- The Little Suitcase
Isabelle did not love her mother. She often wondered if this meant she was a monster, an abnormal person on the margins of the most basic morality. After all, this was the woman who had brought her into this world. She did not even have the benefit of the excuse of the adopted child torn by a confused and painful quest to discover her biological identity. What made this all worse was that she and her mother resembled each other like two peas in a pod. Indeed, the one difference between the two women seemed to reinforce their resemblance. Whereas Isabelle’s tall silhouette immediately gave her away as a member of the Shabib family, her mother’s five-foot frame placed her solidly in the line of the Corneilles, well-known for being petite.
“The spitting image of Marguerite.” She had heard these words all her life and always had to smile politely at them. Her mother did not bother with politeness. She would purse her lips even more or simply ignore the comment as she continued to issue orders, harass employees and vendors, and shout at hawkers who, according to her, strayed too close to her storefront, only allowing a tense smile to relax her face when she caught the eye of buyers she thought worthy of her attention.
Arms at her sides, Isabelle stood near the bed where her mother lay. Was she asleep or was she only pretending? After more than forty years with this woman, Isabelle was still not able to decipher her feelings. Did Marguerite Corneille Shabib suspect that her daughter did not love her? Did she care? That impassive, cold face rarely changed, except to deepen the disdainful look that aptly encapsulated her relationship to the world and to others.
Isabelle suspected that her mother must be enraged to find herself in this vulnerable position today! She, Marguerite Corneille Shabib, descendant of a family of great business people for many generations, businesswoman [End Page 29] and entrepreneur herself, CEO of a consortium of textile industries, to find herself reduced to this pathetic mass of skin and bones, unable to move without assistance, impotent and frail.
Turning suddenly, Isabelle caught the eye of one of the nurses who took care of her mother, the one she had hired in addition to the staff already provided by this exceedingly expensive private institution in which she had decided to place her mother. What was her name again? Jeannette? Josette? No, Juliette. Highly recommended by mama’s cousin. Well-trained, all things considered, given the dubious quality of the countless nursing schools that proliferated in the country. At least this one knew how to read vital signs and could interpret the doctor’s orders. But her quickly averted gaze had given Isabelle pause. It did not square with her usual attitude of devotion. A cold, harsh look, not unlike Marguerite’s when she dismissed an employee. Empty eyes that saw neither the desperate looks nor the hateful glances.
One day, Isabelle had suggested that her mother use a less hurtful tone with the staff and not show so much contempt for others. Marguerite had turned toward her daughter without response, but Isabelle had felt on her cheek the weight of the slap that never came. The weight of the disappointment and rejection with just a hint of pity as though to say she really could not have expected better from a Shabib. Isabelle had long since understood that her father and mother had not married for love and that Marguerite even harbored feelings of resentment toward her husband’s family. Even Grandmother Shabib who adored her granddaughter and spared no effort to placate her daughter-in- law was not spared.
As a teenager, Isabelle had rubbed shoulders with enough couples, friends of the family, to no longer believe in fairytales. At eighteen she had refused two suitors that her parents had presented. “This will be good for you, the family is financially sound and with him there is really no risk!” What they meant was that with his phenotype and lineage, the young man...