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Our version of events

There’s always two sides to a story. A universal truth alright, but it still bugs me when I hear it. And I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. Not because I doubted its verity but mostly because it annoys me when it’s used by people who want to give reason to unreasonable situations. And isn’t it obvious? Everyone has a reason for doing something. What upsets me, is the expectation that hearing the other side could somehow alter one’s take on things. I don’t know if the fact that I listen to both sides by profession has made me fed up with the scope of abuse which this simple sentence, this truth, carries. I find that this universal truth, this expectation to hear both sides before you can condemn an action or an event, isn’t universally applicable.

What prompted this thought was my recent conversation with a friend over the insensitive behaviour of an ex-colleague. Luckily, I wasn’t the recipient of this less-than-kind treatment, but I sure had my take on how malevolent this ex-colleague behaved. My older and arguably wiser friend Amy, rushed in to explain that there may be reasons for this ex-colleague’s behaviour that explained why she acted the way she acted. A trigger that would, potentially, justify her malicious act towards Joni, a person Amy and I care deeply about.I wanted to hear none of it.

My friend Amy, a forty-year-old banker, had her fair share of mishaps and back-stabbings in life. She survived it all -possibly not so intact- but definitely wiser. I criticised her forgiving nature, telling her that there are certain things that cannot be forgiven no matter how many sides there may be to a story. Not even by the bearers of the biggest hearts. Stealing one’s husband, which is what my ex-colleague Cassandra had committed, was certainly top of my list. No matter how rationally I tried to test Amy’s suggestion, that we knew only one part of the story, I couldn’t see myself forgiving or justifying the callous way in which Cassandra had treated Joni. Not even if Cassandra had acted in the name of love.

I remember the office parties, the social gatherings where Joni would attend to with her husband and Cassanddra would be there as well. My mind brings back memories of happier times when all of us, the three of them included, would cheer, clink glasses and share wishes for love, health and prosperity- a bunch of blissful idiots. What a joke that was. Then little details pop to my head, that I hadn’t given much thought to at the time. For example, the Christmas office party of 2010 which Cassandra didn’t attend to because she was supposedly sick -she was alive and kicking just hours before the event, I bumped into her at Selfridges shopping. Well, Joni’s husband missed it as well, apparently there was an urgent conference call he couldn’t miss or reschedule. And then there was the spring team-building trip to Courchevel which again by coincidence both Cassandra and Joni’s husband missed in lieu of other engagements. I think of Joni’s snowboarding accident at the time, and how lonely she felt travelling without her husband, her long-term partner and companion. I remember her talking about her husband in the sweetest way, telling me that had she known he wouldn’t make it, she wouldn’t have travelled either. Her mellow tone as she told him she missed him over the phone, revealed even discreetly, how much she longed to be with him. And to think that he was probably playing tootsie with Nasty-Cassy back home. Just thinking about it makes my skin shrink and crawl.

Getting caught up in a matrimonial division is a risky business. First and foremost for the couple involved but also for the friends and family who find themselves having to choose sides and make up their minds over which version of events to believe. Amy, who happens to be Joni’s friend since they were kiddies, and who happens to love her beyond doubt, rushes to point out to me that noone on the outside knows what goes on in the marital home. But in the end, who cares? Cheating is cheating and stealing one’s husband is condemnable no matter how many sides there are to a story. In the end of the day, there is only our version of events. We can’t expect anyone else to believe it but that alone doesn’t mean we have to water down what we believe has happened.

At the end of my conversation with Amy, a thought sprang to mind about my dear banker friend. Rushing to explain the mischievous acts of an infidel husband is fishy by itself. I am not one for prudence -no matter how desirable that may be to leading a by-the-book life. But at the same time, why would anyone try to justify Nasty-Cassy’s claws into another woman’s husband? I don’t care how important maintaining a healthy sex life is for a relationship or how essential mental stimulation is to a couple. The facts were there: Nasty-Cassy pretended to be just a colleague to Joni’s husband for years in front of everyone. And Joni’s husband broke his vows in the meanest, dirtiest possible way. Not to mention that he did that for the meanest, dirtiest person I have ever met. And that is simply my version of events. Does anyone need to hear another version before casting an opinion in a situation like this?

