A Pakistani Love
by Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
I expected Pakistan to be hot.
I had this idea that Pakistan feels like summer in the winter and that it's insanely hot in the summer. But my first step into Pakistani air and I feel the same chill I left behind when I got on a plane back in Toronto. I left my Canadiana parka back home in my son's closet. I say home, but I don't really have a home anymore.
Not since Rick died. That's a long story. Not the dying part. That was a quick case of undiagnosed diabetes brought on by years of eating my brownies and never bothering to see a doctor.
But I guess you could say, in a way, that I left the marriage first. The truth was, I probably should have never gotten married in the first place.
But I came to the Catholic Church late in life and so the option of entering a convent was never presented to me while growing up in the crazy off-shoot of a Protestant denomination that was my church home for the first 40 years of my life. And where I met Rick.
The Church. That's what we called ourselves. And I realized in retrospect we were totally modeled after the Catholic Church. Our leader was our Pope. Our pastors were our fathers and we did whatever they told us to. We were told that Simon the Magician had founded the Catholic Church and that his name had gotten confused with the apostle of Jesus, Simon Peter.
We didn't wear crosses because they were supposedly pagan. We thought white people were descended from the lost ten tribes of Israel. We celebrated the Jewish holy days and met for services on the Sabbath. We were a pretty mixed-up bunch of folks. It took about twenty years for all the errors I learned growing up to be purged from my system, including my reluctance to eat pork or celebrate Christmas. (Pork being forbidden by the Old Covenant, which we kept, up to a point, and Christmas being another one of those pagan things.)
BR (Before Rick) I used to enjoy reading about the Indus Valley Civilization. I felt guilty about my interest in such an obviously gentile place that had no association with the Old Testament or with where the modern-day descendants of Israel had supposedly ended up. Later, I realized my fascination with the East was part of my fascination with the most forbidden of all the churches, the Catholic Church. Dark-eyed men from a culture that celebrated spices, flat breads and close families, not at all unlike the world Jesus would have grown up in. But we had made Jesus white and we had adopted European Jewish customs, like eating matzos during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
My formal education came from four years at The Church's Bible College in East Texas where young people were trained to be Ambassadors for Christ. My degree was in Theology, but more accurately, it was a degree in doctrines of The Church, all doctrines that I no longer believe. But Rick still believed in most of them and I suppose that's where some of the problems in our marriage lay. I wanted to move on. He wanted to stay in the comfortable teachings that told us we were a special people, a small and very select group chosen by God to be a witness to the world in the end times. (Despite that most of the world's population hadn't even heard of our organization.) And Rick certainly didn't want to be Catholic, believing it to be everything the founder of The Church had left behind.
The arguments about who was right became redundant. Neither of us was going to budge. I was aghast at how the Catholic Church had been misrepresented to me throughout my life and he was insistent that somehow, the true Church founded by Jesus had been hijacked at some point early on in the Church's history and that true believers had been pushed out. With my reverence for history, I could find no such event in any records of the day. It didn't matter. Rick had his viewpoint and I had mine. There was no middle ground.
In any case, my first assertion of my unexpected freedom was to come to Pakistan, to see the Indus Valley Civilization for myself.
I went knowing I would see more signs for Coca Cola than I would of that ancient society, but I went as a rite of passage that I should have taken 25 years ago instead of waiting until I was the mother of two grown children and with a bad marriage under my belt. I chose Lahore for my visit because it has a long and noble history and itÕs the capital city of the Punjab province.
Before I have a chance to formulate a plan for dealing with the cold, a young man rushes up and takes charge of my suitcase, assuring me in an only slightly accented English that he has an excellent taxi for me to take me wherever I desire to go. His smile is sincere and his look is clean-cut and reassuring. I find myself unquestioningly following this man to his excellent taxi.
This trip was supposed to help me find myself again. You know how it is as a mother. Everyone likes cheddar cheese so you get into the habit of buying cheddar even though your favourite cheese is Swiss. But this trip is more than just about cheese. It's about picking up where I left off, at that moment where I lost myself to love, got married, fell out of love, had two children, raised them and found myself alone once again.
