“That’s how they get us, you know,” Geneva said. “They make us all so numb and indifferent that we can’t fight back.”
“Who, Geneva?” Liam asked without looking away from his painting.
“The world, I suppose,” Geneva said. “Don’t mind me, I’m just thinking aloud.” Geneva looked around uncomfortably, as if she were trying to decide if she could trust Liam. She felt she could; after all, nothing mattered to Liam but his paintings. Liam also was unlike the other Swiss nationals she had come to know. He saw Geneva as a woman, not a Negro woman, not an African woman, but simply as a woman—no, a person—and that liberated her and gave her strength. “I’ve been thinking of leaving,” Geneva announced.
“You’re always thinking of leaving,” Liam said, finally looking up from
“This time I’m serious. I want to go to the Americas.”
“The Americas? Why?”
“I’m tired of Europe. Tired of the cold, the indifference. I want to go
someplace where I can be somewhat free, and Negroes are free there now.”
“You’re free here, Geneva.”
“No, I’m not. I’m a Negro woman in Europe. I’m always going to be an
outsider no matter how long I stay.”
“So you want to go to the Americas and be an outsider there?”
“I’d rather be an outsider in a place where I might have a chance to be
“And you think the Americas will be that place? Have you gone mad?”
“I don’t know. But I have to try.”
“I see.” Liam said sadly. Liam picked up his brush and returned to painting. Geneva was calm by contrast; she stood there in her favorite green dress, and mixing a Green Fairy. She let out a sigh as she drizzled absinthe over the sugar cube into the water below. She was half lost in her own world, half present as she dissolved the cube of sugar below the stream of liqueur down into the crystal glass and swirled it
about. “Be careful with that Fairy, Geneva… you’ll have those dreadful nightmares again.” She knew she would; many a night she woke up beside Liam in the bed they shared. Other than warming each other in the cool night air together, there had never been even the suggestion or desire for sex between them. She dared not tell Liam the truth about her
nightmares, where she came from, or the horrible truth about what she had done and was about to do. But she felt that tonight, if she could see an opening, she could perhaps tell him the whole story.
A breeze came through the window and soothed her. She sipped her drink and reflected on how far she had come in only five years. She had arrived in Switzerland twice as a stowaway, once upon a ship from West Africa, and once upon trains from Hamburg to Basel—all without papers, without work, and wearing stolen clothes.
But tonight she was pristine in green and white silk. Geneva was a woman of secrets, but tonight they burned
inside of her and she needed to tell Liam. But why? Was her plan so evil, so devoid of God, or so brilliant that she needed some credit? Geneva caught the sound of a marching band in her spirit as they passed below and she swayed in the night breeze. She looked down on Bahnhofstrasse Avenue as the revelry grew louder, now filling their drawing room with music. The opening of the Fasnacht carnival always excited Geneva. But on the streets of Switzerland, she was so careful to hide her enthusiasm, walking as a lady’s maid, dressing as a lady’s maid, hiding her lady’s maid role from Liam for five years, sharing their beautiful home and life, nothing but a wife to the famous artist.
Now the truth was finally catching up to her, cornering her in their home like a wounded animal. But with Liam, and in his presence, in his love, she was all lady… all woman. Geneva sipped her Green Fairy cordial and spun around with girlish abandon, laughing and swaying to the horns of the band outside their window. “How I love Sousa!” Liam joined her laughter. Her laugh was so infectious. He caught a spark in
her eye, and her wide smile broke the spell of his canvas. “That’s it, Geneva.” She stopped spinning, fearing she upset him. “This moment, fleeting… the sparkle of your eyes in the kerosene lamp. The essence of what Degas is doing in France.” “Oh, no… don’t speak of those ghastly impressionist paintings again.”
Come look at this one,” Liam said proudly.
Geneva rushed behind him and threw her arms around him.
“Why, It’s me!” As a matter of course, she disliked impressionist
“This one… I do love,” She kissed him on his cheek, and Liam let out a girlish and comical laugh. And for just a few moments, Geneva believed she could trust Liam fully; in that moment, she decided to tell him, to confess her sin. She rushed over to the window and shut it, then turned to him.
“I must tell you something, dear friend, and it’s not easy for me to say.”
“Well, Geneva… start by saying it.”
“Well, I…did have a second plan…”
“What on Earth’s the matter, love?”
