The Cleopatra Tales 1: Divine Union – Hieros Gamos
After the rains
19 January 2015
White flags soared in sky
Flapping in winds that tore through
Night’s inky shadow
Thoughts seeping like creeper’s shade
Dug channel through oblivion
The moon turned wane face
Its soft gaze blazing anew
The sparkling still lakes
Like diamonds cutting through panes
Memories shone through the grey
The wind ripped through hills
That stood in face of Tempest
Like pillars of clay
Mudslide swept through all corners
Leaving no memory sane
Lay writhing from eye of storm
Jagged shards flaunted
Like pieces of glass in soul
Slick words thrown like knives are etched
Morning woke in eyes
Sounds of soothing daybreak rose
Like birds feet on a wet ledge
As remains played loud in chest
Shaking off remnants of storm
Warmed Earth’s sleepy crust
Early day’s soft soothing moods
Enchanted all living souls
A bird chanted flights
As it stretched its wings to dry
To soar it prepared
In year’s anticipation
Shaking off rain I called out
Bring to me the light
And dispel all doubts’ darkness
As sun beams on sky
Winter rains that flooded Earth
Would pierce in mind a new seed
November 27 – December 1, 2014
(a shared writing effort with Lars Epperson)
Arms outstretched towards the sky, he had quickened his pace and was almost running now towards the house as if he meant to embrace it. Something seemed to have changed in his mood and she wondered how one could shift from such a sense of grief to such a sense of glee without a transition.
Suddenly he stopped in his tracks and turned towards her. He did not seem to see her but was not looking right through her either. It was more as if he was lost in his thoughts and she was a substitute to the person who seemed to occupy them. He smiled at her, a smile that was all at once innocent, roguish and so disarmingly charming before speaking.
“Do you remember the old house? It was Sunday dinners; a tradition he wanted to keep: fried chicken mashed potatoes and gravy too much cooked to eat, worried him still, never quite able to carry it on.
Kids always seemed to busy the house where you pulled open your blouse.
– Do you like these?
– Uh, yes, think so, but never seen them outside playboy magazine
– Kiss them
Swimming in the creek, headlights shining on your nakedness…”
She listened to him as he alternated mimicking his role and that of the woman he had loved apparently, completely lost in his memories.
“Damn! Hated you/loved you; give me one more chance to nibble on your neck, down lower to your full breasts… I really need to make love to you, one last time”
She listened, not sure he was referring to his past love or to her as he seemed to be describing the love-hate relationship he had with her. Did he nibble on all his girlfriends’ necks? she wondered. She thought quietly about her own love habits and how it seemed that all human beings seemed to have their favourite likes and dislikes that did not really depend upon their partner’s likes and dislikes although they often had to make an effort to blend their favourites with their partner’s favourites.
What an intricate thing, she thought, this lovemaking where everyone was so different yet so similar. How was it that people even related to each other and were able to carry on feeling the same passion year after year if the things they did were so similar from one year to another, from one partner to another?
She was stopped from her daydreaming as she felt his gaze intensify on her and she lifted her eyes which caught his that seemed dark, brooding.
He looked at her, watched the wind play upon the tall grass blowing it first this way then that and wanted to tell her something but instead thought to himself “so many things I forgot to tell you. Did I forget to tell you I love you?”
He gazed at her, saw her eyes widening and felt her searching him as he was searching her.
Again he wanted to say all those words to her but they just ran around in his chest as he talked to the image of her in his mind “Looking into your eyes, see the reflection, another time maybe someone new… shadows passing. I feel it fade. Yesterday, you would have wanted me to make love to you”.
She could feel that he meant to say something and she desperately wanted him to say it aloud but he seemed to be all at once lost in his own world and trying so hard to reach out to her and share with her his feelings.
He watched her expressions as her face changed from troubled to hopeful to pained to bewildered and he wanted to kiss her, to reassure her that everything was alright, that it had been a fleeting moment and that he was there for her like he had been for so long, like he would always be but the words failed him again.
He knew somehow that it wasn’t true and that this relationship between them that wavered between love and hate was bound to tear them apart and he realised that all the words in the world would do nothing to change that.
He smiled again at her, sadly, with the knowledge that the sense of heartbreak he felt was probably the one her eyes were conveying too as deep pools stirred in them with the downpour approaching. He thought softly to himself as he opened his arms to her and she ran on the backdrop of grass blowing in the wind “I know you won’t be here long; goodbyes, gotten good at them but hate that wait. Is it you, or me that goes first?”.
He held her tightly and felt again that mixture of bliss and pain as her curves melted into his body and he was submerged by her warmth and softness while at the same time realising that not too long after that they would be separated again. For now though, he whispered to himself as they clung on to each other and her tears spilled all over his shoulders “it is not over yet, it is not goodbye”.
Reading of this episode of the story:
Read the next part of the story “The Lady at the Bar (5) here – https://geethaprodhom.wordpress.com/english-novels/the-lady-at-the-bar-5/
November 7, 2014
(a shared writing effort with Lars Epperson)
She made many promises and I remember when we were driving looking out the window…
It was noon on a sunny day, one of her favourite moments when every living being was lulled into a silent sense of security that brought with it a sleepy lazy feeling.
Sun kissed thighs dark shades on, so she couldn’t see me looking; wouldn’t want to give her the satisfaction. A bottle of beam, shirt worn one day too many crumpled pack of Marlboros
She stretched and looked back at the driver who was holding on to the steering wheel like his life depended upon it. Ever since their argument that morning, they had been ignoring each other stonily. He pretending not to see or hear her and she pretending it did not matter as she strutted around in one of his favourite figure-hugging skirts. She knew he would notice as she barely wore skirts but he had of course chosen to ignore the flash of thighs revealed as she entered the passenger seat next to him. She looked out of the window again letting her hair dangle loosely over the side of the car so that the sun could play with its wisps
Fresh tank of gas so… where’re we going. Let’s take a spin, see how far this fast car can take us, looking for that last chance Texaco.
Outside the car, everything was alive with noise, the birds chirped cheerily, the grasshoppers sang, the bees buzzed around in frenzy and even the flowers seemed to say hi as they waved in the wind. Yet Inside the car, only the sound of the engine came through to them. She looked at him again; he seemed to be engrossed in his own thoughts now and not ignoring her. She wondered what he was thinking as he seemed to be puzzled. Her eyes lingered on the corners of his mouth that had been so soft when she had kissed them the night before and thought about how they had yielded to her lips hungrily while they were pressed tightly this morning, hard, unyielding…
Doll Tale 4 : In every shade
17-30 October 2014
Faten grabbed her veil and feverishly pulled it over her head as she heard her husband closing the gate and nearing the entrance door. I stared at her puzzled as we were only females save for a young teenage boy who had come with his mother, one of the ladies seated in the midst of our group. She gave me a half-warning half-pleading look and then rushed to the entrance door to welcome her husband.