Kiss the rain

I drove fast, I ran faster and ended up jumping over a wooden fence in order to follow Hector. Sweat was dripping down my spine like a leaking faucet. After a two-hour undercover pursuit I finally discovered where he was hiding all the times he went missing from the hotel.
He glanced backwards momentarily before entering the white beach house that separated him from the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. I don’t think he noticed me because I rushed behind a eucalyptus tree right on time. Damn it! Fear made my heart thump and my blood roast. The salty breeze settled onto my dry mouth and there were only a handful of things I wouldn’t do for a glass of cold water. As the wind blew stronger, the eucalyptus leaves dropped all around me while I still panted from running a marathon to get there, in the middle of summer. I sat on the pale dirt to catch my breath and waited for Hector to make his next move. I hadn’t waited too long before I heard a car engine from a distance. I fervently searched for a new hiding spot and, although I hesitated at first, I swiftly moved round the back of the house. I hid behind columns of junipers that were neatly pruned but tall enough to offer me cover. I couldn’t see the front door from this angle but I had a clear view of the driveway. Soon after, a blue E series Mercedes parked near the eucalyptus trees. Phew! That was close.
A tall blonde chick hurried out of the passenger seat followed by an even taller tattooed young man who took his time walking up to the house. He threw his cigarette bud onto the freshly cut grass, which I thought was a rather crass thing to do. I could only see them from the side, but there was something eerie about these two. They were clearly siblings. Twins, perhaps. Their faces were too far for me to tell for sure, but the way they carried themselves combined with their young age seemed to suggest a familial bond of some kind. The woman rushed inside the house as if in panic. I could hear them speak in Russian. I couldn’t tell exactly what they were on about. I understood the words, ‘danger’, ‘pain’, ‘car’ but the rest was spoken either too quickly or in a dialect I wasn’t familiar with. My cell buzzed. Dima was calling. I looked at my wrist-watch and it was already half past two in the afternoon. Shit, I had completely forgotten about our lunch date at the hotel! I had two options, one, to answer and try to explain where I had gone –which on second thought wasn’t really an option if I didn’t want to blow up my cover –or two, to text him briefly a plausible reason for disappearing. A simple dilemma. One, that under other circumstances wouldn’t trouble me much. But this time, I barely found time to consider it long enough My dilemma was interrupted by a gunshot; A single, gut-wrenching gunshot. Fuck!
I slid to the ground again instinctively, and memories of the bloodbath I’d survived in Minsk flooded my mind. I could feel my heart batter violently against my chest bones and my breath was coming to me in tranches. Fear enveloped me in completely, like an intoxicating addiction. I can’t tell if there was mayhem going on inside. I was too busy trying to calm myself but there was also an unnatural silence coming from the house. I made an effort to control my breathing and counted five minutes before seeing the young, tattooed man walk out. I watched his feet stomp across the lawny driveway in a hurry. His trainers were muddy, and I suspected the burgundy-coloured liquid embossed on his soles were blood stains. I stared at his arms thinking what a waste to have them dipped in ink but I soon concentrated on a mark I’d recognised from before. I hadn’t even finished my recollection of the Bratva mark which was proudly displayed at the back of his left arm and he was gone. He sped off in the Merc like a maniac. I crouched up mustering some courage, and observed the house from in between the branches, searching for further movement. I realised how dangerous it’d be for me to make a run for it now. My cell buzzed again. Dima must have been furious with me. I fished my phone out of my side pocket and pressed ‘dismiss’. ‘Honey, I’m soaring under the Cypriot sun’, my text message read. I was trying to buy time, but I should have known my insisting fiancée would take none of it. A second later he started calling me relentlessly. I had to turn off the phone to keep focused.

“Bella, what the fuck are you doing here?”

