Saturday, 20 September 2014

Today I drank Water from the Well





Cool, cool garden.



Dappled sunlight

Gives refuge to

Lush hanging green

Red grapes,

Kiwi, hard and bitter on the vine.

Apple-peaches

Plump, star flower topped fill

My mouth, seek corners with her nectar

 

that flows inside

Connects me to this land.

 

Nana fills,

With glistening life,

My cupped hands.

 

I drink.

 

Her kind eyes crinkle and this garden

Sighs.

 

This beautiful peaceful garden belonged to a family of academic women in Zugdidi. Their house was full of white cool spaces, dark elegant furniture and floors so wide and polished I wanted to lie down and press my cheek to their soft wisdom. Artists, others, social misfits and the persecuted had always been welcome in this house, a tradition started by their father, who invited any ragamuffin, Georgian or otherwise, to stay. They were fed, cared for and gave space to create, heal and grow.  This generous practice continued under the caretaking eye of his wife and was upheld by his daughters who were all professional women in their own right.  A teacher, a musicologist, a lawyer, none of them married or marred by child-birth, burdened by constant compromise, or confused by their purpose in life.  I was struck by their grace.


When we arrived, the heat of the day softened by gentle breezes caught in  vines that that swirled over trellises already full of passion fruit and grapes, red and green, disappeared and we crept into the back parlour where a dark haired child slept under a sheet.

 

Instinctively we whispered, and I felt lulled by the soft plosives the Georgian language leaves behind in the silence of a darkened room and wished only to rest, close my eyes and soak up the soft sounds these women made.

 

Listening to their  talk, catching their eyes and with  no shared language between us, only a woman's understanding, I sensed that they knew my story already. Some- how it didn’t matter. There was a union here. A trust, a connection and I felt my eyes prick with tears. The relief I felt surged through my body, and for the first time in a long time I wished I spoke Georgian. I really wanted to hear their stories.

 

I realised that the woman moving around the kitchen was their mother. Nana.  Her hands were knarled and  deft as she stirred the  Pelamushi, the  sweet sharp smell of red grape juice mingled with the green breezes from outside as she  turned the stove top concoction into a solid pink blancmange- like dessert for later. I could see her watching me from the corner of her eyes and they crinkled with patient curiosity, or heat, or both, and I wished for a time when we could see one another squarely.

 

There was a meal, not intended to be a supra until it was made into one by the arrival of M.r Polikarpe Khubulava, a 91 year old Chongouri player famous for, amongst other things, the scandal of having had not one, but three wives, two of which were still alive and who is known in many circles as a ‘real lover of women’. He was also a folklore expert and had taught many choirs (all male) through generations of oppression by various invaders to Georgia, many songs now nearly lost lived in his memory and tripped from his tongue quite unexpectedly.  I  learnt of his distress and pain that evening as he told us of how he had not qualified for a certificate of validation from  the  head of the Folk Lore Centre in Tbilisi.  Apparently the songs his choirs sang, whilst worthy of study and reference, were not worthy of official recognition. This is something that is happening all over Georgia to provincial choirs and has a terrible knock on effect on the salaries people such as him receive. It also prevents opportunities for choirs to travel abroad and teach the songs that have sustained the spirit of Georgia over many centuries.

 

Pulikarpe Khubulava

 

He drove himself

91 years old

To this house.

 

Sat, thin legs

Broad shouldered still. Wept, drank sweet red wine.

 

He

Sang the notes,

Missing for generations, whilst Nino

Pen poised, toes curled, ears pricked

 

Asked hard questions.


Unifying romantic notion unravelled.


'Who will sing my final song? he asked right back at her.
'Three egoists took my funeral lament with them when they died
Refused to teach me those precious notes'


'How will my soul rest now?'

 

Throughout the evening’s meal, smattered amongst conversations about the enormous original paintings on their walls and songs sometimes accompanied by the Chonguri, sometimes not, I saw the dark haired child watch his mysterious aunts. The old man soon had him tending to his every need, slipping chicken and bread, salad, wine, water, dark meat, this, that, the other onto his plate conducted by an eyebrow or flick of the finger.  


The jug of wine dwarfed the child but he, with great precision, love, and some finesse poured the crimson cordial ever-so-carefully into grandfather's crystal glass, the only sound a  soft chink of crystal on crystal and the  slight inward breath of one of his aunts. Smiling the boy-child in a house full of incredible women sat,  gazing with utter adoration, at the one man in the room.

