In Her Own Words (3)

You know what they say about truth being stranger than fiction? And that life imitates art? Well, you can believe it’s correct. But let me start at the beginning. This happened many, many years ago, when I was still young and quite fancied myself as an author. I’d had a few pieces accepted by local magazines that have since folded – Susanna, Il-Mara, Dejjem, and so on.

So there I was, in Rome, reading Murder on the Orient Express. I was riding at the back of one of those buses that have the middle like an accordion so they can go round corners. I was thinking that this would have been the ideal vehicle on which to kill someone without necessarily having a motive for doing so. You just sit at the back, with a potential victim, when all the people are in the front half, and do the deed.

And then it happened. You know how in another book – or was it another film? – Miss Marple saw a man strangle a woman on another train? Since a body was not found the police assumed she was rambling, what with her being elderly and feeble-looking.

Well – I happened to look out of the window and I saw a bus coming the other way, and – suddenly – I saw a woman stand up thump a man on the head with… something. I could not quite make out what it was. Then, she just rolled him out of the emergency door.

I pressed the bell, but the bus did not stop. Hitching up my skirt, I ran to the front of the bus but I could not make the driver understand what I wanted him to do. My Italian is patchy at the best of times, and he kept saying something like “Espresso, diretta, non posso fermarmi”. I didn’t want coffee, I just waned him to stop, so I said “Polizia” and he repeated something that sounded like “My my my!” and I thought he was telling me I was making a fuss.

Of course, the Vietnamese nuns with whom I was staying, just outside Rome, saw how shaken I was. Sister Quyen spoke almost perfect English, so she interpreted what I was saying. They brought me hot sweet tea (the taste of which still reminds me of that incident). They explained that I had inadvertently caught the direct line that made the round trip without stopping to pick up passengers on the way. What the driver had really said was “Mai!” which means “never”.

So they drove me to the police station where I made a report about what I had seen. The policeman pretended to scribble something on a spiral notebook; but I heard him rip the page out before I was even out of the police station. He also called out something to his colleagues across the room, and the Sisters Phuong and Quyen, who were accompanying me blushed puce.

They found the body on the morrow; it had been weighted and dumped into the Tiber, but a diver had seen it and alerted the Police. You should have heard the sirens as the cars came for me at the Pensione. They believed me then, all right.

Nobody else came forward as a witness. It could have been the typical omertà, or the fear that the murder was Mafia-related. Who knows?

The story was that the woman had accomplices who finished the job for her. She was an Albanian hooker, and the murdered man had been her pimp. He had been threatening to have her reported for her illegal status, and deported, because she was not earning him enough money. She wanted to stay in Italy, so to her, bumping him off was the only feasible solution.

I had to stay in Italy longer than I planned; I even made the papers and the Rai Uno main news bulletin, but somehow, Mediaset did not approach me. What a way for a Maltese nun to get her fifteen minutes of fame!

Since I was a key witness I was upgraded to a five-star hotel, and given free board and lodging for the extra fortnight I remained.

There was something I had to do. I went to the tiny chapel of Mary of Magdala, in the Vatican, and I lit a candle for all the women who find themselves in dire situations, as had happened to Alketa and her friends.


Flight of Fancy; An Allegory

Leeza woke up with a start.

She’d been having one of those weird dreams, which her shrink said were replete with suppressed memories and significant objects.

She was in a classroom, the walls of which were painted aquamarine, and decorated with stuck-on pictures of fish. She imagined herself to be in an aquarium. Outside the classroom, there was a lot of noise; children were playing and laughing, and she yearned to join them, but at the same time, she was trying to will the paper fish to move. She knew this would be interpreted as living life in a fish-bowl, but she knew it really meant that she hankered after the warm Mediterranean sea of the planet she still called Home.

She wanted to dive into the soothing, clean, waters. She wanted to feel the sharp rocks of Buġibba prick her soles. She wanted to be reading a real book with the hot midday sun beating down upon her bare back; reading machines were so impersonal. She remembered how she’s clear her troublesome sinuses by taking a gulp of seawater and then forcing it out of her nostrils. She’d became quite adept at this trick – but what passed for the sea in her new home was a chemical brew that discouraged any such thoughts.

