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Demons, my friends

I wonder if our fears had a colour, what colour would that be? Some would say black -the obvious choice. Mine we would probably be red. My favourite colour. I catch myself daydreaming of the void those ash-covered days when the heat-burning forests give in to the blazing summer and suck the oxygene from our lungs. Tall, snow-covered mountains equally deadly as the force of the untamed, ruthless, unforgiving ocean. Flirting with the unknown has been my nemesis ever since I can remember. Red, the colour of passion, the colour of love. And yet, if I could colour my demons they’d be red. Expectations, great or little they sting the same when they remain unfulfilled. 

As I jump forcefully from the cliff into the marine-glazing sea, I escape those demons that can only pull me back. They catch up with me as my feet hit on the rocks, the water fills my lungs my breath becomes but a memory of a time that was -in retrospect – happy.

Getting too close stings  yet staying away is numb. My demons are red and they’re pretty happy dancing in their shiny shoes all over my fears. Glad to have made the introductions. This is my kingdom, come.

 

Bella Nars

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?

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.

Winter break done the Dima P. way

Our winter break to St. Petersburg was unforgettable. The luxurious chalet that we stayed in had little to do with it. Mostly it was the fact that I was spellbound with Dima whilst we were there. We hadn’t seen each other for three weeks before that. The longest we’d been apart since we got together.

Dima had returned from a long business trip to China and I’d interrupted my classes at the Moscow University to meet with him in St. Petersburg’s airport, in mid February. As I waited for his plane to arrive, I thought my heart was going to burst. Our eyes met just on time. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed him until he was meters away from me.

I stood in the crowd and watched him stride across the aisle in his dark blue jeans, his azure shirt turned sleeve-side-up to the elbows, a matching scarf wrapped messily around his neck. He was simply magnificent. Still managing to take my breath away with every step he took, every movement he made.

“Welcome darling,” I whispered the moment he approached me, mostly thanking God for bringing him to me safe. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my grin. It ran the distance from one cheek to my other.

“My love,” was all that escaped his composed face. He leaned in and kissed me on the lips before I could muster a reply. I was overwhelmed by his imposing, masculine disposition that my legs turned to jelly. I’d take this toe-curling look from him anytime.

I had to really restrain myself from jumping on to him in front of everybody there. It was one of the few sacrifices I was happy to do for him. Besides, this only made my longing for him hit the roof. I knew I’d have my way with him, one way or another.

I walked alongside him to the car, in silence. He opened the door for me, and as I took my seat, I instinctively searched for Joe. He was nowhere to be seen. I sighed grateful for this moment of privacy.

“It’s kind of funny you know, Bella,” Dima murmured and I turned to face him instantly.

“What is?

“That you haven’t seen me for what? Three weeks?” He ran his fingers through his ash blond hair and groaned gently.

“That’s right, three weeks,” I added, curious as to where he was going with this.

“Yet, here I am sitting right next to you…”

“Yes…”

“And all you can think about is finding Joe?”

“Oh my, aren’t we jealous…” I sank deeper in the leather seat and turned to the window as a sinister smile escaped me. If only he’d known…

“Hmm no, not jealous,” he lied. He leapt over to my side of the seat and made sure I understood, exactly where he was coming from.

I spent the whole two hours to the chalet, feeling love-struck dizzy.

As our car drove inside the gates of the chalet, snow began to fall. The flakes fell serenely on the old snow, piling up the white magic. The cloak of darkness covered the village and the only visible lights were those of our chalet.

“Wear this,” he said and passed me a white fur Ushanka (hat). “It’s freezing outside, and this matches your coat,” he added. The moment I finished wrapping up like an albino crab, he took a good long look at me and started chuckling.

I stared back at him blowing off the particles of fur that stuck onto my lip gloss.

He kept on laughing.

“Am I funny enough for you?”

“Oh, you’ve no idea, my darling.” He took my hand, blew a kiss in my palm and then brushed his cheek with the back of my hand.

“You’re mean.”

“I am crazy. For you, Bella. That’s what I am.” It sounded like an accusation.

“That too…”

He got out of the car, came round and opened the door for me, helping me step on to the snow. It wasn’t slippery or anything, but definitely deep.

By the time we got to the chalet, Joe and the boys had finished with the regular checks. It was safe for Dima and me to enter. The reality of the danger we ran every time we moved away from his mansion, nearly spoiled all the fun.

“Sorry about this honey,” Dima said. Holding my hand he led me through the lobby to the living room.

“Oh wow,” I gasped when I entered the dim-lighted living room. It was roomy but cosy, cutting edge modern but still nostalgic. A mix of dark wooden beams with steel rods and black granite. The fire place was lighted and the only addition I wanted to make was to spread a puffy carpet by its feet. Before making this suggestion, I remembered my aching back. I’d been sitting in the car for way too long that day.

