“We have to sell about ninety tickets,” Charlie was telling Sita and Fatima, “although this is easier than you think.”
“How so?” asked Sita, who was making notes while he spoke. Charlie may be bossy, but this month she’d come to become friends with him (if that was the term).
“No one goes for spring break alone. Well, some people do. But mainly we can tap groups of eight, ten. Many couples too. The numbers add up.”
Fatima got up from her seat. “Once you figure out the details and the cost Sita, let me know, and I will start selling it around campus. I have to go for class. See you.”
She nodded at Charlie as she left. Theirs was an uneasy peace, but long as the system worked, no one complained.
“Free for lunch?”
“No, actually I have to meet a friend upstairs.”
“Ah, ok. So let me tell you about how this works. I know a travel agent; he’s reliable. He is going to make all the arrangements. I have spoken to him. So we will leave early Friday morning, which brings us to Cuba in the afternoon. We return the following Sunday.”
“Yes. Now because Americans are not allowed to go into Cuba – and many of them will ask you this – tell them that their passport will not be stamped. The visa is given on a piece of paper. In fact, tell them to take American dollars if they can. They love the dollar there.”
“As does everyone,” piped Sita.
“Yeah, right. Ok, one more thing Sita, but this information is just for you. Although, you can tell the others if you want. For every fifteen tickets sold – or perhaps it’s twenty, I will check – one person can go free. It’s our profit margin. We keep this for the executive – after all, it is a way of paying you back for all your hard work.”
Sita nodded. Maybe Charlie wanted to go free, that was why he had been so involved in the first place.
“Tarek and I are not going. But you should find out from the others what their plans are, if they want to go to Cuba, and accordingly set your target so that everyone can go free. Otherwise, say three of you are going and only two tickets are free – well, I needn’t tell you how messy it can become.”
“Oh hey, look at the time. You should get going for lunch.”
“Right, right. Well, thanks Charlie,” said Sita as she collected her things and headed towards the elevator. It was only when the doors opened she realized she’d left Charlie alone in the office.
For some reason, it was unsettling.
During lunch with Nico, Sita kept thinking about what Charlie had told her about the tickets. Unfortunately, she couldn’t say thing to Nico because she believed the people who hang out at the lounge should really not know the dirty laundry of the executive. It would probably keep them from coming around, if they thought the atmosphere was so negatively charged. And so, while Nico was filling her in about her amazing New Years party, Sita reviewed options in her head.
She wanted one of those tickets. Why not! A free trip to Cuba sounded pretty damn good to her. But to lie about it to everyone else was not right. She felt angry with Charlie, why did he have to make everything sound so sinister? Any event that took place, be it to New York, Boston or even Quebec City, one member of the executive was required to go for the trips to make sure everything ran smoothly. This was no different, in fact, this trip would need at least two exec members to run it. Chances are, if I don’t tell people about the option, they will figure it out anyway – and I’ll look as bad as Charlie does, she thought.
“And they let me play a half an hour set, can you believe that!” Nico was saying.
“That’s crazy Nico, wow, so you’re a famous DJ now!”
“Ha ha… hardly, but I have to say, some of the pictures of me up there look pretty cool!”
“Tell me more…” deflected Sita, continuing to think about the Cuba situation.
She would handle it this way: tell everyone she wanted to go. Ask them who else did. And they would just figure it out. She wasn’t going to let Charlie make her like him, all cloaked in secret and lies.
“It’s on the 18th,” Sarah told Dan. “We had originally wanted the protest to coincide with the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. But there have been some organizational problems.”
“You are part of a larger protest, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the thing. There are going to be protests in Ottawa and Toronto, as well as London, Paris, Tokyo, Moscow…”
“Against the administration’s plans to invade Iraq?”
“It’s not completely about Iraq, but yes, it’s an anti-war protest. We do have local channels covering it, but Sita – you know her right – she told me to tell you too. Said it’s just the kind of story you’d like.”
Dan’s face lit up for a moment. “Is she taking part?”
Sarah laughed, “I’m not sure. She said it might be too cold and too early for her, but I’m sure she’ll come around. She’s helping me with publicity though, through her extensive network.”
“Right, her impressive mailing list…”
“Yeah. So anyway, about the protest, do you want to cover it?”
“I do, most definitely. Thanks for coming by, Sarah. I’ll call you for the logistics, where you are walking through, so that I can set up cameras.”
Before she left Campus TV office, Sarah decided to play nice.
“The president of the Arab Association is this guy called Elie, this protest has been his baby. You should interview him,” she said, feeling proud of her first jab at media management.
Alia walked into her history class: Homosexuality in Britain. Abba would die if he knew I had this as a class, she thought, laughing aloud. She had come across it online and thought it might be fun to take. She was right. Initially the small size of the class made her nervous, till she remembered it was probably better this way. She was the only brown person in the room. There were about ten boys – all gay – and three other girls – all gay too. The professor was gay. And just because she was in the minority, she felt left out! Which is just part and parcel of being a minority, she thought ruefully.
Today they were going to study Oscar Wilde. Alia loved Wilde, having studied The Importance of Being Earnest in school. They hadn’t told her anything about his personal life back then, but that wasn’t surprising. Everything felt censored back home now, she thought. Not like here. Everyone is so flamboyant and no one bats an eyelash. It felt so liberating!
The professor wasn’t in, so she went to get herself a coffee from outside. One of her classmates was at the machine.
“I like your t-shirt,” he said, offering her a cup.
“Thanks. I like your shoes.”
He giggled. It was really sweet. “So, what made you take this class…um…?”
“Right, Alia. I’m Andy.”
