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“One of the best novels I’ve read in 2021” – Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“A perfect novel—taut and seductive.” —Brandon Taylor, author of Real Life and Filthy Animals
Intimacies is a haunting, precise, and morally astute novel that reads like a psychological thriller…. Katie Kitamura is a wonder.” —Dana Spiotta, author of Wayward and Eat the Document
A novel from the author of A Separation, an electrifying story about a woman caught between many truths.

An interpreter has come to The Hague to escape New York and work at the International Court. A woman of many languages and identities, she is looking for a place to finally call home.
She's drawn into simmering personal dramas: her lover, Adriaan, is separated from his wife...

Penguin Publishing Group
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Also by Katie Kitamura

			 				A Separation

				Gone to the Forest

				The Longshot


			An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

			Copyright © 2021 by Katie Kitamura

			Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

			Riverhead and the R colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

			Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

			Names: Kitamura, Katie M., author.

			Title: Intimacies / Katie Kitamura.

			Description: New York : Riverhead Books, 2021.

			Identifiers: LCCN 2021006487 (print) | LCCN 2021006488 (ebook) | ISBN 9780399576164 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780399576188 (ebook)

			Classification: LCC PS3611.I877 I58 2021 (print) | LCC PS3611.I877 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23

			LC record available at

			LC ebook record available at

			International edition ISBN: 9780593420171

			Cover design and art: Jaya Miceli

			Book design by Lucia Bernard, adapted for ebook by Maggie Hunt

			This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


For my family



		Also by Katie Kitamura

		Title Page



		Chapter 1

		Chapter 2

		Chapter 3

		Chapter 4

		Chapter 5

		Chapter 6

		Chapter 7

		Chapter 8

		Chapter 9

		Chapter 10

		Chapter 11

		Chapter 12

		Chapter 13

		Chapter 14

		Chapter 15

		Chapter 16

	; 	Acknowledgments

		About the Author


			It is never easy to move to a new country, but in truth I was happy to be away from New York. That city had become disorienting to me, after my father’s death and my mother’s sudden retreat to Singapore. For the first time, I understood how much my parents had anchored me to this place none of us were from. It was my father’s long illness that had kept me there, and with its unhappy resolution I was suddenly free to go. I applied for the position of staff interpreter at the Court on impulse, but once I had accepted the job and moved to The Hague, I realized that I had no intention of returning to New York, I no longer knew how to be at home there.

			I arrived in The Hague with a one-year contract at the Court and very little else. In those early days when the city was a stranger to me, I rode the tram without purpose and walked for hours at a time, so that I would sometimes become lost and need to consult the map on my phone. The Hague bore a family resemblance to the European cities in which I had spent long stretches of my life, and perhaps for this reason I was surprised by how easily and frequently I lost my bearings. In those moments, when the familiarity of the streets gave way to confusion, I would wonder if I could be more than a visitor here.

			Still, as I traversed the roads and neighborhoods, I had a renewed sense of possibility. I had lived with my slow-moving grief for so long that I had ceased to notice it, or recognize how it blunted my feeling. But now it began to lift. A space opened up. As the days passed I felt that I had been right to leave New York, although I didn’t know if I’d been right to come to The Hague. I saw the details of the landscape in high and sometimes startling relief—because the place was not yet worn down by acquaintance or distorted by memory, and because I had begun looking for something, although I didn’t know exactly what.

			It was around then that I met Jana, through a mutual acquaintance in London. Jana had moved to the Netherlands two years earlier than me, for her job as a curator at the Mauritshuis—the housekeeper of a national gallery, she called the position with a wry shrug. Her character was the opposite of mine, she was almost compulsively open whereas I had grown guarded in recent years—my father’s illness had served as a quiet warning against too much hope. She entered my life at a moment when I was more than usually susceptible to the promise of intimacy. I felt a cool relief in her garrulous company, and I thought in our differences we achieved a kind of equilibrium.

			Jana and I frequently had dinner together, and that night she had offered to cook, she said she was too tired to eat in a restaurant and it would save us both money, there was the matter of her new and not inconsiderable mortgage. Jana had recently purchased an apartment close to the old train station, and had been urging me to move to the area when the lease on my short-term rental ran out. She had taken to sending me listings, assuring me the neighborhood had much to offer, among other things it was well served for transport, in fact her commute was now easier, a direct tram ride rather than a transfer.

			As I walked from the tram stop to her apartment, broken glass crunched underfoot. Jana’s building, a modest structure lined with balconies, was wedged between a public housing block and a new condominium of steel and glass, two aspects of a rapidly changing neighborhood. I rang the intercom and she buzzed me in without a word. She opened her door before I was able to knock, things at work were a nightmare, she announced without preamble, she hadn’t moved from London to The Hague in order to spend her days poring over Excel spreadsheets. And yet that was exactly how each day passed, she worried over budgets and press releases and as for the art itself, she barely saw any at all, somehow that had become somebody else’s responsibility. She waved me in and took the bottle of wine I handed her. Come sit with me while I cook, she called over her shoulder as she disappeared into the kitchen.

			I hung up my coat. She handed me a glass of wine as I entered the kitchen and turned back to the stove. The food will be ready in a minute, she said. How was work? Have they said anything about your contract? I shook my head. I didn’t know yet whether or not my contract at the Court would be extended. It was something I wondered about with increasing frequency, I had begun to think that I would like to stay in The Hague. I found myself scrutinizing the assignments I received, the manner of my supervisor, seeking an augury of some kind. Jana nodded sympathetically and then asked if I had looked at the listings she had sent, there was an apartment available in the condominium opposite.

			I told her I had, then took a sip from the glass of wine. Although she had only recently moved, Jana already appeared at home, she had taken possession of the space with characteristic gusto. I knew that the purchase of the apartment represented a kind of security she had hitherto lacked: she had married and divorced while still in her twenties, and had spent the past decade working her way up to her current position at the Mauritshuis. I watched as she opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of olive oil, a pepper grinder, I noticed that everything already had its place. I felt a throb—not of envy, perhaps of admiration, although the two are not unrelated.

			Shall we eat at the counter? Jana asked. I nodded and sat down. She set a bowl of pasta before me and then said, I always wanted a kitchen with an eating counter. It must have been something I saw as a child. She sat down on the stool beside me. Jana had grown up in Belgrade with a Serbian mother and Ethiopian father, before being sent to a boarding school in France during the war. She never returned to Yugoslavia, or what was now called former Yugoslavia. I wondered where she had seen her first eating counter, the one that she had at last succeeded in replicating in some form, here in this kitchen.

			I congratulated her on the aspiration fulfilled and she smiled. It does feel good, she said. It wasn’t easy, the process of finding the apartment, and then getting the financing—she shook her head and gave me a droll look. It turns out it’s not easy getting a mortgage as a single Black woman in your forties. She reached for her glass of wine. Of course, I am a gentrifier here. But I have to live somewhere—

			At that moment the sound of a siren erupted in the street. I looked up, startled. The sound grew louder and then ballooned inside the apartment as the vehicle approached. Red and orange light spiraled through the kitchen. Jana frowned. Outside, the sound of doors slamming and the low rumble of an engine. There are police here all the time, she said as she reached for her glass of wine. There have been a couple muggings, there was a shooting last year. I don’t feel unsafe, she added quickly. Even as she spoke, another pair of sirens drew near. Jana picked up her fork and continued eating. I watched as she chewed slowly, the choral sound outside growing louder. It’s no different to the London neighborhoods I used to live in, Jana said. She raised her voice in order to be heard over the noise. It’s just that living in The Hague inures you. It can be easy to forget what being in a real city is like.

			The sirens cut out and we sat in the sudden silence. A siren can mean anything, I said at last. A slip in the bath, a heart attack in the kitchen. She nodded and I realized her apprehension was not caused by the threat of danger or violence, or not that alone—it was that her sense of the apartment had mutated. In that moment, it was no longer a source of the security she had long sought but something else altogether, something more changeable, and uncertain.

			The remainder of the evening passed under a cloud of preoccupation, and before too long I said that I would be going. I went into the living room to collect my things, as I pulled on my coat I peered through the curtains at the street below, now dimly lit by streetlamps. The road was still, apart from the glow of a cigarette—a man walking his dog. As I watched, he threw the cigarette to the ground and tugged on the dog’s leash before disappearing around the corner.

			Jana leaned against the wall, she had a cup of tea in one hand and she looked more than usually tired. I smiled at her. Get some rest, I said, and she nodded. She opened the front door and as I moved past she suddenly caught me by the arm. Be careful on your way to the tram, will you? I was surprised by the urgency in her voice, the grip of her fingers on my arm. She let go and took a step back. It’s just you can’t be too cautious, she said. I nodded and turned to go, she had already closed the door behind me. I heard the click of one lock turning, and then another, and then silence.


			I lived in the city center, in a very different neighborhood to Jana’s. Prior to my arrival, I had found my furnished apartment by way of online listings. The Hague was not a cheap city to live in, but it was cheaper than New York. As a result, I lived in an apartment that was too big for one person, with two bedrooms and separate dining and living rooms.

			It took me some time to grow accustomed to the size of the apartment, an effect exacerbated by the furnishings, which were somehow too perfunctory for its proportions. A foldout futon in the living room, a compact dinette in the dining room, the space was designed to be both temporary and impersonal. When I signed the lease I had considered that vacancy a luxury, I remember walking through the apartment, my footsteps hollow, marking one room the bedroom, another a possible study. In time that feeling faded, and the dimensions of the apartment no longer seemed remarkable. Nor did the interim nature of the accommodation, although when I returned that evening from Jana’s, I recalled the ease with which she’d seemed to inhabit her apartment, and felt a ripple of vague longing.

