Friday, February 05, 2010

Children of the Lie: Chapter Nine


The Children Of Circe Are Gathered

Anne sat on the end of the bed, watching Jo pull the narrow, black comb through her hair. "That would be easier with a brush," she offered. Jo gave an extra tug at the comb. Anne went on: "I think your hair looks better combed the other way." Ignoring this second suggestion as decisively as the first, Jo made a last, futile effort to bring her hair to order.

“Damn hair. It never does what I want," she muttered, flinging the comb down upon the side table and commencing a seemingly unsuccessful rummage through her bag.

"If you want your lipstick," said Anne, "You left it in the bathroom."

The bag soon followed the comb in an equally irritable fling onto the side table.

"You don't seem to be in a very good mood. Did you get out of bed on the wrong side?" Anne asked in a voice both curious and querulous.

Jo rubbed slowly at her forehead and then said wearily. "No. I'm just a bit tired. I had some really rotten dreams last night. I can't remember much about them, but I felt awful when I woke up this morning. There was one dream I’m not sure what happened, but there was this black man and he was carrying the body of a dead fox. I was in this room and he was coming toward me ...crazy stuff," she finished, throwing herself down onto the bed. "I bet you don't dream, miss goody two shoes," she flung as an afterthought, as Anne sat with a bemused look on her face.

"Not much. I think I am too tired to dream. Or maybe I am living my nightm are and don't need to dream about it," she said with a hollow laugh. "Anyway, I don't think it means anything. Dreams are just something to keep you from dying of boredom while you are sleeping. Television for the torpid ... that's all."

Jo shook her head: "No. I think there's more to it than that. I think dreams try to tell us things, in a way they try to tell us who we are."

"Oh yes. And how many black men do you know, not to mention dead foxes!"

"Don't be silly," said Jo, flinging the pillow at her, "it's all symbolic ... the message is hidden."

"Very well hidden if you ask me," Anne laughed as she reached out to catch the pillow. She raised it above her head as if intending to throw it back and then, thinking better of it, placed it instead on her lap and smoothed the creases from its puffed, plump face. "Do you want to go to Delhi next week with Jan?" she asked.

"Why not. I have nothing better to do. I wanted to do a bit of travelling anyway before I left and it will be much nicer to have someone to go with."

"He's good company, there's no doubt about that," smiled Anne.

"How do you know him?" Jo stretched out on the bed in an effort to make herself more comfortable.

"He was our parish priest in Perth," Anne replied, hugging the pillow to her chest. "He is the most lovely man. Even Richard didn't mind going to mass. He said Jan was the only priest he ever heard who gave a sensible sermon. Richard likes him because he is a man first and a priest second."

"Yes," said Jo with a wistful air. "It's a pity about the priest bit, because he is really quite cute."

"Priest or not, he certainly has a way with women."

"Oh, does he?" Jo looked shocked.

"No, no. Not like that," said Anne quickly." He doesn't have his way with women ... they just adore him. I am sure nothing ever happens. He is actually a very formal man, quite old-fashioned in some ways and of course, a dedicated priest. I think it is just that he really loves people. Not in any sort of sickly, goody goody, trying to be a perfect Christian way ... but in a warm, truly loving way. He enjoys people, that's it, and he's very relaxed with everyone. He's good to talk to... and sympathetic. I guess that's the bit that women like, and yet, he's a real man's man too. Quite a treasure all in all."

"It sounds as if I shall be in for a lively time," said Jo, as the sound of heavy footfalls passed by the door.

"It sounds as if the man in question is up," said Anne, hopping off the bed and straightening her clothes. "Come on. I'll organise some coffee and breakfast. He has the most enormous appetite so you can entertain him while I get things ready."

Father Paul Jancowitz was a man with a huge appetite, and not merely for food. He embraced life with a deep and abiding hunger for all that it was, and yet, he was nourished well by the spiritual plenty which he found within his faith. He wanted no more than that all others should reach out and find sustenance from the same source. Born to a Russian mother and a Polish father, who had emigrated to Australia shortly after their marriage, he grew up, as one of two sons on a few acres of land which his parents turned into a bountiful market garden, some miles to the north of the city of Perth.

The local parish school was small, but the nuns were kind, and he learned perhaps a little more than he would otherwise have done, with less understanding teachers. School learning did not come easily to him, although his acute intellect was revealed on those occasions when he was allowed to devote himself to the things he liked. He pored over books on astronomy and would lie out on the back lawn through long summer nights, scanning the brilliant jewels of the jet-black sky for the planets and stars whose names he knew by heart. He did not understand why his younger brother could see nothing in the glittering heavens ... not even the Southern Cross, that mark of Christ which claimed the sky throughout the wide, red land.

He also loved magic and had found a book in the local library and taught himself more than a dozen simple tricks within days. But his mother found the book and said such things were evil, so he returned the it to the library. He had decided by then that he would dedicate his life to working a different kind of magic, and this would be in the name of God. He set his sights on becoming a guide of souls at a young age but he never lost his love of practical jokes and was a perennial tease.

Both of his parents had imbued him with an abiding faith and it stood him in good stead. He had never doubted God's plan for the world, not even when his brother was diagnosed as schizophrenic in his late teens; nor when his brother followed the strident voices out to the back shed and blew them finally from his brain with the barrel of a shotgun pushed high up into the soft flesh at the back of his throat. He did not begrudge his brother peace and he could not bring himself to believe that what he had done was a mortal sin. The suffering had been so great, for the entire family, but the more so for the sad,and tortured youth, that his crumpled body, in bloody but final peace, had seemed more to be a blessing than a damnation.

While this vicious death had not shaken his faith, it had served to soften his beliefs. Paul Jancowitz had never been an intractable man, but there was a determination to his spirit and a stubborness of mind, inherited from his mother, which was well served by a little loosening. After that day, when he found the remains of the boy he had called brother, and washed the last of his tormented brain from the corrugated iron walls, he found within himself a greater yielding of spirit ... both toward God whom he sought to follow and to all those who sought to follow him, as a servant of God.

He made a wonderful parish priest. He had the ability to imagine his way around a situation, to move in and out of it, play with fantasy and as a result, come up with solutions. From among the many possibilities, he would discover the one, new solution and so dissolve the problem, both at a personal level, where he was firm kindness in itself, and at a general level, where he was an entrepreneur par excellence. There were those who believed that he was, in some way, possessed of a magic wand, so easily did he overcome obstacles. There was no border which could hold him, no boundary which could not be moved. He wrought miracles with the parish balance sheet within the first year, proving himself to be a fount of ideas for the successful raising of funds. The additions to the parish school were completed within two years instead of four.

