Tales of the Wretched: Fantine – Chapter 3 : A way out

Tales of the Wretched – Fantine Chapter 3 : A way out

28 November 2017

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Courtesy Christian Schloe

 

Michel enters his car, puts on the radio and clasps his hands together to stop them from trembling. The countenance he had kept earlier when meeting Fantine and Patrick falls apart as he is flooded by memories and deeply hidden desires. After all those years of searching for her, he has finally found her and perhaps, just perhaps, he can make things happen between them. He remembers that she used to feel some sort of pity for him and would always protect him but back then already he had fallen in love with her. She was his hero and the love of his life. He remembers the day she had put on her jasmine perfume for the first time and how he had loved its smell. He had loved it to the extent that he got into a broil with the Ugly trio just so that she would come rescue him and he could smell that scent again while she interposed herself between him and the Ugly trio.

Slowly Michel extracts a photograph from a brown bag he retrieved from the glove box. It is a class photograph and in it Fantine and he are sitting side by side among several other classmates. He looks at the photograph lovingly caressing the contours of Fantine’s face. What would she think of him if she knew how madly he was in love with her and how desperately he had wanted her to be his. All those years looking for her had not reduced on bit of his longing for her. She pervaded his every sense and was the motivating factor of all those days at the gym when he sought to get a body that she would admire. He wanted her to be proud of him, to love him, to find him worthy of her and to finally become his.

Michel puts the photograph back in the glove box and eases himself out of the car again. He walks rapidly towards the shawarma place where Fantine is still finishing her shawarma plate. If she is surprised when she sees him come back she does not let it show on her face as she welcomes him back.

  • Hello Michel. Did you forget something
  • You. I mean, no, I could never forget you. What I mean is I have come back for you
  • What do you mean?
  • I want to make you a proposal. I want you to be mine
  • I don’t do the paid mistress part. It is not my cup of tea as I earn more doing what I do.
  • I don’t mean that. I mean a real proposal. I want you to be my wife

Fantine draws a sharp breath in but says nothing. In the earlier years she used to fantasize that some man would come rescue her; someone who would make her such a proposal and she would be able to live in a small house with children and a man to make a home for but it had never happened. As the years had gone by, she had got used to doing what she did and ultimately come to terms with it.

  • I don’t think that I can accept that Michel, she says softly
  • Why not?
  • I used to have that dream once but now I am used to what I do. Besides, who would pay me and arrange for the money to be sent back home if I stop working
  • I would. I will give you all the money to match your earnings and even try to surpass it. I am well paid you know, as a commissioner
  • You have no idea how much I make. How could you match it
  • I am not only offering you money. I am offering you a way out. Don’t you feel tired sometimes and wish you could do something else?

Fantine bites her lip. Yes, she does feel sometimes terribly tired and wishes that she were doing something else but that thought is soon forgotten as she focuses on the outcome for her mother.

  • You are right but I know I can count on myself while I don’t know if I can count on you
  • I will not betray you. I will never leave you
  • If you knew how many men come here that are married, you would understand why I find it difficult to believe you. I am sure they too told their wives at some point that they would never leave them.
  • I have some savings. If you don’t believe me I can give you all my savings in advance so you are assured that you would never lack money

Fantine bites her lip again. In all the years she had dreamed of someone coming and rescuing her she had imagined a grandiose declaration and firework everywhere. This seems so calm and measured that it somehow feels unreal. Yet she can feel her heart warm up to the idea and Michel is a handsome man though graying. She holds her hand out to him and whispers that she might just take his way out even though she does not know where it will lead the both of them. Michel cries tears of joy and holds her against his heart. He does not care what the men working under him will think or say. All that matters is that Fantine will be his at last.

Phaedrus – Jade

Tales of the Wretched : Fantine – Chapter 2 : Meeting Michel

Tales of the Wretched : Fantine – Chapter 2 : Meeting Michel

27 October 2017

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Courtesy Catrin Welz Stein on redbubble.com

 

Patrick suddenly squeezed her hand startling her out of her thoughts regarding the new comissioner.

