Asya Speaks Out

hills

Photo by Sue Vincent

The magnificent view of the snow-capped mountains and surrounding beautiful landscape which usually filled Asya with peace failed to do so this morning.   There was political uncertainty in Sweden as the anti-immigrant party made historic gains in Sunday’s election.  There was talk of refugees and immigrants being sent back to their countries by those who had no regard for what awaited them.   She knew firsthand what it was like to be torn from the country of refuge and returned to your country of origin.

At the age of 15, her parents took her back to Turkey after she finished ninth grade to marry a man 20 years her senior.  They had three children.  Those were the worst years of her life and she dreamed of returning to Sweden.  Fifteen years later, after her husband died in a work related accident, she returned to Stockholm with the children.

It was a shock for her when she recently saw the brochure offering tips to those who were married to children.  Enraged, she wrote an article on the horrors of child marriage, her own experience and why Sweden needed to be very clear that it wouldn’t tolerate such a practice.  It needed to protect the welfare of its immigrant population and stop worrying about being culturally insensitive.

It was a two page article in which she concluded, “I urge you to think about Beeta, the teenage girl who was murdered by her husband after they arrived here from Iran.  If we hadn’t been so concerned with offending a culture which fosters a practice which, in my opinion, is criminal, she may still be alive.  Instead of being concerned with the culture, protect the individual.  We need to be more responsible for the immigrants whom we let into the country and afford them the same rights and protection regardless of whether or not they are ethically Swedish.”  Her article was published in Stockholm News and was very well received.  Many shared her views and Twitter went viral, calling for the government to do something to end child marriage in a country known for its commitment to child welfare.

Asya turned now to look at the shelter she ran for victims of honor-based violence and oppression.  Most of them were the same ages as her daughters.  She determined that she would continue to fight for them and those who weren’t in her care.  Unlike the politicians and the government, she was going to be morally sensitive to the victims of forced marriages and speak out because as long as child marriage exists it will stand in the way of gender equality.  She had to do this for Beeta and others like her.

Marriage is for adults, not for children.  Children have the right to be children.

This story is based on true events.  Sweden struggles over child marriage and many are calling for the rights of children of foreign backgrounds to be protected.

This story is in response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Turning for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

Sources:  The Guardian; PsychologyPolitico; Express

The Gazebo

When Aubrey got the job of photographer at Harper Magazine, she didn’t expect to meet Olivia Cromwell, the famous mystery writer or fall in love with her brother, Brent.  The way Brent and she met was quite unexpected.  It happened one afternoon when she had accompanied Susannah, her employer to the Cromwell estate in Yorkshire.

It was Aubrey’s job to take the photos while Susannah did the interview.  So, after meeting Olivia and taking photos of her, Aubrey left the Victorian style drawing-room to explore the rest of the manor.  She wanted to take pictures of the study where the writer spent most of her time, working on her novels.  And of course, she had to explore the sprawling and immaculate grounds and see the gazebo where the wedding ceremony scene from Olivia’s latest book was filmed.

She went into different rooms, admiring them and taking pictures.  It felt really good having the freedom to do this and was grateful to Olivia for being so accommodating.  Not everyone liked having a perfect stranger roaming about unsupervised in their homes.  As she wandered down the hallway, she hoped that she would find her way back to the front foyer from where she could access the grounds.  She would just have to rely on her memory and sense of direction.

There was a door straight ahead.  It wasn’t open like the others but slightly ajar.  Was someone in there?  She approached it cautiously.  When she reached it, she nudged it open a little wider and looked in.  It appeared to be empty.  She went inside what turned out to be a fairly large sun-room.  Antique and modern furniture were juxtaposed with very impressive results.  Bright sunshine streamed through the large French windows.

She crossed the carpet to look out and was greeted with an obstructed view of the grounds and the looming mountains in the distance.  How pleasant it must be to see this every day.  Life in the countryside must be very peaceful and stress free.  What a welcome break it was from the hustle and bustle of the city.  It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop…

She heard a sound behind her and swung around, startled.  A tall figure had stepped into the room from an adjoining room.  He was wearing a white vest and held a blue shirt in his hand.  Heart thudding she watched him warily, wondering who he was and why Olivia hadn’t mentioned that he was here.  Suddenly, she felt like an intruder and her gaze shifted to the door she had come through, desiring to leave.  But, she stood there, rooted to the spot, transfixed as their eyes met and held for what seemed like eternity.

