Sunday, 8 November 2009

Nanowrimo Day 7 Post 2 Eva Arrives

And then, Eva arrived ...


I'd been dreaming already when she arrived so silently I wasn't aware that she was there for some time. It had started with another "get back to work on your funky furniture" nagging dream. Then I found myself at The Well, an Anglican women's day centre, which had commissioned one of the chairs. That dream setting morphed into another women's centre, this one in Mongolia where Didi Kalika, an Australian woman, has set up orphanages, homes and work centres for orphaned teeenaged girls who had been forced onto the street, and a kindergarten for her orphans and the children in the slum neighbourhood where her own centres were located. The last I had heard, she had just opened a soup kitchen for destitute women and their children. It was hard to keep up with Didi's lifework. I am not sure which of her projects I was in when I saw the woman. I held a baby in my arms and was talking one of the girls when I noticed the quiet grey clad figure standing in the doorway. She was dressed in a dove grey suit and wore sensible shoes. She was not Mongolian. Still carrying the baby, I walked over to her.

"Hi," I said. "Are you a volunteer from one of the western countries?"

She smiled. "I guess you could call me that."

"What do you do here?"

"I came to see you," she replied. "I heard you were looking for me."

I must have looked confused because she went on in her soothing voice. "I followed you to The Well when I heard you wanted to see me, but you didn't notice me there."

A wet nurse relieved me of the infant and we sat down on the tiny orange and blue chairs intended for the toddlers' tea time. My sore knees groaned, but she seemed perfectly comfortable.

"So you're a Canadian volunteer," I said.

She nodded.

"With VSO?" I asked.

"The Anglican Church," she murmured.

I don't handle the mix of religiosity and volunteer work overseas too well but I decided to be polite. After all Didi was a Buddhist nun and look at all the good she does.

"I didn't know the Anglicans had a mission in Ulaan Baatar."

"We don't," she said. "I'm only here because you are."

"Me?" My face must have been dialed to zero, like my brain.

"I'm Eva," she said. A few old friends have been telling me you need to talk to me."

"My grandfather?" I asked.

‘Him too ... and Mitzi ... and Marie as well."

"How did you know Marie? I can't imagine she'd have been your type."

Now it was Eva's turn to look confused. "My type?"

"I just meant that you likely knew the women who came to your soup kitchen, and all your church friends, and maybe some of the people who hung around the Main, but my grandmother wouldn't have been in any bread line, and she sure as hell, oops, sorry, wasn't religious."

"I met your grandmother when she first came to Canada from Aberdeen," Eva said. "She was very young, still in her teens, and starting a new life in Toronto. She'd gone straight from school to a nursing programme at fourteen and after a few years, realized that she could have a better life if she emigrated."

"So how did you meet her?"

"I was running a home for unwed mothers, and she came to me pregnant, alone, and terrified."

"So I have an aunt or uncle, then," I cried.

‘The baby died during childbirth." Eva said quietly. "Marie stayed on and helped out for a few months, but the pay was poor, and she was anxious to get away from her own mistake."

"Is that when she started home care?"

"Yes. It paid pretty well and she didn't have to worry about room and board."

"And she met rich people," I intervened.

"Yes," said Eva. "Marie wanted more than she would ever have as a working woman."

"Not so different from the women who turned tricks on the Main."

"You're pretty hard on her."

"I knew her. I remember a woman who abandoned her daughter and who hated the only grand daughter she ever had. It was a pretty strong impression ... it's lasted for 65 years."

"Her life wasn't easy. She may have finagled a way into a rich family but she didn't have a happy life."

"My grandfather was right. She was a bitch."

"And you're pretty hard on him too, aren't you?"

"He treated women like garbage. He took what he wanted then threw them away."

"He was human, my dear. He had his faults but there was more to him than his reputation suggests."

"You loved him, didn't you?"

"Yes," she said. "I did."

"But you didn't sleep with him."

"No. I was already married when I met him. To the man I loved my entire life. I didn't love him the way you mean. I knew Paul slightly in Toronto, but it was when I moved to Montreal and began to work at the soup kitchen that I got to really know him." She began to unfold a tale of a man I would not have recognized as my grandfather. A man who brought clients to her and asked for shelter and food for them, pressing a handful of bills into her hand each time.

"Probably just sin money," I scoffed. "He got them into trouble and then they couldn't work."

"No," she said. "He brought me ancient old hags who desperately needed help, not just women he might have found attractive. And women who were several months pregnant and unable to sustain another life. There was a great generosity in Paul."

"Why did he take such pains to hide it?" I mused.

"I'm not sure," Eva smiled. "But when Al Capone started up a soup kitchen during the depression, he told the whole world about it. Your grandfather didn't seem to need to whitewash himself no matter what you think about his reasons for his actions, good and bad."

"Maybe he should have. He left behind a pretty black reputation."

"Paul was who he was."

"Who killed him?" My question hung unanswered in the dark air of my bedroom. Eva was gone.

I got up for a drink of water and wondered where I needed to go next. I did have to solve the murder, it seems. How he died might lead me to the answers I needed about how he lived.

Total Now ... 11,633/50,000 and 22 1/2 days left to write.

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