Habiba

A man hastily came out of a phone booth from across the street. It was an odd sight because hardly anyone used phone booths. It was too much of a hassle. Some phones didn’t accept coins but only phone cards. So you would have to go out and buy a telephone card for a specific amount of money. Which card do you want, they would ask in the Tabac; the 20-euro card or the 5-euro card? After purchasing you would have to trudge back to the phone booth. Then punch in the numbers for the person you are trying to speak to. God forbid you can’t reach them, because that would mean waiting around for another 5 to 10 minutes before trying again. Wouldn’t it be much easier to just buy a cell phone? Or pay for it in monthly instalments if you cannot afford one? Habiba wondered. As she completed her thought with the patience of someone winding a ball of yarn, a young man entered the bus stop.

He sat down on the other end of the bench and would occasionally glance over at her when she wasn’t looking. He seemed to be studying her appearance bit by bit, as if scanning her image into his mind. Whenever she would turn her head towards him, he would pretend to be looking elsewhere. After a few minutes of conspicuous looks directed towards her, he pulled out a cigarette and slipped it between his lips. He lit the cigarette with a match, then decisively turned to look at her.

“Habiba Ahmed,” he said in a flat voice with his head cocked to one side, pensively looking at her. He narrowed his steely eyes as if peering through a small hole, then straightened his head and lowered his cigarette. The cigarette smoke laced the air with a thick roasted odour. The young man’s features were distinctly Ethiopian. He had a long nose, slender face, hair so short and curly as if the tiny strands were huddling together for warmth. His appearance looked rough around the edges, like someone you wouldn’t want to run into in the night. He had a slim built like most Ethiopian men, and he was wearing a faded blue jacket and black denim jeans. His hardened face held an elusive stare that moved between curiosity and contempt.

“That’s your name, isn’t it? Habiba Ahmed and your brother is Asim Ahmed.” He smirked when he saw a flicker of fear. “I thought it was you. All dressed up for a night out?” The question sounded more like an absolute statement. Habiba looked down and saw the shimmer of her sequined top. She hadn’t zipped all the way up. He shot her an amused look and even though he was smiling, there was something missing in the expression. It came across cold and vacant like a house with no heat in the dead of winter. A chill went right through her. He patiently puffed on his cigarette as she looked back at him, observing his nails. They were stubby and dark and discoloured from the nicotine. His lips had also experienced some tinting from smoking. They were a stained dark purple, as if they were soaked and injected with ink. A full meditative minute passed before he spoke again.

“Does your family know you leave the house without your hijab on? This is a late hour for a young girl to be out. With no hijab on your head and no brother by your side…nothing but trouble will come for you,” he said menacingly He lightly tapped his cigarette, dropping a small clump of ashes onto the ground. “I read only last week of a girl who was raped by seven men. Seven,” he said holding up his fingers. The men got away with it, of course. That’s how they treat women out there – with no respect. If you’re not careful…” he said, with his voice drifting off.

Habiba furtively glanced at the timer. There were seven more minutes until the bus arrived. There was no one else around, and it was silent with a wind gently moving through the air. After a certain hour, this was one of those streets in Paris that would wind down like a machine turning off.

“Do you know what they do to girls who don’t wear their hijab out in public?” he asked without looking up at her. “They punish them to teach them a lesson. My uncle back in Ethiopia told me a story of a single woman who was caught not wearing her hijab in public. To make things worse, she was with a man who was not her brother or cousin. The girl was dragged into the streets, and the crowd ripped her clothes off and left her cowering like a helpless child, butt naked for all to see.” A twisted smile appeared on his face like a snake slithering out into the open.

“You see, the best way to teach a girl a lesson is to treat her the way the world would eventually treat her. And you have to drive the insolence out of her before it has taken root. Because once she’s gone, there’s no saving her. It would also be better to leave a mark. Pain fades over time – but a mark, a mark would remind you of your sins especially if it’s on the face.” He ran his forefinger across the cheek. “You see my sister, we came here with our culture and our religion. Without them we are lost. Without them, we are just like them,” he fanned his hand around. “Like monkeys living for pleasure with no God and no purpose.”

The sound of the bus approaching floated through the air. He held her gaze as if trying to plant his meaning, deep into her mind. The bus pulled to a stop and opened its doors. The young man stood up taking one last draw on his cigarette, then he flicked it to the ground and crushed it with his feet.