He was very attractive and looked to be in his mid to late thirties.  There was something very familiar about him.  Where had she seen him before?  She wished he would put on his shirt.  The wide shoulders, broad chest and bare chiseled arms were very distracting, not to mention the narrow hips and long, muscular legs in the faded jeans.  His hair was slightly damp as if he had just taken a shower.  When he pulled on his shirt and began to button it, she couldn’t prevent the sigh of relief which escaped from her lips and she saw his mouth twitch.

“Are you lost?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No, I’m not lost but I feel as if I’m intruding so, I’ll leave—”

He moved closer.  “No, please don’t leave on my account.” A pause and then, “Which publication are you with?”

She blinked at him.  “Publication?”

“I assume that you belong to some publication and that the reason you’re here has to do with my sister.  She mentioned that someone was coming over today to interview her.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes.  I’m Brent Montague.”  He finished tucking his shirt in his jeans.  “Now you have me at a disadvantage.  You know who I am but I don’t know who you are.”

“I-I’m Aubrey Williams and I work as a photographer for Harper Magazine.”

His gaze dropped to the camera in her hand before they returned to her face.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Aubrey,” he said, extending his hand.

They shook hands.  “I didn’t think that anyone was here or I wouldn’t have come inside,” she said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said quietly.  “It’s not every day that I walk into this room and find a beautiful girl with a camera.”

He was still holding her hand as he staring down into her face.  She wondered if he could hear how fast her heart was beating.   “Do you live here?”

He shook his head.  “No, I’m just visiting.”

“I-I really must go now,” she said, looking down at their hands, hers buried in his.

“Why are you in such a hurry to leave?” he asked.

“I’m not in a hurry,” she protested.  “I just wanted to take a walk on the grounds before Susannah is ready to leave.  I was hoping to see the gazebo where the scene of the wedding in Olivia’s book took place.”

“Would you like me to show you around?”

“Yes, thank you.”

He released her hand and she preceded him out of the room.  They walked down the hallway, through the foyer and out of the house.  There was so much to see.  The immaculate landscape seemed to stretch endlessly, dotted with colorful flowers and she paused at the fountain.  It was truly a work of art, reminding her of the ones she saw in Rome.  She felt as if she had stepped into a Jane Austen movie.  He took her to the gazebo and stood on the small, arched footpath, watching as she snapped pictures from different angles.  “It’s a perfect place for a wedding,” she remarked as she walked over to him.  “Has anyone ever gotten married here?

He shook his head.  “No, but my niece Marianne would have been the first if her fiancé hadn’t broken off their engagement a month before the wedding.”

“How awful.”

“Yes, it was a terrible shock for everyone.  It will take some time for Marianne to recover.  Right now, she’s in Barcelona.”

“Do you know why he broke it off?”

“I think he got cold feet.”

“Does Olivia have other children?”

“Yes, two sons.  One lives in Paris and the other in Barcelona.”

She wondered if he was married or had a girlfriend.  She couldn’t imagine that a man like him would be unattached.  After casting a furtive glance at his hand and not seeing a ring, she asked him, “Have you read any of Olivia’s books?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  She dedicated the first one to me.  When we were children, she used to read bedtime stories to me.  One night, she decided that instead of reading from a storybook, she would make up a story.  Her stories were so exciting that I didn’t want to go to sleep so our mother ended up reading to me but whenever we were alone, Olivia would tell me her stories.  I encouraged her to become a writer because she had such a master at it.”

“And now she’s a very successful one.  I’m a big fan.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”

“I’m twenty-four.”

“You look much younger.”

“Is that why you called me a girl when we were in the sun-room?”

He smiled slightly.  “I believe I called you a beautiful girl.”

Suddenly feeling very self-conscious she looked away, her pulse quickening.

“I’m sorry, Aubrey.  I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“I’m not embarrassed,” she replied.  “I’m very flattered.”

“I can see that you’re not used to compliments.  Don’t you receive any from your boyfriend?”

