Confiding in Dina, nonetheless, didn’t turn out to be all too bad; every cloud has a silver lining after all. And since I had been living of late in a half world, deliberately refusing to think, and fighting shy of the potentials for painful encounters with the uncertain environment, unburdening the secret of my hidden romance seemed to have restored some of my disturbed serenity. And in spite of all the subsequent upbraiding that Dina’s indignant resentment began raining down on me with or without occasion, and which made me often feel like a naughty schoolgirl after a successful day of truancy, the exacerbating sense of guilt that had been taxing my nerves seemed to have lessened in intensity. Well, considering that this was my first bid at harbouring a secret in my entire life, the sense of having betrayed my parents’ precious trust was excruciatingly unbearable. The matter produced in me the sensation of having perpetrated an immensely unpardonable act. And entrusting Dina with my secret now seemed to have drowned the nagging of the small voice. I felt as if a weighty encumbrance had been lifted off my chest. But, God how little I had known then! For this encumbrance, having seemingly taken a great liking to me, leapt contumaciously now onto Dina’s chest, adamant to stay in the family since, for a long while.
Dina, however, having gotten wind of the hidden romance, must have taken aback upon realizing that the constant preaching and fervent advising she had exhausted on me, warning of the perils of falling in love, had all gone in vain. Things, on the face of it, stuck out sorely enough for her to admit that what she had worked dreadfully hard to forestall had eventually happened. And there I was, against all expectations, rushing elatedly to her, holding the banner of love sky-high, and not only turning a deaf ear to all her caveats, but also proclaiming forcefully, in defiance of her staunch convictions, attachment to a lover, who, apart from the “despicable” diversion he had audaciously taken away from the course prescribed for conventional marriages, wasn’t even Iraqi. The shock factor appeared to have pounced on her tolerance, gripping hard on her understanding and sympathy, and throttling, albeit not for long, her fastidious receptivity. The ensuing frustration and disappointment were all too bitter for her to swallow. Above all, the fact of having kept the event from my parents must have tormented her. Her sense of guilt for failing the infinite trust they had bestowed on her must have compounded her Argus-eyed capacity for proliferating scruples, such that she must have looked upon her role as amounting to an unpardonable act of perfidy. It seemed as if the swooping event slashed deeply into an amply sensitive vein within the weather-eye that she had always kept wide open, and on the lookout, for trouble. And hell to pay was the demand of the anticipated aftermath. But who else other than yours truly would make such a hefty payment?
Albeit my romanticism, and staunch defence of love marriage, counter-fenced Dina’s endless disapprobation, and derided her denouncing cynicism of the “human wolves”, I wasn’t myself in better shoes. The qualms of conscience were no less tormenting for me than they were for Dina. Reality tasted like a hellishly bitter pill on perceiving my lifelong buddy falling prey to crushing sentiments, and flagellating herself for failing to live up to her sacrosanct standards of responsibility and honesty. Her feelings ranged from shock to fearful anticipation, and included misgivings, anger, despondency and painful uncertainty, let alone the sadness and sense of loss and bitter helplessness that would get the better of her in the wake of every futile confrontation she would have with my unshakable doggedness. And while I somehow understood, not least appreciated, and to a certain extent approved her nobly motivated grounds, I was being torn asunder on watching the tooth-and-nail fight she put up to regain the ground she was constantly losing to my growing pertinacity. In the wake of our aberrantly lengthy boycott, Dina seemed as if she were burning the candle at both ends, berating herself as well as trying to talk me out of love and the lover. Being all heart for Martin, my self-willed determination, while firmly uncompromising, stood diffident and abashed on confronting hers. Her resolute and unshakable conviction of Martin being an awfully wrong choice debarred negotiations and rejected compromises. She allowed no opportunity to pass without endeavouring her utmost to deter me from this “crippled relationship”. Martin, from her perspective, wasn’t only undeserving of her much treasured niece, but, having placed him at the nethermost of her list of favourites, even the least worthy of my previous suitors surpassed him by far.
Obviously disposed towards the carrot and stick policy, she initially assumed the mantle of a solemn preacher, talking terms and beefing up her words of advice with some vernacular adages of our honour-orientated culture. Her never-ending list of “Beware of this” and “Be careful of that” seemed as if she were badgering her way into gaining back her heartsease that the ongoing romance had appropriated. Of course, honour and reputation never ceased being the gist and essence of each of her such preaching. She fore-fingered, putting me on guard of men who “who make their ways into the gullible hearts of women by selling them the seventh heaven with words and promises coated with milk and honey”. Seeking to infect me, she surrounded me unremittingly with her untrusting portrayal of men: “Once they quench their cravings, they vanish exposing their ugly faces, leaving their victims facing a bleak destiny in an inclemently callous society”. She would lace her admonishing with reference to “reckless females who end up not only with sullied virtue, but also with reputations disgraced by dissolute predators whose sickly egos are only satisfied through boasting their filthy triumphs”. Her fervent dissuasion sought to discourage me through dissecting the fortunes of love marriages and citing instructive accounts that she derived from their sources either directly or through hearsay: “Any two lovers would be so blinded by passion as not to realize that they are standing at opposite poles. Consequently, the height of charm and the wealth of emotions that overpower reason and rationality melt away like a cube of ice in the first encounter with the scorching sun of the bitter reality”. Dina believed that the flaws and differences that are ignored, dismissed or brushed aside by the besetting force of emotions ramp painfully out with the quenching of desire: “That’s why most love marriages end up as complete failures”. Shaming love and lovers, she would perorate comparing their situation to that pertaining within arranged marriages: “Conventional marriages thrive in openness, and with the abundant blessings of both families, while love and affairs of love cower in hiding, and are prone to suffer shame and disgrace”.
