My father kidnapped me when I was 5
MY MOTHER OPENED the door to the mysterious man whom Grandma Medea called ‘the procreator’.
‘Sign this,’ he demanded, and I saw her sign a blank sheet of paper.
They were standing in the hallway of the Brussels flat where I lived with Mum and her new boyfriend. Mum had custody of me, and the procreator — visitation rights.
‘It’s your father — you should see him,’ she said, holding the door open and beckoning me to come. ‘After my parents divorced, Medea didn’t allow me to see my father and that made me very sad.’
She made me think of a porcelain fish that had been left on the beach for fun. I remember the rows, the beatings, her head slammed against the wall. Now she stood at the door while my father talked for a long time about something that was quite obscure. She responded again and again with ‘aha’, as though to underline her good intentions.
‘Come on, Faye, we’re going for ice cream,’ he said, his eyes fixed on me.
There was sand in his eyelashes.
I jumped up and held on to Mum with all my strength, crying that I didn’t want to go.
‘Don’t worry, he’ll bring you back at five, just go and be a good girl,’ she hushed.
My father pulled me off her and we went down to the car — an old, stinky, rattling, dung cart. When I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw the city disappear behind blue smoke and dissolve into trees and green fields. Soon he was driving along the highway towards France. I became dizzy, shivered and asked, ‘Daddy, where are you taking me?’
He didn’t answer.
I sucked in my cheeks and clenched my fists.
In an attempt to make me laugh, he wiggled the steering wheel, and the car jittered, but I continued to suck in my cheeks, not showing even a hint of a smile. I looked in the far distance. We drove past damaged landscapes traversed by development.
After a while, I found the courage to ask if I could pull his black beard with my fingers, to see if it was real.
‘God no! You will pull it off! It’s a fake beard!’
He was joking of course, I laughed and pulled his beard.
‘Ouch, that hurts!’ he shrieked, which almost banished the fear I had of him.
He was but human and I was a child, convinced that Mum and Grandma Medea would come to rescue me, as had always happened before.
After many hours, a mountainous region opened up in front of us and I became dizzy. We stopped in a cabin in the Pyrenees — or was it the Alps? I don’t know. I had to keep quiet. An orchestra of crickets, frogs and cockroaches kept me awake. My father looked like a bird in a lumberjack shirt. Along the way he pulled out a machete to attack the wild vegetation. Behind the hut stood apple trees, which were so full that the branches broke under the weight of the fruit.
It began to rain. The cabin was like an ark. I put buckets everywhere to catch the water that leaked through the roof and hid the tears that were swelling in my eyes. The last time my father had seen me cry, he had hung me by the back of my T-shirt on a hat rack, and left me there for I don’t know how long. I would never cry in front of him again. He lit some candles and kindled a fire. I burnt a twig to make my own charcoal and used toilet paper to make some drawings.
The next day, he brought me to a small school on top of a mountain, where everything was in French. When he picked me up from school that evening, he saw me suck in my cheeks and asked, ‘What’s the matter?’
I replied with a sob. He gave me a piece of chocolate, which I devoured like a hungry hyena. The taste was sharp and bitter.
‘Your mum abandoned you,’ he said.
Those words fell like an axe between us.
I crawled in the shade of a tree, where he could not see me, and thought about walking away and disappearing in the wilderness, but I didn’t dare. It would have been impossible to cut a way through the thick vegetation: it would have gobbled me up.
A shadow fell across his face as he looked out of the cobwebbed window. I followed his gaze. He peered into the distance at a car that drove through the valley. He was writing something on the blank sheet of paper on which he had beseeched Mum to put her signature.
The next day when my father dropped me off at school, the teacher ran to our car with a panicked expression on her face. My father turned down the window, and smiled in silence.
‘Her mother called,’ she said, ‘she’s looking for her daughter, she says you have kidnapped her!’
My father picked the piece of paper out of his lumberjack shirt pocket.
‘Look, this paper proves that I have custody over my daughter here in France. Belle has given Faye up to me. See her signature,’ he said, still smiling.
I told my father every day that I wanted to go back to Belgium and see Mum and Grandma Medea. His answers were always different. He blew dust off a bible, which made him sneeze, then he poked his finger wildly in his ear. He sat there smiling for hours, doing nothing but staring through the window. There was no electricity in the hut. We took a shower in cold rainwater and went to the toilet in an outhouse.
All I did was draw.
Drawing was the one thing I loved the most in the world. I knew I was good at it, not because the teacher in school told me (of course she did, but adults always tell children that their drawings are beautiful, so that doesn’t mean anything). For me something was different. My peers told me I was talented. They often asked me to make drawings for them, and teach them how to do it. It made me feel like I had a purpose.
One morning my father said: ‘I called your mother and she finally agreed to come to her senses and come back to me. We’re going to be together again.’
We drove all day till we arrived at the French-Belgian border. We stopped at a service area and walked into a restaurant. I saw Mum sitting at a table. She had laid out drawing paper and pencils. I was so relieved to see her that I started drawing horses.
Mum called a name.
Two men in leather jackets ran to my father and started a fight. Ten policemen surrounded us. My father looked startled: he hurriedly lifted me up and took me to the exit where more policemen appeared. He ran quickly to the other side of the building with me in his arms and there he was cornered. He put me down and stood in front of me. With clenched fists, he fought two policemen as he crushed me against the wall. Eventually they restrained him.
The image of my father, lying on the ground in handcuffs, is stored in a dark chamber of my brain. An older policeman grabbed my hand and took me to a police van. I looked behind me, but saw nothing any more.
‘Who do you want to go with? Your Mum or your Dad?’ asked the chief of the police station.
‘Who do you want to go with?’
I was daydreaming that I was riding a horse on a never-ending dirt road.
‘Who do you want to go with?’ He must have repeated this several times, seeing the annoyance and slight redness on his face.
‘I want to live with Grandma Medea. Mum will take me to her.’
Two policemen opened the door.
Mum ran in and fell on her knees in front of me. She put her head down on my lap, crying.
‘Why are you crying?’ I asked, as I put my hand on her head.
‘I was afraid you wouldn’t choose me.’
I looked earnestly at her but said nothing. I was five years old, and had become an observer of the follies of the adults around me.
I would never play.
This is an excerpt from my debut novel: Grandma Medea, available on Amazon: