THE CRUELLEST CUT
BY PERRY GAMSBY
COPYRIGHT 2002, 2010
Mbane Bantu looked at the Immigration Officer holding her tattered passport. The Lion and Leopard crest of her tiny African nation proudly centered on it’s faded purple front cover. Not that there were any lions left in her country. Or leopards for that matter. They had all been hunted or driven out as the burgeoning population spread out into the hinterland of what had always been a small country, by any standards, as piece work clothing manufacture had taken over from traditional agriculture as the country’s main method of making a living. All the forest had been cut down leaving only a few strips of woodland between industrial estates, or ‘Special Economic Zones’ and shanty like townships.
There was nothing special about the economy, zoned or otherwise. It had simply run amok when the combination of a natural deep water port and being hemmed in by cotton producing neighbours made some smart, now rich, member of the government realise they could cash in and manufacture the finished product and ship it off to the US and Europe for a song. Mbane had made US$25 a month working twelve hours a day, sometimes seven days a week cutting patterns for some well known brand of shirt any man of hers could never afford to buy.
As for the shanty town accommodation, it was a tragedy waiting to happen. The first storm of the rainy season always sent people and their homes off on an unguided tour of the country’s river system. If there were any wild animals left they were only wild because they hadn’t been fed in a week or two. Mbane would be pretty wild if she hadn’t eaten for a week, too. She was getting mildly irritated as it had been some nine hours since the lady on the airplane had given her a tray with several plastic bowls full of strange food. She had eaten the lot and then saved the cutlery. Quality plastic knives and forks like that were saved for special occasions where she came from, not thrown in the garbage like she had seen the airplane lady do.
Her eyes rose from the crest on the passport’s cover at the same time as the Immigration Officer raised his to look at her one more time. He had done this at least six times, almost as if he didn’t trust his memory for the few seconds it took to look at her photo and then her. Given it wasn’t her in the photo but her sister who had once traveled to this country with her nation’s Netball team; she could understand his hesitation. Generously she allowed the other four Immigration officers had felt the same way. Her and her passport had been stared at in some strange syncopated Immigration Officer ritual by progressively fatter officers. The first one had been a young man, then a slightly older woman, then another woman only two, no three dress sizes bigger. Then there was the fat man and now the fattest man of all was doing it. She thought he must be the Big Boss because he was so fat, and fat meant wealth and power where she came from.
Her eyes met those of the Immigration Officer and she smiled. He smiled back which only confirmed he was powerful. The others had all maintained their icy stares as if to inject any emotion would undermine their authority. Which right then was absolute because it didn’t seem like they were going to let her leave the airport to start her new life. The smile stopped. It didn’t fade away, it just stopped. The Immigration Officer replaced it with a question.
“So, Miss, er…..Bantu. Tell me again why you have come here. Your visa expired three years ago and you are not here for a sporting event, are you?”
Mbane spoke good English, a legacy of a long lost government that the old people spoke of in revered tones. A time when things worked, including most of the menfolk and tribal law took a back seat to something fairer and more just.
“I seek asylum. I am escaping religious persecution.” She had read this statement in a battered Reader’s Digest a missionary had loaned her. Some story titled Drama in Real Life about a woman running from an Arab nation where she was from a minority Christian sect.
The Immigration Officer looked at her passport again then back at her. This ritual was becoming a joke, but Mbane wasn’t laughing. Her life was on the line.
“In my country they circumcise women before their marriage so they can never have pleasure. This is done to make sure they only think of their husband’s needs. It is done with a sharpened sea shell, or sometimes a rusty razor blade and it always leads to infection. Sometimes the girl dies. I was educated by the missionaries. They told me this is not done in your country. I refused two offers of marriage because I was so scared of this. Then my father insisted I marry his cousin’s brother-in-law and that I am circumcised. “
“ Well I am sorry Miss Bantu. Unless you have a valid entry visa you will have to be placed in a Detention Center until your claim for asylum can be investigated. I could order you back on the next flight home, but I can’t, in all conscience, do that. I sure hope you are telling me the truth.” His concern was genuine, she knew that.
“Thank you, Sir. At least I will have a chance. If I went back now I would most likely be killed by my father for the shame I have brought on his head.” She wasn’t lying. Tribal law demanded her father cleanse the family honour and the insult to her suitor’s family she had caused by refusing the circumcision and running away. Stealing the family’s life savings to pay for the air ticket hadn’t earned her any Brownie points, either.
“Is there anything else you would like to tell me before you go to the Center?” The Immigration Officer looked back at her once more as he asked this question.
Mbane thought she might as well admit the passport wasn’t hers.
“Yes Sir, sorry but the passport belongs to my sister. She was to be married before me but the infection killed her. I didn’t have a passport so I borrowed hers.”
The Immigration Officer’s eyes realised they could look at three things. The passport photo, the face of the woman in front of him. And the ceiling. He raised them skyward in a mixture of pity and disgust and closed the passport. He held on to it and used it to wave her to the door. She stood up and followed the directions of her borrowed travel document and wondered, not for the first time, what was going to happen to her.