“This class? Not sure, just on impulse.”
Was she being judged, wondered Alia. “Plus I’m all for equal rights…”
“Really? You should come to our office, we advocate transgender rights.”
What is up with everyone and their damn offices, thought Alia, don’t people just… be… anymore?
“Sure, sounds good,” she lied.
“You’re smiling. Like a cat.”
“Yes, Sarah, how may I help you?”
“Well, Sita, I come in peace. And a bucket of General Tao’s chicken.”
“I thought you smelled extra delicious today. I’m yours. What do you want?”
“Every time you make a call, or send an email, or have a visitor drop by your office, can you do me a teeny tiny favor?”
“Ask them to attend your rally?”
“You know, I’m already doing that?”
“Want more chicken?”
“I could do with dessert.”
“I’m sorry. I draw the line at chicken.”
Moments later, she was smacked on the forehead with a plastic spoon.
Dan was sitting with Sarah and Elie, discussing how many people they expected. “You know, I just have three cameras with me, but I am going to use all of them. At the start, middle and finish.”
“That is good Dan. Like I was telling you, we are joining up with some of the other colleges. As well as local organizations, churches, you name it. It isn’t a ‘student rally’ you must remember. It’s for everyone.”
“That is great. I thought it was a college event all this time.”
“No,” added Sarah, “we didn’t limit ourselves. You can imagine, the bigger the numbers, the better the coverage. We’ve asked local news to come too.”
“Wow. So, how do you know how many people are coming?”
“We’ve set up an email account and keep asking people, if they can, to confirm.”
“And how many have?”
“Keeping in mind we have some time to go,” said Elie, opening up a document on his computer, “All together, over 5000.”
“Yeah. I hope we make it to 10,000.”
On the way back to his office, Dan decided to stop by ISN impulsively. As it happened, Sita had office hours today. Truth be told, he’d stopped by ‘impulsively’ the day before and found Derek sitting in the office, tinkering with the website.
In fact, that had also turned out well for Dan, because Derek was really good with all things online, and explained to him how storing videos would work online. But after a while, the conversation had waned.
Luckily, today, Sita was in the office. Although at the moment, she was sitting in the lounge with a few Europeans. They were discussing bagels.
“I like Tim Horton’s the best,” she was proclaiming, “fantastic bagels and even better coffee!” She saw him walk in and brightly waved out to him.
“Hey Sita, just met Sarah and Elie, so thought I’d come see how you are doing.”
“I’m good. Meet Eloise and Nicolas.”
After a little small talk, they moved into the office.
“I am trying to sell tickets to Cuba, but it’s a little slow. I suspect there will be many last minute buys.”
“So, whats up?” she said, looking at news online on the computer at the same time.
“Not much. Have to go to Ikea this weekend…”
“The leaders of the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain released a statement (The Letter of the Eight) demonstrating support for the United States’ plans to invade Iraq,” she read out and started laughing. “Oh man, Sarah’s going to blow a fuse!”
“Really? She might not. She might get more people for her rally?”
“You know, you’re probably right!”
This semester, the girls had taken Modern Political Thought. It was an unwritten rule, but they always took one class together every semester. Sometimes, just because they interests were similar, at least two of them had more classes together. Alia enjoyed the discussions in these classes, but she always felt like she didn’t know enough to ever speak. Sarah had always been vocal, and Sita had started piping up too. And there were always a dozen people who were very involved with the professors and the TAs, having lively and passionate debates.
As she sat next to them in class today, lights dimmed and the professor explaining “social contract”, Sarah whispered to her something about how obviously everyone knew Rousseau.
It annoyed Alia a little. Sarah was becoming a little too opinionated. Maybe she fancied herself as a political activist, or maybe she was developing a superiority complex about her grasp of news as it happened, but did it really mean she had to become louder?
Professor Green was talking, “John Stuart Mill, on the other hand, talked of ‘utilitarianism’. This means that man should work for the happiness for the greatest amount of people. The greater will should have an moral end. For Mill, actions are judged by their morality.”
A few hands went up. “Yes, Steve,” she asked.
Alia saw Sita whisper something in Sarah’s ear, but she wasn’t sure what it was. If she had to guess, he was probably the same Steve who also worked with Campus TV, and the same Steve who was pro-war.
“If I believe that spreading freedom and democracy is moral, and that sometimes it takes sacrifice. But if there are others, who advocate that we sit back and do nothing, then,” he asked, “In this case, how does one decide what the greater good is? Is it only dependant on numbers?”
“Well Steve,” replied Professor Green, “According to Mill, it was dependant on numbers. Would any action taken by you benefit a majority of the people? If yes, then, for him, that was the greater good.”
Another person was called upon from the front. “Professor, given the times we live in, who is to decide what is moral or not? No one argues that democracy is not the best form of government, but can I justify invading another country to spread it? Isn’t that the same as converting by the sword?”
“Yes, you have a point… Abby? Yes, Abby. This is a question we should explore. Is Mill’s approach too mathematical? His theory rests heavy on morality, but does it also mean that the ends justify the means? Or…” she said nodding at Steve, “does it simply mean that we must trust the judgment of the majority?”
Many hands went up. Professor Green gave a disclaimer before she called on the next person. “I know many of you are passionate about the situation with the US and Iraq. I encourage you to explore those circumstances through political philosophy. I will not stand for propaganda!”
Sarah finally got her turn. “I agree with Abby on the point. Utilitarianism is too theoretical, and in fact, its assumption that what the majority wants is right is scary. Look at Nazi Germany.”
“Okay,” interjected Professor Green, “there is something I want to bring out now. Many people think that utopian ideas, to be achieved, use utilitarianism. They claim their ideas are for the greater good. Any thoughts?”