			When I woke the next morning it was still dark outside. I made a coffee and pulled on a coat and went out onto the balcony—another feature of the apartment, one that I used even during these frigid winter months. I had wedged a small table and a single folding chair against the wall, along with a few potted plants, now withered. I sat down. It was early enough that the streets below were empty. The Hague was a quiet city, and almost strenuously civilized. But the more time I spent there, the more its air of courtesy, the preserved buildings and manicured parks, imparted a sense of unease. I recalled what Jana had said about living in The Hague, how it inured you to what a real city was like. This was possibly true, increasingly I’d begun to think the docile surface of the city concealed a more complex and contradictory nature.

			Only last week, I had been shopping in the Old Town when I saw three uniformed men moving down the busy pedestrian street alongside a large machine. Two of the men held slender picks while the third held a large nozzle that protruded from the machine, the effect was rather as if he were leading an elephant by the trunk. I had paused to observe them without really knowing why, perhaps only because I wondered what manner of slow-moving work they were doing.

			They eventually approached and I could see exactly the task they were performing, the two men with the picks were carefully extracting cigarette butts from between the cracks of the cobbled road, one by one by one, painstaking labor that explained their sluggish pace of progress. I looked down and realized that the road was strewn with cigarette butts, this despite the fact that there were several well-placed public ashtrays on that stretch of street alone. The two men continued to flip the cigarette butts out of the cracks while the third man followed with his elephantine vacuum, dutifully sucking up the debris with the machine, the drum of which presumably held many thousands or even hundreds of thousands of cigarette butts, each of which had been disappeared from the street by the work of these men.

			The three men were almost certainly immigrants, possibly Turkish and Surinamese. Meanwhile, their labor was necessitated by the heritage aesthetic of the city, not to mention the carelessness of a wealthy population that dropped its cigarette butts onto the pavement without a thought, when the designated receptacle was only a few feet away, I now saw that there were dozens of cigarette butts on the ground directly below the ashtrays. It was only an anecdote. But it was one example of how the city’s veneer of civility was constantly giving way, in places it was barely there at all.

			Around me the light was beginning to come up, color blotting the horizon. I went inside and dressed for work. I left the apartment not long after, I was now running late. I hurried to the nearby tram stop. Jana called me while I was waiting, she was still at home and I could hear her moving through the apartment, collecting her keys and gathering her books and papers. She asked if I had made it home safely and I assured her that the journey had passed without incident. There was a pause, I heard the slam of a door, she was on her way out of her building and into the street. She sounded distracted, almost as if she could not remember why she had called, then she reminded me that I was bringing Adriaan to her house for dinner on Saturday, and asked if there was anything in particular he did or did not eat.

			The tram was arriving and I told her that anything would be fine, and that I would call her later. I hung up and boarded the tram and was soon jolting toward the Court, where I was now nearly six months into my contract. Most of my colleagues had lived in multiple countries and were cosmopolitan in nature, their identity indivisible from their linguistic capabilities. I qualified in much the same way. I had native fluency in English and Japanese from my parents, and in French from a childhood in Paris. I had also studied Spanish and German to the point of professional proficiency, although these along with Japanese were less essential than English and French, the working languages of the Court.

			But fluency was merely the foundation for any kind of interpretive work, which demanded extreme precision, and I often thought that it was my natural inclination toward the latter, rather than any linguistic aptitude, that made me a good interpreter. That exactitude was even more important in a legal context, and within a week of working at the Court I learned that its vocabulary was both specific and arcane, with official terminology that was set in each language, and then closely followed by all the interpreters on the team. This was done for obvious reasons, there were great chasms beneath words, between two or sometimes more languages, that could open up without warning.

			As interpreters it was our job to throw down planks across these gaps. That navigation—which alongside accuracy required a certain amount of native spontaneity, at times you had to improvise in order to rapidly parse a difficult phrase, you were always working against the clock—was more significant than you might initially think. With inconsistent interpretation, for example, a reliable witness could appear unreliable, seeming to change his or her testimony with each new interpreter. This in turn could affect the outcome of a trial, the judges were unlikely to note a change of personnel in the interpreters’ booth, even if the voice speaking in their ears suddenly became markedly different, switching from male to female, from halting to deliberate.

			They would only note the change in their perception of the witness. A sliver of unreliability introducing fractures into the testimony of the witness, those fractures would develop into cracks, which would in turn threaten the witness’s entire persona. Every person who took to the stand was projecting an image of one kind or another: their testimony was heavily coached and shaped by either the defense or the prosecution, they had been brought to the Court in order to perform a role. The Court was run according to the suspension of disbelief: every person in the courtroom knew but also did not know that there was a great deal of artifice surrounding matters that were nonetheless predicated on authenticity.

			In the Court, what was at stake was nothing less than the suffering of thousands of people, and in suffering there could be no question of pretense. And yet the Court was by nature a place of high theatrics. It was not only in the carefully crafted testimony of the victims. The first time I attended a session I had been startled, both the prosecution and the defense had been unmeasured in pleading their cases. And then the accused themselves were often grandiose in character, both imperious and self-pitying, they were politicians and generals, people used to occupying a large stage and hearing the sound of their own voices. The interpreters couldn’t entirely eschew these dramatics, it was our job not only to interpret the words the subject was speaking, but also to express or indicate the demeanor, the nuance and intention behind their words.

			The first time you listened to an interpreter speaking, their voice might sound cold and precise and completely without inflection, but the longer you listened, the more variation you would hear. If a joke was made it was the interpreter’s job to communicate the humor or attempt at humor; similarly, when something was said ironically it was important to indicate that the words were not to be taken at face value. Linguistic accuracy was not enough. Interpretation was a matter of great subtlety, a word with many contexts, for example it is often said that an actor interprets a role, or a musician a piece of music.

			There was a certain level of tension that was intrinsic to the Court and its activities, a contradiction between the intimate nature of pain, and the public arena in which it had to be exhibited. A trial was a complex calculus of performance in which we were all involved, and from which none of us could be entirely exempt. It was the job of the interpreter not simply to state or perform but to repeat the unspeakable. Perhaps that was the real anxiety within the Court, and among the interpreters. The fact that our daily activity hinged on the repeated description—description, elaboration, and delineation—of matters that were, outside, generally subject to euphemism and elision.

* * *


			The tram was crowded, and at one point a large group of students boarded. They were raucous, but unlike some of the other passengers—who glanced at them askance before looking away—I did not mind, on the contrary I took the opportunity to listen to their conversation, or at least what fragments I could decipher.

			When I moved to The Hague I did not speak or have more than a passing acquaintance with Dutch, however its similarities with German were such that after six months I had some competence in the language. Of course, most people in the Netherlands spoke fluent English, and at the Court there was never an occasion to speak Dutch, so I primarily learned through listening—in the street, in a restaurant or café, on the tram as I was doing now. A place has a curious quality when you have only a partial understanding of its language, and in those early months the sensation was especially peculiar. At first I moved in a cloud of unknowing, the speech around me impenetrable, but it quickly grew less elusive as I began to understand single words and then phrases and now even snippets of conversation. On occasion, I found myself stumbling into situations more intimate than I would have liked, the city was no longer the innocent place it had been when I arrived.

			But there was nothing essentially invasive about listening here on the tram, the students were speaking loudly, almost at the top of their lungs, they intended to be overheard. As I listened to them, I was reminded of the pleasure of learning a new language, unlocking its systems, testing their give and flexibility. It had been some time since I had experienced this particular feeling, having acquired all my other languages as a child or later in school. The students were speaking a Dutch peppered with slang, making it difficult for me to understand exactly what they were saying, mostly they seemed to be talking about school, some teacher or friend who was irritating them.

			Two or three tram stops later, I thought I heard one of the girls say verkrachting, the Dutch word for rape. I looked up, startled, my mind had started to drift and I was no longer following their conversation as closely as I had been when I boarded. The girl who spoke was perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, her eyes were rimmed with heavy liner and she had a nose piercing. She continued speaking, I heard the phrase bel de politie, or I thought I did. But then the girl she was speaking to began giggling in response and after a moment the girl with the nose piercing also began to laugh and I was no longer certain of what I had heard, after all rape and calling the police were not exactly a laughing matter. The girl with the nose piercing must have felt my gaze, abruptly she turned and stared at me, and although she was still laughing her eyes were hard and empty, entirely mirthless.

			The tram approached my stop. The girls were now discussing a new sneaker brand, and although I glanced several more times at the girl, she ignored me. Unsettled by the encounter, I disembarked. The tram moved away and then the Court stood directly before me, a large glass complex that was nestled into the dunes on the edge of the city. It was easy to forget that The Hague was situated on the North Sea, in so many ways it was a city that seemed to face inward, its back turned against the open water.

			Prior to my arrival, when I had applied for and then was offered the position, the Court had existed in my mind as a near medieval institution, in the manner of the Binnenhof, the Parliament complex only a couple miles away in the center of the city. Even after I arrived and for the first month of my employment, I had been startled every time I encountered the building. I knew very well that the Court was a recent invention, having been founded only a decade earlier, but the modern architecture still seemed incongruous, perhaps even lacking the authority I had expected.

			Six months later, it was merely the place of my employment: everything grows normal after a time. I greeted the guards as I entered and passed through the detector—a question or two about their families, some statement about the weather, it was on these occasions that I could practice my Dutch. I collected my bag and proceeded across the courtyard and into the building. There I saw Robert, another interpreter at the Court, who waited for me to join him. He was a large and affable Englishman, outgoing and charming; in my relative reticence I was unusual among interpreters. If interpretation is a kind of performance, then its practitioners tend to be confident and garrulous. Robert exemplified these characteristics, he played rugby on the weekends and took part in amateur theater productions. We were never paired together in the booth, but I sometimes wondered what manner of partner he would make, it would be hard not to feel upstaged by his presence, not to attempt to match the cadences and flourishes of his voice, which was unusually mellifluous, the product of his class and a childhood spent in English boarding schools.