His was an engaging personality and people adored him in an instant; both men and women. He warmed to people and they felt it. His manner was so human, so real, that few failed to turn toward him in absolute trust. He guarded the boundaries of life, keeping safe track of the ravages. He had a power to heal the hurts of the mind and the soul. It was a gift that he held in awe, knowing as he did, that it came not from himself, but through himself. He had a free and open attitude to sexuality, while holding close to himself the truth and beauty of the teaching of his own faith. It was an area, he believed, where it was all too easy to be obsessively literal, when, in fact, it was flexibility which was more often required.

Love of a woman had come to him once, had lodged itself in his heart. But he remained true to his vows. He watched this frail and yet powerful thing from the distance of his mind and marvelled at its glory. The woman had worked with him. She was young and she was single and he had no doubts that she returned his love of passion; this bitter-sweet trembling of the soul. And yet, there had been no chance that he would renounce his vows and turn away from his chosen work, for there was also within him, a part which wished to remain alone, inviolate; a part of the self which he would not or could not share.

He knew himself well and he knew that while God could understand when the limits of his love were reached, no woman could. It would not have been fair, to have given her a mere portion of himself when the truth of love demanded that he offer all. They had parted and he took with him the knowledge of love, of what it can bring and what it can take. He knew more than he had known before and it helped immeasurably on the many occasions when he was called to counsel those who fretted within the constraints of a troubled marriage.

He demanded of all who sought his aid, however, that they make their own decisions. He could guide, he said, but he would not lead them like dumb sheep. They were not slaves and therefore should not seek to follow slavishly the beliefs of others. He was not perfect, he said, and they should not think him so. He had many faults and he knew and admitted to most of them.

There was also within his soul, a wandering spirit, and when the chance came, he went where he could, seeking always that other road. It was what had brought him to India. He was between parishes and had sought leave to spend time at the various missions which the Catholic church still had within India. It was also a holiday of sorts, for, since the death of his parents, he had independent means that were not insubstantial. His wealth was not great ... that would not have been right, but it was enough to allow him to travel every few years. He did not believe that it made him a better priest to be possessed of no monies; deprivation, he had discovered, was not a good teacher. Giving away all that one possessed and never moving beyond one's parish, might appear noble, he had reasoned, but it was also very boring and must ultimately lead to a narrowness of vision. Travel, he stated with confidence, broadens the mind. Visiting other countries, and at times, even living in them, had taught him much about himself and about others.

His inheritance had been wisely invested. He was a young man and he intended to live to be a very old one. There was a great deal of the world which he still wished to see and if that required some clever planning, then so be it. There was a craftiness about him which brought him safely through the tricky turns of life. He was, as they say, 'street-wise,' and it stood him in good stead in the world at large, this man who sought to guide others in the ways of God.

The traffic was moving at a crawl. It had taken forty minutes to reach that corner, which revealed at its turn, the Haji Ali Mosque. Through the hem of dusty cars Jo could see its silvery silhouette, rising out of the murky monsoon waters, just a little way offshore. A trail of pilgrims, bobbing, ant-like, trod the narrow cement causeway between mainland and mosque.

“It's beautiful isn't it?" said Jan, leaning across to peer through the window on her side. "Look at the line of those minarets, so delicate all looks to be floating on the sea. Wonderful. Wonderful.” He was touched, as always, by the desire of the human spirit to reach out to God ... whatever name that God was given. He was true to his faith, and believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was the one true faith, but he also believed that the sincere search for God was holy in itself and that whatever the name that was used, God, who was all, was within the seeking. That each person searched for the same thing and came from the same source was a truth by which he lived. This mosque, this glorious, graceful reaching, was merely a sign that the masks of God were many, and that any true revelation would bear within, the signs of its own perfection.

He believed, unwaveringly, that whatever was done in the name of God need not be rational; but it must be beautiful. It was a cause of great sorrow to him that so many things which were carried beneath the banner of God, and of Christ, for it was true also of his own church, were neither rational, nor beautiful. How could anything be of God if it were without beauty? It could not. The mosque was beautiful; therefore it must be of God.

Jan settled himself back into place, his hand resting along the back of the seat. He was a bulky man, thought Jo, although cuddly would be a better word to describe his generous girth. The thought also crossed her mind that it would be very nice to snuggle in under his arm. It was actually quite well muscled and she wondered if he had been a sportsman in his youth. It spoke of strength and protection, she could do with some of both. She suspected that even if she did follow the urge to seek comfort, he would not mind, would not deem it unusual, but would simply continue to chat as they drove along, pointing out things of interest. She did not of course, follow her urge; she remained, neatly propped on her side of the car, her right leg crossed toward the door.

They were on their way to one of the outer suburbs to see the nuns. Jan had asked her at breakfast if she would like to come along. The Missionaries of Charity had a number of missions around town ... for the sick and dying, for the mentally handicapped, and for orphans. He wanted to go out to the orphanage first as he had some mail to deliver from the mission down south. He had handed the scrap of paper to Lawrence, upon which the address was scribbled and received an enthusiastic shaking of the head. Yes, yes, as always, Lawrence knew exactly where this was. He would take them there. They would not have problems. It was not however, one of Lawrence's better days: yes meaning not only yes in India, but also no, maybe and,I haven't got the faintest idea where this place is but we will go driving anyway and who knows, perhaps we will find it.

They rattled down numerous crowded streets and bumpy lanes and Lawrence stopped time after time to ask directions...always with the same result. The addrress would be shown, the head would nod enthusiastically up and down, arms would wave here and there in a vigorous pointing; Lawrence would nod his head with equal animation and return to the car with a broad smile, and yet, each and every time, they would be no more successful in their quest.

"I think we are going around in circles," Jan whispered after a time. "I am sure we have passed that same corner at least twice. It's obvious that none of these people know what he is talking about but they cannot admit to such ignorance and so they make out that they do and wave and point and send us off in some direction feeling that they have done what they have been asked to do. They have given directions. The fact that they are meaningless is irrelevant. I think it is time to apply a little logic to this exercise."

He leaned forward in his seat and tapped Lawrence gently upon the shoulder, saying as he did: "Just pull up to the side of the road please Lawrence.” He then proceeded to instruct the by now, somewhat rattled driver as to which course should be followed. "First," he said,"we must find out if we are in the correct suburb." It transpired, perhaps not so surprisingly, that they were not. This answer was easily given and so Lawrence was instructed to drive on until the correct suburb was reached. At this point, Father Jan told him, he should then ask for directions to the church, any church, it did not matter which one. There could not be so many and in that way, eventually,the destination would be reached. And it was so. Within less time than expected they drove up to the front gates of a church in Vile Parle and discovered it to be the one which was required.