I look around as we pull out of the parking space, my suitcase now in the trunk. My driver turns around and flashes me a sincere smile and asks me where I want to go. I have learned all sorts of Punjabi phrases that would have been useful in a situation like this but apparently I won't need them. While I'm reaching into my purse for the address of the hotel that I've booked myself into, he asks me if I would like to see some of the sites. I hand him the piece of paper that says, Hospitality Inn and an address. He nods and says, "Very nice, yes. But some sights first?"
I throw caution to the wind and say, "Sure, why not?"
I settle back in my seat. I still haven't figured out whether this taxi has seat belts for its passengers. I notice my driver has one. I'm too busy groping around looking for an available belt that I miss the departure from the airport. By the time I find two straps buried in the seat that connect, I am surprised to find that we are pulling into a parking lot.
"Jallo Park," explains my driver as he circles the lot for an empty space. I was expecting historical buildings, not this. I look around. The lot is full and the park itself is crowded with people. It seems safe enough. My driver gets out and is opening the door for me.
"We walk," he explains.
"Uh," I look at the meter. It's already over a thousand rupees. "I'm not sure I can afford this . . ."
"No charge for walking," he says. "I will only turn on the meter for driving."
"Well, OK then."
I step out and take his extended hand. He continues to hold my hand through the parking lot and to the path that will take us into the park. Even from here, I can see that this is one of those extensive city parks with pathways through gardens and winding around a lake. This warm hand in mine and the open smile, while unusual by Canadian standards, doesn't seem untoward in this new environment.
When Rick died, I pledged to God that I would be like Anna, the elderly widow who spent her days praying in the Temple and got to see Jesus when Mary and Joseph presented him in the Temple. I've never told anyone this, but a few years ago when Rick was still in my life and I was struggling to forgive him for the many injustices that take place in a marriage where two people have more or less given up, I had an experience. Not on par with a saintly vision, exactly. But a strong sense that I was losing the presence of Jesus, as if He were being pulled away from me despite His efforts to hold onto me. And I knew that it was His way of showing me that if I didn't change, that would be the sensation I would have at the moment of my death, the sensation of losing the one person who loved me and could save me from myself. It frightened me so much that I fasted for a whole week and got right with Jesus, was much nicer to Rick and had no difficulty in forgiving him when he lay on his deathbed since I wanted all the forgiveness I could lay claim to. Forgive and you will be forgiven. It's basic Christian theology.
My driver points to a large, circular building that looks like a spaceship and says, "Butterfly House" and still holding my hand, we head in that direction. That week when I was fasting, I kept a journal. In it, I recorded the idea that the moment Jesus separates from us, we lose everything. We take most of it for granted - family, friends, good food, animals, the trees, the warm sunshine. But those are all of His blessings and His generosity is that He shares it with people who want what He did for them and people who want nothing to do with His Passion. This is a sad state, to reject His mercy and then to realize right at the end that one's whole life was full of the mercy of God whether one saw it or not. I look down at the hand in mine and say a prayer for this man's soul despite that I don't even know his name.
Of course, the butterflies are lovely. I've been in a similar place at the Toronto Zoo. These beautiful creatures are also an example of the grace of God, for all to appreciate, whether they accept his sacrifice or not.
We are no longer holding hands, but my driver has been busy pointing out particularly striking butterflies for me to appreciate. Now he turns to me and says, "They are beautiful. Like you." I laugh. What did my daughter tell me once? That it's acceptable to date someone half your age, plus eight. My driver might just be old enough for me by that standard. But I don't feel beautiful. I'm a middle-aged woman who hasn't had this kind of afternoon and attention since, well, never.
Lightly I say, "You have a way of making me feel very welcome in Pakistan."
He takes my hand again.
"I am a scholar," I continue. "Here to study the Indus Valley Civilization." Well, that might be stretching it a bit. But it gives my driver a new angle.
"Ah," he says, as if enlightened. "You must go to museums."
"Museums are nice," I say. "But right now I think I need to recover from this jet lag. So I should probably get to my hotel."
He nods. We are heading out of the building and back to the parking lot.
"You need tea," he says, understandingly. "And some rest."
The young man seems to have a gift for sympathy, I must say. I nod.
