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L. I DESERVE TIBA’S

April 13, 2009

Being lovers, we shared our thoughts, feelings and experiences generously.

However, Layla had buried some things way below the surface. Often a little prodding was needed to expose them. A few weeks after that special General Assembly meeting, I acquired a less romantic view of her global enterprise.

I’d gotten over my puppy awe enough to initiate an argument. In the morning I’d screamed at her for leaving her mess around everywhere. She wore a pained expression but didn’t retaliate. She said she’d clean up later but had to go now. Her meek reaction gave me no chance to discharge my anger. I left for work still fuming.

That day, I slaved away at the lecturing coalface as she swanned around fulfilling her superhero obligations. She texted me suggesting we hook up for dinner at Tiba’s. K.

We liked Tiba’s… a Lebanese restaurant on Sydney Road. Good food and, for me, an exempted fascination… observing the patrons disappear behind a partition for their compulsory prayer.

Layla had a perplexing habit of turning up to our baba ghanoush and tabbouleh feasts “in disguise”. That evening, her cunning camouflage consisted of over-sized sunglasses and a black beret that bulged with her squashed hair. How exhausting! What a joke. It was just like those idiot elephants who thought Tarzan wouldn’t recognize them with their ray-bans on.

As she dallied over the menu (which never changed Layla, it never changed… and neither did your order), she noted how busy the place had got and how fortunate it was that we came when we did. Paralyzing… the level of gullibility this woman could emit. Economic interests, natural curiosity and your pathetic attempt at anonymity… that’s why we got lucky sweetheart.

Tiba’s always kept a table available just in case their bonanza turned up. Away from the window too! This windfall wasn’t reliant on passing traffic catching a glimpse.

No, the remaining tables were swiftly occupied in pursed-lip stand-offs between hurriedly SMS’d staff acquaintances and those intense, harsh-looking young men in solid suits that inevitably materialized in Layla’s wake.

Wake? Layla? She bobbed about heedlessly in her dream world. Doesn’t everyone see that we’d all have been much better off if I had done the One World thing and not her?

Her masquerade was completely ineffective but at least people recognized it as a mangled appeal for privacy. We were rarely approached at Tiba’s. Except by children of middle-eastern appearance… and we loved that… they were fun.

Alright, I was still prickly from the morning. My intellectual indignation… maybe a touch exaggerated. A soft, kneading touch… that’s what I really had in mind. You see, it was easy to feel outshone by scorching La La. I wanted to bring more than my black booty to the relationship.

I was sometimes over-protective and over-compensated. Maybe applied my post-doctorate logic and reasoning powers a little forcefully… I nagged. A pity… because I cherished those Tiba times together.

Anyway, I was riled up and ready to prod. These secretive suits were a good stick to start with. Our place in Coburg was under continuous observation. Either that or a lot of business was conducted in parked cars on our street. Definitely, our phone was bugged… there were always delays and strange background noises. Between that and the dining experiences I was feeling edgy. I put it to her.

“Layla, you know they are always watching. Who are they? I want to know.”

[Layla, wryly]:
“They… are our protectors, Nally.”

Turned out Layla wasn’t nearly as green as I’d made out. Her shabby disguise and those stern men in suits who suffocated our meal times were elements of a tenuously adhered to compromise.

After numerous assassination attempts and a falling out with the WCA elites, she decided to impose some boundaries. Immediately after her appearance on “Up Close, It’s Personal”, she had summarily ditched her posse of bodyguards and moved back into the Coburg basement.

[Layla]:
“As soon as I saw you I decided to make the change.”

I could feel my anger diffusing but needed more than this morsel. Warily, she continued.

The heads of the numerous government and non-government agencies that had somehow assumed responsibility for her safety were alarmed at this turn of events. In response to their wailing, Layla had offered to work with them on minimizing her public conspicuousness as long as they kept their distance.

[Layla]:
“As you can see, they kind of comply. That incivility infuriates me. So I disguise myself alright… in the most blatant manner possible. It drives them mad. You watch… I’m going with a big red nose and a beard tomorrow.”

“Layla… they may be dickheads but doesn’t this game put you at risk?”

[Layla, astonished I didn’t already know]:
“They ARE the risk, Nally.”

Layla recounted how, early on in the piece, the WCA and a panicked Australian government had urged that she surround herself with teams of internationally selected “close protection officers”. She was moved out of Coburg and into a larger, more secure environment that could accommodate this growing contingent of international altruism.

She learned through the grapevine that a number of global powers were actively pondering “Hmmm, if she was killed”. Some, believing in that event “the spell could NEVER be lifted” sent their best security agents. Others, feeling that “her spell would be broken” had sent assassins.

It was a fluid situation. Powers changed their minds. It was impossible to know if a bodyguard’s current mission was to kill or keep alive. Made for a tense work-place. The WCA advised Layla to keep stumm about this strained situation until everyone had been coaxed to the table.

[Layla]:
“I did keep stumm… but not for their benefit. I was incensed. I wanted to look them in the eyes and dare them to try something. I was too smug… over-confident.”

After a series of botched efforts, an Australian born attacker finally caught her with her guard down. Hosting a poker master class for her minders, her radar had been distracted. Using the commotion that followed one chap filling a full house on the river, the hit man shot her in the back six times… before being taken out himself.

Only a select few people knew that, in a critical condition, our Layla was airlifted to a special section of the Royal Melbourne Hospital. For five weeks, she lay in an induced coma under the care of another international team… this time comprising surgeons, anaesthetists and various other theatrical roles. She pulled through.

Wow, gunshots… that caught my attention. I’d seen her back… I’d touched her back. The damage, though healing well, was extensive. Hah, so it wasn’t a particularly unlucky pole vaulting accident. I was beginning to reel from this newly discovered violent reality. Until.

