|The Friendship Bond
Having met at the Muscat International airport in Oman, Aileen and Poorvi fell to easy camaraderie. While Aileen, a Moroccan, found a job as a systems manager at a Muscat-based business firm called Gulf Eyes, Poorvi came from Port Blair, to teach English at a women’s college. As they went through immigration formalities, they’d exchanged the reasons that brought them to Muscat. Their excitement doubled when they’d found they were going to stay in the same apartment complex.
The Sultan of Oman, bent on modernizing his country, was directly behind their appointments. Paying high salaries to skilled professionals wasn’t difficult for the oil-rich Sultanate.
“You don’t look like a Moroccan at all,” said Poorvi gazing at Aileen’s sandy hair.
“Oh, you mean due to my hair? It came from the bottle, babe. I love anything western from mini-skirts to the Macintosh, and a thousands other things in between,” affirmed Aileen. A stylish brown pantsuit encased her petite figure. “Of course, back home I get criticized for that, but what the heck, you’ve just one life, why not live it as you’d prefer?”
Impressive, thought Poorvi, who looked smart in blue jeans and lavender top. Her thick auburn hair, brushed back and clipped at the nape, highlighted her wide forehead and clear cut features.
Tall, fair and into mid-twenties, both drew admiring glances from around.
The blistering desert sun hit them once they were outside the lobby. White-robed and clad women bustled about the driveways.
“Thank God, the Sultan is broadminded. Women are much freer here than those in Morocco,” said Aileen, who’d a better knowledge of Oman.
Poorvi couldn’t tell the difference, for Port Blair was pretty modern in itself. A year after her birth, her parents migrated to this place when her dad got a well-paid job on a coconut plantation. After schooling she went to college in Redding, UK, for graduation and a course in teacher-training.
They spotted two young men with placards flashing their names. When Poorvi and Aileen had walked up to them, they greeted them with a introducing themselves as Shiraz and Rashid.
“Why not we go by the same car as we’re going to the same place?” Poorvi nodded to Aileen’s suggestion. Soon they were speeding towards the outskirts with Rashid at the wheel; Shiraz followed them in another car with their cases. They chatted while tree-lined, clean wide roads with traffic signs swept by.
They were at the Apartment complex within an hour. The guard at the entrance greeted them with a welcoming smile. A solid wall edged with date palms, ran around the compound. Trim lawns with sprinklers and fountains fronted the buildings.
An elevator took them to the third floor, which had their accommodation. The single bed flats had a furnished sitting room, dining parlor, and a kitchen with a micro oven, a stove and a fridge. They loved the gleaming bath with a marble tub and a shower. Pastel-colored curtains matched the painted walls. Pots of natural plants shone green in different corners.
“Wow! What a place!” exclaimed Poorvi, shaking her head in disbelief at the surrounding luxury.
“They certainly know how to motivate us,” responded Aileen, her eyes twinkling.
“Would you like to go out today ladies?” asked Shiraz, soon after their tour of the apartments.
“Where do you think we can go on our first day, Shiraz?” Poorvi came up.
“There are beaches, malls, masjids and museums you can choose from. You may stop by at a hotel for dinner if you’d like,” he suggested.
Once the men left, they’d unpacked, ate a leisurely lunch of chicken potpourri that Shiraz fetched from a nearby hotel, and chatted till their travel-weary eyelids drooped.
In the evening, as they drove through the city, Rashid pointed out Sultan’s palace glittering colorfully against the twilight sky, the big malls, and the busy main streets. At the end of their casual tour, they went to a fusion food center called “Kargeen Caffe.”
“Cool!” Aileen said, looking around appreciatively. A waiter in Arabic clothes, showed them to a table for four, in an open restaurant. Padded rattan chairs and table faced the mountain range afar. The sunset view was breathtaking, with a sky painted in numerous colors.
The service was unique. The menu consisted of varieties from kebabs, rice to pizza, salads and juices. The girls did full justice to Kebabs and Arabian fried rice. Tea made with cloves was a hit with both.
Monday, their first working day, was full of excitement. They sought each other’s advice in things like, what to wear, and how to go about in a country that was at the crossroads of tradition and modernity. Their anticipation hung high.
Two months went by in quick succession. Poorvi’s college routine proved totally absorbing. Her method of teaching, and efforts to help the weak students, won her their admiration, and the principal’s appreciation. Her recommendation for a language lab was sent for approval from the higher authorities.