When we are back on the main road, I have a chance to really look around Lahore for the first time. I like what I see. Although it has rundown parts and some of the buildings are just like back home, the architecture of the older buildings is stunning. Eastern with the Islamic influence. It reminds of me of an Xbox game my son likes to play that is set in the time of the Crusades.
"What's going on over there?" I lean forward. A whole road is blocked off and the police are out holding what look like automatic weapons. There are crowds of people milling about. I've never seen anything like this back home in Toronto.
"Blasphemy laws," he says. "It is a protest." I've read about Pakistan's blasphemy laws that can put a person in prison if it is believed that he, or she, has said anything or done anything against the Islamic faith. I've read of Christians who have ended up in prison because of them.
ÒThey're against them," I say, nodding.
He glances at me in the rearview mirror and his dark eyes are serious.
"They are for them," he says. It's a sobering moment and I don't know whether we're on the same side. I don't dare ask. Besides, we're pulling up to the front of the hotel. If my room is on one of the higher floors, I will be able watch the demonstrators. Cheerful thought.
My driver tells me it is one thousand five hundred rupees. I include a generous tip for the side excursion to the park. No harm came of it. He pockets the money and hands me my suitcase that he retrieved from the trunk.
"I love you," he says solemnly. IÕm startled. I hesitate for a moment and then smile. Everything about today has been a little strange.
"I love you, too," I say, turning and heading up the steps of the hotel.
I muse on the strange exchange over a pot of tea in my room. What did it all mean?
We simply exchanged our professions of love without knowing each other's names and then my driver got back in his taxi and drove away. Perhaps that's the way of the East, I decide.
In any case, as a mother IÕm used to tell people I love them.
I stand and still holding my cup of tea, go to the window. I'm on the fourth floor, which seems dangerously close to the demonstration that now has more people, more signs and more police. The signs are in the Arabic script. No English translations. All the streets signs were using the Arabic alphabet and had the English underneath. Arabic, the language of the Quran, is clearly held in reverence here.
I stay behind the glass despite that I have a balcony I could step out onto. My fingers are on the crucifix around my neck. So much for going out tonight and exploring the neighbourhood and finding some nice local restaurant to try out the authentic cuisine. It will be the hotel dining room for me.
The phone rings. IÕm startled despite the fact that I have just been witnessing a noisy public demonstration outside the window.
I go over to the bedside table and pick it up. A Pakistani voice with a BBC accent informs me that this is the front desk and there is a man here to see me.
"I don't know anyone in Lahore," I say, instantly imagining the worst scenario, a scam or set-up of some sort.
"He says he was your taxi driver earlier and that you left your mobile phone in his car."
"One moment," I say. I go over to my light jacket on the back of the chair and feel inside the pocket. No phone.
"Please tell him thank you," I say, returning to the phone. "He can leave it with you and I will get it when I come down later."
"I think he would like to return it to you personally," says the efficient voice. "He has come quite a distance, perhaps, to return it."
I take the hint. A tip of some sort will be necessary.
"I'll be right down," I say. I reach for my purse on the bed. I should have put the phone in my purse, not my pocket. But I was planning on texting my children in the taxi to let them know I arrived safely and never got around to it.
I take the elevator down and find the only familiar face in Lahore sitting in one of the comfortable lobby chairs. He stands and comes forward, handing me the phone.
"Thank you," I say. I reach into my purse and pull out a one thousand-rupee note and hand it to him. I hope it's enough. He doesn't seem offended.
"May I drive you to dinner?" he asks.
"I think I'll stay in the hotel tonight," I say. "It seems dangerous out there."
"The protest?" he says, glancing toward the glass doors. "You will be safe with me."
My children would have fits if they knew I was considering accepting, but I don't sense any danger. Just genuine sincerity.
"OK," I say. "I am hungry. Anything sounds good."
We head back outside and despite his assurances, I can hear the chants of an intense and irate crowd in the near distance. But my driver does a U-turn and we go in the opposite direction of the protest. Edgerton Drive is the name of the street we're on and we continue along a series of roads that sound surprisingly British: Cooper Road, MacLeod Road, Mall Road until we're pulling in front of an enormous beautiful old building that is both Colonial and Islamic.
"Lahore Museum," says my driver. "It is closed now. It will open at 9. Would you like to go tomorrow?"
"Of course," I say, almost without thinking. Who wouldn't want to see what treasures are inside such an incredible building?
