N°476, not far to go now. Diane was walking fast along the avenue de la Couronne, a grey artery running between the neighbourhoods of Ixelles and Etterbeek in Brussels. She was not a city girl. She had a house in the countryside but knew this neighbourhood quite well as she had been commuting to work here almost every day for the last 10 years. She was a doctor in the Hôpital d’Ixelles that was situated just a few streets away from the avenue de la Couronne. She had been here a lot lately; too much these last two months actually. She was so tired. She couldn’t remember the last time she had had a full night of sleep.
Diane looked nervously behind her shoulder. No one had followed her. She reached n°476 almost out of breath from the stress that gripped her throat. She pushed the house’s wooden door. It was open as expected. Through the inner courtyard, then on towards the small dark door at the end of it. Yolande had said she would have to knock – two quick ones and three slow ones. Diane did as instructed with her free hand.
Yolande opened the door, automatically asking for the password when she saw Diane. “Come in, come in,” she urged her.
The inside of the clandestine bar was cool in comparison to the street outside. She put the palm of her hand on Diane’s back and pushed her through, motioning her around the tables towards the end of the room where a dark burgundy curtain hid a passage to a back room.
Diane saw a couple of persons sitting and having a drink in the front bar but looked down and did not pause.
Yolande pushed the curtain aside and let her in before closing it behind herself. The room was dark and damp. It was dimly lit by a naked light bulb that hung from the ceiling. Cardboard boxes lined one of the walls.
- “What happened? How is she? Or he…? Is it a boy a girl? Yolande asked in a whisper.
Diane pushed away the shawl that covered her right shoulder to reveal a tiny baby who was asleep against her. The infant was firmly wrapped in a blanket.
- “It’s a girl I think, judging from the colour of the blanket.“
- “Poor little thing” Yolande said, gently stroking the little girl’s hair.
- “I couldn’t let her stay with him Yolli, I couldn’t.” Tears built up in Diane’s eyes. “You should have seen the state of the mother. She was covered in bruises. He said she died from respiratory failure. I agree with the diagnosis but I don’t think he can pin this one on the coronavirus.“
Yolande kept on stroking the baby’s hair.
- “How did you manage to get out with her?“
- “They were questioning him, doing some paper work. She was lying in her crib in the living room. No one was paying any attention to me. The mother was already dead so I was of no more use. I said I would examine the baby; the father didn’t even react. He was too busy trying to explain what had happened. I was turning my back to them, still had my shawl on because it was the end of my shift and I was on my way home. I just picked her up and walked out of the door, saying I was going to get something in the ambulance downstairs. Once I was in the street I just walked off. I didn’t have a plan. Then I remembered that your clandestine bar was just around the corner. That’s when I called you…“
- “Oh my…Diane…what are you going to do? They are probably looking for her by now.“
- “I don’t care; I couldn’t leave this angel alone with a man like that. You should have seen him. And the state of their place…I’ve seen too much lately; it had to stop.“
Yolande sighed heavily and said: “I’m not sure that was your call Diane…” She looked around the room, apologetically. “Well you can stay here until you have it figured out…welcome to illegality my dear.“