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By chance, now I see the other side

by CP 

Posted: 04 September 2004
Word Count: 1274
Summary: Anna's suggest to reverse the theme I took for 'Someone I know' Another one a long time coming!

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Her days are spent outside the supermarket. She was pregnant but I haven’t seen her with a child.

I felt the need to help her. The money I intended to give her was not going to change anything really. Nothing was. The motives for my sudden urge of charity were horribly selfish. My ‘comfortable world’ was on the brink of mass-destruction…hers was an on going aftermath.

I paid for my less than 5 euros worth of groceries with a 100 euro bill. As I turned to leave, the woman from outside the supermarket passed its glass front. She had given up for the day. It wasn’t how I had planned it. I was going to walk out of the supermarket, say hello, discreetly give her some money and go home.

I ran out of the supermarket and after her. With a lot of ‘Ummming’ and ‘Excuse mes’, finally I managed to get her attention.

I approached her and gave her the crumpled notes that I had in my hand and mumbled something about her having a child.

I hadn’t anticipated a conversation, but one unfurled.

Her name is Isabelle. She’s a Bosinan refugee. She was pregnant with twins so actually she has two children. The reason I haven’t seen them is she has vowed to herself that she will protect them for the vicious circle that she is in. For as long as she can she wants to keep them ignorant from the reality.

She can’t work because she has no papers, she wont steal because that is wrong and she goes to mass every day to thank God.

No, she is not married but the father of her twins asked her to marry him long before they were conceived, but he didn’t get around to fixing a date. He is French and had the kindness to pay for two prenatal Doctors appointments before he went off on holiday and moved apartments on his return. Months after the birth of the twins, he got back in touch. He still loves Isabelle but he still hasn’t managed to fix a date for the wedding.

The birth of the twins hadn’t been exactly ideal. Isabelle had gone to the hospital and was turned away as she hadn’t the money to go private and without papers she had no social security cover. Isaballe’s waters had broken during the discussion. It was Michelle, a young mother to be who had already reserved her own bed for 3 days pervious to her due date, who came to the rescue.

Having provided her credit card, Michelle had taken Isabelle by the arm, and demanded to know where they were supposed to go. Isabelle was given a bed and Michelle had had the compassion to stay with her. As no nurse or doctor seemed to be available, it had been Michelle who delivered the twins.

Umbilical cords cut, a bit of a clean up, followed by major stitching up for Isabelle and 12 hours later she was on the bus with a baby on each arm.

You should hear how Isabelle talks about Michelle…she talks about everyone by their first name. She can tell you exactly what they have done to help her. She is better dressed than most in her position – ‘Sylvie’, the manageress, lets her choose a few things from the old stock and then pays for them to be altered to Isabelle size. The check-out girls at the supermarket buy her necessaries when they can. Cathy form the hairdressers opposite has plucked her eyebrows and now want to give her highlights.

Isabelle is 32, like me. By chance, it was her daughters saint’s day. And her little son? When was his saint’s day or had it already passed? She took a moment to respond.

A week after she had left the hospital with the twins, he became very ill. It was quickly diagnosed as major heart problems. He has been in hospital ever since. The doctors say that he will never be discharged and it is just a case of waiting for him to die. It will probably be sooner rather than later. He has , however, recently had his first birthday.

There was a moment of silence as Isabelle studied my face. Hers slowly lit up with a childish smile. Carefully, from the zipped pocket of her bag, she proudly produced two Polaroid pictures. It was no surprise that they were of her twins. Her eyes moistened, “That’s Michelle.” she said running her finger affectionately along the leopard print sleeve that was holding the baby girl. Moments later she had reassumed her role as the proud mother of little Marie and little George.

And who looks after little Marie?
Isabelle’s sister does. She is also without papers. She’s 24 years old with terminal cancer. “It my fault” Isabelle explained.
Her sister had been ill, but without money, Isabelle hadn’t been able to take her to the Doctors.

Slowly, she had got worse and worse. Finally they had to go to the doctor’s, but it had been left too long. The doctor who had given them the news didn’t charge. Maybe if Isabelle had known that she would have taken her sister much sooner. “But then what would I have?” she rhetorically asked, with a despondent shrug.

Again her face lit up. She learnt towards me and in a whisper divulged her secret. Thursday coming she was going to do a morning of cleaning on the black. That meant she could indulge little Marie just like other mothers did their children. “You can’t imagine how much pleasure that will give me!” she added.