He smiles that he has pleased me.
"One more thing," he says. "Before we eat."
We take a different route but end up back at the hotel. But he continues driving until we reach another Western sounding street, Davis Road. It is a busy main road. We pass another hotel, a government building with the fine-sounding name of Punjab Public Service Commission, the American Embassy.
At first, when he pulls the car over to the side of the road, I think it's to show me the embassy. I am about to explain that I am actually Canadian when he points to an enclosed property on the other side of the street.
"Convent of Jesus and Mary," he says. He points to the crucifix around my neck. "You are Catholic, yes?Ó
I nod, startled to see this representation of the Church here in Lahore. Somehow it never occurred to me that the Church functions even in places where pro-Islamic demonstrations rage in the streets. The red-brick building with its archways and colonnades would blend into any environment including this one. Nearby, part of the same compound, is a cathedral. I never realized that I would have the option of attending Mass while in Pakistan. I just assumed that in Muslim countries the Church doesn't have an open presence. Silly of me, in retrospect.
After this, we take several turns until we are on streets without Western-sounding names, the kinds frequented by natives and international spies. Since I am neither, I am a little concerned as we go deeper into the heart of the authentic Lahore, the one away from any kind of assistance for Westerners.
My driver parks us in a lot that back home would be the type of place where you walk with your pepper spray out. He opens the door for me and gives me his hand. I take it. The streets are narrow and crowded because business is brisk in this part of town. Restaurants and small shops mostly.
There are more men than women out, I observe, and almost everyone is Pakistani.
We go into a tiny restaurant where there are only four tables lining the wall. The rest of the business is take-out.
My driver takes the table at the back of the restaurant and I'm starting to think I might be sold into white slavery. At my age! Still, the thought of never seeing my children again is upsetting.
"I will be right back," he says. He gets in line and returns within minutes with two plates loaded with rice, vegetables and meat. He goes back and brings us two orange sodas and a basket of crispy, fried wafers.
"Biryani," he says, pointing to my plate. "Have you had it before?"
I shake my head. Saying a quick prayer while crossing myself, I try it. Spicy. I reach for one of the wafers to neutralize the hotness only to find that it, too, is spicy. I reach for my bottle of orange soda.
My driver smiles. Not in that way that some people do when they are the cause of someone's discomfort, but sympathetically.
"It is hot," he agrees, nodding. "Here, I know what will help."
He gets up and comes back with a small bowl of plain yoghurt. I can now use it to balance out the heat a bit.
While I eat, I look around. The place is well worn with peeling paint and old posters advertising various sites in Pakistan. Now that IÕm really looking, I can tell that the clientele aren't menacing, just working men. The food must be inexpensive. But it is good, once one gets used to the spiciness. I finally start to relax. This is great! IÕm experiencing the real Pakistan.
My driver fits in here. He's attractive when he smiles, but unassuming for the most part. He is clearly hungry after a long day of work. I don't really know what to say. I want to ask if he has family.
"How much do I owe for my meal?" I ask when we're done. I wonder if Eastern hospitality will take offense at this. But I don't want to feel like I owe him anything. My children, despite being good Catholics (I hope and pray!) have explained the ways of the world to me. If you ever go out with someone, it's best to pay your own way rather than "owe" them.
He shakes his head.
"I used the money you gave me for returning your phone," he says.
Good. Then perhaps we're even. He drives me back to the hotel, the only difference being that this time he invites me to sit up with him in the front. He turns on the radio, driving while he adjusts it until it is a station with some kind of folk music. He turns to me for approval. I nod.
When we pull up to the front of the hotel, he gets out to walk around the taxi and open the door for me. I see that the meter reads, 1880, so I pull out my wallet and give him two more one thousand rupee notes. He takes them without protest.
"Good night," I say to him. "Will I see you tomorrow?"
He nods. "Nine o'clock."
I also nod and start heading up the steps.
"I love you," he calls out after me.
"I love you, too," I reply back.
He's become a bit of a habit, this taxi driver of mine.
After a quick Continental breakfast in the hotel dining room, I am back in his taxi the next morning.
"What is your name?" I ask him, as we pull out into the street.
"Yousef," he says. That sounds Christian, but I simply say, "I'm Emma."
