, he shook his head as his face assumed surprise. ‘And have you withdrawn the ambassadors yet?’
‘And closed the embassies’, I replied, carrying on with this diplomatic jargon.
‘Really? Not even a chance for an interests section?’
‘No, not even the slightest’, we both laughed.
‘Lu darling, I saw her crying the other day’, he said carrying on in a solemn tone. He knew how much I loved her; he pressed on the nerve of emotions.
‘Really?’ I asked anxious.
‘Yes, she was making coffee, and the moment she sensed me entering the kitchen, she wiped her tears. Imagine Lu, the iron woman crying’.
We both laughed. Uncle wouldn’t leave my room, however, before he made me promise ‘to restore relations and reopen the embassies’.
Dina’s birthday was around the corner, just a few days away. She was notorious for not celebrating her birthdays. ‘It’s silly celebrating the losing of years of one’s life’, she’d say to every attempt that we’d make to talk her into having a birthday celebration. In any event, I got her a nice present and went to her place unannounced. Her tears greeted me as she opened the door and saw me standing there. We hugged, making up. Our tears washed away the remaining fragments of obstruction that had been clinging desperately to the trails of the fading incident. Her tears were not merely tears of happiness for seeing me there after a seemingly never-ending month of strained relations. They must have been also tears of pain for she was yielding to the inevitable. Notwithstanding, she had to ask me one question, as if seeking assurance, ‘Are you sure it’s him you want to spend the rest of your life with?’ When I nodded in affirmation, she hugged me, promising to do her best to secure my parents’ approval. She certainly lived up to her word.
Throughout the six months of our romance, Martin never heard of Dina, or knew of her, or ‘met’ her. Given the rigorous social and political environment, and the brevity of our meetings, this was not surprising. Anything that extended beyond us and our concerns took second place. The ubiquitously piercing eyes of minders were fixated on the foreign section, and time was too precious to be spent on anything else but us. We cherished the present moment. Anything else simply receded from view.
A few days prior to Martin’s final departure, I had arranged for him to meet my parents to ask for my hand in marriage. He was a bit edgy and apprehensive about receiving a negative reply, ‘Do you think they will approve of me?’ I remember reassuring him, ‘Stop worrying! It’ll be fine’. However, despite her all-consuming anxiety about the fitness of the marriage, the harrowing prospect of a parting between us, who were soul mates, the possibility of ostracism from the church and Christian community on account of a civil marriage and the expected political fallout from such a marriage, Dina, unknown to Martin, worked for three months, patiently and tactfully, to secure my parents’ approval. Yesterday’s bitter rival exerted incredible effort, procuring mum’s approval first, who, in her turn, obtained dad’s through three entire months of unrelenting and sedulous persuasion.
To Be Continued.......