the short story project


Jane Rogers | from:English

Red Enters the Eye

Introduction by Ra Page

Jane Rogers is a virtuoso of the first-person narrative. Whether she’s delivering a novel-length performance, or in her award-winning radio plays, she is a master of the monologue. Nowhere is this skill more evident, though, than in her shorter fiction. Short stories provide Rogers with just enough time to quickly assemble an entire world around the narrator, with a little extra, left over, to allow doubt to creep into the readers’ minds that perhaps this world isn’t quite as they’ve presented it. To work effectively, Rogers knows that this element of doubt has to be subtle, shifting, difficult to pinpoint; it cannot come clunking into the story in the form of dramatic irony – that device so over-used in soap opera solely to flatter the audience; it has to work, paradoxically, in the service of the narrator, making us the reader root for them even more. Jane Rogers does this by giving her characters conviction, an unwavering belief in themselves, despite everything. In the case of this story a gifted young textile designer, Julie, quits Britain to work for a Nigerian women’s refuge, confident in the belief that this is her chance to make a difference. After some doubts about coming across as patronizing to women, Julie quickly grows in confidence, putting her plan in motion: to teach sewing skills to the women of the refuge, to make them financially independent. Like so many of Rogers’ characters, Julie is buoyed up on her own confidence; she enthuses, she takes calculated risks, and she refuses to be deterred by obstacles put her in way (for instance, the reluctant refuge director, Fran). But whilst we’re endeared to Julie’s cause, we sense that there is something else going on in the refuge and, even if we sense it before Julie does, we completely forgive her for not spotting it soon enough. Jane Rogers’ power, as a short story writer, is to show us the ultimate fallibility of any point of view. There are blind spots – and there always will be blind spots – with any single point-of-view, no matter how intelligent or diligent the viewer. Julie isn't an unreliable narrator, just a human one – contradictory, passionate, gullible even. But it is her flaws that endear her to us.

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Before she went to Nigeria Julie bought twelve pairs of sharp dressmaking scissors. Good equipment showed respect. And buying things made it easier not to panic. She was afraid the women would resent her swanning in, setting herself up to teach them. She bought six pairs of pinking shears, ten packets each of needles and pins, thirty assorted reels of cotton. She had raised enough money to pay her airfare and to buy three reconditioned sewing machines from the Singer shop on Stockport Road. So Sew Right magazine had donated £150 in exchange for ‘a young designer’s fashion tips’ for their next issue. Julie jazzed up her third year essay on colour.

Accessorise with red! There’s nothing hotter than shiny red shoes teamed with a red satchel. Smoulder with a black dress, or transform jeans and t-shirt into something special. Remember, red enters the eye more quickly than any other colour.

By the time she landed in Jos she’d run out of fear. From the moment the female passport officer smiled and said, ‘You are wel-come in Nigeria,’ in her deep coo-ing voice, Julie’s spirits rose. She loved the strong colours and designs on the women’s wrappas, and their graceful posture. She loved the heat and the light and the exotic humid petrol-fumy air; the shrieks of invisible birds that sounded like monkeys; the reds and purples of hibiscus and bougainvillea.

The only disappointing thing was the woman from the refuge. Fran appeared as Julie was trying to prise her luggage from a surly official. ‘I’m transporting sewing machines for a charity. They said there would be no charge.’ Fran smiled absently and gave the man cash. When Julie started crossly hauling her cases onto a trolley Fran restrained her. ‘The driver will bring it.’

‘I don’t understand why you –’ Julie let her protest die away as Fran strode off to the car park. The driver was dragging two of Julie’s cases with one hand and the really massive one with the other. Julie tried to take it from him but he shook his head.

They got into the back of the car while the driver laboured to fit the cases into the boot. Fran handed Julie a cool bottle of water from under the passenger seat and said, ‘Please don’t open the window.’ There were lines like scratches around her eyes, and her hair was more grey than blonde.