Carol Shelby stood up and straightened her skirt, ran her hand down the side of her business suit and then absent mindedly made a grooming action to her hair. Pointless given it was cropped so short she had been compared to the obviously Lesbian paralegal in her office more than once since getting it cut. She had shaved off her shoulder length nappy dreadlocks in a tonsorial like act of renewal after leaving her husband. Also a lawyer, Haines Shelby was a sensitive new age chauvinist, a politically correct paradox she had once found attractive enough to marry right after graduation. Two years of what passed for marriage in a family dynamic revolving around fourteen hour days and mountains of paper from innumerable cases had killed off her relationship with the handsome junior partner she once thought she loved.
“Your Honour,” she began. “Miss Bantu is clearly a refugee, fleeing for her life from a barbaric and condemned practice that even her own government has outlawed. The reality, of course is that they don’t enforce their own laws. Indeed, they have been criticised by the UN as merely paying lip service to Human Rights. For Miss Bantu to have remained in her own country would surely have led to her mutilation, if not death. Add to that her enforced marriage to a man she hardly knew this amounts to slavery, torture and even attempted murder. The death rate from female circumcision at her age is nearly forty percent. And that is just the reported cases. Far more occur that never see the light of day.”
Carol looked at her client, sitting there so trusting and full of hope. She had to gain for her not just her freedom, but her safety as well. No way was she going to allow the authorities to return her to a certain death.
“Her danger was grave and immediate. She felt her life was threatened and she acted purely in self defence. Not by attacking her father or husband to be. That would have merely led to a more certain death. How could she attack her culture, her tribal law that as we have had explained by our last witness, is far more prevalent and powerful than any attempt at modern justice her government might allude to.” The previous witness was a fellow citizen of Mbane’s. She had met an expatriate textile engineer and escaped the poverty and fear of her native land. But not before her family had held her down and mutilated her in the name of the family’s honour! Her testimony had finished several moments before anyone in the court room could bring themselves to speak. The photographs of her scars a poignant illustration of the fate that had awaited Mbane.
Carol paused to take a breath before continuing her summing up. It gave the Judge the opportunity he needed to lift his hand in a gesture of resignation and speak. “Counselor, there is no need to continue. I have seen enough evidence to accept your client’s reasons for her actions as both necessary and prudent. I am sure, given the testimony we heard today, your learned colleague representing the Immigration Department will not object to my finding on behalf of Miss Bantu.” He barely looked across at the other bench, knowing that the prosecuting attorney had no stomach for a fight against a woman he personally felt should be granted asylum. His work had been professional and without error; but anyone could tell he was merely going through the motions. Besides, this was a hearing to examine the request for asylum, not a criminal trial.
Mbane looked expectantly at her government appointed advocate, too scared to believe she had understood the Judge’s words. Too frightened she might be dreaming this again as she had many times those nights she had spent in the detention center. Only then her dreams had just as often as not ended with her request being denied and her handcuffed form bundled onto a plane back home. With those dreams she had mercifully woken up before the plane door closed behind her. In the other dreams, when she had been granted her wish, the scene had played itself out over and over again, as if it could not move beyond this moment. Only now the film was moving forward. People in the courtroom were cheering and applauding, drowning out the next words the Judge was saying.
He finally gave up and looked down at Mbane. “Congratulations Miss Bantu, and welcome to our country.”
If there was one thing Karen Smith had learnt since entering politics twenty years before; it was that you need to keep your face in front of the voters. Especially with a name like Smith. Too everyday to stand out during the thirty second sound bites or whatever the networks gave you nowadays. You had to be seen and heard. This meant being at the forefront of the issues that mattered to the people in your electorate. Knowing what was important to them, even if they were semi-illiterate peasants. And most of her constituents were, at least judging by the standard of their correspondence. The Education Minister waffling on about the “Three R’s” didn’t help. Readin, riting and rithmetic? Purleeeese! If there was one thing Karen Smith could not stand, it was poor grammar and lousy spelling. Of course, having been a primary school teacher for the first ten years of her working life didn’t make her any more tolerant of people’s poor grasp of the language.
Some of her critics espoused she had never worked a day in her life. School, college, then a teacher, then politics. Hardly a real job any of them. Teachers always copped the “too much vacation time” thing. Politicians too but Karen knew how many hours she spent on the job. She didn’t go to those dinners for the food, you know. There is only so much chicken anyone can stomach. Why did they always serve chicken? So they wouldn’t offend the minorities? Her mind moved on to that subject effortlessly. Like all women she could multi-task and think of more than one train of thought at a time, even hold two conversations simultaneously. It annoyed her male colleagues who though she was being rude talking over them or to someone else whilst they were speaking, but quite simply put she could do more than one thing at a time, why couldn’t they?