The crowd around the gates moved to one side as the security guard within opened one small section to allow them entry. The orphanage was in a building situated at the side of the church. It offered a home to some seventy children, many of them brought from the countryside after being abandoned; most of them girls. Father Jan quickly made a big impression, striding confidently as he did across the compound. Perhaps it was his height and size, or perhaps his warm and all embracing smile. They could not have known he was a priest, dressed as he was in a loose cream shirt and brown, cotton trousers. On the night of his arrival he had worn a tiny gold cross in each point of his collar but on this occasion he wore nothing which marked him as a man of the cloth.

The nun in charge, Sister Regina, was delighted with the arrival of the good Father, and even more so by the bundle of mail which he brought with him. She was a woman somewhere in her mid-forties, of Anglo-Indian extraction, who had spent some time in Calcutta but had been sent to Bombay, the city of her birth, some seven years earlier.She was happy with the move. She honoured her vows with intense devotion but she could admit to herself that she found greater joy in her work with the children at the orphanage than she had done amidst the slowly decaying bodies of the sick and dying which had been brought in off the streets of Kali's city.

That she loved her work was easily seen. There was a serenity and a joy to her smile as she moved amongst the rows of cots and cribs. There was not a lot of space within the crowded orphanage, but there was always room. The tiniest babies lay in one small alcove; barely born scraps of humanity, naked but for a wrap of torn cloth around their spindly legs. In a second room, rows of cots ranked around the walls and across the centre. As they walked in, small faces peered between bars, and little hands reached out; a desperate plea to be held. The eternal aching cry for human contact. It was not that they were not cared for; they were. They were fed and washed, and, when time permitted, they were also cuddled. But there were too many babies and not enough hands. The babies sat, for much of the day, within the square of a cot, bars against bars; each with a small toy lying beside them. Some did not even look up as they walked past; for these children, the reaching out had stopped. They lay in listless stupor, having learned, in a few short months that life had forsaken them, and so, they had in turn, forsaken life.

Jo turned toward the reaching arms of one bright-faced tot, with curly hair, glittering eyes and wide but fearful smile. She took her in her arms and felt the tears, warm and gritty, gather at the corner of her eyes. They were alive, but to what end? They had probably been abandoned because they were girls. They might be adopted, or they might not. Indians were not comfortable with adoption, and, if they were forced to such extreme action in order to secure a child, then it would be a boy. There were some overseas adoptions, that was true, and for most of these little girls, that was the only hope. But like many other countries, there was a sense in India that such children were better kept within their own culture, even when, within that culture, they were doomed to an institutionalised childhood and a perilous future.

She looked across at Jan. He held two children, one cradled within each broad, encompassing arm. Each baby lay limply against his chest. He had picked up two of those children who did not reach out; instead he had reached out to them. He too had tears in his eyes. It came time to leave, but in truth, there was never a time to leave such a place, but they had to, all the same. Jan had made arrangements for the afternoon and had to get back.

Jo, moved the little girl to one side in order to place her back in her cot, and found, as she did, that two hard, tight little hands had taken her collar and were holding on for dear life. As she pulled at the ball of tiny fingers she felt as if she tore away at her own humanity. If she could have taken the child she would have. But such things are never as simple. It was not that she could not have handled another child in her life, with her own two fully grown, but what about the others, the voice screamed at the back of her mind. It was not just this little girl but all of them; a room full of them, a country full of them, a world full of them; children who wanted nothing more than love. And the fact was, this little girl would be one of the survivors, she had reached out and grabbed at the small chance of life which had come her way. Those in the greatest need were the children who had stopped reaching out, the children who had given up ... like the two which Jan had taken, who lay now, returned to their cots, as listless as ever. They had made no protest at being put down. They had not tried to hold on. They had no faith in life, however it came to them. They had no faith in love, and one day, they would no longer believe that it could even exist, and then they would die.

They were both silent on the long, slow drive back. Jo wept quietly into her handkerchief for a time, and Jan blew his nose, with a vigorous flourish, at least twice, into a crumpled and somewhat grubby handkerchief. He also patted her hand from time to time and as they neared home, mustered the composure to say to her:"There, there. Such things are hard. We must pray for them. You did what you could. One moment of love is better than none at all. You gave that little girl one moment of love more. It is worth it for that. It is enough.”

Jo nodded, still unable to speak. He went on:"I also slipped a few rupees to Sister Regina. That will help. You mustn't forget that those children are alive ... they are clean and they are are not hungry. They have a chance. It may not seem much but it is better than nothing.”

“But those children," snuffled Jo," those children who just lay there ... like zombies, alive and yet dead.”

“Yes, the little lost ones," he said sadly, with a slow rocking of his shoulders. "They will probably die, but they will die with love and with dignity. That in itself is worth something. There are some who are born without the strength for life; without the will to fight. You cannot make them other. Perhaps if they had been born into a normal family they would have survived, but they would always have been weak; they would always have suffered at the hands of life. For many people life is cruel, and it is the fittest who survive...not the best, I am not saying that the survivors are better, they just have more strength, more will, to fight against the odds."

"But it doesn't seem right," said Jo, her voice gaining strength," just to say that there are weak ones and strong ones and the weak ones will probably die because life has dealt them a cruel hand. It's the job of the strong ones, the fighters, to help the weak ones, to carry them if need be. Surely that's what makes us civilized!”

“Are you a fighter?" Jan asked quietly.

Jo sighed:"I am now. I had to learn to be.”

“And did someone carry you?"

She thought for awhile and then smiled slowly:"Yes, a number of people friends, my children, even the staff at the hospital where I admitted myself when I knew I could no longer go it alone ...yes, from time to time, I was carried."

"And so how did you learn to fight?"

She shook her head, puzzled:"I don't know really. I suppose I decided one day that I had to and then, it was there ... it was inside me. I was stronger than I thought I was."

"It is love which releases strength," said Jan heavily, "love of self, which comes from others. That is what is killing those children ... a lack of love. And even the ones who survive, the born fighters, they will grow up crippled, because it is love which feeds the human spirit, nurtures the soul ...only love."

The sun was warm on her face, gently soothing. She had taken refuge at the Breach Candy Swimming Club. After the events of the morning she did not want to be alone in the house. Jan had dropped her at the gates and then rushed off to another appointment. There was no sign of Anne and Mary was busily cleaning in the kitchen. She grabbed her bathers and a towel within minutes and fled back down the stairs. A taxi was passing just as she walked through the front gates and rattled to a halt as she raised her free arm.