 

My Mysterious Aunts

 

My mysterious aunts

Always have guests when I am there.

 

They arrive quite late

On hot summer nights

And ask for a

‘Cupp-a-o-tea’.

Bring their own blue and white cups

Huge and delicate.

Dig deep into  over- sized bags

Root for ‘sweetandhers’

Say 'No thank you' to our black bitter chai.

 

My mysterious aunts sit,

Drink petal soft

Scented wine for

Hours with grandfathers who ask

Me to pour

Crimson cordial into

Tall, crystal, glasses.

 

My mysterious aunts

Sing me lullabies in

Ancient tongues of my (Megrilian)

Ancestors

That soothe and ease my eyes

Tired from picking

The red- sour berries
Now turned to jam.

 

My mysterious aunts

Move without sound towards the dawn, and

When their voices drop to whispers

I can hear the Nightingales

Sing.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

White Mini Bus


White Mini Bus

I remember

the story of a

Beautiful Woman who,

with her unborn child

and one by her side,

Drowned.

They fell into a ravine on a mountain-

pass.

 

Entombed in a mini-bus.

 

I had dreamt of

Her

Last.  Gasping.  Breath.

 

The final clutch of sodden fabric that

Ripped as her first born was

Sucked

Into the frothing swirl.

 

I follow her route.

I sit in her space.

 

I give my journey to God.

 

 

Travelling through Georgia in the heat of a June day on a white mini bus awakened  such a deep fear of death by drowning in me I had to physically hold my own hand to stop myself shaking.  English guide books state quite clearly that people die in car accidents all the time here and the public mini buses ought to be  avoided at all costs. Even my Georgian companion was concerned when we were talking about the best way of travelling from Batumi to Zugdidi.  It took about 4 hours and was fairly terrifying in places as we hugged tiny roads that meandered above rivers which all looked surprisingly  fairly benign.

 

When the woman in the poem died it was at the most intense time of my relationship with him and his choir. The shock of it and the tragedy of it hit him hard. They had sung together and I had been trying to learn a song she had recorded. She had the most beautiful and haunting voice, rich and mountainous full of black grapes and ochre soil.

 

I found the way he dealt with death, the way they all dealt with death really disturbing. I am no stranger to loss, my own father died when I was 22 and I know how it destroys everything, rips things apart until when you finally begin to feel again, albeit it wave after wave of grief, at least you do feel… something. The grief never subsides but life grows around it but those crumple buttons, the scent of a cherry cigar, a particular song on the radio, transport me back to that moment when I knew he was going to die and I screamed to the heavens, ‘take me instead’ . I know death will not be  bargained with.

 

Death is never far away in Georgia. There  is a complete submission to the eventuality of it, in theory at least, the soul goes to a better, higher  place and those left behind have an elaborate and fascinating set of rituals designed to keep them connected to the dead in order to remember them and  honour them. Georgian families gather at the grave to eat, drink, toast, share stories, cry, laugh and accept their loss at key points in the calendar. The names of the dead are included in the supra toasts as well. I guess it depends which culture you come from and what your own experience of death is as to how comfortable you feel with all this.

 

One time, when all 12 of them were staying at my house it was a day off from the gruelling schedule of  concerts and workshops. For me, a quiet day where I knew all the rules as rituals was really necessary.  I wanted to use the washing machine, walk the dog. I had not seen my son for a while as  the tour  had kept me away and I was happy to be home. He was only 13 at the time and I was aware that there was some interest in how ‘manly’ he was with some well-intentioned but un-welcome ‘male role modelling’ going on. Thankfully my son was content to keep himself to himself most of the time in his converted loft room.  His sanctuary.

 

On this particular afternoon I was suddenly aware of a change in the atmosphere in the house. Everything had gone very quiet and grey somehow, like steel. He called me downstairs and when I got into the kitchen they were all there, all holding a glass of red wine and standing solid, unmovable. I knew they were uncomfortable with something but was perplexed as to what was going on. Then the toasts began, just quiet toasts, respectful toasts, not full of bravado, or ego but full of pain, loss, hurt and displacement.

