The Far Away Colony Chapter 2
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The Far Away Colony
In the west, the town of Saint-Paul was immersing slowly into the darkness. The town was located between the sea, which the sunset had transformed into a yellow orangish color, and the high mountains, whose peaks were still enlightened by the last rays. The shadows, which were already crawling along the low roof building's walls and the cut stone facades standing along the deserted streets, loomed out from everywhere, chasing the glimmers that illuminated the thatch shingles and the crests. The noise of the waves crushing against the shore became definite because of the silence that prevailed in the town. The window blinds were not closed yet and we could distinguish the unsteady flame lights showing the occupant's presence. At that time, in some houses, the rooms were illuminated by lights, candles and oil lamps.
On the corner of two important streets of the town was standing a building which revealed its particular aspect and shown a certain originality that the pedestrians took pleasure to admire. This structure has been constructed in the middle of the eighteenth century and has braved the so frequent bad weather during the hot season. Several restorations had been necessary to prevent it to sink into dilapidation; the building was still keeping its freshness since the laborers in charge of its renovation had respected the norms and preserved the style. This single-story house, with balconies opened onto the two streets forming the corner, was occupied to run a business in the ground floor and as a residential house in the first floor. The store name hanging under the balconies had written on big letters: "Ets. Karim and Sons. Import - Export."
Mr. Karim was returning from the prayer he practiced regularly. When Sheinaz informed him that a girl from the Highs had come looking for a job, he thought about gathering the members of his family in the evening to take a decision. He was accustomed to discuss with his wife and kids: he had six in all, of which four boys and two girls, all teenagers. They were waiting for him in the hall at the opposite side of the house. When he sat down at the head of the huge table to speak, the kids were very motivated. A candelabrum was placed in the middle of the table and there was enough light projected to distinguish the expressions drawn on each of their faces.
“We are getting close to the month of Ramadan”, said Mr. Karim, “and we need personnel. Sheinaz told me about a young girl from the Highs in whom we can be interested. It's been a month already since Solange is absent and she hasn't given any sign of life yet; Fatema complains that she has a lot of work to do in the kitchen and the house. It's the right time for us to find a solution to lighten her tasks."
“As for Solange,” said Mrs Karim, “I was told that she moved together with a metropolitan and nobody knows where she is. She still hasn't come to take her money and her stuff.”
“Maybe she left the country, who knows?” Said Aissa.
“In any case, this doesn't arrange the situation,” said Mr Karim.
“Is she honest, the girl you are talking about?” Asked Mrs Karim.
“How can we know? Time will tell us,” retorted Mr Karim.
“We have lost quite a few precious objects in the last years by hiring girls that constantly knock at our door. They all come from poor families and hardly manage to integrate in good families' ordinary life. I don't really see the need of hiring once again a stranger,” told Leila who, thinking about the bad memories, was incited to express herself like that.
“You don't have to exaggerate,” said Mrs Karim while looking at her other children to let them know she was also talking to them, “and see only the negative side. This way of thinking shows your ungratefulness towards people who bothered for you during your childhood. They took care of you like a mother, cleaned you, washed you, fed you and gave you to drink. They cradled you in their arms for hours to stop you from yelling or crying, to make you sleep. How they cannot deserve a more respectable place in your ungrateful little hearts? It's sickening though to say so many silly things and it surprises and disappoints me to hear that from the mouth of my children.”
“In any case,” said Haroon, “only time would reveal a person's qualities and defects; it's our duty to take precautions and not to leave valued objects lying around. Their lost and disappearance can only be explained by our lack of principles.”
“Well, if we cannot dispose of our own stuff as it better suits us, I wonder about the way the world,” retorted Leila.
“Not all the people looking for a job come from the same social background or necessarily have the same mentality, the same character, the same manners. It's absolutely natural that some show themselves hard-working, conscientious and laborious while others are lazy, careless and have plenty of other defects. It's not a reason to sentence them all and put them all together in one pot,” said Mrs Karim.
“These domestic little people are not as silly as we can imagine,” said Yacoob. “They are aware of the importance they have in the society. Also they are convinced they have good opportunities to fit in the workforce by evolving within wealthy families. For them it's a way towards freedom. Something that enables them to escape from their family's influence, where their existence has no meaning and their life no importance. They are right to escape from a society in which an evolutionary stagnation is observed and there is no progress. Also, the idea of winning some money and leading a life they like crosses incessantly their mind. I'm talking about this youth full of ambition trying to make its way in the society to find a reasonable place from where they can distinguish themselves from the others and occupy a privileged position. That's why the idea of rivalry is so manifest in them. The thirst for money awakens the jealousy in them. We can detect their changing attitudes or strange behaviors that make them appear dangerous.”