‘How long have you been working here?’ Julie asked. ‘Yewande and I set up the refuge in 2002. But I’ve been in Jos for years, I used to teach.’

Julie might have guessed. The driver got in. ‘Simon – Julie. Simon is our driver and security guard.’

Simon gave a sycophantic little chuckle.

When they stopped at the lights, people from the roadside flooded in amongst the traffic – women with trays of oranges on their heads, boys selling cigarette lighters and mobile phones, a legless man on a trolley offering cans of drink. ‘Miss Julie – window!’ Simon shouted. A young girl had squeezed her fingers through the gap which Julie had rebelliously left open. Julie recoiled from the fingers, pinky-brown with blunt, bitten nails, waving at her like the tentacles of an octopus. Fran leaned over to rap sharply on the window and shout at the girl to go away. The waving fingers withdrew. Fran rolled Julie’s window up tight.

‘People get hurt. If their fingers are inside and the car moves on.’

The  women’s  refuge  was  as  Julie  had  expected,although she had not foreseen an armed watchman at the entrance to the compound. Fran confirmed it was a real gun. ‘For his own protection as much as anyone else’s.’ In the courtyard children ran and fought and played football with a deflated ball while the women, most of them with sleeping babies bound elegantly to their backs, chatted and hung up washing and prepared food and braided their daughters’ hair and sang along to a babbling radio. Some smiled at her. It could be any group of mothers and children, anywhere – but then there was the shock of the arm in a sling, the limp, the red wheals from a pot of boiling porridge.

Julie’s room, like all the others, opened onto the courtyard. The narrow window let in a rectangle of sun which moved across the floor during the morning and vanished in the afternoon. Sitting on her bed and listening to the children chanting outside, Julie felt the butterflies dance in her stomach. This was it! She was really going to make a difference.

On her first evening Fran and Yewande invited her to their quarters. Yewande was younger and more smiley than Fran, but the way they both spoke was flat and deliberate, ‘as if enthusiasm was a dirty word,’ Julie later emailed to her friend Elspeth. At least Yewande was half-Nigerian, at least her clothes weren’t as dingy as Fran’s; but her top was too tight. You could see where her bra bit into her back. They both needed a makeover. As Julie sipped her cold beer and stared at their shelves of masks and primitive dolls with naked conical breasts, she decided they were probably lesbians.

They told her the rules. Keep the sewing equipment safe in your room, keep the door to your room locked. Try not to make favourites of any of the women. Tell Fran or Yewande at the first sign of any trouble, and don’t discuss religion. Whoever’s in charge must sign in the security guard, when Obi relieves Zacchaeus, or Simon relieves Obi, or Zacchaeus relieves Simon. The outside gate should only ever be opened by the guard. Never let in anyone you don’t know.

‘Men, you mean,’ said Julie.

‘Never let in anyone who doesn’t already live here.’ Fran’s voice plodded like two flat feet.

‘But how do new women come?’

‘Via hospital or through the churches –’

‘I thought this wasn’t religious?’

‘We have no tribal or religious affiliation,’ said Yewande quickly. ‘Absolutely not. But the churches sometimes provide a haven.’

‘And we work closely with my old school,’ said Fran. ‘They often refer ̶ ‘

‘But surely if someone’s in danger  ̶ ?’

Yewande shook her head. ‘We can’t take in people off the street, it’s too risky. Some of these women’s husbands walk past every day.’

‘Has one ever come in?’

‘A man with a machete. But Fran stopped him.’ Yewande laughed.

‘How did you do that?’

‘I told him to go home before I called the police,’ said Fran flatly.

Pretty soon Julie understood it all. Really the place ran itself. Fran and Yewande held a kind of surgery in the mornings, dispensing health and legal advice; Yewande also ran a literacy class. And in the afternoons they would have sewing.

