Steaming with sweat and legs wobbling with dread, I rushed ahead, trailing Uncle Sam’s heels; my grandpa and Dina also followed suit. The waiting had kept us all on tenterhooks, and my patience had long worn out. The few meters separating the living room from the front door seemed unending. I stood behind Sam, clinging to his shirt, quivering at the thought of whom we might face on the other side of the door—the dear faces of the members of my family or the henchmen of the autocrat. I sighed with relief, however, and my anxiety subsided when I saw my younger brother zooming in the moment Sam pulled the door open, breathlessly letting on some of the good tidings with his innocent question, “You’re going to go to America, Lu?”
I sensed the heat of a betraying blush spreading all over my panic-stricken face upon meeting my Dad’s eyes; his reassuring smile, just as ever, had the effect of magic, easing off most of the tension that had held the belt in the pulleys. And I ran towards my family, hugging them and kissing the faces that I feared I would never see again, while the tears that I had been struggling hard to keep at bay during the oppressive wait streamed liberally down my face.
And we all gathered in the living room, our impatient eyes and ears all riveted on the details of the account that Dad had begun to give.
Martin had seemingly passed his first test of punctuality, having arrived at the designated rendezvous sharp on time. Having shaken hands, he and my Dad greeted each other with the usual exchange of civilities. Dad asked Martin to park his car in the almost deserted parking area, and take over the driving of Dad’s car. While mum and the two boys occupied the back seat, Dad sat in the passenger seat, next to the “chauffeur.” The drive involved casual motoring around the capital Baghdad, avoiding any unnecessary stops. In a country that curtailed personal freedoms, the two parties came to know each other personally only in the confined space of the vehicle. The drive, which had no fixed course, took about an hour, with Martin driving from one road to another, and shifting from one district to the next.
As one might expect, Martin had his share of close probing from the family, which is the norm in our culture, and which every suitor must stomach painfully. He, however, despite being bombarded with a clutch of questions that usually dissects the past life of every suitor, seemed to have worked himself up successfully through the “mine field,” earning, on the face of it, great admiration. Much to my surprise, Dad, for some reason, refrained from making any candid statement on his suitability as a suitor, a matter that is normally cited first, before anything else. Dad, furthermore, seemed to avoid remarking on two matters of major concern for me-- the nationality of the suitor and his marital status. True I had already put Dina clearly in the picture about his being divorced, a thing I never doubted she had passed on to my parents, but it sounded all the more weird that, while none of the tinniest details of the “scrutiny” skipped Dad’s perceptive eye, his recounting overlooked these two pivotal issues.
Sighs of relief let out by the members of the “waiting team” resonated through the living room, and Grandpa thanked The Lord for his gracious protection of our family in this “hazardous venture”. Dina and Sam “wickedly” shot me a few meaningful smiles once the account was concluded. Save for the omnipresent fear of being spied upon by the dictator’s henchmen, the ride had gone smoothly, free of any catastrophic misadventure.
I sat during the recounting, curled up next to Dina, listening. But I found myself shuddering with premonition when I glanced at mum’s face, which bore a patent frostiness. The idea of her only daughter marrying a foreign man, and travelling away from the bosom of the family, was too bitter a pill for her to swallow.
Dad, however, concluded his account by stating that he had informed Martin that the family would examine his proposal, and considering his imminent departure, would report a decision to him soon; the “envoy” that Dad assigned to deliver the decision was going to be yours truly. I felt my heart fluttering in my chest on hearing that. Such a charge intimated that Dad was in some way entertaining the idea of consenting to the marriage.
Dad also said that Martin had insisted on inviting the “whole” family on the evening before his departure, which was a couple of days away, to one of Baghdad “suburban restaurants” for dinner, so that both parties could discuss the wedding arrangements. Well, whether it was from his great assurance of having overwhelmingly won my heart, or from his confidence in his ability to endear himself, he knew it was a gesture that would recommend him to the hearts of my parents. The man seemed determined to assume that his proposal would be received favorably, a thing that, on the face of it, made his getting a positive reply an unquestionably concluded matter. Sam, however, was wholly against accepting the invitation. Getting the group together one more time seemed nothing short of insanity. He took it upon himself, however, to try to find an alternative.
Despite my parents insisting upon taking me home that evening, I resisted, having furnished myself with a thousand and one reasons for sticking around at grandpa’s; facing my parents alone, away from Dina’s indispensable support, seemed too daunting for my shyness. Going back home that night in particular was out of the question, as far as I was concerned.
And I hardly slept a wink that night. The marriage seemed now like a stone’s throw away, a bewitching fairy-tale ending taking shape in the horizon. Things seemed to be moving towards a rather swift conclusion from what the innocent girl that I was could afford to envision. And some painfully conflicting emotions mercilessly invaded my brain and heart. Having jumped over so many obstacles, I now found marriage too huge an idea for me to grapple with. True, Martin had been the magical purveyor of some sweet emotions that played incessantly upon my heart. He taught me my first lessons in love--a type of love that I had never known or experienced before. Yet his being a husband to me seemed utterly strange and beyond my ability to assimilate. My body would rock at the mere thought of my being with him in a house alone, he and I, by ourselves. The thought of his physical touch seemed so shocking and inconceivable. Apart from all that, Martin was also going to take me away from the bosom of the people l loved most-- my parents, my brothers, Dina, Uncle Sam, grandpa, my friends, and a whole life out there. The reality of my new situation had begun to dawn on me. In vain I tried to draw an imaginary line to separate me from this new reality and to force my churning thoughts elsewhere. But it proved futile. Just as swirling waves of happiness lifted me up to the seventh heaven at the mere thought of marrying the man I loved with every bit of my existence, I suddenly found myself hurled down into an abyss crowded with inexplicably obscure and mysterious concerns. Still, I couldn’t wait to see him.
To Be Continued..........................................