He nods, like this wasn't entirely necessary. Maybe he's right.
We arrive at the museum.
"Would you like to pick me up later?" I ask. I almost expect him to say he will join me in the museum, but he doesn't. He asks me what time I would like to be picked up. I say that I would like to be back to the hotel for one o'clock lunch. He says he will be here at 12:45. And so I go inside, strangely disappointed that this man has other things to do with his day than be with me.
As I pay my admittance fee, I chide myself for this mid-life crisis and remind myself that I am not here to get hopelessly involved with a man half my age plus eight.
For the next three hours, I walk the corridors of the Lahore Museum, taking in its abundant information about the Indus Valley Civilization and feeling that, at last, I am finding my true self again. I have this theory that I should give my true self to God, not the version of me that everyone else wants me to be, or more specifically, what Rick wanted me to be. This museum is the place to start.
The last twenty-five years of my life have been spent taking an interest in other people's interests. Of course, Catholic theology wouldn't say this is a bad thing and maybe it was even a good thing for me. A kind of dying to myself in order to serve the needs and interests of those around me.
But now I have no one to please anymore. So all that leaves for me is to find a way to please God and when I planned this trip, Pakistan seemed like the right place to start. I didn't come here to be Mother Teresa. But as 12:45 approaches and I make my way back to the museum entrance, I muse on the idea that I didn't come here to commit a mortal sin, either.
I take a deep breath as I step out into the bright sunshine and see Yousef's taxi waiting for me. On the ride back to the hotel, Yousef asks me about life in Canada.
"How did you know IÕm Canadian?" I ask. I am back to being in the backseat, my choice.
"Air Canada luggage tag on your suitcase," he explains, our eyes meeting in the rearview mirror.
Well I guess that's understandable. He was the one to put my suitcase in the trunk.
"It's cold right now," I say. "Almost as cold as here."
Yousef nods. "People do not realize how cold Pakistan can be. I have many family in Toronto. They write to tell me about the snow. One of my cousins is even learning to ski. In a place called Quebec."
It's funny to hear that Yousef has family in Toronto and to hear of familiar places so far away from home.
"I'm from Toronto," I say. "Well, a suburb of Toronto. Etobicoke."
"Etobicoke," repeats Yousef. "My uncles and my cousins live in a place called Thornhill. Do you know it?"
"Yes," I say. "It's in the north."
"They have a nice house." We are now pulling up to the front of the hotel since it was a short drive. While I reach into my purse to pay the fare, Yousef is reaching into his front pocket for his cellphone. He finds a photo and shows it to me. It is of a very large family in front of a very large house. I count at least four grown-ups so there must be more than one family under the one roof.
"It's a beautiful house," I say, honestly. "Mine was rather smaller and older." I sold the house to come to Pakistan. When I return, I will be in a bedroom in my sonÕs basement until I decide what to do next with the remaining money.
"Do you have a picture?" he asks. I shake my head and say sorry. It never occurred to me to take a photo of my house and family to share with the people of Pakistan.
"But I would love to take a photo of you, if that's OK," I say. "So I can share it with my family."
He smiles broadly. I'm planning on just taking a snapshot of him from the back of the taxi but he gets out and opens the door for me. Then he asks a passing man if he can take a photo of us together. The man takes a picture of us in front of Yousef's taxi, YousefÕs arm around my shoulders, before handing the phone back to Yousef.
"Thank you," I say, as he hands me back my phone.
ÒI love you," he replies.
"I love you, too," I say, before heading up the stairs and into the hotel.
And I figure that will be the end of my Pakistani love story.
"They all want green cards," a male voice says. At first, I don't realize the comment is directed to me. It is the man who took the photo. He has followed me up the stairs. He is a tall, rugged-looking man, my age or maybe a little older.
"Pardon?" I say.
"The men here," he explains as if IÕm a bit simple-minded. "They hit on American women in the hope that one will be foolish enough to marry them." His accent, or lack of one to my ears, makes me think heÕs probably American.
"Oh," I say, both illuminated and offended. "I'm not American. I'm Canadian. And I don't think he wants me to help him to come to Canada." I add, "He has family there already."
We are standing in the lobby of the hotel. The American shrugs, as if to say, believe whatever you want.
