“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned”
Maya Angelou (All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes)
Gino’s flat is in the basement as well. His only sign of indulgence is his Blumenthal Coffee machine which cost more than the total contents of Ema’s studio flat and she knows this because she has had to refill his cat’s litter tray every time he goes home to Italy for Christmas. Other than that piece of decadence, he lived as frugally as she did.
Ema found this studio flat quite by accident when she got off the wrong stop after viewing a potential flat in East London. That viewing had not worked out because the landlord had a ‘special clause’ necessitating friendly benefits which Ema was not keen on. In an episode worthy of the movies she walked dejected along the rain drenched mews and stumbled into the bar where Gino worked.
He took in her hair which had now developed into a frizz, saxophone case at her feet and her empty brown eyes with bruised eyelids. He recognised him in those eyes. He saw the two scars on her upper lip and reached involuntary to touch his. This was how he had looked two years earlier running from his abusive partner in Leeds.
Ema had arrived in the UK in the cold winter of 2005 with a marriage proposal and a husband she thought loved her however; eleven years later, two facial scars and three broken ribs; she was on her back with her bags with nowhere to go.
Gino took in the situation and said that his neighbour had just been evicted due to some unpaid rent and he could put in a good word for her to the landlord which he did. Ema became Gino’s neighbour in 2016 and while this life was so much better than the one she fled from, she could not shake off the barnacled scars that attached themselves to her violated heart.
Professor Liz Kelly of London Metropolitan University identified six stages of domestic violence. She classified stage three as when there is a recognition by the victim that they are being subjected to domestic abuse and this is when they try to find ways to leave. Many migrant women arrive at this stage often when it’s too late due to the limited means they have at their disposal. This was Ema. Effectively isolating herself from everyone who could have helped until she almost died at the hands of her man.
The Office of National Statistics estimates that there were around 1.9 m incidences of domestic abuse experienced by men and women between the ages of 16 to 59 for the year ending March 2017. Many like Gino and Ema chose not to report their crimes due to shame (Gino) or visa status (Ema).
Gino helped on moving day helping lug her huge sports direct reusable bags down to the basement. As he reached out to carry the saxophone Ema sprang to stop him.
‘I’ll get that’, she said
“Ema darling I will not drop your expensive saxophone,” drawled Gino, mocking her slightly.
She ignored him and carried on to her flat tripping on the threadbare carpet and flinging the case open. Gino looked in surprise at the empty case.
“Ema darling, is empty”
“Yes, Gino it is, the story of my life that is,” said Ema and cried there on the basement floor with her new best friend.
Ema has never played a saxophone in her life, she had wanted to learn like the other things she wanted to do but never got around to doing. She bought the empty case to remind her that she would never allow anyone to hollow out her dreams and leave her without a home.
This was home to her. This accidental flat with an accidental friend who had suffered as much as her. They both knew they were luckier than most who were stuck in abusive relationships, others who die at the hands of their partners and those who live in refuges hoping one day they can rest their heads somewhere where they can call home. In England and Wales 454 people died between April 2013 to March 2016 at the hands of people who were supposed to make them feel safe.
This was home now. With Gino who worked the bar on minimum wage to save enough to buy the Blumenthal coffee machine which reminds him of home and she with her empty saxophone case from the charity shop. This was Home: Her safe place wasn’t a postcode. It was with Gino and his blooming machine and her empty saxophone case which will one day fill up.
and make beautiful music…
..and will finally be home.
- SULA, M. (2017) Domestic Violence: Still a Hidden Problem for Many Migrant Women. The Guardian [Online] 16 Dec. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2017/dec/16/hidden-domestic-abuse-migrant-women (Accessed on 25/03/2018)
- GREAT BRITAIN. OFFICE OF NATIONAL STATISTICS (2017) Statistical Bulletin: Domestic Abuse in England and wales year ending March 2017 [Online] Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017 (Accessed on 25/03/2018)
- Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash