“You were quiet at dinner,” Marley said to Aggie as the two strolled down a path behind the Van Streck home that evening. The path led to a clearing, which provided an even more breathtaking view of the Alps.
Since the incident on the train a few days ago, Aggie had been reliving it all in her mind, unable to concentrate on anything other than the shock, sadness, and confusion of seeing what Marième had done to herself. Glancing at Marley, Aggie nodded. “Just a lot on my mind,” she replied.
“Can I help? Is it work?” Marley asked.
Aggie shook her head. “Other stuff.”
“Like what, Ags?” Marley pressed. “Tell me. You seem so far away.”
Would Marley even begin to understand the heartbreak Aggie felt? Sure, Marley and Daniel had been raised in Ghana and had been exposed to a culture that became like second nature to them. Sure, she and Marley’s relationship was so close that Aggie considered her to be family. But reality was still reality. Would a Danish woman, born with the kind of Nordic features that Marième was attempting to recreate, truly understand? “I’m fine,” Aggie said, deciding that she wasn’t quite ready to discuss the matter with her friend.
But a part of her wanted to simply stop thinking about it. She ached for a distraction. So, when Daniel suggested later that they catch a film together, Aggie immediately agreed.
After a late-night showing of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, they drove back home and situated themselves on the patio. A few quiet moments later, Daniel reached for Aggie’s hand. Following his revelation from several nights ago, they had agreed to start dating, albeit slowly, deciding not to rush into anything simply because they already knew each other.
“Thanks for the film,” she said, studying their intertwined fingers.
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “So, are you going to tell me what’s going on? You’ve been quiet all evening.”
“You and your sister have a lot in common. She said the same things earlier.”
“It’s noticeable. Everything all right?” he asked.
“No, but you wouldn’t understand.”
“Quite honestly, Daniel, you’re blonde and European. There’s nothing about this situation you would understand, even if you did grow up down the street from me in Accra.”
“It’s Marième, isn’t it?” he eventually asked. “Something happened with her.”
Aggie exhaled deeply, watching her breath spin around the cool night air. “It’s all women who have been corrupted by an unrealistic ideal of beauty that can never be achieved, which causes them to desecrate their bodies and their skin. And, yes, Marième is included in that number.” Grudgingly, Aggie described the scene she had encountered on the train. “To think that this beautiful woman has turned herself into a…a caricature—I can’t stomach it. I can’t.”
“I’m sorry, Agnes. I’m sorry she did that to herself more than anything, that she felt that doing this would beautify her.”
In that moment, she recognized the rising tide of her emotions. Soon and for the second time in Daniel’s presence, she would be in tears. It was all too much and hardly part of her nature. Abruptly, Aggie took back her hand and stood up. “I’m going inside,” she muttered. “It’s zero degrees out here.”
“Aggie, please don’t leave.”
“I just need to be alone, and—”
Daniel stood up, as well, and faced her. “I may be blonde and European and unable to understand, but I also care about you, so I’d like to think that counts for something,” he said. “When we left Ghana and came to Switzerland, I thought people ate fufu and listened to highlife music here, too. It took me a long time to realize that the world I came to know and love wasn’t the world at large. But that’s neither here nor there. You don’t have to run away from me. Say whatever you want. I’ll listen.”
Aggie gazed up at him, her vision blurry. “If this is part of your boyfriend campaign…” she began, her voice trailing off as Daniel drew her into his arms and held her tightly. But she let herself be held and held on to him, as well.