“Don’t worry, today is not the day for a lesson,” he said to her as he walked towards the bus. The driver waited a few seconds then closed the doors. Habiba remained standing until the trail of smoke from the bus had disappeared into the night. Then she let out a heavy sigh and promptly walked away, pulling her hoodie over her head. A leaflet for the club, Le 3W Kafé, dropped out of her pocket and silently landed on the ground.

Lonely Nights

 

There is something different about the silence here. It is a ubiquitous silence, as quite as a morgue in the early hours of a slow day. A silence that leaves a trail in your mind, that only leads back to the silence itself. It wakes you in the night and keeps you from sleeping. It reverberates sound as if clinging to each note for longer than it should. With each new day the silence crystallizes like ice, then gradually melts into the hot air. The days and nights here are clogged with a heat as hot as fumes rising from hell. The temperature only cools between one and four am, which is usually when I drift off to sleep. Before then I am always looking at my husband; wondering how it is that he can sleep at all. I always tell him he is like a bear; if he could, he would sleep for months. His snores blissfully float past me as I stare at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to come like a slow boat sailing in the fog.

 

We live in a small community of less than sixty people, in a remote area close to the lake. I know none of my neighbours. I never see anyone walking around and I never to run into anyone. My husband goes to work at eight-thirty in the morning and returns home at five in the evening. I spend my days doing household chores, reading, sewing or painting. Sometimes when it is not too busy at work, my husband will call me at lunch. We talk for about thirty minutes and I share the mundane details of my morning. Then my husband will then tell me about his, but I never really understand what he’s talking about. I think I would only understand his work if I was actually there, seeing him do what he explains to me over the phone. I give the periodic replies of uh huh – because I am listening. I’m just not understanding all of the mining jargon.

On Wednesdays I do the weekly shopping in town, which is approximately an hour away. I spoil myself as much as I can during this time. It is my only chance to feel like I am a part of a society, and not some lonely alien stranded on earth. On my last grocery run, I had lunch at an Italian restaurant that had recently opened. There was only one other customer when I arrived, and it felt like we were the only two people who had shown up to a church fundraising event. I ordered Pasta Bolognese with a glass of chilled white wine, and for background music, there were the loud staccato slurps of the man seated to my left. He was eating ox tail, loudly sucking and slurping up the tiny pieces of cooked bone marrow wedged between the bones. Fortunately, when my plate came, he was nearing the end of his meal.

After lunch I went straight to the supermarket, and they were having a special on meat. A small group of people were huddled around a freezer, and I overheard one man say it was the best meat he had ever eaten. He said it with such conviction that a few people immediately reached for a meat pack. I asked one woman what type of meat it was.

“It just says venison,” she said. “Wouldn’t hurt to try,” she added then picked up two packs. I caught a glimpse of the meat as she dropped it into her basket. It looked red, very red; as if it had been dipped into a bucket of thick blood before being sealed up. With a subtle frown, I walked past the meat and continued on with my shopping. By four o’clock I had returned home. My husband arrived from work an hour later. We had supper and by ten, we were both in bed.

 

At around eleven in the evening I woke up suddenly. The room was dark with silvery slices of moonlight slipping through the curtains. I sat up and looked over at my husband who was fast asleep, as usual. Sleep was flowing out of me like dry sand pouring out of a burlap sack. I quietly slipped out of bed and went to the kitchen to have a glass of water. From the window I could see a moon so full, it was as if it was slowly approaching the earth. The more I looked at it, the more entranced I became. The moon seemed as if it was the beginning of a question and the very answer itself.

I finished my water and placed the glass into the sink. As I raised my eyes, I caught a glimpse of a distant light through the window. A small, yellow sparkle of light I had never noticed before. A tingling curiosity gripped me, and I went outside to follow the light. I walked all the way down to the edge of our property, and when I came through the trees I saw the clear outline of a small farmhouse. What was strange was the sound coming from the direction of the house. It was a low buzzing sound like a swarm of bees. I was tempted to keep walking; to follow the sound, but I resisted the urge and went back inside the house. For the next two hours I lay wide awake, waiting for sleep to come.

 

The following day I decided to visit the farmhouse after breakfast. After all, we were neighbours. My husband called whilst I was eating; he had forgotten his tablet and asked if I could email him a few of files.

“What are you planning to do today?” he asked me.