“I don’t have a boyfriend.”

“Good.  Then, there’s no one to object to my inviting you to have dinner with me tonight.”

She blinked.  “Dinner with you tonight?”

“Yes.  That unless you have another engagement.”

She shook her head.  “I don’t.”

“Then, it’s settled.  I shall see you this evening at seven.  Where do you live?”

She gave him her address.  “I’d better join the others now.”

“I will escort you back.”  He started back to the manor, walking at a leisurely pace so that she could keep up with him.  In the foyer, he bade her goodbye, adding, “I’m looking forward to seeing you later,” before he headed off in the opposite direction.

When she joined them in the drawing-room, Susannah and Olivia were waiting for her.  “Ah, the wandering photographer has returned,” Olivia remarked.

“We were beginning to wonder why you were,” Susannah said.  “You must have gotten quite a lot of photos in the time you were gone.”

Aubrey nodded.  “I did and I met your brother,” she said to Olivia.

“Ah, yes.  Brent.  He’s very charming, isn’t he?”

“Yes.” And very exciting.  Just talking and thinking about him made her stomach do somersaults.

“Is he still dating that French model?” Susannah asked.

Aubrey held her breath as she waited for Olivia’s reply.

“Heaven’s no,” Olivia said, waving her hand dismissively.  “He ended that relationship ages ago.  Don’t know why he got involved with her in the first place.  I never did like the girl.  She was vain, possessive and not very bright.”

“Is he seeing anyone now?” Susannah asked.

“No.  He’s put relationships on hold, I think.  Now, I shall ring for some tea and scones which we can have on the patio.  It’s such a lovely day. Too lovely to be cooped up inside.  Oh, Aubrey, dear, do you know where Brent is?”

Aubrey shook her head.  “We parted company in the foyer.”

“What a pity.  I was hoping that he would join us.  Oh, well.  I suppose he had some errands to run or something.”

Tea arrived about five minutes later and as they chatted over mouth watering scones, Aubrey wished that the rest of the afternoon would pass quickly.  She couldn’t wait to see Brent again.

It was five minutes to seven and she was ready.  She stood in front of the full length mirror to make sure she looked all right.  He called her a beautiful “girl” but tonight she wanted him to see a beautiful “woman”.  The knee length navy blue, wrap dress with the V neckline and spaghetti straps hugged the contours of her body and the nude strappy sandals flattered her shapely calves.  Her hair was slicked down, giving her a classy, twenties look.  No makeup, only lip gloss and simple but elegant jewelry adorned her ears and neck.

The doorbell rang.  She glanced at her watch.  It was exactly seven.  He was very punctual.  After another quick glance over her reflection, she went to answer the door, her heart racing.  When she opened it, her eyes ran involuntarily over Brent’s tall frame.  He was dressed in a black paisley dinner jacket, black silk shirt, no tie and black trousers.  His hair was slicked back, giving him a polished look.  Her heart was in her throat and she seem to have trouble breathing when she saw the way his eyes traveled slowly over her and then alighted on her face.  She saw admiration and something else shimmering in their depths.  “Hello,” she managed to say.

“You look ravishing,” he muttered, his expression tense.

“Thank you.  And–and you look very handsome.”

His expression remained unchanged.  “Thank you.”

She excused herself and went for her handbag.  After closing and locking the door, she preceded him to the lift, aware of his eyes on her.  She was so nervous.  This was her first date ever.  She hoped he wouldn’t find her company boring or tiresome or regret asking her to dinner.

Thankfully, the evening went much better than she anticipated.  Over a sumptuous meal, he helped her to relax by telling her funny and entertaining stories.

When they were having dessert, he said to her, his expression serious, “I want to see you again, Aubrey.”

She looked at him.  “I want to see you again too.”

“Do you know that after we parted company this afternoon, I couldn’t stop thinking about you?  I kept wishing the hours would go by quickly so that I could see you again.”

She laughed.  “I was wishing the same thing too,” she confessed.

“I don’t know what it is about you, Aubrey Williams, but you got to me in a way no other woman has ever done before.  I felt it this afternoon when I first saw you.”  He reached over and took her hand in his, his eyes intent on her face.  “I hope I’m not moving too fast for you.”