Her transfer to Saracen IV had put paid to all that. Being a pageant queen did have its drawbacks after all – especially when the hackneyed phrase “working for the good of humanity” was stretched to include populating a new outpost. For this one, they had chosen Beautiful People – as if aliens were likely to drop by for chicory and dandelion tisane (coffee, being a mind-altering substance, was prohibited).

Leeza was wise enough to act stupid. She had developed the perfect poker-face that allowed her mind to wander while outwardly, she was a deadpan picture of rapt attention.

She went over the details of her dream, knowing that her psychologist would insist on knowing the minutest of details. As she was wont to do, she sifted them into “tell” and “don’t tell” categories, in order to produce an inconspicuous storyline that would not see her banished to the Plateau. She’d learned her lesson, the time she’d inadvertently let him know the part about being chased by an angry swarm of bees and taking refuge inside a bathroom.

He’d said the bees indicated that she was feeling beset by many small annoyances and that she was afraid that those closest to her would hurt her. The bathroom indicated that she wanted privacy, which was anathema on Saracen IV.

He had insisted she was clamouring for attention (this, too, was forbidden). When she said that it had been her brain, merely processing the noise of a faulty ioniser into something that remotely fitted in with the dream of a lovely orchard, he had chided her and quoted chapter and verse that Clients had to acquiesce with the views of the Professionals.

Leeza yawned. Unless she went back to sleep pronto, she’d be too tired to tackle the toddlers at the Nursery, and she knew what that would mean. She’d be sent to become a Mother.

She was not quite ready for that right now. Truth be told, she was waiting for a new Regulation that would permit sex in the time-honoured way, rather than the sterile, programmed, batch-births Season that had been set up to “make things easier for everybody”. Hadn’t this been the praxis in the Roman Empire, too (without the sterility rider)?

She tried to lull herself to sleep by remembering the periodic table – although, of course, it was just one more bit of useless trivia on Saracen IV, where the laws of chemistry had to be re-learnt all over again. She ruminated about whether she should actually tell her psychologist about the aquarium-like classroom. Would he think that she wanted to leave her job (which was, after all, connected with classrooms) and join the hoi polloi out in the schoolyard (as exemplified by recess)?

Leeza drifted off to sleep. The familiar lampuki, brieqex, makku, and vopi had disappeared from the walls. In their place were unfamiliar, monstrous, translucent creatures with bulging eyes, antennae, webbed feet, and sharp teeth protruding from their lower jaws. They all appeared to be looking at her, waiting to pounce on her if she as much as moved.

In her subconscious, she knew that she ought to have been scared; yet she was calm, because she did not need a degree in psychology to know that these creatures signified that she had resigned herself to spending the rest of her life on Saracen IV, living in unfamiliar territory under silent protest.

She also knew that she could not relate this part of the dream to her psychologist, because he would misconstrue it and say she was eager to escape, and that would as likely as not commit suicide by stowing away on the next remote-controlled capsule leaving for water from one of Saracen IV’s five moons. And this would never do. It would be a waste of human resources. She would pretend she dreamt about teaching the Nursery kids their colours and numbers and letters. This bland story would earn her Brownie points and reinforce the idea that she was married to her job.

Her psycho-sessions had become a game. She played it by ear and led the psychologist by the nose by seemingly off-the-cuff comments and studied body language. Her capacity for sitzfleisch was incredible, and he always gave her a high assessment test score. It gave her a sense of satisfaction, knowing that she always won her battle with bureaucracy.

It had not been her wish to be one of the Colonists, but she was making the best of it. But Leeza was not just a pretty face.

In Her Own Words (2)

It’s all finally fallen into place.

Do you remember when I was seven months pregnant with Alison, and you sent me by bus, alone, to fetch Alison from my mum’s because you said , ironically, that riding on a bus makes you queasy?

I now know the real reason why you sent me; you’re just like you father. He could have stayed home and lived off your mum’s wealth. But he preferred to keep his office job, he used to say, because it gave him something to do,

And of course, he met people. He met me. And he thought I would make a decent, loving wife for his son. He engineered that meeting at the supermarket; neither of us realised we were pawns in his game.