The pool grounds were largely empty; a few children played on the lawns and a gathering of mothers, round-faced, curly-haired and thick-thighed ... Russians, by the look of them, were lined up along the wooden benches which overlooked the main pool. The biggest crowd by far was created by the swarm of crows which shrieked through gravelled throats from the tops of the tall trees which grew on either side of the complex. Perhaps they were merely informing those present that this was monsoon, the season when all self-respecting foreigners fled north, or perhaps south or west or east, depending upon which part of the globe constituted home.

The crows seemed to be displeased about something. Perhaps it was the lack of people, and the resulting shortage of scraps. When monsoon clouds rolled across the skies, there were very light pickings indeed to be had at the grounds of the Breach. They had a long wait ahead of them. The crowds would not return until mid-August when the school year resumed once more and the expatriate hordes accompanied the return of the long, dry days of sun.

Jo reached into her bag and searched around for the letter from Susie. It had been waiting for her at home and she grabbed it from her writing desk as she hurried from the room. She was excited about the prospect of news from home and sat for a moment, holding the envelope to her chest..Susie had used blue stationery and written in green ink. It was not the most successful of combinations but her handwriting was large and round, making the task of reading, just a little easier. Not that Jo liked the contents of the letter. Susie seemed to think that she was complaining too much, was failing to understand the people or the land.

“Easy enough for her to talk,” she muttered to herself and to the crows who had begun to hop closer around her. She watched them for awhile, sleek of feather and sharp of beak and then turned back to her letter. Susie did go on a bit but she had taken the trouble to write, it was the least she could do to actually read it. Jo yawned. She was not really in the mood for explanations. The morning had given her a sense that some things were beyond explanations. That was something Susie would not or could not understand.

‘Perhaps India is the land of forgetting,’ Susie wrote, ‘ the land of illusion, where nothing truly is and all is swallowed in some great primeval soup of anonymous extinction. That's what their religions are about, in the main, maya, the illusion that life is what we see and the extinction of self, the belief that spiritual perfection must lie beyond the world of the material? What you see around you is a people who are called upon to deny the self, but you must not assume that they are unhappy. This is their destiny, their place in space and time: it is their karma. Perhaps their destiny is to live life in an unconscious state, exploring whatever world is thrown up, and, more to the point, accepting whatever life offers. It may not appeal to us but then we are called upon to live differently. It's very easy as a foreigner to deny the validity of someone else's quest for truth. Just because you do not recognise it as a truth does not mean that it is not one. It is no more than ego to want to change things. All that you and Anne have to do is learn from it.”

“I don’t think I care what Susie thinks,” Jo grunted to the crows, and they cawed in agreement. She folded the letter with more than a little irritation. “What would Susie know ... she apologises to plants before pruning them!” Jo felt herself becoming hot and bothered, as much by the growing sense of the sun as anything else and knew that she would have to move into the shade. A trickle of sweat ran down her face as she gathered her things together and walked over to sit beneath a large mango tree. She signalled to one of the waiters for a fresh lime and soda and settled back down on the grass.

Trying to understand India was impossible, it just was what it was and that was the end of it! Susie had some idea that different parts of the earth gave off different energy, flavouring the people who lived there. Perhaps she was right and we all had less choice than we thought. Jo found it somehow comforting to think that she was powerless to change things, especially now, living in India where she had not the slightest idea of what she could do about the horrors which surrounded her. And what on earth was she meant to learn? The question hung uncomfortably in front of her, as such questions do. She was not even sure any longer why she was here. India was meant to be a holiday, an escape from home but it was not at all relaxing, instead it was more demanding and at times more awful than anything she had expected.

It was so different, and at times it frightened her and yet within the experience there was also an acute sense of belonging as a human being, of sharing life in another form. Beneath their culture, beneath all that they had learned, or believed themselves to be, the Indians were just like everyone else. Whatever people thought they were, everyone came from the same source. All peoples were the result of mixing; even the Indians, it was simply that it had happened so long ago. Everyone came from the same source and every race was a mix of many.There was no true people which remained constant; the only constancy was that of creation, the endless formation of new societies, new cultures and perhaps, new nations. Everything was changing all the time and she was helpless in the face of it.

Jo shuddered, both at her thoughts and at the clouds which had begun to gather at the back of the brown, belching sea. They looked ominous. She decided it was time to go home. The rains had been stopped for the past week, but there was a menacing grumble, deep in the throat of the ocean which lay just on the other side of the stony sea wall. She looked up at the threatening sky; the kites and crows were ranging above, in restless circle, caught on the breath of the strengthening breeze. From the far ocean side, the gulls rose screaming, as if in fright; a winged, wild wave to fading brightness, they rose, high up in the sky, far above the whispering crash and sand-choked sigh of the breakers which fell, in an endless churning upon the grey, gritted sand.

A shadow began to fall across the tall apartment blocks which surrounded on all sides; darkening even more the shades of weathered cement, each with its slinking skirt of black mildew. There was a sense of storm in the air as she drove home; she could almost smell the rage and fear of its gathering, and the wind bit at the back of her ankles as she ran up the drive to the house.

She heard Anne's angry, almost hysterical voice as she walked through the downstairs door. Lawrence and the watchman were both sitting on the bottom step, grinning from ear to ear, smoking the skinny local cigarettes. They jumped up to let her pass. By the time that she reached the top and rang the bell, the voice had fallen silent. A damp-eyed Mary opened the door and then scurried away. She found Anne sitting in the lounge room, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“I thought you gave up smoking years ago," said Jo tentatively, placing her bag neatly by the side of the chair and sitting down.

"I did," replied Anne sharply. "I only smoke now on the rare occasions...those rare occasions when I figure that since I am about to go totally insane., or.kill somebody or myself, I might as well run the risk of lung cancer.”

"Bit of a bad day then?" responded Jo gently, as Anne puffed away furiously at the cigarette, her eyes quivering with unshed tears.

"That stupid, stupid girl!," she muttered through gritted teeth. Anne took a long gulp from her drink, straight whisky by the look of it and then turned to Jo and said:" She cleaned my silver, my antique silver, with steel wool." She formed the words carefully as if she did not truly believe what she was saying. “It's ruined, utterly ruined. I had this beautiful sterling silver box which I bought in London, sixteenth century, and now the top of it is all scratched... . I could kill her. I could really kill her. She has done this before and I have specifically told her not to. I have shown her how it must be cleaned, told her only to use a soft cloth and when we run out of silver polish she must tell me. But she is so stupid, or wilful, one or the other. And do you know what the fool kept saying to me: 'But Madam, it was not shining...I have made it shine!' I could have hit her.” Anne's face was gripped tight in a violent seething; her lips were pressed together, white and bloodless, and her eyes glittered in a mixture of rage and grief.