She could hardly think straight with him caressing her fingers with his thumb.  It was having a curious effect on her stomach.  “You’re–you’re not,” she managed to say breathlessly.

“It’s just that I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.” And it scares me.  “I want more of this. More of you, more of us. Together.”

“I want this too,” she said, her heart racing.

He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.  The feel of his lips on her skin made her tremble and she felt that strange sensation at the pit of her stomach again.

After dinner he took her dancing.  That night marked the beginning of the rest of their lives together. Visitors to their home couldn’t miss the beautiful framed wedding photo of them kissing in the “perfect place for a wedding”— the Gazebo which was decorated with flower garland.  At the bottom of the photo on the right side were the words, Happily Ever After.

Sources:  Carrocel; Archadeck of Central GA; Pinterest

The Ball

Monica was walking on the immaculate grounds of Whitmore Manor where her friend and co-worker Alex invited her to spend the afternoon.  It was the day before the annual charity ball and already there was a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air.  This was to be her first one since she only started working with Alex in autumn of last year.

As she pondered over what to expect, her gaze drank in the beautiful landscape which spread before and around her.  She was so caught up in her surroundings that she didn’t notice the tall man heading towards her until she almost ran into him.

Her eyes flew up from his broad chest to his face.  Her breath caught in her throat when she found herself looking into classic handsome features.  Dark, wavy hair, dark brown eyes, chiseled nose and his lips…she realized that they were moving which meant he was saying something.  She pulled herself together.

“I–I’m sorry,” she apologized.  “I was so busy admiring the place that I didn’t see you until a moment ago.”

His eyes were riveted to her face.  “And, you are?”

She held out her hand.  “I’m Monica.  I’m here because of Alex.”

“Jared.”  He grasped her hand.  “Does he know you are here?”

“Yes.  He brought me here to spend a quiet afternoon.”

“Where is he?  He’s not a very good host leaving you out here by yourself.”

“He didn’t mean to desert me,” she said, trying to act calm when her heart was racing.  Jared was staring at her with those penetrating eyes of his and he was still holding her hand.  “He had to run an errand and said that he would be back shortly.”

He released her hand then and shoved both of his in the pockets of his trousers.  “So, how long have Alex and you known each other?” he asked.

She put her hands behind her back.  “September will make it a year,” she said.

“You’re different from his other girlfriends,” he noted as he studied her face.

She was about to tell him that she was not Alex’s girlfriend when Alex himself showed up.

He came from behind Jared.  He grinned at Monica.  “I see you have met my big brother,” he told her.  He turned to Jared.  “Thank you for taking care of Monica while I was gone.”

Jared inclined his head.  “It was my pleasure,” he said before his gaze shifted to Monica.  “It was nice meeting you.”

She smiled at him.  “It was nice meeting you too.”

“Excuse me.”  He turned and walked away.  Monica was sorry to see him go.

When they were alone, she turned to Alex, “He thinks I’m your girlfriend,” she told him, looking very displeased.  “What gave him that impression?”

“Well, the only women I brought here to meet Mother and Jared were the ones I dated so when he met you, he naturally assumed that you were my current girlfriend.”  He looked at her.  “Does it bother you that he thinks that we are dating?”

“Yes, it does.”

Alex groaned.  “Don’t tell me that you have fallen for his dark, brooding looks too.”

“Is that why you never mentioned to me that you even had a brother?”

“It must have slipped my mind.  Anyway, let’s talk about something else.  Are you all set for the ball tomorrow evening?  I won’t be able to bring you, I’m afraid.  I have to be here, greeting the guests.”

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it.  I’ve never been to a ball before.  Is everyone going to be there?”

“By everyone, you mean Jared.  Yes, he’ll be there–he and his brooding looks which always seems to attract the ladies.”

Monica looked at him.  “Do I detect a little bit of jealousy?”

Alex sighed.  “Yes, I am jealous and have been since we were children.  He was always getting the attention and the girls.  That hasn’t changed.  Just once I would like to find a woman who will be immune to his charms and prefer me instead.”

Monica tucked her arm in his and gave him an encouraging smile.  “I’m sure you will find such a woman.  Now, this woman would like a tour of the grounds, if you don’t mind.”