“Oh, nothing,” I told him. “I think I’ll just walk around for a bit.”

After we spoke I emailed him the files. I then changed into a pair of boots, and grabbed a hat and my cell phone. There was a field I would have to cross between our property and the farmhouse. I predicted the walk to be about fifteen minutes. Even though it was still morning, the sun was already at its zenith and showing no signs of a reprieve. The wind blew for a short moment, but it just felt like hot air flowing from one space to another. In eleven minutes I had arrived at what looked more like a workshop than a farmhouse. It was a flat roofed building with a sign that said ‘M.A.K. Inc.’ in a large black letters. There was no one around and every window was covered with blinds. I knocked on the door and even tried the handle – the door was locked. The yard had no garden or even a patch of lawn. There were a few trees around but nothing that could be considered decorative, and there were no cars or any other types of vehicles. After I had seen all there was to see, I gave up trying to figure out what it was and walked back home.

 

My husband came home at five-forty in the evening, and at seven we had a dinner of beef stew and brown rice. After dinner we watched a movie, and by ten thirty, even I was asleep. Unfortunately, an hour later I was up again. I woke up with a strange feeling stirring inside of me and instantly thought of the farmhouse. A few minutes later I was outside walking towards it with a torch in my hand.

The air was hot and humid like the Devil’s bathhouse, and drifting through it was the same droning sound I had heard the night before. The closer I got to the workshop, the louder the sound grew. I quickly crossed the field, and when I was a short distance away from the building, I turned my torch off. Thinking back, this really wasn’t like me, but for some reason a persistent curiosity kept nudging me forward. I stopped behind a tree a few feet away from the front door. A minute later, a pickup truck arrived and three men climbed out. Two of them went to the back and unfastened the tailgate, then climbed onto the cargo bed. They dragged out a long sack that was dripping with blood – or what looked like blood, and carried it inside. The third man opened the door and the buzzing sound escaped through. As soon as I heard it, I instantly recognized the sound. It was the sound of meat cutting machines. I carefully went round to the back of the building and hid behind another tree. The blinds were up, and I could see a large room with long metal tables. Inside, were white uniformed men wearing caps, gloves and aprons. There were about ten men in total. Some were slicing meat, and the others were carrying it, to and from the cutting stations. It was a butchery, I thought to myself, but I wondered why they only worked in the evening. The three men who had just entered came out from a side door, wearing the same uniforms as the rest. A man dressed in a white shirt and black pants followed behind, carrying a clipboard. He briefly spoke to the recent arrivals then disappeared into another room. It was just a butchery I repeated to myself, as I slowly moved away, crouching close to the ground.

 

The next morning as my husband got ready for work, I asked him if he knew anything about the butchery.

“What butchery?” he asked.

“The butchery at the farmhouse across the field,” I told him.

“There’s a butchery?”

“Ya, I heard it. I heard the sound of the meat cutters and saw men dressed like butchers.”

“You saw them from all the way here?”

“Well, no. When I was walking around, I saw them,” I mumbled.

He turned and looked at me suspiciously. “Hmmm,” he simply said. “I didn’t know there was a butchery nearby. I can ask around if you want. Did you want to buy some meat from them?”

“No, no. I was just…curious,” I answered.

“Okay well, I’ll ask anyways,” my husband said as he fastened his tie. Today he had a big meeting in the morning. They were giving a report to the executives who were coming down from the city. I stood behind my husband and helped him put on his jacket.

“There,” I said. “Don’t you look handsome?”

 

After my husband left, I couldn’t help thinking about the sack the men were carrying last night. It was oddly shaped; long and thin. Maybe crocodile? Probably crocodile, I thought to myself. At lunch my husband called and asked me how my morning was. I shared the usual boring facts of an uneventful morning, and he told me about his meeting. It had gone well, he said, but the directors wanted to make a few changes. My husband’s supervisor apparently felt the changes were completely unnecessary.

“You know how it is,” my husband said. Honestly, I didn’t. I had worked as a school teacher for children under the age of nine, so company bureaucracies were a foreign thing to me. “By the way,” he said, “I asked about the butchery.”

“Yeah?” I responded, waiting to hear what he had found out.

“Apparently, there are no butcheries around.”

“Huh,” I uttered.

“Are you sure it was butchery? Or maybe it was just a group of men slaughtering a cow.”

“No,” I said shaking my head. “They had all of the machinery and tools.”