Steve spoke again, “I have no personal preference for utilitarianism. The majority can be wrong, I accept that. But morality. Is that flexible too? For this theory to have any legs to stand on, shouldn’t the first act be to come to a common understanding of morality?”
“Wonderful point, Steve. I think our time is up. We’ll take the discussion further next time, and also, discuss libertarianism. Is it too simplistic?”
The bell rang.
As they shuffled out of class, Alia saw Andy from her homosexuality class. She ran towards him, “hey! I didn’t know you took modern political thought?”
“Yeah, just an elective. Mildly entertaining. I’m waiting for some real fights to start. Want to grab lunch before our class?”
Alia shot a look at Sarah and Sita. Should she invite Andy to join them? She decided against it. They were making all these friends without her. Who said she couldn’t do the same.
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
Then she shouted out to Sita in Hindi that she had to eat lunch with Andy, and that she’d catch them later.
They didn’t seem to mind, she noted with a scowl.
Sita and Sarah were home, watching CNN. Colin Powell was addressing the United Nations Security Council about Iraq.
“Wow,” sighed Sarah, almost with disbelief.
Sita’s phone rang.
“It’s Alia. She said she left her keys at home so we should keep the door unlocked.”
“Yeah, she’s out with Assad and Tom. It’ll be late. She expects we’ll be asleep.”
“I expect we will,” shot back Sarah.
“Don’t get angry with me!”
“I’m not,” said Sarah with an air of defeat as she attacked her pasta with a fork. “Things are off balance, that’s all. Also, Tom?”
They watched the rest of the speech in silence.
“Did you see Jon Stewart last night? The ‘Death to America’ box?” asked Rishi, as he went to kitchen to get another beer.
“He mentioned the rally,” a clearly beaming Sarah said. “Although I wish he’d focused on us here in Montreal rather than Baghdad!”
“By the way – and this is why I came over. The rally was super, Sarah, I’m glad you made me come. And madame Rip Van Winkle here.”
“Hey!” protested Sita. “That’s former madame Rip Van Winkle to you – I woke up didn’t I?”
“I’m ordering Thai…”
The three settled down to watch some good old fashioned television, and despite Rishi’s protests (that being a hot favorite word now), switched on an episode of Will & Grace.
Alia emerged from her room in a hot red dress.
“Wow!” said Sita as Rishi whistled at her, “You look amazing! Where are you off to?”
“The new club, Tribe. Today’s the pre-launch!”
“Anyway,” Alia continued, “I’m not leaving for another hour so I shall join you couch potatoes. Wine anyone?”
“I’ll switch to wine,” offered Sarah. She then put the TV off, which was a clear indication she was happy to spend some time with Alia. Things hadn’t improved much this semester. All three of them had separate lives, but Sita and Sarah seemed to have much more in common.
“Assad and Dina will probably come by in bit,” Alia informed them.
“Not Tom?” ribbed Sita.
“You’re so juvenile!” laughed Alia, “No, Tom is not coming. I’m allowed to hang out with a guy without flirting with him,” she said pointedly looking at Sarah.
“Hey! I don’t flirt with all the boys!”
“Yes, you do!!!”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” offered Rishi, “Yes you do. Often, you do. Very often.”
“Gang up on me, why don’t you?”
“Good to be hanging with the three again,” said Rishi, “we haven’t done this in a while.”
Momentary pause, and then Alia asked about the protest. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it, I came home at 6am! Can you believe it? I was so passed out all day. And then Dina said the only way I’d feel better is if I hit the gym, so I did that…”
“It was crazy woman, you should have come. So we got there at about 8:30, since I was organizing. Elie, Anmar, a few other people were there. We’d made extra banners in case some people didn’t get their own, but many did – thank god. Plus we got water supplies and things. You know we had to get a doctor on call? Then met the press. We flagged off at about 9:30. It took us two hours to travel across downtown.”
“Really? The protest was just two hours”
“Yeah, but two awesome hours!” joined in Sita, “People from all colleges — even working people came. I’ve never seen the street so crowded, well, maybe except during the Grand Prix!”
Sarah was nodding and the wine was going down fast. “Dude, seriously. The police were there – just in case anything bad happened. At one point these guys – I think Iraqi – started burning the flag of America, so that had to be stopped.”
“Nothing says peace like a burning flag,” Rishi said with a smirk.
“Now you’re stealing directly from Jon Stewart!” laughed Sita.
“It’s not a direct quote!”
“So are you an activist now?” asked Alia.
“I am!” Rishi laughed.
“Alia, it was amazing. We didn’t just talk about how we don’t want war in our living rooms, but we went out and actually did something to air our opinion to the world. It was amazing. I just felt that I was part of something big.”
“Wow, that’s deep coming from a girl whose teeth looking rather wine stained!” Alia said, as Sarah threw a pillow at her.
Assad and Dina had entered, looking fabulous. “Not coming?” Dina asked, though she already knew the answer.
“I know its social suicide Dina, but we’ll pass,” said Sarah, with the sweetest smile.
Alia caught the first rumbling of hostility and then remembered how rude she’d been to Sita’s friends. It made her a little nervous.
“Sarah, I heard you were protesting against the war?” Assad asked.
“You heard about that?”
“Alia mentioned it.”
“Oh, yeah, I did. We all did.”
“That’s great. You should come out, celebrate! I’d love to take you out.”
“Yeah, you should go Sarah,” said Sita.
Another trademark Sarah glare, and she shut up.
“Next time Assad, I’m rally-ed out. Maybe next week? This club sounds pretty rocking!”
