My life is expected of me. I was told I had been given it.
I have to write; for school. What do I feel about
it doesn't matter; it's a trap. They want to know what I am like, so that they can use me. How far will they go? They were supposed to teach me to tell the truth; I am learning to lie.
"Are you working
Dad just went past - did he stop? -, past the open door to my room. Having justified his role as father - "I'm keeping an eye on my son's schooling" - he settled down (I listen to the noises of the house in the same way cats do) to watch a game.
No, I'm not allowed to dream, I have to feed on others, on the great writers I am told to read; like a pot plant which, to grow, only has whatever is put into the earth in its pot to feed on. But without light, which no-one can transform, it dies.
I'm dreaming. What is dreaming and what is working? The girl next to me in class has hair like baked apples. I have to write about the holidays that have just come to an end - holidays spent with family, says the title of the essay. If the hair is my cousin's it is work just to think about it, and to tell the teacher that it's none of his business. What should I have said to Dad, who has already forgotten his question?
It's words that they expect from me in the essay. Man invented words; they're convenient for killing at a distance. How can I find a link between a word and life? I write: "I can see her hair". One's throat does not tighten at a word. I write my name, my class, the date: what can my mind add to that?
Do I have to write the essay so as to become a writer or so as to learn how to fill in questionnaires? "Do you agree to be a slave?" Who ever would answer "Yes" to such a question? But who would be surprised to be kicked out of school for not having been obedient?
Where is the magic mirror that tells the princess who is the fairest of them all? "Mirror, mirror, tell me who I am!" The mirror shows me who is behind me. Men; and they reply: "We say you are
", but who are they themselves?
One day, I asked the girl next to me: "Is your hair your mask?" She laughed, I could see her teeth. I know the men in the mirror, they are here in the classroom, they talk to me, they tell me... I should listen to them but I can only hear their mask.
They shouldn't have told me about Greek tragedy and then told me to be good.
In class, so as not to speak, the girl next to me writes what she thinks. I heard whispers: "They've got secrets!" Does that mean she writes only for me? Of course it's for me. If someone else were to read the note, all they'd see is words.
And yet one day someone did take one of the notes. He showed it to his friends; a group formed in the yard. I could hear them laughing, tittering, talking perhaps. "It's very beautiful", said the note; it was referring to a piece of music. The comments were excited. So it was possible to get sense out of words that had no meaning. What the girl next to me had written did not exist; the only thing that existed was the group doing what groups do. Was it a spark of interest or just a desire to mock me that caused one of the boys to ask me a little later: "What do you find very beautiful, then?" I said: "Finding someone capable of reading what's written". I started thinking about the group that would want to decide my life by reading my essay.
Am I the only one to dream? But I'm not dreaming. I think about what is around me, without anything moving in my head; it's just a look. In a dream, images appear, shift, change, something flies, time perhaps.
If I don't do my essay, that doesn't mean my thoughts will stop. My teacher will notice that my essay is missing; his life will be changed, because he will no longer be able to let himself be pulled along by a protective reality. He will have to speak of his own accord, without the help of an order from outside. Other employees at the school, my parents, will see my teacher's comment coming, like a dead fish in a calm river that dulls sight. They will stop for a moment and life will get a bit of a head start. In a dream you are carried off despite yourself, unable to resist - no respite. It's a real dream of sleep. If I don't do my essay, will I wake them up?
Telephone. The girl next to me in class.
"I didn't go on holiday to family", she tells me.
"Did you tell him?"
"Yes. He said, 'Just make it up, then.'"
"If you were fruit
"If I were
"If you were a sweet, you'd be a toffee."
"What are you on about?"
I'm not afraid of silence on the telephone, nor is she; my mother talks quickly to give herself the time to find what to say.
In the end I say:
"I imagine things that don't exist."
"So do you."
Another silence; I go on:
"If you make it up, like he tells you, he'll say that you're off the subject."
"But it was him that told me to."
"No; what he wants is for you to say that you went to family anyway."
"Even if it's not true? I mean, I don't mind lying, but how can you lie if you don't know anything?"
"If you imagined things that weren't true and they became real!"
"Like in a fairy tale?"
"No. You can change a life with a lie."
I hear her laugh; a quick laugh. It stops you from thinking. I don't catch the beginning of her reply.
a good mark!"
"That's all that matters, isn't it?"
"Yes. Yes, if you're not afraid of a life that doesn't exist."
She doesn't answer. When it's complicated she doesn't answer. She waits. I go on:
"I wasn't talking about the essay, Toffee. Imagine if you were salty
"It's you who calls me Toffee; you can't hold it against me if I'm salty."
Silence. "Mummy's calling me", she says and hangs up.
I have to call her back. It will help me to write my own essay. She was counting on me.
