Father is said to be home for dinner. I am not entirely sure if I believe them. They always say he will be home for dinner. He almost never is. And when he is, he will only come when we have almost finished and I am sent off for evening prayers. When I was little, father used to take me to the docks. He would tell me about the workers and the sailors, about the ships and what they were carrying. I do not like the docks now. But if my father were to take me, I might just go. It would be the most I'd see of him in many years.
Dinner comes. Father does not. Mother sends me to my evening prayers, but I decide to sneak off and lock myself in my room. We live in the rich part of the city, far away from the docks. There is no smell of fish and sea here, no constant yelling from the sailors. Sometimes, on Saturdays, we hear the sounds from the market in the distance. I go there every now and then, well disguised. I will braid my hair and hide it under a hood made from cotton, blending in with the regular people of the city. Sometimes, in the cold seasons, the wind will blow down my hood and the poor ones find me. The beggars follow me, begging for my attention, my money, even my blessing. As if that could save them. They are long lost to their own filth. I despise them. The last time I went, one of them got her filthy, scabies covered hands on me. I smacked her, and ran home. I had the maids burn my clothes and I scrubbed myself until my skin was pink and sore. I haven't gone to the market since.
The skies outside my big windows turn pink, then orange, then purple, until at long last the sun disappears and night falls over the city. My room looks out over the East, giving me the morning sun but assuring a cooler room in our hot summers. If I want to enjoy the evening sun, I can go to the courtyard. But it's only early spring now, and the outside is still too cold to enjoy.
I lay on my bed, staring at the stars that are painted on the curtains of my four-poster bed. My mother said she made them when she was pregnant with me, but she hates the dark and never comes out after sundown, so I don't think she even knows how the stars look. She must have told a maid to paint it, and took the honour. No wonder. If she had told me - and everyone else - that a maid had made this beautiful piece of art, it might go to their head and make them believe they could be an artist. And it's a shame to lose a good maid to dreams they can never achieve anyway. I stare at the white dots of paint until my mother comes and doesn't wait to knock. She never does. It is to assure I never do anything foul. At any given moment, one of my parents could walk in and put me to shame. I have never wanted to do anything a lady shouldn't do. The rule is of no use, but so are many others and I've gotten used to them.
"Avarill." She stands at the side of my bed. I know I should sit up and look at her like a proper lady, but I am tired and defiant. "Avarill, Father Absolan told me you have not come for your evening prayers. Why not?"
Because no matter what I do, I will be seen as a child from the devil. "I was tired, Mother. I prayed all day yesterday, prayed for the storm to calm down so father's wares wouldn't go lost. I have a tired soul, and would not have been able to pray well."
"You must pray, child. You, of all people, should pray always." Her voice is sharp.
My mother has beautiful auburn coloured hair. Her eyes are a deep brown as well. I did inherit her pale skin and skinny body, but I do not look like my mother. My father has blonde hair, but it has started to grey. In humid weather, it can hold beautiful golden curls, but very often he pulls it back in the ponytail that men wear these days. No one knows where I got my red hair from. The Church told me it means I'm a Devil's child. It is why Mother insists on me praying every morning and every evening, and all of Sundays. If I commit myself to our Lord, I will prove that my hair has nothing to do with the Devil. I suspect she might put me in a monastery once I come of age. I cannot come closer to God than in a monastery. But I doubt any want to have me. Not with hair that seems to catch fire when the sun hits it, the symbol of the Devil.
"What is done, is done." Mother says when I don't answer. I wish her to leave. I want my maid to come and free me from this horrendously painful corset, to warm my bed with the bedpan so I can go to sleep. "I will tell your father when he comes home."
She doesn't await answer. The door closes with a click. When I was younger, those words used to scare me. But father is home so rarely that she either forgets to tell him, or that he doesn't have the time to punish me for it. I have long learned that I better fear the wrath of Father Absolan. He is very kind and very loving, but if you wrong him, he can speak horrible curses and damnation. I will have to apologise to him, but I know he understands. He does not believe that God is cruel enough to not love children with red hair. God is all-loving, even to the children of Lucifer.
I call for my maid, who undresses me and washes me where skin touches skin, and brushes my hair before she leaves me for the night. I make her leave the candle on so I can still see the stars on my drapes. I fall asleep staring at them, and wait for another day to start that will be just like the one that just ended.
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