I’m the cleaner, me, luv. What I’m about to tell you’s things I know for certain. Everyone in these parts’s got their own story about Camilla. I’ll tell you things I know for certain. But if you need to find out more you go talk to the Madam’s niece, luv. She was a friend of hers, that one. But I don’t talk to the Madam’s niece myself ‘cos she’s as odd as they come. Never says a word, that one. Me, I dunno how she got close to Camilla, luv. But I can only tell you what I know, right? I used to do her chores. Used to, ‘cos I don’t do that anymore. Never go anywhere close to that house, it’s cursed, that house, see. And it’s no use them blaming it all on Camilla. I’m a doubting Thomas, me … if I haven’t seen with my own two eyes, I won’t believe. And I’ll tell you again, it’s not fair them blaming Camilla. ‘Cos that woman never harmed a soul. She used to write the lines for the dead, is what she did. Everyone going to her so she’d write them a piece for someone who’d died God rest his soul. For their grave, you know. ‘Cos Camilla was sharp, mind you. Oh yes, she was sharp and no mistake! She’ll have written lines for all the Naxxarin, I wouldn’t be surprised. Oh yes, that’s what I think. But then see how people turn their backs on you. See how they turn their backs? Everyone can spin a yarn when it suits them, in’t that right? But I’m telling you it wasn’t her. Now you can either believe that or not, up to you really. I clean the rich folk’s houses, luv. My ma was a maid as well, but my ma, her whole life, she just cleaned for the Marquis Scicluna. You mean to say you don’t know who the Marquis is? Oh no he’s got nothing to do with Camilla, luv! The Marquis, he was the owner of the Palace, the one next to the church, Palazzo Parisio, that’s right. The one that’s owned now by the Baroness Christine Ramsay Scicluna. He was a real nobleman, now. Descended from the Cavaliers they say. Had a huge collection of weapons, you know? That’s what my ma used to say, and he had this man used to clean his rifles, that was all he did. He had a good twenty servants, did you know that? And my ma was one of them and she was in charge of the bedrooms. And d’you know how long she was in his service for? Until she got old. Me, I like the English best, as far’s rich folks go, but I’ve got this Dutch family and what d’you know, they’re such nice people too. And then I have Camilla too – had, I should say, I had Camilla but not anymore. From Italy, from up north. Can’t say I like the Italians, quite the opposite, I won’t beat about the bush, I hate the Italians, luv, ‘cos they’re grumblers and they always think they’ve got it all right and we’ve got it all wrong. Think they’re the prettiest and the cleverest. Which we know isn’t true at all, but they won’t admit it. The English now, they’re a different story, complete opposite, they’ll say everything here is lovely and everything there is ugly, the weather to start with. Great weather in Malta. That’s what they always say to me.

How did I get to know her? I’ll tell you how I got to know her, sure I will. See, she came across me one time as I was cleaning the balcony opposite hers, the one that used to belong to the Oatses, I say used to ‘cos they’re no longer with us, Mr and Mrs Oates. Now it’s Notary Cachia Belli lives there. Anyway, she saw me cleaning the balcony and she called out to me. She’d moved in about a week before. This was about fifteen years ago now, mind, maybe more, hold on, ah no, about thirteen years I guess, or something like that anyway. She called out to me from her balcony, from behind the French window, which was ajar, and I went over to hers and we made an agreement and even though she wasn’t paying much I accepted. ‘Cos that house, now, that house is a real beauty, now. Pleasure to clean. Used to be rented out to this Dutch Professor before. Can’t remember what his name was ‘cos everyone used to call him Jerry. After he left it was locked up, ‘cos the brothers who inherited it could never agree on a sale price. So that’s how I started doing Camilla’s cleaning, luv, d’you follow? ‘Cos of the house mainly, I mean, ‘cos it’s such a lovely house, one of the most loveliest in Naxxar. No, we didn’t talk much. ‘Cos that Camilla was a bit of a bat, see, slept right through the day and stayed up all night.