This place was unbeatable. Every corner was inviting. And I RSVP’d all of them. But right now, I had other priorities.

“So, where’s the bedroom?” There was no point in beating around the bush any longer.

Dima raised his eyebrow at first but the crooked smile that followed proved he was in sync with me all along.

He pointed upstairs.

He took his heavy coat off, tossed it on to one of the brown leather chairs following me with his gaze as I made my way up. Then, he climbed the stairs to the bedroom, right behind me.

The master bedroom swam in a sea of ivory and beige. I found it too calming and monotonous. It was in serious need of deep hues of red or orange. But, it would have to do.

“Strip for me.”

And this is how it all begun…

 

In a state of emergency…

The phone rings and my worst fears are verified as quickly as the popping of the cork from the bottle of Chablis red last night.

“It looks like I’m grounded, honey.”

“I’m just glad you arrived safely,” I mutter, lying coolly. My true feelings break the richter scale of one to ten and settle in an uncomfortably intense twelve. We begin with, relief for having arrived prior to the storm, anxiety that he’ll be in midst of the scariest hurricane to hit the US, sadness for having to share him with business associates abroad, eagerness to finally spend some time alone and investigate The Incident further, fear that I’ll be nestling in the lion’s den on my own -save for Joe the Giant- and ultimately emotional and physical deprivation for as a matter of fact I shall be spending a whole bleaming week away from him. And who the fuck’s gonna make my worry ease away when he’s stranded -hardly, but still – in bloody New York, miles and miles away from me when such a cataclysmic event is about to unfold?

I cough and swallow down a knot of stress, fear and panic.

“So what are your plans for this evening?” His voice is rushed.

“You’re staying in with Joe and Tamara, yes?” He continues breathing heavily. I can trace worry in his words, even amidst the war of pretended nonchalance that he so elegantly deploys. “Oh yes. My babysitters have increased from one to two, recently. Have you no worry master. I shall stay put.”

“You make me laugh…” Indeed, a tiny chuckle escapes him that I can only barely discern from the background noise.

“Erm… Dima, what is this noise?”

“Ah yes, I’ve been meaning to tell you about this and I’ll do it in a hurry ’cause as far as I can see…”

“Dima? Hello?”

“…I’ve not got much time.”

“Time for what? Dima?”

“It’s rather stupid but listen, they’re…”

“Dima, you’re breaking up…”

“…safehouse?”

“A what?”

“OTT Americans, Bella. What can I say. Anyway you know where I’m staying, right?”

“The Plaza, yes, I remember.”

“OK so I’ve got to run. Try to remember what I asked you before I left.”

“Erm, where I packed your favourite Boss socks?”

“Bella, are… you insane?”

“Right, not the socks, silly, silly me. Erm, you asked if I had planned a trip for March.”

“Yeah, it wasn’t a trick question, Bella. Have you?”

“Well… we’ll talk when you get back, Dima. What the fuck is this noise?”

“I think it’s the wind…”

Wind? Not by a longshot. That was a gargling sound enriched with heavy thumping and violent glass-breaking. Oh no. Where has he got himself into this time?

“Dima? Hello, are you still there?”

The phone goes dead. His silence and my guilt join hands as they hook their pointy spears all around my neck. How could I have misjudged his acuteness? How could I have been so blind? All I know is that I’m missing someone and that he’s stranded in a state-of-emergency-New-York. Hardly my cup of tea.

I hope he stays safe. Please let him stay safe.

And the million-dollar-question, is:  when you’re in the eye of the hurricane, what is your first thought?

Is truth only what we perceive it to be?

It’s Sunday, it’s raining and I can only barely put up with myself in the dining room. An oblong, mocca ebony dining table that seems endless, no doubt created to host people in company -that is- more than 1 person eating at a time, is my only companion in this spotless, Louis XVI-inspired, cold room. The chandelier drops inches away from my golden rimmed plate -it is supposedly the latest fashion length for this sort of thing -and the pork in front of me is plump, with a red apple in its mouth, making me wonder about how it looked when it was alive.

Dining alone was never my favourite pastime. The crystal, dainty-carved wine glasses, the heavy silver cutlery and the classical music in the background isn’t at all appealing. Not even the gigantic painting,an ode to red, that hangs on the white wall opposite me. Red usually lifts my spirits -not tonight it doesn’t.

“I am working late, I’ll miss you at dinner,” read Dima’s text.

And I wouldn’t mind his absence, if it wasn’t for that silly, red painting hanging on the white wall opposite me.

Bella Nars.