"All this doesn't mean at all that we can do without their services," said Mr Karim. "There's a girl waiting in the other room and I am convinced that in this moment we need a person to take on some responsibilities. I noticed the bedrooms are not done early in the morning, the bin is not emptied, the furniture is covered with dust, the parquet is not polished and a lot of domestic works are neglected or unfinished. So, I wish to inform you that I am pretty much decided to hire this person so that these works be done in the best terms."
“I agree with you,” said Mrs Karim.
“We too,” answered the boys, while the girls remained reluctant.
Mister Karim stood up and went towards the room where Julie was waiting. She was sitting on a chair but stood up as soon as she heard some footsteps. Before Mr Karim opened the door she had the time to tide herself up. When he entered in the room Julie said:
“Good night Sir.”
“Good night. You are the girl that came during the day, right?”
“What's your name?”
“My name is Julie Deschamps, Sir.”
“Well, and how old are you?”
“I am seventeen years old, Sir.”
“Have you already had a job?”
“Do you know what it is to work in a house? Do you have any idea about the kind of work you have to do?”
“Yes, Sir. I know how to do everything in a house. You can notice it by yourself if you hire me.”
“That's what I intend to do, relying on your words and your good faith. I hope you won't disappoint me.”
“Oh Sir, thank you for trusting me.”
“Don't be glad so soon. I am hiring you for a four weeks try-out. You will be put up in a bedroom upstairs and have the right to daily meals, as the other maids. You will receive your wage every Saturday. You will have some rules to respect. You will have the right to rest on Sunday. You will receive orders from myself, Madam and the other members of the family you are going to meet soon. If this suits you, you can already consider yourself hired."
“It suits me very well, Sir. I would like to ask you if I can start from this evening. My home is in the Highs and I don't have any mean to go back.”
“Of course it's too late to go back home. I am going to send you Suzy to show you where your bedroom is and you will have diner with the other servants before going up to bed. Remember that you have to wake up very early in the morning to start working.”
“All right Sir. I can assure you that you won't be disappointed.”
"I hope so, however remember that you can be fired for the slightest slip-up," said Mr Karim getting ready to leave.
“Understood Sir. Good night Sir.”
When the door closed, Julie let out a big relief sigh and raised her head to thank the Lord for having had the job. She was already thinking about the good news she would announce to her parents when she would visit them the following days. Her gaze was admiring the few wood furniture pieces visible with the weak flame of the kerosene lamp lying on a shelf in the room's corner. She heard voices coming from far away, probably from the dining room where all the family members were gathered for diner. Plates, glasses, spoons' noises reached her ears so distinctly that she told herself that diner was already served. The water from the tap, a raised voice calling, the hurry of heavy steps on the floor indicated the maids were at work. She felt in the house an intense warmth issued from this well organized life led by people anxious to give a meaning to their existence, to find a way of making it more beautiful, comfortable, pleasant and interesting. The bursts of laughter heard indicated that a family living in harmony and good understanding was taking advantage of this solemn moment to gather. In her little corner, Julie tried to imagine what was happening in the other rooms, whose decoration and atmosphere she could not but figure out. She knew there would be a lot of things to discover, to learn and that surprises were to foresee. She was not worried at all and her enthusiasm for wanting to work pushed back from her mind all the regrettable thoughts that tended to hamper her moves and constrain her state of feeling. She trusted she could prove her worth and quickly understand how to give satisfactions to her bosses. She had barely been diving in her thoughts, which had brought her far in a world where she foresaw beautiful prospects, when Suzie came looking for her and brought her in a big room where she met the other servants working in the house and living on site. She met Suzanne, an old maid who saw all the kids from the house born and grow up. She was at the Karim Family's service since she was twenty years old. With fifty-five years old, she had not anymore the strength of her youth and did her work decently. She didn't take on big responsibilities. Worn out for having spent some energy in a period of her life when she had some kids to raise and several mouths to feed, she has lost a big part of her physical potential with the age. She used to get sick several times, to come down with a chronic bronchitis, to hang around with a cough for weeks and even months. She treated herself her rheumatism, arterial and stomach aches with infusions she prepared with leaves she found in the woods. She didn't like to see doctors and preferred to deal with her aches quietly, writhing in pain in her tiny bedroom without letting the others notice she was suffering. She was esteemed by the members of the family and never a single person dared to reproach her something or to observe the way she carried out her work. Her face was devastated by wrinkles and her eyes ringed by the fatigue when Julie met her for the first time in that room. Suzie has been working in the house for three years. Her father, who was an inveterate drinker, died from an aneurysm rupture when she was only twelve. To help her mother raise her three brothers and two sisters she started doing small domestic works until the day she got noticed by a person who knew well Mr Karim, who was at the time looking for a maid to help Suzanne. Suzie was eighteen years old when she started working. She has always won the esteemed of her bosses.