When Mounir entered the house, all the ladies pulled their scarves over their heads and some even partly over the side of their faces holding the scarf in check with their mouths. I was almost the only one who was not dressed for the occasion it seemed save for one of the ladies who had brought me there the first time and who wore a headscarf that was tied towards the back instead of the front unlike the other ladies whose scarves were tied elaborately to cover the ears, full hair and neck. Mounir looked around approvingly as the women cowered shyly bidding him welcome back to his home and apologizing for keeping his wife so busy with their “idle talk” that she could not tend to her husband properly. His gaze slowly reached me and his smile turned into a sullen frown as he took in the uncovered hair and my western attire. He turned towards his wife and looked at her disapprovingly as she took his jellaba and his bag while he removed his slippers and proceeded into the dining room for his meal. Faten turned again with the pleading look and I reluctantly stood up to leave as I was visibly not welcome anymore in this house.
As I started out from the room, I sensed more than I saw the ladies disapproving look follow me. Just minutes before we had been friends, united in the bonding of our shared stories of how Tunis used to be, of tales of the elders, of times when women were free because Bourguiba had given us the freedom and a voice to reckon with and of the wonders that Tunis had ahead if only things would finally settle down. Of course we did not agree on everything but it was fantastic to be able to share with these ladies a part of my own history while we tried to adapt as much as we could to the foreign country that we were in.
Faten was the second of the Tunisian ladies I had got to know through Houria, the lady who had brought me over the first time. She and Mounir had been married for a few years and she was a little concerned as she was not able to bear him any child, let alone a son. The doctor she had gone to see as per Mounir’s instructions had informed them that because of her heart condition combined with her anaemia she would not be able to bear a child without a high risk to her health. Besides, as there was a history of trisomy 21 or Down syndrome in the family, Mounir finally decided it was not worth the hassle to try. Ever since the doctor had given them the news about her condition, however, Mounir had never been the same with Faten.
When one looked at Faten today, one would never imagine that this was the same girl who had fought with her classmates in barricades against the uprising Islamists called Ikhwan Jihad in Tunisia when Bourguiba was still ruling. Head uncovered, wearing western attire which was quite close to the body, she had claimed angrily in the face of the Ikhwan her right to continue studying in the attire she chose to wear. Like many of us, she too had believed that nobody had the right to force us to wear what they thought was decent attire for a woman in order to be allowed to study alongside the young boys at the universities. The Ikhwan used to abuse us verbally and some even threatened us in the faculties if we showed up at class wearing western attire that they deemed unfit for a proper Muslim. After the initial stages of threatening, they had taken the habit of making barricades in front of the university sections and stopping any girl wearing “unfit attire” from going to class. Many of us had created identical barricades to breach their barricades (as they usually did not want to have women touch them) and forced our way through to be able to attend our classes. Soon enough some of the encounters had started becoming physical and often the police was called to separate both sections and this could end up in some form of violence or the other. Hence, Faten’s parents who were a very progressive lot had sent her to Geneva before the time I had gone there to pursue her education unfettered. I had decided through similar reasoning, although other circumstances had also played a part, that it was time for me to leave the country as over and above wearing the “unfit attire”, I also had a very Hindu name.
When Faten and I had met the first time, we had shared those stories and grown an instant liking of each other because of that bond although she was fully veiled by then. She had shown me pictures friends had clicked of her facing the barricades and it had been quite hard to equate that beautiful slim girl with the dancing blond loose curls, close-cut dress stopping just above the knees and perfectly made up face with the veiled and stern-faced woman in front of me whose face was devoid of any make-up. When she removed her head gear though, one still could see the resemblance although her body and face had become quite voluminous.
She always kept preciously hidden those pictures of the times before in a drawer where Mounir could not see them as they angered him. Only pictures of them together, she wearing her head gear, adorned the walls and even in her wedding pictures she had her head gear on save for a few which were hidden in the bedroom and where one could still see the Faten of the barricades. Apparently Mounir had made it a condition of their marriage that she would start wearing the veil as befitted a Muslim woman, especially in a foreign country where everyone had looser values and men were more pressing with women unlike “back home” as far as Mounir was concerned.
When Faten and Mounir had got married, she had been in the country for quite a few years and had by chance been able to get a good job so she had a proper residency visa. I personally believed that that was the main factor in determining their marriage as Mounir had been visiting trying to land an engineering job and take up residency in Geneva which he was refused when he then met Faten and courted her for a short period after which he had asked for her hand without even meeting her parents. It was only after they both agreed on the terms that Faten and he had made the trip back to Tunisia where they got married despite Faten’s parents’ fears. Indeed, they were quite concerned because of Mounir’s insistence that she be veiled even for the wedding ceremony while they believed their daughter to be free-spirited and especially given her prior experience with the Ikhwan. Faten, however, seemed totally smitten by Mounir and was willing to do anything he would ask of her. The rush in going ahead with the marriage had been such that Mounir had not met with some of Faten’s family, namely her brother who had Down syndrome and whom the family did not readily introduce to others and a few cousins who also had the same syndrome. Upon seeing them at the marriage, Mounir had only scowled at them but decided it was better not to say anything. Shortly after the marriage, Mounir and Faten had quickly done with all the formalities at the Swiss embassy and travelled back to Geneva where Mounir had applied for a residency visa under the spousal unit rules.
Initially Faten had been able to work after the marriage – although Mounir had made her stop wearing make-up to work – and had to continue anyway as that was one of the governing conditions of her being able to maintain her visa but shortly she was told that if she applied for the permanent residency visa (type C visa) she would get it because of her good position and the time she had spent in the country and she of course informed Mounir. With a permanent visa, it was no longer required for a person to justify having reasonable means to stay in the country and she could even apply on a long-term basis for unemployment benefits. Shortly after Mounir found a job and was confirmed in his position, he had asked Faten to resign from her job and stay at home as he convinced her it was more befitting for a woman to take care of her husband and avoid exposing herself to the looks of her male colleagues. He had attended a work party and had seen how many of Faten’s male colleagues looked at her despite her veil as they had known her before with a different attire and had found her very attractive. This probably was the decisive factor and he could not just ask her to change jobs as it would not be possible for him to offer a plausible explanation of why he would want her to do that. Shortly after she had stopped working, Faten had started putting on quite some weight but Mounir did not seem too concerned until the point in time that she had a health scare because of her heart condition and they had found out that she had to be careful with her weight while also finding out that it would be better to avoid having children. From then on, Mounir chose what she would eat as well like he had already chosen before how she would dress, whom she could be friends with and where they would spend summer vacations, etc.