She was counting on me. She was counting on finding help. I was the one who could help her. I was that help. What about me?
I felt myself disappear, my eyes staring. I was supposed to do, I was supposed to say; having done, having said, I disappeared. I was supposed to resuscitate at the next time of asking.
I have to call her back.
I hear my father and my mother, living in silence. Should I too be asking them for help? They will write an essay by people who know, not by someone who is learning. Who learns, and who repeats?
"Toffee, they weren't there when you arrived for your holidays; you went to a friend's, not far away."
"And when they got back?"
"Very glad not to have you on their hands. You stay with your friend. You can always
"The bird plays dead when the cat catches it", she says ironically.
"Are you the bird?"
"You're the cat, that's your reality."
"The cat will be there tomorrow, when I hand in my essay."
She didn't answer. A few moments later I heard her mother's voice in the distance: "If you haven't got anything to say there's no reason to monopolise the phone!"
"Holidays with family", she murmured; then: "I get back from holiday tomorrow morning, see you in school!" she said brightly and hung up.
The cat was indeed there; with tepid resignation he watched the essays pile up on his desk. From time to time his gaze would stop on one. What bird did he see? Why was he so hungry when I was expecting him to feed me?
Toffee had already forgotten the essay. Her mind was again as smooth as water after a drowning. A tiny part of me died in that essay. Tiny and unknown; I hardly knew it myself. I shouldn't think about it. Death was still a long way off.
A note: "Come round to my house, the last lesson's cancelled". I nod. What values? I hope the cat doesn't ask me anything; I haven't been listening. How much does moral cost?
The classroom seems big. On the other side of the window, in the street, people are walking; they are watching me. They built this school; there are thousands of classrooms, there are high walls, there are all sorts of things that I can't see in this school, and how many outside, behind other high walls, which I can't see either; and behind the window panes headmasters that the people in the street also watch.
It weighs heavy on me.
Toffee answered the cat's questions; still holidays, but those of a great writer. The cat pulled his head in; Toffee was too big a bundle of feathers to swallow. She said: the author showed, suggested, conveyed
It may have been true, but it wasn't what counted for her. She wanted to step out of her skin so as not to be recognised; she was the pupil repeating a prayer - word after word, making no mistake. The more she disappeared, the more the pupil triumphed, the more the cat seemed satisfied, the less happy he appeared.
A dusting of rain fell from the sky. Toffee had left her coat open; it wasn't far from the school to her house. Dew gently covered her face.
"Why didn't you answer?" she asks without looking at me. "You don't like the text."
"Nor do you."
"I don't care about it; but you have ideas, don't you?"
"The cat has his!"
"The teacher. He reminds me of a cat."
She stopped and looked down, then said slowly:
"You didn't want to contradict me?"
"If you go to a funeral and talk to a friend who is burying her father, would you tell her she's wearing a pretty dress?"
She glanced up at me, almost without lifting her head:
"Why, if it's not a funeral, do you talk to the girls about pretty dresses?"
"I'm talking about
" I grunt.
She walked on quickly.
There's nothing like a good tea to take your mind off deep thoughts. Toffee played me some music she had bought.
"Easier to listen to than to play", I said.
"It's like cooking: easier to eat."
We laughed; she added:
"And you don't have to learn how to eat."
A life was going by on the TV; two of them, looking at each other, talking to each other.
"Do you think he'll tell her", whispers Toffee, sitting like me on the carpet.
"If he does, she'll go."
Toffee is right; it's serious, a broken life - a life that doesn't exist.
Our two lives were not on TV; they were on the carpet, waiting for what the pictures prevented from seeing.
"You don't think about yourself, watching TV."
Toffee turns towards me, surprised:
"Why do you say that?"
I don't know what to say; she adds:
"Do people think about themselves when they're doing homework?"
Toffee never thought about herself. Toffee always thought about herself. She thought about what made her smile with pleasure, never about what she was or why she smiled. I knew why she wanted to see me, I didn't know why I was there. When she told me to come round, someone other than myself said yes, and that other person was me.
Very amusing! Like an essay in class.
"You see, she didn't go!"
A quick reaction is called for; I say:
"Because he didn't tell her!"
She laughs out loud:
"You weren't listening, as usual"
"Yes I was, but
"But you didn't understand. You never understand anything; it's always too simple for you!"
"If it's simple
"I know, you're going to be right; pass me the jam."
She had the jar in her hand.
A key in the door; Toffee's mother had just got in. Time for a change of thinking; reality appeared, there was no longer any place for perhaps. There was only one answer to every question, the right one - or the conventional one. "Have you done your homework? - I haven't got any for tomorrow." Toffee could have said "I'm not hungry" if her mother had asked her "Have you had tea?"