“It will be.”
‘Even Sita and Rishi will come. Little vodka straight from the bottle, little table top dancing…” she joked.
“Yeah! You get the idea!” he encouraged. Sita tried to not burst out laughing.
Dina was bored. These two had become complete nerds. Involved in college events that Dina could not care less about. Now sitting at home on a Saturday night, whatever. Luckily Assad seemed to have read her mind as he took their leave. They went to the lobby of their building and waited for a cab.
“I have a present for you today Alia, you’ll love it!”
“Aww, Assad, what is it?”
“You’re giving me a guy?” she asked quizzically.
“Not quite! You’ll see.”
Suddenly Alia realized they were taking about cocaine. Her heart was pounding. But if the mushrooms had been any indication, this party would be off the hook with a little extra buzz.
“Can’t wait!” she said, giving Assad and Dina the perfect smile.
“Sarah! Wait up…”
Elie appeared magically next to her. “You did a fantastic job the other day, did I tell you that?”
“You did,” she grinned, tossing her long hair back, “But I do like hearing it again!”
He smiled, “So, tell me about yourself. We didn’t chat much last semester – what with me tearing down your journal idea…” he said apologetically.
“Well, I like to write, so I thought it could be my contribution. But I think, in hindsight, maybe concentrating on Iraq is a good tactical move.”
“I’m working on the assumption that you want to join politics after college!”
“Sarah, I don’t do everything for my resume. I can’t believe that the US is even considering invading Iraq without provocation, when Saddam has cooperated with the UN weapons inspectors. This is war mongering, and we should tell people what it is.”
“I do agree with you. It makes me so angry.”
“Yeah, I noticed. I saw you out there during the march, holding up your placard, shouting your slogans. You looked like you belonged!”
“I felt like it… Plus if we can really make a difference…”
He smiled. “An idealist huh?”
“Aren’t you?” she shot back.
“Realist. Glass half empty too, remember.”
“It’s you realists who always fuck things up, you know. Always ready with a Plan B!”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah. Think about it. You want something. But if you’ve already made peace with the fact that you can’t get it, you cop out.”
“Bush is an idealist.”
Sarah laughed, “No, he’s dangerous. Plus, you know what I mean. A little bit of idealism is good for the world. But I’ll admit — I’m not really that much of an idealist.”
“Makes sense, you’re too feisty to be an idealist…”
“Hey!” laughed Sarah, as she slapped his shoulder.
Things had gone smoother than Sita had expected. Firstly, Sarah and Alia wanted to come to Cuba too, so her fate was sealed. Sita hadn’t been sure about Alia – she knew Assad and his crew were off to Miami – but as it turned out, Alia wasn’t too keen on a holiday with them – who knew? Alia had been going to afterhour clubs with great regularity since January, so perhaps she was just burnt out. Anyway, thought Sita, bumming around on the beaches of Cuba isn’t such a bad trade! After that, she’d found Derek and Xi in the office one afternoon, and asked them if they wanted to come too. Derek said he and Crissy would love to, Xi said she was going off with her Chinese friends to New York for the break. Fatima had informed her she was headed to London for the break. Sam said he was staying on here, enjoying the city without classes for a bit.
“We better sell forty if we want free tickets, Derek!”
He had been as enthusiastic as her, and to her surprise, the tickets sold themselves. Two weekends, meals included, open bar all day, Havana. Yup, they sold themselves!
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with us? Miami is so hot!” Dina asked Alia.
“I appreciate the offer, but I think I’ll hang out with Sarah and Sita for a bit.”
More cajoling from Tom and Assad, but Alia’s mind was made up.
On the way back home, she felt bad she couldn’t go to Miami. It would have just become very expensive. They were staying in the best hotels, going to the best clubs, buying the best drugs. No, she really couldn’t afford it.
Plus things had been getting very personal with Tom of late, too many moments to ignore, and she felt a bit like a fish out of water. It was easier to pop a pill and dance all night, it wasn’t too easy to keep her head straight about how close she wanted to get to this boy. The best thing for me is to go to boring old Cuba with the two. Plus Rishi is coming. Should be relaxing, she thought.
In the end they had sold seventy-five tickets. Now she was herding those seventy-five people through the airport at 6am.
Everyone had a question – “Sita, what about…” “Sita, will we…”
Derek was great help, and slowly the line at the ticket counter started moving.
“Sam? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Charlie informed me that you outperformed, and that there was another ticket up for grabs. So I thought why not join my beautiful ladies and get a tan – all for the price of nothing.”
On cue, Sarah came back with a hot coffee for her.
They had reached Havana, and settled into the resort. Sita and Alia were freshening up, and Sarah stole away to the beach. As she sat, playing with the sand, she felt the frustration mounting inside her.
Last semester, Sam had spent an extraordinary amount of time flirting with her. In fact, she thought there was something there. He was smart, good looking, a little naughty. Things had been going good according to her, till he got that blonde girl to dinner. Alia had run off to a club after, and Sita had insisted on taking Derek, Nico, Crissy and Rishi to another bar to make up for Alia’s rudeness, and Sarah had told everyone she was going home. But she hadn’t. Drunk and upset, she’d called Sam on the phone to tell him just what she thought of him. He’d asked her where she was, and then come to pick her up in this car.
“Where is your whore?” she had asked.
An argument followed. He’d met Vivian at a party the week before; they had hooked up. He thought it would only polite to take her out.
“But to my dinner? Where I had invited you??”
“Look at you, dripping with jealousy…”
It had been stormy, fiery and ultimately, passionate. She spent the night with him, only to slip out when he was still asleep. She had been so angry with herself for getting played. If he liked her, he wouldn’t have played games. She’d entered Sita’s room, ready to spill, but then changed her mind.