When I had first met Mounir through Faten it was a total coincidence as she had not meant for me to meet him. We were both sitting having tea and sharing memories when all of a sudden the front door opened and Mounir entered with Faten immediately going into an agitated state and fussing around him as he eyed me warily, not able to remit my origins clearly. Faten then told him my name and his face took on a peculiar look while he asked her how come he had never met me before and how come she had met me as I was visibly not a Muslim Tunisian lady from the mosque where she went. He was totally taken aback when I started answering him in the Tunisian dialect that we had met at ladies section of the small place adjacent to the mosque where Arabic lessons were taught and where some Tunisians would meet to have a cup of tea. Of course I did not tell him that I had actually been to his house several times before and played the role of someone who had just arrived there for the first time. Faten gave me a grateful look and carried on tending to Mounir while I stood up and started bidding farewell before Mounir stopped me and said that I should carry on as visibly I was going to get a good view of what it meant to be a good Muslim and he thought it would be fantastic for his wife to be the one converting a non believer. I was about to voice that my mother was a Tunisian muslim but was stopped by Faten’s warning look so I just left it at voicing that my mother was a Tunisian. Mounir automatically assumed that my mother was one of the rare Christian or Jewish Muslims in Tunisia and I did not correct him either way and thankfully did not have to continue the conversation as he was hungry and Faten whisked him off to have his meal while I finally made it to the door after hurriedly saying goodbye. It was only later on that he had found out about my origins and like many others made it a point to always ask me all sorts of pointless and tasteless questions about my origins, my parents, the reasons for the choice of my name amongst other questions that seemed to trouble immensely many people who did not understand how my siblings and I could have come about to exist. Mounir was in two minds always about my friendship with his wife as on the one hand he believed that she would be able to “convert” me properly in case I was not a proper Muslim and on the other hand he was afraid of the bad influence I could be for her. Therefore, depending on his mood and often upon my attire, I was either welcome or unwelcome in his house.
After I left the house, I went to the park to play chess as I often did when I needed to sort my thoughts. It annoyed me to see Faten so submissive and subdued while I knew from some of the times we had spoken that she still had that fire in her and missed working, the interaction with the western world and the possibility of doing something meaningful with her life. In the beginning she had been able to cope with the situation as she had hoped to be able to have children and dedicate herself to their upbringing but with that possibility out of the way, she felt useless and forlorn before Mounir had come up with the solution of having her give Arabic lessons to foreign women converting to Islam.
Although it was not exactly what she had hoped for, Faten was happy with this part-time opportunity which allowed her to breathe a bit and leave the sphere of her house to meet with others and interact with them. It was a limited interaction though as the ladies converting to Islam were also entering a very self-limiting phase of their lives, not because of them taking up Islam but because of the beliefs of the men who were marrying them and the way they interpreted the teachings of Islam. For example Islam did not require a woman to be fully veiled including covering the face, nor did it require women to stop working as even the prophet’s wife had been a businesswoman and worked freely in a male environment. However, these men had persuaded their would-be Swiss wives that this was the only way they could be good Muslims and for some of us Tunisian women who believed in a different form of Islam, it was always surprising to see these blond blue-eyed or green-eyed girls coming in fully cloaked and lifting their veils to be able to sip their tea when they were in the Café outside with their husbands and not in the female section of the Arab Cultural Centre. From what happened with most of those marriages later on, it was easy to understand that the main reason for the marriage was getting permanent residency or the Swiss passport as shortly after obtaining those, the men usually had divorced their wives and brought a precious virgin from their home towns whom they had wedded shortly after their divorce.
I thought about how Faten had come to be so submissive and I felt anger well in me, replacing the irritation I had felt before. It had taken a while for her to confide in me but after she had found out that I helped as a volunteer in a shelter for women who had been subjected to different forms of abuse, she had started telling me her story but always refused to come to the shelter or take any form of legal action. Apparently shortly after they had got married, Mounir had been quite rough with her as he had found out that she was not a virgin. Had he asked her the question before their marriage she would have of course told him but as he had never asked her this because he had been so keen on getting married quickly, she had never volunteered the information upfront. In reality, it probably had not struck her as important at all as her parents were not very conservative and she had been raised in a way that allowed her to keep her free-spirited nature throughout the years of growing up. Somehow, Mounir interpreted it thinking she had tricked him into getting married with her without giving him access to this knowledge. I thought wryly that that was a good tit for a tat if she had done it on purpose as he certainly had not let her in on the fact that he was tricking her into marrying him under the pretext of love while visibly all he wanted was to secure his residency visa in Geneva and land a job there. Unlike the others who were willing to marry a foreign woman if need be, he on the other hand had probably deemed himself lucky to have a woman from his home country offering him that possibility. After he had found out and the initial roughness, he had however accepted the fact and was not really rough with her but shortly after they had found out that it was preferable to avoid having children, Mounir had gotten rougher with her.
Faten had also found out that he had started asking around for a second wife and though it was not allowed in Tunisia where the law did not permit a man to be legally married to more than one wife, he had apparently the intention of getting married in Tunisia and having children who would be raised there. The first time he had made a trip to Tunisia without her one summer, she knew that it was probably to go get married. There were always mouftis willing to marry a man to more than a wife and even if it was not subsequently registered in the official records, many in villages were willing to get married to a man who already had another wife as long as the marriage was celebrated grandly and everybody throughout the village was aware of it. It was fine even when the first wife was in the country so obviously a man with a first wife who was not even in the country was even better as long as he could pay the mahr and maintain his wife. I suspected that it was probably to face the additional expenses that Mounir had arranged for Faten’s part-time job as he took her whole salary, was the one who decided what she was to spend for their household and was very tight with the money.
The winter after what she had assumed was the trip for his second marriage, he had decided to go unexpectedly to Tunisia without her and she had told me that she had understood and accepted with a heavy heart that it was probably because of the birth of his first child. Neither of them voiced anything about the matter although each knew the other was aware that the secret was no longer a secret, nor had it ever really been one. Faten bore the pain of this double blow of fate with resignation and silence somehow deeming it a necessary evil to redeem her own incapacity of birthing a child. After the birth of his child, however, Mounir had become more abusive with Faten and while she did not understand why as she had expected this would make him a happier and less abusive person, I suspected the reason but kept it to myself as she needed more a shoulder to cry on than someone who would explain things to her. I had already seen on various occasions that it was pointless to try to make her see things the way they were as that only depressed her and it was therefore better just to be there to comfort her and assist her with her other day-to-day administrative matters.
I marveled at her dedication and capacity to love Mounir despite all what was happening as she was doing everything she could to make sure that Mounir too would get the permanent residency visa like herself. It was not an automatic process as you did not get a permanent residency visa C when you were married to someone who had it but stayed on the B permit for a few years after which you could apply for the C permit. She was therefore diligently processing all the required documentation to ensure that Mounir would get his C permit. I shrugged my shoulders and proceeded with the game as my chess partner nudged me to carry on with my move and stop day-dreaming.