			As we made our way up to the office, Robert informed me that none of the chambers would be in session that day, which was frankly a relief, he assumed I was as far behind in paperwork as he was. We greeted our colleagues as we made our way to our desks, the interpreters worked in a single open-plan space, with the exception of the head, Bettina, who had her own office. There was a distinctly collegial atmosphere within the department, due in part to the fact that most of the team had come to the Netherlands in order to work at the Court, having amassed the requisite body of experience elsewhere. Some were like me and did not know how long they would remain either at the Court or in the Netherlands, while others had more or less settled here, Amina for example had recently married a Dutch man and was pregnant.

			Now she sat at her desk, her face serene as she reviewed the documents before her. While most interpreters could on occasion become flustered or even exasperated, in some cases requesting that a witness slow down, Amina was always composed, she was able to interpret with a consistency and speed that was remarkable, whatever the circumstances. As she approached the latter stages of the pregnancy, she was if anything even more unflappable, her manner was perpetually calm. While the rest of us would struggle with foibles in speech or delivery, Amina alone never seemed to experience difficulty.

			But such praise made her uncomfortable, and Amina frequently insisted that she was far from faultless. As I sat down at my desk, I recalled an anecdote she had told me not long after I arrived at the Court. It was a story I thought of often. She had been tasked with interpreting for the accused, working in Swahili, and was briefly the only interpreter on the team with adequate fluency to perform the task. Her booth partner did not have a strong grasp on the language, and said in private that her mind had drifted during the lengthy sessions, she listened to the originating English and French but less closely to Amina’s interpretation.

			But while her partner might have found the days less than taxing, Amina herself was under considerable pressure, she was negotiating marathon sessions that were far longer than standard. She sat in the mezzanine-level booth, the accused positioned directly below her in the courtroom. He was still a young man, a former militia leader, wearing an expensive suit and slouched in an ergonomically designed office chair. He was on trial for hideous crimes and yet he simply looked, as he sat, sullen and perhaps a little bored. Of course, the accused are often in suits and in office chairs, but the difference lay in the fact that at the Court the accused were not mere criminals who had been dressed up for the occasion, but men who had long worn the mantle of authority conveyed by a suit or uniform, men who were accustomed to its power.

			And they had a kind of magnetism, in part innate and in part heightened by the circumstances. The Court was generally unable to bring the accused into custody without the cooperation of foreign governments or bodies, and its powers of arrest were fairly limited. There were many outstanding warrants, and many accused being held in other countries, it was not as if we had a plethora of war criminals in our midst. The accused therefore had an aura when they were brought to The Hague, we had heard a great deal about these men (and they were almost always men), we had seen photographs and video footage and when they finally appeared in the Court they were the stars of the show, there was no other way of putting it, the situation staged their charisma.

			In the case of this particular man, he was not only young and undeniably handsome—many of the men on trial were elderly, far past their prime, compelling but not in and of themselves physically impressive—but he had a dazzling air of command, even without the aid of the courtroom, it was easy to see why and how so many people had obeyed his orders. But it was not even this, Amina explained, it was the intimacy of the interpretation, she was interpreting for one man and one man alone, and when she spoke into the microphone, she was speaking to him. Of course, she had known when she accepted the post in The Hague that the substance of the Court would be darker than the United Nations, where she had previously been working. After all, the Court concerned itself exclusively with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes. But she had not expected this kind of proximity: although she was never face-to-face with the accused and was always safely ensconced behind the glass-fronted interpreters’ booth, she was constantly aware that she and the accused were the only two people in the courtroom who understood the language she was speaking, his own counsel was made up of English barristers with no knowledge of either French or their client’s native tongue.

			Over the course of these first sessions, Amina grew increasingly uneasy. The case involved a great deal of testimony regarding terrible atrocities, and hour by hour she carried this testimony from one language into another. She found herself on occasion struggling to control the tremor in her voice, she felt herself becoming entirely too emotional. But then, as quickly as the second day and for reasons she did not fully understand, a certain hardness overtook her, she discovered a new and acerbic tone, not exactly neutral, perhaps even reproachful. At one point, as she relayed the details of an embezzlement scheme, something that was morally questionable but a trifle compared to the other charges against the man, she found herself using a voice of cold disapproval, as if she were a wife scolding a husband for some small domestic failing, neglecting to do the dishes, for example, rather than addressing his rampant infidelity, or the fact that he had gambled away their life’s savings.

			At that moment, to her surprise, she saw the accused turn his head and look up in the direction of the interpreters. Until this point, he had sat almost entirely still, staring straight ahead, as if the proceedings had nothing to do with him, as if the entire matter was beneath him, although the result, Amina thought, was not the appearance of dignity; rather, he looked like a sulky teenager being reprimanded for some infraction for which he refused to repent. There were perhaps half a dozen interpreters seated in the mezzanine-level booths, it was unlikely that he would know which one of them was his, she had never before noted him observing them. She forced herself to keep her voice steady and focus on the job at hand, the last thing she wanted to do was get distracted. Nonetheless, she was unable to keep from surreptitiously watching the accused, as his gaze swept the glass-fronted booths.

			Perhaps feeling her eyes upon him, he suddenly stopped and looked directly at her, turning in his chair in order to do so. Amina couldn’t help it, she stumbled over her words, apologized, nearly lost the thread of what was being said. He continued to stare at her, a grim expression of satisfaction settling into his handsome face, perhaps because he had succeeded in intimidating her, in causing her to falter. She felt at once, even through the glass wall dividing them, the totality of the man’s will. She shivered and looked down. She resumed interpreting, scribbling on her pad, as if making notes. When she looked up again, he had turned and was looking straight ahead once more, his face soft and brooding.

			He never looked at her again. However, she found that her voice had shifted, despite herself she had been cowed. The next time she was required to recite a litany of the horrific acts perpetrated by the accused, her voice took on a pleading tone, in response to which the accused gave a thin smile. Somehow, she had become uncomfortable with the idea of confronting the man with his crimes, these heinous accusations that she was not herself making but was simply interpreting on behalf of the Court. Don’t shoot the messenger, she almost added, before remembering that this was precisely the kind of thing the accused did, it might even have been on the list of crimes, actually shooting the messenger. Although she knew there was nothing the man could do to her, she could not deny that she was afraid, he was a man who inspired fear, even while sitting immobile he radiated power.

			Still, it was not primarily fear that she felt, but guilt. She felt guilty toward the accused, who not only was a terrible man, but a man for whom she bore no responsibility, apart from adequately interpreting what was said in the courtroom, and doing her part to ensure that he received a fair trial. She bore no responsibility for his happiness, she doubted that the man had been happy since he had been taken into custody by the Court. He was a man entirely without morals, and yet the sentiment she felt toward him was moral in nature. It was illogical, it didn’t make any sense. She concluded that it was the man’s magnetism, which had persuaded thousands of people to commit terrible acts of violence; again there was nothing bureaucratic or banal about him. He was a leader in every sense of the word, she thought as she leaned toward the microphone and continued to interpret, steadily and without pause. He did not turn to look at her, he never did again, after that instance. But it was, she thought in retrospect, her first true encounter with evil.

* * *


			The day passed uneventfully enough, and soon it was early evening and I was leaving the Court. It was raining, and as I peered up at the sky and unfolded my umbrella, my phone rang. It was Jana again. Almost before I could speak, she told me that she had just arrived at her building. There’s police tape, she said.

			The rain was loud on the umbrella, almost deafening, and it was difficult to hear. Someone else was calling. I lowered the phone and saw Adriaan’s name. The rain was falling harder now. I lifted the phone back to my ear as it continued to pulse.

			What do you mean?

			On the side street, the passageway. Do you know the one? I often take it from the tram. It’s been blocked with police tape. Something must have happened last night.

			The phone was still ringing. Jana, I said, I have another call—

			There’s no signs or anything. But the passageway is closed off.

			In my hand, the phone had stopped vibrating.


			I’ll call you later.

			She hung up, and before I could lower the phone, it buzzed again, a message telling me that I had one missed call followed by a second message, from Adriaan, saying that he would be ten minutes late to meet me, and apologizing in advance.


			I met Adriaan at a restaurant in the city center. Despite having warned me that he would be late, he was waiting at the table when I arrived. Before moving to The Hague, I had not associated punctuality with the Dutch character, but Adriaan in particular was incapable of tardiness. He stood when he saw me, I thought again that he was very handsome, and I felt a sense of happy surprise, that this was the man I was meeting for dinner.

			Adriaan was the reason why I wanted to stay in The Hague, or at least one of the reasons, though I was embarrassed to admit this even to myself—I did not like to think of myself as a woman who made decisions in this way, for a man. Particularly when things were still so nascent, and the situation so complicated. We had met only four months earlier, but there was already a certain amount of routine to the way we were together. That regularity had many possible meanings and was difficult to interpret, at times I thought it was the expression of an intrinsic ease between us, some deep familiarity superseding our many differences. But at other times it seemed it was a product of habit, and that he knew no other way of being with a woman.

			“Habit” because Adriaan was married with children, although the situation was at once less stark and more difficult than it sounded. He had been left by his wife a year earlier. She had left him for another man, with whom she was now comfortably ensconced, not in The Hague or Rotterdam or Amsterdam even, but in Lisbon. She had left the country altogether, removing herself from the bad weather and the marriage and sending for the children one month after she had gone. The children, who had been neither taken nor left by her, the arrangement was not entirely clear, not even now, one year later.

			I had learned this not long after we had first met. I had gone with Adriaan to a party. We were at the stage when nothing had been declared between us, and when he introduced me to people at the party there was no purpose behind the introduction, I was not yet his “girlfriend” or “date” or even necessarily someone he was sleeping with. Perhaps because of that apparent neutrality, it did not seem especially awkward or significant when a man—not unattractive, of a similar age and general disposition to Adriaan, not as handsome but entirely presentable, so that I was by no means displeased when I saw him approaching—drew me aside and asked how long I had known Adriaan.