Nine women gathered round the long dining table on the first afternoon. The stately woman whose name began with R said she had already sewed many garments. ‘Some of these women know nothing,’ she told Julie disdainfully. ‘Some of these women are ig-nor-ant.’ Fran announced that Miss Julie was giving them an opportunity to make clothes for their children and to learn a marketable skill. She told them they must always ask permission before using the machines. The scissors and pinking shears and needles, all this equipment which had been brought from England specially for them, must be counted in and out at the start and end of every class. Julie stared at her feet, hoping the women would not think it was her idea to patronise them so.

At last Fran finished and Julie plunged in. They were going to make squares from fabric samples, then sew the squares together into patchwork bedspreads. They would practise hemming first by hand, then by machine. She demonstrated the first stages; measuring six inch squares, cutting, folding and pinning the hem on four sides.

‘Oh this is very easy!’ said R, whose name was Rifkatu. Some of the women laughed – whether in agreement or because they thought Rifkatu was boasting, Julie could not tell. Some remained silent, glancing quickly under their lids at Julie then away, as if afraid that she would see them. If they could sew already, this exercise would insult them. She put the samples on the table and tried to smile – ‘Choose a colour you like.’ Two women reached for the same red flowered rectangle, and laughed. Someone flipping through the pile found them an identical one. Everyone measured and cut and pinned – two with practised ease, the others more slowly. They spoke to one another softly in their own language. At the far end of the table a thin woman with yellow-brown skin and hollows under her eyes fingered her cloth. Working her way around the table, Julie offered to help her.

‘She cannot understand you.’ ‘No English,’ said the others. ‘Can you translate?’

The women laughed. ‘You can?’

They shook their heads. ‘No one speak this language.’ ‘Ig-nor-ant,’ said Rifkatu.

‘OK,’ said Julie, ‘What’s your name?’ The woman watched her carefully.

‘I’m  Julie,  what’s  your  name?’  Julie  did  the embarrassing miming-pointing thing. When the woman whispered her name it was a hiss of consonants Julie could not reproduce.

‘OK, I’ll show you.’ Slowly she demonstrated again, the measuring, the cutting. The woman’s eyes followed her moves. ‘You try?’ She held out the scissors to the woman, who flinched away sharply.

‘Leave her Miss Julie. She’s one simple woman.’ ‘She understands no-thing.’

The women laughed. They showed each other their progress, and laughed again over the wonky hems and the corners that would not lie down. They clustered round Julie as she demonstrated fixing the thread to the fabric, and how to make neat little hemming stitches that were invisible on the other side. The women nodded and praised her work, and threaded needles of their own. Two left to feed their babies. Rifkatu asked if she could use a machine, and Sara went to fetch the iron. The strange woman sat at the end of the table, watching them all in silence.

At the end of the afternoon there was a small pile of hemmed squares, and Julie had demonstrated how to thread the machines. The women had talked and laughed and mostly followed her instructions. She had broken Fran’s dreary school-room atmosphere.

She asked Yewande about the silent one. ‘Mathenneh. The hospital sent her. She doesn’t speak Hausa so we don’t know the full story. All we can do really is make her feel safe.’ Yewande told Julie that fewer than half of the women spoke English. ‘Most of them can speak Hausa. But their first languages – their tribal languages – well, at the moment we have Duguza, Tarok, Izere, Yoruba, and Berom speakers. Berom is the main one locally. I think Mathenneh must come from quite far north.’

The sewing class became a great success. The women learned to use the sewing machines; they chattered non-stop. Sara and Hanatu sat by Julie and translated the jokes and scandals that set the others off. When Mathenneh wandered in, the chorus of voices fell to a low mutter, then silence. She turned to leave without even sitting down, and a couple of women called out after her. There was an explosion of laughter. ‘What did they say?’ Julie asked.

