Disclaimer: Emilia and her awesomely pro-woman views belong to Mr. Billy Shakespeare.
There is a small black book in my hands. It's heavy. Gold letters on the cover spell out the word B-I-B-L-E. The holy book of God. That's what it is.
Or so I'm told. I cannot read it, like so many other women in this world.
Page after page is saturated with words and letters and numbers and quotes. Small lines that swirl on page after page after page.
But the meaning is lost to me.
Women do not read, women do not learn. That is a man's job.
It will be like that until the end of time. Women are immigrants in a world where men are natives. We will not learn because they dictate it.
There was a time I remember, when I was fooled by my own hope and naivety, that I thought anything was possible.
How I wish I were young again.
"Demetrius!" I practically throw down my needlework and run to my brother as he strides down the dirt path to home. His cheeks have been bathed in the light of sun and his shoes and trousers have been dusted with good Venetian soil.
"Silly Emilia, you should be inside helping mother, shouldn't you be?" he all but laughs. But I barely hear him, for I'm already running for the leather bounded squares in his hands he calls books.
"Give them to me!" I lunge for them and manage to land face first on the dirt road. "*Give renewed fire to our extincted spirits!*"
"Oh come now Emilia. Stop being so dramatic. Besides, these are not for women." he laughs because he knows he will give them to me later. He will take me aside and read me stories about Noah and his Ark, and Jonah and his whale, and I will fall asleep dreaming about wondrous worlds where I could touch the moon and it would all be possible.
Demetrius leads me inside our dark, cramped cottage where mother has just begun fixing supper. I screw my eyes shut in anticipation for the scolding that is coming my way. "Emilia!" mother shouts almost the second the door opens. "I've been calling you for ten minutes now!"
"I-I suppose I didn't hear you." I try. But this excuse was tired and old and mother wouldn't buy it anymore.
"You know Emilia, always with her head in the clouds." Demetrius laughs. He understands.
Mother does not even try to smile. "That is the problem Demetrius. Emilia, you are almost sixteen years of age, and you spend all day dreaming! Dreaming is not going to wash clothes or make supper for your husband when you are married. Now, be of some service and slice the bread."
I trudge unwillingly to the stove and assist mother while she and Demetrius make light conversation. "Demetrius, how was school today?"
Demetrius sets down his books and joins us at the kitchen table. "Wonderful mother! We've just begun our study on Roman mythology and the schoolmaster is reading to us one of the plays by Seneca."
"May I read it Demetrius?" I stop in the middle of slicing the bread and nearly slice my thumb off.
"Oh Emilia, please do not start that again." Mother holds her head in her hands as if warding off some evil demon from entering her brain.
Demetrius bites his lip. "Emilia, you do not know how to read."
"I could learn! I should learn!"
Mother sighs. I know exactly what she will say, I know exactly why she will say it, I even know the movements and gestures she will perform while saying what she must say to me. We've had this argument too many times to count. Yet, each and every time I mention it, I cannot help but feel she is so much closer to breaking. "Women do not go to school, Emilia. You know that."
"But mother! There is a woman on the throne in England! And do you remember the tale of Joan of Arc? Women are changing the world! Why can't-"
"Emilia!" she interrupts me. "I do not wish to speak of you anymore on this matter. Please wait until your father gets home."
I do not even have time to take a breath before the door bursts open and in walks my father with a smile on his face and a small bag in his hand.
"Father!" I run to him.
"Good evening my wonderful family!"
I quickly eye the bag in father's hand that he makes no move to hide. "What have you there, father?"
Demetrius and I share a look of excitement. Father is notorious for bringing trinkets home for us on pay day. "What, this?" he holds up the sac. "Just a few things for my wonderful children they will receive once they've settled down."
Demetrius and I scramble to the table and sit down almost immediately, we do not stir as we wait for father to hang up his jacket and say hello to mother.
"Now, don't murder them, Adolfo" mother laughs, "what have you in that sac?"
"Patience is a virtue, Mirella. You will see." Demetrius and I stifle a giggle but father finally sets the sac down on the table and opens it.
"Alright first, for Demetrius; new pencils just like you wanted." father says as he takes the pencils out of the sac and hands them to Demetrius who's eyes light up brightly.
"Thank you father! I needed them so for school!"
"You're welcome son. Now, for my lovely Mirella," father turns to mother, "a bracelet made from only the finest jewels."
Mother smiles. "Thank you, Adolfo. It's lovely!"
Father nods to her and finally turns to me. "And for my little Emilia," I smile hoping that it's a pencil just like Demetrius' or a book so I can learn to read, "a new bracelet." he pulls a small band out of the sac and I smile to hide my disappointment.
"Thank you father."
I was never a very good actress, but father says nothing nonetheless. Instead, he sets a hand down on my shoulder and gives me a look as if he wish to say "I'm sorry."
"Children, will you go outside for a minute please? I must speak to your mother." he says instead.
Wordlessly, Demetrius and I exit outside.
"What do you think they have to talk about?" I ask Demetrius as we both scuffle along the dirt path.
He shrugs. "My schooling, money, father's work, your marriage…" he trails of snickering at his own words.
"What are you saying Demetrius?" I say half-teasing and half-hysterical.