[Layla]:
“Yeah, it certainly affected me negatively. And it puts a question mark over my ability to return to top class sports.”

I raised an eyebrow at her.

[Layla, admonished and shifty]:
“Look, I was deeply embarrassed at being got. There were more attempts, of course, but I’m a lot better prepared now. Really, I am.”

I re-raised that eyebrow. I couldn’t let her escape the gravity of this revelation.

“Oh Layls, it’s obvious you haven’t come to terms with the trauma yet. You need to unburden yourself. Talk to me.”

[Layla, emotionally]:
“I’m mad at them, Nally. All of them.

At first, I couldn’t understand why they let me survive. Three of the surgeons they’d flown in were from countries that had tried to kill me. It would have been so easy for them to finish the job off.”

“They love you, Layls. Rogue elements… that’s who wanted to kill you.”

[Layla, shaking her head with certainty]:
“Quite the opposite. They were all in on it. Probably the most collaborative action world leaders have ever willingly participated in. Yeah, all united to nullify me… their common threat.”

[Me, puzzled]:
“That can’t be right?”

During her recovery, she was approached by an Estonian doctor who’d been part of the team. He said they’d been ordered to instigate her controlled death. Then bring her back again. Over and over. Finally, there were told to fix her up.

[Layla]:
“Treated like meat. Nally, I have never felt so sunken worthless. I couldn’t grasp it. Where was Pippy?”

She had to get onto the front foot. She confronted the political leaders and suggested there would be consequences. They all denied responsibility and pointed her to the Brisbane office of a United Nations employee… a middle-aged Russian man. It was all his idea, they’d barked dismissively.

She was amazed at the Russian’s composure… at his matter-of-factness… with her, the disgruntled deathee, right there in the room with him. He set about describing ‘the project’ with a confident air of accomplishment.

As soon as it was learned Layla was in critical condition, an emergency meeting of the major nations had been hastily arranged. Here, they continued their heated dispute as to whether her imminent death would restart conception or prevent it completely. Certainly, her being in a coma hadn’t helped any.

The Russian, having bided his time, addressed the meeting. He acknowledged the importance of the question but felt there was no need for it to be a point of difference between nations. Rather than antagonize each other with ill-founded speculation, they should run a test that would provide the answer.

A Test? Was that possible? Miraculously, there was universal agreement. And a standing ovation… and back slapping. Because he’d been silly enough to step forward, the Russian was appointed project manager. His job… figure out if conception restarts on the decease of Layla Parkin.

This was tremendous pressure… he’d been given only one day to plan it all and ensure the resources were ready to roll. Same old story… they always want everything done right now. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. It was pretty much a one man show… he even had to specify the success criteria all by himself. This wasn’t just a case of Yes/No you know… there had to be a back out option if conception didn’t kick in.

He gleefully explained the iterative and incremental approach he had developed despite oppressive constraints. A top-notch medical team would provide biological services… a controlled death and a controlled resuscitation. Hundreds of labs, all over the world, were filled with reproductive resources… couples and test-tubes. The scientists could observe the results and apply whatever theories they had been working on to help conception along.

It was a logistical nightmare. It took two days to get onto the starting grid. Naturally, this was viewed as overrun and he got a right royal dressing down. You can’t please these people.

When the flag fell, it was very exciting. Once the medical team had confirmed death… the labs went for it. They only had a twenty minute window. The first run was a practice to fine-tune procedures and get them into the swing of things.

In all, they executed this process eight times over a week and a half. No conception. He congratulated Layla on the robustness of her work. He assured her that he took his responsibility to stakeholders seriously… and he included her as one.

After six rounds, the medical team informed him that the risk of resuscitation failure had risen from 2 to 20%. He immediately informed the project board that the risk outweighed the potential reward. Against his advice, they insisted that the testing continued. They wanted to do a ninth too… but he pulled the plug… literally. It contaminated the controlled environment.

He used the down time to convince his superiors that results suggested it was highly probable that the answer was ‘conception could never restart’ and to continue any further with the test would likely drop them into that irrecoverable situation. That got through to them. It was all about risk management.

[Layla]:
“I felt very dirty, Nally. I was in shock. This man… I think he wanted me to praise him for his diligent work. He thought he saved my life.

Each country had full control of their labs. That Estonian doctor told me there was never a chance a lab would report actual results in case it helped other labs. He knew an Estonian lab that had managed a limited amount of conception after four rounds. That lab begged the Russian to halt testing. Of course, this was solely to prevent the other labs succeeding.”

“I’m sorry Layls. That was a terrible ordeal. But now that you lifted the baby ban… it’s back to normal right? There’s no more advantage in killing you?”

[Layla]:
“And there’s no reason not to either. See, they’re still hanging around. It’s better to be conspicuous.

Look, that episode really knocked me about, Nally. The sleeping in that you give out to me about? I’m not lazy, I’m not asleep. I’m just so stressed that it takes me a while to get myself together… to put my face on. I’ve never admitted that to anyone before.”

And I’d never thought of her as vulnerable before… or possessing anything but irrepressible confidence. I felt our relationship equalizing right before my eyes.

“Well, I think someone deserves the last falafel. Our little talk, Layls… I think it’s been helpful, yeah?”

[Layla, leaning forward with a wicked smirk]:

“This… this is all about you, isn’t it?”

That was only a little unfair. So, I smiled warmly and held the lady’s fingers as lovingly as I could. I made no mention at all of being on a ninth life. Yikes.

I looked around. Hey, it wasn’t that bad for her. The chefs; the waitresses; the praying and non-praying customers. It looked like we were going on with our business but we were watching keenly nonetheless. They were on notice. We outnumbered those suits and we had access to knives, forks and sharpened kebab sticks. I reckon we would have taken them if they’d make any advances.

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