The night I nearly lost it all (Part 2)

I hadn’t realised how sick I’d grown of these club-rituals until I found myself struggling to walk in through the main entrance. Dima held my hand as we paced along the red carpet, but it was hardly the two of us on it. There was Joe on my side, Igor on Dima’s side and another two buff men whom I didn’t recognise walking close by keeping their backs to us. Another stark reminder that I was engaged to Moscow’s most sought-after businessman. They say that women have a sixth sense and I can attest to that. Only because, as we were striding along, I could have sworn my eye caught a glimpse of someone who didn’t fit well with the crowd.

An insistent photographer broke Dima’s man-chain and managed to take a picture of us up close. I felt sorry for him when Joe grabbed his camera and elbowed him away. Only because Joe’s elbows are not like the average man’s. The photographer fell on the ground like single card from a deck and his camera landed next to him a second later.

“Are you OK, Bella?” I wish he didn’t treat me like a baby, but Dima’s worry over my well-being was the only thing that could make him stop and turn amidst the crowd.

I nodded ‘yes’ and then we resumed our walk and finally made it inside. It was right on time too, because drizzle had began and I’d have hated to mess up my hair, which I had only hours ago fixed back at the mansion.

Joe led us to our usual spot inside -people like Dima have their usual spots which are nothing like spots really, more like studio-sized areas where they can lounge in privacy. I noticed Mr. Colson opposite us, sitting comfortably in a velvet armchair, and nasty-Cassy dancing away so out of beat right by his side. I watched them from a distance and I found it hard to believe that all this time the two had been an item. He caressed her behind, and she would occasionally lean in to give him pecks on his nose. Yuck! I mean, he was probably old enough to be her dad for heaven’s sake. I was about to turn my attention to more deserving sights, when I noticed Mr. Colson stand up to greet a man, whom I’d recognised from before. In fact, Mr. Colson and nasty-Cassy were privileged to be in the presence of well-known Argentinian businessman, Hector-Rodrigo Lopez. Hector was a sight for sore eyes, if I must speak the truth, and more importantly, he was part of Dima’s small circle of friends. I met him a couple of months back at a birthday bash.

“Honey,” I turned to Dima, who was checking his BlackBerry -much to my dismay since I’d told him time and again to give it a rest when we went out but he never listened- “what’s Hector doing with Baldy and nasty ehem, Cassandra?”

There were but a handful of Dima’s gestures which I instantly recognised as demanding my undivided attention. When he pulled me so close to him that I could barely breathe, I was positive he wanted just that.

“If I tell you, do you promise to keep it to yourself?” He whispered these words and I could feel my blood boiling instantly.

“Your lack of confidence in me, is a little insulting, honey. Now, tell me, what is Hector doing over there?”

As always, Dima was one step ahead. Of me, of Hector, of everyone who was around him. And in retrospect, he was right to have asked me to keep it to myself. I wouldn’t. Only because telling, would have been the right thing to do.

What Dima revealed was degrading for Mr.Colson, to say the least. And it was too much information that I wished -later- that I hadn’t become privy to. But as though an invisible power wanted to take revenge for Dima’s revelation, that night out at our usual club, became the night I nearly lost it all.

It was a single gunshot. I’d survived more. It ran past me. I’d survived more. It hit Dima. I went into shock.

The night I nearly lost it all (Part 1)

I had this terrible dream the night before. We were sitting at a restaurant with colourless walls but tall walls nonetheless. He was browsing through the menu, and I was pre-occupied with my twitching eye. It felt like a rock was trapped into my eye (as one tends to feel when fluff gets stuck onto a contact lens) and no matter how many times I pet my eyelid, the itchiness remained. As time went by, Dima continued to stare at the menu, unable to decide what to order, and I grew blinder, unable to fix whatever it was that irritated my eye. Suddenly, I felt restless. I looked around me and one by one, the fixtures and fittings of the restaurant kept disappearing. First gone, were the paintings hung on the colourless walls. Then, the chairs and tables followed. Scared as I was, I nudged Dima with my elbow and asked him what was going on. He ignored me and kept staring at the menu. It was as if I wasn’t there. I pushed my chair back and stood in front of him, urging him to look at me, but nothing. He was stupefied, staring at that damned menu.