I know, I know – it really had been love at first sight for us. But when second sight, so to speak, kicked in, I realised that I had fallen in love with an illusion. I thought I would find in your family what I had lacked in mine.

I never knew my father because he’d left mum when she was “fat and ugly”… and pregnant with me. He would have remained, but upon one condition – that she aborted me. But to mum, any man who asked a woman to make such a choice was not worthy of being loved.

You’re surprised to learn this, aren’t you? You know, I never felt safe enough with you to tell you the real reason my mum was a single parent; you assumed it was because he found someone else. Yes, actually he did, and ironically she bore him three children.

You accuse me of many things. I’ve lost count of the times you insinuate vile things, or begin sentences that could be interpreted as meaning that I have been unfaithful.

I used to dream that I would have a husband who adored me and who had blind faith in me – the stuff of romances – what mum never had. I wanted someone who was as enthralled with me as I was with him; in a nutshell, I hoped you’d feel for me what I felt for you before the rot set in.

It got so bad that sometimes I would wake up at night because you knee me in the back or push me away when I tried to snuggle up, spoons style, in my sleep. You used to mutter that I didn’t deserve you, and that I could never hope to be as good as your mum, ever.

It was only some time after the wedding that I noticed the insidious comments your sisters passed whenever we chanced upon them at your parents’ house. And then one of my friends told me that your brother’s ex-girlfriend was boasting that your mother gave her a diamond ring worth as much as a Harley Davidson “because she missed her”. Note – he’s been in Australia these last ten years and she didn’t say she missed him.

Your father insisted that you all get second degrees. I later found out that this was so he could boast of you with his siblings, whose kids were not as intelligent. You all had to work for your living, which was no big deal. But you never got any hand-outs, although your parents could afford it.

You talk about values. I have my own set of them, thank you very much. I would rather stick to them than adopt those of yours and your ilk which are elastic enough to accommodate circumstances of your own making, but never the needs of others, or the circumstances in which they find themselves through no fault of their own. Speaking of accommodation – I don’t know where I’ll be, yet. It all depends upon whether all those who owe me one, will deliver.

You know I fought tooth and nail for our marriage to succeed. When you insisted the kids were not yours, I told you to take a DNA test to set your mind at rest; but you said I would bribe the laboratory. There was never anyone else for me, so how could they be anyone else’s?

You wouldn’t recognise the truth if it hit you right between the eyes.

In Her Own Words (1)

Friday, 4th February 2011

I failed my re-sits. I’m shattered. I know I didn’t try hard enough, but I though I might just scrape through. How am I going to explain this to my mum? She’s going to have kittens. She’s going to ground me, I know she will. She promised.

Since dad left she’s become so strict; quite over the top with our discipline, as if she has to prove something. It must be tough on her – a teacher whose kids are not that bright and flunk their exams.

I wish I’d studied more. But how could I not have taken part in the Christmas pageant. It was the only opportunity I had to impress him. Much good it did me. What do I do now? University’s out, and not just this year. I’m not going to repeat Second Year. Oh, no. In any case, if I find a job, all my worries will be over. I think. I hope.

All I can hope for is that she won’t be in a foul mood when I get home! I hope I get there before her and get to peek in the letterbox. What’s today? Oh, goody, Friday. She won’t be home till after four, after picking up little sister from granny, and Jeff comes after he closes the shop.

I will keep out of her way. I’ll heat a pizza in the micro and so if she calls me down to eat I’ll say I’m not hungry. Oh silly, silly me, five times over. Why did I not study? I knew I would not feel like it once I got home from rehearsals. The being together was nice but all in all it wasn’t worth the hassle. Too tough I had to find out the hard way what a narcissist he is.

All I want to do is writing. And act. She thinks my writing is rubbish, that it’s a waste of time. I’ll show her. Writing is so much more interesting than mathematics and history; better than everything else really. I know that this is not something I can say out loud in front of her and Jeff, but hey, I have to find a job that somehow involves writing or I’ll die trying. Sometimes I wonder how Jeff can stand her ranting and raving about nothing at all – but I think he sympathises with her.

It’s a vicious circle. Whenever I approach editors of newspapers or magazines, asking them for a column, they ask to see my portfolio. But how can I get one of nobody is willing to take a chance on me?

