34th Thread: Mother resents her courtesan daughter’s sins.
See how my hands are pink and smooth after I bathe them in almond milk? When I was a child, they were always dirty and rough. Sometimes I burned myself with the cauldron. Not only was the work hard, but it stank, yuk. Mother forced me to watch and imitate her all day long, until I was nauseous. In the evening, she had me recite proportions, soaking times, dyeing methods. It made me dizzy.
– To get a good yellow, you have to buy a good quality dye which comes in a fine powder, a little greasy, and gets diluted in alcohol. Repeat.
– Yellow dye is diluted in alcohol.
– It is a fine powder and greasy, which has to be good quality.
– A greasy powder of good quality.
– Purple is the most valuable, so do not lose a drop. It is used mostly for … For?
– Do not lose a drop of purple.
– It is used for?
– Maiden’s aprons?
– Of course not !
– I know, Mom, you’ve told me a thousand times, for toga’s edges.
– Yes, good girl! If you learn well, I’ll be able to keep you. We might even buy you back!
The girls were sold as soon as they came of age, unless they were ugly as our mistress did not want any pretty young women in her house. I envied them for escaping the workshop. Mother did not. She cut my hair short. I cried, I looked like a boy. She tied a cloth around my breasts every morning, squeezing hard. Afterwards I would loosen it. And I was sent to the sale. When it was time to part, my mother screamed, she squeezed me against her, hurting me. They had to pry open her fingers, she was so sure she would never see me again. I was afraid, but out of pride, I did my best not to show it. I was curious too.
At first it was hard to have to meet a man’s demands, I was still a child. A strict matron terrified us, beating us at the slightest complaint from a guest. She taught us all the techniques such as the trick I’ve shown your to avoid getting pregnant, at least not too often. The men I picked were gentle with you when you started as a courtesan. You learned fast, my daughter, and your clumsiness at first only added to your charm.
I got lucky as my new master soon favored me. My boyish looks excited him. Instead of serving many men as did my companions, I was his regular courtesan whom he shared only with esteemed friends. He allowed that I learn to sing, to dance. Not to write and read, but I did anyway. Playing the jester, I would roll down on the floor, revealing my private parts fleetingly, then I would pull the guests’ hair from their nostrils. I was much better off than at the dyeing vault. Do we not enjoy lounging here, while a slave fans us and the other serves pastries?
In the end, I was the one to buy back my mother. She took care of you when you were small, too small for you to remember. She did not enjoy her freedom long, consumed by the desire to make me change my life.
– What other job would I do, Mother, back to dyeing?
– Dyeing or other activities befitting a believer, yes, my child. You had the chance to be be raised in the fear of the lord. Go back the righteous road, daughter, we might still obtain the salvation of your soul.
– If I had followed the right way, I could never have bought back your freedom and mine.
– I hate this freedom gained without merit, on the sofas of sin!
– I earned it through my work. If god really disapproved, he would not have favored me by fate.
– Heretical impudent, what blasphemy comes out of your mouth! I fear the curses that will befall all of us as a punishment for your profanities. Locusts, pestilence, demons, floods!
– We are already cursed with evils: the civil war which destroyed everything, the barbarian invasions, famine, diseases. Prey, Mama, let us be silent.
– It’s because of those who live like you, in sin, we believers are not numerous enough to save the world.
– The world is cruel, Mom, don’t you know? Believers are certainly not better off than others.
– You profligate! Woe is me to have given you birth!
And she would roll on the floor, tearing her hair out. I had imagined we’d be happy together, watching you grow, that she would relish some long quiet years. But as she screamed and shrieked, lashing a constant attack of insults, she died within a few weeks, from a rot in her throat.