“Will you think less of me if I tell you?”
“I should think I will think less of you if you do not tell me now!”
Liam laughed, putting aside his brush and reclining into his chair.
“Just don’t change this… because I have nobody but you, and only you
know me… as I truly am.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be much of a, what am I…Friend, lover, husband, brother, confident? Knowing the truth, would not alter my love for thee.”
“I’ve kept things from you, many bad things about my past.”
“My dear, we do not live in the past. Here and now is quite enough to contend with,” he said, stroking his mustache and now completely absorbed in her words.
“Oh, It’s burning inside of me… because on this night, I planned to do something unspeakable.”
“What the devil do you mean?”
“My name is not Geneva; it’s Djeneba, and I am from Mali.”
“While I admit that choosing such a phonetically similar name shows a daring lack of creativity on your part, it’s hardly an unspeakable crime!” He laughed and his face flushed with pink.
“Be serious, Liam… I’m about to do something horrific.”
“Yes, you are about to give me a heart attack, love.”
“Stop calling me that! You know nothing about me, or what I’m capable of doing!”
“Then tell me. Whatever it is, you were not who you are now and whatever you plan to do… I’m sure you will do it well.”
“I am going to kill Madame Chevalier tonight!”
“Madame Chevalier, the wife of Monsieur Jean Chevalier, the
“What on Earth would possess you to say such a thing?”
“Because I have planned it and when I take leave in the mornings, I work as her lady’s maid. I work for no convalescence home. You see, I was taken from my parents by the paid hands of that wicked family when I was nine. The scars upon my legs and back, the ones you keep asking about, are from that period of time. What those men and their mistresses did to me in Serra Lyoa, I cannot tell you.”
“You don’t…” “No, let me finish. I harvested cocoa, and I planted like an ant for 20 years.” Geneva looked at her fingertips in the lamp light, as if in disbelief that they were still there. “I worked my fingers to nubs, I endured lashes upon my back, and I was used so spitefully. Every day I planned for this, dear God. All these days you’ve wondered where I’ve been, I spent them in the employ of that wicked woman, Madame Chavalier. First, as her laundress, earning trust in her house. With the help of the mistress’s sister, I read and learned all I could. Even serving as governess to that devil-spawn Pimley. Over the years, I thought of many fitting punishments for the family. I know I should forgive, but the hatred I have for them burns inside my soul like a hot
rock in hell!”
“Forgiveness is a grace, not a right, Geneva. You owe them nothing…they’ll get their just desserts!”
“And what access to justice does a negro get? What laws, either of God or man, do they hold themselves to for my account? If I can’t have justice, then I shall take sweet revenge!”
“Dear one… they will be accountable to God himself!”
“That is of little console to me, brother.” Geneva drank the sweet remains of her absinthe and it coated her throat. “I am a raging ocean of blood over what I have planned for tonight… over what I have seen done to me and scores of nameless others. I shall fade myself a shade or two before I do this deed.”
And what have you planned?”
“At first, I had planned to kill their over-fattened son, Pimley, the youngest child.”
“No, don’t worry. I’m not like them… I could never hurt a child.”
“Then… how did you arrive at Madame Chevalier?”
“I became her confidant, her closest servant. I learned to like all the poems she fancied, I flattered her day and night. ‘Yes, Madame Chevalier,’ ‘Quite brilliant, Madame Chevalier…’ I was closer to her than her very husband ever could be; I know her heart inside out.”
“Yet, you want to kill her?”
“More than life.”
“More than us?”
“That too, it would seem. You see, that woman is a bit of a vampire, her vices are many… rum, sugar, chocolate, snuff tobacco, and every spice from abroad. That woman’s carcass subsists wholly upon the pain of my kind. And if that were not enough, she has no conscience about her husband’s misadventures abroad. I thought time and time again that I
could learn to have a Christian love for her, but just as I would get close… I would see a spark of cruelty within her; she knows full well her husband’s deeds but does not care. She cares only for riches and pleasure,” Geneva stopped talking, opened a silk embroidered purse, and pulled from it a satin ribboned box and opened it. Liam looked down and
saw it was a slice of chocolate cake, perfectly decorated. “This, this is what the pig lives for.”
“It looks delicious, did you bake it?”
“Aye. But you wouldn’t want to eat it, it’s poison, enough to kill an elephant.”
“Ah, for Mistress?”