Notwithstanding all this besieging hammering, it soon dawned on me that, despite Dina and I rowing in opposite directions, it was not entirely unfeasible to contemplate setting my boat safely ashore. First and foremost, the air around me remained one of anticipation; panic was just a fleeting visitor. I intuitively felt that what I needed was patience, and patience only, not on Dina’s front only, but on that of my parents as well. Although my wishful thinking of her much-needed support hovered at times among clouds of uncertainty, my trust of her magnanimity remained intact. Being all too familiar with her kindly, forgiving and benevolent nature, I expected that her uncompromising expostulations would soon die out, once the time for taking in the shock was exhausted.
Well, my sweet auntie didn’t prove me in the least bit wrong. The fulminating reaction she had initially brandished impulsively in my face appeared none other than a storm in a teacup. It didn’t matter much then whether it were my unshakable obstinacy, or something else, that was behind the blatant change of position that I noticed Dina undergoing. What truly mattered was that I found her golden heart in a relatively short time, rushing to the assistance of her precious niece, hoisting the emblem of support, and proving herself once more not only the same old loving and proverbially altruistic auntie, but also a trusting friend, a caring sister, and the lifelong companion who had never let me down or given up on me. She wouldn’t have been the Dina whom I had known, had she allowed her notorious strictness and ingrained Puritanism, or even her selfishness to come in between us, or have the least bit of contribution at all in the breaking of my heart. And “don’t worry”, or ‘leave it out all to me”, were her reassurances to my fearful anticipation of the likelihood of my parents rejecting Martin.
Given the few tools the limitations of the situation left at my disposal, I had to rely on Dina’s notorious meticulousness, which came along armed with a cagey plan. While ritual and tradition determined that marriage permissions were the exclusive province of the head of the family, Dina’s focus seemed strangely aimed wholly at mum. Her reassurances of a secured triumph, which came across as anything but diffident, left me nonplussed. Dina was confident that mum was the key to a successful outcome: “Take it from me, once your mum sanctions the marriage, your Dad’s consent becomes a foregone conclusion”. I was at this point getting my first invaluable lesson involving the sophisticated politics between Adam and Eve. Overcome with bewilderment, I stood scratching my head while being introduced by my trusted sage, Dina, to the fact that the majority of decisions, presenting themselves as the product of the stronger sex, happened to be the result of the subtle workings of the weaker sex. Albeit such discovery contradicted what my environment proclaimed about the power bestowed on men by nature, culture, religion and traditions, Eve suddenly appeared to be made of more robust material than a mere rib. And Dina’s predictions proved to be totally right. Mum was not only the soft spot, whose support was highly winnable, but she also turned out to be an influential intermediary who was to pass on Dad’s blessings to the marriage.
Assaying to pacify the expected eruption of disapproval that would come out of such an atypical proposal of marriage, Dina encircled mum with the diaphanously tight cloak of persuasive rhetoric, as she sought to re-mould her convictions about love marriage, particularly to a foreigner, while I stood taciturnly on the sideline, watching my dear mum being presented with some of Dina’s made-up samplings of this X acquaintance here, or that Z work-mate there, who, as Dina expatiated, were “all the more acclaimed and envied by other fellow females”, only for being “luckily married to a foreign husband”. Dina would tactfully get the better of mum’s flabbergasted reaction by highlighting the dignity, deference and appreciation such foreign husbands bestowed on their wives, not to mention the pleasant variation this represented to the monotony of conventional marriage. Mum would raise a pair of baffled eyebrows at this novel shift in views coming from Dina. But Dina was quick in throwing all the blame for it on the emotionally reticent Iraqi men who “don’t give women their fair share of love and tenderness”. Mum would gasp with outrage hitting out at the insanity of “some irresponsible parents, who threw their precious daughters to alien worlds and vague futures, chipping off with their own hands their daughters’ wings by dislocating them from invaluable familial support”. Nevertheless, Dina’s reiterated theme about the advantages of foreign husbands, which she rained down on mum with or without occasion, played an instrumental role in shifting mum’s attitude. A few weeks into the scheme and Dina was holding mum in the palm of her hand. And just as she approached the crucial step of broaching the matter with mum openly, Martin announced suddenly the cancellation of his contract.
It was on a Wednesday, early morning. He arrived at work unusually late.
To Be Continued.......