After that afternoon, it became more difficult to meet Faten as she usually told me she had other events planned and it was difficult to get her attention when she was teaching or to get her to stay back for a cup of tea at the centre. I also sensed that people at the centre were less welcoming with me than they had been before and attributed the change in attitude to Mounir’s influence. Being the stubborn person that I am, I still carried on anyway going to the centre’s small outlet and having a cup of tea there all the while trying to have some time chatting with Faten or checking on her indirectly. One week, however, I neither saw her at the centre nor was anyone able to give me news about her so I called her at home and found a neighbor there who told me she was at the hospital. Fearing she had had a heart attack I rushed to the emergency section only to be told that she was in another section and was recovering well. I went to meet her and my heart welled with sadness as I realized that she had just gone through a severe beating and I knew instantly who was the culprit as I held her hand and squeezed it. Tears rolled down our faces as we looked at each other in dismay, her for me seeing her in the state she was in after all the times I had told her it could finally come to a very serious situation if she let the smaller abuse carry on while she kept shrugging that possibility off as being unlikely and me for actually seeing it had happened to her. Neither of us said a word but just stayed holding each others’ hands for a long while and shortly after that it was not visiting time anymore so I left after leaving near her bedside the flowers I had quickly grabbed on my way to the hospital and kissing her on the forehead as her cheek was swollen.
During my subsequent visits I saw that she was slowly recovering not only her health but also her free-spirited ways. She told me that she was going to file for a divorce as this was anyway what Mounir wanted and had caused the argument between them. Only, she would not divorce in the way he wanted where he had been trying to persuade her, blow aiding the persuasion where words lacked it, to renounce her alimony rights. In fact, she would hire a lawyer to ask for the highest alimony rights possible and her only regret was that he was now on final track for getting his C permit, which she then realized was the only reason he had continued to stay with her despite his marriage to the other woman and the birth of his child. He had apparently always had the intention of getting his C permit and then divorcing her to make his marriage legitimate in Tunisia so that he could then file the papers to be able to bring his wife and child to Geneva.
Her body shook and her voice was full of rage as she described how he first tried to persuade her that according to sharia she should not ask for alimony because she had not borne him any children. When she had first refused and mentioned that not only had she given up her mahr when they had got married but she had also given up a really well paid job and could not survive on the part-time job she had at the centre, he had asked her to go back to her parents who surely were wealthy enough to take care of her. Upon her insistence that it was his duty to take care of her as her parents’ duty had ended when she got married to him, he had carelessly replied that she could just sort herself out and find another job. He had added jeeringly that surely some of her previous male colleagues would be happy to help her out although she would have to lose a few kilos if she wanted to still interest them. From one escalation to another, he had ended up using what he thought was the infallible persuasion of the physical blows but this time she did not bend and by the time they had finished the persuasion session, the police brought over by the neighbours alerted by the initial cries had had to rush her to the emergency ward given her state. I listened quietly steeling myself inwardly not to say a word, suppressing my urge to tell her that I had warned her that this could happen. I felt ashamed at the urge to tell her this like I felt ashamed that I had not just told her at that time how I suspected him of only staying married with her for the papers.
When Faten finally left the hospital a couple of weeks later, she very quickly filed for divorce and with all the testimonials of the neighbours and the police complaint, she had no problems in getting a clean-cut divorce with a proper alimony settlement in her favour. She could have stayed on in the house they had shared if she had wished to but she felt that the place would bring too many bad memories to mind and chose a small one bedroom near her new job instead. Several friends from her previous job stood in for her so she never needed to lodge at the state’s expense or go back to her husband’s house while her divorce was being sorted out. Faten’s lawyer had informed her during the divorce process that she could actually oppose the procedure for her husband to get the C permit even though it was in its final stages but she thought it better to just get on with her divorce, forget the whole matter to turn the page and start her life over again. She probably also did not think it a good idea to make things difficult for him as he would then be in a vindictive mood towards her and her family back in Tunisia and God only knew what he was capable of doing if he lost the opportunity of getting his C permit because of her.
As it turned out later on, there was one final requirement and that was the signature of the wife on the document confirming that they were still married, which she obviously could not do as they were filing for a divorce so Mounir had gone back home empty handed from his final meeting despite the paper that he had received congratulating him that his papers were approved for getting the C permit. Therefore funnily enough after all that waiting through a marriage he had planned just for getting residency in Geneva, Mounir did not get his C permit through his marriage with Faten although he had got his B permit through it but he eventually did get the C permit at some stage later on as Faten had not pressed charges that would have sent him to jail. I thought he was very lucky to have got away with that as I believed he would never have been able to get a C permit if he had done jail time.
The last time I met Faten in Geneva, she told me she had been dating one of the westerners in her job, Hans, who was an expatriate from the Netherlands. She believed he cared a lot for her and would want to get married to her as he would be shortly moving back to the Netherlands and wanted her to accompany him there. Being the spontaneous person I am, I blurted out the question that was burning my lips “Do you love him?” as I knew she was a very sensitive, emotional person and needed a lot of warmth and affection in her life. She looked at me with a mixture of sadness and defiance and said softly “No I don’t. I have seen love in its every shade and am not willing to be in that state anymore. Hans loves me and that is enough for me. I only need to be loved now”. She stopped as she saw my pained gaze as I realized the sorrow that accompanied the words and put her hand on my shoulder adding “Who knows? Maybe in time I will love Hans. He is after all a loveable person”.
Hans and Faten had a quick civil marriage and left shortly after that. In the beginning we emailed each other frequently but then as time went by, the emails were less frequent until they became purely conventional exchanged only for the holiday season year after year. One day, though, I was surprised by a couple of radiant attachments that accompanied an email from her out of the holiday season. The first was a full length picture of Hans, Faten and a child in a baby stroller who was apparently their own. I gazed at the three of them smiling, holding hands with the baby girl in the middle and felt such happiness transpire through the picture. The second was a picture of Faten with the baby in her arms visibly shortly after the birth as she was wearing a hospital blouse and she looked tired but happy and the third was a picture of Hans and Faten smiling and kissing each other on the lips over the head of the baby girl who seemed to be cooing.
