The Bag in the Cupboard. Part Two of Three.

The funeral arrangements were made by the Mother on auto pilot, she had no help. She planned the wake, complete with sandwiches, tea and coffee. The husband was no help, completely useless by being perpetually drunk.

The funeral was hard on the family. The viewing of the body distressing, the Grandmother collapsed and was taken to hospital. The dead girls favourite song was played, her older sister devasated. The husband, still drunk, thanked everyone sincerely for coming and sharing HIS grief. The Mother did not cry.

The Grandmother was put on a plane, to be consoled by family living in the USA. The Mother breathed a sigh of relief. The husband, still drunk, refused to return to his business, the couple became bankrupt. The Mother still did not cry.

The family moved to a neglected old farm, miles out of town, where they did odd jobs and lived rent free. The elder daughter was put on the school bus every day, and came home in tears every afternoon. The Mother investigated and found the dead girls favourite song was played frequently by the bus driver She spoke to the driver, he did not play the song on the bus again. The Mother still did not cry.

The Grandmother returned from overseas, only to remember the horror of the past. The Mother now had another member of the family to look after. She supported her family by propping them up mentally and physically, always with the veneer, a smiling face. The Mother still did not cry.

In time, she gained a reputation. They called her the Ice Maiden. She did not celebrate the anniversaries of the death, she did not place Memorial notices in Newspapers. She did not visit the Cemetary. She still did not cry.

Two or so years later, while visiting an area hundreds of kilometes away, the Mother saw an acquaintance from the small girls pre school days. The woman asked, “How is ****** and *****? The Mother stared in horror. She answered ” ****** is well and ***** is dead”, turned her back and walked away.

Some years later, the couple divorced. The Father still drunk, moved to another State. The Grandmother still griefstricken, pulled herself together and started to live life once more. The Sister fared a little better, until becoming a Mother herself.

And the Ice Maiden? With no-one to support and prop up, she had time to think. She suffered a nervous breakdown, gave up her job, and was housebound for two years.

To be continued.


The Bad in the Cupboard. Part 1 of Three.

Five children, aged between 7 and 10, playing, laughing, enjoying a day full of sunshine. Two live there, three are visitors.

One of the three comes accross a well, this is a cause of great excitement. He has never seen one before, and calls the others over. Between them they manage to lift the lid, and peer down into the gloom, unable to see the bottom. It is 120 feet deep.

One older boy gives one small girl a shove, she looses her balance and starts to fall. The girls sister, 2 years older, grabs frantically at her clothes, unable to gain purchase. Finally, she manages to hold on to a foot encased in a sneaker, her little sister dangling precariously over the edge. Both girls are screaming for help. The other children do not come to help, they stand mesmerised, staring. As if in slow motion, the shoe and the foot part company.

There is no initial splash, just a dull series of empty sounding thumps echoing, as the small girls body bounces from one side of the shaft to the other. Eventually, after what seems like many minutes, there is a loud thump, and a small splash. She has reached the bottom of the well, and the end of her young life.

A little after 2 hours, her body was recovered and bought to the surface, smashed to pieces like a broken porcelain doll. The skull in 3 pieces, with one beautiful eye completely missing.

The parents identify the body. It is an horrific sight. The father suffers complete nervous collapse, and has never spoken of the event since. The grandmother blames herself, as she was minding the two girls. She still cries every night. The sister’s life is never the same again, she blames herself because she let her sister fall. The event will haunt her to the end of her days. The family are never able to live in the house again. The well was their water supply. The eye is still down there. The marriage dissolved under pressure.

Finally, we get to the mother. She was working that particular day, satisfying the craving for money, to support her Western lifestyle. She also blames herself, of course.

This event was I hope, done in the innocence that comes with childhood, in a land where there is no war.

It is bad enough a child dies, let alone being killed in war.

To be continued.

Yesterday’s Children

This is subject to copyright and written by my Mother, the book is Yesterday’s Children by Elizabeth Yoel Campbell, and the 2nd edition is being released later this month. The book has been edited by Carolyn Karam-Barkley, who has done a brilliant job.

“Although I am not quite 80 years old, I have yet experienced life as it must have been lived in the Middle Ages. For the first few years of my life I lived in a walled city with great iron studded gates and narrow cobblestoned streets, flanked by two storey high adobe walls. Small latticed windows pierced the walls at the highest level and strong solid doors, always locked, barred entrance to the stranger. What goes on behind those doors is impossible to tell. Is it a rich man’s abode, light and airy inside, with priceless hand woven carpets, silk cushions, golden ornaments, perfumed lamps and bejewelled harem wives, or a poor man’s home, a warren of dark rooms and darker passages, where maybe twenty families live, four, five, six to a room? No, no one can tell from the outside. For one does not want to attract the evil eye, nor the attention of the greedy and fierce tribesmen, who from time to time and without warning, descend on the hapless inhabitants of un-walled cities, to sack and pillage, then withdraw to their mountain tops, where no government troops dare to follow”.

“Our town walls are as thick as they are high, and when all the visiting caravans bringing in their wares from far off places like Samarkand, Bukhara, Isfahan, Khoisan, Baghdad, Basra and places further to the East are safely in, the gates clang shut and afterwards only a special permit from the Governor, or knowledge of the password can let you in or out”.

“Inside those thick walls are granaries and storage’s for all the necessities of life to feed the inhabitants in times of siege or famine, and barracks for the soldiers who guard the walls twenty four hours a day, always on the lookout for trouble, inside or out”.