‘Nothing,’ Sara told her. ‘These women like to talk non-sense.’ Sara was in her thirties, a big woman with a droll way of rolling her eyes when Fran was holding forth. Hanatu was younger, around Julie’s age, with a three month old daughter. She radiated gentle kindness like a pilot light. Her husband beat her regularly, Sara told Julie, but last time he did it they had to take her to hospital otherwise the baby would have died. After that Hanatu didn’t go back to her home. The two of them constructed elaborate futures for themselves, in which they would move to Lagos and have well-paid city jobs. They delighted in the copies of Vogue and Elle which Julie had brought, and Sara made withering comments about the skinny, ill-clad models. Everyone in sewing laughed a lot. Alright, one or two things went missing. The number of scissors declined to five, and the pinking shears seemed to come and go. It was worth losing a few bits and bobs, not to have to do that primary teacher thing of counting at the end of class.

Soon all the patches were machined, then sewn together in strips, and finally the strips were joined, with half-patches as fillers where measurements had been a little out. There were three bright bedspreads. Fran decreed that they would go on the beds of the three newest arrivals, passing on to each newcomer in turn. Those women who could have the bedspreads first were Mathenneh, Rifkatu, and Catherine. This was received in silence. Julie emailed to Elspeth, ‘Fran takes the joy out of everything.’

Yewande said Mathenneh was a Muslim, and maybe that was why the others avoided her.

‘But you have other Muslim women here? Kubra wears Hijab.’

‘Kubra was born in Jos, she went to school here. It’s different. Mathenneh comes from one of the herding tribes in the north. You know it was herders who committed the atrocities in March?’

All Julie knew about the atrocities was that Muslims had killed Christians in villages south of Jos. It had been on the news. By stressing the religious nature of the conflict, and its distance from Jos, she had calmed her mother and boxed it for herself. Yewande, in her gentle husky voice, explained as they shared morning coffee in a corner of the courtyard. ‘Those herders rode into Dogo Na Hawa at 3am and fired their guns to frighten the villagers out of their huts. Then they hacked them to pieces with machetes – men, women and children – and burned their huts. Over three hundred died. All the women here know someone who knows someone who died.’

‘But why?’

Yewande shrugged. ‘Reprisals for Christians burning mosques and killing Jasawa, back in January? Anger because the settled farmers have more rights? I don’t know, it’s mad. Christians and Muslims live side by side here in town, they even intermarry – and then you get these explosions of violence. The killings are always revenge. And then revenge for the revenge.’

Fran appeared in the doorway of the office, blinking against the light. She made her way across to them. ‘I was looking for you,’ she said to Yewande.

‘Sorry, I’m coming.’ Yewande got to her feet. ‘These women have so much to deal with,’ she told Julie. ‘All the personal shit, and then tribal and religious conflict too. We have to keep them safe.’

Watching them return to the office Julie wondered if Fran was jealous. Yewande nearly always sat and chatted with Julie, at morning coffee. ‘Wish I was a lesbian,’ Julie emailed to Elspeth, ‘I haven’t met a single man, apart from the security guards who’re scared of me. Beware nymphomaniac when I get home!!’

After four weeks Julie was an old hand. The sewing class had made multi-coloured dressing gowns from remnants for their children. Fran’s old school provided a bolt of cheap undyed cotton and they sewed pinnies for the pupils. Julie took pictures of the women at their machines, and of the cute grinning children in their pinnies, and emailed them to So Sew Right.

Then there was no more fabric, and no money to buy any. Julie went to the market with Sara. They combed the fabric stalls: ‘Very fine quality, Madam, newest Paris fashion!’ ‘No fading, no shrink, will last you a lifetime Madam.’ There were golden anchors on a strident blue background; green palms and purple coconuts on white. Julie finally bought a regal red-purple batik in overlapping circles. She described her plan to Sara. She had designed a simple garment; a kaftan-style shirt with wide sleeves and a v-neck, loose enough to pull over the head. She would make a prototype and persuade Fran and Yewande to cough up some money. With a small injection of capital, the sewing class could buy a range of these eye-catching fabrics, make kaftan shirts and sell them to tourists. They were perfect souvenirs: ethnic, unisex, and cooler than a t-shirt. The women could quickly make enough to repay their loan and to pay themselves. Julie explained the term ‘no-brainer’ to Sara and they laughed all the way home.