 

This toast was for a fallen member. A man who had died in 2009. They told me he had been the best of them. He left behind a young wife and two very very small children.  I had been to his grave in Tbilisi. It was a haunting and haunted place and I had felt like an intruder there. That same sense of intrusion permeated my home. On this anniversary they did not want to be there, I did not want them to be there with their eyes full of pain and forever grief. Not because I did not care but because I felt like I was never going to be allowed to. Their grief was not private, nor was it public, it was exclusive and dismissive of mine.

 

I did try to understand, I really did but I guess it’s the mystery of the circumstance of death that I feel so uncomfortable with, the embracing of it combined with the guilt of celebrating it that kept my face turned to the open window on that 4 hour mini bus journey across Western Georgia. I had a sense of it then, the only foreigner on the bus hiding behind my sun glasses and scribbling  into my notebook, why, instead of cursing my inability to insist on a safer mode of transport, or at least praying for the miracle of a seat belt, I found myself thinking, if you can’t beat them, join them.



 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

St. Nino is a Feminist

Cool dark interior offers
Sanctuary.
 
Icons, golden, watchful, green eyed and glinting steal
Flickering candle light, move
Watching eyes
into hidden guilty corners.
 
From the sea we had come. Had
Bathed in her glorious waters
Sung our songs to her,
Soaked the golden light from her and
Healed.
 
Legs covered, shoulders, breasts,
Heads, we held water and bags as
Damp parts of our private
Memories  evaporated.
 
Unseen cradled breasts, swim suit crotches
Hidden under layered clothing steamed.
 
The gaoler,
His black beard,
Black dress, sandals padding against ancient Catholic stone floors
dark triumphant roaming eye
Approved by watching
Masters,
 
Asked us to leave.
 
‘It is not allowed to enter this sacred space to or from bathing’ he said.
‘Do you think St Nino did this? Think carefully’
 
My quick tongued companion replied,
 
‘Do you think St. George drove a jeep?’
 
…and St. Nino smiled, bowed to the wisdom of women, and sang her song to the water.




My companion and I were walking back from the shore line to our apartment after a really wonderful  and relaxing day. We saw a Church that had been originally been built as a Catholic one and were curious to see what it was like in side. The rebuke by the priest is what happened within 2 minutes of us going in.  The priest spoke to my companion in Georgian and I could tell  she was furious. I was oblivious to the details until she  explained what had happened but felt surprisingly unsurprised. Knowing what I know about how the Georgian orthodox church oppress their women and use their own saints against them I was more curious to see what would happen next. I had actually gone in to see if I could find an icon of St. Nino. I had been walking around whilst this confrontation between the priest and my friend had been going on and had not spotted her, my favourite feminist saint. Probably, I thought she had been put into a dark corner somewhere. 
 
‘Do you want to leave?’ I asked my friend when she told me what had happened?
‘Absolutely not’ she replied.
 
I was overjoyed. At last, someone other than my self  was prepared to take on and confront, first hand,  the absurdities of the Georgian church. Her response about the jeep had been inspirational and had, in one foul swoop exposed the hypocrisies of the church and the men who run it. Typically, the priests answer had been, ‘Only God can Judge me’ when she had challenged him.
 
I felt perplexed by my own responses because, far from wanting to wade in and fight the good female fight something, apart from the language barrier, stopped me. My friend, determined to educate the priest about how wrong he was about St. Nino and what he was insinuating about us, went back to speak with him.
 
I watched their hushed and heated exchanges and  felt a tingling of realisation. My Georgian friend was a feminist. As was St. Nino. I smiled.


I was standing just inside the door and watched a gaggle of brown skinned girls, all legs and big teeth group in front of the outer gate under the shade of an oak tree. Giggling and bouncing against one another in their eagerness to be seen to do the right thing, they crossed themselves quickly and sped off heels kicking up black sand from the sea. I removed my head scarf, took a swig of water from my bottle and, completely satisfied, left the gloomy darkness and returned to the sunshine outside.


 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Only God Can Judge Me







Batumi


White, White Batumi.


You rise, shake off flint grey
Pebble sounds.
A shoreline of blue heartbeats that pause, skip,
Genuflect
to the majesty of
Your mountains,


A white spine upon which
You rest.