"You are fifteen Emilia, practically an old maid." he smiles, continuing his perfectly timed steps down the path.
"And you?" I almost shriek. "You're older than I!"
He scrunches his eyebrows together as if he is seriously thinking about what I have just said. "Yes, but I am not a woman."
I grasp his back and with all my might send him straight into a tree. "Of course not."
"Emilia," Father says as we eat breakfast the next morning, "I would like it if you would come to with me to work today."
I nearly drop my spoon in surprise. "Father? Are you sure?" I say excitedly.
"Absolutely." he smiles. "We shall leave as soon as breakfast is finished."
"Oh thank you father!" I quickly finish off my food.
Demetrius looks up in jealousy. "Now, why can't I go to work with you father? I should learn your trade."
"Now Demetrius, beware of jealousy. *It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.*" father scolds. Demetrius says no more and instead, bites his tongue.
"Stay close Emilia." Father scolds as I stray farther and farther down the sidewalk. Going to the city with father is a rarity. I've only been a handful of times. Lucky Demetrius gets to study here every single day.
"Father, when I come to school, I'll get to walk these streets every day!"
He only sighs. "Please, not now."
We turn corner after corner and walk down street after street. The smell of the feast of the street vendors, the hundreds of bodies crammed altogether on the sidewalk, it all collides together into one big cloud of sound and smell and hovers twelve feet over my head. It spins with excitement and soars through the air and up to the sky, to the sun, to heaven, to God. And this, I think, is what the world is like. It's almost mine, I can feel it deep in my heart.
"Emilia! Come here right now!" Father calls from a block away. I run to catch up with him, effectively stepping on five people's toes and knocking over two cabbages in my haste. "Emilia, how can I deem you responsible if you cannot even manage to keep alert?" he scolds rather angrily.
"I'm sorry-" I start weakly.
"No," he interrupts, "sorry is not going to do anymore. You are fifteen years old, Emilia, and you act like you are five. You need to stop living in a fantasy world. Life is not about dreams."
"I-I'm sorry, Father." I wince at the force he is using to pull me along.
He huffs. "It's too late for sorry, Emilia. Your mother and I have tried time and time again to teach you the place of a woman. But, you insist. You insist on never doing your chores, you insist on going to school, and you insist on wasting your life away. I've brought you here today because we are both tired of it. If we cannot teach you anything, Emilia, maybe someone else can." I can see tears seeping from the corners of his eyes and I am fearing for his sanity and my safety.
"Where are we going Father? Are you taking me to a school where I can learn these things?" I ask desperately.
His grip on my arm tightens to that of a vice. But, only for a second. Then he lets go and sighs in defeat. "No."
We turn a corner to the building where father works. He immediately lets go of me as we come face to face with the great edifice. Father does not take me in, but instead simply to the top step.
There is a boy waiting there. He seems young. Perhaps only a year or two older than I. My eyes meet his for the smallest of seconds, but in that second, I can see everything in this boy's eyes; rage, ambition, anger, connivance, hope; a deadly combination if you ask me, this boy scared me.
Father walks right up to him and guides me along as well.
"Iago." Father grasps the boy's hand in his own.
The boy named Iago bows his head to Father. "Adolfo, so nice to see you again."
Father smiles. "This is my daughter, Emilia whom I have told you about."
Iago stares at me with his deadly eyes, I quickly look away. "Ah yes. She is lovely. Adolfo." He turns to me and I have no choice but to force my gaze to him. "You are a very pretty girl Emilia. Your father has told me much about you. I can imagine you will make a lovely wife."
I wince at the mention of the word "wife".
"Thank you." Father nods before turning to me. "Emilia, this is Iago." he pauses "You are set to marry him next week."
I couldn't muster much as a curtsey. All I could do was bite my tongue to keep myself from screaming. This is what it came to. This is my punishment for wanting to go to school and learn? This is my punishment for never being the most obedient child?
This is my punishment for dreaming?
"Emilia?" Father beckons me back to reality and I am suddenly aware of the metallic taste in my mouth. My tongue is bleeding, of course it is. "Are you alright?" Father looks to me with the most apologetic expression I have ever seen on a person. I think he is about to cry himself.
I gather every ounce of hate in my body and force it into my eyes which I fix right on his. "Yes." I reply with all the venom I could muster.
"I must be going now, Adolfo. I shall see you next week for the wedding, correct?" Iago asks.
Father only nods, unable to speak.
"Very well. Good-bye Emilia, my dear." Iago says before departing.
Father sighs and turns to me. My mouth is still bleeding and tears are threatening the corners of my eyes, but I do not look to him, and my expression remains cold. *I know my price. I am worth no worse a place.* I think to myself. And, father has failed me.
"Emilia, you must understand." he tries weakly, but I do not turn. "It's for your own good."
I shut my eyes tightly as tears finally slip from them and slide down my cheeks. "You are the lord of my duty, I am hitherto your daughter".
The rest, I suppose you could say, is history. I've yet to see how marriage has made me a better person.
All it has done is made me so much more willing to fight. So, in a way I suppose it has made me stronger.
There is a small black book in my hands. It's heavy. The gold letters spell out B-I-B-L-E. It is the holy book of God read by priests and liturgical speakers and literate men across the world
And, I dream that someday I can read it too.