Lucy, that’s me. The Madam’s niece. Camilla was a friend of mine. One fine day, in the house where the anthropologist Jeremy Boissevain lived for a number of years, Camilla Petroni turned up, chewing on a fusty smell in her mouth and writing epitaphs for people. It was a while ago now, maybe ten years? Something like that, I think. That house with two facades, I’ve always thought of it as the house of Boissevain the anthropologist whom everyone called Jerry. He lived there with his wife Inga and lots of books and furniture that he’d brought back from all the places he’d visited. He lived there and wrote about the Maltese, the Naxxarin, the festas. He came back again, recently, the Professor, came back on his own sporting this thick cobweb of a beard, came down for a holiday and I told him that after he’d left the house was rented out to Camilla Petroni from Milan, a writer and a thinker, who unlike him never said a word to anyone, except for me. And maybe her cleaning lady. Before she moved to Naxxar she lived in Senglea with her lover. The last time he spoke to her was on a Monday morning. He told her he’d no more words for her, that spring had dried up. That’s how Camilla put it to me. By midday he’d thrown out all her things, which over the years they’d lived together had spread all over the house, in cardboard boxes on the doorstep and on the pavement outside the front door. That day, with her eyes the colour of the void, she turned her back on the boxes strewn outside his front door, empty handed. That town would never curl up in her lap again. That old town, that small house, as old as the town itself, the sooty steps of that street, would never shine in her eyes again. She left behind the plants and shoots in pots outside people’s front doors, she left behind Doris and Censina going at each other over where the old bitch, which had never been given a name, had peed, and over the noise from the backfiring motorbike belonging to the boy with the tattoo on his neck, I love the Redentur of Isla, Our Lady of Victory and the Regatta. Very soon the steps that led from the house down to the shore and from the shore back to the house began to age, as did the distance between her and him, that too began to age, the way her long hair began to age, just like that, all of a sudden. They say she wrote about the people of Senglea, where she lived for about ten years, and they also say the people of Senglea were none too impressed by what she wrote about them and they drove her out of their town. That’s what they say. On the other hand, she never wrote about the Naxxarin, except after their death. It was like poetry, the way the words flowed from the pen she held in her left hand. Here lies Kurun who lived out his life story on a bench in the piazza opposite the Church, his rosary beads dripping the decades through his fingers. Now it’s true that Kurun did spend half his life doing nothing on the bench in front of the Band Club with his rosary in hand, but all he did was blaspheme and insult people, quite apart from the fact that, naturally, he always had a cigar hanging out of his mouth whose stench you could smell from several metres away. But Camilla had nothing but words of praise for the Naxxarin.

I’m the cleaner, me, luv. I knew that house like the back of my hand. One of the loveliest and one of the oldest. Belonged to the nobility back in the day. That’s what my ma used to say, God rest her soul. ‘Course, luv, Naxxar was full of the nobility back in the day. There’s two entrances into that house. ‘Cos it’s got two facades. The main door’s on St Lucy Street and there’s a side door in Alley number nine. The side door’s for the servants. But I always got in through the main door. Soon’s you walk in there’s a wide corridor with a hall on each side. They’re really big, these halls. Each one’s got a huge chandelier in the centre of the ceiling. Antique chandeliers, you know, with bronze candelabra. Are you following? Took the strength out of me when I had to polish them. You should see me on the ladder polishing the candelabra and the crystal dangles one by one! But it’s good stock we’re descended from, see. Good stock. The corridor then gives out onto a square courtyard overgrown with kingcup and maidenhair with an arched walkway all round. From the corridor you can get into different rooms that Camilla had filled with books. ‘Cos books was all Camilla had. Plenty of light in that house, but Camilla never opened the shutters or the French windows so all you got in that house was darkness and damp. Never mind that I used to open up to let the air through. But I was only there to do the cleaning once a week, you know. Otherwise I’d take her groceries and some newspapers but then I was hardly going to open up the whole place, was I? I only open when I’m cleaning. Now the upstairs was like the downstairs, see? Giving out onto the courtyard. Even these she kept the way she’d found them, I mean bedrooms, study and two bathrooms. She’d wake up and go to bed in the big room with the balcony over the street. She’d filled it up with books. That’s all Camilla had. Books. Now, you tell me, d’you reckon someone who was so in love with books had it in her to kill? I don’t think so. Everywhere you looked, she had bookshelves, tables with books, cupboards full of books, chests overflowing so you could hardly open the drawers, beds piled with books, the floor too would be covered with books more often than not. And me always putting the books in order and picking them up off the floor and putting them on a table or a bed, in a cupboard or on a shelf. ‘Cos how d’you go about washing the floor otherwise, with books around your ankles, you tell me. Yes, I still keep the odd household. Not like before, though. I used to have a family or two every day. The rich foreigners always wanted me ‘cos I always keep my mouth shut. I’m not what I used to be, you know. My brother still works the fields and I get by quite nicely on what he brings home and the little I make from the rich folks. I even used to take Camilla her meals. ‘Cos that one, she was always cooped up in the house, see. They say, apparently, that she had a nobleman. Now I don’t know where she found this nobleman from, ‘cos here’s what I say, there isn’t any nobility left in this country anymore. But people say all sorts of things, in’t that right? Some said, when she came to live here I mean, that he’d kicked her out, and others said she’d found him hanging off a ceiling beam in the kitchen, and others said it was the Sengleans who drove her out and some say this and some say that. Cos there’s those whose mother-in-law’s from Senglea, or their son’s wife, or their cousins, or a friend of a friend, and those who catch the rumours from here or from there. They’ve all said their piece, that much I can tell you. And she certainly never spoke to a soul. Which means, luv, that nobody knows the truth.