“Wait a second, how close did you get? Were you trespassing on someone’s property?”

“It’s not trespassing if there’s no gate – or wall,” I said. I heard him sigh through the phone.

“Is that what you meant when you said you were just going to walk around?” my husband asked.

“Maybe,” I said, and he groaned. I decided to keep the details of my nightly walk to myself.

“Well please don’t go back there, the owner might not like the idea of you snooping around.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Good. I know there’s nothing to do around there but please don’t go wandering around.”

“Okay, I won’t,” I assured him.

“Thank you,” he said in a satisfied tone. To further appease him, I told him I would be painting all day. He was very happy to hear that. We ended our call and I did as I had told him, I spent the day painting the workshop from the comfort of our property.

 

The next Wednesday I drove into town for the groceries. The venison was still on special. I picked up a meat pack and glanced at the favourable price. That was when I saw the letters M.A.K. Inc. printed on a second sticker, on the bottom.

“Delicious meat,” a woman said to me, nodding to the pack I was holding.

“Is it really?” I asked her.

“Oh yes, it’s venison you know. Not too popular around here, but once you try it, you simply can’t stop eating it.”

Really?” I repeated, looking at the meat pack.

“Trust me, and it doesn’t take long to cook, so easy – and so juicy,” the woman said with the voice of an infomercial host. I immediately threw a pack into the trolley.

I didn’t cook the meat that night; I wanted to save it for Friday. That Wednesday I cooked us spaghetti and meatballs. My husband was excited to hear I had bought venison because he had never tried it before.

“It seems like tricky meat to cook, though,” he said with his voice trailing off as if following a thought. “They always have it on those cooking shows – you know, the competition ones.”

I slowly lowered my fork when he said that.

“You’re right,” I replied looking up at him. “Venison is tricky to cook. But she said it was so easy, that it didn’t even take long.”

“Who said that?”

“A woman who was doing her shopping. She had bought the venison before and said it was so easy to cook.”

“Maybe she has cooked venison so many times that for her it’s now easy,” my husband said. I gave him a concerned look. “Don’t worry, you’re an excellent cook, I’m sure it will come out great.” I wasn’t as convinced.

On Friday I searched for venison recipes online and came across an overwhelming number of ways to cook it. I kept it simple and settled on fried venison with grilled potatoes. At five o’clock I turned the TV on and started to cook. My husband came home earlier than usual, and I really hoped it wasn’t the venison that had brought him back so soon. I wasn’t even sure if it would come out right. Once I had finished grilling the potatoes, I started on the venison. The sizzling sound of the meat cooking quickly filtered through the air. At six o’clock the news came on and in the headlines they mentioned the arrest of a politician. Another corrupt official, what else was new? I thought to myself. I flipped the meat over, but it appeared to be reddening rather than browning. As if it had been soaked overnight in red spices and oils. My husband came into the kitchen.

“Is it supposed to look like that?” I asked him lifting the pan off the stove for him to see. He glanced at the meat.

“Mmm, gives new meaning to red meat,” he said. I placed the pan back onto the stove, examining the meat like a scientist performing an experiment. “I’m not really sure,” he said coming up to my side. “Hey, it’s meat, as long as it doesn’t burn it should be fine.” He went into the living room and stood in front of the TV, as I tried to figure out how one knows when venison is ready. The sound of his phone ringing interrupted my focus.

“Phone,” I yelled out to him. My husband patted his pockets then realised the phone was ringing from the bedroom. I rolled my eyes. He smiled at me then hurried out the room.

I suddenly heard the reporter on the TV saying the name M.A.K. Incorporated. I turned to look at the television and saw a man with his head down, being led away in handcuffs. It wasn’t a corrupt politician who had been arrested, it was the head of M.A.K. Incorporated, also known as M.A.K. Inc.

“There had been an increase of people admitted into the hospital with cases of severe diarrhoea,” the reporter said. “All of the patients were said to have eaten meat from M.A.K. Incorporated. The Food Standards Agency opened up an investigation, and it was discovered that M.A.K. Incorporated had been selling human meat as venison, which is deer meat.”

