Battleface by Sabrina Mahfouz – An Extract
Camilla (a journalist) and Ablah (a cosmetic doctor specialising in facial rejuvenation) are having an interview chat in a spare room at Ablah’s clinic.
Ablah: I’d estimate you’re thirty-three years old, from the depth of the fountain of lines between your eyebrows. You take your job extremely seriously, working until the light late hours – revealed by the shade of dark skin under your eyes.You haven’t been joyously happy for a while – the laughter lines around your mouth don’t match your age. You don’t eat well.You drink too much coffee. It gives you palpitations, but you drink it anyway because – because of this dedication to your work. And there’s something else, something I can’t quite put my finger on. You’d have to sit under my lamp for a proper analysis.
Camilla: Wow. That was – amazing. I feel… naked.
Ablah: Accurate, then?
Camilla: I had no idea all that was right here, on my face.
Ablah: Most don’t.
Camilla: So you really are the best.
Ablah: Well, no – maybe, one of.
Camilla: Why do you do what you do, Ablah?
Ablah: I love it.
Camilla: What exactly do you love about it?
Ablah: The possibility.
Ablah: When a client comes to see me, they’re hoping to rediscover their possibility. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to help them do that.
Camilla: How do you do that?
Ablah: I allow time to be pulled back inside a person’s being.
Camilla: Quite a feat.
Ablah: When they look in the mirror, they no longer see trauma, or disappointment, just…
Camilla: So in a way, medical facial rejuvenation is like… therapy?
Ablah:Yes, except cheaper, faster and far more effective. Trust me on that.
Camilla: I will.
Ablah: And how about you Camilla, why did you become a journalist?
Camilla: To meet the most interesting minds I possibly could without having one myself.
Ablah: An unfair assessment, I’m sure. I always felt the world could be changed with words.
Camilla: Do you write?
Ablah: I did.Years ago. Just… silly things, really.
Camilla: Like what?
Ablah: Poetry, mainly. I was an angry young woman!
Camilla: What were you angry about?
Ablah: The world being so far from what I wanted it to be.
Camilla: What did you want it to be?
Ablah: It was just… the usual stuff you feel before reality and responsibility take over.
Camilla: No poetry any more then?
Ablah: No time for that, probably quite fortunately.
Camilla: Do you find time to do anything outside of work?
Ablah: Hardly, it’s non-stop these days.
Camilla: I suppose the Best Botox Award helped with that?
Ablah: Maybe, but demand for these procedures has been increasing steadily for a long time.
Camilla:Why do you think that is?
Ablah: Hope. Despair. People need to be in control of something. Plain old vanity. So many reasons.
Camilla: Do you miss cardiology?
Ablah: Um.Well. I haven’t asked myself that question for a long time.
Camilla: Perhaps that means no, then?
Ablah: Actually, I probably do.The urgency of it,the absolute life or death of it – that, maybe I miss that.
Camilla: I imagine it must be quite something, to save a life?
Ablah:There’s nothing else that even comes close.
Camilla: So why did you leave?
Ablah: It was hard, as a single parent. The night shifts, the emergencies. Cosmetics was more manageable, back then.
Camilla: And more lucrative I bet?
Ablah: That side was appreciated too, but it took a long while to get this clinic to where it is today.
Camilla: What about your family now?
Ablah: What about them?
Camilla: Do you get to spend time with them?
Ablah: Not… as much as I’d like.
Camilla: Are they proud of the reputation you’ve achieved?
Ablah: I hope so. Sorry, how much longer do you—
Camilla: Not long, I know you’re busy. I really appreciate your time.
Ablah: No problem.
Camilla: You said you have children?
Ablah: I have a son.
Ablah: Yes, Nasim. How do you – how do you know that?
Camilla: I met him.
Ablah: You met him? Where?
Camilla: At a party.
Ablah: But how did you know – how did you make the connection –
Camilla: He told me all about his famous Botox doctor mother from Shepherd’s Bush, it had to be you.
Ablah: He told you about me?
Camilla: You sound surprised.
Ablah: I – we… we’ve had a…
Camilla: He mentioned things have been a bit difficult.
Ablah: To say the least.
Camilla: He also said things are looking up, between you.
Ablah: You had quite an in depth chat for a party, then?
Camilla: It was a Ministry party, for those who’d served in Iraq.
Pause. Ablah takes this in.
Ablah: And what would a journalist for a high-end lifestyle magazine be doing at such a party?
Pause. This is the opening for Camilla to reveal herself. Change of tone, etc.
Camilla: Ablah, the reason I need to speak to you today is far more important than to write a feature /on you –
Ablah: You’re not writing a feature on me?
Camilla: No, I’m not.
Ablah: What exactly are we doing here then?
Camilla: We need to discuss something very important with you.
Ablah: ‘We’? I can only see you, here, Camilla. What is this, what do you want?
Camilla: World peace and national security.
Ablah: How sweet.
Camilla: I’m serious, Ablah.
Ablah: You’re not a journalist.
Ablah: Who are you?
Camilla: You’ll always know me as Camilla.
Ablah: I really dislike games. At school, I used to pretend I had my period every single week in order to avoid playing any kind of game.
Camilla: Funny. PE was my favourite subject. Always thought I’d grow up to be a runner. Look, I apologise for the underhand method to get you talking to me. We just find it’s easier than an unexpected knock at the door.
Ablah:‘We’, who is this ‘we’?
Camilla: We need you, Ablah. We need your talent and we need your insight, nobody else will do.
Ablah: Again, oh my, I’m not understanding exactly who ‘we’ is?
Camilla: I work for a section, a special section, of the Ministry.
Ablah: The ministry as in the ministry?
Camilla: We’ve been searching for someone who fits your profile for a while now.
Ablah: My profile? The ministry? I mean—
Camilla: When Nasim mentioned you I—
Ablah: Just hold. The hell. Up. I don’t even know where to begin with—
Camilla: I understand it’s a bit of a shock, but your cooperation is paramount to—
Ablah: Shock? I thought I was spending my lunch hour being interviewed by Gun magazine for God’s sake and now it’s – I don’t know, what is this?
Camilla: As I was saying, when Nasim mentioned you I—
Ablah: That, that there, I just – When you say Nasim mentioned me, do you mean he just mentioned me, as in passing conversational mentioned, or do you mean mentioned me as in…
Camilla: Conversational only. He doesn’t know about this meeting.
Ablah: What – why was he even at a Ministry party? He didn’t ‘serve’ in Iraq, he was a bloody mercenary.
Camilla: We couldn’t survive without them these days, Ablah, although nobody says mercenary any more, it’s private security mostly.
‘Battleface’ by Sabrina Mahfouz appears in The Things I Would Tell You published by Saqi Books.