Faten wrote that she was sorry she had not written earlier but it had been difficult for her as she had had so much to do during the pregnancy and after the birth. Lina, the baby girl had Down syndrome and as they had gone through the possibilities, the risks when speaking to the doctors, Hans had told Faten that he wanted to have a child with her and that it would not matter to him if the child had Down syndrome so Faten had been encouraged by his enthusiasm and they had gone ahead with their trials. When they found out during the pregnancy that the baby would have Down syndrome it was a shock for Faten nevertheless but Hans had coaxed Faten into not having an abortion as she would have wanted initially because she was not sure either of them could handle such a child. After the birth of the child, it had been a very difficult time for Faten while she tried to accept the baby despite the fact that she had grown with a brother who had the same syndrome but Hans was always there to take care of Lina when Faten could not bring herself to tend to the baby because she was submerged with sadness. A couple of weeks afterwards, Faten was however fully attached to her child and marveled at every progress the baby girl made. I read with awe and admiration as well as respect for her honesty what she recounted of her battle with her beliefs as her parents while being open-minded had still hidden her brother often because they were not sure how to handle the social interaction he would have with others in Tunisia. I read on with tears of how the love of the child had grown slowly inside her heart and how her love of Hans had grown slowly together with the love for her child as she saw how selflessly he devoted himself to both of them. One particular set of sentences caught my attention and I often think of it when I despair about the lack of love in the world “I thought I had seen love in its every shade but now I know that it is not true. It is limitless and every day I discover with Hans and Lina how you can always find a new side to it, a new shade. As long as Hans and Lina are by my side, I know I can spread my wings and fly because they are my strength and my peace. I want to find new ways to love them every day, in every shade”.
Doll tale 3: Leaving is living, Matilda
6 October 2014
She thought that she would never have the time to leave before he came back. The events of the previous day raced through her mind as colours that would clash at the bottom of a kaleidoscope. The more she thought of escaping, the more she felt petrified. It seemed to her that there was no way out and she felt like a piece of Emmenthal squeezed in a sandwich between the two hot plates of a toaster which inevitably would make her melt, doing away with her.
To leave, to leave, to leave. She brooded over the word to the exasperation of her mind that revolted against her incessant litanies, her tiresome indecision. To leave yes, but to leave without a quest, without the possibility of winning… What for? To leave, but how to leave and how to organize oneself, what to do? These thoughts incessantly ran through her mind like an infernal rondo making her feel dizzy.
Matilda was pacing in front of her car and could not bring herself to slip behind the wheel and take to her heels with her baby asleep in his baby seat. She suddenly stopped pacing, unbuckled her baby turned around and went back into the house. It would not do them any good to drive in her condition and she might as well take the train later she thought. She put the toddler back in his crib and he continued to sleep undisturbed. He had suckled his mother for so long that he was completely satisfied and had fallen into a deep, restful sleep. She stroked his cheek before heading down to the kitchen. Mechanically she took out the broom, vacuum, bucket and various liquids to clean floors and other household items and began to clean.
Everything was a victim of her zealous cleaning from the floor to the ceiling not forgetting the curtains, the dishes and the children’s toys littering the living room floor. She paused for a moment, realizing that she was stacking everything she was tidying into a pile of five. Today’s pain, for some reason, made her mind wander to the digit five.
Five. The five children she would have had if one of them did not fall following a ski accident the year before leaving the twin free to develop in her belly and if the first, a long time ago, had not come out without a sound. Five if that first one, as dead as her heart had not been ejected at five and a half months in a creepy delivery where death triumphed over life. Giving birth to death, trying to smother one’s five senses to keep no memory of that moment and yet having that memory forever etched in one’s mind and through the five senses so alive at that time: the pain of her flesh, the vision of the doctor, of the pale white ceiling, the smell of ammonia and that more characteristic medical scent of hospitals, the sound that did not come, deafening to the ear despite her knowing that no noise would be there and the words, irritatingly encouraging, oppressive, unnecessary of the midwife who kept asking to push again and again because it would soon be over.
She stood up angrily and ran down to the basement where she vented her grief. She felt that she should as if by patriotic inclination go to war against the cobwebs and dust bunnies she had left to accumulate in the basement of her house during the aftermath of her pregnancy. These grey and sad dirtballs that rose out of the basement when she shook the rugs made her think about the quirky songs of the past that her husband would mention to her and that, for her, were just as crass as those dust bunnies despite the fact that he thought they were funny and light jokes. She furiously shook the carpets which seemed to release a never ending trail of dirt in the air. How much dirt could these rugs still conceal she thought angrily.
She thought to herself that if she had known before she would have got rid of that gunk for it was not a light joke but a solid reality of today. Did he say a slight madness of yesterday? No, a reality of today, she thought banging the carpet she still held while her tears mingled freely with the particles of dirt coming out of the carpet and fell heavily to the ground or caused the dust to be again made prisoner of the carpet. This floor was really going to keep a very vivid trace of her battle she thought. Everything had been removed, dusted, polished and re-shelved.
She took a deep breath and walked towards the kitchen in a daze where she rinsed her hands and mechanically prepared three sandwiches for the children coming home from school hungry and their nanny who would accompany them home before she left for the day. She then turned towards the mop realizing she had forgotten to remove the water on the floor. As she seized the mop, she reached towards the refrigerator to try to close the door before falling on her back nursing her elbow from the electric shock. She had forgotten that there was still that bad contact problem that her husband had not taken care of and that she had been standing with bare feet in the middle of a pool of water. The current passing through her body had dazed her but had also stopped dead in its tracks her furious housewife’s urge. She stood up, gingerly feeling her heavy and painful hand and proceeded to finish drying the water to prevent one of the children having to endure the same incident.
She walked slowly down the stairs to the basement to see if she had forgotten something. The cardboard box she had left in the middle of the room not knowing if she should bring its content up or leave it down caught her eye. It was a box full of old vinyl albums and on the top of the pile there was an album of ABBA and something broke in her at the sight of this palindrome. ABBA made her think of ABC and she had missed the ABC of all the signs, the ABC of sniffing those clues of treachery was what she had missed out. She grabbed the disc as well as all the others inside the box and began methodically to break them into two.
She then proceeded to the cellar, opened the door with the key hanging on a nail in the wall to the left side of the handle and looked at the bottles that adorned the wall: the “grand cru” bordeaux for special occasions were rubbing shoulders with “côtes du Rhone”, “blanc de blanc”, bottles of champagne, a few rare costly burgundy wines among other cheaper wines. She did not drink but if there was an occasion to celebrate she thought bitterly, it was this one. How to solve this dilemma? She took the first bottle of overpriced Champagne that met her nervous fingers and that her husband had asked her not to open unless he gave her the permission to do so. “Yes, what a good idea”, she said to herself, “let us pop the cork of the champagne like in olden times slicing its top off” but she realized that the Samurai sword was in the bedroom so she resorted to the wall. She drank a few drops cutting herself at the edge of the lips in the process. She took another bottle, a Chateau Margaux with a deep robe that went crashing against the white wall of the wine cellar. Many other bottles suffered a similar fate as she continued her relentless task.