“By sunset the caravans have arrived at their destinations in the great caravansaries to seek food, shelter and rest for the night, after their arduous day long journey from their previous night’s shelter across the desert and the interminable mountains. They open out on to the great bazaars to give easy access to travelling merchants to barter or sell their goods, purchase local wares and make ready to set off with the caravan next morning”.

“There are acres and acres of bazaars crisscrossing each other, covered and vaulted, the only daylight coming in from the skylights set 25 feet or more at the apex of the arches. To us children, the bazaars are an enchantment, a wonder filled Aladdin’s cave, a visit there to be prayed for, to be dreamed about”.

“Just before sunset, after the caravans are out of the way, the streets are swept clean and water from goatskins is sprinkled on the parched ground to cool and settle down the dust, in readiness for the call to evening prayer. I can still smell the fragrance of water on parched earth and the Petunias growing inside private gardens…and then, thin and sweet in the evening air, comes the lilting voice of the Muezzin from his high perch in the minaret towering over all other buildings”.

“By now everybody is heading for home and wherever he is, on hearing the Muezzin’s call “Lah, Lah el Inlah, Mohammad Rasul Allah” ( Allah is great and Mohammad is his messenger), a Muslim spreads his prayer rug, which he has carried with him all day, to answer the call to prayer several times during the day, turns towards Mecca and performs the rituals of his faith without embarrassment. The prayers over and the Muezzin now silent, he picks up his rug, shakes and folds it reverently and goes home to his waiting family”.

“At our home, as in every other house, oil lamps are being lit now. Some are very beautiful, gold and ruby glass, others in poorer families are made of tin. In warm weather, most people have their evening meal and then sleep on the flat roofs of their houses, for the city is malarial and troublesome mosquitoes stay close to the ground, in the damp vegetation of the garden”.

“Out in the street all is quiet now, gates locked and barred against the evils of the night. But on the roof tops all is light, alive with laughter and expectancy, for this is the time for the main meal of the day and the man of the house, having toiled all day, is eager for his dinner and time with his family. This is the time for fragrant pilaf, spiced yearling lamb, chilled sherbet and yoghurt and many delicious fruits of the land. The lamps and lanterns are alight, tablecloths laid, and dishes set out in readiness. The roofs have high parapets for safety and to guard privacy, but you know that people are on their rooftops all over town, because you hear laughter and whispering voices nearby, and see the reflected light from lanterns on parapet walls in all directions stretching in to infinity, or so it seems to me”.

“It is quite dark now, the voices around us stilled in sleep. The servants have cleared the remnants of the meal and gone down to their own quarters somewhere in the depths of the house. Finally, we are sent off to bed to sleep under the stars, which is absolutely magical. The deep silence of the night descends and wraps us round in slumberous peace. For a while I lie awake on my back gazing at the stars in all their glory, so far, far away. But tonight they do not seem so far away. To me it seems that I could stretch out and pick one and keep it for my very own. I gaze and gaze, fighting off sleep, wondering if somewhere out there among those millions of worlds, there are other little girls who would like to be my friends and come down to play with me. As far as star gazing goes, I am a true daughter of those far off Assyrio-Babylonian forebears who first turned star-gazing into astrology and then into a science”.

“Something wakes me up. Not a sound, (apart the perennial chatter of Sufi Chai, (the river) outside the city gates) light or whisper anywhere. I listen and listen and then-yes-it is the sound of donkey hooves on cobble stones down below. I run to the parapet and climb on to a chair. In the pitch dark I see a lantern bobbing up and down as it approaches and then just for a brief moment a man comes into my line of vision, running ahead of his master astride his donkey, to light the way. The master is a Mullah on a mission of mercy, perhaps to be at the bedside of a dying man. For no-one (except on illicit business) would be out at this time of night without a pass, or knowledge of the password. Papa, being a doctor, knows the password, which is changed every few days. The ‘word’ is passed on directly to Papa by the Governor himself, the two being close friends. Papa is at the Governor’s compound almost every day, for there is always someone sick in his large household.”

“As the Mullah’s light is swallowed up by the night, I hear the Town Crier’s voice approaching and every few metres he stops and calls out at the top of his voice ‘It is now …O’clock and all is well. Sleep well all of you true believers, for Allah is Great’. Then he too vanishes from sight. I still do not want to go back to bed for I am waiting for something special. Then I hear it, clippity clop, clippity clop, the sound of horses hooves of cobble stones and the chink of weapons on metal. They too come into view and by their lanterns I see they are armed to the teeth, fierce looking men – and they have to be. For this is the Night Watch and because of them we all sleep more soundly. They too vanish in the velvet darkness, the noise of their passage gradually diminished by the distance”.

“There is a hush now and all the world is sleeping. The silence is so deep and eerie that I seem to hear dim, unintelligible fairy voices singing the songs of Arabian Nights Sirens and calling me from the stars above. Suddenly I am afraid and very lonely, I no longer like the night. Finally I find Mama and Papa’s bed and climb in to be held in their arms and comforted, before being carried back to my own bed. I am happy now for the night holds no more terrors”.

“The night is warm, the breeze has dropped and the poplar leaves which have been rustling all night as if singing a lullaby to the children of the land, are quiet too. All nature seems suspended, waiting for the rising of the sun and the renewed life it brings with it. That is good and I am happy, for I like playing in the sun”.

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