He smiled.  “It would be my pleasure.”

It was the night of the ball and she entered the room, her eyes wide with wonder as she espied the magnificent room and the beautiful decorations.  When Alex saw her, he whistled.  He was standing by the entrance receiving the guests with his mother and Jared.  She was wearing a strapless cream chiffon gown and her hair was swept up exposing her long, slender neck.   “You look amazing,” he said as he kissed her on the cheek.

She smiled.  “Thank you.”  Her gaze shifted to Jared who was staring at her.  He looked absolutely gorgeous in his black tuxedo.  Even in her heels, she had to tilt her head back to look up at him.  “Hello, Jared,” she said shyly.

“Hello, Monica,” was his quiet reply.  He had a curious expression on his face.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to be here.”  She lingered there for a moment before she moved reluctantly away.  She could feel his eyes on her as she greeted his mother.  The older woman beamed at her.  “You look lovely, my Dear,” she said.  “I am delighted that you could come.  I hope you enjoy yourself.”

Monica smiled.  “Thank you, I will.”  She moved on, taking in the atmosphere, the people.  She saw a few of her co-workers milling about and she joined them.  At dinner time, she sat at the same table with the Whitmore family.  She was seated next to Alex and opposite Jared.  Every now and then, she raised her eyes to look at him and found him already looking at her.  Each time their eyes met, she felt her heart race.  No one else seemed to notice.

The food was amazing and afterwards, there was dancing.  She danced a couple of dances with Alex who was in very high spirits.  Then, as she was about to follow Alex back to the table, Jared barred her.  “Dance with me,” he said and wordlessly, she acquiesced.   Her heart did a somersault when he pulled her to him and they moved to the music.

He was a terrific dancer and his movements were fluid.  She was acutely aware of his hand in the small of her back, their bodies inches apart.  He smelled really good.  It felt wonderful dancing with him and she wished that it would last.  At one point she looked up at him and he was looking down at her.  His eyes were dark and smoldering and a muscle throbbed along his jaw line.  They didn’t say anything but the moment was charged as their attraction for each other was palpable.  She saw his gaze lower to her lips and they parted.

“Mind if I cut in?” Alex’s intrusive voice startled her and she felt Jared release her.  Then she was in Alex’s arms and he swirled her away as Jared walked stiffly off the dance floor.  For the rest of the night, Alex tended to her and she didn’t have a chance to dance with Jared again.  She left the ball feeling frustrated, especially after his cold manner toward her when they said goodnight to each other.

She tossed and turned all night and in the morning, she decided that she would go over to Whitmore Manor and straighten things out with him.  She couldn’t let him continue to believe that Alex and she were dating.  Last night it might have seemed that way, though.  She let Alex have it last night when he was driving her home.  He was sorry and he told her to drop by the manor and talk to Jared.

She finished her breakfast, showered and pulling on a pair of dress jeans and a yellow top, she left her condo.  She took the train from London to Surrey and then a short taxi ride to Whitmore Manor.  The place seemed quiet—she supposed it was because it was a Sunday morning.  She hoped Mrs. Whitmore wouldn’t mind her dropping by unexpectedly.  She ran up the steps leading to the front door and rang the bell.  As she waited she looked over at the spot where she first met Jared.  How handsome he looked that day in his denim jacket over a black shirt and tan colored trousers.

The door opened and the butler stood there.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning.  Is Mr. Jared Whitmore at home?” she asked.

“He is but he gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.  Perhaps, you would like to see Mrs. Whitmore, instead.  She’s in the drawing-room.”

“Yes, thank you.” The man stepped aside to let her into the foyer.  He took her to the drawing-room and after informing Mrs. Whitmore that she had a visitor, he left.

Monica went over to the armchair where the woman was seated.  “Good morning, Mrs. Whitmore.”

Mrs. Whitmore smiled when she saw her.  “Good morning, Dear.  How nice of you to drop by this morning.  Did you have a good time at the ball last night?”

Monica nodded.  “I did.”

“It was an extremely good turn out and I believe that this year we received more donations.”

“Mrs. Whitmore, I came to see Jared but was told that he didn’t want to be disturbed.”