The holidays had passed – no word from Sam. Granted, she had been the one to bail, but it didn’t mean he could not have reached out. And she couldn’t help thinking that if he had the courtesy to take this random girl Vivian out; his not calling her was on purpose.
Avoiding Sam for the past two months was tough, but she had managed it. She was in no way going to be the swoony girl, vying for his attention. They worked in the same building, but somehow had not bumped into each other. Sure, she had spotted him once or twice, but turned out and walked the other way. Having Sita in common was a little problematic, especially when she came home to tell them stories about how they had been cracking jokes at the office, but Sarah kept silent through it all. Sita had just assumed that the flirting between her and Sam was now dead and buried.
Now this jackass had come to Cuba, with full knowledge she would be here. What was the game?
Cuba. The weather was sunny during the day, with the hint of a chill at night. It was perfect. A tan for the day and a bonfire for the night! The girls and Rishi rented a car one day and drive down to Varadero. At night, they had been caught in a fiery torrential downpour. It was so bad, that at one point they hadn’t been able to see the road. But as quickly as it came, it disappeared! The rest of the week was spent in the resort itself, with occasional trips to Old Havana for dinner and cigars.
Sam was around, but for the most part, things were cordial. He didn’t seem to have come with anyone in particular but had managed to pick up a fan following of guys who spent all day playing volleyball. Things between him and Sarah seemed to be good again, and despite a strong flirtatious vibe between the two, Alia was quite sure they had not hooked up.
As for Alia, she’d been happy to be with the rest of them. Derek and Crissy turned out to be quite fun, and she had met another group of Spanish kids who spent all day and night drinking, till they were red in the face. One of them, Michael, she found especially cute. She wondered if she should offer him a pill.
Oh right. That was another little secret she had. Was it stupid, was it not stupid? She’d sneaked in some pills to Cuba. Not that she was expecting to find a rave, but perhaps just to sit on the beach and trip. There were only four days left and she had to decide whom to ask. The answer seemed obvious. Michael. He seems cool.
“I feel obligated to only drink rum while here,” said Sita with a smile as she offered her glass to Alia. “How goes?”
“Ok. Want to know a secret? I hooked up with Michael last night!”
“Wow!” said Sita, registering the news. Alia had so not been the random hookup kind of girl, but everyone experimented in college. Interesting.
“Can I tell you something? If you promise not to judge…”
“Tres interesting!” squealed Alia, “Cross my heart and hope to die!”
As Alia told her about the amazing ecstacy high Michael and she had been on last night, hanging on the beach, Sita felt her body get tense.
“What the fuck is wrong with you Alia? How could you sneak pills into Cuba?”
“Oh relax Sita, it’s not like I got caught…”
“Not got caught? You are soo lucky. And what if you had? Not just you, but my butt would have been on the line. You are with a college group, you understand that?”
“Why are you such a bitch? Nothing happened!”
“Bitch? Me?” screamed Alia, and saw a group of people turn to look at them. “You know what, I can’t have this conversation. But just know this, you are a stupid, selfish, irresponsible person.”
“Whatever. You are a self important bitch.”
Sita stormed off, looking for Sarah to vent to.
The flight back was uncomfortable. Sarah knew Sita had every right to get pissed off, but she really didn’t want to take sides. Especially since they were flat-mates, and it seemed that she would be playing the role of peacekeeper now.
“How was it though, Sita’s anger aside?” she asked Alia. Sita and Rishi were sitting together a few rows ahead.
“It was amazing. When you are in a club, it’s all about the music, the beats. But on the beach – and we broke up the pills in parts – it was just the most amazing feeling. Like you were flying. And we just hung out and talked endlessly. He’s a really nice guy.”
“Yeah?” asked Sarah, with a cocky smile.
“I know what I said to Alia, well, that wasn’t the whole story – exactly…. Nothing really happened.”
“Well, a little fooling around, but the deal wasn’t sealed!”
Sarah couldn’t help laughing. Alia was amazing. She was okay with all kinds of drugs – apparently – but still prudish when it came to sex.
“I can’t… you know…” Alia explained, “I guess I still need to ease into that.”
“Take your time honey,” smiled Sarah, eyes firmly on Sam as he passed by the aisle, “you’re only getting younger!”
Alia smacked her with a pillow.
“So I have an idea,” said Sita as she stormed into the office.
Fatima and Derek were sitting behind one of the desks, making some changes to the website. Tarek was on the phone, scribbling down some information on his pad. Xi was sitting on the window sill behind Tarek, with a big bowl of noodles. She sure loved her noodles, thought Sita. The door opened behind her. Charlie.
She ignored his entry. “Where is Sam?” she asked, as she sat next to Derek.
“He’s gone for class,” said Charlie, “I just met him while coming into the building.”
Sita didn’t look at him when she spoke. Part of her wanted to ask him to leave the room – and she could; after all, it wasn’t his office anymore. But truth be told, she was a little scared of him.
“That’s unfortunate. I thought we had an executive meeting.”
Silence. Derek gave her a cynical smile.
“Oh, I didn’t realize. You guys carry on, I just came to kill time. Think I will hit the fooseball table,” offered Charlie.
Tarek could have asked him to stay if he wanted, noted Sita with some satisfaction, but he didn’t.
Things had gone sour after the Cuba trip. Xi had come to Sita to ask her about finances, and it seemed that the numbers didn’t quite add up.
“We do make a profit Sita,” she had said, “but we don’t fleece our students.”
