image: The Blind Woman - Egon Schiele, 1911
The interior had been stripped and repainted with clean white. The furniture was
simple and functional.
The rugs on the stone floor were for warmth, plain woven wool, thick and rough.
The large bed was built into a curtained alcove in the wall beside the
On the opposite wall was a gas stove with a double cooking ring above which a
number of copper cooking pots hung. A door beyond led through to a bathroom and toilet which Ella had added very recently.
The only decoration was the Ella Kadesh painting from the house on Malik
Street, which hung on the bare white wall, facing the door. It seemed
to lighten and warm the whole room; below it the girl sat at a working
table. She was listening intently to her own voice speaking in Hebrew
from the tape recorder. Her expression was rapt and intent, and she
stared at the blank wall before her.
Then she nodded her head, smiling at what she had just heard. She
switched off the recorder and turned in the swivel chair to the second
recorder and punched the translation button. She held the microphone
close to her lips as she began to translate the Hebrew into English.
Ella stood in the doorway and watched her work. An American publisher
had purchased the English-language rights of 'A Place of Our Kin'. They
had paid Debra an advance of thirty thousand American dollars for the
book, and an additional five thousand for her services as translator.
She had almost completed the task now.
From where she stood, Ella could see the scar on Debra's temple. It was
a glazed pinkish white against the deeply tanned skin of her face, a
dimple like a child's drawing of a seagull in flight; V-shaped and no bigger than a snowflake, it seemed to enhance her fine looks, almost
like a beauty spot, a tiny blemish that gave a focus point for her strong regular features.
She had made no attempt to conceal it for her dark hair was drawn back to the nape of her neck and secured there with a leather thong. She
wore no make-up, and her skin looked clean and glowing, tanned and smooth.
Despite the bulky fisherman's jersey and woollen slacks her body
appeared firm and slim for she swam each day, even when the snow winds came down from the north.
Ella left the doorway and moved silently closer to the desk, studying Debra's eyes as she so often did. One day she would paint that expression. There was no hint of the damage that lay behind, no hint
that the eyes could not see. Rather their calm level gaze seemed to penetrate deeper, to see all. They had a serenity that was almost mystic, a depth and understanding that Ella found strangely disquieting.
Debra pressed the switch of the microphone, ending the recording, and then she spoke again without turning her head.
- Is that you, Ella?
How do you do it? Ella demanded with astonishment.
- I felt the air move when you walked in, and then I smelt you.
- I'm big
enough to blow up a storm, but do I smell so bad? Ella protested, chuckling.
- You smell of turpentine, and garlic and beer, Debra sniffed, and laughed with her.
- I've been painting, and I was chopping garlic
for the roast, and I was drinking beer with a friend. Ella dropped into one of the chairs. How does it go with the book?
- Nearly finished. It can go to the typist tomorrow. Do you want some coffee?
Debra stood up and crossed to the gas stove. Ella knew better than to offer her help, even though she gritted her teeth every time she watched Debra
working with fire and boiling water. The girl was fiercely independent, utterly determined to live her life without other people's pity or assistance.
The room was laid out precisely, each item in its place where Debra could put her hand to it without hesitation.
She could move confidently through her little world, doing her own
housework, preparing her own food and drink, working steadily, and paying her own way.
EAGLE IN THE SKY
by WILBUR SMITH