ICSA Today, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2018, 11-13
“You must never manipulate people,” Royce said, brushing long golden curls out of her eyes. “Yet people do this every single day. For example…,”—she stood up and pointed toward the window, where a few of my friends could be seen—“Zalinah over there makes a perfect Youth Coordinator. She has all the beautiful qualities that we are looking for. Yet you want the position too, don’t you?”
I shrug. “I guess.” Deep down, I know I’d be a terrible Youth Coordinator.
“God told us that Zalinah is our chosen one. It is normal to feel angry, jealous, and bitter, Miranda.”
Hands stuffed into my pockets, I mumble, “Yeah.”
I watch Zalinah as she sits on the grass and laughs with two handsome musicians. She is so beautiful—exactly the right person for the job. I only asked to be considered because I wanted to be useful. But really, Zalinah’s the sweetest, kindest, and most generous person I know. And oh, so beautiful.
“So you see, Miranda,” Royce continues, “God’s challenge to you is to guard against your baser instincts right now. Do you understand? You mustn’t allow yourself to be bitter or resentful toward Zalinah, or try to hurt or humiliate her, or punish her because God chose her over you. You mustn’t blame her for the gifts she has been given. Can I trust you with that?” She gives me a guarded, suspicious smile.
I squirm, but I nod and smile. Why does she think I’d hate Zalinah? I must come across as a monster. Guiltily, I slink out of the meditation hall and head back to my room.
Zalinah is unpacking some boxes from a van, with a few other people around our age. She smiles at me.
“Hi!” I wave. “Looks heavy! Do you need any help?”
For a moment, a cloud passes over my face. Is that being competitive? Will Zalinah feel like I’m intruding on her space? Am I trying to put her down or gain some sense of superiority over her? Will she think I’m calling her weak or implying that I’m stronger?
“Oh, we’re nearly done. Thank you, though!” She moves away with a big grin. Is the smile an act? Is she uncomfortable? Did I upset her?
Deep down, I wonder, was I wrong to go up to her? I wasn’t trying to put her down. I like to think I’m kind and generous, but what if that isn’t true? What if I am a selfish, horrible monster, and I’m the only one who can’t see it?
The doorbell rings.
“Miranda!” My husband shouts from the bathroom. “It’ll be the delivery guys! Can you get it?”
I rush to the door of our apartment, trying to avoid the wet, moss-green paint on the walls. I open the door to see a smiling man in front of me, and a van behind him. “Hey!” he says. “Delivery for Sulieman?”
“That’s us!” I smile as he hands out a console for me to sign. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“Sure is, pet. This is my last delivery for the day. Then back home to the wife for me. It’s my son’s birthday.”
“Oh, fabulous! How old is he?” I drag the box inside the door, bending over a little. He leans down and helps push it.
“Kieran’s 7. Lucy is 5, and Laura’s 3. It’s Kieran whose birthday is today. Gonna go home now to a garden of 7-year-old boys doped up on sugar!”
“Ha-ha! Sounds exhausting! Have a wonderful night!”
“You too, pet! Take care!”
I close the door behind him, smiling. Suddenly, I freeze.
My husband is standing at the other end of the dark hallway. He’s staring at me with a face of thunder. “Well, you certainly made a friend.” His voice is frozen knives.
I go to push the box into the hall. “We were just talking. I was only being friendly.”
“Yeah?” Adam’s voice is threatening. “Did he know that?”
“Adam, he just wanted to go home to his family. Now come give me a hand with this box.”
“Why don’t you go get him back, eh? I bet he’d love to give you a hand. I bet he’d give you a lot more than that, given the way you were bending over.”
“Oh, stop it,” I snap. “Come on.” Deep in my chest, my heart is aching. Did that guy really think I was coming onto him? Was I acting inappropriately?
