Chapter 3: Take It All
I tried my best to control my nerves while my eyes followed my manager as he shuffled around and reorganized the papers on his desk.
My face turned red as I exclaimed: “Is it really this dramatic and complicated to get someone to sign my request for unpaid leave?”
He looked me directly in the eye, but I couldn’t tell whether he was angry or embarrassed.
Then he said: “These are the rules, Nadia. There’s nothing I can do about it. Now could you please calm down so I can tell you exactly what we need from you?”
I tried to keep calm as I asked: “What is it that you want from me, Mr. Omar?” but I couldn’t hold it in any longer and my words burst out at him. “Wait, I know what you want from me. You want me to write down every single detail of my personal life before my unpaid leave will be granted! Isn’t that just a bit absurd?”
“Why do you consider it absurd?”
“Why should I justify myself when I’m obtaining my legal right? And why should I provide justifications to the board since the time I take off will be deducted from my salary?”
“Because the board has a legal right to know the reason for your week of absence. It makes sense, don’t you agree?”
“All right, all right. Just give me the papers to fill in.”
“There you go, but make sure you provide convincing reasons this time if you want to guarantee their approval.”
“Yes, I know.”
I furiously filled in the papers and signed them before handing them over to my manager. “I hope they don’t decline it this time,” I said, walking out of his office without waiting for a response.
I left work early that day. The streets were overflowing with people who were chasing after time without realizing they could never catch it. The rapid pace of modern life had taught us to rush everything. We had forgotten to slow down; to contemplate and appreciate what we had. I believe there will come a moment when we are struck with regret over what we have missed amid all this hustle and bustle.
I didn’t want the management board to know why I had requested this leave. I really wanted to take my only son to Verona to attend Adele’s upcoming concert. Waleed adored her in spite of his tender years, so I knew it would be the best gift I could possibly give him for his tenth birthday.
There was no reason why I couldn’t have mentioned this in my request for unpaid leave. I had just wanted to make a stand; to show that it was my right to leave without divulging details of my personal life.
The board would never have understood how challenging it had been to book and arrange such a trip, or that the salary they paid hadn’t covered half of the expenses. They would never know that I had saved most of my salary, only spending a very small amount of it on essentials – food, school supplies for Waleed and enough gas to get me to work – so that I would be able to afford this vacation.
They didn’t know that I no longer cared about their salary deductions so long as we could make it to Verona to see Adele perform. No one could ever have understood what this experience meant to me: not the manager, not the board, and not even you. I would have been willing to quit my job if it had come to that.
They have to approve it! I thought to myself.
My phone’s loud ringtone interrupted my thoughts.
“Hi Lara,” I said as I picked it up. “No, I’m not at the office; I’m on my way home. Is everything okay?”.
I paused then replied “Yeah, sure. I’ll meet you there.”
Lara was my lifelong best friend and we had been through a lot together. When we were younger, she had always said to me: “Let’s laugh as much as we possibly can! Life lets us enjoy laughter, but it always demands something in return. We might as well enjoy it while it lasts.”
So we had always laughed together as much as we could.
Back in those days, Amman hadn’t been so crowded, and it certainly hadn’t had as many selfish drivers, like the driver just in front of me who was blocking the entire road.
On rainy days, Lara and I had roamed the streets of Amman, singing and enjoying the rain. We used to love how the rain washed everything – the streets and our hearts – and how it breathed life into them again. We innocently thought that it would also wash away our misdeeds. Little did we know that we were at our purest back then. Our most pressing concern had been trying to avoid gossiping about our friends behind their backs.
During our rain-filled tours, we had always stopped by Abu Al-Abed’s coffee kiosk; the first kiosk to take freshly ground Turkish coffee onto the street. The aroma of his coffee had convinced anyone passing that they adored coffee, even if they usually didn’t.
After that delicious cup of coffee, we would continue our walk. Lara would always be the one to start singing, her graceful voice in perfect harmony with the falling rain. She had persuaded me to sing along with her every time.
Despite the fact that Abu Al-Abed’s kiosk was still holding its own in the crowded city, it had become almost impossible to spot due to all the new stores and the busy traffic blocking the view. But who cared, anyway? I didn’t feel so excited about that cup of coffee any more, or about anything else for that matter. I was no longer so fond of Abu Al-Abed’s coffee. To me, everything tasted and smelt the same.
I called Lara back. “Hey Lara. I’m stuck in traffic and I might be a bit late. Is everything okay?”
“I had a fight with Kamal.”
