Mektoub [Medium]

For five straight minutes, Maia held a breast that wasn’t there. She cupped her hand where her left breast should be and stared at herself in the full-length mirror.

As she cradled it, she reached into that space and touched the skin with her right hand. Her fingertips brushed the withered stump of her breast and worked their way in small circles to where her nipple used to be.

The scar was dappled and hard, like old leather, but around it her skin was translucent and felt like it would puncture if pressed too hard. She switched over to her right breast and explored it just as carefully as the one that had been removed.

Satisfied, Maia glanced at the woman stood before her in the full length mirror, before she dressed in the clothes that were laid out on the bed next to her packed open suitcase: cotton knickers, left-side padded bra, silk stockings, and a late-afternoon black taffeta cocktail dress that alone cost more than the hotel servants earned in a week.

She put on gold earrings with single droplet pearls, and pulled arm length gloves over wrinkled but elegant hands — covering her long tapered fingers and manicured dark-red painted nails.

The bedroom was painted white with faded walls and a cracked ceiling where a large overhead fan made gentle shush shush sounds as if to quiet the heat in the room. It was late afternoon but so overcast that a single lightbulb provided most of the light as it flickered on- and-off.

The windows were closed and the shutters rattled against the heavy wind and torrential rain. It had been like this all morning — starting up in the early hours as Maia tried to sleep.

Maia fastened her grey hair up in a tight bun, fascinated by the black strands that refused to change with age. She held a rainbow- coloured silk scarf from the bed up against her pale throat, then threw it into the suitcase, before she zipped it up and put it with a second larger suitcase beside the bed. The cream-coloured linen, pulled tight and turned back beneath two pillows, had a dent where the suitcase had been.

She picked up both suitcases and headed to the door.

At the threshold she put the suitcases down and turned round to pick up her purse from the wooden dressing table. As an afterthought she unclipped the purse and applied a quick smear of lipstick in front of the mirror before she marched downstairs, not waiting for her bags to be carried.

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