The Hand Bag
Unlike many of you, who were born out of love, I was created from refined jealousy. My creator’s name is Alina and she lives in a village in southern Romania. I remember her being a beautiful dark haired, almond eyed lady. It was from her that I found out what made Penelope weave that canvas. It wasn’t the hope that Ulysses would ever come back, but mere grief and hopelessness. And if you wonder why she didn’t marry one of the worthy men who were patiently waiting for her hand, I may even have an explanation for that...
You see, while she was knitting me, because I forgot to tell you that I am a hand bag, she was thinking about her husband, George. He had left the country and gone to Spain to find work. He called a few times and then there was no sign from him again. And so Alina was left with two high school girls, puzzled by their dad’s behavior.
After days in which exhausting, unsatisfied expectations tormented her, after falling asleep with teary eyes, Alina woke up one day realizing that she was worried for nothing. The previous night, she dreamed that her husband was safe, but he was now resting in another woman’s arms. From that day she cried no more. She told her daughters that their father was seeing another woman.
‘How do you know that?’ asked the youngest.
‘Know?’ Alina uttered arching her eyebrows, ‘I’ve lived with this man for 20 years.’ She paused and relieved a sigh lowering her voice. ‘It’s almost like carrying him in my womb.’
With surprising calm, Alina took her needles and a yarn and started knitting...little me.
I assume it felt better than smoking or biting her nails.
After she finished knitting me, she started knitting another one, and so many others followed. I was now sitting amongst sisters beautifully arranged like an array of jewels sizzling in the mild sunshine of morning and resting in the shadow of her room in the afternoon. I remember that time as people remember their cherished childhood. But as we all know the taste of happiness will always gain roundness as it is distilled in memories.
Watching my maker every day, I realized the anger was gradually vanishing and this woman was gaining a new kind of glow. While knitting my sisters, she was recapitulating the moments she used to spend with her husband; the simple country wedding when she had to wear a borrowed bride dress, the caresses at sunset, the way she was cooking his favorite dishes waiting for him to come home. And how drunken with joy her husband was when Lucy came, how his younger daughter Anda was relishing his embraces. All these rememberances were so precious to her...so precious that she wanted to preserve them. She felt that she could give up the presence of the man she loved and which had given her a meaning in life, his support, his respect, but not the love she felt for him. She knew then that she was not going to love another man. Every new bag she made ever since she had finished with me was incarnating another variation of longing.
2. The Journey
The day I left the house was the last time I was going to see Alina. Lucy, her eldest daughter, was going to France. I only remember being dumped in a dark piece of luggage and squashed for three days. The next thing I remember is a fat wrinkled face.
‘Oh, this is nice!’ the face said to the younger woman and handed me over to her. She continued: ‘Put it in the window and price it with 7 £.’ Now, how I ended it up in rainy London, I don’t know. I totally lost the plot.
The soft hands took and hung me by the right arm of an eyeless mannequin. So, I watched the people passing by for three more days. It was indeed fascinating. It made me think I used to be a human in a previous life. I was filled with pleasant melancholia. I kept on thinking about my creator and what would she have thought of all the things I saw. I was so used to the rhythm of her heartbeat and traveling through the entanglements of her thoughts.
Change is hard to cope with, especially when it comes so unexpectedly. Being the extension of somebody else’s mind (or hands) doesn’t allow you to have your own self. Now, instead I was starting to have my own little thoughts. It felt both lonely and refreshing. The most exciting part was when women stopped to look at me. I had never been looked at in the same manner before. The first one looked like a piglet and had very thin lips and blue unintelligent eyes. How I dreaded her buying me! Luckily she wanted to catch her bus and so she forgot all about me.
There were also the very elegant ones that would check me out ruthlessly and then quickly go through a mental picture of their wardrobe and realize I didn’t fit any of their outfits. They left me very sad. I felt so useless hanging there all day long.
Meanwhile my price decreased and Tommy came to stay next to me—the teddy bear. Oh, he was a tearful one!
We both swallowed dust together and we heard so much gossiping in the shop. The manager was an awful men-hating woman. She used to say: ‘I don’t need a man!’ at least 100 times a day. And she was always terrorizing the employees.
Tommy told me about his previous owner, Andrew, who grew up and decided his computer was more likely to be his friend. He feared he’d never get an owner again. He thought he was too old and he was also a hypochondriac as well. He was always worried about his seams.
I told him about Alina and her sad love story but I soon realised he wasn’t that much into romance and soon dropped the subject. He never got bought but some scruffy looking urchin stole him. I never agreed with stealing, but that one was quite a good one to watch. The boy looked troubled since he put his foot in the shop. He pulled his mother’s sleeve and said that he wanted to buy the teddy.
‘I ain’t got time for that. Come on, I need to cook supper, we need to hurry,’ said the big mama.