Fran and Yewande were hesitant. Julie had known they would be but it was still exasperating. They argued that the refuge was a charity not a business; they were not allowed to make a profit. Also, what about health and safety? And who would sell the shirts? Who would decide the price, and what proportion of the profits should go to whom?

In her email to Elspeth Julie described Fran and Yewande as ‘the kind of people who wouldn’t strike a match in case it caused a forest fire. Aaaargh! I want to put a bomb under them.’

Fran finally decreed that the refuge would pay for the fabric and the shirts would be sold at school and church fundraising events. Profits could finance improvements to the refuge, such as the installation of a new shower unit.

‘You can make them to sell for yourselves when you leave here,’ Julie pointed out to Sara. ‘You and Hanatu can set up business.’

‘There is the small matter of a sewing machine.’

‘I don’t see why I can’t give you one of these. After all, I brought them here.’ She felt awkward about suggesting this to Fran and Yewande, but in reality, weren’t they hers to give?

Soon, each of the sewing women had completed her first shirt and there was a race on to see who could make the most. At mealtimes Julie sat with them; she felt awkward with the other women, who didn’t speak English, or whose lives were so crisis-ridden that sewing was an irrelevance. She regretted the absence of Mathenneh, though. Yewande speculated that she might be an elective mute: the Fula translator had not been able to get a word out of her, and now Yewande was trying to get her to draw pictures. ‘She’s traumatised. God knows what she’s seen. She needs a psychiatrist, but who’s going to pay for that?’

The Fulani woman no longer wandered into sewing at all; she hovered at the edge of the courtyard, or squatted in her room, which was three down from Julie’s, watching the children playing through her open door. Once Julie heard Rifkatu hissing at her, ‘Keep your eyes off my boy, ghost woman!’ But Mathenneh couldn’t speak English, so she wouldn’t have understood. When no one was looking, Julie paused to speak to her. ‘Why don’t you come back to sewing with me?’ She pointed towards the sewing room and mimed the needle dipping in and out of the cloth. Mathenneh’s big sad eyes were fixed on hers, but when Julie extended her hand Mathenneh shrank back. It was then that Julie noticed a pair of her scissors, lying on the table. Mathenneh must have seen the look because she snatched them up and hid them behind her back.

‘You’ve got my scissors,’ Julie said.

Mathenneh held her position and Julie laughed. After a moment a ghost of a smile seemed to flicker across Mathenneh’s face. How young she was! Slowly she brought the scissors from behind her back and replaced them on the table.

‘Can I have them?’

Mathenneh laid her fingers protectively over the scissors.

‘That’s a no, then.’

They watched each other.

‘You’ll come to sewing one day, Mathenneh? Bring the scissors and come to sewing?’

Mathenneh tightened her hold on the scissors, and Julie went to sewing feeling rather flattered. Perhaps the scissors reminded Mathenneh of a time when her own life was normal, before whatever happened to her had happened. The scissors showed that she valued something Julie had brought. Perhaps she really would come back to sewing.

On the second Saturday in June there was a Gala Fête Day at Fran’s old school. Julie and Sara were going to take the first batch of thirty kaftans to sell. Julie managed to persuade Hanatu, who was afraid of leaving the refuge, to go with them. That same day Fran and Yewande were driving over to Abuja for Yewande’s mother’s sixtieth. ‘We’ll have to leave at midday but everything will be fine, as long as you’re back to do security sign-in at three,’ said Fran.

‘Look I’ll probably be back before you even go. I just want to help them set up the stall. A couple of hours will do me.’ It was rare for Fran and Yewande to be away; Julie looked forward to the different dynamic of the evening meal. It seemed to her that Fran cast a bit of a pall.