Her attention was caught by the News on the TV. Some story about an African woman being granted asylum to escape female circumcision. Good for her! Karen knew there were those in her own constituency that still practiced the barbaric act of female genital mutilation, as she preferred to call it. Let’s call it what it is, she had said more than once. Mutilation of the female genitalia. Simple as that! What shocked her the most was that people who had ostensibly migrated to this country to escape religious and cultural persecution still insisted on mutilating the genitals of their female children. Here! Today! In this day and age! In her Electorate!
What upset her more was that doctors, professional men and women performed the mutilation! They might argue that if they didn’t then the parents would arrange a back yard job and put the girl at more risk, but they never seemed to try and talk the parents out of it. Almost as if they gave tacit encouragement! And these were pillars of their ethnic communities! People that were looked up to and respected as having made it big time in the new land!
The fact that it was not against the law to perform the mutilation was even more absurd. Then again, when you thought about it, why should something so bizarre and abhorrent be specifically outlawed? Why should there be a law against a practice that was alien to the core culture of the country? Better be careful here. The ethnic lobby might rise up in arms if she gave even a hint that one culture was predominant. It might be true, but in this politically correct world we had to survive in it did not pay to call a spade a spade. Karen actually wondered if you were allowed to use that cliché nowadays, or would those who claim spade as a derogatory term against their skin colour raise howls of protest? Talk about a political minefield!
Twenty years of staying elected had twisted Karen Smith’s thinking so much she didn’t even trust herself to think without applying the PC monitor to her thoughts. But back to the matter at hand. Why haven’t we got a law banning female genital mutilation? Why not propose one as a private member’s Bill? Do a good deed and generate some positive publicity at the same time? Couldn’t hurt, surely? No member of the ethnic communities involved could ever, would ever, dare to speak up in favour of the practice. They might secretly approve, but they were savvy enough to know what would be acceptable and what would earn them scorn and derision.
Yes. A Bill to abolish the practice of female genital mutilation, by doctor or minister of religion or layperson. She would get her legal drafting team onto it first thing in the morning. The Smith Act it would be called. Sure, it would have some legal title like The Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2002 (as amended), but it would be known as the Smith Act. She would get her fifteen minutes of fame, or thirty seconds or whatever it was. But she would get it nonetheless. Karen Smith then started thinking about other things. What she might wear to the press conference after the first reading for instance. Or the interviews with grateful women’s groups. That sort of thing.
“Can’t do it!”
“Against the Sex Discrimination Act, 1985 (as amended) . It states, in part, “there will be no discrimination on the grounds of Sex, for any purpose”. It then goes on to describe just about every conceivable act, activity, pastime, hobby, vocation, everything. You can discriminate against men in favour of women when it comes to babies, boobs and bleeding, but that’s about it. Oh, yeah, you can also discriminate against white people in favour of black people as they apparently are discriminated against more than whites anyway and this somehow balances things up.”
“What, a bit like two wrongs DO make a right?”
“Yes, but two Wongs can’t make a white!”
The two drafters laughed. It was an old joke but still one they could share in the privacy of the small office they overflowed in the basement. It actually referred to an Asian couple wanting a blond baby, but it could be used in this instance because both drafters were in tune with each other. The fact that they slept together probably added to their harmony as much as detracted from it, but then they were careful not to make too public an issue of their relationship. Not that they could be discriminated against for being homosexual, at least not overtly. But both men had lived long enough in the real world to know the score. Keep it private and keep it out of sight and although everybody knew, nobody could make anything of it. The reality was that nobody cared anymore; but these two old Queens had been around back in the bad old days. The days when you could be jailed for being Gay. Pretty stupid law, that one. Get caught having sex with another man and what does the Establishment do to you? Locks you away in an institution full of horny men! A boy could have a field day in there! But those days were over.
“So what do you propose?”
“I propose we have a spot of lunch, how’s Leonardo’s sound? The local Italian was a lunch time favourite of theirs.
“Bellisimo,! Count me in. We can finish this when we get back. If we get back!” Lunches at Leonardo’s, especially on Friday’s, were guaranteed to be long and boozy. Not worth coming back if you had the Flexi-Time to play with.
“Alright then, but when we finish this off we will have to leave out all reference to gender. We can call it The Genital Mutilation Act 2002 (as amended)”
“It hasn’t got any amendments yet! We haven’t even written the thing, let alone had her highness get it through the House!”
“Yes but she will and no doubt amendments will happen my sweet. C’mon, you look half starved! Worse than one of those catwalk waifs!”
And with that, the pair left for a long lunch. Both had the carbonara and the lambrusco. By the time they returned to the task the following Monday, the ‘female’ had been dropped and the first draft of the private members Bill which would become the Genital Mutilation Act 2002 was on Karen Smith’s desk. She loved her legal drafting team. They hardly ever made any spelling errors and they really did know how to dress.