The dialogue stopped there; neither Toffee nor her mother had any decision to take. No-one had given them orders, neither of them had to obey.
Homework. Something that must be done. Must. Something owed to those who have given. But who gave me thought? And to whom do I owe it? It is not immaterial creatures that want it of me.
"You ought to do something instead of playing all the time!"
"Yes, Mummy, but we're not playing, we're watching
Mummy has already gone, Toffee hasn't heard her own words.
"We have to revise our history", she says to me, turning off the TV.
Half an hour of dates and battles. Her father comes home.
"Working, are you? Ah, history! It's important to know the past. All those great men! Much better than hooligans fighting each other in the street."
We're on our own again.
"Hooligans don't do enough damage to be heroes", I say under my breath.
We say nothing.
"We have to revise our history", she says again.
It's late; history has been revised. It's dark on the other side of the window; we are protected by the light. Toffee comes over to me:
"When you go off to fight, I'll stay in the cave."
I look at her cavewoman's hair. She goes on:
"If an enemy fighter comes into the cave, what should I do?"
"The enemy fighters are too scared of me to come anywhere near!"
I feel as though I'm acting a scene. A cave appears in a forest, I can hear the fire crackling; through the window I can see cars. And yet one has to breathe in order to stay alive. I hear Toffee in the cave in the middle of the road:
"So I keep an eye on the fire I haven't lit. I prepare food I haven't gathered. What should I say to the cat?"
It's dark outside; I can't even see the light of people. I have to go
Am I alone between her house and my house? My parent's house. My house, my parent's - is it the same thing?
If I were walking alone, I could go anywhere. I'm going
If it's my house I'll be alone there, because it's my house.
If I don't want to be alone, I'll never have a my house.
When I go to Toffee's
What about her?
Music at school this morning; do you have to learn music too? A woman full of prose gives us instruction. I chatter, as always.
"Of course, you have better things to do than work!"
"I just asked him
I give Toffee a kick to make her shut up.
"I didn't know music was work."
My remark makes the employee pinch her lips. Can you sing with pinched lips? At any rate, you can certainly punish; I'd better keep my mouth shut.
We have to prepare for a concert; we are a choir; the reputation of the class, of the school
They'd take my soul if I weren't careful. At home, I ask my guitar to stay close by me when I dream.
Toffee is never punished: she has a good voice; the employee has taken it over and will exchange it for compliments. "Your soloist is awfully good! - Yes, she's studying with me." She won't even remember the girl who has such a lovely voice, it's become her own voice - Toffee would just be a nuisance.
I'm hungry; it'll soon be lunchtime. The crockery tinkles in the kitchen. Mum is in charge - I'm sure it'll be good. Dad is constructing his own ideas, reading the newspapers; I hope the news is good.
"You don't have school this afternoon
" says my father who keeps an eye on my schooling.
I interrupt, because I fear what's coming next:
"I have to play tennis
Volley, return: he interrupts quick as a flash:
"Play - that's all you ever think about."
It might be a winner; how can you defend against a father who talks like a newspaper? I stay at the net:
"You wouldn't say that if I made money from it."
A weak stroke; he lobs me:
"Yes, but even then you'd have to work hard."
I've lost the point. I had failed to understand that play, like music, is work.
"You have to beat your opponents in order to win", finishes up my father.
Killing them would be even better, no doubt. Do I have opponents in music?
I've never played worse than today. Not only against my father but on court. My opponent is delighted; he's won - primus inter nullos, but he doesn't care about that; in a moment he'll engage in demonstrations of friendship, as effusive as his victory was easy.
After the game I hang around with him and his sister, who came to see the end of the combat. She's a year or two older than him; she looks at me as though I were emerging from a chrysalis.
"What's on your mind these days? You look as though you're hunting another planet!" she says in her musical voice.
"I thrashed him
" gloats her younger brother.
"It doesn't seem to be hurting him", she answers, in maggiore.
I lower my eyes; she's looking at me, I know. I don't move. Her voice comes to me, dolce:
"Who questioned you?"
I sometimes accompany her on the guitar; her voice is too soft, she can't hear herself in a choir. Did Aoide sing solo?
Who questioned me? Why today?
It's time to go home now. Time for dinner; time to talk - to talk with those who ask questions so as to extinguish their own thoughts. Time to
and then time to sleep.
The Earth is flying, towards over there. I stay on Earth, I go towards over there. I always have done. Even if I run away, it is towards another place on Earth. I find busy men everywhere. And for them, it is their business that counts; if they catch sight of me they wave, or catch me. I must do like them, they tell me.
I mustn't meet too many people. I can't do everything. And who would want to understand?
It's not another planet I'm hunting, it may be a cave. In what way is it different if the cave is in my mind?
