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Noémi Jourdain
Here is misery, but we have life.

Noémi was born in Félix Pyat, a poor cité in the quartiers nords of the deprived, crime-ridden city of Marseille. Dilapidated tower blocks marked impenetrable fortresses of systemic poverty. She remembers her mother’s window boxes most clearly; the fragrance of kitchen herbs that masked the permeating stink of constant damp. With a young child in tow, her mother was already struggling before the unprecedented disasters of the 20s, and it proved the final knot in the noose. The housing estate became a living graveyard, condemned and crumbling around them. Despite the structural insecurity caused by the earth’s quaking, most people simply had nowhere else to go. Later that year, when one of the buildings finally fell to kill over five hundred sleeping residents, the air was choked with death and dust for weeks. Less time than it was even reported on the newsfeeds.

Noémi is not sure she was ever really young, and she does not recall a time when knowing what her mother sometimes had to do to feed their empty bellies was a revelation and not simply an understanding of survival. As such she grew up accepting of the transactional values of life; that even necessities might have staggering costs. On quiet nights she would fall asleep tucked against her mother’s side, the feel of her fingertips smoothing the hair from her brow. Mon petite cœur. My precious girl, she would sing like a lament. Do not grow up beautiful; instead, grow up clever.

During her early years, nationalism was on the rise in the northern districts, where a staunch war on immigration had already been raging for decades, and sentiment was deeply anti-ASU. Protests marched, calling for France to finally care for her own people, or to fight for them if she could not, rather than hand herself in chains to Russia. Chaos caught the district and spread like desperate wildfire. Each morning dawn poked at the burnt out husks of cars littered abandoned on residential streets. No one ever swept the smashed glass or boarded up the looted carcasses of shops. Gunshots were a nightly lullaby Noémi remembers with fear, and sometimes still wakes from nightmares of. But less than five years later France annexed alongside her European sisters to the open arms of the Ascendancy.

Afterall, the sheep follow the grass.

With renewed stability brought about by ASU rule, life eventually eased its burdens, if it might not be called comfortable. In her early teens Noémi began to dabble in poetry and photography as an adjunct to her lonely life. At school she was deeply studious, and won no friends because of it. The ostracisation was at times painful, and it did not feel natural to her, but even back then she knew she did not want to spend her life always reaching hand to mouth as those around her did, generation after generation. Neither did she wish to be a sheep, to blindly follow the grass, content only with necessity. She had felt keenly its absence; knew what hunger felt like when it gnawed like endless pain, but she had been touched by a new disease; the aspiration of dreams.

One day, she promised her maman, One day I will take you away from this. I will take you to Moscow.

It became the symbolic pinnacle of her young ambitions, that fairytale place of colourful domes, so utterly untouched by the ruin befallen the rest of the world. She studied hard, galvanised by the prospect of escape, for no one ever did, not from Félix Pyat. And she began to let herself imagine a future without the borders of poverty; a future she would build for them both.


There’s no fairytale ending for you, Noémi. Happy endings aren’t for people like us.

It started with little things; an unexpected smash from the kitchen while Noémi was cramped at her desk drafting an essay -- just an accidental slip of fingers, maman laughed. Or, the occasional, soft slurring of words that pulled Noémi from her reading to ask her to repeat what was said. Once her mother fell on the stairs up to the apartment, and Noémi returned home from school to the flashing lights of an ambulance outside. 

But small things built; inconsequential. Until they crushed a mountain.

The diagnosis, when it finally came, was devastating. The prognosis left them both numb.

At fifteen she watched ALS begin to rob her mother slowly and deliberately, collecting up little pieces at a time. Sometimes in the evenings she would set aside her books and curl up next to her maman in bed, startled each time at the frailness of atrophying limbs. Grief plugged tight in her heart. She cherished the fading trail of fingers through her hair. “There’s no fairytale ending for you, Noémi. Happy endings aren’t for people like us,” she said once, while she still could. “So we must hold tightly to the good things while we have them.”

The words stuck. As so much of her maman’s advice always did.

Art was her salvation during those years, providing both documentation and outlet. She has never shared her work from this time; it is deeply private. By the time her mother was admitted to a hospice for palliative care, Noémi had dropped school entirely. She missed her exams, and never regretted the choice made; to hold on to what she had, while she still had it.

After her mother’s death, Noémi applied for several scholarships, but was unsuccessful. She had no resources to fund her education further. 

At seventeen she was alone in the world.


Following the grass

Destitute but resolute, Noémi finally made it to Moscow as she had always promised, but it was not a city kind to her circumstance. Opportunities for work were limited for a girl without even a highschool diploma, and the cycle of necessity gripped her tight. Hunger, an old friend. Fear, a new one. She survived, perhaps not unscathed. Money no sooner earnt flushed straight through her fingers, and she struggled for a long time, sometimes without even a roof over her head. In the end it was not hard work that saved her, or a clever mind, but dispensation of scruples. Everything has a cost. Nothing is given freely.

