It rained. She showed up. She showed up lost inside her hair.
She was picking at her teeth with a wire brush—toothpick, mirror, and comb—It was raining. We drank coffee; smoked; we eyed each other guardedly. Then we ate a tuna salad with tomatoes and some scrambled eggs. Drank coffee; smoked; eyed each other guardedly. It rained all night.
All night long she told me her life story in a voice sometimes monotone sometimes fiery, hoping to change me she said. By dawn the rain had stopped. She left brought low by my inability to promise an eternity to her. She left lost inside her hair and tears worrying her cheeks with her wire brush. Truthfully I knew well what she wanted, what had driven her to speak to me in this way.
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Women fear frogs. She feared Palma, but above all she was jealous. I want you all to myself she said. I tried in vain to make her understand that in this place everyone is for himself alone and God is for no one… In the morning when the rain had stopped she left in a rage threatening to return with the police, to sue me for having betrayed her… She left. She showed up for real. Her chilly fingertips let me know. I am in a graveyard of absence. Abdoun, trans. The rain had stopped but it was foggy.
An empty shell of a day. A chamomile day. A deworming day. A one-way day. A day wrapped in barbed, rusted, electric wires. A half-blind day.
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A pus-filled day. A bald pimp of a day dressed up in a Napoleon hat. A swimming upstream day. An indecent day.
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The streets were steep and slippery. People gathered together in groups on the corners. Anyone who lost his footing was dead. It was necessary for people to walk in small groups and cling to each other in order to keep from slipping. When the rain stopped the silence of long days of bad weather was replaced by a tremendous brouhaha. Impossible to distinguish a clear utterance. People talked just to talk. They waded through an uncertain language. I left my garret.
All I had with me was an ash-gray piece of lichen, a pair of moth-eaten socks, black glasses, and an old transistor radio. In the streets the people grouped face to face. They went spontaneously towards each other as if old friends. They were quickly removed so as to not block circulation. Though some groups were more audacious than others. They succeeded in freeing their arms—which were long—to keep their balance, and with their hands cupped in front of their mouths they shouted jackal-like cries through the opaque air and then waited, serious and satisfied, for the returning echo of their voices—which plunged others into ecstasy and fright by turns—.
Afterwards they noisily applauded and embraced each other. Unable to applaud, the others let out great incomprehensible and lacerating cries.
As for me, I knew the score. These acrobats were pranksters. Some of them, well hidden, stooped down to catch hold of their feet while they launched their cries and jiggled about. I went out to join the group festivities. But really I was running away. I was afraid that she might return with the police. Here the price you pay for indifference to love is permanent incarceration.
I shaved the walls walking sideways like a crab. I was careful not to lift my feet, which would have been fatal. I made rapid progress to my great astonishment and to the surprise also of Abdoun, trans.
But because they were so numerous they became lost in disorderly gesticulations and dreadful curses as they watched me move away from them. In the end I have no idea how long this went on nor how I found myself under the full sun amidst the palm trees in the area near where Palma lived.
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I turned on the transistor. At the sound of the music Palma leaped out of the water. It was our signal. She croaked with joy. Bright and always cheerful she understood why I was fleeing. After all she was the sole creature who understood me. Vapors of hot air danced on the caramelized asphalt. I was walking therefore on-in-my memory, with Palma in my shirt pocket and the transistor turned on full blast. I wanted to listen to the news one last time.
It was the news hour. National anthem. Freedom of movement is once again possible. From now on we can move about without the risk of a deadly slip. The mail service has been reinstated and the stores have reopened. They do their best to sound aggrieved while reading off the list of victims.
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On it I recognized many of my own. There will be a rally at noon in the square in front of the large mosque. There will be an hour of silence to mark the memory of those martyred by these bad times. The evening will be devoted to festivities of all sorts. In this way the newly disappeared are added to my graveyard. Speak not of ancestors.
It began with my father. At my first birth cry he vanished.
His voice was lost in a deadly fog. Many others followed. All I had left was my old blind grandmother whom I drove every Friday, acting as her eyes, to the graveyard—a windswept and sun-beaten graveyard. A miserable graveyard, tired from birth. An undemarcated graveyard, the kind that crops up just any old place. A graveyard barely above ground level. A graveyard to put brakes on your death drive—I was the transitory and itinerant bitterness in the murky ocean of her past.
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