Now, despite her age, Camilla was a beautiful woman. Nothing like me, I’m just an old biddy. Didn’t eat much for starters, always kept her figure trim, with a face like it was chiseled out of marble. But she was like a corpse ‘cos she never went out. The sun hurt her, she used to say, and upset her stomach. And one time she told me she felt soffocata, that’s the word she used, soffocata, not that I know much Italian you know, but I can catch a word here and there. And then Camilla’s Maltese was good, you know. Ooooh like a Maltese woman herself, she was, luv. Like she’d been born and bred here, you know. But she still let the odd Italian word through, like soffocata, see? I think it’s all the fault of that man she had who did a bunk on her or I don’t know what. And they said he found another woman even more beautiful than she was. But people say all sorts of things. Like, know what they said once? They said he’d been found chopped up into pieces. ‘Cos people’ll talk and talk. That’s right, they said he’d been found chopped up into pieces in a black bag on the pavement and whoever had done him in had left their initials as well, pdm. Now pdm, that can’t be Camilla, right? So why don’t the police find out who’s responsible for these revolting things, is what I want to know? I don’t know, luv. Camilla never mentioned that he’d died. That came from that demon Tessie. ‘Cos she’s a demon, that Tessie is, you know. She’s the one started the rumour that Camilla had murdered someone. ‘Course it was her, who d’you think it was? You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Mister, you know. This is a small village and people say all sorts of things to make themselves look good. Me, I do the cleaning for her. Did, anyhow, ‘cos I don’t anymore. And what I’m telling you I’m telling ‘cos I know ‘cos I saw it with my own eyes or heard it with my own ears, meaning I’m not making it up. I’d do the dusting, sweeping, washing, set the place in order and let some air into the house and I’d be done by eleven. Then every morning I’d take her groceries and feed the cats. Then I’d go do the cleaning for someone else. And she’d sleep through the day and write through the night. ‘Cos she was a writer. And she had this friend used to visit her. The Madam’s niece. Here, see what beautiful lines she wrote for my ma, God rest her. This is the final resting place of Marija tal-Qaddis, the servant of the Marquis, who poured the colour of geraniums into all her children’s eyes, every one of them, Filomena, Karmena, Gilla, Lina, Vitorin, Guzi and Salvu, and like a white geranium she wilts on their hearts for eternity. Lovely, eh? A couple things was all I said to her: that she’d been a servant all her life and that she’d brought us up right, and a week later she gave it to me beautifully printed on a sheet of paper folded in two. She was sharp, was Camilla. No way am I going to believe that she was a murderer. ‘Course she wrote some death lines for me. And there’s no way I’m reading them out to you. Forget it, you can only read that after my death or there’ll be a curse on me and my family.

His epitaph was carved into the wall. Qui giace un sapient’uomo, nobile di sangue, a lungo anche di cuore, che diviso nel cuore e nel sangue, la memoria del mare, la sua bruma, il suo sapore, perse un giorno, et aussi sa langue.[1] She once told me that he’d left her for another woman of a lower class. Vulgar is what she called her, shorn of any femininity, of any shred of intelligence, and she had none of the bearing that would have suited him. Because of him she’d secluded herself and retired from the world. Everything happened because of him. They even called her mad towards the end. Towards the end, before the … No I don’t know what happened exactly and how or why. And no, I don’t believe she murdered anyone. Of course I don’t know where she is. Excuse me just a moment, do you think that if she’d run away she’d tell me so that I’d be able to tell you? What kind of fool do you take her for? But anyway, this is all pointless chatter because it wasn’t Camilla. You might as well say that Camilla herself was killed or buried alive and nobody knows where she is. Has that possibility crossed your mind at all? Yes she trusted me, of course she did. But what’s that got to do with anything now? You’re not, by any chance, suggesting that it was me, are you? I can tell you everything I know. Mad she most certainly wasn’t. She just didn’t go out of the house and didn’t like the sun. Is there anything wrong with that? People say all sorts of things because people want stories they can chew on and that leave a sweet or a bitter aftertaste and either way they have something to prattle about. There were so many things people said! Did you know, for example, that they even said she’d begun to lower her long hair in a plait from the balcony so that men could climb up? Did you know that? Did the cleaning lady tell you that? Or didn’t she? That’s what they began to say, yes indeed. Now you tell me, who’s mad around here? Is it Camilla or is it everybody else? Because I’ll be the first to admit that Camilla had long hair, and I’ll also admit that sometimes she wore it in a plait. But she didn’t throw it down from her balcony like in a children’s fairy tale. And they said, towards the end, that’s before everything happened, that she’d begun to let men up during the night, let them up so for a night of lovemaking. I can assure you Camilla didn’t set eyes on another man after the lover she had in Senglea. I myself sometimes spent entire nights with her. Talking about books, I mean, not the sort of thing you might be thinking. And she wrote the epitaph for him because as far as she was concerned, since he no longer formed part of her life, he might as well be dead.

I’m her friend. Lucy, that’s me. I would go over to chat and borrow a book or two. I’d go over to tell her about the people in the street, yes. What’s wrong with that? I was the first to knock on her door. She piqued my curiosity, it’s true, but that wasn’t the only reason. That was Boissevain’s house. He was a friend of mine, you see. I wanted to tell her about him. I wanted to enter that house one more time, the house that I used to go to when Jerry lived there. That’s why I went to knock on her door. Or at least, that’s what happened at the beginning. Then we got talking. Gradually, you know? Everything happened slowly. But yes, of course we got talking. My Italian’s pretty good. And she was good at Maltese as well. And I’d help her out a bit whenever she needed a hand. But I wanted to speak Italian. It’s so beautiful, Italian. At first I’d go there once a week. Then I started going more often. Gradually. Some weeks I’d end up going everyday. Sometimes we’d spend the entire night talking about a book. Always at night, yes, because the sun hurt her.

When she moved to Naxxar she’d just published a book set in Senglea. The Sengleans didn’t like it much. Over here she used to write other things. In Italian. She did read me some of it sometimes, yes, but what’s that to you now? As for the Naxxarin, the only things she ever wrote about them were epitaphs. They used to pay her, of course they did. One good turn deserves another, right? One thing’s for sure, everyone used to praise them and they still do and if anyone has a beautiful epitaph on their grave it’s bound to have been penned by Camilla Petroni. People even began to ask her to write their epitaphs before they died and they’d tell her what to write about, naturally, because they’d figured out, somehow, these gentle Naxxarin, that the only thing they’d leave behind after their death would be those few words in which an entire person’s life is summed up on a slab of ceramic or stone over a grave. Yes she did write mine too. Yes I know it by heart but I’m not about to tell you. When I’m dead you can go and read it on my grave if you like. I can tell you my mother’s if you want to hear it. Here lies Karmen whose sweet words drew her children’s tears into a big, big trumpet so that, when the bandmaster played it, bubbles would float out bearing limericks that would make everyone happy. My mother raised six of us and my father was a bandmaster. That’s our moniker in these parts, the Bandmaster’s. Lovely, isn’t it? So poetic! Don’t you think? And my father’s: Here a man lies asleep whose life was lived in successive glissandos. He leaves behind the velvet notes in the hearts of many Naxxarin.

Camilla Petroni, poor thing, was so unlucky. Even after she’d moved here. She was locked up in her preoccupations. It was as if she was surrounded by an ombra. Ombra is what she called it. A shadow, that is. She was tightly wrapped up in his shadow. Or his memory, which was still locked up in her eyes or tangled in that long hair of hers. Night after night it mocked her, it kept reminding her of the humiliation she’d felt the day she saw all her things on his doorstep on the street stairs in Senglea. She still felt herself choking on those last words he’d spoken to her on a Monday morning, the last words he’d spoken to her on that cold, colourless winter morning. The past still humiliated her and her present, littered with pills against depression, humiliated her even more than the past, because she didn’t use to be like this, she used to be a different person when she was with him, because she’d changed into someone she didn’t know, someone she couldn’t recognize, with long fingernails scrabbling for the sounds of love and the language of the sea that she never rediscovered and her hair in a tangle trying to cover the wounds she’d suffered. I always remember her with eyes the colour of death and a voice shrouded in a dry cough, her beautiful body like a shell buried in a deep blue depth, harbouring her heart. That’s the Camilla I knew. Now, whether she was the one who did it, I don’t know. And if you won’t believe me, that’s not my problem. I’m Lucy, I’m the Madam’s niece and Camilla’s friend and I’m just telling you what I know.

Luv, I just do the chores, that’s my job. Nope, I never saw any men in her room and never saw any men climbing up the balcony, but then I take pills at night ‘cause nighttime’s for sleeping, so, me, if a bomb had to go off during the night, I wouldn’t hear it so I’m not so sure what happens at night, even though I just live a few doors down the street from her. Now, I’m not saying that Camilla wasn’t odd in her own way, but mad she certainly wasn’t. It’s all that devil’s fault, is what I say, that man she loved once, a long time ago. I used to feel sorry for her, seeing her cry like that. Noble my foot, is what I say, ‘cause let’s face it, what noble man would have the heart to throw someone like Camilla out on the street? I’m not the type who believes everything people say. Like for example the time my brother told me that a friend of his friend had spent the night with her. Now this was my brother who told me this, mind, and my brother I trust with my eyes closed, but I didn’t believe him then, I let him say his piece and then sent him packing. He said his friend was walking along our street, his friend’s friend actually, and as soon as he passed by her balcony, she threw down a rope, which he then realized was her hair all neatly done in a plait, and he heard a voice saying to come up and he went up and it was fireworks all through the night for the two of them, is what he said. I said he must’ve been legless, your friend. I mean would Camilla, an educated woman, go in for this foolishness? But you see how people begin to talk! And then word started spreading. Marija’s James, for example, he also said she’d thrown down her hair so he could climb up into her bedroom. A friend of Cettina’s Mark too, he passed a night to remember, is what he said, and even Stefan and his friend Clyde and their friend Omar. But I’ll tell you one thing, luv, and you listen to me carefully, they’re all young men, they are, hare-brained. The young ones scare me because they’ll make up all kinds of things, they just pull them out of a hat. With all the movies they watch, ‘course they’ll make it all up! I don’t know, I swallow my pills at night and I wouldn’t even notice if the whole of Malta were to sink ‘cause I want to sleep at night and not worry and shuffle about and keep an eye open on what everyone and their little brother’s up to.

Once she told me that she’d sown a smile onto her face, but it got ripped off very soon after and she couldn’t sew it back on. Another time she told me how her hair had started to thin and she thought it resembled white thread unraveling from a bobbin buried in her skull. That’s how Camilla used to speak. She’d stuck her eyes with needles, she once said, stuck her eyes with needles and there were so many of these needles that all the little holes, one little hole next to the other, had made a big hole. It’s true though, that’s how I always saw her eyes, empty, you’d look straight through them to what was behind, a limestone wall dusting off words woven into stripes of the kind you see on ties worn by university professors. Which is how I always thought of that man of hers, all dressed up, in a tie. He’s the only one she ever loved. And the only one she ever waited for. One time, she said she could feel him close by. She said he’d found her. He was coming to pay her a visit. But you know, I think it was all in her head. Everyday she would wait for him to come back to her. But he never came. I’m telling you, he never came.