“I don’t know if you know,” she said, almost accusingly, “but we make enough profit for free tickets for our executives, and little extra – maybe – for the scholarship fund.”
“Yeah, so?” Sita knew that at the end of the year all profits went into the international students scholarship fund. It helped some people with tuition. It wasn’t much, and they didn’t need to do it, but it was tradition.
“Well, I hadn’t really done the accounting completely before the break, but I did have the numbers. Two free tickets – you and Derek. Money for the international fund, which remained the same. Nothing was taken out of it.”
“Umm…” It suddenly dawned on Sita. “But Sam came on a free ticket? So?”
“Exactly. I would have thought you sprung for one more ticket from the fund money if another exec wanted to come.”
“So where did that money come from?” asked Sita, already making up her mind who was responsible.
“Listen Sita, I’m not sure what happened. Unless the travel agent is a generous soul who just handed a free ticket, I think some money was unaccounted for. And the only way this is possible is…”
“…if we charged more than what was the real price of the spring break ticket, but someone fleeced the extra profit.”
She had immediately called the hotel. How much was the price of the package, she asked. It turned out Xi was right. Charlie had quoted a higher price for the holiday, the travel agent had agreed, and no one had thought of calling Cuba to confirm. Why would they? And once in Cuba, again, they hadn’t thought of confirming.
Did Tarek know, she had wondered. After all, if she didn’t know, it was possible he didn’t. And Sam? What about him?
Sita knew it was a cop-out, but she had only taken Derek into confidence as yet. Xi had agreed to go along with them but she clearly disapproved the inaction. Sita had discussed it with Derek, and they had to handle it carefully. If the story got out, potentially two of their executives could be expelled from college for embezzlement. And one ex-executive too, she thought wryly.
So all they had done was drop hints for the moment. Charlie was smart, he had certainly picked up on something, but Sita knew he kept coming around to figure out exactly what they knew.
Let the games begin, she had thought, I hold all the cards.
Better watch your back; was the immediate after-thought.
Things at home had been tense. Sarah was trying to barter peace between Sita and Alia, but three weeks later, and nothing. It was getting frustrating since they were talking through her when they were home. As far as she was concerned, what Alia did was incredibly stupid, but since no one got into trouble, they should drop the subject. Sita had given her enough lectures – and grief – to last a lifetime.
In the meantime, she had been helping Elie with a project. He wanted to, once enough time has passed, publish a paper about the numbers of people displaced due to the Iraq War. He had asked her to help since he knew she wanted to do some academic work and not just arrange protests. She was sitting at home, reading about numbers displaced after the first Gulf War, waiting for her flat-mates to return home. Oh yes, she’d forced them to head down to one of the local pubs to drink out their differences. She could only assume it was working as it was almost 1am and they hadn’t returned.
What seemed only moments later, she was woken up by two energized and surprisingly sober girls.
“What time is it?”
“Seriously? Where did you go!”
“Sarah, you will not believe what happened to us!” said Alia, all shook up.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, we are,” said Sita. “We were coming home around 1am. We had left the pub, which ended up being great fun, by the way, so thanks for that. So, we left the pub and were walking up the hill, coming home, when we saw this girl huddled outside Le Car.”
“We couldn’t see her face, right,” asked Alia.
“Yeah, so we thought, she’s had a fight with her boyfriend. Or something.”
“So we asked her what was wrong, and she kept saying, ‘my dad is going to kill me!’”
Sita took over, “We were just standing around, not sure if we should leave or not, when the doorman of the building came to us. He said, something bad happened. He saw her go into the building just a half hour earlier with some guy. Then he saw her come out of the elevator and a few moments later, the guy came from the staircase.”
“He was following her, but when he saw the doorman, he decided to go home.”
“Yeah, and since then, she’d just collapsed outside the building, crying.”
Sarah was horrified. “So something happened with this guy? Her boyfriend?”
“We didn’t know,” said Sita, “but the doorman said he’d never seen her before. Then he said that he was calling the cops.”
“So we went to her. Sita was talking, and she told him that we knew something bad had happened and that the cops were being called.”
“She went crazy,” said Sita, gesturing wildly now, “and started running fast, saying she didn’t want any cops. Sarah, she tripped and fell on her face. Her nose started bleeding, and she chipped her tooth. It was awful!”
“Oh my god!” Sarah couldn’t believe it. “What happened?”
Alia was walking back from the kitchen with some water now, “So the cops came, and we had sign these documents as witnesses. Even an ambulance came. But she told them that she didn’t want to file a complaint or go to the hospital, and that she wanted us to escort her home.”
“That’s not even the best part,” interrupted Sita, “because as it turned out, she was 40 years old. She had just come home after a failed marriage. Gone out for drinks. Accepted one from a stranger. Blacked out. Woken up in his apartment. Freaked out and bolted.”
“Yeah,” continued Alia, “and once we got to her house, we tried to ask her if she’d been raped, or attacked, but she didn’t say. All she said was that she wanted to kill herself, but now that complete strangers helped her out, her faith in people was restored.”
“It was intense,” sighed Sita.
“Messed up,” said Alia, “I don’t know how this happens to people. You can never be too careful, right?”
Sita gave her a hug.
Sita was sitting with Nico in the coffee shop on the ground floor of the student services building when Zee, the guy who ran the restaurant shouted out that everyone should watch TV. On CNN, the first American bombs were being dropped on Baghdad.
“March 19. Mark this date,” Zee said grimly to no one in particular.
Sita immediately called Sarah.
Sarah was in the Campus TV offices when Steve walked in. They didn’t even look at each other at first. Sarah had wanted to see all the raw footage from the rally, and Dan had obliged. Now she was sitting with headphones on his desk, pretending she didn’t know Steve was there.