Today, Toffee has come into the cave; there was no door. What does she want of me?
I woke up as dawn was breaking; I was still dressed. Where had I slept? My mother knocks on my door, I must be late for school. I'm hungry; I'm very hungry. The Earth carries on, it takes me into the kitchen. Mum is worried:
"Did you not sleep well? You look tired."
"I had a bad dream."
"I told you not to eat so much cake!"
I am slow to respond.
"Have you done your homework?" Mum asks.
"I've done what I must for school."
She hesitates, or thinks:
"Are there other things you must do?"
It makes me laugh:
"Yes, but on another planet!"
Mum shakes her head:
"Stop all that nonsense and get a move on."
I get a move on. School is waiting for me; Earth is waiting for me. As though I were a molecule of a large body that I am unaware of. Do leaves know that they belong to a tree? What must they do for the tree?
Afterwards, they fall.
The tree keeps on living, with other leaves. When I've left school
The school lives alone; with pupils, but alone. It lives for itself. The pupils allow it to by giving it their new lives, in the same way as the leaves give the sun to the tree.
Neither the tree nor the leaves are precious. Only the seed is precious. It must be free, because it alone is life.
The teacher wasn't happy with my essay. Toffee wasn't happy with me because I had forgotten to bring a book she'd asked me for. "You were too busy yesterday", she said.
Oh yes! I played tennis, and I
I can't say to my teacher: "I played tennis and I didn't have time
" I think it would be very serious. I can't say to Toffee - later, later - "My time belonged to my teacher, not to you", because by then I will have disappeared from my teacher's life but not from Toffee's.
Yes, I know, I was playing tennis, not in class - and I hadn't even done my homework properly for the next day.
"You messed up your homework!"
It was Aiode's brother.
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"I had an idea."
"What do you mean?"
"I wrote what I thought."
He bursts out laughing:
"D'you think anyone cares about you and your ideas?"
"Those who are interested in them."
"Not the teacher, then."
"But he's the one who asks for ideas!"
He looks at me patiently:
"He asks for ideas, not for your ideas."
"Ideas have to be somebody's
"No, just everybody's."
Time to shut up; the teacher is here. Only he is allowed to speak. He speaks if we are silent, he speaks if we ask him questions; but he never answers.
The lesson is over; words float in my head without having penetrated my heart. Am I allowed to bring my heart to school? "You're here to work!" Hearts aren't meant for work.
The afternoon sends me to sleep; somnolently I solve the day's equations and hand them in.
"I bet you got the right answers", spits a boy with a half-starved mind.
"It was easy."
"For me too: I copied off
He doesn't answer; he looks at me, lost, worried, surprised, vindictive. Exit.
I don't cheat. I have no reason to cheat. I knew how to do the problem. I know how to do it because I've learnt how to do it. He should have learnt too. And in any case, it wasn't at school that I learnt. He should have sorted himself out. If he won a point at tennis, he wouldn't go and cheat so as to lose it. When you're weaker, you lose, that's all; and don't bother the stronger.
How many people stronger than me will I meet in my life?
If I could change my life
Kill those I don't want by letting them exist. I wouldn't have done anything wrong.
Should I take away my memories? Without taking away the beings I want to keep?
If I know that I can leave any time, will I still have wants? What can you do with a game of tennis if you lose the ball?
If they want my life, is it so that I can't get away or because without me nobody would know what life they were in?
They can't swim; they all clutch on to me. I'm in the middle of a big river; the current carries us away. I have to struggle to stay afloat. If I manage, I'll go to the end of the river - to the sea, even bigger. Mist blurs the banks.
I was late. One is late when nothing is possible any longer. In this case, dinner.
My parents had invited
friends. How is the word explained in literary texts?
"How are you doing at school? Do you get good marks?"
It takes two to make a mark. What should I give in return? Learn what I am told to learn? Forget what I know?
Yes, of course! One must only listen to the crowd.
want to do afterwards?"
My answer produces the hissing of a fire that's had water thrown onto it. Silence will fall but it's too scary for my mother, who throws her voice at it to chase it away:
"Can't you give a normal answer?"
The conversation picks up again; a so-called general conversation, meaning that it concerns nobody. People talk about what others do - "afterwards", surely. They have done badly. People talk about their own success - everyone has been first. There's no point now saying that I have been top of my class: it would be banal. I haven't been top; I don't do anything like the others. My parents'
friends have stopped asking me questions; they leave me with the son of one of them, a boy my own age, reckoned to be bad at school. I suppose I've got what I deserve, since I am not capable of talking with adults!
He is very pleased. He likes tennis, so there's no problem finding a subject of conversation. He tells me about his successes: "I beat
"But you know, " he adds, "my parents think I play too much
"Yes, you should be working, isn't that how it goes?"