Journalism? Nah. These days you have to have at least a First Degree, and anyway I like my sleep so I’d hate having to work shifts. With my luck, all the robberies and murders would happen when I was on call. I could be a poet, like Keats; but they don’t earn much nowadays, do they? Not unless they get their work splashed all over the show because they are poet laureate, and then not in Malta. Not too many crowns of laurels locally.

And I am so worried about Sonia. I think she’s pregnant, I really do. She’s not even looking me in the eye these days, so how can I just up and ask her? I catch her looking at me when she thinks I’m too busy to notice it. I’ve seen her go green about the gills sometimes, when someone overdoes the deodorant.

I hope I’m wrong, but I have been watching her. I wish she would confide in me, but after the French homework episode, she doesn’t seem to keen on talking to me. She knows she owes me an apology. I know I ought to take the bull by the horns and tell her I forgave her long ago, but I’ve noticed how she flinches when I move in her direction.

These days I seem to spend more and more time worrying about anything and everything that happens. How would Sonia cope with a baby? She can hardly take care of herself, that one; she’s always forgetting things and looking flustered. But at least she always gets straight As in tests.

Having a baby at eighteen is not much worse than failing crucial examinations, isn’t it? It’s tough being a teen.

It’s already 3.30pm so I’d better get that pizza.

Welcome to Utopia


February 29, 2012

I have inadvertently upset and bemused my British friends. They could find no rhyme and reason as to why I decided to pick random examples of Americana in order to indicate similarities with what is going on in Malta.

After all, they said, Malta was a British Colony for n years, and technically, both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Malta are made up of a collection of islands, however much animosity exists amongst them.

Frankly, I always thought that the temperament of the British and that of the Maltese were different. They are supposed to have a stiff upper lip: we are hot-blooded, because we are Mediterranean.

However, it seems that what Margaret Thatcher said, i.e. “I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end,” counts for both nations.

Random Item #1: A quick look at the contestants in beauty contests will show us that the majority of Maltese contestants – at least those who do not titter when complimented for weight loss which would be due to liposuction – have rather heavy thighs and calves that are almost oval. The British, on the other hand, have calves and cankles.

Whereas he Maltese Doctor Sir Temi Żammit tracked down the source of brucellosis to the milk of infected cows,  the laurels for one of the silliest, most dangerous weight-loss ‘solutions’ ever invented must rest upon the head of a British Doctor.

In the 1950s, A.T.W. Simeons took the phrase “false pregnancy” to a whole new level. He suggested that a person (yes, even a man) could subsist on 500 calories a day, on condition that they also received daily injections hCG (the hormone human choriogonadotropin), which is produced in early pregnancy.

Playing about with hormones is never advisable; and indeed it was later discovered that this sorry excuse for an eating plan could give blinding headaches and blood clots, and cause depression. And the fact is that you are eating so little, that it probably does not matter what else you do to punish your body – you will lose weight anyway.

Whereas in certain cases hCG is used as part of fertility treatments, it is never advisable to use it in the aforesaid manner.

Random Item #2: The fashion for acronyms wormed its way into Maltese culture a long time ago, probably even further back than 4Ts and YTC, the first two I recall; and UI would say that 34U is not the last entity to be labelled thus, either.

Action for Employment was perhaps inevitably shortened to A4e.

David Cameron’s idea(l) was to find jobs for dole sharks and other unemployed people. Now we have revelations that some of the employees of one of the five firms entrusted with this commitment are facing investigation…over alleged fraud. Emma Harrison, Family Champion, said that she would stand down because “…I do not want the current media environment to distract from the very important work with troubled families.” The word is, however, that A4e has actually won two new contracts after her resignation; wonders never cease.

Should we be happy, therefore, that in Malta, the only negative press social services have received is about monies voted toward this essential issue? With even less money voted for them, workers in the social services sector will not even be able to think about committing fraud.

At least, fraud perpetuated by our public servants and those in NGOs do not involve families, at least directly.

Random Item #3: In order to ‘avoid’(sic) teenage pregnancies, teens may ask for 4cm-long contraceptive implants (involving a minor operation to introduce progestogen into the blood through implants fitted in the upper arm), or contraceptive injections – without the knowledge of their parents.