“An Act to prohibit the deliberate mutilation, disfigurement or interference with the genitalia of any person, except where allowed under the Gender Alteration (Sex Change) Act of 1999 (as amended), for the purposes of, or for reasons of, religious, cultural, societal or aesthetic grounds, with the exception of proven medical necessity, by medical, religious or other persons. It is an offence, under this Act…” and the Act goes on for several more paragraphs. It virtually excludes every known excuse or opportunity to do anything more to one’s privates than scratch them. Even then you had better trim your fingernails first in case you draw blood!” The Rabbi was shaking his head and looking from one member of the Board of Jewish Deputies to another. As a moil, this effectively put him out of business. Circumcisions were a nice little earner for him. True enough plenty of parents took their little Abraham’s to the hospital or clinic nowadays. But there were enough traditional members of his congregation out there to keep him busy.
“It is an outrage! How dare they make illegal something which God has sanctioned; no ordered, for over five thousand years!” Mordecai was on his feet and just warming up. If he didn’t stop him soon, David Ribbinitz knew they would suffer his tirade for hours and still nothing would get decided.
“Mordecai, we all agree with you and we have been in the business as long as you have so for Christ’s sake sit down and shut up!” There was a ripple of laughter around the big table. Mordecai was well known for his ranting and raving, and he wasn’t even Orthodox!
Mordecai sat down, a huffy look on his bearded face, his rather small nose hidden in the shadow of his bushy eyebrows. He glared at each of his fellow Deputies, daring any one of them to deny this law was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. On that, he was in total agreement with every man there. They were all appalled at the new law. It effectively made them criminals for practicing their religious beliefs. Even the Nazi’s hadn’t gotten around to banning the Bris!
“Unfortunately, this law has been passed and is effectively the Law of the Land. There is nothing we can do.” One of the other men spoke quietly from the far end of the long table.
“Why can’t we appeal, get an exemption on religious grounds? I mean, this law was introduced to stop the towel heads mutilating their women, not our ancient practice of circumcising boy babies. Surely the difference is clear?” This last speaker was one of the youngest members of the Board. He was Orthodox but quite liberal in his views. At least that was how he presented himself. You never could trust the radicals, David thought.
“We have looked into this Act” David began. He and three other lawyers, including the best Constitutional Law attorney the country had to offer, had gone over the legislation with a fine tooth comb. It was so tightly written it was, how had he described it? Tighter than a fishes bum and that was watertight! Crude, but apt. “It is written so tightly it would take a Referendum to change it. It specifically rules out any exceptions on the grounds of religion or sex. It had to be that way to get passed thanks to other anti-discrimination laws that are entrenched and have precedents. We can argue test cases to establish some opposition to this Act, but our chance of success is slim. It would take another Act of Parliament to overthrow this Act, as amending it our way is virtually impossible. I won’t go into the legal reasons, you all have a copy of the lengthy opinion our attorneys have prepared for us. All I can say is that we should institute a program of civil disobedience and continue as before. Whilst it may be against the law to do a lot of things, a lot of laws are not enforced, or enforced as tightly as they should be. I think that so long as we don’t make a fuss no one will come looking for us!”
This was not what anyone at the table wanted to hear but they were all realists. They had to be, it was in their genes. Their people had suffered persecution for centuries, perhaps only the Roma, or Gypsies had suffered more. Of course, every man there would agree the gypsies deserved the treatment they had received, thieving pack of pagans. But not their people. They were the descendants of Abraham himself. They had survived the angst of countless empires and kings for generations. A simple Act of Parliament wasn’t going to stop them practicing the true faith. Oh, one man there would disagree with the opinion of the Roma. He was half Roma himself, but that was not something you bragged about, even today. Even in this country. And he was old enough to recall a time and place where you didn’t brag at all. Not unless you were blond and blue eyed!
Doctor William Hendon, Bill to his friends, put down the nail brush and flicked off the tap with his elbow. He dried his hands thoroughly and threw the towel in the bin. He was off to have lunch with his brother, Charlie. Despite their being on opposite sides in the current circumcision debate, that didn’t stop Bill enjoying time with his only living blood relative. Especially not when it was Charlie’s turn to pay. Bill had chosen The Crucible as the restaurant of choice. Right across town and horrendously expensive but they did a superb roast beef that was pink inside and ….He was almost salivating at the thought of it.
His Mercedes was parked in his reserved spot and the imported luxury car virtually covered the distance to the restaurant without any conscious input from him. He found a park right across from the restaurant and put his “Doctor On Call” tag in the window. The spot was in a loading zone after all. As he crossed the road he scanned the street for any sign of his brother’s battered pick-up, usually this meant clouds of smoke hovering a foot or so off the street, but he wasn’t to be seen.
The maitre-d welcomed him as a regular and valued client should be, fussing over him and making a great show of placing him in just the right spot to observe the door. He ordered a margarita to start and looked around, just as Charlie burst into the restaurant. Typical Charlie to make any entrance an Entrance! The maitre-d attempted to repeat his sycophantic performance but Charlie had broken free and stormed over to his brother. Bill stood up to receive the bear hug, it was safer than trying to modify it sitting down.
The two brothers warmly shook hands and sat down. They ordered drinks, selected their lunch and then took stock. Both knew what the other wanted to talk about. Everybody was talking about it. Bill started off.
