I am – I was – an Eastern European mail order bride. Estonian, to be precise.
There, that got your attention, didn’t it?
Well, all right – I’ll admit I met my husband through Facebook… which is more prosaic but equally true.
I’m Eliisabet; Liisi for short. I speak Maltese like a native – but my naturally platinum blond hair gives my foreignness away… although some people assume that I dye it because… since I live alone in Qawra, I “must be a prostitute”.
These charming people also assume I am a godless whore. Actually, I am – I was – Greek Orthodox, but I lapsed. My neighbours get on my nerves, so I keep myself to myself… and add fuel to their fires.
Out of the corner of my eye I see twitching curtains and moving venetian blinds. I note the intake of breaths when I walk into the corner shop to ask for stuff in a Senglea accent. You can’t blame me. I lived there for ten years, and my then husband insisted I learn and speak the vernacular, because his mother did not understand English, go figure Estonian.
In the end, it was the possessiveness of his mother that led me to leave him. I was bent double with pain because of what later turned out to be a ruptured appendix – and he was on the phone with her, and kept pushing me away when I was frantically showing him a note on which I had written Hospital! Then, when he rang off, he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the car, all the while saying that I knew his mother came first, and that I was cheeky to dare interrupt his conversation with her.
He dared me to leave him, saying that I was a stupid dunce who would never manage to find a job.
So I left him, and hid in my sister-in-law’s summer flat for a couple of days (she is the only one who ever gave me the time of day). I went job- and house-hunting, and landed both within the week…perhaps because my sister-in-law and her friends prayed over me – perhaps not.
As soon as I moved into the spartanly-furnished studio flat, Iona did a whip-around among her friends and got me some flatware, cutlery, bedding, curtains, books, an ancient fan, an old radio and an even older television set – and even some knick-knacks to make the place more welcoming. The rent was low, so I did not complain to the landlord about there being only the bare necessities.
And then, it began.
The key would jam in the lock, and when I opened the door, I would hear footsteps sprinting toward the veranda. The curtain would move slightly, and then…nothing. I always kept the entrance and balcony doors locked, so nobody could have come in from either of them.
I would smell cinnamon and cloves. The next day it would be lavender. The day after it would be tea rose.
Clothes I’d left on the lines in the veranda would be folded neatly, and the breakfast mug and fruit salad bowl I’d have rinsed out and placed on the draining board would have been dried and put away in the hanging cupboard.
Once or twice, the kettle was actually whistling when I managed to open the door – but it would stop as soon as I moved toward the kitchen.
Iona got me new curtains, courtesy of the charity shop. I was too tired to hang them up – yet sure enough, when I got back home from work on the morrow, each pair was just where I had intended to hang them. Moreover, there was a tiny glass Christmas Tree ornament that had not been there before, on the desk beside my laptop, where I couldn’t fail to notice it.
Once, one of my male work colleagues called with a Care Package. He said he was feeling hot and bothered, and I thought it was an excuse for him to get his togs off. I switched on the fan, and opened the window to let the breeze in – and yet he sweated profusely, still. He kept putting his index finger between his shirt collar and neck, and moving it backward and forward.
That was weird. Iona used to say my place felt like a second home. At one point, he gulped down his glass of orange juice, and said he had to leave.
I knew at that moment that this had to stop. I knew I was sharing the flat with a spirit being; but as long as I felt comfortable, I did not mind. But what if ‘something’, anything, happened to any of my guests when this entity did not take a shine to them?
Mulling over what I could do, I risked losing my sanity – or what there was left of it. Because meanwhile my husband had traced me, and told me I’d better get back home…or else. I countered by filing for legal separation, with a view to applying for divorce later. He didn’t like that at all.
In the end, I wrote a letter thanking my unseen friend for the kindness shown to me, and asking whether I could do anything to help with the “eternal rest” clause. I left the letter face up on my bed, and on my return home, I found it on the kitchen table. So I knew it had been read. There was no reply, written or otherwise.
I was at the office when the phone-call came. My husband had been to my flat, kicked in the door, and thrashed the place. He even ground the glass Christmas Tree into the kitchen mat. The neighbours of the flat below assumed he was fighting with me, because they heard “voices” shouting; one male, one female.
Then, they heard a thud just outside their door, and when they opened it, they saw my husband lying there in a pool of blood, with his skull caved in and his neck broken. I had a clutch of alibis; and so
the verdict was “accidental death caused by a fall”.
Nobody else ever came to do my housework again, and yet there is an all-pervading sense of peace in the flat, about which everyone comments.
Just the other day, I discovered that a Maltese woman had been murdered here by her German husband…