Over the next year, on Mondays and Thursdays, I will introduce consecutive passages from my new novel, Red Queen to White Queen. The book explores how a Colombian matriarch came to exert a lifelong dominance over her family, until a newcomer threatens her reign.
At the end of each chapter, you will find a recipe from the book.
Cast of Characters:
Magdalena (Magda): Already in her 80s when the book begins, Magda is the most powerful figure in her family. Flashbacks explore the life that made her who she is.
Rosalba: Magda’s daughter, who has devoted her life to the care of her mother.
Immaculata (Imma): Magda’s lifelong servant
Dante: Magda’s husband
Seňora Moreno: Family friend of long standing
Desiderio: Magda’s son xxx
Don Claudio & Don Cosimo: Italian brothers, friends of the familyx
Father Martens: Magda’s Belgian tutor xxx
xxx Click here for Part I.xxx
It was their second night back in Bogotá. Magda heard a knock on her door.
“It is I, daughter.”
Knowing he expected instant obedience, Magda rushed to open it. Her father immediately moved to the window, where he stood looking out, hands behind his back.
“I have arranged a medical appointment for you at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning. Señora Rodriguez will accompany you. There is no one else.
“A medical appointment? I’m feeling perfectly well, Papá.”
“There are certain things that must be … ascertained … about your health.”
There at the window, the fingers behind his back clenched and unclenched. “After your … escapade … in Cartagena, it is my duty as your father to limit any damage you have caused this family.”
Magda felt the ire rise in her throat. It was his action that ruined her matrimonial prospects. She might, at this very moment, had been the wife of a Gaviria Restrepo. Her anger led her to act rashly.
“There is no ‘damage’ as you call it,” she sneered.
She was on the floor before she realized what had happened. Gingerly, she put a hand to her mouth to make sure her teeth were intact. She lowered the hand to look at it. There was no blood.
Magda looked up at the person standing so coldly above her. A crazed man would have been less frightening.
“Be ready to leave at 9:30 a.m. precisely.”
Stepping over her body, he headed for the door.
Magda lay prone on the table, a white sheet draped over her lower half. The doctor had disappeared below the other end of the sheet. Tears of humiliation and fury were raging to be released. She focused all her attention on keeping them at bay.
“Tell the father it is as he feared and the surgery will go ahead.”
Surgery. Magda struggled to sit up. The doctor pushed her back down with a heavy hand.
“Nurse, come in and hold this patient.” The doctor moved to the sink to wash his hands.
“That which was lost can be reattached. A few stitches here and there will do the trick.”
Magda struggled in the nurse’s arms. “But there was nothing lost, nothing happened…”
Not even the clamping of a mask over her face stopped her attempts to make herself heard.
“That’s it girl, keep yelling. The drug will take effect sooner.”
Magda woke in confusion, keenly aware of the pain in her lower regions. She was alone in the room, her hands tied to the bed railing with strips of cloth. It was just as well Señora Rodriguez was not in the room. Even with her hands tied, Magda would have found a way to kill her.
Her mouth felt as though it were stuffed with cotton wadding. A glass of water with a straw inside sat on the table beside her bed. There was no way to reach it.
“I’m thirsty,” she yelled. No one answered; one cared. She had been sacrificed—to her father’s pride, the greed of an unscrupulous doctor, and an old woman’s cowardice.
Eventually, a new nurse walked into her room.
“I want to go home.”
The woman looked at her chart.
“It looks as though you will be our guest until tomorrow evening at least.”
Guest. “I can’t stay here.”
The nurse snapped the chart shut. “You have no choice. Your family has left. There is no one here to escort you home and it is already dark outside.”
“My wrists hurt. And I can’t reach the glass of water. Can you please untie me?”
The nurse lifted the sheet to check Magda’s stitches.
“Hmm. Well you won’t be walking far in this state.” She flipped the sheet so loudly it snapped. The woman seemed entranced by her own efficiency. “I think we can dispense with these now.” She untied the straps that bound Magda’s wrists to the bed then left.
Magda twisted her body to reach for the water, wincing as she did so. It was bad, but she knew she could walk, would walk. Across the room was a giant wooden armoire. Shuffling along, one hand sliding on the bed railing, she was able to reach it. Her clothes were inside, all except her shoes. No matter, she would go barefoot. The pain in her lower body also led her to dispense with her underwear, which she stuffed into the pocket of her skirt.
The hall was quiet, lit by a single lap in a recess.
Creeping along in the shadows, close to the wall, Magda reached the staircase. With no idea which floor she was on, she began her descent, clenching her teeth against the pain. An infinity later, she was in the street.
There was one person in the world who would help her. But how could she contact him? Hailing a cab was too dangerous for a single woman at this time of night. She could approach one of the brightly lit shops and ask for help, but they might return her to the clinic. Then it hit her: this was Bogotá. There were hundreds of homeless children willing to help her, for a price.
It took only a moment to find what she was looking for.
“Oye, niño.” Magda shook what she hoped was the shoulder of a ragged bundle lying in the doorway of an insurance office.
The bundle burst into life. A wild-eyed face appeared framed in jagged hair, along with a jaw too small for the large, white teeth it harboured.
“Que quiere?” What do you want?
The face was wary.
“Avenue 120. I’ll pay you well.”
“Show me the money.”
“I don’t have it on me. You’ll be paid when you arrive.”
The boy looked at the girl’s expensive clothing, then down at her bare feet.
“How long will it take?”
Don Claudio looked down at the urchin sitting in the cab beside him. Ten years old perhaps and dirty, with the same air of nonchalant fearlessness they all assumed. Don Claudio had helped many street children in the past. He knew the look covered a deep-seated fear that would never go away, no matter how old the child grew to be or—in the event of a miracle—how comfortable.
How in the world had Magda gotten herself into this predicament? And what had prompted her to call him, of all people? He had known the family was back in Bogotá. Half an hour earlier, while standing outside with his cigarette, he had seen her duenna pass in front of the brightly lit window. Now, and not for the first time, he cursed the old woman for an idiot.
Magda stood leaning against the doorway of a brightly lit coffee shop. Her pale face came as a shock. She normally had the ruddy cheeks of one who had spent her life in the mountains, each red corpuscle filled to bursting with oxygen. Tonight, she was a ghost.
The girl looked up with relief, quickly followed by something else—affection? Forgetting his usual restraint in her presence, he reached out to grip her by the shoulders. He managed to catch her just as she fell.
Check back on Monday, April 21 for Part 18. All text is protected under copyright to Susan Young de Biagi. Images are in the public domain.
Susan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to prdn.
As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou – my first novel – I have written or co-written three books of non fiction and published a number of digital, educational products.