I don’t believe in the things people say. I don’t believe she murdered anyone and nor do I believe she ran away or whatever. I still think someone killed her and him and then made off with her and buried her someplace. Well how should I know who this someone is? I don’t know everything do I?

Yes, that bit about the flowers is true. One time, one fine day, these flowers began to turn up on Camilla’s doorstep. No, I’ve no idea who left them there. I’ve no idea because I never happened on anyone actually putting them there, you see. But I do know that her house started to fill up with bouquets of flowers. I don’t know if she used to go out to bring them in herself or if it was the cleaning lady who did it for her. Actually I think it would’ve been Vitorin who brought the flowers in. Good thing too, because the doorstep would have become like a grave, covered with fresh flowers everyday. I can understand that you’d want to pay your respects to the dead even after they’re gone, but you wouldn’t want to turn the living into the dead by treating them the same way, don’t you think? The rumour that she took men up to her room began to seep out of every fissure between the stones in all the old houses. All the men, married or not, began to wait for their turn to get lucky. Which leads me to think it might have been the men who left those bunches of flowers for her. But they were really discreet about it so that they wouldn’t get caught by their wives or their sweethearts, their mothers or their aunts, or simply be labeled mad. I don’t know what it was exactly, this business with the men. I mean look at me, I’m not a man am I, meaning I don’t know much more than I’ve told you. Ask the men of Naxxar, why don’t you, see if they’ve got the courage to tell you about the night they spent with her, about the night sewn up with the scent of hoar stock and lilies, begonias and daisies, the night with Camilla Petroni, the beautiful woman who never saw the sun and who looked like she was made of silver in the moonlight. This business with the men, her taking a man up to her room every last Monday of the month to spend the night making love, I don’t know about that. I spent a lot of time at her place. And I never saw a man there.

Then they started saying that he too had turned up. Her lover, I mean. Well how can you expect me to know if it was really him? No point showing me that photograph, I don’t know him and I’ve never laid eyes on him. No she never described him. I showed you his epitaph scratched into the wall. Do you think that epitaph would match the man in the photograph? Because I can’t see much of a match. Between the man in the photograph and the epitaph, I mean. I don’t know anything else. I just know that Camilla’s not here anymore and I’ve no clue where she might be. Yes, those books belong to her. It’s the last batch she lent me. I was meant to take them back to her, yes, but she’d left by then. Or someone murdered her, as I said. Because that’s what I think happened. Someone murdered her. Didn’t you see strands of her hair snipped off and strewn on the floor? Doesn’t that mean something to you? One thing I’m sure of, that the minute they published the story in the papers, I saw a new face in these parts. No, I don’t know who it was. No, I didn’t speak to him. But I saw him shuffling about in the dark by her house. A tall and handsome man, yes. Looked like the educated type. No idea if it was the same one. No idea if he’s from Senglea. No, not the one in the photograph. No, not that one either. I only saw him once. It was a while ago now.

