The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

My First Love 

We never forget our first love. I was reminded of that, on a day when the Saudi press is relatively quiet. Not a lot happening. Nothing to tremble the Muslim Offense Level meter. Not even an unctious story about thirty royal hangers-on saying farewell to the King as he is driven all the fifty miles from Makkah to Jeddah with a bag of candy and his favorite comic.

Then this story caught my eye.

With Attitudes Changing, Companies Prefer to Hire Nonsmokers

Work attitudes are seemingly shifting in the Kingdom with many companies that previously sought competencies in English and computer literacy preferring nonsmoking workers over smokers, according to a report published by Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. Job seekers need to brace themselves in ticking the nonsmoking boxes in job applications.

I had also got an email from "Thess", who had been kindly doing some research into why snuff may be Haram. She had found this ruling

Islamic Ruling on Smoking
It has become abundantly clear that, sooner or later, smoking, in whichever form and by whichever means, causes extensive health and financial damage to smokers. It is also the cause of a variety of diseases. Consequently, and on this evidence alone, smoking would be forbidden and should in no way be practiced by Muslims. Furthermore, the obligation to preserve one's health and wealth, as well as that of society as a whole, and medical evidence now available on the dangers of smoking, further support this view.

Not snuff, of course, but near enough. And my mind started to drift away, as it can do at the weekend, to a distant time when I was much younger. To a time when, as the Craig Douglas song should have said:

I was only sixteen, only sixteen
I loved her so
But I was too young to fall in love
And she was too old, I know

So who was she, and why was this love forbidden for one of my tender years?

Let us begin with her title. Definitely not Miss, because she had been "round the track a few times", and then some. Not Mrs, because that conjures up notions of domestic responsibility, definitely not her. And Ms always brings to my mind ambitious female accountants in power suits. No, we have to travel abroad. Apologies to all respectably-married Francophones out there, but for the rest of us, this title is synonymous with Gallic naughtiness - Madame. But Madame who?

I was first introduced to Madame Nicotine by a schoolfriend. As I said, she "put herself about". And for a sixteen-year-old in search of excitement and experience, she seemed to be the answer to my adolescent prayers. I remember the first time as though it were only yesterday. It took place in a dark and secluded corner, of course. But I will never forget the excitement as she first brushed my lips, her taste as she entered my mouth....

And then afterwards. The exhilaration. The guilt. The nausea. I decided there and then, that this was a dangerous lady, once was enough, no more.

And so it was for a few weeks. Then we met again, and I succumbed again. "But no problem", I thought to myself, "I can take her or leave her". So I left her. But some weeks later, I took her once more. And so it went on, and each time she grew on me just a little bit more. Less nausea, more excitement, more satisfaction.

Until the day came that I realized we were inseparable. We were meant for each other, and I was her willing slave. I began to spend more and more on her, because she didn't come cheap. Parents would warn me against her, say she was bad for me, but I didn't care, I would flaunt our relationship, deliberately parade her in public. As a student, I would often spend money on her instead of food, because when I was with her, I no longer felt hunger. She became a part of my every waking moment.

I left college and started earning money, which of course I spent on her. We couldn't get enough of each other. We would consummate our relationship twenty times a day. Sometimes it would be eager, greedy, I would snatch gratification from her selfishly. Other times it would be gentle, relaxed, we would luxuriate in the quiet enjoyment of each other. Often, though, I would just take her for granted, my hand reaching out for her unconsciously, taking her while my mind was on other things. But she didn't mind, as long as I kept spoiling her with my money.

When I married, she became part of a ménage à trois. I felt guilty, of course, that she was taking money that should have gone into the marriage, into the home. When our children arrived, I was even more guilty. Suspecting that she might harm them, we confined our meetings to the garage, the garden, furtive once more. Who would want their own children to fall for Mme. Nicotine's charms when they grew up?

Many times I tried to give her up. I told her so. She just laughed in my face. She knew my weaknesses only too well. And of course I couldn't live without her. Before long, I would come crawling back. She always took me back, for sure, but not without making me feel inadequate, humiliated. She always knew how to humiliate me. How many times, discovering late at night that she was no longer there, did I wander the streets searching for a place where I might find her? Or, being somewhere where she was not allowed, how often did she entice me outside, for a quick and sordid liason in the pouring rain?

Finally I decided "Enough is enough". She was bad for my health, bad for my pocket, her scent covered me and told of our shameful relationship to the world at large. I announced to her that we were finished. How did she react? Just like that scene in "Fatal Attraction", where Glenn Close says "That's alright with me, if you want us to split up. We've had our fun, you more than me, but now your wife deserves to have you all the time. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine on my own. It'll be a good chance to learn cross-stitch. Give my love to the rabbits!"

As if. "Hell hath no fury". Cruella de Ville on steroids. "You'll never leave me", she spat out in rage, "you are weak and puny and have no will power at all. You won't believe how much I'll make you suffer!"

She was right. Those first few weeks were a living hell. I don't know what stopped me going back to her. In desperation I flung myself into the arms of Miss Mint. She was a sweet thing, sure enough, and for a few brief moments she could take my mind off Mme Nicotine, but she didn't have the personality, the depth, or the sheer naughtiness of my former lover to make it a lasting relationship. And I think she always knew that, that when she had served my selfish needs, I would throw her away like a candy wrapper into a trash can. Men are like that. But she fulfilled her purpose, and finally I was free.

That was a while ago. Time has been hard on Mme Nicotine. Once the companion of royalty and film stars, she is no longer welcome in her former haunts, at the movies or around the dinner table. Time has also altered my memories, and I just remember her as dirty, smelly, her hand forever in my wallet.

Occasionally I see her again, in the distance, in a cafe or bar, and she gives me a look of sad reproach. For a very brief moment, I remember our good times together, that first time she brushed my lips.

I sometimes agree with Mme Nicotine's fellow-countryman, Marcel Proust, when he said

There is no man, however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory.

But then, if we expunge the memory of our first love, what else is worth remembering?

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