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Hiba Essa Al Ateek: Part time Parisienne
January 15, 2016
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I threw her creepily beautiful sculptured head and placed it by the river Seine only to later find out it was our landlord’s dead wife’s head.

Phew, now that that is off my chest, I can share the details of my gruesome crime. On a separate note, I always wanted a creepy story to pass down generations (I’m not proud of this, I promise). I know my “But... but... I had no idea...” excuse sat right by “My dog ate my homework” in terms of credibility.  

We moved into our current Parisian apartment two and a half years ago. I never paid much attention to the creamy, ivory, carefully crafted bust that sat on top of our fake fireplace in the living room. When we first met, I lifted all three kilograms of her and scrutinised her features. Her eyes were so young and kind with a hint of a smile that almost made you think you imagined it — sort of like the Mona Lisa (says the artist in me). Her perky nose and high neck gave her a sense of elegance.

Her carefully styled bun put all the topknot buns out there to shame. She was in her mid 30s I thought. I assumed she was just another ornament to add history and character to the place because that’s what the French did right? Plus, it wasn’t something you asked when touring an apartment, “Would you please tell me the story behind this head?” Well maybe, yes, elsewhere, but I was in Paris! The city of statues! Every street, bridge, garden, coffee shop and hospital was filled with sculptures of all shapes and sizes, paintings and little antiques all in the name of art and history.

My husband and I weren’t very fond of her. It’s not that we hated her but we just didn’t like her. She didn’t send out any creepy vibes, her ghost wasn’t lurking around, if that’s where you think I’m headed. In fact, her and I became acquainted over the first year in our home only I didn’t know it. She witnessed far more than I liked to admit. Most days, I didn’t notice her but she watched as I sat between the silence of the walls reading while taking far too many breaks due to my ADD, attempted a kale smoothie (a story for another day) and drank far too many cups of coffee. I must have looked lazy to her. She would have told me to chase my dreams and that life was too short.

Then last summer, while “spring cleaning,” (the previous renters left behind far too many things), we itched for space in our living room. We had this marvellous idea to create a tiny library over the fireplace that added a cosy feel to the space. She was the victim of that dream. We placed her along the quai of the river by the sidewalk in front of our building. I stood by our window and thought, “someone is going to find her for their art collection or maybe even sell her.” I didn’t think of a flea market. Or maybe I did.

Approximately three months later, the real estate office called and said that the landlord wished to sell the apartment so visiting hours would be arranged and the only thing the landlord wanted was “the head statue above the fireplace as it was his wife’s head who took her last breath in the apartment a few years ago.”

I almost fainted “His wife?!” “Died here?” “Why did he leave her head here and move to the South of France then?” “How much did it cost him to replicate her face on ceramic?” “We don’t have that kind of money!” “I’m going to prison in France!” “Oh mon Dieu!!”

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep for days. This wasn’t just any piece of art. Her husband would be devastated. Suddenly, all the statues that came across me stared at me too long and judged me. I was in a store and stared a little too hard at a very similar sculpture and almost blurted out “I wonder how can I get my hands on one of those?!” I sound awful but I really was desperate.

I braved up and confessed our heartless crime and suggested my husband offer a painted portrait (so glad he had hobbies other than medicine) of his wife though it wouldn’t be nearly as sentimental obviously. We got away with it but statues continued to haunt me to this day. Would I even recognise her if I were to come across her?

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Hiba Essa Al Ateek is an Emirati woman who swapped the
corporate world in Dubai for life in bustling Paris. Hiba is a
self-confessed coffee addict who, for the remainder of her journey
in France, is determined to master the French language and discover
what it really means to be a Parisienne in the 21st century.

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