This is done in the girls’ schools, and under patient confidentiality rules, school staff is banned from asking for permission from the girls’ parents, although they are minors.

Therefore, if the girl “feels like” having sex, her only problems are getting an STD, and the 1% rate of failure. Wait!  If the boyfriend(s) know about the implants or shots, would they not pressure the girl, telling her she is “safe”?

Of course, “some” discomfort (acne, depression, headaches, weight gain nausea, breast tenderness and irregular or absence of periods) from this device or the injection are to be expected.

Then there are the double vision, epilepsy, and even coma associated with anti-HPV shots which would be given to provide additional protection,  are to be expected, but is that not a small price to pay for promiscuity? Incidentally, the “cervix-protecting” inoculation will shortly be made available to boys, although they do not have a cervix… just in case they experiment with homosexual relationships.

Let us be thankful for small mercies. Our teenagers “merely” dance half-naked on cubes in Paceville. Only a few (relatively speaking) Maltese teens end up having babies. We have no gangs that earn money off teenaged prostitutes. Many Maltese teens seem to be obsessed with the performing arts – singing, dancing, and modelling.

Random Item #4: British Labour MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce, has been suspended by his party after head-butting and punching Tory Stuart Andrew, and brawling with four other Tories, in a bar at the House of Commons Strangers’ Bar.

Apparently, this was the follow-up to his not altogether complimentary speech in parliament, in which he mentioned the excess of Tories present. It took thirteen hours for him to sober up enough for police to question him.

Isn’t it nice that our (actual and potential) representatives spend their time quibbling about colours of ties and the frequency with which they are changed?

Why aren’t we happy that, instead of instigating drunken brawls, they post pictures of breakfasts, children, wives, lovers, parties attended, and recent haircuts on social sites, as well as flyers stuffed into our letter-boxes because Malta has no opt-out from junk mail facilities?

Wouldn’t you, too, rather be insular, parochial, and territorial, than progressive, liberal, and permissive?

New Leaves


I was one of the few Maltese babies born in what was at the time a hospital mostly used by the British Forces in Malta – hence named after King George V – in 1959.

By the time 1978 had rolled around, much water had flowed under the bridge, and the hospital had had a name change; it was now named after Sir Paul Boffa, a Maltese politician.

It had also undergone a change of purpose; it was now a hospital for people who had cancer. And it was where my sister died.

Recently, I had occasion to visit it again, because one of my children needed to have a wart seen to.

Of course, I don’t remember what the place looked like, more than half a century ago, but I remember clearly how the oncology wards felt, looked, and smelled. They were sombre, bleak, gloomy rooms that smelt of creosote, then used as a disinfectant, and death.

The atmosphere at the Outpatient Department was totally different. The patients there knew that they were being treated for a minor glitch in their routine; a blip in their medical files that cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen would put right, perhaps gradually, but definitely and completely.

The place is bright and airy, with glass partitions, walls painted in bright colours, with original paintings of local scenes by Maltese artists hanging on them. A coffee machine in the corridor perfumes the air and does brisk business. No more yesterday’s tacky plywood sheets, with paint peeling off, and pebbled glass.

This was a Saturday, so most of the patients were school-age children with their parents. Little did it occur to them that that the place could ever have been any different. But you could tell the adults knew from the occasional snippets of conversations caught here and there. Years later, some are still bitter; others appear to have come to terms with their loss.

By a similar quirk, the post-secondary institute my daughter attends is the same one her father attended, years ago, when it was a secondary technical school. The place has been spruced up and undergone a change of purpose; hundreds of students read different courses there now.

Shifts, moves, displacements and changes are inevitable. People, times, and circumstances change, and we must learn to adapt ourselves without losing our goals and our individuality.

We cannot, must not, allow setbacks to thwart us.

Nothing but the Tooth

So there I was, flitting by a window, enjoying the soft breeze…..when I heard crying.

Simonne was teasing her younger sister”.  “There is no tooth fairy!”  she was saying “

Mama and papa just made her up just as they made up the Sandman and the Easter Bunny.  They just trick you into believing that she exists so that they can give you some extra pocket money without your having to ask for it!