  • There he is, he says. What is he doing here.
  • Where, she says. I don’t see any man
  • Don’t turn your head now as he is several feet away behind you. You can look later
  • What is he wearing ?
  • Brown pants with a beige shirt. I guess he is off duty today.

Slowly Fantine turns when Patrick signals she can and sees the back of a man who is graying and whose clothes seem starched. While she is appraising him, she realises that he is doing the same. She had forgotten that there was a large mirror on the wall of the shawarma dine-in and now she sees that he clearly is watching her watching him. She feels a bit embarrassed at being caught peering and becomes even more unsettled when she sees him stand up and walk their way. Fantine hopes that he will just pass by them but he stops at their table.

  • Hello Fantine, I am Michel, do you remember me ? says the commissioner
  • You two know each other, questions Patrick
  • I am sorry, I don’t know who you are, says Fantine
  • I am Michel, your previous neighbours’ son whom you used to help with studies. You used to also give me some of your lunch when the ugly trio beat me and took mine and you used to defend me when they picked on me in your presence. I could remember your face anywhere.
  • Michel ! she gasped. He looked anything but skinny now. In fact he was looking pretty fit and handsome while he had been such a sickly boy back then. She remembered rescuing him countless times back at school in Caissargues near Nîmes from an ugly trio that had called themselves infernitrio and used to terrorise most of the pupils at school.
  • Yes, it is me, Michel, my dear Fantine. How glad I am to see you. I asked your mother countless times where you had gone and she only recently gave me the address you wrote from
  • You will not…
  • No, I won’t. I understood from the address that you might be… although I hoped..
  • You hoped I was indeed a seamstress. What do you know about the life we lead ? We earn our bread like you earn yours. It is a job like any other job. Why should you hope me to be a seamstress where I would earn less than one third of the money working my fingers and eyes off three times as fast as I work the other parts of my body in this profession.
  • Fantine, I did not mean to be demeaning. It was just a surprise. You were so bright at school. I thought you would have done something else
  • Well I am what I am. I am not doing anything else
  • Please, Fantine, do not think that I think the less of you. I have always kept you in mind as a dear dear one and it will stay like that forever
  • I am sorry I got annoyed. I just…
  • It is okay. I can imagine how you feel…

Patrick had followed their verbal exchange with a strange mixture of curiosity, perplexity and cunning. When they had finished and Michel bade them goodbye after the heated exchanges had cooled down, he pointed towards Fantine and smiled knowingly

  • I know exactly what the commissioner can be given now and it won’t cost you a thing
  • What do you mean ?
  • It’s you
  • What do you mean me ?
  • It’s your safety. He will not ask us why we are touring the Rue des Pâquis more often and neglecting other areas because he will be happy you are being preserved. We will just say that there tends to be more fighting in this area and that is it.

Fantine bites her nails absent-mindedly like she always does when nervous and wonders whether this is possible. Surely enough Michel was very grateful towards her for having protected him all those years at school but they had lost touch for over 13 years to the extent that she had not even recognised him. Yet it did seem possible as he had recognised her despite the long period of time they had not been in contact with one another. She looked back at Patrick and swung towards him the gift he had refused earlier and he beamed.

Fantine sized Patrick up and wondered whether she should shift protection from him to Michel but was sure that none of the team who had been getting gifts would be too happy with the change. Besides, she did not expect that Michel would be the type to authorise illicit concentration of outings of the police force in one area to the detriment of another area. Patrick stood up, the gift safely tucked into his breast pocket and the other packet of gifts jutting out of his coat pocket. He smiled at her and she could see again that same cunning run through his eyes. She sensed that he had guessed what had gone through her mind earlier but he chose not to say anything. He kissed her with a peck on the cheek and bid her goodbye. Slowly Michel extracted himself from the shadow where he had been hiding watching both Fantine and Patrick and started walking towards his car…

Other Site of Gravity – Eikonn com

Tales of the Wretched: Fantine – Chapter 1: Haunting Rue des Pâquis

 

Tales of the Wretched: Fantine – Chapter 1: Haunting Rue des Pâquis

15 October 2017

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Courtesy southcoast.co.za

Fantine quickly put on her coat and rushed down the stairs, her suicidally high shoes almost tripping her as she ran down the narrow staircase. She was slightly irritated at her mother for staying so long on the phone with her that she missed the first half hour of the prime time. This was the time between five o’ clock and seven o’ clock when most of the customers came as they could still invent a late evening at the office excuse without it looking suspicious. It was now half past five and Fantine was still not out on the Rue des Pâquis where her regulars would surely be picked up by some of the newer girls who did not respect quarters.

