Battleface by Sabrina Mahfouz – An Extract

By Sabrina Mahfouz on April 18, 2017 in Fiction

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.

Camilla: 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: Possibility?

Ablah: Exactly.

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.


Camilla: Nasim.

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.

Camilla: No.

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.