			The question did not sound loaded, presumably he had seen us arrive together. Not very long, I replied. He nodded, as if he had expected this answer. I wondered then if Adriaan regularly turned up to parties with different women, none of whom endured for a second outing, I knew relatively little about him at the time. We were standing on a bridge suspended across a large atrium, which was full of stylish and glamorous people, it was the launch of a citywide cultural fund. Below, waiters circulated through the crowd serving canapés executed with outlandish precision. My eyes followed a waiter as he weaved across the atrium carrying a tray of miniature grilled cheese sandwiches, pausing as party guests plucked up the carefully charred triangles. He passed a tall man, I realized after a moment that it was Adriaan.

			Very surprising what happened, the man standing beside me said. I nodded, distracted, as if I knew what he was talking about. Adriaan was deep in conversation with a woman whose back was turned toward me. As I watched, she waved her hand through the air, Adriaan leaned closer as if he had not quite heard the words she had spoken. His handsome face bowed down to hers. A moment later, she laughed, tossing her head back to reveal her throat.

			I knew her quite well, he said. I looked up at the man beside me, he had put a great deal of product in his hair, so that it stood up in rigid and glistening waves. He obviously wished to emphasize the plenitude of his tresses, at his age many men had already begun to lose some or all of their hair, but the effect was a little absurd, he looked not like a virile man in the prime of his life but rather like a juvenile and inexperienced teenaged boy who had not yet learned how to manage his appearance. They were a bit of a golden couple, he continued. I think they even met at university, over the years they grew to resemble each other—both very tall, both very good-looking, eventually both successful and sophisticated. It just goes to show, the man said, a sneer crossing his near handsome face, how little you know of what really happens inside a marriage.

			The utterance was entirely commonplace but I was startled, at that point I did not even know that Adriaan was or had been married. I turned to look at the man, who was gratified either by the small attention or my expression of surprise and smiled smugly. Even from the inside, he continued, encouraged, what do you really know of your own marriage? One day you realize you are living with a stranger. It must have been like that for Adriaan, she left in such a horrible way, she went away to Lisbon for the weekend and never came back. He didn’t even know what to tell the children, whether or not she would be returning, they are teenagers, the worst possible age for something like that to happen.

			I nodded, I said mechanically that adolescence was difficult enough without that kind of an interruption, one could only imagine their reaction to such a betrayal. Apparently she sent Adriaan an email, the man continued. One would have expected a call at the very least, don’t you think? And I had to agree, there was something cruel about sending an email, it was too convenient a mode of communication for a matter so grave, you could tell she was a selfish and self-absorbed person. Still, Gaby has always been very honest with Adriaan, the man said, and that’s something, isn’t it?

			When did this happen? I asked. The man shrugged. Less than a year ago. She left in the dead of winter, perhaps she’d had enough of the bad weather. I looked through the glass sides of the atrium, that night too, rain was falling. I took out my phone and looked up the weather in Lisbon: a balmy 70 degrees and sunny. The man self-consciously touched his lustrous hair before asking if I wanted another drink. Below us, Adriaan was still speaking to the woman. She must have said something amusing because Adriaan laughed, his eyes still on her, even from a distance I could see that he was interested in this woman. I was suddenly gripped by the definite sensation that he would leave the party with her, having arrived with me, the feeling so vivid it was like a premonition. The woman turned, she set her glass on the tray of a passing waiter. For a fleeting moment I saw her profile, she had small but pronounced features, a face full of clarity. Winter in Lisbon is meant to be wonderful, the man said.

			I excused myself, I could bear his presence no longer. The man seemed surprised, perhaps he thought he’d been making some headway with me. I crossed the bridge and descended the stairs, rejoining the party below. I made my way toward Adriaan, he looked up, immediately he stretched his arm out to stop me. Where have you been, he asked, and he turned to the woman he had been speaking with. She put her hand out and introduced herself, her manner friendly and perhaps a little curious, as we spoke Adriaan casually placed his hand at the back of my neck. She moved away soon after, almost without leaving an impression, as Adriaan turned to me it seemed odd that I had been so threatened by this woman, someone clearly of minimal significance to him, and with whom he had only been making small talk.

			But I had also only been making small talk with the man on the bridge, I had been away from Adriaan for no more than ten or perhaps twenty minutes. Nonetheless, in that brief span of time he had been transformed, I looked at him and his handsome exterior, he in no way seemed like a figure unmanned, someone nursing a private wound. And yet he had been abandoned by his wife in the cruelest and most humiliating manner, he was now a figure to be whispered over at parties, a man whose most intimate catastrophe was now the stuff of idle and malicious gossip. He looked around the party, his manner was a little restless, and as I watched him, contours appeared to his face that I had been unable to see before, for better or worse, he was now a more complicated figure in my imagination.

			He asked if I wanted to get some fresh air, and said he wanted a cigarette, sadly he had started smoking again. He was not looking at me as he spoke and I did not ask what had caused this resumption of a habit that, from his expression, he had clearly struggled to lose. He took my elbow and steered me toward one of the many covered balconies that lined the atrium. The rain had not slackened and the balcony was empty. Adriaan took out a cigarette, he was about to light it when the glass door to the balcony opened again, and the man from the bridge emerged. Adriaan looked up, he did not immediately greet the man, although it was obvious that he recognized him. I thought that was you slipping away with the young lady, the man said. Adriaan did not reply. He played with the cigarette between his fingers for a moment longer and then slipped it into the breast pocket of his suit jacket as if to save it for later, perhaps he did not want to be seen smoking in front of this man.

			Adriaan remained silent as he regarded the man from the bridge, who now appeared a little nonplussed, despite the aggression of his own greeting he was clearly taken aback by the coldness of Adriaan’s reply. Do you two know each other? Adriaan asked at last. His manner was casual, I could see from the way he spoke that he made no presumption of prior acquaintance, it was more that he wished to downplay the introduction, as much to say, This is not a man worth knowing, not a person who warrants a formal introduction.

			The man gave a wolfish grin. To my horror, he reached out and wrapped his arm around my waist. We’re the best of friends, he said. He did not look at me but trained his gaze on Adriaan, who suddenly reached into the pocket of his jacket and took out the cigarette after all. The man’s touch was damp and somehow sticky, even through the layers of my clothing. It wasn’t the nature of his skin, whether or not his palms or fingers were perspiring, but rather the quality of his grip around my waist that gave this impression; it was like being embraced by a squid or an octopus, a cephalopod of some kind.

			Adriaan lifted the cigarette to his lips, he regarded us with an expression that was suddenly wary, his eyes hooded, perhaps he imagined that the man was an old boyfriend of mine, although at that point I had barely been in The Hague long enough for such a thing to be possible. More plausible was the possibility that we had shared a casual sexual encounter, one or two nights together, I could easily imagine that the man’s sexual record was made up almost exclusively of such minor events. The man gripped harder, his arm tight around my waist and his thumb now rubbing at the waistband of my stockings through the fabric of my skirt, the slow and regular movement both lewd and gratuitous, he was virtually a stranger to me, I didn’t even know his name. Adriaan lowered his head to light the cigarette and I pulled myself away. We spoke up on the bridge just now, I said, I got lost looking for the bathroom.

			Adriaan exhaled, a wreath of smoke rising up around his face. He waved his hand as if to clear it. I don’t even know your name, I said to the man, I don’t think you introduced yourself, you said only that you were a friend of Adriaan’s. The man frowned, he had shoved his hands into his pockets when I moved away and now looked even more like a petulant teenager, like someone who had been caught in the act. Adriaan was watching him, he did not say anything and the man did not introduce himself to me either. I was a friend of Gaby’s, the handsome man said at last, Or rather, I was a friend of Gaby’s first.

			Adriaan still did not say anything, he was not looking at me, in that moment it was as if I were not present at all, not only to Adriaan but also to the man, who had turned to meet Adriaan’s gaze. The two men stared at each other, I understood then that there was some history of animosity between them, that the man had not approached me for myself, but rather because of my connection to Adriaan. What he perceived that connection to be, I did not know. A friend? Adriaan said, after a considerable pause, Yes, I suppose that is one way of putting it. The man grew flushed beneath his lacquered hair, he looked uneasy, as if he had not expected so direct a response. A long time ago, he said lamely, Gaby and I have known each other since we were children.

			You’ve spoken to her lately? Adriaan asked, or at least I thought he asked. It was difficult to tell from his voice whether it was a question or a statement, but in any case I understood that it was a loaded and possibly aggressive thing to say. The man grew even more flushed, he looked over his shoulder and back to the party with longing, he must have been thinking that it had been a mistake to come out onto the balcony. When he joined us he’d had the air of a man who had the upper hand, or believed himself to, but now he simply looked as if he were wondering how quickly he would be able to extricate himself from the situation.

			Adriaan now turned to me, Kees is a good friend of my wife’s. That was the first time he had mentioned Gaby, or the fact that he was, that he had been, married. The truth is, he continued, they were lovers before Gaby and I were married, and although that was many years ago they remained very close, very close indeed, during the years of our marriage. I blinked at the phrase very close, very close indeed, the insinuation was crude and out of character. Adriaan continued, I am sure that Kees is in touch with Gaby at this very moment. As for me, I know next to nothing of what she is doing, of what she is thinking, or even exactly where she is.

			Please, Adriaan, the man interrupted, his hands fluttering up to his hair. I am entirely on your side in the matter, I haven’t spoken to Gaby in months, not since she left. She sends me the occasional email here and there but nothing of significance, I promise you.