Do Priests bathe on their way to church?
Only God Can Judge Me’
Declares the tattoo across the
Back of the man who
Stands between two pebble shores.
Flesh sears  and the folding skin.
Signs of excess roll down
Sit,
Paunchy atop tight red shorts.
Incense burning saints command attention but flinch
As shoulder blades burn,
and crave the cool dark interior of their
Cavernous vestments.
I have only ever had negative experiences of priests in Georgia. Both directly  and indirectly. I only have to think about the 10,000  black flocked men who converged on 50 LGBT  people who were marking the International Day against Homophobia May 17 2012 to shake my head in disbelief. I was not there but some of my friends were and their personal stories are harrowing. It came down to one of two things for the women that day. If they could not escape they knew they would be either killed or raped.  The ‘sin’ of homosexuality is an entirely western concept apparently, and one that has been invented by NGO groups in order to allow them to apply for funding. A lot of people are getting rich, I have been told, on the insidious cankerous lies perpetuated by Europe. There are no homosexuals in Georgia. Just as there are no issues around domestic violence.  This is another NGO myth perpetuated by Europhiles in order to get money for nothing.
 
On a personal level my relationship with the Georgian Orthodox church  is based on hours of conversations with  so called Georgian ‘intellectuals’ with good English, or through interpreters or translators. On my most recent trip I was shown around  the Martvili Monastery by a kind hearted priest who proudly told me that ‘nothing has changed since the birth of Christ’ in his monastery or indeed in all the churches in Georgia. The ‘traditions are   kept sacred – nothing has changed’  this crinkle eyed walnut brown faced priest  reassured me.  This was only after one of the numerous women, head bowed and tutting had wrapped a blue scarf around my already trouser'd hips, presumably so as not to offend the priest with any hint or suggestion that I have a  vagina.  A kind man this priest was, and one who looked on me with  pity disguised by attempts at empathy. He was very good at that and almost had me convinced. All this happened  whilst  checking a gold rolex watch, waving at his fellow priests who were driving the latest jeep and peering into the screen on his updated mobile phone. Black garbed women   swept  floors behind him with brooms made from twigs.
 This man on the Batumi Shore line, covered in religious tattoos got me thinking about my own tattoo.
 I have one on the back of my neck. It is the ancient Sanskrit symbol for Peace. It is directly linked to the third eye which is the second chakra point between the eyes that, when opened, allows a spiritual seeing. The nerve endings between these two places are linked so by having the tattoo placed there it was always my  intention  that any Reiki that flows through me will be make me a channel of peace.  I waited until I was 40 before having it done. It is a powerful but subtle statement that is, I guess, easily hidden by my hair much like the images of the saints on the man’s shoulder blades are hidden when he is dressed.
 When I first met him, the man I continually felt was lurking in the shadows and watching me even on a hot pebble beach in Batumi, he was frightened of it, my tattoo. He was also frightened of my power as a woman, and did not know how to deal with my independence.  He quickly began to try to undermine it. He spent  hours, usually when I was completely exhausted with the day to day organisation of the tours for his choir, explaining all about  God. How the church worked, how the holy fire worked, how people are called to the cause, how they are asked to make sacrifices, how he felt his mission was to bring Georgian Folk song back to Georgian people, how he wanted his own name to be remembered for all time for bringing this folk lore back to Georgia. Hours he talked, hours and hours in surprisingly articulate English. He had a great vocabulary and  was hungry to learn more. His favourite word was ‘rubbish’ which he started to use when referring to me and everything  I did that was not directly linked to his cause.  Allegedly the great grand son of the patriarch who ruled Georgia during the time of Stalin's purges, he told me on two separate occasions that the Georgian Church  taught that there could be only one chance to move into the light of the true faith and that it was not in their habit to put pressure on anyone to convert. I remember thinking that if this was not pressure I would hate to experience it when it was.
 I resisted. I am not into controlling people and felt an uneasiness that I could not, at that time, give words to.  My interest was in Celtic paganism and  I recognised and was impressed with the ancient connections the Georgian orthodox church, their use of ritual, of crystals, of food, of chants, of songs using pre-Christian words that had been lost in time but had lost no power, had with the ancient Celtic faith.  I was interested in the power of nature and how that had been incorporated into the Christian ritual and above all I was fascinated by his powerful rhetoric. I recognised on many levels that he was obsessive, almost sociopathic in his ability to charm others, including me.
Lying on that beach, under that umbrella, I was struck by how easily things can be covered up. The man in the tight red shorts, he could disguise, could charm, could seem reasonable whilst wearing a shirt, or a suit or a cassock but there, right across his back, not where he could see it but where everyone else could, was his ego, his protection and his excuse.
 ‘Only God can Judge Me’









Monday, 11 August 2014

Cinnamon Swirl






Ancient land

Dwarfs us.

