the widow

Looking back on life

She is called Lucia. Her father, an opera lover named her after the tragic heroine in Puccini’s La Bohème but as there were no other opera lovers in her world only he ever called her Mimi. She has just returned to her flat after the funeral of Henry her husband of 15 years. Although they had not been close for some years, it still had come as a considerable shock to her when she learned from the Foreign Affairs Department that He’d been killed in a suicide bombing attack in Iraq where he had been so badly disfigured that he was identified by DNA tests and had to be sent home in a sealed coffin.

She’d met Henry when she was a flight attendant with Qantas in the business class cabin of the then brand new 747s. She knew at once that he was an up and coming foreign affairs official as only very few government employees were allowed to fly business class. Henry on the other hand had been somewhat overwhelmed by his first sojourn in the upstairs cabin and despite the rather unflattering Qantas uniform of that period he could not help being impressed with Lucia’s poise and the elegance. Coincidentally they stayed at the same hotel in Paris at the end of the flight and got to know each other rather better. After a whirlwind 3 months romance they were married in a simple ceremony at the Australian embassy in Paris.

After their ‘happy ever after’ first few years together Henry was increasingly sent abroad, often into the most dangerous locations where she couldn’t follow and thus they’d grown further and further apart. Now, after the first shock she knows she has no feelings left despite his sad return in the sealed box.

The funeral had been a grand affair organised by the department with the minister in attendance and solemn speeches about Henry’s great service to the country and his unwavering belief in the democratic way of life. Lucia performed the role of grieving widow rather well and looked very smart in black, a fact much appreciated by the minister who payed her close attention albeit with somewhat dubious motives, but as everyone assured her, ‘his attentions were well-meant’. When Lucia left the funeral she had an uneasy feeling that she was being followed and wondered whether the minister had had further plans for her but she reasoned that not even a politician would be so obvious; or would he?
Lucia spends  the next few days in meetings with lawyers to sort out the paperwork that went with the execution of Henry’s will and the changing of the benefits of the various funds the department had so generously provided for Henry.

Lucia is amazed at that generosity and wonders how highly placed he’d been or why he’d never talked about his job. However she also realises she’s not just well provided for but rich and can now afford the best places for lunch, dinner, and accommodation.

 This surely needs celebrating and she invites a couple of former colleagues with whom she had kept in contact for an extended lunch. It is during this luncheon engagement that she again feels she had been followed to the restaurant and is being watched while chatting with her friends.  The guests think she is imagining the whole thing and they all laugh when she quotes the Hughes Mearns rhyme:

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

But when she gets home her unease returns as she finds a note in her letterbox addressed to Mimi and suggesting a meeting. This startles Lucia as she cannot remember anyone ever calling her Mimi, so she does not respond but when a second note arrives again addressed to her as Mimi she arranges to meet but with a security agent supplied by the department. When she arrives a stranger joins her at the table who tells her this story: ‘Mimi I am really Henry your husband. The coffin that came to you was empty. I did this with the help from the secret service of the country that employed me as a double agent I had to disappear as I was on the hit list of the terrorists I had been spying on and the face make-over is part of my disappearance. The reason you are so well provided for is that I am not only a spy but a double agent. Lucia I am now back and I beg you to allow me to become your partner and share the inheritance you have received from my will. I am penniless, I still love you, and I can help you look after your capital’.

Lucia briefly thinks this over, smiles her best flight attendant’s smile and responds: ‘My dear man I am very doubtful that you really are Henry. The real Henry would have known that I only ever allowed my father to call me Mimi. But even if you are what you say you are you should know that I am now independent, free, and well off. I have no need for the company of a dead spy. Your future is in the country that employed you as a double agent or in Canberra with ASIO’.

And so it happens Henry is much hurt by Lucia’s rebuff but he really has no choice but to do as she suggests. With resentment in his heart he chooses Iraq and Lucia in a final gesture of goodwill pays Henry’s fare to the country of his employers.

Business class of course!

Gerrit.  October 6, 2013