“Dima, look at me,” I yelled. In vain. I used my finger to caress his face but it was cold and lifeless. He was frozen in his seat.

I must have cried in my sleep forcing me to wake up because that’s the last scene from my dream which I remember. The next thing I was in Dima’s arms. Tightly held in his warm, homecoming embrace.

I wanted to warn him that something was going to happen, something not necessarily good. But I was reluctant. The role of a modern-day-“Casssandra”-prophet didn’t sit well with my usual positive and upbeat personality. But everyone has a dark side, and although well aware of mine, I wasn’t keen on revealing it to Dima just yet. In retrospect, I wish I had. It could have saved him the trouble that followed.

On Sunday afternoon when Dima asked me to get ready for a night out, I didn’t think much of it. He regularly called me at the mansion at the last minute to get ready for a night out. Usually, it was for things he was obliged to attend like charity events or informal business meetings. This time though, there was an urgency in his voice, mixed with hesitation or a faked calmness that I identified but chose to ignore.

So, like a good wife-to-be I was ready to go by 10:30pm. I waited for him at the lobby, dressed in a long, blood-red chiffon dress, wearing my hair on the side. I had the usual flutters in my stomach because I hadn’t seen him since early that morning. As I took my seat next to him in the car, he gave me a quick kiss on the cheek followed by a heavy sigh. Instantly, I was alarmed. Something fishy was going on.

“Is everything, OK?” I took his hand in both of mine and it was cold. He must have been outside shortly before meeting me.

“Of course,” he lied. I hated that he lied to me. I made a mental note to address this point at a later stage.

“Then what are you so anxious over, Dima?” He twisted in his seat, revealed a bitter smile and turned his face away from mine. He ran his fingers through his hair, messing it up ever so slightly, and then spoke a couple of swear words in Russian.

“When we arrive at the club tonight, I need to you stay with me at all times, Bella. Are we clear on that?”

“Of course. Where else would I be?” I pointed out the obvious but I remained curious as to what brought this on.

“You may see people you know there, and you may think it’s safe to stay with them rather than me.”

“People I know, Dima? Are you for real? Who would I know so well at a Russian club, that I’d leave you to be with them?”

“Bella, Mr. Colson will be at the club tonight.” He spoke slowly and I sensed that he was preparing me for more interesting information.

“…with Cassandra.”

“Really? Baldy is in Moscow? What is he doing with Nasty-Cassy in Moscow?”

“It’s not surprising that you haven’t heard, Bella. It’s been a secret for quite a while…”

“What is?” This story was taking turns which I did not anticipate.

“They’re together, Bella. As in… dating. For many years, now.”

“You’re joking!” I was stunned. Mr. Colson and Nasty-Cassy a couple? This is ridiculous. The guy’s happily married.

“I think you’ve got it all wrong, Dima. Mr. Colson is happily married to Mrs. Colson and I’ve been to their recent, well, it’s been two years, but fairly recent vowels re-affirmation party.

“Not sure why they throw these parties, especially when they clearly know they’re shams, but I wanted you to know before we go what the deal is.”

“Thanks, honey. I mean, it is surprising but it’s not really my business so if he wants to fool around he can do so. I don’t even work for the guy anymore.”

“Thank heaven’s no, sweetheart.”

There was more to the story than he let on. Dima couldn’t care less for Baldy’s alleged affair with Nasty- Cassy. Before I could elicit more relevant information, his phone rang and soon he was lost in another conversation I could barely understand. His hand was now securely holding mine and he stroked my palm with his thumb. I couldn’t wait for this silly outing to be over and for us to get back home. There was only one way I could stop missing him and it entailed stripping.