 

Low plain

Meandering sacred river,

Tributaries tighten like

Veins towards Stalin’s square.

 

Rusted

Cattle trucks

Elementally

Open to destruction empty

their ghosts and bullet hole memories on the scarred land.

 

Crescent moon cinnamon swirl all  

butter melting in my mouth.

 

 

Travelling to Batumi by train took 6 hours. Views from the window trundled past providing framed pictures of dramatic mountains topped by cloud, dry arid plains, lush fields of green and old crumbling soviet blocks with cracked windows and leaking pipe work. Disused railway lines when approaching Gori were swamped with an air of disappointment and despair. It was eerie and unsettling. I remembered the long summer days I spent in a dripping dark crumbling building in Tbilisi in 2011. It was so hot I found it hard to breathe and the only relief was a sharp cold water pipe that gushed liquid silver into an old cracked yellowing pot sink. This water, even in the darkness seemed to sparkle. Unfortunately, the stand pipe was next to the toilet so I soon perfected the art of holding my breath whilst drinking and splashing at the same time.

 

It was that hot summer that I realised that those who admired Stalin still walked the streets of Tbilisi. There was a bric-a-brac shop on the ground floor stuffed full of carpets, pots that once shone with pride, old shoes, books, and pictures of Stalin. Sitting, pride of place on the pavement in his own frame, that frame framed against a rich red and blue rug, itself hung majestically, the iconic image dominated the cross-section of the street.

 

And now on this train travelling across Georgia here, on the outskirts of Stalin’s birthplace, there were rotting hulking cattle trucks  that squatted and held painful memories in bullet holes and weed infested sidings.

 

No one else seemed to be looking out of the window. I ate home- made cinnamon swirls and peaches that dripped with sunshine as the ghosts of Stalin’s victims stared at back at me, sitting framed against the back drop of a darkening sky.





Sunday, 10 August 2014

Turbulence




Thank you for

For keeping me                company Seasoned

traveller.

 

You

Spoke of blood orange

                                Sunrises over

Machu Picchu

And

Clattering Vietnam

Bicycle spokes festooned with yellow-red-yellow ribbons

For lost                 voice

                                                                less

Children.

 

Thank you

Great Adventurer for

Your company, as my internal turbulence kept

 

My

Muttered prayers, twisting fingers and shallow breath constant, urgent.

Betrayed by fear.

‘It’s hard to stay

Grounded

when You

are

so afraid’  I said.

 

You, blue-eyed woman who plays with

Radio therapy, crinkle smooth blue-tinged skin, butterfly translucent smile and with bent bejewelled fingers

Take my hand.

 

How did I get here?

 

I guess when you start something you never know how it will end. It does, of course, always end in that it changes, or at least changes direction within the roads of your life, and if you, like me, always choose  ‘the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference’ then you will understand that the adventure is the growing bit, and that there is never an end in sight.

 

I knew this would probably be the last time I went to Georgia. The turbulence was awful and I tried very hard not to see it as a bad sign. The first time I had gone in September 2009 had been the result of taking a less trodden path earlier in 2007 when I went to a festival where, on the programme of events was a workshop in Gregorian Chant. At least that’s what I read it as. It turned out to be Georgian singing, what ever that was. But, what ever it was, I was hooked. As a Reiki Healer I was used to experiencing the higher vibrations of meditational voice work but this was incredible, it was life affirming and uplifting in a way  I had never known before.  I sang Georgian songs all week. Even now I cannot listen to Tsinstskaro  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu3boYzcBuo without being transported back to that magical summer.

 

After the festival I joined several choirs – rock, gospel, choral, but nothing, nothing spoke to me like this incredible sound. I felt like I had been shown something really special only to have it taken away from me and could not commit to any other type of singing.

 

A year and a half went by.