‘Course I take out the rubbish. I’m the cleaning woman aren’t I? But I wasn’t the one who took it out that day, it was already out by the door. I’m telling you it was outside the front door already. The rubbish, yes. Tied up with a knot, yes. First thing I saw was the garbage bag. Then the blood. I don’t know how much, don’t remember now, but a puddle, you know. Under the garbage bag, it was. It had dried already. I didn’t even realize it was blood at first. Then I squatted down. Next to the garbage I mean. My, that stench, how it hit me sudden, like! Ooooh, how do you explain something like that, luv? They say there’s nothing stinks so bad as a dead body, right? I think the whole of Naxxar will have heard me scream that day. ‘Course you’d scream, wouldn’t you! As if it’d ever crossed my mind that one day I’d find someone chopped up into little pieces. ?eqq ‘cos I opened the bag, din’t I? ‘Course it was me, who else? Knot’d been done in a hurry. See, I thought at first someone’d dumped some fish carcasses outside her front door. But the minute I opened the bag, God help me, the first thing I saw was a hand … like that, from the wrist up. And then I was screaming and crying. ‘Cos at first I thought that was Camilla there. How’d you hold back from screaming, you tell me. I thought some man had climbed up and chopped her up into pieces. That’s what I thought, I’m telling you. That someone had barged in on her and chopped her up with a meat cleaver. I started screaming and sobbing, so much screaming that day. I woke up the entire neighbourhood. It had just gone quarter to six in the morning. I couldn’t calm down. I couldn’t go indoors; then Guzi the Bobbin came over and I gave him the key. He got in first and told me there was no one in the house, that Camilla’s bed was covered in blood and there was a lot of hair on it. I cried even more when he said that, and I cried and screamed and started to shout, They’ve done Camilla in, they’ve done Camilla in, the bastards have done her in, what’s she ever done to deserve being chopped up and thrown out in a garbage bag? Camilla, poor Camilla, they’ve done her in! I don’t know if she had any knives, luv. What kind of question’s that? My job’s to do the chores not to spy on people. One thing I can tell you though, is that I didn’t recover from the shock for a whole month. On that day, then, after the shouting and screaming, they took me home and made me some chamomile to soothe my nerves a little. I couldn’t go back in there and I never did go back into that house. It’s still locked up, ‘course it is, and you mark my words, that’s how it’ll remain and nobody’ll ever go live in that house now. ‘Cos when there’s a murder, that’s what happens, the house is cursed, nobody wants to live there. Like Katarin’s house, the poor woman, two kids Katarin had and both of them got involved in a drug racket and both of them hanged themselves in the kitchen. And there’s the house now, lovely house too, Katarin’s, but see, it’s falling to pieces, nobody wants it. The façade had a sculpture of the Holy Family. Now the niche is empty. ‘Cos that’s what happens when there’s a murder, luv. The house is cursed. What happened then was, some days later, they knocked on my door to say it wasn’t Camilla in that bag. I crossed myself and thanked the Holy Virgin for protecting her and keeping a watch over her. ‘Cos Camilla, poor Camilla. Camilla doesn’t deserve this, now does she? How should I know who it was, luv? You’re the one telling me, luv. You’re the one telling me it was her lover. I don’t know who her lover was. Meaning this is what you think, that this young man in the picture’s from Senglea, right? And now you’re telling me that that night – a Monday wasn’t it? – this man came over to look for her here, in Naxxar, came over from Senglea, then went into her house, she took him upstairs and I don’t know what you say she did to him and then got him distracted and then took a knife that was hidden somewhere in her bedroom and started to stab him left right and centre, right? And then once she’d made sure he was good and dead, she chopped him up into little pieces and threw him into a garbage bag. And you’re asking me now if I’d ever seen knives in her bedroom, right? No mister, I never saw any. The knives are usually in the kitchen. How should I know how many knives she had? And Mister, how’d you know this same man didn’t try to do her in first? He could’ve taken a knife up with him from the kitchen before he went to the bedroom. Me, I never set eyes on this man. And I’m pretty sure Camilla doesn’t have it in her to use a knife to chop a man up into forty pieces. Wasn’t it forty pieces you found him in? What d’you mean, how come? I just know it don’t I, she wouldn’t have it in her to kill an ant, let alone a man! No, ‘course I don’t know where it is that Camilla made off to. Look, my job’s to do the chores, I’m nobody’s keeper. I’ve told you all I know Mister. But if you need to know more about Camilla, I know she had a friend who went to her place often, the Madam’s niece, the spinster, yes. She was a friend of hers too. Now I don’t know if she was involved in the whole thing herself. But she’s a good girl, that one, eh, the Madam’s family, god rest her soul, it’s a good family. So if you ask me I don’t think she could be involved. But if you need to know more about Camilla you go and ask her, ‘cos I’ve told you all I know and it’s getting late now and the minute the sun goes down I need to go to bed, luv, make myself a cup of chamomile maybe so maybe I can get a little shut-eye, Mister, ‘cos I have trouble sleeping, Mister, ‘cos when you’re getting on, you sleep lightly, in’t that right?

[1] Here lies a wise man, of noble blood and ultimately of noble heart, who, torn between the calling of his heart and blood, was deprived of the memory of the sea, its mist, its taste, et aussi sa langue.