A love story without a Hollywood ending04 july 2011, 13:52
My American friend Jack and his Tajik beauty Ainur were very much in love.
Jack had gotten the romance off to a Hollywood start by grabbing a rose from a street vendor in Almaty, then hailing a car to catch the gorgeous woman he had spotted on the street before she could disappear onto a bus.
As the two dated, it was apparent to Jack’s friends that it was a great match. Jack was hard-charging and emotional. Ainur was laid back and sweet. She had a calming effect on him. When he was hyped up, he said, she could lay her hand gently on his and his tension would melt away.
A few weeks into their love story, Jack asked Ainur if she had told her parents about him.
“My mother,” she said. “We’re very close. I can tell her everything.”
“And your father?” Jack asked.
“No,” she said. “He wants me to marry a Tajik. It’s going to be difficult to talk about you. I am thinking now about how to do this, but it will take time for me to decide how.”
She didn’t mention talking to her father again. And, being American, Jack was optimistic he could overcome any initial resistance her father would have to their relationship. Once Papa saw how serious he was about his daughter, everything would be Ok, Jack thought.
Jack and Ainur had a torrid and happy four months together. Then she disappeared.
Jack was frantic. Maybe she left to deal with a family emergency in Tajikistan, he thought. If that were the case, though, why hadn’t she let him know?
Other possibilities that went through his mind were grimmer and more frightening. Maybe she got into an accident and was lying in a hospital bed somewhere, unable to contact him, he worried.
One month went by. Then two, three, four. No word from Ainur.
Jack’s initial hope that she would return to him turned into despair that he would never see her again.
Then one day his mobile rang.
“Jack,” came the familiar voice, “I am in western Kazakhstan.”
“Why haven’t you called me?” he demanded. “What’s going on? I’ve been sick with worry.”
“I’m sorry – I couldn’t,” she said. “Jack, I’m married.”
“What?” he cried, pain searing his heart. “How could you do that to me – to us?”
There was a pause. Then she said: “My father wanted me to marry someone from a similar background. My husband is Kazakh.”
It was apparent that Mama had become concerned enough about the possibility of Ainur marrying a foreigner who was Christian that she told her husband.
Jack didn’t want to believe what he was hearing. It seemed like a bad dream.
“Ainur, are you happy?” he asked.
She paused again. “Yes,” she said – but there was no conviction in her voice.
“Jack, I have to go,” she said. “I wish you happiness.”
She hung up. He has never heard from her again.
Jack’s story reminded me of similar situations that happened to American and British friends in Japan, where I was a journalist for nine years.
A couple of my friends fell in love with Japanese women. In both cases, religion was not an issue. Most Japanese are Buddhist or Shinto – but in name only. They don’t practice their faith.
The reason that my two expat friends lost their loves was because the women were from rich or socially prominent families. Over Papa’s dead body would a middle-class foreigner join his family.
I give Ainur credit for loving Jack enough to call him to try to ease his pain. Neither of my expat friends in Japan got a call. Their lovers simply changed their mobile numbers and vanished.
Jack has moved on, dating other women. But none of them is Ainur.
We shared a beer when I was in Almaty recently, and he answered the question he knew was on my mind but I was unable to ask.
“Yes,” he said, looking into my eyes. “Yes, I still love her.”