 

The weekend of my 40th birthday, I went to Whitby for the weekend with my son and our dog. On the way we stopped at Old Mother Shipton’s Cave where wishes for a penny thrown into the water that petrifies everything it touches were deposited with a sigh.’ Please let there be a way for me to sing Georgian music’. I wished out loud. My penny was steeped in this energy wish as I flicked it into the magical pool.

 

Amazingly, when I got back, full of salt air, ice-cream and fish and chips there was, unbelievably, an e-mail from the guy who had delivered the workshops at the festival! He was setting up a Georgian choir in Leeds, would I like to come along? You know sometimes you can literally hear a door swing open? It was like that. I felt a great rush of openness, of clarity, an excitement that just bubbled and bubbled and bubbled.

 

Of course I would go. I was teaching full time at the time so rushed from school to make it to the first rehearsal. It was amazing and as powerful as I remembered it being. If I was hooked before I had definitely been landed now. The problem was that the choir rehearsed on a weekday afternoon. I had been thinking of going part time for a while so that clinched it for me. The next day I went into school and negotiated a part time contract making sure I was free to sing Georgian song.

 

Foolish? Perhaps. Impetuous, not really. I was very unhappy at work to the point where I was starting to become ill so it seemed the best way forward.

 

As a choir we were invited to London to sing as part of the Cheveneburebi Festival that coincided with Georgian Independence Day May 26th. As part of a group of English choirs, mostly from the south who had been formed in the mid 1980s when Edisher Garakanidze first visited the UK, we were inexperienced but keen and something impressed the organisers so much  we were invited to go to Georgia to be part of the festival there in September.

 

I had seen him in London. He and his choir were impressive, young, full of energy and intensity that was both frightening and magnetic. They came to Leeds after the London concert to perform and I was drawn to him as one is drawn to look over a high cliff. It felt exactly like that, I wanted to test how close I could get to the dangerous edge trusting the earth would hold me as I crept closer and closer to the sheer drop.

 

That very first morning in Georgia, he was there. It was to be the beginning of the most turbulent journey of my life.

Friday, 8 August 2014

One Reader


He, glasses absently slipping,

Leans back to the wall.

Feet up

Blue heeled white socks crossed

In homage to the ancient art of

Reading

A

Book.

 

Inviting intimacy,

He creates an oasis in the

Café sea of sliding screens,

Of individualism and

electronic separation.


Perhaps he was reading something like this;


 Smoke swirled lazily into each corner of the third floor room. I watched the Chinese official light up again, the glow from the end of his cigarette contrasted against the blue white snow outside. Cold crept along the floor, along the desk and hunkered down among the creases of the crumpled bedding where I sat, waiting.

A steady stream of Chinese and Georgian language interwove ice-cold breath and as I watched the interpreter, a chunky young woman layered in woollen jumpers, jacket and scarf switch languages effortlessly, I felt the atmosphere thicken as final details of the tour to were thrashed out.

Watching them move and weave through the complex negotiations, I noticed how  he sat, this man of mine, lent forward, nervously twirled his mobile and constantly checked his watch. It made me uneasy. I recognised the signs and knew he was moving up a gear. I wanted to remain anonymous. Steam from our clothes rose and joined the condensation on the window. It was dangerous.

The drive to the isolated Railroad Company high above Tbilisi had also been full of unspoken tension and danger and then, as now, I felt side lined, hurried, manipulated and suspended in a void of half-truths and shadowy half-finished conversations. During that drive his façade had begun to slip.  The dark smudges under his eyes framed a ruthless determination within him that I had only glimpsed briefly before now and as the spiteful criticisms thundered at me I gave up trying to reason with him. When I said anything he did not want to hear he deliberately drove recklessly so as to frighten me. It worked. My throat was paper dry and it took every ounce of strength to contain a rising sense of panic.

 

This new game, the one being played out in this freezing cold, smoke filled seedy bedroom made me feel sick. The snarling smiles sent my way by this little Chinese man and the smirks from him as well as the side ways glances of the interpreter soon made it clear that business was not all they were talking about. I felt cold and humiliated. I didn’t know the real reason why we were here, why I was here, other than I was in Georgia to be with him and being with him meant doing what ever he wanted to do

He looked nervous. I sensed things were not going well. He made to stand up and suddenly there was a flurry of activity. The Chinese official waved him back down furiously and picked the phone up on the desk opposite the bed. Urgent scribbling on paper already filled with doodles soon filled up with numbers. My lover shook his head each time and the official spoke quicker and quicker to the anonymous voice at the other end of the line. Finally, there was a glance, just one, at me, then past me, and then a half smile. The game was on.