Adam stares at me with a look of disgust. “I’m going for a walk,” he hisses. Normally, he copies my accent when he talks. But whenever he’s angry, his old voice hisses out, like it is now. I hate that voice. It’s like there’s this whole other person inside him. He slithers away like a snake, pushing past me out of the door.
I don’t know how long he’ll be. Could be 5 minutes, could be 2 hours. The only thing I know is that if he comes back to find me gone, hell will utterly break loose on earth. Same if I’m playing music or watching a film. Not much I can do but wait. I drag the box down the hallway and into the living room. It’s filled with little knick-knacks we ordered.
I sit on the sofa, fielding another dilemma: If I unpack them now, he’ll be upset that I did it without him. But if I don’t, he might come back and be angry that it hasn’t been done. For the millionth time this week, I think about how much I want to leave, but he’s such a good husband. He cares for me, keeps a roof over my head. Who else would want me? Who else would put up with me?
I make a cup of tea and stare out the window, at the long line of cars stretching far down the street.
At 6 p.m. he comes back in. I smell the fish and chips straight away, that pungent waft of soggy batter drenched in vinegar. “Squashy!” he calls. “I brought you din-dins!”
I wince. Sometimes I wish he’d just talk like an adult. His baby language frustrates me. I suppose it’s meant to be cute, but it never stops. Never. He never, ever talks to me normally. Not unless he’s yelling.
I want to say, “Fish and chips again? Fourth time this week?” I want to say, “I’d planned to use up those vegetables in the fridge.” I want to say, “I need to go out for a walk too, Adam.”
I say none of those things, because I don’t want another fight. “Thank you!” Give him a big hug. “It smells so good! I’ll get plates.”
“Well, I’ve gotta take care of my Squashy. Who else will? Can’t let her starve.” For real, he pats me on the head.
I fight to keep my happy, smiling, grateful face on, but deep down inside I want to scream.
“Miranda!” Sura runs up to me. “I’ve got a job for you!”
“Ooh, brilliant!” Sura is Communications Officer. I asked to be put forward for the role myself, but God didn’t think I had the right qualities. But that’s already in the past. “I’d love to work with you!”
“Now, Miranda, it’s unpaid, but I already tested, and it seems that you are exactly who I need. Would you like to be my assistant? Maybe 2 to 3 days a week for the next 6 months?”
My heart sinks. It’d be great, but I need money.
“Sure…,” I falter. “Let me talk it over with Adam.” He’ll veto it for sure; he cannot stand me working for free. For once, that’s almost a relief.
Three women stand in front of me. Adriana is our spiritual guide. She’s very high up in the organization, and it’s an honor to have her here. An extremely intimidating honor. Adriana is petite, and very feminine. She’s standing in a long, floaty skirt and very thick socks. I wish I’d brought mine—why must meditation halls always have cold floors? Is it part of the design, to cultivate discomfort?
The other two women are Sura and Royce. “Great Protector,” the tall, imposing Royce begins, holding her arms out to the silence of the shady hall, in which my toes are already becoming numb despite it being summer. “We are here to receive your wisdom, if it be your will.” They all close their eyes and raise their arms up to the ceiling.
“Dear God,” Adriana takes over, “what should Miranda’s mindset be toward taking an unpaid internship with Sura?”
Suddenly all the women start skipping around, clapping their hands and laughing, as God takes over their bodies just to tell me what to do.
“And God,” Adriana goes on, as the women’s laughing and clapping die down, “how would it be for Miranda if she does not take this placement with Sura?”
The women groan. They are falling to the floor, clutching their stomachs, writhing in agony. They are in pain right now, because of me. It’s horrible to watch.
“Stop! Clear!” They shake their hands and make whirring noises to get rid of the bad vibes. The bad vibes I caused them. “Now God, what should Miranda’s attitude be toward money?”
The women are retreating hastily across the room, each holding up a hand as if to push something away…; no, it’s clearly bad for me to think about money.