			Adriaan stared at him a moment before turning back to me. The two of them were on the phone together almost every night, he continued relentlessly. He was now almost loquacious, he spoke to me as if I were familiar with all the details of his marriage when in reality he had told me nothing, not until that moment, not the fact that he had a wife, not even the fact that he had children. I understood well enough that Adriaan was not speaking to me but to Kees, that I was only the medium through which his statements were passing, and similarly I understood that my presence must have been what allowed Adriaan to speak so directly to Kees, it was as if he were saying things he had wished to say for many years but had been unable to, perhaps restrained by the basic courtesies of marriage, his respect for the long-standing friendship between his wife and this man.

			Simply a confidant, Kees said weakly, and really against my will. She always called me, it was always at her instigation, I never called except in response to a message or a missed call. Why me rather than one of her many girlfriends I’ve no idea. And this was at all hours of day and night, I assure you I didn’t enjoy the intimacy, it was sometimes rather annoying, I have my own share of personal troubles, as you know. He made a gesture of appeal to Adriaan, who remained stony-faced, although I did not doubt that he knew more than he cared to about the man’s trials and tribulations, probably Kees had been a frequent dinner guest at their household, back when it had been a household, the couple’s regular bachelor friend.

			Gaby was never very sensitive, Kees said and looked at Adriaan with a little shrug, as if to say, You of course would be the first to know that. But during those months it became truly astonishing, it became so that I would not take her phone calls unless I had the evening clear, a good hour or two, sometimes more, it was impossible to get her to stop talking, even if you said my friend has just arrived or I have a deadline, she was deaf to such excuses, she could not accept the possibility of there being anything or anyone more interesting than her and her troubles. Of course, Gaby was very used to people listening to her, whatever her faults, you must admit that she was—or rather she is, because it is not as if she has died, she is still with us—a fascinating woman.

			Gaby has always been herself, Adriaan said irritably. Kees stared at him for a moment and then nodded, obviously on this point there could be no disagreement. He then excused himself, there seemed to be nothing else to say. Adriaan gave him a curt nod as he smoked another cigarette. We left the party shortly after. You would not necessarily think it, Adriaan said as we walked to his car, but Kees is a very successful defense lawyer, one of the best in the country.

			I said that I could see that, he had the moral flexibility that I thought was surely common to many defense lawyers. Adriaan shook his head. In the end, I am not so sure it has to do with moral flexibility, he said, certainly less than appears at first glance. Everyone deserves fair legal representation, even the most depraved criminal, even someone who has performed unspeakable crimes, the kind of acts that defy the imagination, the mere description of which would make most of us cover our ears and turn away. The defense lawyer does not have recourse to such cowardice, he or she must not only listen to but carefully study the record of these acts, he or she must inhabit and inhale their atmosphere. The very thing that the rest of us are unable to endure is the very thing inside of which the defense lawyer must live.

			He frowned. And yet, Kees is petty and essentially frivolous as a person, it is one of those paradoxes of personality or nature. I nodded, and we walked in silence for a time. When we reached his car, I stopped and turned to face him. The street was empty and the rain had cleared. You’re married, I said.

			Yes, he said at once. But I don’t know for how much longer. Is that okay?

			The words themselves were simple to the point of being blunt, but they were also words that did not try to deflect or avoid. I could have walked away then, and chosen not to involve myself any further. But I was disarmed by his honesty, by the simple question that was so difficult to answer. The appearance of simplicity is not the same thing as simplicity itself, even then I was aware of this. As if conscious of my hesitation, he took my hand and brought it to his lips and kissed the palm and fingers. I shivered at the touch of his mouth on my skin. He opened the door to the car and I got in.

			That was the first night I spent with Adriaan. He drove me from the party to his house without further discussion, in that moment something between us had been agreed upon. He lived in an apartment occupying the top floors of a substantial townhouse, a place too large for one man. As soon as he unlocked the door and we entered I saw evidence of Gaby: her coat hanging from the rack in the foyer, the gold bracelet lying in the vide poche by the door. The sight of these objects was jarring and I grew flushed, although I also sensed that they remained in the apartment out of negligence rather than any longing on Adriaan’s part for her return. He seemed to take no notice of them as he brought me inside and took my coat.

			He led me into the living room, then said he would get us something to drink before disappearing into the kitchen. I looked around the large and comfortable room, there was nothing pretentious about the apartment, with its elegant clutter. The bookcases were crammed with volumes but also held little oddments and mementos. Resting on one shelf was a framed photograph of Adriaan with his wife and two children. Kees had not exaggerated, they made a striking family. In fact Gaby was beautiful, more beautiful than I could imagine being, although there was a hint of arrogance in the set of her mouth, the frank gaze she gave to the camera. I continued to examine the image, which must have been taken nearly a decade ago, Kees had said the children were now teenagers, whereas the children in the photograph were no more than four or perhaps five. But Adriaan did not look very different to the man in the photograph, unaged either by time or experience. His hair had gone gray and there were now some lines at his forehead and mouth, but his overall appearance was unchanged.

			And I thought that just as Adriaan had remained the same, Gaby too must look as she did in the photograph, her beauty undiminished, as formidable now as she would have been ten years earlier. I was still standing before the photograph when Adriaan returned. He stood behind me and said that the children were now in Portugal with his wife. But perhaps you know this already, he said and then was silent. I turned to face him and then I was no longer thinking of Gaby or the children or the photograph. He pulled me toward him and I reached for him too. In the weeks that followed, some of the items belonging to Adriaan’s wife discreetly disappeared, not all at once but piece by piece. The photograph, however, remained.


			I looked across the restaurant table at Adriaan. The wine list was open before him, and he tilted it toward me inquiringly. I said that it had been a long day. Let’s order a bottle then, he said and signaled for the waiter. Do you know what you want? I nodded, I had only glanced at the menu but we had eaten at the restaurant several times before.

			Once the waiter had taken our order Adriaan looked across the table at me again. How is Jana? Adriaan had not yet met Jana—they would meet for the first time that weekend, Jana had asked us to dinner precisely for this purpose. I had hesitated to introduce him to Jana, despite the fact that we had met through her, at least indirectly, at an opening at the Kunstmuseum not long after my arrival in The Hague. Jana had invited me to the event, and after introducing me to a group of people had subsequently been swept away, for obvious reasons she knew a great many more people there than I did.

			I remember standing in that cluster of strangers, holding my drink and unable to follow the conversation, which began in English but then slipped into Dutch. At the time, I knew too little still of that language. I noticed Adriaan, because he seemed at ease and because he also said nothing as the conversation accelerated around us. I was silent for so long that I began to wonder if I could slip away, it was strange to remain at the edge of the group saying nothing. At that moment, Adriaan asked if I wanted another drink. I said yes, and then as he took the empty glass from my hand he paused and asked if I wished to join him.

			I was relieved to leave that company. We walked through the gallery full of Mondrians and he said that he was very fond of the museum and its collection, it was one of his favorite places in the city. The openings were always strange to him, though, the galleries full of people talking to one another and ignoring the art altogether. Of course, he was doing the same thing right now, he didn’t have a leg to stand on. I laughed and then he introduced himself. As we continued walking through the gallery I said that I was new to the city and did not yet know the museum. He said that in that case I was lucky, there were many wonderful things to discover.

			The encounter was not very much more than that, but after we had parted ways he returned and asked for my phone number. I remember that he made the request in a manner that was entirely natural and I also remember the jolt of pleasure I felt as I saw him coming back through the crowd. I gave him my number and later that evening he sent a message. He asked if we could meet again and I sent a single word reply: Yes. Such a response was not in character for me, not in its brevity and not in its unequivocal nature, it was as if I had been influenced by the directness of his own correspondence. That was, I thought, the prospect offered by a new relationship, the opportunity to be someone other than yourself.

			When I told Jana about Adriaan she seemed almost perplexed, or perhaps it was some other feeling that crept upon her—in her expression I saw her image of me shift. She had not thought of me as the kind of woman who paired off with a man so quickly. It was only for a brief moment and then she was her usual self, she asked his name and then said she didn’t know him but looked forward to meeting him. I thought her voice was overly bright, I told her that I didn’t know that it would come to that. But it did come to that, over the course of the following weeks and then months and when Jana had suggested dinner it had been impossible to refuse.

			Now, as I looked at Adriaan and he asked how Jana was, I was struck by how little thought or anxiety it seemed to cause him, the idea of meeting her. That again illustrated the differences in our character, such things were never so simple to me. My mind moved in circles, I had been apprehensive about bringing them together, but in his ease I was now reassured. She is fine, I said. I was there last night for dinner. It was odd, something happened in the street, there were police.

			Was anybody hurt?

			I don’t know.

			At that moment the waiter arrived with the wine, and then with bottled water and a plate of amuse-bouches. Adriaan waited with his face fixed in a patient grimace, he no longer experienced these small attentions as anything other than a ritual to be endured. When at last the waiter had gone, Adriaan leaned forward and placed his hand on mine, as if to reassert our solitude. The gesture was reassuring rather than erotic, the touch of a friend or even a father, although it could turn on a dime, its intention mutable.

			In any case, he said. Please don’t move to Jana’s neighborhood.

			His voice was simultaneously concerned and a little playful, as if the words were a form of flirtation or invitation. I thought of his own home, the furnishings that had been chosen by his wife, the closed doors of the children’s bedrooms. The house had once belonged to his parents, and despite the fact that it had been extensively renovated, converted into two apartments because the place was too big for a single family, it remained the house he had spent the long years of his childhood in. That comfort was alien to me, we had moved so frequently when I was young that there was no one place I would think of as my childhood home, we were mostly arriving and then leaving, those years were all motion.