“Aye, for her approval. Then, I planned to render her fat down for the batter, and serve it to her son and husband and distinguished guests at the Chocolatier convention. Oh, it will coat their tongues and mouths. I’ll delay the coffee, tea, and the milk… and then I will tell them all.” Liam was horror-struck. He had never seen such hatred in Geneva’s eyes, not even when she told him of her past. He sat there, silent and
afraid, not knowing what to say or do. “Murder, Geneva?” “ I want her to feel the pain that she has caused me and others. I want her to know what it feels like to be powerless and to feel the slow creeping of death. I want her to know what it feels like to be alone and to be hated.” “But surely there is another way?” “No, Liam. This is the only way.” “No lack
of creativity on your part, it would seem.” “I presently have everything ready. I have even written a letter to the newspapers, telling them what I have done and why.” “You cannot do this, Geneva. It is wrong.”
“It is not wrong. It is justice.”
“No, it is not justice. It is revenge, and it will only bring you pain and suffering.”
“I am already in pain, and I have already suffered. This is the only way I can think of to make them pay.”
“But they will not be the only ones to pay, Geneva. You will pay, too. This will destroy you.”
“I am already destroyed.”
“No, you are not. You are still here, with me. We can still change this.”
“No, we cannot. This is the only way.”
“No, it is not the only way. There is always another way.”
“No, Liam. This is the only way.”“No, Liam tilted his head slightly and thought about it, then went back to painting. “Well?” Geneva asked as if his next words would be the Lord’s.
“Well. I suppose it’s no great surprise that I would at times guess at the depth and breadth of your pain, love.” “Then you will not stop me?”
“No, I will not. And… because I love you, I will do you one better. If it is your wish to exact your heinous revenge upon that loathsome family, I will help thee. I will call upon all my resources to assist thee. If you seek to stay and take credit for your handiwork, then I shall hang beside thee. And if you wish to flee, then we will set sail for any place that will allow us to live free, as husband and wife. Is not all this life an impostership of sorts? If you will have me, we can leave for New Orleans, Haiti, wherever you wish to go; whatever you wish to do, I will help you.”
“What of our souls?” “My soul was bound to yours when I first saw you on that train. And I decided then, inwardly, that if I could, we would be one. And, what does that mean for an old man like me? I do what I love, and I have more comfort and happiness than any person has right to; I have no family, no children, no true friend but thee. So whatever you will do, I will do also, and where you go, I will go also, be it to the gallows or the New World. I will let thee decide.”
“Nay, now my burden has more than doubled now.”
“Nothing more need be said, Djeneba. Just tell me if I should have our maids pack our things in steamers, or if I should make out my will. But first, I have a secret I must tell you. You will want to sit down for this.” Liam took a deep breath and then told Geneva about his past, about how he had been born a woman but always felt like he was a man trapped in a woman’s body. He told her about how he had changed his name and started living as a man. He told her about the struggles he had faced and about how he had finally found happiness. When he was finished, Geneva sat in silence for a moment, then got up and hugged him. “Thank you for telling me,”
“I love you no matter what.”
“I love you too,” Liam whispered.
“But I feel must do this, Liam. I have no choice.”
“Yes, you do have a choice, Geneva. You can choose to forgive.”
“No, I cannot.”
“Yes, you can. It is a choice that you make.”
“No, Liam. I cannot forgive them. I will not forgive them.”
“I hope that someday you will choose to forgive them.”
“I hope so too, Liam. I hope so too.”
“But before you decide, let me describe to you, the beauty of an island called Martinique.”
“Aye, have you ever heard of it?!”
“No, I cannot say that I have.”
“It is a small island in the Caribbean Sea, and it is a paradise. The air is warm and fragrant, the water is crystal clear, and the people are friendly and welcoming. I have a house there, on a cliff overlooking the sea. It is a beautiful place, Geneva, and I think you would like it.”
“It does sound lovely, Liam. But I do not think I could ever go there.”
“It is too far away from all I know. I could never leave our home.”
“Yes, you can. You have left all you have known behind so many times, and your home is with me. You can do anything you set your mind to, Geneva. I know you can.” “I will think about it, Liam. I will think about it.” And Geneva did not kill Mistress Chevalier, and in days the matter was settled. Geneva would go to Martinique and Liam would go with her. They would leave Europe and never look back.