Interview with Maliha Anderson
Interview with Maliha Anderson
The following interview with Miss Maliha Anderson was conducted on the day she left for South Africa. At the time she gave no indication that she would not return but it has been a year and there has been nothing except rumours of her whereabouts.
“I am not at all comfortable.”
I don’t know why Miss Anderson says this, after all the room is pleasant enough. The Pleiades Club for Ladies, located in the Compound near the main shopping district, is very well appointed and their library, where we are now seated, is quiet and friendly. The furnishings are of the highest quality—all buttoned leather and English oak—and the air is kept circulating by a fan in the ceiling.
“You know they did not want to let me in,” she says, “but my friend, Mrs Makepeace-Flynn is on the committee.”
I know that name. It was General Makepeace-Flynn who was the subject of her second major case. One with considerable scandal surrounding it though, in all fairness, each of her cases has had a sordid aspect in one way or another.
She perches on the sofa, so much younger than I expect—well, I suppose that’s not true, since I know her age to be eighteen—it’s just that, when you consider what she has done with her life in such a short space of time, she should be so much older—
“And I can’t stay long.” She glances at the door as if she plans on making a run for it. The light from the window glints on the ring on the third finger of her left hand. “I am flying out to South Africa today.”
I smile. “You agreed to the interview, Miss Anderson.”
Now she looks at the window. Her hair is long, thick and straight but done up in an elegant French style. I could wish for hair like that, and someone with the skill to work magic with it. Her maid is outside: she’s very tall and gave me quite a menacing look as I shut her out.
The brown eyes turned on me suddenly. “Let’s get on with it then, Miss Churchill. What do you want to know?”
I have prepared a list of questions, the sort of thing that female readers of the Manchester Guardian would want to know, but now I sit facing her there is only one question in my mind: “Why?”
“Why?” she repeats, “Why what?”
“Why do you do what you do?”
She sits back and looks at her hands. “I don’t know.”
Her response makes me feel more confident. She is an impressive woman despite her youth, and when she walks into a room, you notice her. Yet I am certain she is completely unaware of the impression she gives. She has genuine modesty and that, in its turn, gives me confidence.
“Is it a game?”
“A game?” Her voice drips with scorn. I have struck a nerve. “These are real people, Miss Churchill. This is not some silly fiction story. I know you journalists, always getting the story and never caring about the individual. You don’t have to live their lives, nor feel their pain. You speak to them and move on. You print your distorted versions of the truth to boost sales.” She pauses for a breath.
“I am an investigating journalist, Miss Anderson,” I said, realising that while I may have got to her, she has done the same to me. I am annoyed. “I do this because I care. I was in South Africa during the Boer War, perhaps you were unaware. I was the one who reported the disgusting conditions in which the Boer women were being held. It was through my reports that the government was forced to change its policies.”
I realise I am leaning forward and force myself back into the supporting comfort of the chair.
“I did not know. I was young and living in India,” she says. “I am sorry if I offended you.”
I raised my hand and waved away the tension between us. This was about her, not me.
“So why do you do it?”
“I believe I answered that question.”
She sighs and looks at the window again. “I am someone who prefers to be alone, Miss Churchill. However I also cannot bear injustice.”
“That must be difficult,” I say quietly, not looking up.
I pause to give some space before the next question. “You were educated at Roedean.”
“Just as were you, Miss Churchill.”
“How did you find your time there?”
She looked at me. “Do you have to ask? You have noticed the colour of my skin?”
“I do not write fiction, Miss Anderson,” I say. “Therefore I do not make things up. I might have an idea of what your time at school may have been like, but I could be wrong.”
“You aren’t wrong.”
“What about the Taliesin Affair?”
She looks away and sighs again. “Ridiculous name,” she says, “invented by a journalist with too much imagination.” She rubs her thigh as she talks and, at a guess, I don’t think she even realises she is doing it. My research told me she had almost been killed and had suffered a major injury to her leg. It also said she used a cane for walking, but she did not have one with her and, as far as I could see, did not even limp.
“If you hated the school so much why did you get involved?”
“I didn’t hate the school,” she said. “I loved school. It was the people who were the problem. To them I was nothing more than an intruder into their precious white world. I was the target for all their practical jokes.
“It is always the ‘other’ that is attacked, is it not? I was the ‘other’ personified. They made my life hell for seven years. Are you surprised that I prefer to be alone? Or that injustice makes me angry?”
“But they did not try to murder you.”
“Did they not?”
I pause. I had had a fine time at school, even though I was technically an advertisement: See Winifred Leonora Spencer-Churchill, daughter of Lord Randolf Churchill (brother to the Duke of Marlborough), attends this school. Your daughter should attend as well. And because of that my parents did not have to pay the fees, which suited them. Just because one is nobility it does not follow that one has money.
“So why did you help?”
“Why would I not?” she says. “I explain it to you and still you do not understand. This is why I do not like to talk about myself. Nobody understands me.”
I decide to change tack. “What about Bill Crier? Does he understand you?”
She glances down at the ring on her finger, almost as if she is surprised to see it there. “I am not incapable of love.”
Why did she say that? Because she has stated how much she dislikes people as a whole? Well, I am now a spinster in my mid-30s and thoroughly on the shelf but I have known love. It has not been easy for me either, but my experiences are irrelevant here.
“How did you meet?”
“Do I really have to answer that?” she says with a touch of sarcasm. “I’m sure your research has told you.”
“All right,” I say, if she wants to make this a fight, who am I to disappoint her. “I believe you rejected and abandoned him after a difficult case.”
She goes to speak and then stops. She pulls a kerchief from her bag and dabs at first one eye and then the other. The silence is like a cloak. I want to apologise, but I won’t. Her shawl slips from her shoulders and, in the mirror behind her, I see scars cut into her back. They are recent and have not healed fully. She readjusts the shawl and they are gone.
Finally she turns to look at me. Her eyes are red and wet. This is not the woman I found in my research. She was hard, and strong; like a goddess of vengeance.
“I made a mistake,” says this different woman. Her voice is barely above a whisper.
There is a knock on the door. It opens immediately and the maid, Amita, steps through. She says nothing but, on seeing the state of her mistress, gives me a glare hot enough to melt steel. It seems Miss Anderson has a protector.
I get to my feet as does Maliha Anderson. She has her mask on once more, and holds out her hand.
“It has been interesting to meet you, Miss Churchill,” she says. “I am sorry we did not have more time.”
“Perhaps we can meet again, when you return.”
She smiles at me. The change in her face is astonishing, as if a light has come on.
“I think I would enjoy that.”
And she is gone.