An attacker advances against you Nineveh The shields of his soldier are red The warriors are clad in scarlet The metal on the chariots flashes On the day they are made ready; The spears of the pine are brandished Nahum 2.1.7 NINEVEH
It was Edith Hausberg's first and final visit to the United States. She had just endured an acutely painful and tedious two-week visit to meet her father, a man she never knew, and his new family in Atlanta. Her father had served in the military for many years. Indeed that is how he came to encounter and impregnate Edith's German mother twenty-eight years ago. Father and daughter disagreed on nearly every subject, from wind-farms to the politics of El Salvador. Edith found him a bellicose right-winger, a cold codger -- a Republican. She was gasping for home after week one. It had certainly not been the poignant reunion she had yearned for.
At the ticketing desk in Atlanta, Edith discovered that she would be making her international flight out of Boston Logan Airport rather than New York's Kennedy. A blonde airline representative, wearing three layers of foundation, a Farrah Fawcett do and with brown eyes too close to each other, apologised nervously. Edith had the ability to appear intimidating since she was six foot and had dreadlocks down to her bottom. "I'm terribly sorry ma'am, but you're gonna have to fly outta Boston," the woman drawled."Here are two vouchers for one night's stay at the Holiday Inn for your inconvenience." Edith frowned at the woman, taking the vouchers and folding them as carefully as origami. She placed them into the only memento her father had given her, a brown leather Native American wallet studded with tri-coloured beads. She knew she would never use the vouchers but thinking charitably she figured that someone else might need them. In truth, Edith was a hoarder, unable to dispose of anything made of paper. Her flat in Berlin was littered with out of date coupons and receipts, an untidy collection of worthless debris.
Upon touchdown in Logan from Atlanta, Edith peered out of her window stunned by the changes to the airport and to the city of Boston since had last been there in 2000 to visit a friend studying bio-chemistry at Boston University. Logan was no longer the sleepy, half-finished pile of rubble with its overspill from the Big Dig. What stood in its stead was a gleaming, well-organised feat of engineering and architecture.Even the tarmac looked new. Because she would have to wait a few hours, Edith cleared customs only to discover that customs had disintegrated from relaxed queues into a heaving stable of tourists of every hue sleep walking in circles, attempting to work the system out without any assistance.The officials were no longer the jocular Boston Irish, Puerto Ricans or blacks but just plain old white people, truculent stern officials with an inflated air of superiority and rage especially when it came to the non-US citizens who were all terrified but for no particular reason. Logan had turned into the kind of place where the last wave of a relative had a desperation to it, as though their loved-one was going into major surgery instead of taking a flight. The customs officials derived a sadistic pleasure from stripping passengers of their clothes, shoes, and dignity. Another reason not to return to this Godforsaken place, Edith thought to herself.
The flight to Heathrow was packed with screeching babies in the bulkhead seats and flush faced lascivious businessmen cocky in their first-class seats, ogling every woman under 30. Edith did not meet their standards even though she was 29. She looked too much like a hippy with her nose-ring, coiled dreadlocks and baggy, torn jeans. The stewardesses practically shoved her to the back of the plane's economy class. She was designated one of the last seats. There was a woman there already in the window seat. She gazed up at Edith with a half-smile. Edith was instantly struck by her neighbour's languid grey/green mournful eyes. She was detached from the very world. Two stewardesses were violently attempting to shove Edith's tattered rucksack into the overhead compartment. Finally a rather large Sikh offered his assistance and got the object into its correct place immediately. Edith flopped down into her seat already fatigued from this leg of her journey. Her neighbour turned once again to examine Edith, blinking as though she had been awakened from a dream. It was obvious from her sallow complexion and hollow eyes that she was simply sone of those persons for whom life is just an interminable succession of disappointments.
The plane was now speeding up on the runway for take-off. Once airborne, a steward came by offering drinks which were no longer gratis. The woman ordered a double vodka and orange juice which struck Edith as strange given her dainty demeanour. She was dressed in an amethyst Chanel suit with small pumps to match and silver sheer stockings. Her hair was a halo of brown curls and she had damask burnished skin complete with voluptuous bow=shaped scarlet lips and lidless almost Asiatic eyes. She was wearing a fiery-coloured ruby ring on her right hand. After scrutinising this stranger so closely, Edith felt compelled conversation so she babbled the first thing to come into her head in a heavy German accent, "I've been visiting my father, half-brother and sister in Atlanta. My mother is German. She met my father in a bar near one of the American military bases. I didn't really know anything about him except that he was African-American. My boyfriend is a computer programmer and he helped me track him down on the internet." The woman now turned to face Edith with a trace of mirth on those lips. "I too am mixed race or half-caste as they call it in England." She laughed cynically. "But seriously I don't believe in defining oneself in haves or parts. I consider myself African-American even though my mother was English. She died giving birth to me. So I was raised by my father and his mother for a brief few years until my grandmother had a heart attack twenty years ago. I went to study in London and fell in love. Now I live in a little village outside of Oxford called Nineveh. It's been my home for ten years now. I was just visiting my father now in Boston where he still lives. I also had to have some scans done at Mass General Hospital. The NHS in England is great if you don't have a chronic or serious illness."
"What's your name by the way?" asked Edith tremulously "Therese Noble." "Edith Hausberg." And they shook hands chuckling at their similar origins. And there, for the rest of the flight and through many vodkas, Therese elaborated on the wonders of her errant psychedelic life and her somewhat futile dream of living as a black artist in Europe like James Baldwin and Josephine Baker. She had a dazzling pedigree, jazz musicians, Polish priests, Brazilian race car drivers, actors and painters. The two women did not sleep through the night. There was too much to uncover and Edith found herself captivated and slightly envious by the sumptuous appearance and unaffected elegance of this Egyptian princess. Upon touchdown at Heathrow, they exchanged phone numbers and addresses and that was what they both believed to be the end of a brief intense encounter -- just two butterflies passing in the summer sun. But fate was to unfold in unpredictable and dire ways to the ending of a story of a forlorn woman in search of love and belonging. The two women would meet again but never in the manner they could possibly have envisaged. The following is what Edith recalled of what Therese narrated to her that night. She would repeat the story to anyone who would listen, too many people in fact, in a careless, even dangerous way. For Therese Noble's innocent candour with strangers had always been her downfall.