Jo had never seen her sister so angry. She could see also, in those same eyes, the crouching fear: the hidden companion of hate. It seemed to be something of an over-reaction to the ruination of a small piece of silver, which could, at some time in the future, be easily re-silvered. But it was not about silver of course, at least, it was not solely about the silver. It was about everything and it was about nothing. It was about the futility of trying to maintain standards in a world where there were none; it was about cherishing beauty in a world where there was little to be seen; and it was about maintaining power in a world where she felt powerless.

"God I hate this place," Anne said heavily as the first tears began at last to roll across the graceful ridge of her cheekbones. "How I loathe and detest it and everyone in it.”She cried quietly, far too quietly for the rage which was within. She sat firmly on the sobs, allowing herself only the shedding of a few dignified tears. It was not enough, but it was better than nothing. The tears fell into her glass as she continued to sip at the whisky. Jo sat silently nearby. For the moment there seemed to be little else that she should do. When at last the glass was emptied and the tears had stopped as suddenly as they began, Jo spoke:” You know, when we hate someone or something it’s usually because they or it represent some part of ourselves which we don’t accept.”

"Oh Jo, I really don't need this now," replied Anne wearily, rolling her head from side to side against the back of the chair. "Do you have to analyse everything?”

"I'm sorry," said Jo, feeling contrite. “I was just trying to help. You seemed so upset and I know how hard it is for you. I've seen, since I have been here, just what an achievement it has been for you ... living here.”

Anne sighed and rubbed at her temples where the unrequited sobs had decided to settle their account. “I don't really hate them," she said slowly, "I just hate someof the things that they are, some of the things which they do and almost all of the things which they say. You don’t really understand, you can’t know what it is like. I mean, I have told her so many times and she keeps on doing the most stupid things. It gets to the point where I’m not sure who is mad, me or them!”

The sigh when it came seemed to be without end and she turned toward Jo with damp and sorrowful eyes: "The truth of it is that I don't like who I have become in India," she said in a hollow voice. "Every morning I wake up with a bitter taste in my mouth either from something I have said or something I have left unsaid. Richard is much more pragmatic. He doesn't feel any sort of responsibility. He says it is all just a game. He doesn't feel he has to change things. He says he doesn't agree with most of the things that they say but he reasons that his pointing it out will only succeed in alienating them ... it won't make the place any different. He says they will discover in their own time that there are better ways to organise society. In the meantime he endures India and dulls it all with another Scotch. I decided that perhaps he had the right idea and I should follow suit," she finished, raising her glass in the air with a wan smile on her face.

"Well,it's a rather temporary solution," responded Jo, knowing that she sounded disapproving and wondering why, “and it can make things worse.”

”But," said Anne," it is better than no solution at all." She got up and walked to the drinks cabinet to refill her glass. "Do you know," she went on, as she sat back down,”when I went back to Perth last time, I hated that as well. I remember waking up in the morning and opening the curtains in the hotel room and being smacked in the face with all that bright blueness, the sky and the river .... and the lawns in front, so clean and so green. It was like another world. I couldn't believe I was on the same planet. For a moment I wondered if I would just wake up and find myself back here in this hell-hole. I had forgotten what the world could be like; or perhaps I simply feared that this creeping cancer had gotten out while I wasn't looking and devoured everything else. I hated my friends too. Well, I didn't really hate them, I just hated their neat little houses and their neat little lives, going to neat little churches, and there I was...knowing that life isn't really neat and tidy ...knowing that what they had was so fragile, so rare. “ Anne turned the glass around and around in her hands, her lips were pressed tightly together as if to hold the words inside.

“It must have been hard,” said Jo, trying to fill in the yawning silence.

Anne fixed her with a furious stare and said: “What would you know, what would any of you know? I wanted to scream at them all that they were just playing games; they were telling lies to themselves; this wasn't what the real world was like ...and yet it was the real world, or at least, I wanted it to be the real world. When I truly believe that this is the real world," she added, " waving one arm toward the window," that the shitheap out there is the real world, then I will truly kill myself.”

”Can't both worlds be real?" Jo asked softly.”

“They sure can," Anne replied with a bitter laugh. "And they sure are's just that there is more of this world than there is of ours and from the way that I look at it, they seem to be winning. Well, I for one will go down fighting. That's why I keep my rage, even though I fear it will kill me in the end also protects me. Otherwise I will just fall into the blackness with the rest of them. I feel sometimes, that ... I’m imprisoned here and it’s only my anger which keeps me sane, relatively at least. It's all I've got against that out there!” Her voice rose to a high, shivering note as she rubbed all the harder at her pounding temples “ But the worst thing about it all,” she went on,” is that this bloody disgusting country has shown me up as a fake. !” Her words ended in a stifled sob and she rose slowly to her feet, smoothed the creases from her skirt, and turned and walked from the room.

Jo sat in the silence, feeling still the crush of the words and the heaviness of the pain, which was far, far greater than any hatred. Poor Anne! She who had never failed at anything before had finally committed the greatest sin of all... she had failed herself. There was no greater failure for those of her kind. There was also no hope of salvation from any other than herself. In this instance, she could not even seek forgiveness from her God; at least not until she had forgiven herself.

The anger came from her own fear of annihilation and she fought against almost insurmountable odds. It was a battle that she could not win until she knew her own darkness, until she could recognise her own shadows. Until that time, all would be as one and the black, menacing world within would become merged with the one which lay without. The dark, primitive impulses threatened her from all sides; the forces were full opposed. That they threatened to tear her asunder, to destroy her, was without a doubt; that they also offered the opportunity for reconciliation, for transformation was still lost to her.

The fires of consciousness would have to burn bright, before Anne would be able to find her way. It was within her mind that she would have to balance and reconcile the opposites; where she would enter the tomb of herself, in order to return to life. She was dismembering herself within her own unknowing, and it was she and she alone, who could complete the task of re-membering. She was both the chalice and the wine, the womb and the tomb, the destruction and the resurrection. She was her own salvation, yet she knew it not.

She wandered still, in that wasteland of her own making and there she would remain until she asked of herself the question that could heal. No-one else could ask it. There was no path through the diseased and ailing land, only the will to find a way. Jo had learned that, but she could not share the knowledge with Anne, until her sister recognised that the stricken and wasting world lay as much within as it lay without and that the power to heal herself rested in her own hands.

