tagNovels and NovellasMaragana Girl Ch. 25

Maragana Girl Ch. 25

bycaligula97236©

Chapter 25 -- Tiffany's Three Demerits

While Kim and her friends were occupied with the first week of their concert tour, Upper Danubia struggled through an ever-deepening political crisis. For the first time since the Second World War, the Duchy faced the prospect of political instability. The conservative government of the Party of the Duchy fell in the Parliament's first no-confidence vote since 1940. The Prime Minister immediately called elections assuming, correctly as it turned out, the deputies of the opposition Greater Danubian Progressive Party were not yet organized enough to win an election outright.

On July 29, the day after the successful concert of "Socrates' Mistresses" in Warsaw, the Duchy held the first out of a series of chaotic national elections. During the campaign the opposition deputies savagely attacked the government's disastrous handling of the previous year's fires in Rika Chorna province, which resonated among dispossessed voters in the entire eastern part of the country. However, the economic program the Greater Danubian Progressive Party put forward was frightening because of the commitments its leaders had made to foreign corporations. Included in the opposition's plans were the immediate abolition of many of the country's oldest institutions and social services, the removal of all legal protection for local businesses, and the immediate removal of most border security. The "Progressives" openly argued for closing Upper Danubia's public transportation system and encouraging the public to buy and import private automobiles. As for the farmland that would be destroyed by the proposed roads, the solution would be to import food from the European Community.

The proposal that most frightened much of the public about the opposition's program, however, was the idea to systematically log Upper Danubia's forests, in order to pay for road building and other large-scale development projects. Several international logging firms already had contracts pending to clear out the forests. All that was needed was a clear victory by the Greater Danubian Progressive Party.

As insane as the massive logging projects may have sounded to the western half of the country, to voters in the eastern half of Upper Danubia logging made perfect sense. Logging would remove the region's fire hazard once and for all, as well as finance the reconstruction of Rika Chorna and other fire-affected provinces. It was a financial quick fix that had its attractions, but any educated person realized the ultimate price would be far greater than any short-term gain for the east.

There was one final part of the opposition's program that struck real fear into the hearts of Danube City's 2,000 criminals: jails. The "Progressives" wanted to bring Upper Danubia's justice system in line with the rest of the world by rounding up all convicted criminals and putting them in jail. The incarceration program would begin with a concentration camp outside Danube City, which would stay in operation until a proper prison could be constructed. Once the prison was built, criminals would move in, be issued prison uniforms, have their collars removed, and spend the rest of their sentences in prison cells. Sure it would be costly and pull the criminals away from their families and jobs, but isn't that the way the rest of the world does it? Besides, a lucrative prison construction contract was waiting for a US corporation paying the campaign contributions of several opposition candidates.

Two nights before the election the Parliament's independent deputies invited Spokesman Vladim Dukov to address a campaign rally. He gave an angry speech to a large crowd, exhorting the public to reject the "insane" proposals of "capitalism in its most savage manifestation". He attacked globalization and the neo-conservative push to turn the world over to corporate interests. As she listed to him speak Kim realized, in spite of his kindness to her and his understanding of US citizens as individuals, Dukov did not like the United States as a society and rejected much of what its government stood for.

"We need to cultivate our land and we need to eat! We need to be safe! We need to walk down our streets in peace and breathe clean air! We do not need to become a nation of automobiles, international logging companies, pollution, and crime! We must not become a nation of people working 60 hours a week to buy imported products we don't need! And we must not sacrifice our identity on the altar of global commerce! I reject that false god, and I urge you to do the same!"

Dukov's speech killed the prospect of an outright victory by the "Progressives" and earned him some real political enemies in the Parliament. The popular vote split three ways, between the "Nobility", the "Progressives", and the unorganized group of dissidents from the two parties. Following the election, the Party of the Duchy formed an unstable coalition with the Duchy's independent deputies to set up a government. The new government would last a total of three weeks before the independents defected in a no-confidence vote and forced yet another election. The nation's Prime Minister later resigned in disgust, leaving Upper Danubia in political crisis with no real leadership.