"Can I buy you a drink?" he asks, holding the door open for me and nodding his head toward the hotel bar.
"No thank you," I say, continuing to the elevators. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him shrug again and head for the bar.
The American is still in the bar, his hand wrapped around a Coors bottle, when I come down to the lobby an hour later. I'm still undecided as to whether I will eat in the hotel dining room or head out to see what I can find nearby. I make eye contact with the American and decide to head out.
"Hey there!" As I reach the bottom of the hotel steps, I hear the American behind me. "You aren't seriously considering going out there alone are you?"
ÒWell, I came to this country on my own, so yeah, I was,Ó I say, suddenly feeling defiant. IÕve been taking risks lately and it makes me feel young again.
He ambles along beside me as I head out into the cool night air.
YouÕre not seriously thinking of joining me? I havenÕt become so defiant that I say it out loud.
ÒThereÕs nothing around here,Ó says the man, looking around.
ÒThen why did you come here?Ó This I do say out loud.
ÒI didnÕt have a choice. My editor sent me.Ó
A journalist. I should be impressed and maybe even appreciative of the company, but after meeting Yousef, IÕd rather get to know more Pakistani people.
ÒIÕm not fussy,Ó I say. ÒIÕll find a place.Ó
He sighs. It reminds me of the way Rick used to sigh when I was doing something that he labeled as Òunsubmissive.Ó RickÕs life scripture was Òwives submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.Ó
Maybe a Pakistani taxi driver can help you find one.Ó HeÕs being sarcastic. Of course, he doesnÕt know about my dinner with Yousef. I smile to myself. HeÕd have an opinion, no doubt, and one that I wouldnÕt want to hear.
I glance at the taxis just outside of the hotel. Neither of them are Yousef.
There are no protesters in support of blasphemy laws out today so I feel confident that I can find something without assistance.
ÒWant an escort?Ó asks the man.
ÒNo,Ó I say, honestly.
ÒWell, youÕre going to get one. YouÕre the type of woman who doesnÕt know whatÕs good for her.Ó
That is so much like Rick that I am momentarily stunned, as if I have been stung by a wasp. Are there others out there like Rick? Of course there are. But I just assumed that our ÒChurchÓ bred a certain type of man who doesnÕt consider himself happily married unless his wife is submitting to him.
ÒWhy do you care?Ó I ask. ÒIf anything happens to me, it will make a good story.Ó
IÕve got him there. But he doesnÕt turn back.
ÒYou just seem like the kind of dame who will wander into the wrong alleyway, get yourself in trouble and make all us Americans look like we canÕt handle ourselves over here.Ó
Dame? Who does he think he is? Humphrey Bogart?
ÒIÕm Canadian,Ó I say again.
ÒWell that changes everything,Ó he says sarcastically. ÒWhy donÕt I go back to the hotel and see if I can get a nice Canadian escort for you?Ó He says nice as if he is insulting one of our national characteristics.
ÒNo thanks,Ó I say politely, deciding to live up the national characteristic. Why should I let this man I donÕt know get to me? Rick is dead. He can never hurt me again.
And IÕm reminded of how St. Faustina said she was thankful for both the pleasant and unpleasant things in our life, seeing them all as tokenÕs of the Heavenly FatherÕs special affection. Maybe this is good for me. It helps me to see that I havenÕt put Rick completely in the past.
And perhaps it explains why it was so easy for me to tell Yousef that I love him. ItÕs an undemanding kind of love based only on someoneÕs desire to express love, not rip it right from you as some kind of demonstration of obeisance. Can you tell authority was a big issue in my marriage?
I sigh. I really want to be alone, but this American seems determined to treat me as his special burden to bear.
Maybe itÕs because weÕre so close to a Western-style hotel but we end up at a little bright fast food place that serves Western-style wraps.
Unlike my meal with Yousef, this one requires no bowl of yoghurt to offset the spiciness. My wrap has a sauce that tastes like mayonnaise.
But my companion thoroughly enjoys his roast beef wrap with a side order of fries and a heaping mound of ketchup. We sit across from each other in a booth in a restaurant filled with people who are no more ethnically diverse than us, he with a blob of ketchup on his face as he chows down. I long for more. This isnÕt why I came to Pakistan. And to add insult to it all, the prices here are exorbitant. I guess people are willing to pay for a taste of home, but I donÕt want a taste of home.
IÕm determined to make it back to my hotel room without divulging my name or learning his. Despite that we donÕt know each otherÕs names, he is free with his opinions. The people here donÕt want Western-style government. Missionaries who come to Pakistan are stupid because Muslims donÕt convert. (Does he think IÕm a missionary?) Pakistan is filled with radicals who hate America, which is why he is here. The sports situation here is dismal since all they play is cricket and soccer. War could break out any day here, either with Afghanistan or with India.
ÒEveryone wants it,Ó he assures me on the last point.
ÒI donÕt,Ó I say. ÒIÕm sure Pakistani mothers donÕt want it.Ó
He shakes his head.
ÒEveryone wants to be the mother of a war hero. Or better yet, a martyr.Ó
I sigh. Anything I say will just make me seem na•ve or like a dewy-eyed optimist. I am determined that I will never do this again. ItÕs something I learned with Rick. DonÕt bother talking to someone when everything you say just aggravates him.
On the short walk back, my American companion says, ÒYouÕre an attractive woman. You shouldnÕt be out walking around here alone.Ó
As mildly flattering as this is, I donÕt reply. IÕm not going to defend my actions. Neither am I going to make any false promises for the sake of peace.
His parting comment to me as he heads for the bar is, ÒWatch out for those taxi drivers.Ó
Back in the hotel room, I flop on the bed, exhausted, not by the late hour or by jet lag, but by how much my evening reminded me of my days with Rick.
Very few people know what I went through with Rick. ItÕs one of the reasons why I was so quick to sell the house after he died. Too many memories of him making sure I was living up to St. PaulÕs teaching that wives submit to their husbands. It seemed to be his number one Christian mission in life – to make me a submissive wife. It was only by the grace of God that I reached a point where I stopped judging him on all the ways he fell short. I realized that in the end, I was only judging myself since I fell short in most of it, too. By the grace of God, I learned to show mercy because I knew I needed mercy.
But here I am, lying on a bed in Pakistan, on the other side of the world from RickÕs grave and my insides are churning from having to spend an evening with a man who only faintly reminded me of Rick. After all, this journalist didnÕt shoot scriptures at me like a man firing a weapon as Rick did. This man was only an unhappy journalist who didnÕt want to be assigned to Pakistan and seemed to sense that I did want to be here - which no doubt, made me an antagonist.
I roll over to my side. The more I think about it, the more I consider the evening a success. I managed to apply some of the lessons I learned with Rick, the big one being to say less, not more. The second one, the bigger one, being to treat others the way you want to be treated. It doesnÕt matter how you feel about the person. In the case of Rick, it meant not poisoning his brownies. In the case of this journalist, it means staying civil while keeping a distance.
But thereÕs still one more thing...
I made an enormous spiritual breakthrough the day I started praying the Rosary for Rick. Not only did it bring me comfort to spend time with the Blessed Mother, but it was the best gift I could give Rick. When words fail, thereÕs always prayer.
Leaning down to my suitcase on the floor, I pull out my Rosary from one of the side pockets. Tonight IÕm going to say the Rosary for that man I had dinner with. When IÕm done, I truly am exhausted. But I force myself to dig deep and stay awake a little longer because thereÕs one more thing I want to do before I brush my teeth and go to sleep. My fingers return to the crucifix and I start again. This time, I say a Rosary for RickÕs soul in purgatory.
I wake up to a phone call from the front desk.
ÒYour driver is here, maÕam,Ó says the polite man with the BBC English accent.
ÒMy driver?Ó I ask.
There is a slight murmur on the other end of the phone. And the man speaks again.
ÒTo drive you to Mass.Ó
Sunday! What is it about traveling that makes it so easy to forget what day of the week it is? But Yousef didnÕt forget obviously.
ÒIÕll be right down,Ó I say. I fly to the shower and am in and out in minutes. I toss on the best outfit I have, a summery dress and am down in the lobby in time (I hope) to make it to Mass.
Yousef is dressed nicely in a white shirt and tan slacks. He smiles pleasantly as I step out of the elevator and walk over to where he is waiting.