“So what do you think about Simon Ng getting arrested for performing that circumcision?” It was several months since the Genital Mutilation Act had become law and this was the first instance of it being applied. Dr Simon Ng was a pediatric surgeon at Charlie’s hospital who had performed the operation at the request of the boy’s mother. Her estranged husband, denied access to any of his four children by a woman hell bent on playing a vicious and nasty game of Divorce, had lodged an official complaint with the Police. He was against circumcision and had refused his wife’s request to have their oldest son done when he was born. Of course, some media reports, siding with the mother, had claimed it was he who was playing a nasty game.
“Too bad. At least his insurance will cover his legal fees. He’ll get a slap on the wrist, and deservedly so, mutilating poor little boys.” Charlie was a major opponent to circumcision. He followed the line that it denied the man of much of the feeling, all of the natural protective secretions and was, in this day and age, an abomination.
Bill felt differently. He would, of course. He had himself circumcised whilst at medical school after seeing a patient with major infection lose his manhood. The fact the patient was mentally incompetent and didn’t wash the rest of his body hadn’t really entered into his thinking. Charlie, on the other hand, boasted of still being complete; hair, teeth, appendix, tonsils, you name it. He had the lot, just as the maker intended.
“I think it is tough on Simon, being made the butt of a slimy domestic row.”
“Domestic row? You have to look at the bigger picture. Sure, the mother took a liberty, but she had no right. No parent does. It must be up to the individual when they are mature enough to make their own mind up! You did!” He added for emphasis.
“Don’t give me that freedom of choice crap again Charlie. Next you’ll be saying children shouldn’t receive any religious instruction until they can vet the various beliefs for themselves.”
“And why not? Who said you must have a religion anyway? Surely spiritual beliefs should be acquired, not forced upon you?
Bill knew they were going round and around again. He was against abortion, for religion, for circumcision and Charlie was the opposite. Bill felt too much freedom of choice was a bad thing. Trouble was he didn’t quite know why, just that it was. Some things you need, whether you want them or not. Charlie on the other hand, had always been his own man. Stood up against teachers and argued his point so well, if sometimes naively or wrongly, he was often sent to the Principal as the teacher’s patience was exhausted. Charlie was Bill’s twin. Not identical, but still his brother. Bill was the older by a few minutes and he had always used this as a psychological lever that even now, nearly forty years after their birth, worked from time to time.
“Listen,” Bill said. “If they nail Simon, what’s next? Who’s next?” He left that thought hang.
“Doesn’t matter.” Charlie replied. The fact is the operation is illegal. Until they change that any doctor performing it runs the risk. The same risk I ran for years until they woke up about abortion. Sure I think of the life lost, but take one look at teenage single parent land and tell me I’m doing the wrong thing?”
“Those girls should think about the consequences before they..” Bill stopped, realising the ridiculousness of what he was about to say. Who thought about 3am feeds when the lust was up? Nobody. Feeding, clothing, sheltering, educating? Not when you were about to get sweaty.
“Yeah, and it’s a bloody industry! Those little trollops know the tax payer will cough up to pay for their little Shane or Donna. Half of the mum’s are kids themselves with lousy upbringings who think violence and incest are normal. The other half are simply thick, or their parents, more likely parent, was as thick as them and they learnt nothing!” Given Charlie worked for a tiny stipend in a public hospital, as well as free clinics for the poor, he was their biggest critic. “just because I do what I can for them doesn’t mean I think the sun shines out of their anal passage, mate” he had once told Bill. Bill was strictly private, upscale and worth a fortune.
“What about the parent’s rights? My patients are screaming at me to do the operation. They want their sons to look normal and enjoy good hygiene!” Bill fought back.
“Normal! You’ve lost the plot mate! Normal is with the foreskin attached. Cutting the mongrel off is abnormal, its just become a common practice here of late! As for hygiene, the number of men or boys who have infections due to inability to retract the foreskin is three tenths of sweet F.A.! You know as well as I do mostly it is laziness or ignorance. Education, not surgery. That’s what they need. And their parents. “ Charlie sat back and took a sip of his beer. Bill’s Chardonnay sat virtually untouched.
“Charlie, do you think it is right to deny Jewish parents their religious freedom?” Before he could expand, Charlie jumped in, he’d known this would be Bill’s next angle of attack.
“That was done because five thousand years ago, nomadic sheep herders did not enjoy the modern conveniences we take for granted. Like washing in clean water, fresh clothes etc. They were lucky if they bathed at all. It was necessary then, a health issue. Just like not eating pork because of what they fed the pigs and the ease with which pigs could pass on worms and other parasites. To maintain ancient health regulations when the current living conditions render them obsolete is like still driving Model T Fords because they still get you from A to B, eventually. Don’t forget, it was a religious or cultural ritual that caused the law to be written in the first place!” He sat back and folded his arms across his chest, a signal that he was confident Bill had nowhere left to go and that the argument was his.
“You can’t compare the female genital mutilation performed in some dirt floored shack in Africa to a modern surgical procedure. To use your analogy, that would be like driving a Model T Ford compared to a new Mercedes.” Bill felt he had made a telling point, also.