When she left the cellar, the brackish unsavoury pond that decorated its floor kept emitting bubbles that she left to tremble and burst in the dark by turning off the light. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, rubbing her temples with her fingers that were numb from that mechanical task earlier. She heard above her head footsteps and laughter as the children came home from school with their nanny. She looked at herself in the mirror of the cabinet of the cellar and was shocked to see her livid face smeared with tears and soot. Slowly she walked towards the basin of the laundry room and began to clean her sticky face and hands. She then stripped off her soiled clothes, took a light dress which was folded in a basket of items to be ironed on top of the washing machine and slipped it on. She then climbed two by two the stairs that separated her from her children and rushed toward them with open arms. “Mom! ” they cried in chorus and she pressed them against her heart.
As always they had so much to tell her and she was always surprised and amazed that they could have so much to tell her each time they returned from school. Yet the day before she had listened to their stories and marveled at how different they were from the day before that. Every day they experienced exciting new events and every day, they like her marveled at being able to experience such interesting events.
In his room, their brother had just woken up from a deep sleep after his vigorous suckling at noon. He let out a long wail of one who is hungry again and Matilda and her children looked at each other with a knowing air. “You’ll have to feed again this greedy little boy,” said her daughter with a mischievous grin. Matilda smiled softly and extended a hand towards her. “Will you come and help me change him?” she asked her daughter. Her eldest son followed loudly proclaiming that he too wanted to take care of his brother and that changing babies was not a task reserved for women. All three climbed the stairs leading to the plaintive sound of the little greedy one who was claiming his own personal pantry on feet. In three, they were quick to change his diaper, then the two children watched their mother settle into the big chair and her eldest put the nursing pillow under her elbow while her daughter adjusted the blankets around her little brother.
Matilda gently stroked the baby’s cheek and the small mouth opened to grasp the nourishing nipple. And while life flowed in the gulps that her son took, Matilda felt life gently flow back again into her heart as she devised a plan to leave.
Doll tale 2 : Mireille’s ways
27 September 2014
Simon was a sweet soul. Everyone in his neighbourhood in a small suburb in Geneva loved him because he was always ready to and even volunteering to help anyone who came his way. A slight-figured man with a clean-shaven and very forgettable face, he was nonetheless liked by both the youngsters and the older generation because of his well-mannered and quiet ways.
A consultant in the local insurance firm, Simon knew everything about everyone and was always available to help out with insurance claims even when his boss believed it would not be in the best interest of the firm they both worked for. All knew and recognized that Simon was a decent fellow and had high moral values so his boss put up with his behaviour because ultimately, the boss too was from the same suburb which had once been some sort of a village. He would not have wanted to face the neighbours’ wrath if Simon had turned them off and some smart lawyer from downtown Geneva had enlightened them on the validity of their claims.
Simon had a wife called Mireille. She was all the opposite of Simon. Her hair was always unkempt and the smell that rose from her was often disturbing in the winter and outright unbearable in the summer heat as it turned into a stench of sweat and sometimes, on Sundays, a mixture of sour armpits and some cheap cologne. A sullen, ill-mannered creature with hardly any education, she was always glaring at people from beneath an unbelievably tussled nest of hair that barely left any of her face visible and seldom greeted anyone except the local priest.
All the neighbours never understood how sweet-natured Simon could have married and continue to live with such a woman. Then again, when you knew that Simon and Mireille had four children, you understood that the poor fellow must have got trapped in the marriage and him being such a sweet soul, he naturally must have chosen to “stick around” and make the best of his marriage rather than divorce and expose the children to grief.
Mireille, despite being unkempt and unclean, was somehow perceived as a very religious person, to the extent that some could qualify her as being a bigot. She never missed the Sunday mass except when she was visiting her mother with the children. Those were the only Sundays when Simon would come to the mass and tell everyone apologetically that Mireille had gone off to see her mother with the children and could not be there.
All attending the mass would then nod their heads understandingly and smile at Simon although nobody really understood why he was informing them as nobody really could say they missed Mireille’s presence. It was awfully nice of him though to show up and stand in for his wife despite the fact that everyone knew he had so much work on Sundays and normally could not make it to mass. He would then take some of the mass wine that father Mathieu had set aside for Mireille and go back home immediately after mass.
One fine month, Mireille skipped mass more than one Sunday and it was only on Simon’s uncomfortable fourth Sunday apology for her absence that people actually realized that Mireille had not been to mass the whole of the month. Some whispered amongst each other that maybe her prolonged absence at her mother’s place meant that finally Simon was going to be freed from her. Although some felt that it was a shame for the kids, they believed that it was probably the best for all as Simon would probably be able to file for custody of the children. Many neighbours gathered together that Sunday after mass and discussed how they could approach the subject and be of help to Simon in his future custody battle.
Father Mathieu who was leaving the mass and was passing by the Café-bar where they had gathered happened to overhear their discussion. He stopped and turning around to face the assembly told them that it was their Christian duty not to encourage this sort of a behaviour and that if they were going to let Simon know they would support him in a custody battle then that would equate to instigating his divorce.
Some of those present looked crestfallen but a small group who really empathized with Simon voiced their concerns that Father Mathieu should not have more understanding and support for a sweet-natured soul like Simon who was spending his life miserable in a situation which he should be helped to come out from. They further tried to prove the validity of their point of view by arguing that Simon being already a sweet and helpful soul, surely it could only be a benefit to the Christian community that such a man be freed from his misery to be able to carry out more community work for someone who would at least be thankful for it, unlike Mireille who seemed incapable of gratitude or any other positive feeling.
Father Mathieu said nothing but just stared at his shoes and the crowd, emboldened by what they thought was their successful convincing on their point of view pursued their reasoning and even tried to get Father Mathieu involved in the mission of liberating Simon. At the mention of such a possibility Father Mathieu started as if somebody had poked him with a hot iron and blurted out a sharp “No, I will not be a part of it” before walking away holding his head in his hands and muttering.
“Let him go, that’s the church for you” said Estelle the bar-tender. “They will continue to support even someone like Mireille just because she is supposedly a devout Christian but they will never help someone like Simon because he skips mass “. The crowd then devised how best to help and it was decided with the consent of all including Estelle who had half-volunteered that she would be the one who would be in charge of initiating the talks. As she was a tough stout woman who took no nonsense from anyone, including the late night drinkers that she would throw out herself by their ears, it was felt by all the gathering that she would be able to handle Mireille without much effort and at the same time be able to talk to Simon from equal to equal.
That night, Estelle closed her bar earlier after throwing out the last of the crowd that was still huddled in a corner playing rummy and set off on foot to Simon and Mireille’s house. Upon arriving at their fence she rang a couple of times before realizing that Simon had told them that both the gate bell and the doorbell had to be fixed so she hopped over the small garden fencing and walked quickly to the backyard as Simon and Mireille probably left the backyard door open like most of the neighbours.