The silence grew within the house, while outside all fell silent as the winds were sucked back into the chest of night. There would be no storm. There came instead, an almost breathless quiet and when the rain began to fall, it came, in a timid fluttering; a light beading upon the window panes.

They came upon Kamathipura suddenly. For a moment it did not seem so .different to the other suburbs through which they had passed. But it was different; here was one place at least where the birth of a daughter brought joy. This was the place of the 'cages,' the red-light district of Bombay. Jan wanted to see one of the women who worked the seedy streets. Jo was simply curious. Her name was Ana, Jan said, and she was the daughter of a woman who had died recently in the south. He knew the family through the mission where he was working and he had known them well enough to be sure that no-one would write to Ana, the lost daughter, to tell her of her mother's death. They would no longer even speak her name, such shame did she bring upon the family. That they accepted in silence the money she sent them, was a different matter altogether.

Jan had told the old woman, as she lay dying, that he would find her daughter when he was in Bombay and he would tell her what had happened. The drifting, distant eyes had given no indication, either one way or the other, that the old woman wanted this to be done. Even if she had rejected what he proposed, he would have done it just the same. That the daughter, no matter what path she had taken, had a right to mourn the death of her mother, was without question. And so he had sought the help of a social worker, Nita, who promised to find the woman and send them word when she had. The call had come the previous evening.

Jan searched through the window on his side for some sign of Nita who said she would meet them in Shuklaji Lane, while Jo looked around her at this squalid, but amazingly lucrative place of prostitution. It was a place as much of children, as it was of women and the men who paid for their services; for not only the children of the prostitutes wandered the filthy streets, but of the whores themselves, some twenty percent were below the age of eighteen and almost as many were below the age of sixteen.

Young girls were considered to be good meat in this bustling market place; not surprising then, that the birth of a girl child should bring rejoicing. To the pimp, she was immediately marked off as a future source of income, to the brothel-keeper, she was that premium prize, a virgin, and as such would bring a high price; at least once; and to the money-lenders she was a valuable pawn to be secured when her mother came to him, as she invariably would, for money.

The street was paved with square blocks of cement and the rooms ranged along either side, with doors and windows barred, for greater security: It was this physical self-imprisoning, which had brought it the name of 'the cages.' Pieces of clothing hung across the chipped and broken wood of doors and window-sills; even here, there was always washing to be done. Many of the women stood by their doorways; those openings into Stygian depths; others sprawled on charpoys laid out in the slush of the street, or squatted, scrawny knees close to their chins, in a bird-like gathering on the doorsteps.

They were dressed brightly, in the main, in richly coloured skirts and tight-fitting tops of shiny fabric, but some wore drab saris, and yet others were in Western style dresses; there was something in fact, to suit the taste of every man, no matter how jaded his palate. If they shared one thing it was a dullness of eye and a set of face which spoke of the most unspeakable boredom. They said little, even to each other; moving only to scratch listlessly at their bodies. Small, pinched faces peered from their pigeon-holes; women of the night before the age of ten, they waited, just like all the others, for the fall of darkness and the coming of the men.

Children played in the streets, darting nimbly between the heaps of rotting garbage; jumping to avoid the swipe of a hand; running barefoot, with all the energy that their scraggy bodies could muster. Dressed in dirty rags, they roamed the putrid alley-ways in search of childhood. The younger ones, those below the age of ten, could still laugh, in a free and innocent bubbling from the heart. They knew that their mothers were dhandas, they knew what the price of an hour was, and what it cost for the whole night. They knew about condoms and how to use them and about the aphrodisiacs which were sold at every street corner in the area.

They knew too, all that happened in the name of sex, but they did not truly know, not as yet, what it all meant. When they learned that, they would become sullen, and then they would no longer play, but would sit, without smiling, along the sides of the road. Some of them would choose instead to stay inside, hidden in the darkness of the room. Others, especially the boys, would run away, knowing all the while that there was not far to run. The room was at best, a temporary haven for come six in the evning the children would be fed and then, thrown out of their homes, they would be left to their own devices until the following morning while their mothers worked the night.

The very small children would be allowed to remain inside, pushed beneath the rough wooden bed; beaten back into silence, should they disturb any of the succession of men who came to share it with their mother through the long hours of darkness. The lucky ones would be given opium to keep them quiet: respite in the realms of blissful ignorance. As soon as they could walk they would be put to work cleaning the room and preparing it for the next customer. They would work especially hard in the mornings because their mothers would be catching up on lost sleep.

It was perhaps appropriate that much of the facade in the otherwise dingy street, was painted blue. However worn and faded it all was, there came with it still, a sense of the sky and sea-green, those colours of infinity, of peace and compassion, of gentleness and caring; feminine colours, the blue of the cloak of the Holy Mary; the shades of the Mother Goddess. Since ancient times it is blue which has been known as the ray of love, the colour of truth, of revelation, wisdom, loyalty, fertility, constancy and chastity ... it has also been known as the colour of rigidity and self-righteousness, behind which, some may seek to hide, believing their intentions to be honest, and yet, all the while, manipulating reason for their own ends.

The truth of Kamathipura, was far more likely to be, that one of the pimps had come upon a source of cheap blue paint, mislaid by one factory or another, and so had made a commercial killing in the district, bringing as he did, although unwittingly, a touch of sky brightness to the wretched place.

There she is," said Jan suddenly, waving one arm through his window. "Come on," he added, opening his door and disappearing in what seemed an instant. Nita, who was wearing a cotton kalwar sameez in a busily printed fabric of yellow and green, appeared to be in her early twenties, although there was still about her, something of the child. She had been working with the children of the prostitutes for the past year. She was not yet married and her parents did not know what it was that she did. They would not have approved. She loved the children and she wanted to make their welfare her life's work, although she knew it was unlikely that she would find a husband who would approve of such a thing. She had yet to make up her mind as to whether or not she had the strength to oppose her parents for the sake of her chosen career. She hoped that she would not have to. She was young enough to believe in miracles.

"Hello, hello," she said cheerfully, as they reached her, rocking her head from side to side and flashing the most glorious of smiles. She had a wild curl of hair, which framed a small, thin face of pointed chin and rounded nose. Her eyes danced, and while she was not pretty, and would perhaps have trailed in any serious marriage stakes, she had about her the quality of some slight, bright elf. That the children knew her as their fairy queen could not be doubted for they thronged about her in laughing dance, each seeking desperately to gain her attention. She shushed them with a laugh, which was as close to a tinkle as any human being could get, and promised that she would be with them soon, but first, she had some work to do with the gentleman who had come to see her. He was a man of God and they must be very good and very quiet while she talked with him. They were not of course very quiet, but they were reasonably good and while some wandered off to play, keeping her always in sight, the others trailed slowly behind as she led the way to the house of the woman who had lost her mother.