			It was not the case with Adriaan, and I thought it was for this reason that he seemed so little troubled by the material remains of his marriage, all those things I would have removed at the moment of my desertion, out of pain and pique—the chair purchased by Gaby, the books on the shelves and the art they had selected together. He did not feel the complexity of those objects and their history, no matter where he was he never looked anything other than a man at home. I smiled and squeezed his hand in return. That tranquility was what had drawn me to him, but at the same time I understood a little better the determination with which Gaby had decorated the place and filled it with her belongings, the degree to which she was trying to occupy a foreign territory, in that action I was able to see beyond the failed marriage, and further into Adriaan’s past.

* * *


			Later that night, after we had returned to his apartment and fallen asleep in what until recently had been his conjugal bed but was now indisputably ours, I awoke. It was the middle of the night and Adriaan was fast asleep, his long limbs bare on the linen beside me. I reached over and touched him but he did not move, his skin smooth and still. After a moment, I rose to my feet and left the bedroom, closing the door gently. The darkness of the hall pooled around me. I fumbled for the light switch and went into the kitchen. I poured a glass of water. Idly, I looked out the window at the street below. It was mostly empty, at the far end I could see the outlines of a man and a woman. They were leaning into each other as they walked, moving a little and then stopping, moving a little and then stopping. At one point, the woman turned her head and glanced around them. I leaned forward, pressing my face to the glass.

			The couple linked hands and hurried down the street. Another second and they had disappeared. Their manner had turned furtive, as if they sensed that they were being observed, and I wondered if they had seen me watching from the window. Perhaps they were involved in something illicit, or something that newly appeared so to them—the way we understood our own behavior shifted according to whether or not we thought we were being seen. I moved away from the window and went into the living room. I found myself again staring at the photograph of Gaby and Adriaan and the children—the children, whom I had not yet met, and whom I could not entirely envision. I wondered at the life they’d had here with their parents, how they had filled these rooms, what they missed now they were so far away, in another country altogether. I wondered if they knew their father was seeing another woman, and if so how they might feel: angry, wary, indifferent.

			The idea of meeting them was difficult to grasp, I could not imagine how such an encounter might unfold, myself and these now teenaged children. There was a noise in the bedroom and I looked up from the photograph. I heard Adriaan get up from the bed. After a brief silence he called out. I’m here, I said, and I quickly moved away from the bookcase, I couldn’t sleep. He appeared in the doorway. My darling, come back to bed. I stared at him, he had never used that particular term of endearment before. His voice was affectionate and familiar and the thought occurred to me at once: he must have said these words to Gaby, that designation must have belonged to her, My darling, come back to bed. A shiver of apprehension moved through my body. I stepped closer to him, his eyes were hazy with sleep and for a moment I wasn’t certain that he was awake. It’s me, I almost said, and opened my mouth.

			He put his hands on my shoulders, his touch clumsy, and I stiffened. What time is it? he asked. His voice was calm and impersonal, as though he were speaking to a stranger. It’s two, I said. He nodded as if digesting this information, his eyes almost closed again into slumber. I couldn’t sleep, I added, I didn’t want to wake you. He yawned and then suddenly leaned forward and kissed me on the neck and then mouth, his hands on my back and then slipping down. Come back to bed, he whispered again, his breath in my ear.

			In a minute, I said and pulled away. What are you doing, he asked, his voice still slow and drowsy. Is something wrong? I shook my head. I just couldn’t sleep, I repeated, it’s nothing. I’ll be there in a moment. He nodded and kissed me again, as if we were a couple living together, as if this were already routine—she suffers from occasional insomnia, whereas I sleep like a log, I could sleep standing in a train carriage, it must be very irritating for her—perhaps that had been true of him and Gaby, perhaps he had said those very words in describing their marriage.

			He retreated from the room. I watched him go and, once I was sure that he had returned to bed—the soft creak of the springs, the sound of a body shifting on the mattress—I looked up at the photograph of Gaby on the bookshelf. I realized that I had the wishful habit of thinking of her in the past tense, as if she and everything she represented were firmly contained, although I knew that was untrue, she is still with us. Even this life that was everywhere around me, the life she’d had within the walls of this apartment, was not necessarily confined to the past, it could jolt itself into the present with a mere phone call, a single airplane ticket, a moment of somnambulation.

			I returned to the bedroom. Adriaan rolled over and faced me, he wasn’t asleep at all. He looked more alert than he had earlier, and when he looked at me I knew this time that he was seeing me and no one else. Is everything okay? he asked tentatively. I got into the bed. Everything is fine, I said, I had some water, I feel much better. And he nodded and pulled me close, his body warm. Good, he said. He already sounded as if sleep were approaching, he had been quickly reassured. Good night, I said, but I didn’t know if he heard, he was slipping away again, his arm across my chest and his head heavy upon my shoulder.


			The next morning we shared a breakfast of cheese and bread in the apartment, Adriaan made coffee using an expensive machine that generated a great deal of noise and then produced a coffee capped with mountains of milk foam. As he handed me the cup I asked if Gaby was responsible for the machine. Who else? he said and we both laughed.

			He didn’t say anything about the previous night, and his manner was so perfectly natural that I wondered if it had happened at all. After we ate and dressed he drove me to the nearby bus stop. He kissed me and said that he would text me later. As I got out of the car, I saw the bus at the far end of the street. I leaned over and said goodbye again through the open window. He smiled and kissed me a second time. The bus was fast approaching, but I stood for a moment and watched until his car turned the corner.

			It was drizzling again. I ran across the street and joined the other passengers, their faces stoic beneath the shadow of their upraised umbrellas, the scene like a painting. We boarded the bus in an orderly line, in the atomized fashion of commuters. There were no seats available but it didn’t matter, the Court was only a few stops from Adriaan’s apartment. As I disembarked, I saw that there were a handful of demonstrators gathered outside, supporters of a former West African president currently on trial, in what was one of the higher profile cases at the Court. As I entered the building, one of the demonstrators pressed a flyer into my hands with a small gesture of supplication.

			Perhaps because of this polite but insistent demand, I began reading the piece of paper as I crossed the lobby. It was covered in English and French text, the tone of the prose strident: The arrest and trial of the former president was nothing short of illegal, the paper declared, the entire affair completely underhanded. Imagine the emotions of the former president, given no opportunity to contest the legality of the arrest and simply handed from one set of enemies to another! This was the true face of neocolonialism, this apparatus of Western imperialism, this Court. The case against the former president was paper thin, built by the U.S. State Department and the Elysée, a question of policy rather than justice. A coup d’état, executed by men in white gloves, for which the Court was simply the façade—

			I stopped reading, folding the piece of paper and slipping it into my bag. The claims were not unfamiliar to me or to anyone who worked at the Court. The record was unfortunately blunt: the Court had primarily investigated and made arrests in African countries, even as crimes against humanity proliferated around the world. It was true that the record did not reflect the complexities of the Court’s jurisdiction, nor its limited means of enforcement. It was true that the record did not include the numerous preliminary investigations the Court had made into situations around the world, including Western powers. But a narrative becomes persuasive not through complexity but conviction, and as I entered the elevator and then the offices, I looked at my colleagues and wondered how they felt, the first time they had been handed such a flyer, what their reactions might have been.

			The matter was quickly pushed from my mind when, almost as soon as I arrived at my desk, I was told that Bettina wished to speak to me. I hurried across the floor and knocked on the glass door of her office, she glanced up and motioned for me to enter. Bettina’s official title was Head of the Language Services Section, she had been the person to interview and then hire me. She oversaw a relatively large number of staff—ten interpreters, in addition to the translators who provided services to various departments of the Court. She was not unkind and might even have been essentially warm in character, it was impossible for me to know. She was not only my direct superior but was also under considerable pressure at all times, the expression on her face was often a grim rictus of apprehension, she was only waiting for things to go wrong.

			Now, she asked how I was while continuing to frown at her computer screen. After a brief pause I said that I was well. She nodded and then without further ado said that what she was about to tell me was confidential, at least for the time being. She finally looked up at me, I was still standing in front of her desk. Please, sit down, she said apologetically, I realized as I met her gaze that she was more than usually harried.

			She began again. The Court had succeeded in extraditing a well-known jihadist who stood accused of four counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of war crimes. The authorities surrendered him earlier that day, and he was being transported to a plane as we spoke. This is strictly confidential, she said again, even at the Court only a handful of individuals are aware of the arrest, the warrant was issued only a few days ago. I must ask you not to share this with your colleagues. The situation is volatile.

			She stopped, as if to gather her thoughts. We expect that the accused will land in The Hague just after midnight, at which point he will be transferred to the Detention Center. I would like you to be on hand, in order to provide interpretive services. He will need to be read his rights, and of course there will be other issues, he may have questions or requests or practical matters to communicate. It’s very difficult to predict the mood of the accused once they are detained, often they are in a state of shock or denial.

			We expect the accused will speak French, she continued. That is the official language of his country and we do not anticipate that there will be any issues of comprehension. She handed me a file. You shouldn’t need that tonight, she said apologetically. But if you have a moment to review the material that would be good. He will be tired, I hope you will not need to be there for too long. Of course, you will be reimbursed any travel expenses, take a taxi if need be. Her gaze shifted, I could detect a certain excitation in her manner, I saw that her hands were trembling very slightly.

			Again, Bettina said and I looked up from her hands. Again, this is strictly confidential and is not to be mentioned to your colleagues, or indeed anyone. The Court is proceeding with caution, as you know it is a pivotal time for the organization. I nodded. I knew that an arrest meant that the Court would be full of observers, that the live feeds would be closely watched, each word spoken heard many more times than usual. You will need to be there at one in the morning, Bettina said. She looked down at her papers, and then said, I wonder what he will be like? She did not seem to require a response to this question, and I turned to go.