“Maybe, but don’t forget there are surgeons in this country who are still performing that crime on migrant women and their daughters. Girls who have known no other culture but ours and a rosy version of their parent’s “old country” reminiscences are mutilated because of the stupidity of their parents. They have to realise they are the ones who must change to our way of living. We don’t change to theirs. Otherwise why don’t they bugger off back where they came from and leave the ones who do try to integrate?”
Bill had no answer for that. He found the practice as abhorrent as Charlie did but saw male circumcision as something totally different done for different reasons under different circumstances. Both men turned their attention to the food as it was quickly served amid the lunchtime crowd, none of whom had paid a blind bit of notice to the brother’s debate. Not that they cared.
Christine Ahmood was the third generation of children to be born in the country to Lebanese migrant parents. She still had the dark good looks of her great grand parent’s homeland, but none of the attitude. She was as assimilated and integrated as they came. At 22 she was finally free of University, free of study and free of the worry of getting a job in her chosen field. She was a journalist and she had landed the plummiest of plum jobs for a cub reporter. She was on television! OK, it was the ethnic channel, might as well play that string as not. Forget the fact she knew maybe three words of Arabic and two of them were rude. She had the looks and the name and so she had the job. Reverse discrimination one of her Anglo-Saxon classmates had called it. Only because she didn’t get the job. How can it be reverse discrimination she had argued? Either it is discrimination or it isn’t? Are you saying the only people who discriminate and thus are racist are you Anglo-Saxons? Her friend had seen her point. She might not have won the job but she wasn’t stupid.
Chris pushed back her long black hair and looked down the barrel of the camera with those dark almond eyes she was well aware had the power to get her what she wanted. She could back it up, but even in this so called enlightened age, people were still people and human nature was, if nothing else, predictable.
“The hearing continued today on the Dr Simon Ng Circumcision case with his counsel arguing that he performed the operation on medical grounds, concerned for the health and safety of the baby boy. The prosecution denied there was any evidence of health concerns and produced the release form signed by the baby’s mother as proof. Under the heading “reasons for requesting the procedure” the mother had written, “because it looks better without a foreskin”. Hardly a health issue, surely, said Brenton Frazer for the prosecution. The jury has now withdrawn to make its decision and Dr Ng’s fate hangs in the balance. Tonight, at least at the Central Court, the word on everyone’s lips is foreskin.”
The camera man and the sound girl laughed at the adlib. It was just a sound and lighting check anyway. Chris wouldn’t do her piece to camera until they actually got the verdict, which they expected at any moment. If the jury was still out after 4pm, then she would do something similar and it might make it to air. The case was big news, but as she had learnt in college, there has to be some news content to make it to the news. Not much, maybe, but some.
Barry the cameraman liked Chris. She was good fun, just the thing you needed stuck waiting for something to report on. He’d spent twenty years as a news cameraman and he figured 19 of them were spent just waiting. He’d keep the tape of the adlib. It would make for a great laugh when they put the blooper tape together for Christmas. All the networks did one and then swapped them. Reminded the prima donna talking heads they were just the seen part of the team.
Simon Ng felt betrayed. His lawyer had told him his professional indemnity insurance did not cover him for illegal operations. The circumcision was illegal; there was no argument about that. His defence had revolved around his belief the boy needed to lose his foreskin for health reasons. Total crap, of course, but Simon was being held up as the scapegoat. Test case someone had called it. But then he wasn’t the one being hung out to dry. If the boy had been Jewish, then his expenses would have been zero as a big city Jewish lawyer would have taken the case pro-bono. He’d called Simon to ask about the boy’s faith. Soon as he heard he was a gentile he hung up. So much for justice.
He could afford the court case. He was rich. His family was rich. How do you think they made it out of Vietnam? By good luck or hard work? No, they bought their way out like many others had. Bought their way in here, too. Vietnamese of Chinese origin were a minority in his homeland and not well liked. At least here if anyone so much as looked askance at him he could scream racist and watch the ghost squirm. That was what their name for white people translated to, and it wasn’t polite. Hell, the Thai’s used the same pronoun as when talking about animals when they spoke to farangs, or white people. Japanese, Koreans, Chinese; they all had their own derogatory names for whites. So what? Simon Ng was still enough of an Asian to think of himself first, and then his family. The rest of the world didn’t count.
He never thought it incongruous that he had received his medical training in his adopted country. Or that because of his migrant status he enjoyed reductions in fees and other perks. If the government were stupid enough to give him special treatment, he would be even more stupid to refuse. And Simon Ng was anything but stupid. He was, in fact, a very intelligent man. Too bad he hadn’t the brains to refuse that bitch of a woman. How she had the audacity to play those games with her husband. How her husband had no shame, letting her do it! No Asian wife would dare pull a stunt like that. Obviously white men were scared of their women. If they hit them the police would lock them up! What made it worse was that very often the police only knew about it because the wife had called them! An Asian wife would never let her husband lose face like that. She would have a quiet word to her relatives, if her family were the more powerful of the two. If they weren’t her family would slap her harder and tell her to go back and be a good wife and not bring shame on them. Power. Money. One and the same. And his greed for her money had left him in this situation. Powerless. Well, not entirely. If they found against him his lawyer said the worse he would get was a fine, maybe just a bond. He wouldn’t go to gaol. Even if they did sentence him, his family would have him out of there and on a plane to somewhere with no extradition in a matter of hours. No son of theirs would rot in a white man’s prison.