As they made their way through the press and huddle of the lane, she told them about her work. She ran a school for the children whose ages ranged from five to fifteen and although it was non-formal, it was an opportunity to provide some education for them, some hope, however meagre. These children wanted to learn so desperately and yet without money there was little hope. Even if their mothers did save the money to send them to a proper school they would be cruelly rejected as soon as the other children found out where they lived, for then they would know, just what work it was that their mother did.

These children were outcasts wherever they went, condemned as pariahs by the society at large, for no other reason than the accident of their birth. Many of them, she said, were fiercely possessive of their school, or their 'home,' as they called it, for the bare two rooms offered them more acceptance and normality than the cramped space which they shared with countless others and which would otherwise have been called home. The girls especially had to fight hard to come to school, both against their mothers who may want them to stay home and clean and scrub and the pimps, who did not want their young meat ruined by education.

Jo felt compelled to ask why it was that so many of the prostitutes had children. It was, explained Nita, the one thing which they could do which put them on a par with respectable women. The child was the one human being with whom she could relate with human dignity. Until the child reached the age of understanding, she would have total acceptance; some sort of love. It was one way in which she could enter into a tangible human relationship: it was the only one which offered anything genuine in an otherwise shallow and meaningless existence. The prostitute, with the grubby little child clinging to her worn sari, had given birth in order to know love. She had wanted to give love and to receive it in return. That she believed in love, was at least something, Jan remarked.

Jo nodded in agreement but she could not help but think that there was something cruel about these babies, born out of a quest for love, but doomed to a life of exploitation and misery. She wondered how long the love lasted. At least they had someone like Nita. She couldn't offer much, she said, but it was better than nothing. The school was a place of refuge. There were rudimentary lessons in history, geography, biology, and also time spent on drawing, dancing and singing. It was the last three subjects which the children preferred, if only because they were, in the main, hyper-active and sometimes neurotic. That they needed to yell and scream, to jump up and down, to fight and even to belly-dance when the fancy took them, was accepted. They led brutal lives and the cruelly suppressed energy needed to go somewhere.

Many of them were scarred without as well as within, from the beatings and cigarette burnings which were a frequent form of punishment from the pimps and brothel owners. There was Ashok whose face was a mass of scars, burns driven deep by the press of live cigarette butts, and Vikas, who would carry to the grave the imprint of the horsewhip which ripped across his bare buttocks when he was four-years-old; and Ajay, who tries to squeeze the breasts of his teacher in greeting, because that is what he sees happening around him. And there was little Sushama, a broken tearing of a child, twig-like; her mother dead, she was fed from time to time by the pimps, in order to keep her alive; she would be fattened when the time was right. She clutched to her brittle chest a dirty, plastic doll, its bald head covered with a bright scrap of rag: she hugged it tight to her heart with the wide-eyed joy which belongs to any little girl in possession of a doll.

At one time, said Nita, she could give them milk and bananas but it was not possible any longer because of financial constraints. There was also a chance that the school itself would be closed when the current funds were exhausted. Such projects were not popular; the prejudice against these children was very strong. And yet, she told them, without such schools they would have no hope at all since it was almost impossible to bring them into the normal school system. It was held by many that such children were tainted and would, in turn, blight all other youngsters with whom they came in contact. Some shelters and boarding houses, which could otherwise offer an alternative, openly refused to take prostitute's children because it was believed that they would 'spoil' the other children. While some prostitutes did succeed in sending a child, usually a son, far away to be educated in safety, most did not. This, said Nita, was why her work was so important:if the children were to be helped then it had to be done here.

They stopped at last by a narrow doorway. From between the heavy stones, pushing bravely from a minute bed of earth, was some green and reaching sapling. It was a palm tree; or it would have been had it chosen some more hospitable place to take root. It was doomed, but for the moment at least, like the little children, it gloried in life.

Nita led them up the feculent, unlit stairs, through the nauseating stench of this crushed and apathetic life. They passed a succession of women and child-women, all with heavily painted smiles, draping themselves in a variety of seductive poses. There was Salma, who had been brought to Bombay when she was twelve by a friend of her family who promised to find her a job. She found herself instead, enrolled in the world's oldest profession. After a fortnight of torture she received her first customer. Her rates were sixty rupee for the whole night and twenty rupee for an hour. While she made anywhere between eight hundred to twelve hundred rupee a month, she earned only one hundred rupee for herself. There was Mira, all of twelve years old but wise in the ways of the world. Her parents had sold her in marriage when she was ten years old, to an Arab sheikh in his sixties. He had paid an enormous dowry for her and after two days spent in a hotel in her home town he had been taking her out of the country. But she had been found crying on the plane by one of the air hostesses and had blurted out her story and begged to be freed. Her husband had been arrested and the court had ruled that she be returned to her parents. Her parents were enraged at the fuss she had made. Her mother beat her, and then, some months later, when it was felt safe to do so, she had been bundled off to Bombay in the custody of a woman she called aunty but who was better called pimp.

She was an object of shame she was told and her family no longer wanted her. She was threatened with an even worse fate if she should try once again to return to them. She had not of course. Children learn quickly. Many of the child prostitutes were the victims of incest. There was Sushama, a fourteen year old girl who had been sold to a brothel by her own father following incest. The girl was now twenty, and said Nita, was still in a state of shock. She was also syphilitic. Many of the girls had been abducted, like little Geeta, who had been brought from the north and sold and re-sold into various brothels and forced into sexual intercourse with seven to ten males every day. By the end of the first year she had contracted tuberculosis.

Quite a few of the little girls had been brought from Nepal; some as young as nine. It was easy to see why, said Nita, there was great poverty in the country, most of the people were illiterate, and, in the main, the girls were also fair-skinned and attractive. The girls from Bangladesh were popular too, and cheap, relatively; one for the price of three scrawny cows. It was a busy trade across the border.

Many of the prostitutes too were devdasis, those who had been dedicated to the Goddess Yelamma. Despite the fact that the system was banned by law, some three thousand or more girls, aged between nine to fifteen, are ritually dedicated each year, usually on the full moon of the eleventh month of the Hindu calendar. When the red and white beads are tied around her neck she can no longer marry, she is devdasi. In the old days she would have remained with the temple, but now, in the modern world, she will find her home in Kamathipura, or some other such place.