On reaching the backdoor, Estelle realized that it was actually locked so she peered through the glazed panes to see if someone was nearby and could come to open the door. A dimmed light from the living room cast shadows around the walls and suddenly Estelle saw a thin bloodied figure dart across the living room followed closely by another less slight figure and even her tough heart skipped a beat as she recognized Mireille more by the tussled nest on her head than from the actual figure as nobody had ever seen her in anything else than very loose slacks and a big shirt that did not show much of her figure. Mireille was wearing a gown that was shredded in many places and through the shreds one could guess in the dim light that it was blood and skin that was oozing out. Behind her, closing in on her was Simon who seemed nothing like the Simon that Estelle knew. She could see his profile cut out against the dim light of the living room and he looked murderous, his hand carrying a belt that he was swishing above his head and at Mireille. At that moment, a small movement in the corner of the room caught her eyes and Estelle realized that it was one of the four children who was crawling towards his mother and tugging the bottom of Simon’s pants to which Simon reacted in a way that shocked Estelle into action as he just shook his leg and sending the child away from him with something like a half-kick.
The backyard door was no match for Estelle’s hundred kilogram massive frame and Simon froze as he saw Estelle burst into the kitchen from the backyard like some avenging Hulk. Estelle grabbed the child whom she put on the couch and then moved on to Simon whom she quickly immobilized against the wall before taking away the belt that he had been using to whip Mireille.
“What the f… is going on here” screamed Estelle who was well-known for her colourful language. Mireille, as always with her stony demeanour, just glared at Estelle and said nothing. Estelle felt the rage bubble inside her and knew she was close to hitting Simon if nobody would break the silence so she dropped the belt on the ground. Attempting to calm herself down, she said again in a loud voice “Mireille, put on the lights and can one of you tell me what the f.. is happening here?”.
Simon, eyes downcast feebly responded “I tried to stop her. She would not listen so I had to take the belt”.
“What do you mean take the belt?” raged Estelle. “I saw you using it on Mireille. She was not the one holding it”
“I tried to stop her” said Simon again
“Are you f.. telling me that she was hitting the kids and you tried to stop her?” barked Estelle
Simon paused, looked at Mireille who was turning on the lights, then looked at Estelle again and his expression softened changing back to the Simon they all knew. “You know me Estelle” he said. “I would not hurt a fly”.
Estelle faltered. She was sure she had seen him kick off his oldest son who had been crawling towards him but then the light had been so dim. Maybe she had imagined it. Could it be that this demented woman had attempted to hurt the children and Simon had then lost it and started hitting her with the same belt she was attempting to use against the children?
What was she thinking? Of course it could not be possible. She turned towards Mireille again who was walking or rather limping slowly back towards them and she got another shock as she took in the swollen closed left eye, the reddened right eye and the gashed cheeks, the slashes across the neck and the cut lips. She felt sick as her gaze went down to the bruised breasts and thighs from the gaping holes in the gown. It was only from Simon’s gasp and Mireille’s cry that she realized that she had increased her pressure against his throat.
“Please, please, let him go” begged Mireille.
Simon, eyes rolling, could not utter a sound and Mireille begged again “Please Estelle, just let him go”.
“What the f… do you mean let him go? Are you going to tell me that you don’t want this murderous b… dead? I don’t know what has been going on between both of you but I have seen enough tonight to know that you should not be here with your children”.
“Where would I go?” said Mireille in an eerily quiet voice
“Anywhere, but the furthest from this f… place” said Estelle. “Are you a f… idiot? Don’t you realize that one day you are going to end up dead?”
“I have nowhere to go” repeated Mireille in her stony toneless voice.
“Of course you have somewhere to go, you can go to your f… mother’s house” yelled Estelle. “Can’t she put you up until the social services find you something where you can stay with your kids?”
“My mother’s been dead for over 5 years Estelle. She passed away before our first son was born” said Mireille in a quiet voice.
“What the f.. “ started Estelle and her voice trailed off as the full horror of the situation started to sink into her brain. She realized then that every time Mireille had skipped mass it was not because she was at her mother’s house as Simon said but it had probably been because she was in no state to be seen.
Estelle stared in disbelief at Simon, marveling at how he had fooled them all into believing he was a meek good natured fellow while all the while this monster had been abusing his family right under their noses and they had all been sympathizing with him for his miserable life with Mireille. She tightened her grip again without realizing it.
“Let him go Estelle, please” Mireille pleaded again. “It is not his fault, he is ill. He loses his temper because of his illness but then he always regrets and makes amends”
“Like hell he is going to be ill when I have finished with him and you better tell me you’re finished with him too” blurted Estelle.
“Let him go Estelle” repeated Mireille in a firmer voice. “One must always present the other cheek and not rise against one’s spouse. Marriage vows are sacred” she continued.
“Are you a f… lunatic or what” Estelle ranted at her. “What other cheek? The one which is torn apart from the belt handle or the one that is swollen from the beating?
“You don’t understand” Mireille said. “He is sick but I can cure him. Father Mathieu said that I should be patient and obedient and that I should do all I can not to provoke him but to bring into his heart the love of Jesus Christ our Saviour. He who has given himself to carry all our sins will also bring peace into Simon’s heart and everything will be alright. What God has united no man can separate”
“Nonsense” screamed Estelle. “I knew that Father Mathieu was up to no good, I just did not realize the extent of it. What idiocy has he put into your brains now? If Simon is indeed sick then he needs a psychiatrist, not a wife whom he can beat every time he feels like it. I don’t know anything about your marriage but nothing justifies what he has done to you and nothing justifies what I saw him doing to your oldest son. You must leave this house now and if you don’t do it on your own, I will make it happen”
“Estelle, please, let him go” said Mireille again in a pleading voice. “Social services will not help us throughout. They will only help in the beginning during the time of the police investigation and then we will be left to fend for ourselves. Father Mathieu has already told me how it will be as he has seen such situations so many times before. I am not educated and it will be very difficult for me to find a job. Simon has a good job, he pays for everything. It is not that bad aside from the weekend. Please, Estelle, let him go”.
Estelle slowly released her grip on Simon’s neck and he adjusted his gait, collected himself into his well-natured mask again and seemed about to say something before he froze under the hatred in Estelle’s look and thought the better of it. He retreated slowly to the other end of the room and sat on the couch where Estelle had placed the child earlier. The child hurriedly dashed out of the couch and towards his mother who winced when he clutched her bare and sore thighs but held him close all the same.
Estelle backed slowly away from both parties until she felt the other wall behind her. Her mind was racing and she could not decide what the best thing to do was. She remembered how in other suburbs there had been cases of drunken husbands and always the children had ultimately been placed in a home because the mother often was deemed incapable of ensuring a decent income for the children or had resorted to prostitution as a profession and the father was considered unfit to take care of his offspring. This could not be happening she thought. Not in their nice quaint suburb with its beautiful gardenias and poinsettias, with its quaint green coloured fences and beautiful hedges. This happened in squalid neighbourhoods where people took drugs and houses were shabby with broken windows and squatter tags across the buildings.