			Later, I sat at my desk with the file open before me. I felt a little self-conscious, I could hear Bettina’s words in my ear, her injunction to secrecy. But my colleagues were absorbed in their own work and I wanted to familiarize myself with the basics of the situation, the key dates and names and locations, though as Bettina herself had said, even this information was likely unnecessary for the purposes of this evening, for what would only be a brief encounter. I began reading. The accused was a member and then leader of an Islamist militant faction that had seized control of the capital only five years earlier. The faction had immediately enforced Sharia law in the occupied territory, banning music, forcing women to wear the burqa, and setting up religious tribunals. He was only the second jihadist to be detained by the Court, and many of the charges were based on the persecution of women—in this case, the forced marriage, repeated rape, and sexual enslavement of girls and women. There were also counts of torture and religious-based persecution, including the desecration of sacred graves.

			The file included a small note to the effect that although the case was significant for being only the second to include among the charges persecution based on gender, the fact remained that the nationality of the accused would do little to counter the growing consensus that the Court suffered from a bias against African countries. I thought of the flyer and the demonstrators outside. Affixed to the file was a photograph of the accused. He was on the street, looking to one side as if aware that his image was being captured, his body in motion and his expression furtive. His face was partially concealed by a headscarf, but his eyes were extraordinarily piercing; the remainder of his features were tired and otherwise unremarkable.

			I returned to my apartment after work, I thought I might try to sleep in the early part of the evening, I didn’t know how long I would be kept at the Detention Center, it might be a matter of minutes or hours. As Bettina had said, it was difficult to predict in what condition the accused would arrive, whether he would be in a state of shock or rage, whether he would be utterly silent or whether questions and accusations and counteraccusations would pour out of him, whether he would simply be tired from his journey, like a businessman disembarking a long-haul flight, or whether he would be in a state of physical collapse. I ate dinner and then rested fitfully, curled up on the bed with the duvet pulled over me. I was unable really to sleep, it was only early evening and the pending assignment weighed on me.

			As I lay there, the day outside still carrying traces of light, the sound of the neighbors audible through the walls of my apartment, it was the photograph, the image of this man, that most troubled me. He did not look the way I expected, his face did not live up to the magnitude of the crimes I had read about in the dossier. It was not that he looked either innocent or guilty, it was more that his face was utterly without depth.

			In a few hours, I would meet this man, who would then no longer be a name and a photograph, a list of actions and accusations, but a person in the world. I didn’t know if I was prepared for that, it seemed almost impossible to fathom—at some point he had crossed a boundary and his personhood had been hollowed out. Maybe the indeterminacy of the photograph was accurate, and was in fact preparing me for the nature of the encounter to come. I checked my phone, there were no messages. I thought of Adriaan, I closed my eyes and tried again to sleep.

* * *


			I departed for the Detention Center a little before one in the morning. The streets were empty as the taxi pulled up to the curb. When I closed the door behind me and announced my destination, I saw the driver look up, I asked him if he knew where the building was and he nodded.

			As we drove through the city in the direction of the dunes, he continued to watch me in the rearview mirror, as if speculating what function I served, perhaps I did not conform to his notion of how a lawyer, a judge, an official of the Court would appear. Maybe he imagined something entirely more sordid, given the late hour, maybe he thought I was a paid escort servicing one of the men detained in the center, it was not impossible. I looked down at what I was wearing, I was dressed conservatively enough, in what is usually described as “business casual”—but I had been told that this was exactly how escorts dressed, the ones that were not walking the street, the ones who were under considerable pressure to be discreet, who had famous and powerful clients, the kind of men who might conceivably be held in the Detention Center. I shifted my weight in the back of the taxi, pulling the hem of my skirt lower, I worried that I had dressed in a manner that was unintentionally provocative, the man had made me thoroughly self-conscious.

			I was therefore relieved to arrive at the Detention Center, which sat on the edge of the city, not too far from the Court. In the dark of night it looked forbidding, there were high walls and CCTV cameras, it was a prison in all but name. I paid the taxi driver, who asked if I didn’t want him to wait, I blushed and said that I did not know how long I would be, and that I would call a taxi when I wanted to leave. He handed me his business card and said that he would be working all night, the gesture felt salacious and also a little sad, and I dropped the card into my pocket, feeling as if I needed to wash my hands. The car lingered as I pressed the buzzer, luckily the door opened at once. I passed through a medieval gatehouse and then through security, my bag was taken away and my passport examined.

			I was handed a badge and told to wait, the guard indicated a row of plastic chairs. I clipped the badge to my jacket and sat down. The area—less a reception or lobby and more a corridor along which some chairs had been arranged—was clean and anonymous, I could have been waiting in any municipal building, at an American DMV, for example. This feeling only grew as the hour passed two in the morning, and then approached three, the sensation of waiting for a slow and truculent bureaucracy increasing, I had never been in this situation and yet, as my eyes grew bleary with fatigue, I felt exactly as if I had been here before, everything about the act of waiting had removed the specificity of the circumstances, I could no longer remember for whom I was waiting, only that I was waiting for someone who might never arrive, and that I might never leave this vestibule.

			A little after three, the door behind me abruptly opened. I stood, a uniformed guard indicated that I should follow. My mouth was suddenly dry, we made our way down a series of harshly lit corridors and points of entry, the guard swiping cards and entering codes until we reached what appeared to be a cellblock. The doors were shut save one, through which I could see a number of Court officials. They were speaking in not especially quiet tones, their voices reverberating down the corridor, and I found myself worrying about the occupants in the other cells, whose sleep was surely being disrupted. As we reached the open cell, the officials greeted me courteously, with a brusque air of professional urgency. After I greeted them there was a pause during which no one said anything.

			Finally, one of the officials cleared his throat. There had been some difficulty in persuading the accused to leave the plane, for a time he refused to get up from his seat. He had now arrived, the official added, he was on his way. I nodded, I wondered how the accused had issued his refusal, if it was in the manner of a toddler refusing to get out of a stroller, or if it was in the manner of a political protester refusing to abandon a site, or perhaps his legs had simply given out on him and he had found himself unable to stand. The space we had gathered in was somewhere between a cell and a dormitory room, with a single bed and a desk, and a toilet in one corner. Affixed to the wall was a flat-screen television. There was a large window at the far side of the room, lined with bars.

			We heard the sound of the cellblock door opening in the distance and we turned at once. Despite the fatigue and the provisional nature of the setting, a ripple of expectation moved through the room. The door slammed shut and then we heard the sound of feet shuffling down the corridor and past the other cells, with what seemed incredible slowness. I was sure that the other detainees were awake and listening, perhaps remembering their own arrival at the Detention Center, the start of what was an indeterminate and therefore all the more painful state of waiting. The sound of footfalls grew louder, and then came to a halt and the accused appeared in the doorway of the cell.

			He was accompanied by two guards, he was wearing traditional robes and looked so much older than in the photograph, which could not have been taken very long ago, that I felt an immediate and inexplicable tightening in my throat. He glared at each of us in turn, he stood with his mouth pursed, it was clear that he was disgusted with the situation. We stood in an uneasy cluster until one of the Court officials stepped forward, his expression awkward and even embarrassed. He hesitated and then looked at me and I moved closer to the accused. After another pause, the official at last began, his voice apologetic and uncertain. I am going to read you your rights.

			I began interpreting immediately, angling my body toward the accused and speaking in a low voice into his ear. The man jerked his head away, as if irritated by a mosquito or some other airborne insect, he gave no sign whatsoever of listening. The official paused, I finished speaking a few moments later and then the official asked if he had any questions. I interpreted, the accused exhaled noisily and I trailed off, the words withering in the air. The accused began speaking rapidly in Arabic and as he continued, now looking angrily at the official and gesturing at the room around him—which was, I gathered from his tone and manner, evidently substandard or objectionable in some way—panic surged up inside me. I looked at the official, who was staring at me expectantly. I shook my head—I knew hardly any Arabic—and turned back to the accused.

			Finally, the accused stared at me and asked—in French, which he spoke haltingly but I thought fluently—why he had not been provided with an Arabic language interpreter. I began to apologize, he interrupted—holding up one hand and now refusing to look at me, as if the mere sight of me were offensive, perhaps because I was the sole woman in the room or perhaps it was the sound of my French that was so problematic—and began speaking again in Arabic, his voice louder, almost bellicose. I could see that the Court officials were rattled and beginning to hold me responsible for the situation, it was obvious that I was failing at my assigned task, if through no clear fault of my own. The man needed to be read his rights in a language that he could understand, and which I did not appear to speak, and yet—because I did not know what else to do, and because the situation seemed to require that I do something—I began to recite the text again in my offending French, speaking over him and then asking at last if he had understood.

			Do you understand? I repeated.

			Yes, he said at last, in French.

			Abruptly, he moved to the bed and sat down. I saw that he was exhausted. He lay down and closed his eyes and then in seconds—so quickly that it was almost beyond belief—was snoring as he slept on the bed. We watched him for a moment, and then one of the officials tilted his head toward the door and quietly we filed out of the room and the guard closed it behind us. The official looked at me and said, We will request someone who speaks Arabic. I nodded. I almost felt sorry for him, he said, shaking his head. I did not agree, I could not help but feel that we had been manipulated in some way—although to what end I could not say, the accused had achieved nothing by this little drama, and he of course had the right to an interpreter working in the language of his choice.

			The official told me I could go, it was now—he looked at his watch—nearly four in the morning. I pulled on my coat and followed one of the uniformed guards down the maze of corridors and back through security. The guard called a taxi, which arrived very soon after. I sat in the car as we drove through the city, it was still completely dark outside, without a hint of dawn, the night appeared unceasing. We reached my apartment, I paid the driver, who waited until I had entered the building. Now at last there was a barely perceptible lightening of the sky, the sun would be up in a couple hours. I checked my messages, Adriaan had sent me a text some time ago, asking how I was, and then another asking what he might bring to Jana’s, if he could bring something more than a bottle of wine. I lay down without responding and fell asleep.


