Claude Monet ‘The Dinner Painting’

The dark beyond her window bellows and sings its lonesome song, inviting little girls like Aida to elope with it. She wonders where her father is, it must be past midnight because the grass had stopped cooing and the house settled, no longer creaking from footsteps – her mum was now asleep, not worried like her.

Of course her father wasn’t meant to be here tonight – he had another family to attend to, her step-siblings – whom she regarded as her own family, nothing about the complexity of the situation registered with her.  Aida wished he was there, no he wouldn’t be asleep next to her – there would be no room for that kind of kindness, it was simply too much to ask for – but he normally spent a few minutes with Aida,before retiring for the day.

He would ruminate all on his own, about reputation and money and how people everywhere were chasing all these things – Aida would look at him, disappointed by the irony. This was a man with two families, claimed to juggle both splendidly, loving all his wives and children equally – but he was only human, and there was no clean math –  all of this fell on him as the patriarch, the mind was prone to split and manage.

Aida sensed this – she deserved one special part of her father, but most of him was shared with the rest – even when he was there in her room, only the two of them – he wasn’t completely hers, she could see his mind calculating the next day and how he’d be absent, and he obliged himself to stay a few minutes. She wanted to question him, prod his sincerity – but he wouldn’t have time for that, nowhere would he have factored in Aida’s sadness – she was not meant to unravel in his sight, in his awareness. All of this was meant to happen somewhere else, a world separated from his – and this, she knew, was how her mother and siblings operated – the all quietly yearned to be with and know more of him.

When the family got together it was like a show – there stood the stage and its chairs with their names, lines to say and cues for when certain emotions needed expressing – noone bothered to break the illusion, because they had learned to live with it. Aida learned to be alone, she had friends and people who cared for her, but living without her father had taught her about a different kind of loneliness – it was something that would manifest in her expectations as an adult.

As a woman, she’d be capable of forging friendships with very few, and she was strangely comfortable with the fact – men, she thought – the young ones, these twenty-somethings starting out on a career, all ties and shiny hair and a forced baritone voice, they wanted to be reassured of their own talent and potential, and they needed girls like Aida to do this cunningly. The men wanted to dominate, for their power to be able to make her cry and smile – for Aida to be oversensitive to everything they did and who they were – and Aida would know to reduce herself to this, reserving the knowledge to herself – that she was more, that men like them and her father wanted to show their accomplishments, they wore this pride on their coats and faces. And only a man would be clever enough to set goals for himself then measure his affection, distribute it where he thought appropriate.

Aida instead, would keep herself to the few friends she had, they saw her worst and did not condescend to it, they fought with it and punished its selfishness – with the rest of the world she remained a palatable front, she only wanted to manouver past the crowds and routine without drama.

Eventually her father and his absence ceased to be important to young Aida, she became respectful of him – but she would always know and remember, the nights she spent waiting and her mother’s sleeping alone – two women and his visits, how little they meant to him. She promised never to love a man who was that smart, she’d find someone as new and damaged as she was, who knew what she did of the world and its disappointment, and she’d find solace this way – offering as much of herself as she could, to dampen select fires and ignite new ones– what Aida didn’t see was that she had become smart herself, like the men she loathed. She sought to conquer a man whole, she wanted all of someone to herself – and though she sought to give herself fully in return, it was choice she was able to make.Being that, it was something she could easily reverse – and she’d just go about this way, being present and removed as she pleased.