Grow up clever, not beautiful, maman warned. And she had tried. She had worked so damn hard. But it was beauty that kept her fed; beauty that kept her warm; beauty that kept her alive.

Just as it was art that sheltered her soul. Not from the injustice, though it might have been called that, but from the stark coldness of reality.

Inégalité was a project she started during this time; candid photos of Moscow’s underbelly. Character portraits and poetry; brief snapshots into the lives of those who lived and bled and suffered; who smiled and loved and dreamed. All far beneath Moscow’s bright lights and glamour. They were prostitutes and dancers, drug dealers, and political refugees, and ex-convicts. But they were also mothers and lovers and children. The work was published online, but anonymously. Through a camera lens she was one of them, but apart too, and it was a distinction that kept her going; made sense of a world which attempted to swallow her whole, then snarled and tried chewing her up when that did not work.

When she finally got on her feet, and scraped enough money together, she began night classes. Noémi had never stopped her own learnings, a regular at the library when she’d had nowhere warm to go, and her mind had ever been bright and inquiring. But she was always so tired sometimes she fell asleep on the desks. By now she’d secured a receptionist job during the day, and still sometimes took shifts at exotic clubs on the evenings she was not in class. Yet she was barely making enough to cover rent. Hard work never shattered that glass ceiling, but by now it had been a long time since she’d been looking for the fairytale ending of her teenage aspirations. 

By her mid-twenties she’d amassed enough secretarial experience to begin an arduous climb up the corporate ladder. The work wasn’t fulfilling, but it began to pay better. She still lacked qualification on paper, but she was organised and articulate, with good references. And finally, she was able to start saving for the first time in her life. She has never sought to publish her continued personal work; much of it autobiographical in nature, reflecting on both the human condition and her own experiences. It is dark and beautiful, and often bleak in its honesty. Sometimes she releases anonymously online, where the pieces disappear quietly into a vacuum, or so it feels. Occasionally she seeks freelance projects, either as a photographer or writer, but can’t rely on the income.

Recently, now approaching thirty, she has begun a new job at the Kremlin, an assistant role in the Consulate of Public Engagement, Propaganda, and Interdominance Relations. The wage is good, and she no longer has to balance multiple jobs to make ends meet. She can’t quite believe the fortune. But she’s struck by wariness too; that the opportunity won’t last. That something will inevitably happen to send her spiralling back down. 

Noémi is a considered and loyal cynic. Life has taught her time and again that even the most deserving are trodden upon; that life by its very nature crushes. Despite it, she will fight ardently for the things she believes in, to a point of stubborn fault -- which is to say, she simply doesn’t give up, even at personal cost. 

She is independent, intelligent, and strong, but such qualities lie beneath a demure and collected facade, to glint like treasure at the bottom of a river. Often she will hold her tongue, particularly if unsure of the reception she will receive. She is hard-working and diligent, with little personal life, and feels she must strive harder than everyone else in order to earn her place. Nothing in life is free. Everything has its cost.

Noémi desires to fit in with those around her, and has a longing for deeper connections with others, but often ends up feeling rootless in the effort, like she does not belong in the world she was born to, yet neither to the one she strives to fill. Sometimes she perceives that this is because she feels superior to those around her, but other times she just feels different -- the odd one out. Nonetheless her manner is warm, if she most often maintains a professional distance. With those she perceives to have treated her wrongly she is cold without reserve, but chances are given fairly first and she is rarely if ever vindictive. Rather, she chooses not to waste her time.

When in comfortable company, Noémi is both passionate and outspoken. The surprising flood of her personality can be unexpected to those who do not know her well; likewise the ardent and vociferous manner in which she will meet a debate for the intellectual challenge. Her desire to transcend the poverty of her birth has little to do with a love for the material, and everything to do with a yearning to conquer the impossible. She finds it difficult to accept help she doesn't feel she has first earned, for ultimately she fears being perceived as fraudulent, an impostor to her own success. And she is always waiting for the bubble to burst.


Noémi is possessed of a lovely if seldom seen smile, at least not in true earnestness. She is wary to trust an excess sense of happiness, for she usually finds it a precursor to things beginning to fall apart. Golden brown hair falls in waves to her shoulders, and her eyes are dark enough that most do not realise they are in fact blue. Her accent is lilting and musical, and she has a fondness for perfume, favouring subtle scents. Her sense of style and dress is timeless, most of her wardrobe thrifted. She is often seen carrying an old-fashioned notebook and pen; the type that might easily slide hidden into a pocket.

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