“So what’s new?”
“Don’t even start, Nadia!”
“I’m serious, you always quarrel with Kamal. Is it different this time?”
“Okay, never mind. I’m going home. Don’t bother coming, I can’t wait any longer.” Lara was making an effort to sound reassuring rather than angry.
“Are you mad at me?”
“No, but I have to go now.”
“I’ll be there in a minute. Wait for me.”
“Kamal told me that he doesn’t feel any love between us any more.” Lara burst into tears.
I felt really bad for her. She had always tried her best to make him happy.
“Okay, try to calm down. I’ll see you in a minute.”
“No, Nadia, I’m leaving. I’ll call you later.” She hung up.
Her phone call had left me pondering the eternal dispute about relationships between men and women. Lara’s life revolved around Kamal. Everyone knew that he loved her, but every week they would fight over something. So did he really love her? I wondered. Or was he just used to having her in his life? Was this type of routine – being used to having someone close by – the reason why we were prepared to bear the flaws of our significant others?
Lara’s case was just one of many unhappy stories I came across every day of women trying their best to please their men. Whether it was a husband or a lover, that was all their lives revolved around.
I was so fed up with hearing it that it made me wonder, why should I ever have to please a man? Why should the relationship between a man and a woman be based on satisfaction and control? When a man depletes a woman’s emotions with all his needs, demands and insatiable lust, what does he expect from her? She couldn’t be the same lively woman who fell in love with him at the beginning. She would become quieter and more obedient just to please him.
Why did men so arrogantly believe it was their right to act recklessly in their forties, while a woman of the same age must be a loyal wife and a caring mother? Why did Kamal, just like all men, expect his wife to love him despite his numerous mistakes, humiliations and weaknesses? Why should she always regard him as the best, strongest and most handsome of all men, even though, if she happened to praise someone else, he would immediately accuse her of infidelity? Wasn’t he the one who wore her out with his criticisms of her looks and her body every single day? And then he wondered why their love had faded!
Every woman wants to experience love; to melt into the arms of the man she adores. But it was important that the man in question understood that love wasn’t a manipulation tool. Love shouldn’t take advantage of her weaknesses. It wasn’t a justification to drain the best of her and then walk away claiming that she had changed and that the love that had brought them together no longer existed.
Nothing stays the same! Kamal couldn’t just realize that. Abu Al-Abed’s coffee wasn’t the same and neither was Lara’s voice, which had become increasingly husky due to her high blood pressure. Neither were the streets of Amman, which used to be empty save for a handful of cars and pedestrians.
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I grabbed my phone and called him.
“Hi Kamal. How are you?”
“Oh, hi Nadia. I’m good. I haven’t seen you in ages. How is everything?”
“I’ve been a little busy with work.”
“I know what you mean, everybody’s so busy these days. You should come and visit sometime.”
“Kamal, Lara —”
“She called you, didn’t she?”
“Who else would she go to?”
“Your friend —” Kamal started in a reproachful tone.
I interrupted him. “I no longer recognize my friend, Kamal! Don’t burden her with more than she’s already struggling with. Please, she’s exhausted, and you know that her blood pressure’s unstable. If you’re angry with her, sit down together like grown-ups and settle the matter, without any yelling!”
“I can’t take it any more, Nadia. Lara’s changed so much.”
“Haven’t you changed as well, Kamal?” I asked.
Kamal didn’t reply, but I could hear his stilted breath at the other end of the line. He sighed and said: “I have got to go, Nadia. Thanks for calling.”
I hung up the phone and threw it onto the empty seat beside me.
Still driving aimlessly, not knowing where to go, I gazed at the steering wheel and smiled. I remembered how challenging it had been to buy my humble Mitsubishi. I had been forced to buy it in installments, and it had taught me that possessing something of value wasn’t always easy. However, once you possessed something it could bring with it happiness and power. The danger was, those feelings sometimes turned into greed and conceit, and a tendency to belittle others and try to dominate them could easily be the end result.
The moment I had noticed this sense of ownership in my husband’s eyes eight years earlier, I had decided that something drastic had to change between us, even though we had a son. I had refused to be a piece of property tied to and restricted by a marriage contract. Now I was just Nadia: an independent woman driving freely around the streets with no expectations, no reproaches and no accountability.
Adele had been my constant companion on the road for the past eight years. The moment I first heard her majestic voice I had fallen in love with it, and her lyrics related to me perfectly. Today was no different. I turned up the volume and enjoyed the sound of ‘Take It All’.