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Kim returned to the hospital to visit Tiffany on the 29th, the same day of the first round of elections taking place around the country. She entered the hospital grounds right at 9:00, expecting to spend the entire allotted three hours with her client. Kim was not surprised to see Tiffany still in her room, but she was surprised to see that her physical appearance had only slightly improved. Tiffany's intern reminded Kim that her client not only had spent the entire week cleaning out the drugs from her body, but also undergoing treatment for venereal disease and amoebas.

"She's had a rough week, but I think once we discontinue the antibiotics she'll feel much better. She's definitely past any danger of seizures, so I think we'll collar her today after her medical evaluation. Tomorrow we'll fix her teeth, and on Tuesday she'll start the regular exercise regimen with the other patients."

"How's her attitude been?"

"Apprentice, about the attitude...that's not been so good. She earned three demerits on Thursday, which is something I want to discuss with you. Our program includes a system of merits and demerits, which is one of the ways we encourage our patients to cooperate and behave appropriately. We issue merits based on good behavior and cooperation. A demerit results from a refusal to cooperate, or in the case of your client, disrespect and dishonesty. We've had quite a bit of unpleasantness from Tiffany over the last week. Some of that is to be expected, due to her medical condition. However, last Thursday we directed her to spend some time on a treadmill to check her heart and blood circulation. We run a total of three sessions on the treadmill to check a patient's endurance. Tiffany co-operated the first round, but she became rebellious after that. She...I presume it's an American manner of insulting...circled her eyes around when we issued our instructions, and then, in English, she called the doctor a 'cock-sucking fag' and to 'go fuck himself'. We did not understand what the term 'cock-sucking fag' meant, so I tried to look it up. I never figured out what the first word meant. The best I could figure is that it has something to do with sucking on chickens. The second word has two meanings, and I presume she was not calling the doctor a pile of firewood."

Kim sighed. "No. In the US that means only one thing, and it's an insult. A pretty bad one."

"Very well Apprentice. Then that is one demerit. I confronted Tiffany about the gesture with her eyes and her vocabulary, and she flatly denied both. Perhaps the gesture with her eyes was a misinterpretation on my part, but what she said was quite clear, and I am not the only person in the room who heard it. Several other patients witnessed the incident. We issued her a second demerit for lying and a third for the fact the incident took place in front of other patients."

"So...what is a demerit? What does that actually mean?"

"A demerit involves a formal apology and five strokes of the switch."

"And she's got three? That's fifteen strokes?"

"That is correct. Fifteen strokes and three formal apologies. Had she earned any merits, a merit would have canceled demerit. Unfortunately Tiffany did nothing this past week to earn a merit. To be honest, her behavior outside the Thursday incident has not been very cooperative."

Kim shook her head. The intern continued.

"I've discussed this matter with the doctors involved, and perhaps we can...postpone the corporal punishment until next weekend and hope she can earn a merit or two. That wouldn't sit well with the other patients, but perhaps it would motivate your client."

"Very well, Intern. I'll talk to her, and see what's going on."

Kim then returned to Tiffany's room, to find the patient sitting up and a bit restless. She gave Tiffany a sharp look and pointed at the floor. Tiffany sadly got on her knees and touched her forehead to the ground.

"OK, Tiffany, let's remember our protocol...it's 'Good morning Apprentice Lee. I am pleased you have safely returned.'"

Once she repeated the formal greeting, Kim invited Tiffany for a walk across the hospital grounds, to begin conversing with her. At first Kim gave Tiffany an update on her own life and the concert in Warsaw, and then went into detail about what Tiffany's life would be like once her trial was over. Kim wanted to emphasize that Tiffany would indeed have real life after her rehab and trial.

Kim continued with some questions about Tiffany's current life, beginning with how she planned to maintain contact with her friends and relatives in the US.

"I don't know who I'll stay in touch with. The only person who really cares about me is Joe. I know I...I gotta write him and tell him I...guess I'm doing OK. I don't know. I'm so doped up with antibiotics that I really don't know how I'm supposed to be feeling."