Mbane stood up and rubbed her aching lower back with her right hand. The left hand held the scrubbing brush she had just worn down a little more while cleaning the floor of the kitchen where she worked. It was 3am and soon the baker would be whistling his way in to start baking the daily bread. She liked the baker, a jovial man from Armenia or Azerbaijan or somewhere like that. He would always give her a loaf and some rolls to take home for her breakfast. Still warm from the oven and filling the air in the bus with the universally loved aroma of fresh bread.
Three more hours of mopping and cleaning and another day, or rather night, was done. It was the end of her working week, early Monday morning and she had all of Monday, Tuesday and until 10pm Wednesday to herself. Literally to herself. Since the hue and cry of her court case and the passing of the Bantu Act, as it had been labeled in the press; life had settled down to relative obscurity. She was unaware how the instigator of the Genital Mutilation Act 2002 felt about the Press re-naming her Bill in favour of Mbane. Karen Smith had never once made any attempt to contact her and Mbane wouldn’t have ever thought of talking to a politician, although she was grateful the Act had been passed.
Mbane put the scrubbing brush away on her trolley and squeezed some water out of the mop before beginning the final process of making the floor clean enough to eat off. Why anyone would want to eat off the floor was beyond her but her supervisor, Mrs Gerakis, had dictated that was how clean it had to be. Mrs Gerakis was from Greece and spoke with a pronounced accent even after living here nearly forty years. She had several houses she rented out and was probably worth more than the Director of the Hospital where the kitchen was located. One day Mbane would own several houses but there was no way she would return to her homeland as Mrs Gerakis always threatened. Maybe in Greece you can live cheaply and still get a pension sent to you every month as well as the rental income the government weren’t privy to; but not her homeland. Lucky if the money got through. Lucky if she lived to collect it! They have long memories back home.
Home? Was it really home? Not any longer. Mbane thought of her little one bedroom flat as her home. It was hers and gave her all the privacy and security she needed once within its sheltering walls. She no longer existed in her family’s eyes anyway. She had new family now. Mr Shareef, the Syrian Professor of Literature who lived all alone with his memories and grief in the identical flat next door was like a father to her. Mrs Alvarez from Chile almost a mother. Mrs Alvarez had escaped the fate of her sons and husband back when General Pinochet ruled her skinny sliver of a country with an iron fist. And her sisters were Neng and Ning, the two Thai girls she knew were working the game instead of studying as their visa’s allowed.
Children? Simba and Simbwana her two stray cats filled that emptiness. As for a man in her life she had not had much luck of late. Friends from work had dragged her to singles nights and dances but she was too shy to reciprocate the few advances that had come her way. Not that she was ugly, she was just an ordinary woman. Ordinary looking. Ordinary intelligence. Ordinary in every way except maybe her desire to live like a human being. That desire had made her run from a fate worse than death to her. Made her take a job that left little opportunity for social improvement.
Weighing it all up as she often did at this time of the morning, she was happy. She enjoyed the peace and solitude her job and shift gave her. She came to work as most people were preparing to sleep. She went home as they were struggling to mould some semblance of consciousness into their new day. She was free to spend some time with her children, then sleep a few hours before waking and watching her soap opera’s. In the evening before work she went to night school and came a little closer to her degree in accounting. One day she would pack away her cleaning trolley for the last time and take up a position with an accountancy practice. Give away her nocturnal existence and live like most in her adopted country.
Until then she had her health, her friends, her job. And her clitoris.
“Dr Simon Ng walked away from court today vowing to leave this country and relocate to somewhere that doesn’t persecute it’s surgeons for doing what their patients ask of them. He had just been found guilty of offences against the controversial Genital Mutilation Act for circumcising a young boy, the subject of a tug of love between two estranged parents. Although fined only $1000, Dr Ng stated he should never have been charged in the first place.” Christine Ahmood went on with her report and in the background scenes of Dr Ng running to a black limousine with a jacket over his head added a little drama to the story that had dragged on for months.
As the crew packed away the equipment, Chris checked her hair once again in the habitual way talking heads develop once they appear on the nation’s screens every evening at six and again at nine. She was glad this story had ended so she could take up that new slot on the morning show. No more running around at all hours in all weather chasing quotes and comments. From now on she would add the colour and balance to the two anchors for the show. It was a step up for her, coming less than a year after starting with the network.