Aileen had a similar sense of job satisfaction at the firm. Handling different computer problems was not new to her, but the friendly environment at an international organization made a welcome difference.
During the weekends, after attending to domestic needs, the twosome played table tennis, or read by the pool in the compound. Occasionally, they were invited to house parties, which were by far, tame. Their picnics by the beach were more fun. They had each other to share laughter and pain, and confide in their dreams and future plans.
On a bright Sunday morning, they sat relaxed on a comfortable settee in Aileen’s living room. Conversation flowed between them as they sipped Poorvi’s brew of Indian tea from red porcelain cups. Outside, sunlight glistened on the lawns. Kids squealed while playing ball. There was a couple perched on a date branch surveying the world around.
Aileen looked attractive in white cotton pants and matching top. Her sandy hair swirled around her shoulders. Blue eyes were attentive to Poorvi’s recipe of coconut sweetmeat. Dressed in white leggings and a striped white tank top, Poorvi explained her favorite delicacy with enthusiasm. Her gleaming dark auburn hair caught in a red elastic band, fell to her slim neck. They chatted about their office climate, news from home, and Aileen’s approaching wedding to a Moroccan doctor.
A foot ball match was in progress on the TV. The announcer intervened with breaking news.
“Today, hundreds of protesters are blocking roads leading to the country’s main port in Sohar; demonstrations are also spreading to the capital Muscat.”
“The wave of pro-democracy fervor sweeping the Middle East and North Africa has landed in Oman, a tiny Arab sultanate thought to have been one of the region’s most stable, prosperous places,” she continued.
“Isn’t it ironic?” said Poorvi looking at the shocking pictures of vandalized street scenes. “Here we are thinking we are safe, and suddenly something dangerous erupts,” her voice, sad.
“Oh Poorvi, we’ve just begun and, already begin to end,” Aileen cried out heartbrokenly.
On the very next day, Aileen was contacted by the Moroccan embassy. They asked her to be ready to leave Oman in seventy two hours.
Nothing like that happened with Poorvi. Alarmed at their silence, she rang the Indian Embassy. They informed her that evacuating Indians from Oman would take at least a week.
“Why don’t you come with me to Morocco, Poorvi? You can attend my wedding as well,” implored, Aileen. When Poorvi couldn’t decide, she followed up on her idea. She called the Moroccan consulate, and enquired of the possibility of letting Poorvi go with her. An office assistant advised them to talk to the consul in person.
At two in the afternoon on the same day, the consul general of Morocco agreed to see them.
“So you want to take your friend with you,” he said looking at Poorvi’s passport. He seemed sympathetic to her situation; a young girl left alone could be an easy target in a riot-torn country. He stamped his approval without much ado.
What would be my condition if he didn’t approve? reflected Poorvi. Her eyes filled with tears of love and gratitude.
“How can I ever return this favor Aileen?”
“Think of me as your surrogate mother, silly,” chuckled, Aileen. Poorvi smiled through tears.
Two days later, they were aboard a plane to Rabat, Morocco. Aileen’s parents were glad that a friend of their daughter was coming along. With Aileen’s marriage arrangements in full swing, they welcomed her visit.
“Welcome to Morocco, Poorvi,” said Aileen smiling, once the flight touched down at the Rabat airport.
Rabat bristled in a heat wave. The landscape looked arid. Rolling mountain ranges stood stark with sparse greenery.
A chauffeur-driven sedan took them home. Aileen’s father was a diplomat, which explained the security at his bungalow.
The next day, Poorvi talked to her parents on phone, assuring them of her safe exit from Muscat. She could sense their relief. They thanked Aileen, and her parents for being so good to their daughter stranded in a foreign country.
“Why don’t you and your husband come to Port Blair for your honeymoon? It has beautiful beaches and gardens,” Poorvi’s mom invited Aileen.
Aileen thanked them, promising a visit in the future.
After a two-week stay at Aileen’s home, Poorvi returned to Port Blair wrapped in a cloud of fond memories. The grand wedding of Aileen, Moroccan hospitality, the Arabian dancing, and camel trekking were unforgettable.
“I expect you both at my place next summer,” said Poorvi, shaking hands with the newly-weds who came to see her off.
“Certainly. This is the kind of friendship, which crosses the borders of region and religion I admire, and would gladly be a part of it. I can see it will endure through thick and thin,” said Ahmed smiling warmly at the friends.
Aileen and Poorvi hugged each other with tear-filled eyes.
Word Count: 1666.