As they went out of the shop, the troubled boy stretched his arm and grabbed my friend. I said goodbye to him through the window and I bet he even smiled.
I didn’t have time to be sad for him, a new pair of eyes were fixed upon me. Only this time they belonged to a man. He was in his late fifties.
Now what? I thought to myself. A gay owner? Well... it can’t be that bad.
But no, he was the manager’s ex-husband. He came in the shop and greeted the clerk. The manager wasn’t there. Thankfully! As he paid for me, he said there’s this new bird he had recently met. And that she was hot and much younger then he was. I was meant as a present for the young lady he was talking about. At that point I started feeling compassion for the awful manager. I suddenly remembered the sadness I was given to witness at the very beginning of my existence. The difference was that Kate, the fat wrinkled manager, transformed her grief in anger and the anger consumed her in an ugly way. I realized that a beautiful feeling like love can be fruitful in infinite ways. It was then when I started seeing everything as a spectator. That was going to make my existence bearable.
Soon enough I found myself thrown on a table full of hashish and sketches of naked women. The whole house was filled with books about erotic art. I have to admit that Robin was quite a talented individual, but I just couldn’t cope with all the porn he was watching. I felt sexually harassed.
Well, enough with that! It’s now time to introduce you to my long-term owner.
I heard the key making that ‘I’m home!’ noise. In came Robin, as this was the porn addict’s name, and Lydia, a tall, red-headed, moderately stylish young woman. She was turning 23 years old, and I was waiting on that dirty table as her birthday present. The guy didn’t even bother to wrap me. That’s how I witnessed all the orgies coming out of that devilish box with moving pictures. Lydia loved the look of me. She even had a charming smile. At the beginning I thought she was a hooker but then I saw how almost embarrassingly naive she was.
She politely thanked him for her present, thinking Robin was a kind-hearted man.
Robin set down two glasses and filled them with red wine.
‘It was very nice of you to invite me over on my birthday,’ she said in crystalline voice. ‘I’ll have to go soon, this girl from Naples said she wanted me to go with her to a club.’
‘Wow, I thought we were going to spend the night!’ Robin said in a voice that was intended to be sensual.
‘Oh,’ Lydia said, ‘I didn’t know you would get that idea!’ She looked sad. ‘I thought we were going to be friends.’
‘Ha ha! Friends? No friendship is worth a thing between a man and a woman without the erotic dimension. And besides, you are such a sensual individual and I’... he prolonged the word dramatically... ‘am an experienced man. You could be my model. And with that body of yours I could make some really nice paintings,’ he said with hungry eyes and a grin that couldn’t be held back.
Lydia’s face turned pale. She was angry and shocked. She had been in the city for only about three months and didn’t have any friends. All she needed was some human warmth.
The man didn’t stop. ‘Come on, don’t give me that sad face! I know how you girls work. You love playing the untouchable. O.K., I can court you a little bit if you want. I know your type. You like to be the inspiration. The muse. I get it! But that’s nice; you’ll make me feel young and clumsy again. But not for too long, I have ladies lined up waiting for me. And besides don’t forget I used to be a model, I can get you to work in the industry.’
Then, something unbelievable happened. Instead of leaving the house immediately she said, ‘Can you teach me how to draw?’ She seemed like a child that was not paying attention to what he was saying anyway, suddenly interested in some other game. I suppose her curiosity was stronger than the fear that she was going to get raped by that despicable man.
‘It all comes with a price,’ he said, trying to kiss her. His dried lips, almost the same color of his face revealed big porcelain teeth. The grimace on her face put him back in his place and she said, pushing him gently, ‘I know, but you said you are gonna court me, and good things come for boys who wait, remember? Muse, inspiration... I never forget the things people say to me.’
So, I thought ...she WAS a hooker. Oh, my goodness!!! More porn, and it was getting worse: live porn!!!
Drawing lesson: Robin started to teach her. He was thinking about what a tough cookie she was, most of the girls were seduced by the modeling opportunity. He was becoming aware of the fact that he was losing his looks. So therefore he needed to reinvent his methods.
The girl was a good student, she seemed fascinated, so good old Robin found another role to play: the mentor. Oh, yeah! That was flattering his ego quite all right!
To make sure that the girl would play his dirty game, the way he was imagining, he kept on talking.
‘I know I am going to play a very important part in your life...’
It was obviously a mistake, as you’ll see…
‘That’s it! You are going to receive your reward now!’ The tone of her voice changed and she seemed to be in a trance. ‘For the lesson!’ The girl started unbuttoning his shirt slowly looking straight into his eyes. Poor Robin thought that was part of a dirty game (and Devil knows that those were his favorite games). After she finished stripping him, she tied him up, saying she liked a little bit of spice in her life. She did all that like a surgeon. No emotion could be read on her face or in her voice. When Robin asked her if she was like that with all her lovers, she smiled in the corner of her mouth, turned around sprightly and took a dirty kitchen cloth from the sink and stuffed it into his mouth before he said anything else.