Dima’s secret study

I close the door behind me, quietly. The size of his secret study is astounding. Perhaps, for some reason I expected this to be smaller. Denser. A crypt. It’s not that but it certainly is dark. No windows to trap any sunrays. Carefully, I take a step to the side. I take advantage of the glimmer of light piercing through the keyhole and let my fingers trail along the wall, the one adjacent to the door, for the switch. I quickly turn the light on. In front of me, spreads a long, long corridor. I am not sure where it leads to. It’s too dark to even discern what that large shadow is, at the end of the corridor.  An object. A piece of furniture, maybe. Possibly a desk. I gape at the floor, watching my step. It is wooden, a light, caramel colour. The walls are painted white, but a trace of brickwork shades from beneath the paint.  I can see why they’re painted. The white walls give an air of openness in this otherwise suffocating room. They make it falsely welcoming.

I cross the corridor leaving the entrance behind me. Along the way, I pass a wooden, dainty-carved table to my left and a fifties-style armchair of pistachio-velour on my right. As I am nearing the end of the corridor I am bathed in darkness once more. I walk towards the nearest switch and turn it on. Soon enough I can see the desk, but not only that. A tall, wide, wall-mounted bookcase reveals in front of me. Its shelves occupy the walls that surround the study, rendering the seating area in front of the desk something of a hearth. The desk itself is a mocca-brown colour and the chairs are a match. Light-brown leather pillows, too puffy for my liking, are placed neatly on each of the five chairs assembled in front of the desk.

I keep trying to think what this setting reminds me of, and for a second there, I nearly miss my favourite memory of them all. My Law School Library. Dima’s secret study reminds me of my Law School Library. This place could easily be mistaken for a library. After all, the bookcase covers up all of the walls in this room, if we exclude the ones along the corridor. And the shelves are dressed with books from the ceiling to the ground.

Books? I never thought Dima a bibliophile. Intrigued, I pace quickly towards the bookcase, unease building up inside me. There is something odd about this room. For one, there’s no direct sunlight coming in or air circulation for that matter, and I can feel my claustrophobia twitching its claws at me.

I gaze at the books and realise how difficult it is to understand what they’re all about. First, there’s so many of them and second, a lot of them are stacked so high up the shelves, way beyond my reach. I couldn’t read them even if I could get hold of them. As I come closer to this potent bookcase, with a bit of struggle I manage to pick up one of the books, which is, in hindsight and a broken nail later, stacked a tad too tight with the rest. Once I manage to take it out I can’t help but stare at the cover. The book is a dated hardback and the title is pressed against it, in burgundy letters. Right there, at the very centre of the book. The cyrillic writing makes it difficult to read. I turn it over in search for the writer’s name. Again, the name is in cyrillic but it is shorter and I just about comprehend the second letter “E”, the third “Z” and the final two letters, “EN”. “Herzen,” I mouth. I put the book close to my nose to sniff it -strange habit but I’ve had it forever – and to my surprise it smells only of paper. There’s no trace of dampness, no iota of dust. Someone is taking care of these books. I eye the rest of the books and I am tempted to pull them all out. I wonder the kinds of stories these books can tell. When you know how to read them, that is. I turn to look at the desk and I am surprised again to find that it is in immaculate shape. Clean, polished, well preserved.

I am making my away along the bookcase when, suddenly, I hear a rythmical thumping noise. Toum-toum-toum. I’m startled, obviously. I think about the turned on lights and contemplate switching them off, but I am too far away from the switches for that. Definitely for that first switch. And if anybody comes down here, they’ll realise someone’s in Dima’s secret study, well, because I’ve left the entrance door unlocked. The thumping resumes, this time closer to me than before. I follow the sound, taking small, soft steps alongside the room. And then it stops. Someone is snooping around Dima’s sacred territory. Who else is home apart from me, his mother and Joe the Giant? No one should be home, apart from us. And no one should definitely be in here. Not even me.

Have the media stopped “loving” J.K.Rowling?

So much has been said and written about this phenomenonal woman. Most of it though, concentrates on her wealth, the rugs to riches side of her story and the record-breaking sales of her books.

The conditional nature of the media’s love towards this magnificent writer is beginning to show ever so blatantly with the release of her latest novel for adults titled “Casual Vacancy”. Released only today the 27th of September, it has already managed to attract the critics’ attention. It’s not even been out for a day and Casual Vacancy has been called, “dull”, “angrily political”, “definitely not a book for children”, (the author has time and again declared it is an adult book, why it is so hard for people to get over with this, is beyond me). In short, “too dull, too political, ” too angry, too close to reality?