Adriana stops them, and we all sit cross-legged in a circle on the floor. They are all staring at me: Adriana on my right is smiling and kind. Royce on my left is cold-eyed, icy, and imposing. Sura sits opposite, looking smug. It is customary at this point for the women to go around the group and each explain her interpretation of what God just told them.
“Well, I felt that it is very good for you to work with Sura,” Adriana begins. “It was just so light and happy and free. I felt that, if you didn’t take it, things would be very dark for you. Possibly for years even. You’d be depressed and lonely and trapped, but I received that this opened a lot of doors for you.”
Sura next, giving a somewhat patronizing smile. “Yes, I received the same as Adriana. I felt that this is an ideal opportunity for you. I also received that your attitude to life, finances, and careers holds you back. You aren’t ready to trust God’s infinite ability to bestow bounties upon you. I feel that this is something you will learn during this placement.”
Royce stared at me with her unfriendly eyes. “I received much the same as the others, Miranda. I too received that your bad attitude holds you back. You want prestige and power, so you apply for jobs with us that God says you don’t have the right inner qualities for. But you aren’t useless because he wants you for this job. You need to master your selfish desires and learn humility, and to give of yourself freely.”
I nod, dreading to raise the topic with Adam of another fruitless, unpaid internship. He already thinks I’m so flaky; how can I possibly explain it’s God’s Will?
The women and I sit in the drafty meditation hall for another 2 hours. They want to explore my attitude toward work, money, careers, success, and so on. By the end of the afternoon, I’m exhausted and tearful. Adriana suspected that my attitude toward money comes from my childhood, and she wanted to dig deep into my poisoned aura. Then Royce wanted to find the roots of my selfishness and my bitter jealousy toward other successful people. Sura eventually receives that it is because of my lack of natural femininity, and I’d attract fewer demons if I wore nice skirts. They all nod and agree.
The sun has set and we’re all emotionally exhausted before Adriana asks me if there’s anything else I want them to ask God.
“Yeah…,” I answer. “Just quickly. Things are kinda tough in my marriage right now…”
“Almighty God,” starts Adriana, leaping up. “What should Miranda’s attitude be to her husband?”
They all start singing, running around, hugging each other, and praising the Lord. “Oh, you definitely need to stay with him,” they tell me. “Marriage is a sacred bond. Your love is the greatest gift in your life. God himself has brought you together.”
Adam is sitting on the sofa watching a documentary when I get home. “So? How was your day with the crazies?” he mocks. He does a bad impression of women chanting.
I flop down on the sofa beside him. “Well,” I say. “Apparently God wants me to work for them part time…”
“How much are they paying you?” His demeanor instantly changes.
“Well, nothing, but it is God’s Will…”
“God’s Will,” he sneers. “They’re just exploiting you. Why can’t you see that? You’re too naïve and trusting. You’d give yourself to anyone, wouldn’t you? What about ME? I need you to get a job, so we can afford to have a family. Never mind those crazies. I only joined because your dad made me.”
“They like you,” I add, defensively. “They want you to be a Men’s Helper.”
“Really?” He frowns. “They said that?”
“Yes, of course! I think they like you more than me!”
This is not a lie.
I’m lying awake as the 2 a.m. moon streams through our thin turquoise curtains. Adam won’t buy thicker ones because of money. I can’t sleep unless it’s dark, so most nights I can’t sleep.
I think about what everyone said.
Adam thinks I’m weak and naïve. Royce thinks I’m selfish and cold. They can’t both be right. Or can they? Which is it? It’s wrong to be too trusting, and wrong to be selfish. But which am I? What would be right?
All I know is that everyone agrees there’s something wrong with me. They hate me. They must despise me. They must see something terrible that I’m too twisted up in myself to see.
The summer slowly starts to fade. I’m lying out on the lawn in the fading twilight. A flock of wild geese flies overhead, migrating to wherever they belong.
I want so much to fly off with them.