"Yes, that's right."
"And it's still not enough."
He's not very quick off the mark, I know. Things have to be explained. I explain:
"I got a bad mark for my essay."
"Did you mess up?"
"I didn't mess up."
"That's what I'm trying to tell you!"
"Why did you get a bad mark?"
I heave a sigh.
"Does it bother you?" he says.
I lose my thread; rather, I lose my patience. The time it takes to find something to say and he's at it again:
"Is your father cross?"
I would like to say "No, I am!", but he wouldn't understand. I'm cross with him, but perhaps only because he
because he doesn't think like me, perhaps?
"No, that's not it", I say.
"Is it your Mum?"
I don't know
I start laughing.
"I spent all day Sunday doing that essay
"It must have been hard!"
"No, it was interesting."
A winner! He opens his mouth and his two eyes and can't find anything to say. I continue, but I think I've lost my audience.
"It was a piece of homework. Homework is something you have to do - a duty. But I wasn't thinking about having to do my... duty for just a single person, a chance encounter in a school. I was thinking about those I would have to do other things for, later, and I tried to do better than what was wanted of me."
"Was that the title? It's not bad, but it's very hard."
"No, that's what I was thinking, on Sunday."
He looks at me, amused, smiles nicely, laughs.
"You're weird!" he says, drawing it out. "Hey, did you see the match
His voice perks up: the match was much more exciting.
Sunday, yet another Sunday. I'm not doing an essay, I'm going for a walk. Aoide wanted something or other do with her brother. She called me. We walk slowly; it's raining.
"He can't judge you."
She does not go on. I wait. She says nothing for a long moment.
"I went" - her voice is smooth - "to the jeweller to pick up my bracelet; I thought they hadn't mended it properly
She has a very lovely bracelet - elegant.
And he said: 'Reckon you know more than me?' 'No', I said, 'but I think
' 'You're not a jeweller, you can't tell!'"
She was walking alongside me but looked at me as though she were opposite me. Her brother is entirely incidental to this business. We walk on; the streets are familiar - empty, quiet despite the insipid noise that protects us. She says nothing, but I feel she has given me time to understand; to understand what she was going to say.
"He can only judge the essay he set you. What he wants from you is your acceptance, your agreement."
I listen to her the way one looks into empty space from the top of a cliff. I murmur:
"I kill myself falling."
I laugh - or hiccup rather. I tell her about the cliff. She slows down; it is as though she put her head on her hands in order to think.
"He holds you back, otherwise you're no use to him any more", she says slowly.
"What use can I be to him?"
She smiles sadly; she does not answer, she knows I understand. Once I have given the agreement he wants of me, I become part of the crowd.
The rain has stopped; white clouds pay us a visit. Where are they when the sky is grey?
"You can't walk on a cloud", says Aoide sarcastically.
"And yet that's what
"I know; you can. But if your judge goes with you, the cloud won't carry him."
I don't dare answer, either in words or in thoughts. I want to hide in the big white snowflake floating up in the sky. I try to find something to say.
She breaks in, laughing:
"I didn't like what he'd done; I didn't judge him."
A sun without heat tries to dazzle us; we return his smile which makes Aoide's eyes shine.
Isn't it obvious? A sort of delivery boy has come up to her. She says "Yes", what else could one say? Then they talk together. The delivery boy is a friend of her brother, someone he met at the swimming pool one day when there was a competition. The delivery boy is big and strong, he goes to university.
With a tap on the shoulder, the question could only have been addressed to me. Why should you care?
He didn't listen to my
answer. He's gone again after giving Aiode's shoulder a shake.
The sun is no longer there, I haven't turned the light on in my room; the book remains in my hands, the music gradually falls asleep.
It's still dark when I wake up. How will I enter the new day? But there is school, which closes all other doors. Oh yes, I had some revision to do yesterday evening. Let's learn.
I have to translate into a language that is not mine; so I have a language? I don't think I was born talking. What if I did have one, all to myself? Do you change thoughts when you change languages?
The teacher only asks me to exchange one word for another: that's easy. This evening I'm going to Toffee's, she's having some friends over; one of the girls only speaks the language whose words I am peeling so as to keep only the peel.
Breakfast at last. "Yes, I've done my homework. I can even tell you what it is!" It's true, I could, but the "even" isn't true.
I'm not late, I am complimented; I mean complimented on my homework. "It's good!" So it's good, is it? What is good? I must have mumbled too loud, because I am asked not to chatter.
The hours pass.
Toffee doesn't even want me to go home first; I have to go to her house straight away. She skips all the way. Impossible to say a word - not one. I wanted to talk and I can't even sulk. But I don't want to sulk! What an idea! Anyway, I'm pretty happy, I even feel
yes, happy - really.
