It was early morning on a Wednesday. Wearing an ominously overcast face, he arrived at work unusually late, nearly two weeks following the fateful storeroom episode. My heart hadn’t beaten so fast since; bad thoughts and worse scenarios were festering inside my mind. Well, while he seemed to have perfectly understood, respected and never ceased to love me, he had never been himself since that day. And not only his average daily visits of five had declined perplexingly to three, or at times to barely two, he had also grown increasingly taciturn, behaving distantly, his eyes seeming to dodge mine.
Having been enfolded for months in his prodigious love and indulgent attention, I found those two weeks of restrained attention from him excruciatingly troubling. Being forcefully introduced now to such an unprecedentedly abrupt rationing of love and emotions, the passionately demanding female in me that had been formed by his excessive love felt all the more keenly his withdrawal. And I responded resentfully to what I deemed as an unwarranted attitude, which, besides being strange, was also unanticipated.
Alongside my bruised ego, I felt my feminine possessiveness rearing up gigantically, inducing awful anxiety, and nurturing intolerable worries that dragged painfully at me. My brain, performing pretty much like a car straining its hopeless bursts of speed to break loose from a quagmire, asserted its capacity for reason, which the weighty situation had luckily spared unimpaired, over my demon-ridden heart that was hankering after the reciprocity and mutuality that it felt entitled to. But, notwithstanding the burning urge to ask, any flirtatious overture lay beyond my inherent shyness. And given Martin’s full awareness of this impeding factor, his aloofness, and refusal to include me in whatever was troubling him, further provoked my rage.
Earlier on that week, personal necessity had forced me to take a couple of days off. Given that this was my first absence from work since we first met, I was aching crazily to see him. He, too, seemed at the end of the tether of his yearning. But I had an intuition that something grievous was brewing. A few days later, I found that the queasy feeling had not been misplaced. The news of his terminating his contract came like a bombshell. And my small, simple and unsophisticated world was never the same again. It changed forever.
The escalating sense of foreboding made my heart pump at maximum capacity the moment I saw him stepping inside the main entrance of the offices on that day. As if things were not hard enough on me for the best part of those two weeks, he made them even harder when he headed straight for Tom’s office, without extending to me the endearing salutation with which he would welcome me each morning. Enveloped in an uncharacteristically melancholic mood, he threw himself heavily on the chair, as if he had been walking a beat all day. Baffled, at a loss, and ridden by edgy concerns, I looked towards Fury across the glass panel. She was pursuing the scene with an equally perplexed interest; we exchanged laden glances at each other.
In my peripheral vision, I saw him a short while later, stepping out of Tom’s office, apparently making a trip to the coffee-maker. It didn’t truly matter much then if I were steered by mere self-delusion, but I was still entertaining hope that this nebulous air was just transient, and only related to some work inconvenience, and that he would soon revert to his usual practice, and rush out to me with the same vivacious longing I used to see glowing in his eyes every time we met. But things, however, seemed truly to have deteriorated when he returned to his chair without casting the merest glance to my side. And he sat quietly down, resuming the same ominously unremitting drags on his cigarette, and giving up, unusually, the arena wholly to Tom, who was doing all the talking, while he, forehead creased into a frown, contented himself in the role of a perfect listener.
What’s more, the oddity of his lengthy conference with Tom, which dragged on for over an hour, struck me as being totally out of character, particularly since it was early morning still, the time when his schedule would usually be tight with meetings, visits and inspections round the building.
Hurt, ignored and consumed by worries, there was nothing for me to do but to bury my head in my papers, nursing my wounded pride by feigning busyness. But concentration was not for me. My sixth sense, having never gone awry before, fuelled my concerns. And I shuddered with premonition.
The extended wait multiplied my apprehension. And such unwonted disregard that bore a painfully distinct frostiness was far too bitter for me to swallow or digest. Deflection from my unpleasant reality, by immersing myself into my own bloody analysis of how and what and why, provided scant comfort. It pretty much appeared like taking refuge in hell from the scorching heat.
On looking back, however, I do realize that it was precisely at this juncture when I received my first lesson in how to tame the intensity of my anguishes, an art I excelled well at throughout long years of agony. Paradoxical as it may seem, what had started as a mode of detachment turned over the years into my only means of comfort and solace in the face of grim realities.
A betraying rush of blood prompted by anger must have spread over my face clearly enough to have Fury rush hotfoot to my office. Her warning of my indiscreet face went just unheeded. Being in no mood to even raise a hint of a smile, I ignored her humorous jokes, which aimed to pull me out of my dour mood. Seemingly taking refuge from fearful anticipation in a show of ill temper, my placid and peaceful nature rode a wave of high dudgeon that spoke itself in the unsteadiness of my hands and my face, which was crimson with fury. Uncharacteristically, I felt as if I could punch the hell out of anyone given enough provocation.
A spell of silence that fell suddenly on the neighbouring office brought me out of my labyrinth. When I turned towards the gathering of two, Tom was engrossed in writing, whereas Martin, like a man who had all the time in the world in his hands, sustained the posture of a statue.
In the meantime, my office quietened when all the guys left one, after the other, to attend to various tasks out of site; such an advantageous situation would have been on normal days a godsend opportunity for a perfect get- together; but that day was anything but normal. Not having, on the face of it, the least hint of desire for a chat, Martin seemed to be shunning me.
Unable to swallow anymore of this wilful lack of care and attention, I migrated, following Fury to her office. And I sat down, giving my back designedly to the gathering of two, but endeavouring my hardest to put on a pretence of normality, and praying that the volcano verging on the point of eruption inside me would somehow change state.
Some half-an-hour later, Fury reported Martin moving into my office, and sitting down in my chair to make a phone call. Not long after, she described him leaving. And he just vanished for the rest of the day.
Only God knows how I wasted the day away. My fearful anticipation was preying savagely on the remnant of my already devoured nerves. Every passing moment was a sheer nightmare. And my presentiment of disaster loomed large. I was strong in the conviction that some awful eventuality was in the making. It was only a matter of time before it would make its crushing landing. And it did.
Towards the end of the day, I was sitting behind my desk, lost in my heavy thoughts, and wrestling with some hot tears that I had been holding strongly in check for days. Suddenly Fury came bursting into my office, breathless, and as pale as a white sheet. Fear lumped in my throat, and my heart raced to get out of my chest. It was the moment of truth, the dire moment I dreaded most. Before she opened her mouth, I caught the magnitude of the cataclysm she was about to convey to me in her eyes. She grabbed a chair and sat next to me. ‘He has terminated his contract,” she said in a distressed tone. “I’ve just overheard Jimmy announcing the news over the phone. Martin is leaving Iraq in two weeks”.
To Be Continued.......