Kim and Tiffany walked out to the edge of the forest park, which was a place Tiffany would come to know very well over the next several weeks during the rehab program's afternoon hikes. For a long time both women stared at the woods, while Kim tried to think how she could bring up the subject of Tiffany's behavior and the resulting demerits. Finally she asked:

"What about things here at the hospital? How do you feel you're doing?"

Tiffany was quiet for a moment. Kim knew her well enough to realize that she was struggling with whether or not to tell the truth or simply gloss over what happened. Finally Tiffany sighed.

"Kim...I mean Apprentice Lee, I don't know if you talked to the doctors yet...about something that happened Thursday. I kinda...said some things on Thursday...to the doctor...and...I think...I'm in some sort of trouble."

"Why? What made you talk to him like that?"

"I don't know. You know how I am with my mouth. And I didn't feel good and I was in a pissy mood, and they...do you know what happened?"

"I heard the intern's version of the story, so I know that much. What I need is to hear your side. Did they do anything wrong, anything to make you upset?"

"Not really, they just kept insisting on that treadmill test. But I starting to feel kinda sick and I mouthed off, and totally shocked everyone in the room. I think the other patients were more shocked than the doctors. It's like...I don't know...like the other patients are madder at me than the staff. They tried to be friendly at the beginning, but they haven't talked to me since Thursday...and that's got me a bit scared."

"Yeah, I guess it would. Tiffany, you just don't do that in this country, insulting someone and then lying about it. The Danubians get pissed about lying, because they're real big on this whole concept of 'honor'. Part of that thing with the 'honor' is you don't lie, and another part of it is you take responsibility for what you do. The other patients are avoiding you because you dishonored yourself. You know, if you just would have 'fessed-up and apologized..."

"I know I should've, but I...just can't. I've never apologized for anything."

"Well, this afternoon you're gonna have to. You owe the doctors three apologies, and you're gonna have to say it like you mean it. Nobody's gonna talk to you until you apologize."

"Yeah, I know. But the intern said something else...that they're gonna punish me.

"Maybe. What's happened is you got what they call 'demerits', three of 'em; first for the insult, and then for lying about what you said, and the third for doing it in front of the other patients. Do you know what a demerit is?"

Tiffany shook her head.

"An apology is part of a demerit. The other part is five strokes of the switch. You got three demerits."

Tiffany gasped. "You mean...they're gonna whip me?"

"Well, that's what I'm not sure about. The intern said that maybe they could put it off 'till next Sunday, to see if you can get make up for it this week. The way their system works is if you get a 'merit' for good behavior, that'll cancel a demerit. If you could get three merits, that would cancel your punishment."

Tiffany's next question surprised Kim.

"Apprentice Lee...do they...ever do that for other patients...I mean...postpone a whipping to see if they can make up for it the next week?"

"No. In fact, the intern said it wouldn't sit well with the other patients, 'cause it's not the normal way they do things. But I guess they're willing to make an exception for you, 'cause you're a foreigner and maybe they think you don't understand the system or you didn't know what you were doing."

Tiffany struggled with the information and the possibility of a reprieve. For a long time she was quiet. Then Kim noticed a change in her expression. The change was slight, but it was noticeable.

"On Thursday...I knew what I was doing. I just thought, because they didn't speak English, I could get away with it." Tiffany swallowed and continued, "I just...I'm...I really don't want to do anything that's gonna piss off the other patients, any more than they are already. I mean, Kim...I mean...Apprentice Lee...I gotta live with everyone here until the end of August, and I...just...can't have them...not speak to me...'cause I got special treatment."

"So...what exactly are you trying to tell me?"

"I don't...I just think...I think the best thing would be for me to just get it over with. I...if I got punished, like normal...do you think the other patients would speak to me again?"

Kim thought for a moment, trying to draw upon her knowledge of Danubian society to answer Tiffany's question.