ÒReady, Emma?Ó he says. ÒYou look nice today.Ó
ÒThank you, Yousef,Ó I say. IÕm a bit flushed from the tornado speed at which I got ready, but IÕm definitely glad to be heading out the door to Mass. Part of the pleasure is not seeing my companion from the previous night anywhere in the lobby or dining area.
Will he join me? I wonder on the short drive.
He does not, as it turns out, destroying all chances that I might break my vow of celibacy and turn to earthly love for consolation after what feels like a lifetime with Rick. ItÕs just as well. But Yousef promises to come back for me when Mass is finished.
I enter into the cathedral where other worshippers are genuflecting and taking their seats in the pews.
It feels good to be among friends, even if they are friends I have never met and may never get to know. ItÕs quite unlike the American in the hotel. He may have felt a sense of obligation to me since we are both from the same continent and in a foreign country, but here I feel I have come home. It goes beyond the accident of birth and extends into eternity.
After Mass, I step out into the sunlight and see Yousef standing by his taxi parked along the side of the road. Does he mind that IÕm Catholic in a predominantly Muslim country? Obviously not. I recall reading somewhere that most countries, even the ones with radical elements, can tolerate other faiths as long as those faiths arenÕt trying to win converts. Hence their hostility toward the more evangelical elements of the faith. I have to admit, even as a Protestant I didnÕt do much evangelizing, but when Pope Francis told the Church to get out of the pews and share the Gospel, I knew I had to do something. It was awkward at first but I got into the habit of finding ways to share my Catholic faith.
And then I realize that just as I assumed I wouldnÕt be attending Mass while in Pakistan, I assumed that I wouldnÕt be sharing my faith. I didnÕt do it with Yousef and I didnÕt do it with my companion last night.
Why? Why did I think that while I was here looking for the parts of myself that IÕve lost, I could take a break from the parts of myself IÕve found?
As IÕm walking toward Yousef, I know I have to say something to him. But IÕm feeling chilled despite the sunny day. My mind goes back to the protesters in favour of the anti-blasphemy laws. Whose side was Yousef on?
IÕm in a country that might not look too favorably on a woman who shares the Gospel. I look back at the cathedral. Would I be putting these people in danger?
I turn and look at Yousef, now only steps away. His soul matters to God. And IÕm filled with an overwhelming affection for Yousef as I realize that his soul matters to me, too. Why wouldnÕt I want him in Heaven? IÕm struck by how unbearable a thought it is to think of this man in Hell.
Besides, it you donÕt share the most important part of yourself with someone, you donÕt really love them.
I take a deep breath and when Yousef smiles and opens the door for me, I wait for him to ask me about Mass, something that could begin a conversation. But he only returns to his side of the car and gets into the driverÕs seat.
ÒIt was a very nice Mass today,Ó I say deciding to make my own opportunity.
He nods pleasantly and smiles at me in the rearview mirror.
My mind goes utterly blank so I pray. I pray for inspiration. And then I realize, thatÕs the answer.
ÒYousef,Ó I say. ÒCan I pray for you?Ó
ÒAh,Ó he sounds momentarily at a loss for an answer. But he recovers. It was a little abrupt of me. ÒYes, Emma. Thank you. That would be nice,Ó he adds.
ÒIÕll pray the Rosary for you,Ó I say.
ÒMaryam,Ó he replies, nodding.
It takes me a few seconds to realize that Maryam is Mary.
ÒYes,Ó I say. ÒThe mother of Jesus.Ó
ÒShe is in the Quran,Ó says Yousef. ÒA very righteous woman.Ó
ÒA very righteous woman,Ó I agree. I think of Mary standing at the foot of the cross watching her son die for the sins of the world. If she can do that, I can at least tell people about her son. I take a deep breath.
ÒShe watched her son die for our sins,Ó I say.
Yousef is silent. Maybe he doesnÕt agree. I donÕt know. But itÕs a start.
As Yousef helps me out of the taxi, I make sure my tip is a generous one. I donÕt want him to think Christians are stingy. He thanks me and as IÕm walking up the steps to the hotel entrance, I hear the familiar words, ÒI love you.Ó
ÒI love you, too, Yousef,Ó I call back. This time I know I really mean it.