Apparently Lydia was doing the talking now.
‘So, Mister Robin, I guess I had to teach you a lesson, too. I know that I misunderstood your intentions. I was going to forgive you. I am used to being looked upon in the way that you do. I know you might think that you can entice me with your modeling offer, just because I am a poor immigrant cleaning people’s houses. Believe me, the reason I left my country was not because I wanted to pursue my ambitions. I have none of those. And I think people with ambitions are vain. But that is not the point. I would have forgiven you for that, had you not started saying that you are important for me. Not only do I have to stand people looking at me like I am a piece of shit, I have to let them think of being my rescuers. So, Mister Robin, I am going to call someone from your phone to come and get you. I really doubt one of those lined up ladies of yours will appreciate the way you look in this state. You look horribly unattractive!
And if you want to paint me you will have to do it out of your memory. Because I am pretty sure you won’t be able to forget this easily.’
She took off all her clothes and started looking through his phone. I think she called his daughter, because I could read on the man’s face that he felt no joy seeing Lydia’s body in all its perfection. On the contrary. Then she put her clothes back on and she thanked him politely for her present and so we both left that apartment. I was happy she didn’t leave me there. I felt safe and protected held by her rough hand that seriously needed a manicure.
Lydia regained her calm. She jumped on the bus and beeped that rectangular blue card over a yellow circle. Perhaps that was the way people paid around here. I had never been in a bus before. I was excited and curious. I was welcomed by a multitude of faces expressing happiness, sadness, tiredness, boredom, etc. I contemplated that beauty born out of randomness.
She smiled and said ‘Hi’ to the bus driver, to which he responded with a neutral nod. Most of the drivers never said anything to her, but it didn’t matter because she thought they all felt lonely letting all those crowds in. She thought crowds were the places where she could really experience loneliness. She felt cold and was shivering. She allowed herself to sit down. She looked at me. And played with me for a while. She had the happiness women experience when a new item has entered their womanly world. An item that will make them look differently. That would praise the beauty of a certain part of their body, frame their faces in a beautiful way or make their waist look slender.
I felt I had a purpose for the first time and I felt loved. And she was a beautiful specimen of a woman. She was pretty, but not necessarily aware of that. She had wavy red hair. She had a few freckles sprinkled over her prominent cheeks and very dark big eyes. She had a cheeky looking smile but as soon as the smile vanished, it retracted into that beautifully constructed face with an after-shadow of sadness.
We felt good together. Like a mother reading a book in a room and her son playing happily because he felt the presence of his mummy. Both living in different worlds but connected by the blessing of intimacy.
5. The Lost Sheep
Lydia lived her life up to the point when she met me with the fear of failure, but thanks to her arrogance—which seems to be the main fuel for young people, used in their pursuit of defining the world in no more than two sentences—she was trying to get to a common denominator, and for her, that translated itself into a petty philosophy: she had to give up all ambitions, because if there was nothing to lose, then one had no fears.
Now, as with all utopias, this one had its own downsides. I mean, seriously, could anyone live a life like that? Especially in a place like London, where there was so much to do. But what do I know? I am just a handbag! If only I had two pairs of limbs and a head on my shoulders. I know that what I just said has been said to young women billions of times, although in a more human way.
Lydia just blissfully existed. That’s what she thought, or, better yet, that is what she wanted to think. She believed that people with ambitions don’t see the things around them as they ought to. The sun, the sky, the beautiful strangers that one meets every day, all the treasures that we have around us without relishing them. (blah! blah!)
It dawned on me that she must have suffered something major in her life, a great loss, because she had the same look on her face that Alina had: the kind of exquisite beauty only nostalgia can bring to people’s faces. That has always been my favorite aspect in humans. They seemed to work as alchemical ovens when, after they had soaked in interminable sorrows, their beauty would then change from innocent to inspiring. And their beauty was inspiring because they reflected something universal. Their egos ended up rumpled, but their souls gained freedom. They were the ones that functioned as mere mirrors of wisdom and stoically embraced that.
Lydia was in many ways the epitome of the lost sheep. I have seldom wondered whether these people who deliberately got lost loved their Creators less than the others that follow them. But, before you think I became a philosophical handbag, I’ll get back to my story.
The surroundings were mirrored by the steamed windows. The city was performing all those rhythms synchronized in its secret music. Lydia started drawing funny faces with big eyes through which she looked outside, happy she will not be observed.
Romanian born, Roxana Haloiu is currently working for an independent film company in the U.K., where she has an online show called Roxi. This is her first published short story.