Her joy left a quickly as it had come. She stared at the pavement for a moment, with out looking up she shamefully continued, “Normally, I try not to eat out of the dustbin, but sometimes I don’t have a choice…it’s disgusting and degrading, but the worst is that one day my little Marie might find out. I couldn’t bare that…”

“What’s your name?” Isabelle asked timidly as she slowly raised her head to reveal a friendly smile.
I told her. “And are you married? Do you have children?” she asked with genuine interest.
For some reason I didn’t want to answer. I’m not sure why. After a moment, I smiled and told her that there wasn’t a husband or children for the moment.

Suddenly she looked more distressed than she had done at any point during our conversation. “I’m so, so sorry. I will pray for you at mass tomorrow. I’ll prey that you find a wonderful husband and your children will be happy and healthy. You deserve that…” she paused, and placing a comforting hand on my shoulder, she looked deep in to my eyes. She continued, “Don’t worry…God looks after us all, he always makes things right in the end…”

Frankly, I was dumb struck. A muffled ‘Thank and Good luck’ came out from somewhere deep inside me. Isabelle, who had started to walk away, stopped and turned. With her hand on her heart, she smiled, “A thousand thank you’s…” letting her hand slide down so that it touched the outside of her pocket where she had put the money I had given her she continued, “My little Marie will never know who has helped her or how so I am afraid she will never be able to do anything about it. She’s too young to understand, I know, but I already tell her she is the luckiest little girl in the world and whilst it may not always seem it, she should never be discontented and should always be grateful…”

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Comments by other Members

Sue at 15:59 on 05 September 2004  Report this post
Hi CP,

Wow, that's quite thought provoking. We always complain that we don't have enough ot this and that but those who don't really have anything always think themselves lucky. Isabelle was so sorry that her good samaritan didn't have a husband but she would pray to God that she would have one soon.

The last three lines about her little daughter Marie never understanding who had helped her mother but that to always remember she is the luckiest person alive and never to feel discontented actually rang true with me.

Excellent story.


Anna Reynolds at 18:15 on 08 September 2004  Report this post
CP, I wondered if there was any element of doubt at all about the truth of the girl's story- I found myself not being entirely convinced, and that might be because it is all told as reported speech in a chance-ish encounter. It feels like this might be worth making into a longer piece, with several meetings or encounters between the two women, so that the story comes out gradually and more naturally. This would also allow us to have a sense of the narrator's viewpoint and her own life experience a little, which of course is what makes her feel empathetic towards Isabelle.

Christie at 13:26 on 11 September 2004  Report this post

This certainly grabbed my attention. This piece of work makes you think about others and gives a human face to refugees.
Isabelle is a mum struggling to survive - I'm sure many refugees are in this position.

I think I would have liked to hear the dialogue itself rather than have it reported. Then I think Isabelle's story would have been heartbreaking.

Very interesting piece though - well done


Bianca at 14:52 on 13 September 2004  Report this post

What a heart renching piece.

If as Anna suggests it is embellished, a good part of it must be true and is sadly a sign of our times. Unfortunately with so many people conning the system the ones needing the help sometimes get left by the wayside.

You could certainly make more of this as, at least, a short story. Finding a happy ending may be difficult though.

Well written.


scoops at 16:10 on 19 January 2005  Report this post
Hi CP: I just came across this on a random read, so you may already have reworked it, but I thought this an interesting story. I wasn't quite sure if this was fiction or non-fiction. If the former, I am assuming the narrator is deliberately presented as gullible because the reader is forced to wonder about the ease with which the story is accepted and the depth of social guilt that motivates her. But if it's non-fiction it shows none of the objectivity that one would expect in a first person report. The woman's story is riddled with questionable assertions - what is so wonderful about her that everyone in sight seems to give her treats or favours where others in the same position are barely noticed? Does the sister exist? Do the twins exist? This has a city feel to it and the expectation is that a city dweller would be more savvy when taking in the detail of the story. But if it's fiction, obviously you have your reasons for writing it in this form, and it certainly makes the reader consider all the alternative options and leaves us wondering what kind of fall the narrator is heading for:-( I think someone else said there's too much telling and no showing, and that's something you'll have to address when redrafting. It's well done for getting us all thinking:-) Shyama

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