Mrs. Whitmore sighed.  “He’s been cooped up in the study all morning.  Can’t imagine what he’s doing in there.  He hasn’t had any breakfast.  I have a good mind to send a tray in to him.  You know, that’s exactly what I will do.”  She pulled the cord beside her.  “He needs to eat something.”

“Mrs. Whitmore, do you mind if I take it to him?”

“No, not at all.  You may be a welcome distraction.”

A few minutes later a maid appeared and Mrs. Whitmore asked her to prepare a tray for Mr. Whitmore and to bring it to the drawing-room.  As they waited, Monica and Mrs. Whitmore exchanged pleasantries and spoke of the ball.

Then, the maid went in carrying the tray.  “Thank you, Janet,” Mrs. Whitmore said. “Set it on the table over there.”  Janet did so and left the room.

Monica went and took it up.  She went to the door but stopped, unsure of where to go.

“The study is down the hall here and on your right.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Whitmore,” she said gratefully before she departed.

Her heart thudded with every step as she went down the hallway.  She set the tray down on the floor, opened the door and pushed it open.  She took up the tray and went inside.  She stood at the door.  Jared was sitting at the desk backing the door but when he heard it open, he said.  “I gave strict instructions not to be disturbed.  I don’t take kindly to having my orders disobeyed…” his voice trailed off when he swung the chair around and saw her standing there.  “What are you doing here?”

She stood there, unsure of what to do next.  He was standing now, his expression guarded.  “I brought this tray for you.  Your mother said you haven’t eaten.  She’s concerned about you.”

His gaze shifted to the tray and then back to her.  “So, she sent you with it instead of sending Janet?”

“I offered,” she told him.   “I needed to speak to you.”

“Set it on the table over there.   What do you need to speak to me about?”

“It’s about Alex and me…”

His expression darkened at once and he dragged his fingers through his hair.  “Never once in all of my years have I ever been jealous of my brother.  Not even when I see how our mother continues to pamper him as if he were still a child, but that all changed when I met you.”

She stared at him.  “What do you mean?” she asked, looking confused.

“I am jealous of him because of you, Monica.  From the moment we met, I wanted you.  That’s why I said that you were different from his other girlfriends.  I was never attracted to any of them.  You were different because I was immediately and deeply attracted to you.  Last night at the ball, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  I watched you dancing with him and wished that I was the one dancing with you. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and that’s why I asked you to dance with me.  The way you felt in my arms…” he closed his eyes at the memory.  “It felt so right.  I asked myself how could something that felt so right be wrong.  I wanted to kiss you so badly but just then, Alex came and claimed you and I had no choice but to step aside.  I watched you with him for the rest of the night, kicking myself for falling for a woman who belonged to someone else.”

It took a moment for Monica to answer because she was stunned.  She couldn’t believe what she just heard.  “Jared, I don’t belong to Alex,” she told him.  “He and I are just friends who happen to work together.  When you and I met, you assumed that I was another one of his many girlfriends and when I tried to clear up that misunderstanding, Alex joined us.”

“My brother has a knack for interrupting at the most inopportune moment.”

She took a step closer.  “That’s why I came here this morning, Jared.  To clear things up.  I couldn’t go on letting you believe that I was in a relationship with Alex when I am not.  Alex knows how I feel about you.  He knew it since the first time I met you.”

Jared moved around the desk so that he was standing in front of her.  “How do you feel about me?” he asked, his expression tense.  His hands were at his sides, aching to hold her.

“I never thought it was possible but when I met you it was love at first sight,” she said, her feelings unguarded.

He pulled her into his arms then and he muttered, “I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you and I felt like a heel because of Alex.  That’s why I have been cooped up in here all morning.  I was sitting here, thinking about you and feeling guilty.  And now that I know Alex and you are not romantically involved, I feel like a guilty man who has been granted a reprieve.”

She reached up and cupped his face between her hands.  “You have no reason to feel guilty anymore,” she said, “We are both free and we both know what we want…”

“Yes,” he groaned and his head swooped down.  His mouth closed passionately over hers.

She sighed and closed her eyes as she responded to the kiss which she had been dreaming of since last night at the ball.

Source:  Trainline

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