We left. Confused I waited for the right moment before I asked him what had happened. Smiling through a tight lips, he said that tomorrow they would return and sign an agreement that he would be paid $7000 for  his choir  to go on an all expenses trip to China where they would perform only two 15 minute concerts. ‘That’s great,’ I said, ‘more money for our apartment in Tbilisi.’ He had bought an apartment in a new high rise at the bottom of the plateau area of the city some years and had proudly showed to me 2 years before.  It was to be our marital home. The apartment was unfinished and as far as I could tell no new work had been done on it in those 2 years despite him saying it would be ready in plenty of time. ‘It’s the corruption’ he had said.

His hollow laughter filled the car. ‘Noooo,’ he sneered, ‘I will have $7000 from this deal and I will use it for another project.’ Uneasily I looked at his profile; he had turned the traditional folk music up and was conducting with his right hand. ‘How?’ I asked. ‘I am keeping all this money.’ I sat still and silent. I did not want to question him any more. The bleak white landscape stared back at me and all I could think about was getting home before he realised I was beginning to hate him. I needed to fall in, to pretend, to mirror his false smiles and to do what he said.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Tbilisi, he on his phone and meeting various people who handed over their passports. The sky was brooding and threatening more snow and icy fingers of cold scratched their way into the car. I sat, miserable, neglected and waiting whilst he did his deals. One foot was always on the kerb, his shoulders were always hunched forward and his were hands always thrust deep into his pockets. Each time he looked at me I smiled, nodded encouragement and died a little more inside.

The next day we went back to the smoke filled room where the stocky interpreter and the small Chinese man were waiting. This time the bed was made but there were empty coffee cups on the windowsill that sat, like trapped cats, under the dripping glass. Used tissues lay scattered on the floor.

They both  signed some official documents. We all shook hands and with sly smiles and dead eyes, the deal was sealed. The choir were due to leave the following Friday so visas needed to be applied for, and quickly.

The ride into the capital in the company BMW cream leathered interior imbued with cigarette smoke was unpleasant. I sat in the back feeling sick with hunger and realisation. He played with the sound system. Uninvited he assumed possession of the CD player and changed tracks frequently, much to the irritation of the driver. The Chinese embassy were expecting us and we all three by-passed the security checks and sat at a wooden table in a front room to fill in forms.

He forged a signature for each document.

It was clear this was normal for him and as I sat in silent anger I felt enormous outrage build up inside me. I thought of the hours and hours I had spent getting his choir legitimate visas to the UK. Clearly he was motivated by lies and greed and I was merely a stepping stone to his success. His name was the most important thing to him, he always said he wanted people to know him as someone who had bought Georgian Folk Music back to the Georgian people. His name stuck in my throat and I wanted no part of it.

Once the forms were filled in, the photocopies taken and the official stamps given the Chinese man drove us, he victorious, me angry and resentful, to a bank in the city. Parking outside the low squat building he told me to stay in the car as he went inside. $7000 went into his personal account.

Time without his oppressive controlling presence allowed the layers of deception to unravel themselves.  The Chinese thought they were getting the choir. They were not. They were getting five dancers and him. They were getting backing tracks, falsehoods, deceptions and shadowy smiles. Illusion, collusion and manipulation hovered around me and mingled with my own fear. As I breathed them in I felt my eyes prick with tears.

I stayed silent for a long time. When we were alone together driving around Tbilisi, and he finally noticed me, there was a row. I was making him tired, he said. I did not understand how these things worked, he claimed.  He had done all the work, he had negotiated the deal, he shouted. Who would know if these dancers were part of his choir or not? The Chinese were pigs anyway. This was Georgia and he could do what he liked. The bitterness in his voice and waves of anger pinned me to my seat. I was terrified as I watched the final layer of deceit fall from his face. Ugly and brutal his features twisted and his knuckles whitened as his hands gripped the wheel of the car.

Who was this man?

Where was the noble, passionate man of integrity I thought I knew who believed in doing what was right? Where was the man I loved?

Glancing sideways what I saw froze my heart. His profile was like stone, cold, closed and emotionless.

I was an awful long way from home.