He tapped her on the shoulder.
“Steve. I didn’t see you there.”
This guy was a jerk, thought Sarah.
“I’m just watching some raw footage.”
“I can see.”
“Dan will be back in a few.”
“I know; I just spoke to him.”
Then, because she couldn’t help herself, she added, “Oh, and congratulations are in order. You have successfully bombed the crap out of Baghdad.”
Steve just glared.
Then he walked out of the office.
Alia was finding it tough to write her political science essay, mostly since she hadn’t done many of the readings. Sarah and Sita had told her they would be at the library, so she was heading there right now. Now that the weather was marginally better, there were tables and chairs outside, in the library courtyard. A few clusters of people were sitting out — wrapped up in scarves, cigarettes in hand. She saw Assad with some Arab boys. She was about to go wave at them but she suddenly realized what they were doing. Andy and his boyfriend were walking down the stairs leading to the main gate of the campus, holding hands and kissing occasionally, unaware they were being watched. Alia was sure she heard the word ‘homo’ in there somewhere.
She didn’t judge them for it. She couldn’t deny that it annoyed her, but she didn’t suppose they were used to seeing such open displays back home. And anyway, it’s not like my friends back home wouldn’t have similar reactions.
She went straight into the library and found Sita and Sarah sitting in the Tim Horton’s café downstairs.
“Good,” said Sarah as she saw her approach, “I was waiting for you to start this.”
“I’m here now.”
“Listen, before we start,” said Sita, leafing through her notebook, “someone contacted me about volunteers for this sexuality project. They need South Asian women – sorry Sarah – it is this weekend, for an hour, and pays $50. Should we do it?”
“From what I understand, they want to know our attitudes towards sex.”
“And that helps the research?”
“I’m in! I don’t mind making 50 bucks at all!”
“Now that I know you’re buying me drinks this weekend,” said Sarah laughing, “shall we start going through the course? We can’t do the same questions unless are take on it is very different. You know this whole plagiarism deal.”
“Exactly. Alright, so let’s discuss libertarianism. Think of it is the rule of non aggression.”
“Do you support it?” asked Sita, winking at Alia.
“I intend to explore that very question through my essay.”
“You mean, whether you support it or not? Don’t you know?” asked Alia, a little confused.
“Well, libertarians say that you should never use force. And you should, especially, never initiate force. I guess I agree with that. But what if someone was threatening me?”
“Logic dictates that you should wait to be attacked to respond, otherwise you won’t be a libertarian,” Sita said.
“I know. I agree. I’m just confused.”
“But aren’t you against the Iraq war? Didn’t you lead a peace march?” asked Alia, “So how can you be for force?”
“I think this war in particular was unjustified.”
“Oh please Sarah, that answer makes you as bad as the people you hate!”
“I know, I know. But things are different in the Middle East; tensions are higher. If the Palestinians attacked Israel first, because they knew they were going to be attacked – would I condemn them?”
“Or Pakistan attack India?”
“ISI, ISI, it’s always the ISI to blame!” joked Sita. But then she started studying Sarah a little more closely. “Weren’t you the one who was railing against this ‘shock and awe’ tactic the Yanks and Brits are employing? Are you telling me that you are angry only because the Americans are involved? What if there was another attack on American soil, you wouldn’t feel bad?”
“No, I’m not saying that…”
Sita hadn’t heard Sarah so confused about what she felt, ever. Even Alia was looking at her with furrowed brows.
There was only one explanation Sita could come up with; and that was called Elie.
Derek was sitting in the office, hovering over Sita’s head, who was finalizing the list to Boston. Every month, ISN, sold tickets to a weekend away. One of the executives always had to go along to be in charge. She had gone to New York last month, which had been a welcome break. She hadn’t stayed with the kids on the trip; they tended to huddle together. She had enough friends all over the city, and the point was to catch up with them! It was Fatima’s turn, but Sita still had to finalize everything.
“What I don’t get is how you haven’t said anything as yet!”
“And who should I tell, Derek? I mean I don’t want Charlie getting kicked out of college. You know he’s in med school.”
“I don’t believe that. Do people in med school have all the time in the world to fleece money from ISN?”
“In his defense, it doesn’t take him much time now, does it?”
“Seriously, Sita. We’re going to hold elections at the end of next month. If Tarek goes, Charlie goes…”
“Isn’t that up to Tarek?”
“We can field our own candidate…”
She turned to him. “That’s a great idea. Who?”
Sita burst out laughing. “Derek, as much as I love you for the faith, are you crazy? Look at me. I found out Charlie did something wrong and I didn’t even report it. That doesn’t exactly scream leadership skills now, does it?”
“Point taken. But Sita, you won’t have a Charlie in your life if this happens. And you won’t be arranging beer for parties and buses for weekends; you can do the big stuff. Think about it.”
“Big stuff? What big stuff?”
“Well, for starters, there won’t be this air of secrecy around this place. Think about it.”
“How can I not? You know this going to effectively ruin my weekend as I’ll be preoccupied now?”
“Glad to be of service.”
“This is incredible,” said a very annoyed Elie, as he abruptly got up, putting his laptop to a side.
“What is?” mumbled a half asleep Sarah, gesturing him to come back to bed.
“The woman who was rescued?”
“Apparently, according to the Guardian’s report last week, the rescue wasn’t as dramatic as the American press reported. She wasn’t even shot. Or stabbed. How did I miss this?”
“So what happened?”
“Media management. The military needed some good press since everyone is talking of the coalition forces being defeated…”
Sarah came up behind Elie and kissed him on the neck. “Come on…” she urged, “let’s do something special today.”