I start laughing, almost skipping, me too. Toffee's eyes are greedy. We're there.
The friends aren't, not yet. Toffee is hungry, me too. We nibble the biscuits put out for later; chocolate to drink, chocolate to eat.
Happenings at school are the subject of conversation. There are two lives at school: the pupils have a life; the class has a life - with the teachers. The two are ignorant of each other. The happenings are simple, but go through the school walls.
"Why did she talk to him? I thought they'd broken up."
I don't know who Toffee is talking about. Oh yes! About a girl with big eyes who always looks as though she's drowning.
"He gave her a note", Toffee continues, her mouth full of cake. "I didn't see what it said."
"What's that got to do with you?"
"Nothing. She was with you earlier on
I leave a silence before answering:
"She wanted some information
"They'll soon be here; we don't even have time to watch a film."
I'm not bored. Toffee has a nice sweater; she often has nice sweaters.
Friend invasion. The parents take refuge - fortunately! - in their own quarters. The party has begun.
The party existed on its own; it gave us orders which we could not refuse to obey if we did not want to be left out. Someone would say "Oh, him!" and he would be hunted down. Not that there was any disagreement, but the party alone had to exist.
Some wanted to rise above others; and they managed to, turn and turn about. On my guitar, the highest note is a guitar note.
One spoke highly of a singer, knowing that the girl he was talking to liked him; another mentioned the qualities of a poem, which showed his own capacity to appreciate it.
The conversations were varied; everyone ate.
I was wrong; the girl who spoke another language nevertheless spoke ours a little. There was no longer any effort to be made; we knew at least whether she wanted biscuits or lemonade. She said something else as well. But the party commanded the translation, like the guitar the note. It wasn't even clear whether the translation came from the one who spoke or those who listened. The dreams stood aside from the words.
A quiver of curiosity caused me to seek shelter from the swirl of her words; what was the origin of that appearance which alone was perceived?
"Come and give me a hand - in the kitchen; we're short of orange juice."
In this case the appearance was entirely consistent with Toffee's request. In the kitchen, while busying myself with what we had come for, I embarked on a long conversation.
"A word is a cloud; a cloud that can change into rain or move away, white as white, in the blue sky."
"You always say the loveliest things. Come on. Let's get back to the fun."
We go back to the living room; a girl wearing blue up to her hair is protesting:
"No way! We'll be back in school soon enough! Tonight, I do what I want!"
"The way you speak", replies an intellectual, "it's like doing an essay."
Everyone has heard; there is a ripple of laughter. The intellectual defends himself:
"You think when you speak; it's the same with an essay plan."
The clan is watching. The young lady moderates her wrath: she has white skin, red wouldn't go with the blue.
"I'm here to have fun, not to think", she says firmly.
"So it is like school, then", I say. "You're here for one thing only."
Toffee starts bustling about, serving orange juice, sandwiches. I find myself at the other end of the room.
There the conversation - mandatory - is about the latest tennis tournament, which is also the next; does it ever stop, in fact? We talk about the players, but they are objects of wonder only because of their prowess. In this tournament, or perhaps another. But if they did the same things, or even better, playing with friends, they would merely annoy those they beat. "You're so lucky!" would be their only
"You haven't danced yet!"
Toffee. I have my wits sufficiently about me to say:
"I was waiting for you!"
My dancer is full of energy but her body loses all resistance when I hold her. We have to shake around, fast enough to dull the mind. I have the feeling of an eternal dance from which I could escape only by a will that would come to me from outside myself.
The sun is sad this morning and has trouble getting through the mist that grows on the ground. It's the time when the school wakes up. Like loaves in an oven, the pupils pass in batches through the gates that will soon be closed.
I wait. I wait outside; I know that I won't go in. Why?
"Get a move on! We'll be late!"
Aoide's brother accompanies his urging with a shove. I resist:
"Don't feel like it."
"Really?" he replies in a joyful tone. "How about a return match, then? Let's go!"
I no longer feel the cold that wraps around me; I can see the daylight. I can feel the vice in which my thoughts had been locked begin to unclamp.
"What's up? You look really weird!"
In guise of an answer I start to laugh.
"Hey, stop that
" he says, looking concerned.
"Our life is before us. Look, it's everywhere; everywhere, because the Gate has just shut."
"Maybe. But on this side of the gate I speak myself, I'm not just an echo!"
He stares at me without saying anything. I return his shove, a bit late, adding:
The match was not exactly exciting. My opponent was distracted and often thought he had hit a ball out when in fact it was in. He lost without seeming to notice; having informed him that the match was over, I got this answer:
"I shouldn't have danced with her."
"The girl with jet-black hair."
I remembered my quiver of curiosity; so he had spoken with her, had he?