Her promotion was partly due to the piece she had put together on the subject of female genital mutilation in this country. She was amazed to find out how extensive it was among certain ethnic groups, even some of her Lebanese community had experienced the dilemma of whether to continue this practice here in the new country. Mostly Muslim groups, but even some of her own christian Lebanese sects lamented the new law and the strict policing that was being enacted. No-one had thought the authorities would pay more than lip service to the Act but it had become the hobby horse of numerous do-gooder’s and community leaders, politicians and anyone who wanted to be seen to be in the forefront of taking ACTION!
Dr Ng was just the first in a growing line of doctors, rabbi’s, imams and backyard witch doctors that were filling the courts every day. Nobody outside of the individual communities concerned had realised the extent of the variations of circumcision being committed in this country. She empathised with the mothers who wanted their son’s done. She preferred a circumcised penis herself, why she could not say; she just did. She felt little sympathy for the Jews, but that was more an ingrained attitude than anything rationally thought out.
However, when it came to the Muslim girls still at risk she felt the Act was perhaps the single most important piece of legislation that had been enacted by the government in the last decade, maybe more. Her investigation had brought her face to face with several women, ostensibly as liberated and integrated as she was except they no longer had the ability to enjoy sex. It was barbaric in this day and age, this country that there were women like these in the community. Her report had helped identify five offenders who were among those waiting their turn at justice. Justice for their victims, she prayed.
Mordecai edged closer to the podium. That Smith goy bitch was really working up the crowd with her carefully prepared for her speech. Decrying the fact there were still businesses that refused to send themselves into bankruptcy because their female employees wanted to breed and be paid for it too! It was fine for the government to spend the tax payer’s money on funding their offspring, but how could any businessman trying to stay in business and keep his staff employed afford such nonsense?
Maternity payments were not the reason he was standing close to her podium armed with a 9mm pistol and a cigarette lighter. His clothes stank of the petrol he had just doused himself with and people around him instinctively began to move away. The space they created gave him a better line of fire at his hated nemesis, but also drew the attention of the security guard standing at the steps to the podium.
Better act fast, Mordecai reasoned. As the security guard began to move towards him, Mordecai drew the 9mm Browning and pulled back the slide in one smooth action. Just as he had been taught years before in the Israeli army. As the weapon came up to the full extension of his arm he squeezed the trigger while looking at Karen Smith with both eyes wide open. He fired four rapid shots and saw his target crumple and fall. He spun around and aimed at the security guard and saw him freeze in mid step. Might as well be hung for a lamb as a sheep he thought and fired two rounds into the guard, knocking him to the ground. He would have fired three but the weapon jammed so he dropped it and changed the Zippo lighter to his right hand. He flicked open the lid and spun the wheel with his thumb. The flame grew and glowed as the flint ignited the gas on the wick.
The crowd had recoiled from his immediate vicinity when he had opened fire, almost like an accordion. They now concertinaed back towards him only to recoil again as they saw the lighter and smelled the fuel soaked clothing. Mordecai was about to yell out his objection to the Genital Mutilation Act that offended his God and his religion but fate played a cruel hand to his intentions. The flame of the lighter somehow touched a part of his shirt that was saturated with flammable liquid and before he could utter a syllable, he went up in flames. His political comment was replaced with a scream of such sheer terror and agony all who heard it would remember forever the sight of the man with the blue and white Kipper and curly sidelocks virtually exploding into flame.
On the floor of the podium, Karen Smith was dead. She had ceased to exist even before she had hit the floor. Her death had been instantaneous and totally without realisation. Mordecai however, lived for three days in a personal Hell of his own making before he too, succumbed. Never to resume consciousness, it was only the statement of his brother, barely gaining fifteen seconds of airtime, that corrected the previous reports that had stated his opposition was to the call for compulsory maternity payments. In the way these things have of enshrining themselves in public memory, he was always to be remembered, if ever, for setting fire to himself on behalf of Scrooge employers everywhere.
The Immigration Officer sighed and looked once more at the ceiling. His eyes would develop a permanent upward squint if this didn’t stop soon, he thought. He turned his attention back to the rather attractive woman standing in front of him and then once again at the passport he held in his right hand.
“So, Miss, er…. “ he began.
“Thame. Tha-Mey. Elisha Thame” the woman replied.
“Yes, Miss Thame. You say you are escaping persecution and mutilation?”
“Yes, that is correct. I was promised to be married and before the wedding I was to be circumcised. They use a sea…”
“Shell”, the Immigration Officer finished for her. He had heard the same story what, thirty six times now? In just the last three months alone and he only worked morning shift. Apparently most of the flights came in later in the afternoon and some of his colleagues had heard the story many more times than he had.
“Well Miss Thame. Welcome to our country. You will be taken to the processing center and no doubt, you will be allowed to remain here after vetting. This might take a few weeks, we have had a large number of your fellow citizens to process lately.” He tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice as he waved her over to a door marked ‘INTERVIEW ROOM’ with her passport. As she picked up her bag and headed towards the door she looked back and smiled. He couldn’t help smiling back as he tossed the purple covered passport with the Lion and Leopard crest on its cover into the tray holding the three other identical passports that this morning’s flight had produced.