Estelle breathed out a sigh and said in a steely voice “Okay, here is what we are going to do until I have decided what is better. Simon, you are going to ask one of your friends to lodge you for a week or so until I can think more clearly about this whole matter.”
Simon was about to say something when Estelle cut in icily “I don’t care whether you have a friend who will lodge you or not and in fact you can go to hell for all I care but either you are out of this house tonight or I am calling the police immediately. “
Simon grudgingly nodded in acquiescence and Estelle continued “You will change your common bank account tomorrow to Mireille’s sole name and you will open another bank account for yourself where she will wire half what is in your common bank account now and tomorrow first thing in the morning you will also request your boss to systematically wire half your monthly salary into Mireille’s account.” Simon scowled but nodded yes again.
“Now beat it” growled Estelle before adding “and remember, I am not Mireille and I will always know where to find you so don’t try doing anything funny because I will be coming back to this house and checking on everyone every day.”
Simon went up the stairs to the bedroom where she heard him put some clothes together into a suitcase that he came down with and he then walked towards the front door, opened it, looked back scowling at Mireille and then pulled the door shut behind him.
Estelle then went towards Mireille and proceeded to inch her slowly towards the bathroom where she found a first-aid kit and tended to Mireille’s wounds. Passing the corridor she was surprised to see a sunny picture of a very pretty Mireille in a wedding gown standing all teeth flashing in a smile and hair impeccably shaped into curls around her soft and warm face. At that unexpectedly beautiful sight tears rolled down Estelle’s cheeks as she thought of how much they had misjudged Mireille and never given her a chance to feel welcome in their midst. She thought that if only one of them had been more understanding, more welcoming maybe Mireille would have felt comfortable enough to share with them her situation and they could have helped her earlier. She just could not fathom how year after year this woman had borne that monster one child after another and carried on in this living hell. She looked again at Mireille who was also looking up at the portrait of her wedding day.
“I used to be pretty, yes and that sometimes can be a curse. Simon did not like men looking at me. He would ask me to dress less provocatively and not to doll myself up to entice their looks.”
When she caught Estelle’s surprised look she added “Yes, I know, I don’t look like I used to doll myself up but I was quite vain you know. I liked wearing pretty things and having my hair curled up nicely. God help me, I used to like it when men thought I was pretty. I never had a proper education you know so there was nothing else for anyone to admire than my looks. My uncle married me off quickly to Simon right after I finished my apprenticeship and I never had a chance to go even to technical school. Simon has a temper because of his medication you know. He does not mean to be nasty, it is just the medication that makes him lose his temper when we are discussing. He is always sorry afterwards.”
Estelle tried to find something comforting to say but being the tough bartender she was she failed to find something comforting to say and all she could do was grunt.
“Father Mathieu also said that a woman should not bring ungodly thoughts into the mind of a man who is not her husband. He said I should repent from having such thoughts and should try to be a better wife for Simon. He said Simon was not responsible for his behaviour and it was the devil’s work putting these ideas of seducing men into my head which then angered Simon. He said that as I knew Simon’s condition with the medication, I should try to be a better and more Christian wife so as not to provoke him. I tried you know. I tried so hard…” Mireille broke down sobbing. All those beatings she had taken silently but now, staring up at that beautiful picture of herself taken on a sunny morning when she thought her heart would burst with happiness, she could not bear the anguish she felt now. All those years that had gone by while day after day she was less able to feel any happiness and keener to just not displease Simon, all those hopes crushed and how she had slowly turned from that beautiful sun-kissed smiling girl into this sullen, grey woman.
Estelle held Mireille’s sobbing body gingerly trying not to hurt her more than she was already hurt but it was difficult as she was bruised all over. When finally Mireille’s outburst was over, Estelle half helped half carried her up the stairs and put her in bed before tending to the children. Two of them were fast asleep in the big bed in their room and she cleaned up the oldest before putting him to bed with his siblings. The youngest was also fast asleep in his crib and she marveled at the children’s capacity to not be disturbed by the fuss that had been going on downstairs. They probably were used to such noises and grew so accustomed to it that it did not wake them anymore she thought with a pang of guilt. It was also true that she herself had not heard anything much apart from the pitter patter of feet before she had seen Mireille dashing across. Probably Mireille never made a sound so as to preserve her children as much as she could. Estelle was torn between cursing Mireille for letting this go on for so long and admiring her for trying so hard to make things work despite the dire situation. She was not sure what to do so thought she should maybe discuss this with someone who had more experience than her with such matters.
The following morning, I sat at the typewriter, writing down the horrors that came out of Estelle’s mouth as the social worker who had brought me along was not very quick at typing. I was a volunteer at the abused women’s shelter at the local Commune near the suburb where Estelle lived. I watched Estelle and Florence as they discussed various options and typed away all what was being discussed my heart beating at the idea that some women could be living in such slavery and misery just a few kilometers from the heart of our lovely international city. Geneva, the city of neutrality, the city of human rights and human rights’ militants where so many immigrants held a hope of a better tomorrow.
Mireille was awarded full custody of her children and the judge ruled that she would keep the house. She started working with Estelle as waitress and people, as if to compensate for their lack of insight earlier, tipped her heavily. Simon did not lose his job and did not go to jail as Mireille did not press charges and there were no hospital records and no police had intervened earlier to have a case to present the general attorney. He was awarded visitation rights but limited to one hour per week and under strict surveillance but he never used those rights. Simon’s boss maintained his job more to help Mireille than for Simon himself. All those who used to like him before and enjoy his company now scrupulously avoided him as they could not understand how any medication could lead a person to behave like that with his family.
I saw Mireille from time to time when I did my volunteer work at the shelter. I used to take down notes while she talked with the social worker and the psychologist and marvel at how she could continue to think that she was to blame for Simon’s reactions. I never saw Simon and never felt the inclination to go and see what he looked like although I did go to meet Estelle or Mireille’s children a few times when I was not far from the suburb. Every time I entered the suburb I marveled at how people there could have been so oblivious to such human suffering a few meters away from them. I took a seat and looked on from the Café-bar as the sun slowly set and a crowd gathered to play rummy. The scent of gardenias filled the air from the nearby pots as dusk slowly fell and I watched Mireille and Estelle smiling at each other and exchanging jokes. Estelle was the only person at whom Mireille smiled but for all others she would only offer a sullen face. I took out my wallet to pay as I got ready to leave the place and head back home. Somehow, I felt that I too shared some of the guilt this suburb felt each time we looked at Mireille and like many others I tipped heavily and sighed with some sense of relief as I stood to leave.