"Did you manage to understand what she was saying?", I said easily. "Can't she only speak her own language?"
"I thought I did."
Silence. He chews, though with nothing in his mouth.
"And she was smiling", he went on.
"So you're happy!"
I knew he wasn't. He flapped his arms then answered with a sigh:
"They didn't tell me at school that a smile has to be translated too."
"Perhaps it doesn't; perhaps it doesn't mean anything."
He suddenly seemed worried; head down, he said dully:
"I thought only words could lie."
"It's sometimes with a smile that people ask us to obey."
"Where's the lie?"
"They always say it's for our own sake."
My silence answered his.
Sunday. No school, but a walk with the parents. The weather is fine.
What is the world they talk about? In their world there are things, lots of things, things that never come to life. There are desires, desires to forget by talking about themselves through the others. There is the anger of not being
There is happiness, which for them effaces the other worlds.
Can they love me if I'm not part of their world?
My guitar has stayed at home; I can't take it with me on a walk. I tried once. "You have to choose", my father said. Me, who can't even choose the music I play. Some music I heard or which I might have
composed; the sounds follow the vague images that enter my mind as though through water ruffled by the breeze. "That's nice", says my mother sometimes. "What is it?"
"You're very quiet. Are you bored?"
What should I say? I'm not bored, I'm talking to Toffee, who must be at home right now. I can't tell them
They would see my life, I don't know whether my life wouldn't wither because of it.
There was no need to find an answer; my mother has discovered that I was cold and should wrap up warmer. I'm hot if anything, but I let it go; leaving a nest isn't easy.
I wouldn't have minded staying in my nest this morning, snug under the bedclothes. But the breakfast things are already clinking in the kitchen and school is waiting. "Have you done your homework?" Yes, of course I have! My mother wouldn't dream of asking me whether I'd learnt something important.
"You could at least give me a proper answer!"
My mother always has to be worried - she is persuaded of it, in fact. It's a bit embarrassing because I know full well that I am not sure
of my work. But how noble I feel when I reassure her. A head of state wouldn't do otherwise.
The head of state has gone to school to melt into the crowd of other heads of state.
Toffee is waiting impatiently near the gate. She hurries over as soon as she catches sight of me.
"Why didn't you call me yesterday?"
I said "Yesterday?" to give me time to figure out what was wrong. Toffee doesn't want me to; she rushes me:
"No, tomorrow! Why didn't you call me?"
"I was with my parents; we went
"I needed you."
"Was something wrong?"
"Can I only need you when something's wrong?"
Discretion forbade me to answer.
Classroom. Windows. Leafless branches which tremble where they are most fragile. Toffee had not said anything since. She was writing; I followed the movement of her hand without understanding
The teacher was talking; her voice was low and lovely - but she was leafless too. Where was I? I was far away, I was with Toffee, there, there where
I couldn't manage to understand that she was beside me. Was she near me? Yes, there
Her sweater smelt of warmth; I gradually lost consciousness
"Aren't you writing?"
I jumped; her voice seemed like a hurricane. The whole class
No, the whole class is writing. The teacher is talking. Her voice is low and lovely - she is still leafless.
Tonight I'm at the theatre. Aoide's parents had mentioned a play which makes the audience laugh. My father explained that it was a comedy and my mother laughed. Aoide's father is at the end of the row, her mother very close to it, the little brother barely separating them. My mother, sitting beside me, is keen for me to enjoy myself. My father looks as though he's thinking. When Aoide laughs she leans towards me slightly, without really looking at me.
The actors are very good; they make life to measure. There is no place for chance; it's a good play.
From time to time I forget to laugh; the stage lights seem to want to swallow me up. How can they see me in the darkened auditorium? I don't want to go there, into the light. Aoide has laughed, looking straight at me this time; I pulled a face, I think that
no, if I laugh I'll find myself up on the stage - I get the feeling Aoide wants to take me there. She laughs out loud, the line was funny; if I go towards the lights I will have to recite, I will have to recite the text, the text, the text that isn't mine, that doesn't come from me. The laughter continues, the play doesn't stop; it doesn't wait, doesn't wait for me.
The curtain must have been down for a while already. It's the interval. People walk without advancing. Aoide has manipulated the crowd to keep her parents and brother away.
"It's only a play!"
Why does she say that?
"You look as though you're thinking while you're watching."
"Not about the play, you look as though you're thinking about something else."
"I don't know. Yourself."
"Yes, you're thinking about yourself, as though it was you who had to give the actors their cue."
"The actors on stage?"
She stops, grips my arm.
"What stage were you thinking about?"
"Is school a play for you?"
Yes, school is a play for me.
"Yes, but at school my text
I fall silent. Aoide presses me:
"Your text doesn't please you? Or is it the author who doesn't please you?"