As Fantine emerged from her building sure enough she could see some of her regular customers being chatted up by the new girls. She rushed towards them and shooed off the girls who did not dare question her authority as she was one of the older girls in the neighbourhood and benefited from police protection as one of her boyfriends was a police man and she also knew how to pay the others without the related money looking like a bribe. Indeed, although practising as a sex worker was allowed by the government and followed a strict set of hygiene and other rules, it was a criminal offence to bribe a policeman.

Fantine always chose an appropriate gift that the policemen could convert into cash as she made sure she gave them something that could be refunded at the counter. It was usually costly perfumes, cigars and expensive clothing that her boyfriend gave to his colleagues on her behalf. One could think of him as her beau but strangely enough Fantine never introduced him as such but always referred to him as agent Patrick. Although there were not huge fights in those alleys, it was always good to be able to count on the police doing a tour of the streets and Fantine felt better that they always came up and down the Rue des Pâquis several times per night so that no customers got any strange ideas.

Several weeks before Fantine had been late for her regular haunt of the Pâquis because agent Patrick had paid her a visit but it was seldom that he resorted to passing time with her in her small bedroom. Today, she could see him at the corner of the restaurant where they usually met to chat casually and smoke. Agent Patrick liked chatting with her because she was one of the few women he could talk to without feeling inferior. All the other women intimidated him and he felt too shy and awkward to start a conversation with them. With Fantine on the other hand, the words flowed freely and he could feel the burden come of his chest.

It was thanks to these conversations that Fantine grew to know absolutely everything about agent Patrick. She sometimes felt more like his psychotherapist than his girlfriend and he surely did everything to make it feel that way aside from the very rare times when they would share a certain form of intimacy. Fantine signalled to agent Patrick that she would need some time with her current clients before she could come and chat with him. He did not voice out anything but signalled back that he would be waiting and indicated the number three. To Fantine it was clear that he was telling her to come after her first three clients and she mouthed back yes.

Her first client was finicky and insisted that she bathe first which she had already done before going out but she humoured him and started doing so while reminding him that her charge was per the hour. He asked her to bathe slower so that he could watch her while she did so. Fantine started to soap her body much slower and it seemed to please the young man who told her that his wife was pregnant and he had liked to watch her shower but now he felt she looked horrid and missed those moments.

After her shower, Fantine lay down and started compiling mentally her list of things to do as she usually did when someone shared their emotional secrets with her. It was her way of keeping a distance with all the emotional surcharge that was poured at her by so many clients. Very few clients dealt with her as a commodity because most of her regular ones had come to know and had recommended her as a witty woman who was also soulful and could be trusted with secrets. Fantine on the other hand was not always happy to carry around these little secrets and these peeks into the sad parts of her clients’ lives. She preferred to see the clients as a means to an end and that end was having enough money to buy a house back in her hometown, get married and have enough money to live off when she would become old.

Some of the girls laughed when she shared her views on retirement because they could not see how anybody would want to marry a prostitute but Fantine would also laugh shake her shoulders and tell them that nobody in her hometown knew what she was really doing for a living. Her mother had told all the folks at home that she was a seamstress and Fantine laughed inward thinking that yes, she was definitely stitching back the burst seams of men whose life was often in shambles.

After her third client, Fantine showered again and went to meet agent Patrick. He did not seem in a very good mood today and was sulking rather than talking as he usually would. She ordered a shawarma meal for both of them and put the money on the counter between them. Next to the money she also laid the monthly bag of gifts for agent Patrick’s colleagues but he pushed it away.

  • We have a new commissioner, he said
  • So what, she answered
  • He has mentioned rumours of police haunting the Rue des Pâquis
  • Is that a crime?
  • No, but receiving money in exchange for their extensive visits to this area is so we need to tone down the gifts or find another way
  • What about including him after finding out what he likes best?
  • He’s one of those tough nuts to crack and we were told that he does everything by the book

Fantine sighed and looked at the other customers of the dine-in. They were either clients that she recognised or some tourists. Funnily enough, despite being the red district area of Geneva, the Pâquis attracted a lot of tourists because of the artistic atmosphere there. On occasion though some fights would start and it was better that the police be around to make sure nobody got seriously hurt. She knew from experience that the men who haunted these streets did not have much to lose and often thought of women, especially prostitutes as the right target for their unjustified fury after a few drinks. She sighed again and started thinking of what she could do to make sure the new commissioner would not change the status quo…

Alone in the Dark – Flaer Smin

Tales of the wretched: Ashok and his mother – Chapter 2: Bread for the baby boy

Tales of the wretched

Ashok and his mother – chapter 2: Bread for the baby boy

24 September 2015

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Annie scurried hurriedly along the sidewalk, weaving her way through the crowd that passed by her unseeingly with some of its male components almost knocking her over a few times if it were not for her stocky build. She thought to herself that it was curious how once upon a time all male members of a similar kind of throng would have given way and whistled or tried to flirt with her and some had even tried to follow her and make acquaintance.

She had been pretty back then and everyone noticed her as she strutted by in her tight fitting clothes, her lush brown curls waving at each step. Now, with her sullen look, shifty eyes and swollen face, people seemed to have grown blind to her and it was with a genuine surprise that they cried out when she hurled something foul-mouthed at them if they bumped into her.

Society seemed doomed to develop some kind of strange blindness to poverty-stricken members of it, she mused bitterly. Once upon a time not only had she been a beautiful member of this same society that shunned her today but she had also been one of its finer thinkers. An English literature teacher in one of the most prestigious schools and with a career that was quite remarkable for her age, she was an example to some, a challenge on quite another level to others and a remarkably pretty teacher as far as the Head principal had been concerned.

Now she was nothing. Not even Annie. Tonight she had had her number with her, the precious number she had queued up for and that had enabled her to fill her stomach again, to be able to pull through another night and also to get something for her precious little one waiting at home. Today she was only a number but that number had become more important than her name had ever been. Sometimes she even wondered if that was her real name. It had been years since a person had voiced the letters into the sounds that she was familiar with.

Tonight like so many other nights before, she was nobody, nothing, an invisible spirit that none could see. Except for that young man, she thought. It was so strange that he actually looked at her. Not only did he look at her but he even spoke to her and did not report her when she took the food away with her, that precious food tucked away safely close to her heart. She touched the place again to make sure that it was not gone, perhaps slipping from the loose grip of the bra that hardly held anything anymore as the elastic band had almost melted down to nothing. She felt the precious load and smiled to herself with a renewed faith in life. Tonight again she would have some bread to offer to her young one bit by bit as she broke the crust, like a sparrow feeds pieces of a worm to its little ones.

She turned right at a dark alley leading to a couple of buildings in ruin that were waiting to be demolished. Day after tomorrow she would have to move out again and search for a new home as this one was set to go that day. It may be ruins for others but for her it was a perfectly inhabitable place with the walls still standing, the roof almost fully intact and some of the rooms still in perfect condition. She had made hers and her baby boy’s room in one of such rooms and even had a proper mattress put in with the help of one of the poachers from above 22nd Street where she sometimes went to beg or wash cars’ windows to get some money. She felt her way through the rubble and carefully removed the three planks she had put to hide the opening to the doorway.

Once she was in, she carefully replaced them and as the darkness welcomed her, so did a tiny voice that started clamouring as soon as she was in. It almost felt like her baby boy sensed her presence immediately before it was even audible to him, as if in all this darkness he had developed some extra sensory perception of her. She climbed the stairs feeling lighter with that precious load between her breasts, all the time cooing “Mama is got something for her baby boy. Just wait until I am there my precious. Mama has food again today for her precious little boy”.

She opened the door to the small room and rushed to her precious bundle of joy sitting in his crib watching her run in. The moonlight fell on the fluffy baby hair alongside his head and gave him the air of an angel as she gazed at him dumbstruck as usual at the sheer beauty of his face and the gentleness of his eyes. She took out the pieces of bread soaked in the sauce that she had kept in between her breasts inside her bra and broke the bread into pieces and fed him while he ate gravely one little piece after the other, his face alit with the pleasure of filling his little stomach again with something. While she fed him, her mind devoid of anything else than the pleasure of witnessing his happiness at calming his hunger rambled on into logorrhea “Bread for the baby boy. Who brought bread for the baby boy? Who brought bread for the baby boy?”

Tales of the wretched: Ashok and his mother – Chapter 1: The night at the shelter

Tales of the wretched

Ashok and his mother – chapter 1: The night at the shelter

4 July 2015

 man window 5

Ashok lifted his head from his plate and looked at the woman sitting on the chair at the opposite side of the shelter. She had the silent sullen look of those who are used to fate giving them blow after blow and her whole body carried itself hunched, ready for the oncoming onslaught. She was a stocky large-faced woman with features which did not allow you to guess whether she had been beautiful or not, so bloated they were from the drinking and difficult life she must have lead. She was seated, hunched on a corner of the chair as if she were afraid to occupy more of it and perhaps be blamed for taking too much space. He had noticed how most of the people who came here for food seemed to carry that apologetic stance about them, as if they were readily acknowledging in advance that they ought to be sorry for the misery that brought them to this point of having to get food donated to them. He winced as somehow it brought back memories of someone closer to him, so much closer that he had once fell asleep feeling safe and comforted on her bosom.

 

Ashok shook off the bittersweet memories and tried to concentrate on his plate. The food was not a luxury meal but it was still good and its heat warmed his belly and made him feel ready to tackle the biting cold outside. He forked out a piece of the meat that sat on a corner of his plate and proceeded to cut it into bits so that he could swallow them slowly with his soup together with the bread that he had broken into pieces before. Today, the cook who was a Tunisian called Ammar, had cooked a favourite Tunisian dish for those who needed some energy and a remedy against the cold and it was called Leblaby. It mainly consisted of a very spicy chickpea soup into which some egg was added, sometimes with meat too and which you were supposed to eat by breaking pieces of bread in it and swallowing it all like a soup while it was still very hot. Ammar and the Canadian apprentice Andrew had joked a lot with Ashok about the fact that this dish was really going to give a jolt to those among the shelter visitors who were not used to eating spicy food but that he could handle it as he too came from a culture that enjoyed spicy food. Ashok had laughed with them absent-mindedly not really getting why it was a joke if these poor people coming for food would not be able to handle the spice. He knew, however, that Ammar meant no real malice as he had volunteered, as Ashok had done, to work in the shelter and came regularly day after day at the end of his shift to prepare the food for the night at the shelter.

 

Ashok felt again that gnawing at his heart and the longing for the comfort and safety he had lost as his mind strayed again into thoughts of the past. He tried to remember how she had looked before but it was always the mask she wore at death that came to his mind. It seemed like he could never remember her again the way she had been. People had told him that she had been a beautiful woman and many had attempted to console him but he had pulled away from them. He could not understand how there were so many people at her funeral but none had come earlier so that this could be prevented. His heart had hardened then as he had thought to himself that these hands that were reaching out for him in an attempt to console him were like claws of vultures attempting a show of affection while they had only circled above while she was all set to die. He had not wanted to give them the pleasure of feeling or perhaps of pretending in front of others that they had achieved something good by consoling him, the little matchstick boy as some of the boys in the neighbourhood called him. He had thus broken away from their grabbing hands and stood, a pitiful sight in his trousers that were at least two sizes too big for him, his painfully thin hands tucked into his hollow chest and his wobbling ungainly legs attempting to stay stiff and solid on the ground as his whole body quaked with sobs. People had looked at him with real pity then but all he could feel was the anger at their lack of reaction earlier and nothing they could have said could have possibly consoled him then.