There was a terrifying enormity to the problem, said Nita, and now with AIDS it was even worse. More than sixty percent of these women and girls tested positive. She shook her head as she conveyed this last piece of information. The light, bright smile had gone. And they had arrived. The door in front was that of Ana, the woman they had come to see.

She was younger than Jo expected; swarthy of complexion and pockmarked, just a little, on the rise of each cheek. She wore a scarlet sari in shiny, cheap silk. The room was bare, apart from a narrow, wooden bed and a small side table, upon which lay, a neatly placed round mirror and a green comb. She looked, thought Jo, so ordinary and hers was no more than the rough, bitter-sweet love sought by sailors in any port.

She nodded her head slowly as Nita introduced them and then explained that Father Jan had come to see her. A flash of something akin to fear lit for a moment the dull depths of her eyes, and then, as Nita translated to her, what Father Jan conveyed in English, there came a deep howl, born in the depths of an anguished soul. It poured from the woman; a cry of pain and fear and terrible rage. Jo found herself holding both hands to her chest, as if to protect her own heart. Jan looked stricken, and yet, he must have expected at least this. But the grief was so real, so great, and so much more than a mere mourning for her mother's death. It was that extra, unexpected power, which reached out and shook viciously, all those who stood within the room.

When they left her, in the care of two of the other women who had told Nita they were friends, each felt as if they had taken something terrible into a life which had more than enough of its own horrors already. And yet, it had had to be done, and perhaps in the final awful grieving, which was both for her mother and for herself, the woman Ana, would find some semblance of peace.

As they drove away, Jo looked back through the rear window. It seemed strange to be able to walk into and then out of such a place when so many within were irrevocably trapped. It did not seem right that they should enter and then leave with such ease. A little girl watched them as they went. She looked to be about five years old, standing at the corner, her coal black skin in stark relief against the purest white of her dress. The garment appeared to be new: shocking in its purity. Her long, black hair was pulled back from her forehead, tied at the top of her head with a trailing of thin, white ribbon. She looked for all the world like some freshly frocked child about to take her first communion, except for the fact that she was barefoot. Standing there on the dusty path, watching, waiting, she looked for all the world like.....

........Adriane, the woman who had stood by the hospital gate, day in and day out, watching and waiting for the return of her lover. She too had been barefoot. She said it allowed the earth to speak to her, allowed her to walk the music of her own making.

Adriane’s hair had been long and straight, tied in a ribbon at the top, but her trailing locks were the colour of ice and the ribbon was black, as was her dress. She had been forty-one, with milk-white skin and soft, grey eyes; beautiful of body still, while yet rotting of mind. She had been married by then, for some twenty-four years and given birth to two sons, and yet she believed, that she had become once again, a virgin: immaculate. She waited, for the arrival of her lover, her hero, her lord; he who would surely come, even though he had never existed in any place other than her head. He would carry her away and to him, only to him, would she give of her perfect, unsullied self.

She came from a place deep within the heart of the country. When she was barely seventeen she married a man who owned a cattle station. Her father had died the previous year and she was sent to live with a maiden aunt. She was nine when her mother walked out with another man. She saw her father's pain and she learned that to love brought only the hurt of losing and so, unknown to herself, she chose a man whom she could not love. That he had married her almost solely for her looks meant the match was doubly doomed.

In the beginning each found enough satisfaction in the physical union to bring an element of contentment, but as the years passed, each began to sense that the agreement between them was less than honourable. It had never been a conscious thing, and that of course, was the problem. Neither could she acknowledge that he or she had played an active part in the creation of this arid reality. The anger came, in its own good time, and in the course of things, that too was replaced, by indifference and apathy, enough to see them through the middle years. But then, almost without warning, came the time of hatred: a slow and bitter drip upon the soul.

And so they had lived, the last five years, held together in the bonds of holy hatelock, until that day, when they found her, out behind the water bore, crouched down in the blood-red dust, naked, gnawing at the raw haunch of a calf; engrossed in a sharp, white tearing of the flesh. They sent her south; banished such Dionysian frenzy from their realm. She was forsaken by both husband and full-grown sons: they possessed no stomach for the orgy of passion which had been released. They feared her nocturnal ragings; shrank at her awful shriekings. They decreed that the dance of madness would be done alone, and they would not listen to the drums.

Jo met her, some many, many months later, after leaving the hospital. She ran into her in the city. Her hair was cut shorter, but still hung straight, ice-white, either side of her face. It had been strange to see her out in the world, so lost had she seemed when Jo first knew her. She would not return to the north, she said. She had a new life, a job, and she hoped that the divorce would leave her with some money, but if not, then it did not matter; it was enough to be free, to know her own self at last. She had seen her mother again, after so many years and come to understand that her leaving had been more of a separation for survival, than a desertion. She had been clinging to things which were not real. She had fled from the truth into a loveless marriage and become the bride of death. And when at last, she sought the underworld, had entered the labyrinth, that realm of both hell and the soul where life is found or souls are lost forever, it was her mother for whom she searched. Her decision, never to love again, after the suffering of her mother's betrayal, had merely doomed her never to live. In forgiving her mother she had begun to put back the pieces of her own self; begun to live again. That she in time found herself to be the mistress of the labyrinth was unexpected.

In the end, she had met herself at the gate: it was she who came to her own rescue. She came as her own hero, her own lover. She became woman in relation to her own powers, not as defined by relationship with others. She promised the doctor, she had confided to Jo with a laugh, that she would stay away from steak tartare. She in fact became a vegetarian, having found, that for the time being at least, she could not stomach meat of any kind. Perhaps it was that which gave her milky skin an added translucence, a shining, or perhaps it was merely happiness instead.

She was still a virgin, she said, if only because she had given birth to herself and been renewed. It was not perhaps in the sense of hymen intacta, she had added with a wink, but in a symbolic sense and that was far more important. She believed that she had something pure and unsullied to offer, both to herself and to the right man when he came along, as she knew he would ... but even then, she would remain a virgin in the truest sense ... a woman unto herself.

To think of Adriane now, as they drove away from Kamathipura, seemed somehow strange and yet the figure of the small girl had taken the hand of memory and dragged it into the light. Perhaps there was a link, because these women too watched and waited for their lovers, day in and day out, with the same sense of helplessness and perhaps madness that had possessed Adriane. But she had found a way to freedom, a way through to herself and that was something which could never be for the women of Kamathipura. Their destiny and culture condemned them to remain forever as they were, circling the boundaries of life in a cruel and foolish dance.


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