			I received another text from Adriaan later that morning. He thought he might bring food from the Indonesian restaurant around the corner from his apartment, to save Jana the trouble of cooking. I read the message and then curled back into bed. The arrival of these texts, their ordinary nature, had given me a sense of reassurance that I did not know I had needed. The tumult of the previous night had affected me more than I had understood.

			This sensation was with me still when I later woke at noon. It was a Saturday, the Court would likely make the announcement on Monday, I would not be able to speak of last night’s events for at least a little longer. As I lay in bed, I wondered if the accused had woken from his sudden slumber—if slumber it was, and not merely the pretense of it—startled to find himself in such a strange and hostile place, having been in dreams transported elsewhere. If he’d had the overwhelming sensation that he was the wrong person in the wrong place. I realized that I’d felt some minor version of that myself, as I stood in the cell, unable to comprehend his words, unable to perform the task that had been assigned to me, as if caught in a case of mistaken identity.

			I picked up my phone and responded to Adriaan’s text. I said that I thought that bringing food would be kind and much appreciated, I would let Jana know. He responded at once and said that he would see me there. I told him to call if he had any difficulty finding Jana’s apartment. But as it turned out, had Adriaan become lost on his way to dinner, had he stumbled down the wrong path or into harm’s way, had he called to ask if this was the correct route or if he had taken a wrong turn, I would not have been able to help him, I would not have even answered the phone. I had fallen asleep, in the manner of a narcoleptic—on the sofa, a book on my lap, my head flung back, my phone in the next room so that I could not have heard its ring. Had Adriaan called. But when I awoke, several minutes past eight in the evening, there were no missed calls or messages on my phone and it was already dark outside. I had been asleep for much of the afternoon.

			I dressed hurriedly and sent messages to both Adriaan and Jana to say that I was running late. It was now dark, the streets full with the expectation of a night out. I took a taxi, I was already half an hour late and Adriaan would of course be on time. As the driver pulled into the full flow of traffic—it was unusually dense or seemed that way, perhaps because of my impatience, I was aware that Jana and Adriaan had been thrust together in circumstances more uncomfortable and intimate than intended—I leaned forward and peered out the window, it would take at least twenty minutes to reach Jana’s at this rate.

			The traffic did not improve, by the time I arrived at Jana’s apartment it was nearly nine o’clock, and Adriaan had been there for an hour. You’re late, Jana said as she opened the door. Her tone was far from reproachful and she was smiling, she looked unusually relaxed. I was nonplussed by her appearance, she looked very different, so that I almost did not recognize her. She lingered before the door longer than was normal, as if to prevent me from entering, for a moment I thought there was something she needed to tell me. Behind her, I could see Adriaan standing in the kitchen, a glass of wine in hand. He was watching us with a curious expression, I wondered what Jana had been saying to him.

			She finally said, Come in, and stepped back almost reluctantly. I looked at Adriaan again as I took off my coat and set down my bag, my expression quizzical, but he either didn’t notice or chose to ignore it, he came forward with his glass of wine and kissed me, his manner very natural. I was aware that Jana was watching, at the last moment I angled my cheek toward him and my mouth away, so that his kiss landed awkwardly. I felt my skin grow flushed. I’m sorry I’m late. He shrugged and said that it didn’t matter, he seemed amused, he was hovering over me in a way that felt oddly protective, and I wished again that I hadn’t been so delayed.

			How have you two been getting along, I asked. They looked at each other and smiled, I was looking not at Adriaan but at Jana. She had put on lipstick and eye makeup, which she did not usually bother to do, and it might have been simply that I was not used to seeing her lips and eyes colored and delineated in this way, her features so emphatic. I realized, belatedly, that she had likely applied the makeup for Adriaan’s sake; certainly she had not done so for mine. I wondered then what it was like to be a man, so often surrounded by such deliberate features, more vivid than actual nature.

			I looked at Jana, and then again at Adriaan. I saw that some intimacy had been established between them. It wasn’t surprising, in fact it was something that I should have predicted from the outset, they were both personable and even seductive people. I thought this must be the reason for Jana’s inexplicable transformation, in the end it couldn’t be put down to lipstick and mascara, that was only the physical manifestation of a more intangible shift. It suddenly occurred to me that they made sense as a couple, I thought that Gaby was probably a woman like Jana, confident and forthright, someone who was a mirror to Adriaan. Couples were often this way, even when the resemblance wasn’t there to begin with. Warily, I watched as Jana and Adriaan continued to look at each other, now much longer than seemed necessary. Jana was grinning foolishly, or so it appeared to me.

			I felt a surge of jealousy. We did okay, Adriaan said, and his voice was casual. He turned to look at me, his gaze was warm and he was smiling, he did not seem as if he had anything to hide. She put me through the wringer but I’m fine, I survived. Although this sentence was spoken to me, and although Adriaan continued looking at me with his friendly and transparent gaze, I nonetheless experienced his words as further evidence of complicity between Jana and Adriaan. Jana was still looking at him and now she laughed too loudly, tossing her hair extravagantly, a gesture I was not familiar with, it was if she had remade herself entirely for the occasion.

			I did not! she exclaimed flirtatiously. I did nothing of the sort. I only asked some questions, I’m very protective of my friend, you know she’s quite alone here—words that somehow made me feel as if I did not belong in this city or country or even in this room. She wrapped her arm around my shoulder, a gesture that was surely affectionate, but which came across as bizarre and out of character, she was not usually physically demonstrative. She squeezed my shoulder, an embrace that recollected my encounter with Kees at the party, when I had first learned that Adriaan was married. I must have looked uneasy, or perhaps he had himself observed the similarity between the two embraces, because Adriaan now frowned a little and after a moment Jana lowered her arm. I cleared my throat, I asked if we shouldn’t eat. Jana turned away abruptly, she said, Adriaan brought Indonesian takeaway, from a place I don’t know.

			She had set the table, there were cloth napkins and place mats and candles. Let’s eat, Jana said. The food is in the oven, keeping warm. We didn’t know how late you would be. I realized that neither of them had asked for an explanation for my tardy arrival. She began taking foil containers of food out of the oven, she shook her head when I offered to help, and told us to sit down.

			Adriaan and I stood by the dining table in silence, staring at the flickering candles—Jana or Adriaan or someone had taken the trouble to light them. How is work, how have you been? Jana called out. She was making a great deal of noise as she retrieved the food from the oven, banging the door open and shut and clattering plates. It’s fine, I shouted back, a reply that seemed barely to register. A part of me was relieved, it would have been difficult to talk about work without mentioning the arrest, I would have been speaking around something that loomed so large in my thoughts that they would have sensed it through its omission.

			There was more noise from the kitchen, and after glancing at Adriaan, I went to Jana, saying, Let me help you, and together we began ferrying out dishes of food to the table. The food looked delicious and Jana was quick to compliment Adriaan on his choices, I never could have ordered so well, she said. It was a strange and slightly inane compliment and one that was almost certainly a lie, Jana loved to cook and eat out and at any rate it wasn’t a particularly stellar achievement, ordering a takeout meal. Jana lifted her glass of wine and said, Well, here we all are. She was still smiling and her voice was vibrating with tension. Adriaan nodded as he raised his glass, he thanked Jana for inviting him into her home, of the three of us he was the only one who seemed truly at ease.

			For a moment, Jana and I both watched him serving the food. We were converted into women admiring a man’s competence, an absurd and appalling situation. He was only dishing out noodles and rice and chunks of meat onto our plates, and yet I also found myself watching him appreciatively, perhaps because of my awareness of Jana’s own admiration. I knew very well that the reason for Jana’s present excitement was her own attraction to Adriaan, she could be competitive and would have felt the need to establish primacy in this situation, one that she had initiated, after all, by suggesting dinner in the first place.

			As for Adriaan, he might have been thinking or feeling anything. I couldn’t tell what he made of Jana, or indeed the entire situation. Perhaps he thought it had been a mistake to agree to the dinner, it was only the three of us, it was obvious that it had been organized so that Jana might get a look at him, so to speak. Meanwhile, Jana was being careful to avoid the subject of Adriaan’s marriage and separation, she asked Adriaan a little about his work, the area he lived in, innocuous questions to which she already knew the answers, she did not venture near territory that might be potentially compromising.

			The entire exercise had an air of futility and falseness. Adriaan must have been perfectly aware of the fact that Jana knew everything not only about his job and where he lived, but also about his marriage to Gaby and its unresolved state. Nor could the skillful façade of her conversation conceal the fact that Jana also knew that Adriaan knew that she knew, disavowed knowledge reverberated through the room. And yet our behavior did not seem especially strange, people behave with such conscious and unconscious dishonesty all the time. Or perhaps the dishonesty was more concrete, I suddenly thought, perhaps it lay in something they were keeping from me, some argument or agreement between them, and then I wondered if they’d had it out the moment Adriaan arrived, perhaps Jana had let him in and then said, Listen, I want to know how it is between you, I want to know exactly what your intentions are.

			She was more than capable of doing such a thing—like Adriaan she could be unusually direct in her manner. Now Jana turned to Adriaan and said playfully, I know you don’t approve of a young woman living in this area—I looked up, startled, I had not told Jana this, and yet she was not incorrect in her assessment of him, and how he would feel about the neighborhood, she had intuited a conservatism I doubted he himself would recognize. And it’s true, Jana continued, it’s not as safe as other parts of the city, just the other day there was an incident. A man was mugged, right outside my front door.

			Adriaan lowered his fork to his plate, as if to give Jana his full attention.

			The other night, when I was here? I asked and she nodded.

			The man is in the hospital. Jana paused. It could have been one of us, it could have been you, she said, looking directly at Adriaan. In fact he was not unlike you, I looked him up, he was wealthy, a professional, probably he was in the area seeing friends for dinner, almost exactly as you are doing now.

			But how do you know? I asked. They released the name, she said. It was in one article, there wasn’t that much information,