 

It was then that he had first felt the pangs of hatred he recalled, that he had vowed to take revenge on every person who had somehow been responsible for her state as she lay there in front of him. He had repeated to himself the words he had heard “She was such a beautiful woman. How come she allowed herself to sink this far” and they had become like a mantra that he repeated to himself every time he felt weak and incapable of doing what he had vowed to do. His frail body then was incapable of doing anything else than growing and he had focused mainly on that first although he did not neglect his studies. Despite the number of people who had attended the funeral, nobody had come forward to become his legal guardian but he was lucky as the orphanage where he had been placed by the State was one of the rare good ones and he was treated decently if not with some kindness on occasion. He had studied hard and succeeded in life but he had never once given up his night job of working in shelters that distributed food to the homeless. He wondered whether this had contributed to his failed marriage but did not even dwell upon the thought as nothing in his marriage had felt right anyway, despite his initial lust for his wife, which he had mistakenly taken for love.

 

The woman moved a bit and looked around with shifty eyes and he realised she was probably about to do what many of the homeless do, while thinking they are actually not entitled to it. Most of them would do it in a more discreet way but this woman seemed to have a sense of urgency about her. She looked around again and not noticing his gaze as he was looking at her through semi-closed eyes, pretending to be dozing, she quickly tucked in her bra a couple of bread rolls. He chuckled inward despite the incongruous situation thinking that had it not been soup but steak as they served on rare occasions she would probably have tried to hide some of those too. He opened wide his eyes, staring straight at her intensely and like a hunted animal she felt his gaze and looked back at him with widening eyes. She seemed to quickly try to assess whether he had noticed her stealing the loafs and judged otherwise as he did not seem to be angry but her stance changed to an even less comfortable one when he rose and started walking towards her.

 

As he came up to her side she winced and started getting ready to offload her breast area of their load but he put a hand on her rough hand and stopped her. In a deliberately quiet and low voice he told her to keep them. He said it was not against the rules to take bread away as long as it was not too much. The shelter privileged giving food to those who made the effort of coming all the way but if some extra food was needed by the person who had come there was nothing against keeping a bit for later or perhaps, he said gazing at her intensely, for someone else. As their eyes locked while he said this, something passed in between them and the stocky hardened woman started to sob. Ashok kept his hand on her shoulder as she sobbed and pressed her to collect herself together so that Ammar’s apprentice would not come to the table and find out why she was crying. Neither Ammar nor Ashok bothered when people took away food with them as they knew it must be direly needed but the young boy Andrew was very tight on the rules and would have reported her. Ashok thought to himself that unlike Ammar or himself, the boy certainly had never known hardship as he came from a normal Canadian family and had been sent by his mother – a devout catholic – to the shelter to work. The woman sniffed and then stayed huddled attempting to quiet her sobs and eventually they ceased so he went back to his seat to regain his own composure and watched as she slowly edged towards the shelter exit and then disappeared into the night.

 

Ashok gazed at the gaping door that was slowly shutting behind her. He wanted to follow her but what had passed between them in that gaze had left him weak and he had been that wobbly thin boy again looking up into his mother’s eyes as she pleaded with people passing to buy her embroidered tablecloths. By the time he had been able to still his beating heart, she had been out of the door and out of the shelter. He looked past the door, staring emptily, trying to recollect images of the times before when they had both been happy. Slowly, like a man in a dream, he walked towards the window to try and get a glimpse of the woman as she left the shelter. Outside, a line of people were still queueing up for the food at the shelter and the cars on the street were still abuzz. He opened the window partially to see better and rested his throbbing head against the cool surface of the window pane as he breathed in the chill of the night and it filled his lungs and his heart with its iciness. Warm tears rolled down his cheeks as he caught a glimpse of the stocky hunched woman making her way through the stream of people, her precious load of food snuck closely to her heart and he whimpered out loud “Mother!”