I was chatting to a friend recently. We were talking about (the correct word, of course, would be gossiping) one woman we both knew. My friend had a concern. 'You know', She said 'I don’t know how to explain... (she of course, knew exactly how to explain. She just did not know how to explain so she did not sound like a bitch) But I just don’t really want to be associated with her.'
I knew exactly what she was talking about. Because, it is important who you hang out with. It affects the way people see you. It affects your re-pu-tation. And the concept of reputation is oh, so familiar to me. What I wanted to tell my friend is that I am completely and utterly free from any worries- whatsoever! -when it comes to mine. You see, I spent years as a young girl in a country where the whole culture is designed around gossiping about each other and analysing each other’s private life.
My reputation was always hanging by a thread. Firstly, I was not a very traditional Azeri girl. Which already creates a poor basis for a good reputation somewhere like Azerbaijan. Straight from university, I got a job in a foreign company. That, of course, was another major step down the reputation hill.
And then things started happening around me. One day, a nice lady from HR stopped by my office, and closed the door behind her. Is that true, she wanted to know, what she was told. I honestly did not have a clue. Maybe it was, maybe it was not. What was it she wanted to know, I wondered. If you are being sexually harassed, she added, all you need to do is come to us. You needn’t worry.
I did not know who was supposed to have harassed me. It turned out I was too keen in my job, you see. I came in on a weekend to help my senior colleague with paperwork before he had to leave; and I never claimed overtime. But I had my reasons. Our American boss was pretty suspicious of anyone who tried to get overtime; so I thought I was just going to be professional and not ask for it. A security guy, walking past the office, saw that the door was closed. That made him suspicious. He reported it to HR. I almost lost my job.
Years later, my colleagues were still dying to know. Was it true or was it not?
On a separate occasion, a girl at work shared a cigarette with me outside. ‘Look’, she said. ‘Ehm...I have to confess in something. There is a rumour going around the office that you are having an affair with X. The truth is....I was the one who started that rumour. I am sorry.‘
That was one of the most unusual confessions I'd heard. I had two questions to ask her.
1.Why did she think I was having an affair with X? and
2. Why did she apologize now and told me she started it?
She said I seemed too friendly with X. ( Of course I was. He and I worked together for years before she even knew either of us!) He would always stop by my desk, and we would go out for a cigarette break together. That, in her eyes, was enough to assume we were doing it.
Right, I thought. Fascinating. But why did she decide it was not true all of a sudden?
Well, as she got to know him better, she started sharing jokes and cigarettes with him, too.
‘ Well,’ I said ‘I guess that means you are sleeping with him now. ‘
Ah, the drama of Baku life!
I miss it. Compared to the dramas and gossip going around my old Baku job, nothing can get me in this country. These British guys are dilettantes when it comes to gossiping and ruining somebody’s reputation.
Azeries looooove to gossip. If there isn’t anything about you worth talking about, they will make something up.
Husband (then boyfriend) proposed to me and went back to the UK to buy a ring and make other appropriate arrangements, like getting paperwork sorted for my visa. I shared the exciting news with everyone. ‘Oh ..’ said one woman I knew. ‘Aren’t you afraid to be telling people? What if he does not return?!’
Husband returned. We got married. I assumed that was the end of it all. But no, of course it was not! Now that I was married, I had to be pregnant. Not too soon, but soon enough. Husband and I did not want any kids yet. But to our Azeri neighbours and my mother’s friends that meant we were infertile. ’Oh, is it him?’ They asked in hope. ‘Or is it her? Can she not get pregnant? Poor girl!’
Finally, I have a child. What next? I wondered. Surely, there is nothing left?
There will always be.
‘Why don’t they take you to live with them?’ Neighbours started asking my mother. ‘Don’t they want you there?’
But what some people don’t get and probably won’t believe, is that I simply don’t care anymore. I barely did when I lived in Baku, but at least it affected me a little. These days, I am so remote from it all, that their pathetic attempts to upset me, or to create some gossip about me seem as insignificant as a pile of horse sh*t on the main road.
And so I told my girlfriend who worried about her reputation, that I personally don’t give a flying you-know-what. I am old and ugly enough to choose who I want to be friends with, without worrying if they behave appropriately, dress according to the suburban norms or drive certain cars. I choose them because I want them in my life. Simple, right?