Could it be that the media are up to no good? Could it be that trashing a mega-successful writer is easier and more attention-grabbing rather than actually delving deeper to get the meaning of their story?

A writer like J.K. Rowling who became a universal household name, because of her ability to create a believable parallell world, and one that our children are safe in, surely deserves more.

Allow me to use a couple of excerpts to prove my point:

1st: The Times UK 27/09/2012

“Perhaps it’s no bad thing to be reminded that novels might, once again, do more than simply entertain us.”

2nd: The Times UK April 2010:

“Nobody who has ever experienced the reality of poverty could say “it’s not the money, it’s the message”. When your flat has been broken into, and you cannot afford a locksmith, it is the money. When you are two pence short of a tin of baked beans, and your child is hungry, it is the money. When you find yourself contemplating shoplifting to get nappies, it is the money. If Mr Cameron’s only practical advice to women living in poverty, the sole carers of their children, is “get married, and we’ll give you £150″, he reveals himself to be completely ignorant of their true situation. How many prospective husbands did I ever meet, when I was the single mother of a baby, unable to work, stuck inside my flat, night after night, with barely enough money for life’s necessities? Should I have proposed to the youth who broke in through my kitchen window at 3 am? Half a billion pounds, to send a message – would it not be more cost-effective, more personal, to send all the lower-income married people flowers.”

So, Ms. Allison Pearson of the Daily Telegraph, when my kids ask me in the future what I make of J.K. Rowling and whether they should read the “Casual Vacancy”, I’ll quote to them her statement above. Like I’ve quoted to everyone who matters to me. It won’t be difficult to find an answer for my kids. And if I did my job right, they’ll read the Casual Vacancy when they’re supposed to. And they’ll draw the right conclusions.

What is utterly annoying is how easily and quickly people tend to forget. This woman created a reality that was often harsh, cruel but one which our children could understand and relate to. I don’t believe there was any sugar-coating as to how Harry Potter was brought up. I also don’t seem to remember there being a magical wand to save Harry Potter from his destiny. Perhaps, in the end it is the adults who have trouble accepting the reality.

We need strong political messages in our literature to shake us from the numbness of over-consumerism and individuality. We need smacks of social awakening to remind us that we can make more of this life rather than earn more. We need to regain purpose in the way we lead our lives. In the way we work. We need the people who have the knowledge, the capacity, the talent to urge us to do so.

Surely, a woman with means like Ms. Rowling has better things to do than urge people to live their lives better. Surely. Yet she insists. That’s admirable.

And that is why I LOVE J.K.Rowling.

Bella Nars.

An excerpt from THE CLOSING: Food for thought

Love comes in various shapes and sizes. But there can only be ONE GREAT LOVE. Read all about it below and in THE CLOSING.

“I take a couple of steps forward, as if under a spell.  I want to hear this voice again and again; I need to. My head is light, and well, my self-protective resolution is down the drain. Any thoughts I had of self-protection vaporise. This is his voice. I am positive of that. I would recognise it even if it came from the core of the earth. I ooze out of my cover magnetised like a bee drawn to a lily in the break of spring. The thought that I may be actually walking towards my own death passes through my mind but it is as tiny as the tip of a needle. There’s no stopping me now. This is the end of the line for me.

“Dima?” I see him only two feet away from me held by two black-clad commandos on each arm. He looks ghastly.

 “My God, Dima, what did they do to you?” He turns his head away. Shit. I must have embarrassed him.

“It…it’s OK. Oh my God, your face… Are you…?”

“Yes, I am OK,” I jump in to answer. My eyes can’t help but wander all around his face, his once beautiful face that is now badly bruised. My stomach turns from the sight of blood dripping from his nose, his slashed arms, and his ears.

“We’re not exactly…ehm… the same as last time we were together, right?”

His smile is bitter as he struggles to speak. I nod in agreement.

The Closing by Stella K. Armida Publications.