I slowly turned my head and looked down at the pan. Blood was mingling with the hot oil, splitting into particles like molecular cells still pulsing with life. The air was tinged with a strange smell that would rise and fall in the odour of the cooked meat. All I could hear now was the sizzling of the meat, like the hiss of a sharp warning shooting out of the pan. A prickling sensation crept down my arm as a flush of goose bumps instantly appeared. I felt sick. I turned the stove off and dumped the contents of the pan into the bin. Tied up the trash bag and took it outside. When I came back in, I scrubbed that pan so hard it was as if I was trying to remove the coating. I was so disgusted.

“What did I miss?” my husband said standing in the doorway. There was a perplexed stare on his face as his eyes moved from me, to the stove, to the table.

“What happened to the venison?” he asked in a disappointed voice.

Ally

 

“With credit card,” he said, in a raspy voice that scratched through the air. The words were unsettling to her. They began stirring up quiescent memories she had hidden in the darkest corners of her mind. Flickers of flashbacks started to play, with traces of emotion following trails of thoughts. In a matter of seconds, the memories were caving in on her like a cold avalanche burying her alive. A freezing sensation crept up her legs as if her body was being encased in ice – she couldn’t move. Ally just kept staring at the screen, as the numerals continued to blur to the point of looking like an ancient language. The sounds around her melted into silence. All she could hear was the rapid pace of her breathing, echoing like a frightened voice trapped in a tunnel. In an instant she was back there – in the deserted car park with his malodorous grunts in her ear, his sandpaper hands running up her thighs, a string of his saliva sticking to her skin. She could no longer remember what had happened minute by minute –  because she didn’t want to. She had buried it deep into her mind but the smells, the sounds and the feelings, those – she would never forget.

 

He paid for his six-pack of Heineken beer, Marlboro cigarettes, and ready meal box. His face held no expression. He looked like the shell of the man he was the last time she had seen him. Perhaps that was his attempt of tethering himself to this world – of feeling something, at her expense. With robotic motions he packed up his items, dropping each article into a plastic bag. It took Ally a moment to realise he was waiting for his receipt. The man motioned with his head to the white paper hanging out of the machine. Ally ripped the receipt off and handed it to him with a fixed gaze he hardly noticed. He lifted his plastic bag and walked out.

Ally looked at her hand and it was trembling like the last leaf on a tree. She pulled it into a fist and decidedly rushed out as another customer was stepping up to her till. The doors opened for her with a sliding hum, and a chilly breeze of air blew into her face. She brushed back the loose strands of hair and desperately looked around for the man. He was up ahead, slowly walking towards the left side of the car park. From the corner of her eye, Ally saw the glint of a glass bottle. A broken beer bottle was lying on the ground. Ally rushed over and wrapped her fingers around the neck of the bottle. As she lifted it up, the strong smell of liquor slithered through the cold air. With no time to waste, Ally quickly moved her feet as she kept her eyes fixed on her rapist.

 

Ally’s days were filled with constant thinking, mostly mundane and prosaic thoughts as boring as watching a puddle dry. She would churn them out as if they were coming down a conveyor belt and passively go through them one by one. Whether they were fully formed or still in the process of arranging themselves into sentences, really didn’t matter. She was just afraid of quietening her mind. Of allowing the stillness to descend on her like dust settling in an empty room. All she wanted was a continuous flow of thoughts to stop her mind from drifting to that night.

She thought about all sorts of things. Ally thought about whether the cat she had recently found would be lonely without her. It was actually a kitten; a pitiful kitten she had found in a box by the dumpsters. Someone obviously had left it there, so she took it home. The cat didn’t eat much, just a nibble here and there. It had no name, and Ally wondered if anything could truly exist without a name. Perhaps a name would hinder its full potential and promise. Ally remembered hearing someone say that once a child knows a bird is called a bird, they no longer can see the bird. So for now, the cat would have no name.

She also thought about the weather. If it would be another cloudy day or whether it would surprise them with a rare appearance of the sun. The weather, unfortunately, was as predictable as the post – it was always another cloudy day. Throughout her work day Ally would exchange as few as possible words with her co-workers, usually in the form of yes or no answers. She no longer knew how to hold a conversation. She had been working at the supermarket since she was sixteen, and this was now her third year. For the first three years they had her stocking shelves and assisting with inventory. Ally was good with numbers. She proved to be a valuable employee and was soon a favourite with the manager who was eight years older than her. Ally wondered how strange it must be for the employees who were over forty, to be taking orders from a twenty-seven-year-old. It was as if the company was saying if you are older than the manager – then you really shouldn’t be working here. When she finished high school, they moved her to the cash register and she began working the tills. Ally had planned to work there for one more year, then move on. She wanted to start her own business. After that night though, her passion for her business disappeared like a dried out ravine. Everything now felt like an effort – waking up, eating a meal, leaving the house, getting through the day. It all felt… strenuous.