“But she exists!” young Theresa sobbed.  “ I know she does.  I saw her picture in a book once, and mama and papa do not play silly jokes like that.  I mean, I know the Easter Bunny does not exist, because bunnies never grow that big.  The Sandman does not exist either, because every night, before I sleep, I knock about under my bed with a broom, and I would feel him if he were there… But I tell you, the Tooth Fairy exists, she does, too”

“OK, have it your way!” said Simonne with a nasty grin on her face.  But if you stay awake long enough, and pretend you are asleep, you will see mama tiptoe into your bedroom at night, and she will take away the tooth and put a dollar there instead.

Simonne swanned out of the room, tossing her long blonde hair.  At 15, she thinks she is too grown up to believe in me…because, if you haven’t guessed, I am the Tooth Fairy and I saw this scene happen with my own eyes.

Of course I exist!  How could you believe otherwise?  But you humans do not see me – only cats and dogs do.  Isn’t that why you hear them mewling and howling whenever you lose a tooth?  They can see me take the tooth away from under the pillow and replace it with money.

I need the teeth because I grind them down and use the powder ass fertilizer for the plants in my garden.  And my garden is as large as a forest, so I need lots and lots of teeth.  There was a wise guy child who asked his mom whether I would not save money if I just went to Mr. Green’s and bought fertilizer…ah!  But that would not be fun at all.  And anyway, ground-down teeth are much better for plants than the stuff you get in bags.  It has something to do with the tooth enamel,  I’m told.

From the window, I could see Theresa rubbing her eyes.  She was talking to the Cat, and saying that she hoped I exist because she needed some spare money because at school they were collecting stationery and toys for the children who had lost everything in the earthquake that had happened in Aquila, a town in Italy, in Europe.

On many  countries, where the people decide I do not exist, they have different ways of getting rid of teeth.  Sometimes, they throw them at the sun, or mix them up in animal feeds.

The tooth that grows to replace it will resemble the teeth of the animal that would have eaten it – so it was considered lucky if a mouse ate the tooth, because then the child would have sharp, strong teeth.

Sometimes, they sprinkle some salt on the tooth, and then bury teeth in the soil, so that nice flowers will grow over it.

Once, I was not feeling well, and I asked my friend the Sugarplum Fairy to take my place for a couple of days.

And what did she do?  She spent all the money I gave he on sweets, and put gob-stoppers and lollipops and candy canes and sherbet and liquorish under the pillows instead of money.  The parents were really angry (at me!) because they thought I wanted to rot their children’s teeth and get more fertilizer for my garden.

I am a nice person – I have a lot dresses with frilly skirts and tights that match my t-shirts.  I have gossamer wings that shine in the sun, and during the night, they catch the moonbeams and so I am surrounded by light.

You know, some children are scared of losing teeth, but that is sign that they are growing up.  Look  at it this way – you begin losing teeth just when you are about to begin formal schooling!  And if that’s not growing up, I don’t know what is.

Like Santa`s Elves, I have  magical powers, and today,I am going to be especially nice to Theresa – both because she wants to give something to the children who need it, and also to make up for how much her sister Simonne was teasing her earlier on.

I do not even have to wait for Theresa to close her eyes – she cannot see me anyway.  So I tiptoe to her bed, after making sure that the cat is asleep in his basket downstairs, because otherwise he would give the game away.

I gently feel undedr her pillow, and find the tiny silk purse with the tooth inside it.  I take out the tooth and replace the purse, after putting $5, just as Therese is turning a page in her storybook, so she does not notice.  I also place a nice box of color pencils, crayons, erasers, and pencil sharpeners on her desk, with a nice note that says “For the Children of Aquila with Love from the Tooth Fairy!”

In the morning, Theresa goes running downstairs, where her mother is preparing breakfast, clutching her purse and the stationery.

 “Look! Mama! Look! See what I got!” she shouts.  Her sister just gives a sarcastic smile.  Her mother asks what all the shouting is about, and Theresa tells her.

And, you know what? The girl`s mother had totally forgotten that the little one was missing a tooth… so she could not understand what had happened.

Just then, the cat woke up, and he saw me! He came running towards me, instead of to the food bowl as he usually did…. and Simonne just stared at him!