January 8, 2009

Rough six months. All concerned.

The withering became more evident and alarming. People died and weren’t replaced. Unable to blow it out or throw it away, we watched helplessly as the fuse fizzed closer and closer to us. We felt we had no control over our fate. We each sang the sad song – doh, ray, me, fa, so.

Surprisingly, given the catastrophic nature of Layla’s miracle, most progressed to a sombre acceptance quite quickly. However, many were stuck in deep depression; many wondered why me; many were enraged and some still refused to believe it was happening. But there it was. We watched the box.

[Jenny Breen, ABC host]:
“Welcome to our Australian viewers, and all those who join us through-out the world via the internet and subscriber television, to this special airing of ‘Up Close, It’s Personal’.

Tonight, we’ve risked summer frostbite and come down to Melbourne. We’re here in the CBD… in the Main Hall of Melbourne Town Hall… for a rendezvous with a woman who has been these last six months… if not the last decade… the centre of global focus. Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable, the very beautiful, the most mysterious… and rather scary… Layla Parkin.”

Layla appears on stage to an assault of applause, cheers and stomping. She playfully acknowledges her rowdy reception before smiling forward calmly and purposefully to greet Jenny.

Adult Layla is imposing and empowering. At 180 cms, she’s tall but no beanpole; compact but graceful. She’s dressed in shadows tonight. From this distance, the TV lighting makes her look like… I’m not sure… I want to say a stick of liquorice. Jenny, with hospitable awkwardness welcomes her and both sit down.

[Jenny, furrowing]:
“Well Layla, that’s… an unexpected response… to a person widely accused of holding a kind of Sword of Damocles over the planet. I had anticipated a more muted expression. But what do I know?”

[Layla, crafting a knowledgeable smile]:
“Melbourne audience, Jenny. I’m sure it’d be a different story in Sydney.”

Sidneysider Jenny, realizing she’s impossibly outnumbered by this hall full of Mexicans, counters with a cheerful incredulity.

“You can’t do that Layla. Surely, you can’t seek to shoehorn us into world unity in one breath and, in the next, deride the population of a major city?”

Layla chuckles. Jenny too.

“First off, I have to ask you… why? Why on earth would you come on this show with our rather robust questioning format? We’ve been accused… unfairly, I believe… of ridiculing and pummeling our guests. But these are people who desperately want attention for their causes and projects and are happy to suck it up. You, on the other hand, are certainly not short of mainstream media exposure.

And look, a number of our selected questioners have expressed concern that you won’t handle it very well; that you’ll do something to turn the tables and humiliate them.”

“Oh look, I watch the show quite often. I enjoy it. Yeah, I know about your aggressive interrogation technique… plonking the poor guests under a hot spotlight and having them circled by a pack of hyenas firing questions. Nobody needs to worry. I’m absolutely on my best behaviour. Yeah look, there’s a story behind me being here.

When I was 7 or 8 we went to a summer school. Sort of a religious retreat. To give the adults some peace they’d shove us kids into a room with a few baby sitters and sit us in front of the TV. One night they played a recording of a show with a very similar format to your own. I don’t remember the name… I think the BBC did it. Anyway, what’s important was there was a Baha’i guy under the spotlight… that’s why it was on, we were at a Baha’i camp of course… that was my upbringing.

The Guy’s name was Adam Robarts. He came from a very well known and respected Baha’i family. And he was very, very cute… and very comfortable with late eighties fashion sense. There were three young ladies baby sitting us and they were all swooning… each trying to outdo the others.

Like, for example, one of them… Tahirih… had me on her lap. She dramatically threw her arm over her brow and, acting her little socks off, said ‘Layla darling, if Adam rings again… tell him it can not be… him and me. Unfortunately, ah do declare it can not be. Mah calling is to save the poah souls in New York and Paris… ah can not abandon them for the warmth of his dusty outposts.’

At the time, I had no idea why these women were carrying on so. But I found the show interesting and exciting. Despite being heckled and harangued, Adam didn’t explode with frustration but persevered in a futile attempt to educate his hyenas in the Baha’i concept of world unity.

I was impressed and, because Tahirih seemed to like him, I wanted him to win. I’d get angry with the people who interrupted. I shouted and shook my fist at the nerdy man with the glasses. The baby sitters giggled so I did more of it.

Just last week, I was at Sholeh’s for dinner. She said ‘guess what… I found that weird show we watched at the Torquay summer school… on You Tube. The guy… that was Adam Robarts you know.’

We watched it on her computer. It was quite emotional for us. We were both very close to Tahirih and it brought back memories. Afterwards, I made the mistake of opining to Sholeh that it wasn’t quite as good as I recalled… that Adam wasn’t that convincing… a bit poncy and patronizing.

She hit the roof. Look how sincere he is… see how anxiously concerned he is to provide the right level of information… see how respectful he is to his persecutors… so humble… with NO PIPPY to carry him… I bet YOU couldn’t handle it as well. She said that and more… all at screaming indignation level. For a peace activist, Sholeh can be quite aggressive. I thought, oh moy Gawd, she must be related to him in some way.

When she calmed down she said – Look Layls, Adam was doing his best. Yeah, I know you think he’s parroting the party line but it’s unfair to disparage him like that from your position of advantage. I think you could learn from him. Sometimes, you don’t come across very empathetically.

She had a point. Adam showed a great deal of commitment and accountability by putting himself in the line of fire. Now Jenny, though your show isn’t about religion and your interrogators aren’t a bunch of 80’s students… its close enough. So, I decided I’d do it… I’d take her advice and give you a call. So here I am… no Pippy in sight… these hands… not even a glimmer.”

[Jenny, flabbergasted]:
“So, you’re doing it for a bet?”

[Layla, startled into recovering the situation]:
“Oh God no. Definitely not. No, what Sholeh meant is that while I might claim Adam and his religious idea of world unity is stuck in the 80’s… my own view and methods probably have limitations as well and I need to examine them. I feel your show provides a great opportunity for me to do this. The other media I’ve done hasn’t offered that… too well rehearsed. So, in the spirit of Adam Robarts, I’m here to explain myself and my aspirations in the most transparent and modest manner possible.”

[Jenny, still suspicious, puts on a mean face and wags a finger]:
“And you promise not to disintegrate or in any other way harm our questioners, right?”

[Layla, serious frown]:
“Promise. Except for Sandy Hunt. Let’s keep him guessing.”

[Jenny, laughing]:
“Hmmmm, yes, Sandy is with us today. You two have history, right?

Okay, let’s get on with it then. It’s now six months since tonight’s guest, in a spectacular assertion of power, called a halt to the human race… pending a world convention. Initial skepticism has given way to an acceptance that something fundamental occurred on that day… though commentators differ widely in their explanations.

Now, I have to say, it’s an intensely surreal experience to be sat next to the person who is responsible for the psychological convulsion that has paralyzed the planet. I, like many Australians, still struggle to match up athlete Layla with supernatural Layla. As one pommy wag put it, they used to turn their soap stars into pop stars… now they’re reinventing their sports stars as prophets.

Tonight, we attempt to understand more about the person and purpose of Layla Parkin. So, with a respectful nod to… Adam Robarts?… I’ll ask you, Layla, to assume the position and let the inquisition begin.”


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