 

Ally scanned the parking lot as she trailed behind him. He was heading towards the back. She hastily moved, keeping her footsteps light. No one would miss him, she said to herself. People like him had no one. If he had a wife, she would have asked him to buy some milk, or a whole list of groceries to keep them stocked up for the week. If he had someone who loved him, he would have bought something that reflected considerate thought for another person in his life, like wine or chocolate. If his wife had asked for just a pack of cigarettes and that was all he had thought of buying for her, then she deserved better. Ally was doing her a service. The world didn’t need people like him.

She watched as he sluggishly walked with his back hunched over, constantly sniffing like an elephant with the flu. At one point he stopped and took out a handkerchief from his pocket to blow his nose. Ally looked behind her to make sure no one was coming. A couple came out of the supermarket pushing a trolley filled to the brim. They didn’t walk far, they stopped by a minivan close to the entrance of the supermarket. Ally turned back to look ahead of her. He was crumpling his handkerchief and stuffing it back into his pocket. She winced with disgust and continued to follow him quietly as he moved.

 

The rape happened when Ally was working late last year. He had been the last customer but she came out nearly half an hour after he had left the store, which meant he had been waiting for her. Ally had parked her car far away from everyone else. She heard him walking behind her and when she turned around, he attacked.

Seeing him today, had felt like her chance to right a wrong. Ally felt the rumblings of the anger she had suppressed for a year inside of her. In a year that anger had grown into something more. It had grown into an absolute rage. A rage burning inside of her faster than a Californian forest fire. Ally remembered her shortness of breath as she tried pushing him off. His weight had felt like a block of cement. She remembered how scared she had felt. Her mind went back to the look in his eyes and before she knew it, she was smashing the broken bottle against a pole. The man turned around and Ally speedily ducked behind a car. Her heart was pounding like a butcher’s mallet hammering down. Ally held her breath and waited. Her eyes moved to the ground and noticed a piece of glass from the bottle. It was the perfect shape for a comfortable hold in her hand. Ally turned her attention back to the stranger and watched his feet from underneath the car. A few more seconds passed then he turned around and continued walking. She slowly stood up with the shard of glass in her hand and followed behind like an attacker ready to strike. The man stopped by a red pickup truck and placed his plastic bag down. His left hand slid into his pocket and pulled out his car keys. Ally started moving towards him with a quickened pace. She didn’t want him to see her until he was on the ground writhing with pain. He would look up at her one last time, and there would suddenly be a moment of recognition in his eyes. He would remember her and would know why this was happening to him. His key was in the car door, but he seemed to be having difficulty opening the door. The window of opportunity was wide open, welcoming in retribution and justice. Ally was a few steps behind him. She could have easily rushed towards him and stabbed him in his neck, but she hesitated. In that moment of delayed action, Ally heard someone calling her name from behind.

The man instantly turned around and looked at her with confused astonishment. Ally quickly moved the hand holding the broken glass behind her thigh. The man continued to stare at her with wonder, and there was no look of recognition in his eyes.

“Ally!” the person yelled out again. Ally turned around without saying a word, then calmly walked back to the store. The person calling her was her manager, and he looked furious.

“You just walked out and left customers waiting! What were you doing out there?! You’re still working!” Ally briskly walked past him without a response and threw the piece of glass into a flowerbed. Her manager threw his arms up and shouted, “Hello! I’m still talking to you!”

Ally headed straight back to her till, her heart racing inside of her chest. An elderly woman came up and placed her groceries on the counter. As Ally was scanning the items, she heard the lady say, “Oh dear, there’s blood.”

Ally looked down and saw drops of blood on the counter.

“It must have been from the meat,” the woman said. She reached for the meat pack Ally had just scanned, and said she would go change it for another one. The woman walked back to the butchery at a leisurely turtle pace. Ally wiped the counter with a paper towel and as she was wiping she noticed the blood was coming from her. There was a long cut in the palm of her right hand, and blood was slowly oozing out. She stared at the cut, transfixed by the crimson drops, feeling no pain at all.