Julie didn’t think the fête would be up to much. A pitch on the street near the museum or in the market would attract more tourists. But when they arrived to set up their stall, there was already a festive crowd at the gates. Children gleamed in their uniforms, women were resplendent in bright new wrappas or western clothes with gorgeous hats and turbans; there was a party of Americans with cameras and bulging money belts. The Local Government Area Minister for Education stood on a specially constructed stage in the schoolyard and thanked the Head, the governors, the teachers, and the parent association president and treasurer. He thanked the Governor of Plateau State, and his gracious wife, and a string of other officials each more remotely connected with the occasion than the last. Sara rolled her eyes and Julie giggled. Hanatu, her scarf over her head, slipped away to feed her baby. Prizes were awarded; the school choir massed onstage and sang; the Head made a speech of thanks for the thanks, and a band of older children played recorders. Fried snacks, coffee, cola, cakes and slices of fruit appeared from the kitchens, and people clustered to the tables set out under the shady trees in the carpark, which had been closed to cars for the occasion.

When the stalls opened at noon they were besieged, and at the women’s refuge stall the shirts were a sensation. One American woman bought six. ‘That’s my bible group catered for!’ she told Julie happily. By 2.30pm they had sold out. There was so much cash it wouldn’t all fit in Julie’s little red satchel, and they had to stow it in a shopping basket. Julie couldn’t stop grinning – they could buy rolls of new fabric. Rolls and rolls. Women could set up in business, their lives would be transformed!

They wandered round the other stalls; most of the good stuff had gone but there was a second-hand clothes stall Julie wanted to go through. Then at 3.30pm a group took the stage with acoustic guitars and tambourines. It was impossible not to dance; Julie lost herself in the heat and rhythm of the crowd, until Hanatu gently touched her arm and said, ‘It is late.’

Walking back, they agreed that Fran and Yewande would have to rethink their attitude to the kaftans now.

Suddenly Julie remembered. ‘They’re in Abuja! The security–’

‘They handover three times each day, you know,’ said Sara. ‘Maybe these men have got the hang of it by now?’

‘Fran likes to keep us safe,’ said Hanatu, pulling her scarf over her face. ‘But it will be fine, nobody will tell her.’

Sara laughed. ‘Wait till they see how we are rich!’ But when they got to the compound, there was no guard on duty. Julie pushed the gate. It swung open. She realised there was no sound from the courtyard. No rhythmic thud of the children’s football, no chanting or laughing, no babbling radio. Silence. Treading carefully as if their footfalls might rouse something terrible, they entered the empty courtyard. All the doors were closed.

‘Something’s happened. Something’s–’

‘Maybe Maria have her baby,’ whispered Hanatu.

But Julie knew that was wrong. Even if Maria had to go to hospital, it was 6pm, there should be preparations for the evening meal. She walked to the first door and knocked. No reply. She tried the handle; locked. ‘Rifkatu? Rifkatu?’ She spoke softly, leaning in to the wood, her heart thudding out of time.

There was movement behind the door. Then Rifkatu’s voice. ‘Miss Julie?’

‘Yes. Rifkatu, open the door.’

Slowly the lock was turned, slowly the door pulled back. Rifkatu’s two children sat on the bed behind her. Their faces were grey.

‘What’s happened? Where is everybody?’

‘Everybody in her room,’ said Rifkatu. ‘We heard trouble.’

‘What kind of trouble?’ ‘Trouble,’ said Rifkatu heavily. ‘What?’

Rifkatu shook her head. ‘What did you hear?’


Sara tutted. ‘I will try Maria.’ After a moment the door opened a crack. Maria was there, she was fine. The sounds of their voices must have been audible in the other rooms, because gradually, one after another, around the courtyard doors were opened. Unsmiling, the women glanced out. No one spoke.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked Julie. ‘What happened?’ Four doors remained closed. Sara’s, Hanatu’s, Julie’s own, and the third room down from Julie’s. As she crossed to Mathenneh’s door she felt, rather than saw or heard, the other women closing their doors again. ‘Mathenneh? Mathenneh? It’s Julie.’ She touched the handle and the door swung open.

