I’ve lost you. I’ve lost Ilka for good, too. And I’ve lost sight of my manuscript.
What has Shanghai done for me?
What did it do for you?
Thank you for all your assistance in my communications with Bella’s Shanghai employers in the last week. Thank you also for boxing up and posting Bella’s possessions, I am most grateful. I will of course refund all postage via your UK account if you could please provide your bank details – thanks. Pls let me know how many boxes will eventually be in the post and the approximate date of arrival. Below is a link to Bella’s obituary from the Guardian in case you have not seen it. The Guardian is one of the newspapers which used to publish Bella’s photographs.
Thanks again for your assistance at this sad time.
Best wishes, John
Did you find out you were terminally ill, Bel, and so decided to kill yourself? Was it not really about your daughter, or anything else? Did you not, after all, have it all planned before you left me?
Well. Your obituary is an eye-opener. Born in Surrey. Dutch father, Polish mother. Guildford Grammar School. Kibbutz before Cambridge. Dropped out of English Literature to go travelling with artist husband Eli Esteban in the Middle East – ‘an odyssey that stimulated Bella’s award-winning career in war journalism which brought an early end to the marriage. Their only child, Elise, was brought up by paternal family members. Bella’s recent loss of her daughter, who took her own life, may have been a factor in Bella’s suicide…’
Things I knew: unsettled, questing, idealistic, brave. A love-child made with a stranger. Private – no: secretive.
Things I didn’t know: divorced, award-winning, Jewish, your daughter died at her own hand. A medal for bravery.
Things your in-laws probably didn’t know: their grand-child’s true parentage. Unless they did know but were compassionate?
Was your accidental child the reason why your marriage failed?
Another Guardian Online obit, referenced in the sidebar, catches my attention: Astronaut Ludowic Kendal dies aged 87, Cornwall…
I’m just waking up your PC from sleep mode. There: your qq account’s now on-screen. Dozens of new emails are waiting to be opened. What am I supposed to do about them? I don’t know how to close down a life. I have no experience.
Desk clearance is more straightforward. I’m binning all your printed-out articles – sorry. I can pack this last handful of books into one of those half-filled boxes. Hey – my poetry collection has a page-corner turned down. Christ, Bel. The poem on that page is Running joke – about suicide. Were you thinking of it?
The college’s waiban has issued me a deadline of fourteen days to leave the flat. I hate being here anyway. Empty of you. Empty of your stuff. Empty of food. That retch-inducing stench in the kitchen.
I want to hear you ranting about another imminent catastrophe. I’ll pay better attention. Promise. Please come back.
Afternoon. Your students enjoying the cancellation of their class.
Poor, miserable Lily Hong has just helped me book my flight. We’re on our way now to visit an exhibition – Cyril’s recommendation – by the photographer Adou. But on the Metro she’s inconsolable. What can I do?
‘Bel my best friend [sob]. I speak Bel all my sorrow [sob]. I lonely now.’
I can’t help her, Bel.
In the gallery she breaks down again. ‘My father at prison.’
‘Oh god – I didn’t know. That’s awful.’
‘Not bad man! Government say he corruption. Every businessman corruption. He only same. Government make example.’
‘Is there anything I can do?’ Stupidest question in the world.
She trails after me into the gallery café, slumps mournfully at a table. What to do, Bel? I get her a latte.
She looks up at me. ‘I want to go outside China, start new life.’
‘Where do you want to go? How?’
‘I tell Bel I want marry a foreigner, but she say “all men are bastards”. Not help me.’
Look, Bel. Sometimes pragmatism can work for people. This is what I can offer her.
‘…would an Australian be okay?’
On the Metro home I notice a new text. It’s always – ridiculously – disappointing when I see it’s not from you.
Dear Suki – saw Guardian obit for your Bel – my god, what’s going on? You must be in shock! Can I do anything?
God. I haven’t even acknowledged her own bereavement.
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