“God, you’re bleeding,” her manager said, stopping by her till. “Don’t bleed onto the register – here, use this.” He handed her a face towel, and she wrapped it around her hand. “Rachel,” he called over to a dark-haired girl, “take over.”

Her manager led her down to his office, and they entered a small room with one ceiling light and no windows. Ally sat down on a high-backed leather chair that felt nothing like leather. A crinkling sound came out from underneath her each time she moved. The chair felt like plastic coated with plastic that was left in the sun to harden like dried up animal skin. The room felt hot as if the heating had been turned up to the maximum. The walls were a mouldy orange and there was a musty smell hovering in the air. Ally looked at her manager as he opened drawer after drawer, searching for the first aid kit. He finally found it and placed it on the desk in front of her.

“I don’t know what’s going on with you Ally,” he said as he took out a bandage roll. He swabbed a cotton ball with disinfectant and handed it to her. Ally placed the cotton onto the cut and felt an instant sting. Her manager then handed her a long strip of gauze. He closed the kit and placed it back in the drawer. Ally silently and methodically wrapped the bandage around her hand.

“Hopefully, you won’t need stitches,” he said to her as he went round the desk to take a seat in his chair. “Like I said, I don’t know what’s going on –”

“I quit,” Ally interjected. She tucked the end of the bandage and looked up at her manager.

“Whoa – now wait a minute Ally. You can’t quit. Okay – whatever is going on – it’s okay, we all have bad days.”

“I was raped in the car park last year,” she blurted out. Her manager stared at her with his mouth wide open. An uncomfortable silence filled the room and melded with the musty odour.

“Are you going to sue?” he asked her, looking genuinely scared. Ally looked back at him in disbelief. Another moment of silence passed as her manager anxiously waited for her response. Ally stood up and walked out.

 

Ally looked up at the sky stretched out like a dusty blanket beaded with dull crystals. Even at night, the sky was cloudy. The wind blew and instantly chilled the air. It was a wind so cold it felt as if it had travelled down from the North, to bring in the new and carry out the old. That’s how it felt to Ally though, as if new life was sprouting inside of her as the old one withered away. Things were going to get better; she could feel it. An exhilarating rush of emotion surged through her. She took a deep breath in and filled her lungs with the frosty air. For a brief moment, everything went silent. She allowed her mind to slip into the silence, like a tired sun sinking into the horizon. As Ally exhaled, the sounds began to trickle back into her ear. She was slowly coming back to life.

 

Marine Serre’s Sensibility

 

Marine Serre predicted the apocalypse before anyone else did. In her Fall 2019 runway show, she sent down models wearing masks she had designed and created in collaboration with Air Pur. Now, nearly everyone is wearing a mask. The 2019 Fall collection was based on a post-apocalyptic world where we would have to scavenge for materials to wear to protect us from the polluted air. This idea was probably brought about by the growing concerns of global warming, little did we know that we would be in what could be considered an apocalypse a year later.

I have been following Marine Serre since she won the LVMH prize in 2017 and the judges said that what had impressed them the most was her business plan. If you have ever watched a Marine Serre fashion show, the one thing you will notice that is different about her shows are the models. She is one of the very few age inclusive designers when it comes to her runway models. Another designer known for doing this is Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga. Size inclusivity is a necessity, but also is age inclusivity. Representation overall is something that is yet to be fully ingrained in the fashion industry. You can clearly see where Serre plans to take her brand; she wants it to be an all-inclusive brand for the families from the grandparents, parents and children. She regularly has children walking her show in mini versions of the grown-ups designs. Serre merges luxury and streetwear in unique but wearable ways with fitted silhouettes and flowy shapes. In her post-apocalyptic show, the look that stood out for me was a long and tailored green plaid coat with a matching mask.  The look was a bold statement and in a way, a premonition for what was to come. Currently, luxury brands such as Prada are now producing masks as a response to the Corona Virus. The pandemic we are in has forced us to acknowledge how connected we are all and the fashion industry is realising more and more how connected fashion is to the world. Designers have been using their brands as a voice to speak on world matters such as global warming, with Gvaslia’s Balenciaga show in which he had the models walk on water as if the earth was flooding. Along with the growing focus on sustainable textiles, the industry is moving towards a much more conscious way of producing fashion. In Serre’s words as she spoke on her 2019 Fall collection, “It’s a safe zone in which a new world is being created, a future world, and a new way to see fashion.”