"I don't know about the hospital. I can tell you that with a group of ordinary criminals, if you turned down a special favor and asked to be treated like everyone else, it would get the others to respect you again. Anyhow, the way a switching works in this country is you deal with it, it hurts like hell for a while, and then it's over. Like, with our sentences...me and my friends from the band...once our collars came off, with the Danubian government it's as though our convictions never happened. I've got one friend who just entered the police academy, and well, here I am, as a legal Apprentice. I don't see why it would be any different with you. You screw up, you get your butt whipped for it, and then you're done."

"I really don't want to worry about this next week. I just want to forget about it."

"Well, you're not going to just forget about it. The welts will hurt for several days."

"I mean, the others..."

"I think it would fix your problem, if you're worried about getting along with the other patients."

Tiffany drew a deep breath. Her voice quivered slightly with her next statement.

"Then...I guess I'll just take the demerits and get it over with."

"You mean the switching?"

Kim's client nervously nodded.

"Yeah."

"It'll be 15 strokes."

"I know. I'll just deal with it."

Tiffany began twisting her hands and fidgeting. Before she and Kim returned to the hospital, she had one final question for her custodian.

"Kim...I mean Apprentice Lee, could you stay with me when I get punished, you know, to make sure I don't get hurt, like in court?"

"Sure. If you've got the guts to go through with this, then the least I can do is stay with you."

As they made their way back across the hospital grounds to the main building, Kim knew that, in her own way, Tiffany was about to make an important step in her personal transformation away from being a drug addict. For the first time in her life she had decided to directly face the consequences of something she had done wrong. She had turned down special treatment in order to regain the respect of her fellow patients. Tiffany's acceptance of her situation contained the seed of understanding the Danubian concept of "honor".

Kim approached the intern with her very forlorn client trailing behind her. Kim motioned with her fingertips for Tiffany to kneel. She then saluted the intern and addressed him in Danubian.

"Intern, I have discussed the situation concerning the three demerits with my client, Tiffany Walker. Tiffany understands she dishonored herself last Thursday and is willing to accept the consequences of her behavior. I do not believe a postponement of her demerits is necessary."

"Very well Apprentice. I think that's for the best. I was more concerned about how the other patients would view this, much more than the staff. It's been a bit difficult for all of us, given that Tiffany Walker is from a different country, and we're really not sure how we should behave around her. If she can accept her role as a patient and abide by our rules, I think that will make all of our lives much easier."

"Intern, I do have one request to make. As her Spokeswoman, I would like to be present during her punishment."

"I don't see why that would be a problem. If you come back here about 5:00, the head doctor will issue you a hospital pass."

----------

Kim decided to spend the early part of the afternoon at a nearby beach along the river. She pulled off her dress and for a while walked naked, with her clothes over her arm and her shoes in her hand, along the water's edge. After a few minutes she had the good fortune to run into her fellow-vocalist Valia and her family. Kim spent several pleasant hours just relaxing, for the first time in well over a month, as she swam and played cards with Valia, her boyfriend, and her younger brother.

Kim returned to the hospital in a relaxed and very upbeat mood. As promised, she was issued a special after-hours visitor's pass and made her way to the substance abuse department of the sprawling complex. She found the program's 40 patients sitting in a large classroom filling out questionnaires. Two doctors and five interns were standing in a group at the instructor's podium; looking over test results and organizing case files.

Tiffany and a middle-aged man wearing an alcoholic's collar were kneeling at the front of the room, facing the wall. The Danubian words "pogánit jéttit" were written in black magic marker on each of their backs, which, translated literally, meant "improper behavior". Kim realized the magic marker was indelible and would take several days to wash off. The humiliation of being marked was part of the demerit.

As soon as he noticed Kim was present, the intern called two security guards on a pager. The guards, a man and a woman, entered the room, as the head doctor loudly whistled. The patients quickly stood at attention, with the exception of the two demerits. The male guard was carrying a police switch.

The female guard approached the kneeling man and told him to stand up. Once he did so she took his arm and led him to the head doctor. He knelt and touched his forehead to the floor. Then he knelt upright and spoke: "Doctor, I committed a transgression that I need to apologize for. I pretended to be sick last Monday to avoid working in the garden. I lied about my physical condition, and wish to express remorse for my dishonesty. I request that I be appropriately punished for dishonoring myself."

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