Elie seemed completely distracted. Sarah studied his frame, pacing back and forth his apartment. It was the first time she was actually making the effort of lounging in his house all day. Normally they’d spend time together but they didn’t spend the night over. He always left after she feel asleep. She’d actually fallen asleep at his house once, but left as soon as her sleep broke.
Elie, Elie, Elie. What was it about him? He was brilliant, to be sure. But it wasn’t an academic brilliance, or even one borne of a sense of duty. He was street smart. Pure ambition. And he had charisma. He’d turned it on her, and she fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Although she was there with him, she didn’t really feel they had any deep connection. They were going their separate ways for the summer, and Sarah didn’t really expect any long distance phone calls. Living in the now, she thought.
“What do you want to do?”
“I can write a paper. You know,” he said excitedly, oblivious to Sarah’s disappointment, “for the school paper. How the American media is bought out. They will go to town to promote the Iraq war, but when the Israelis killed that girl in Gaza, they ignore it. Jewish lobby.”
Sarah was pissed now, but she always felt the need to impress him. “But how are the two connected?”
“I’ll connect them!” he said happily. He then came over, smacked her ass, and told her to come back to bed.
Sita was sitting with Derek in the ISN lounge when Tarek walked in.
“Hey guys, can I talk to you?”
“Sure,” said Derek, looking at Sita, pointedly.
Farah was in the office, and came out to see what was happening.
“So,” began Tarek, a little softly, “we need to hold our elections.”
Sita just nodded.
“How do we do that, mate?” asked Derek.
“Oh simple. Derek, send out an email. It will be tomorrow at 5pm. Tell them all positions are open, and the existing council will stand for re-election if they want to. And tomorrow we will have a round of speeches from all candidates and then voting.”
Sita frowned heavily. Before she could say anything, Charlie walked in.
“Medical school can be draining,” he said to her, by way of an explanation of his absence. She really wasn’t interested.
“I have to go,” she said abruptly.
The next day, the lounge was quite full. There were at least fifty people, and about ten of them were completely new to Sita. Derek walked in and slid next to her.
“Mate, I’ve changed my mind. I’m not standing.”
“What?” she asked, shocked.
“Yeah, I’m getting a part-time job this semester. Crissy and I were talking, and both of us want to save some money to go for a good holiday after college; this is the best way.”
Sita said nothing. Part of her felt guilty and embarrassed since she was still taking money from her parents. But Indian culture is different, she told herself. But she also immediately started doubting if she wanted to stand for re-election if Derek didn’t. Would it be fun?
“Sorry, Derek, I got distracted. That’s great news. For you. It sucks for me!”
He started laughing. He then looked at her seriously, “Sita, stand for president.”
Tarek had started the election process by describing each position.
“I don’t know…” she was whispering back.
“So, who wants to stand for president,” Tarek was asking, “because as some of you are aware, I’m not.”
Sita and Derek looked at each other sharply. Xi, who Sita noticed for the first time, poked her from the side to ask, “did you know this?”
Before she could answer, she saw Charlie get up from the crowd and say, “I’m going to stand.”
“Fuck no!” she blurted, as a few people turned around to stare. Charlie glared at her.
He continued, “As some of you know, I was president last year, before my friend Tarek took over. I’ve been involved with ISN for two years now, first as a volunteer, then as president, and then again a volunteer. But recently, my schedule has allowed me some more time, and I would like to come back to continue my efforts. First, let me tell you that above and beyond the duties of the president, which as you know, include running this organization, I am also going to be campaigning for the halt of international student fees. As the executive is well aware, the ISN has a vote on the matter, which is coming up for review next year. Since I have friends on various committees, I will get the votes. Don’t kid yourselves. This is very important. If you elect someone else to my chair, they won’t be able to lobby for the votes. So, for your academic future, please vote for me.”
There was a buzz in the room. Sita asked Derek and Xi if they were aware of the tuition hike vote, but it seemed neither were. Fatima, sitting a couple of seats away from them was rolling her eyes. She then got up, and left the room.
“Looks like someone’s not interested in re-election,” Derek added.
No one else wanted to be president after Charlie’s speech. He had convinced everyone that he was the man for the job. Despite Derek nudging her, Sita sat there motionless.
She had been blindsided again, and she felt like an idiot.
Alia was sitting at home, messaging Assad on the phone about plans for the evening when Sita came bursting into the house.
“Trouble in paradise?” she asked, hardly looking up. She felt awful, but she knew the only way to get out of this funk was to drink again. Her finals had finished as the same day as Sita; they had gone out together, but then she’d gone to hang out with Tom and Dina, and ended up pulling lines half the night. She’d been so wired, she’d only been able to sleep at 7am.
As Sita started to recap the evenings excitement, she walked to the kitchen to open a bottle of white wine. She offered Sita a glass who happily accepted one.
“…so then I stood for secretary again, and obviously I got elected,” she was telling Alia, “and Xi is still handling the finances but we have two new members. James, who is handling Fatima’s job; events, and Lisa who is handling the website.”
“James? Yeah, is.”
“What happened to Dan Price?”
“Wasn’t he in love with you or something?”
“No!” said Sita, “where did you get that idea?!”
“I don’t know,” Alia said distracted, as she confirmed her night’s plans, “I thought I heard you or Sarah say that. Must have been something else.”
Sita was muttered under her breath about she should call Dan to tell him what happened, and disappeared. Alia was left to consider her summer plans, now that the semester was over. She was planning on staying on in town for two weeks, and only then flying home to Karachi.
This summer would be the best.