Red. Red enters the eye more quickly than any other colour. On the wall, across the bright bedspread, on the floor, splattered across the ceiling. Blood red. As the red entered Julie’s eye the smell of it hit her throat. The bundle on the floor was red, red and soaking wet, with crimson pooled on the floor around it. The red kept entering Julie’s eye. It wouldn’t stop. And then the scissors. They were sticking out of Mathenneh’s cheek.

Even when Julie got on her plane home, she still didn’t know what had happened. Only rumours. Obi had not turned up to relieve Simon. Simon told them he had waited 35 minutes past his time and then left because he had to take his wife to visit her sister’s new baby. Simon wept. Obi claimed that he had been held up by the theft of his bicycle and then the friend who had promised him a lift let him down and it is a long way from his quarter to the refuge. He claimed he arrived only 45 minutes late but when he came there the gate was open and no one was about. It gave him a bad feeling so he left again. He may or may not have been telling the truth. The gun, which should have been passed from one guard to the next, was found propped unused in the corner of their shelter.

All the women said they knew nothing. They heard a scream, they said. Around about 4pm. They heard a scream and they thought someone dangerous was there, so they locked themselves and their children in their rooms, as Fran and Yewande had advised them.

‘Her bad husband come to find her,’ pronounced Rifkatu. ‘Track her down like a beast.’

But the murder weapon was scissors. There were so many stabs, so many wounds – could they all have been made with one pair of scissors?

Fran and Yewande barely spoke to Julie. They dealt quietly and matter-of-factly with the police and the coroner. They spoke to all the women and staff who had been in the compound at the time of the attack. Julie went to tell them, in tears, that Mathenneh had kept a pair of the dressmaking scissors lying on her table in full sight. ‘I didn’t collect them in. I don’t know why. I’m so sorry.’

Next morning Fran came to Julie’s room and told her she must leave. ‘You are not a suspect. It was nothing to do with you. You should go home.’

‘I’m so sorry – Fran, I’m so sorry, I should have come back on time, I should have counted all the–’

‘Use the phone in the office, get yourself onto the soonest flight.’

‘But – isn’t there anything I can –?’ Fran turned to go.

‘Was it her husband?’

Fran stopped in the doorway. Her face was in shadow. ‘If it was, he knew just which half hour the gate would be unguarded.’

‘Maybe he lost his temper and grabbed the scissors –’ Fran did not reply.

‘What’s going to happen.’

‘I’ve told you, go home. The refuge will be closing.’ ‘For a while? Temporarily, while it’s sorted out?’

‘If we can’t keep women safe then we are failing.’ ‘But it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault! I’m the one who–’

Fran made a strange sound, like suppressed laughter. ‘It is my fault. I would have kept a closer eye on you. But because Yewande… I didn’t want Yewande to think I was…’

‘I’m sorry,’ Julie whispered again.

Fran snorted. ‘I asked her, I said, What do you two talk about? We’ve been talking about Dogo Na Hawa, she said.Now Julie understands the tensions here. She cares about these women.’

‘Fran, I don’t understand.’

Fran spoke flatly. ‘A Fulani woman has been killed here, amongst Christians. What don’t you understand? We have to send these women away. We cannot protect them.’ Julie didn’t go to dinner that night but Sara came to her room and whispered that all the women’s rooms were being searched by police.

‘What are they looking for?’ asked Julie. But she knew. ‘Even if they find them it doesn’t prove – well, they will find them, because seven lots of scissors are missing. It doesn’t prove –’

‘No,’ said Sara. ‘It doesn’t prove. But they are scared.’ On the plane home Julie remembered the bag of money from the fête. She hoped Sara and Hanatu still had it. She wondered where everyone would go, and what Fran and Yewande would do. She thought about them in their room full of masks and dolls. When she remembered their dull and careful rules her stomach turned over and over as if she had been pitched head first down a steep flight of stairs.

So she stared out of the window at the stupidly blue sky and the golden-white clouds below, forcing her eyes to stay open. Every time she closed them, red entered in.

Jane Rogers, 2012.  

*This story is taken from Hitting Trees with Sticks, Comma Press, 2012.