"There is no author; each character gives me the text - their own text - of the line I have to give them."
"You try to get me to say what I will be happy to have said."
She lets go of my arm:
"Are you cross?"
Does she look sad? I start to laugh merrily:
"As if! I just don't get the play; it's only to have something to say!"
She didn't believe me. I paid more attention to the rest of the play. But I still didn't get it.
Today the cat spoke to us about Greek Thought. So there is such a thing as Greek Thought; the greatest Greek writers certainly drew inspiration from it and that's why they became great writers.
"Why are they always going on about gods?" asks Toffee.
"Mind your language
"Go on! You're not in school any more."
I stretch lazily on the carpet.
"They're useful, gods; you can make up everything they say then teach it to everyone else."
Toffee listens attentively; as I do not continue, not finding the subject especially interesting, she gets impatient:
"Have you got any chocolate?"
She looks at me patiently without answering. A sigh, and she goes to get the chocolate.
"And so?" she asks again.
"Ah, the gods!"
I don't know what to say. Fortunately, Toffee has her own ideas.
"They're important, the gods. Look at everything people do for them."
"And everything they do because of them!"
I'm back into my stride.
"They give orders in their name", I continue.
"Have you seen the beautiful temples they built?"
"Yes, but what I meant was
"And the lovely statues?"
"How can I explain if I can't get a word in edgeways?"
Toffee looks at me kindly.
"Do you want some more chocolate?" she asks.
I've eaten almost the whole bar.
I haven't left any for you
"It doesn't matter. Explain."
"I'm not the cat. I just think that the gods' employees
"Who are they, the employees?"
"You know, those who speak in their name."
"Oh yes. Well?"
"Well, I think they benefited handsomely from the gods."
"Because they lived in the beautiful temples?"
"With the statues, that's right!"
"I do say silly things, don't I?"
"No, no, not at all."
"There are some girls who are cleverer than me."
I give her a look of surprise - is it only surprise?
She doesn't say anything right away, but there is no silence.
"Why did there have to be beautiful temples?"
Her tone is impatient; I seek an answer. She gives me no time:
employees, they were very important all the same; I think they were the ones in command!"
"That doesn't make the rest wrong."
"You're making fun of me."
I hesitated before answering:
"It's not you I'm making fun of. I just imagine all those
commanders; they weren't on the same earth as those they spoke to - if they spoke to them at all, that is."
Toffee listens to me without moving.
"Talk to me about something else", she says in a voice which scrapes.
"It was you who wanted to
"Yes, but you look
She is still immobile, her eyes have widened; she is silent. I feel as though I had wanted to shake the universe; will the universe destroy me?
Art this afternoon. Someone has sacrificed flowers for our pastime - I had seen some flowers in the countryside the other day, I could have drawn them. The weather was fine, I had to go for a walk. I don't like drawing flowers that are dying.
Toffee is looking closely. At the flowers or her drawing?
"Both of course!"
She has answered with a sort of
This morning she avoided the usual little notes. A sort of caution, perhaps. Why?
The teacher, of course, has congratulated her. "There, if you just add
yes, that's very good." What does "very good" mean, for these flowers that will never have any fruit?
"Do you want a hand?"
I am a little surprised by Toffee's proposal. I look at my drawing: I've hardly done anything. She smiles at me, kindly and just a little anxiously. Why?
My drawing gets bigger, looks nice; other flowers have come into existence on the paper - it's true, Toffee draws "very well".
"You can go on now", she says, abandoning my drawing.
"I'll keep it."
She hasn't moved; her pencil sketches a figure in mid-air. She turns away from me to look closely at her drawing against the light.
Today some of the boys in my class have taken me with them to see the game which is "only played with the feet", a remark made by an intellectual who prefers a more intellectual sort of game. It's the first time I've been to a match. It's interesting, you can see the whole pitch and realise how the players place themselves. At times I watch those who are not taking part in the action. I wonder what they think about; I suppose they observe and prepare
"What are you looking at?"
No, no, he interrupts me; I suppose he wasn't actually waiting for an answer.
"Did you see Krkrv? He's terrific!"
Krkrv must be the player's name but I didn't quite catch it. My neighbour is a real fan, he explains what's happening on the pitch. I get the impression he's talking for his own benefit, perhaps to reassure himself that the action really happens as he thinks it does. I see talented players tussling for the ball, like they're supposed to; it's amusing to see a trick surprise an opponent, impressive to see a ball struck hard going precisely to the desired place.
But what does he see? Him, and all the other spectators, apparently? They see magic. He watches, not with his eyes but with his mind. The ball is guided by his brain; if it obeys, he's ecstatic, if not, nothing could be worse.
I was happy just to watch; my classmates won't invite me again next time.
This morning it's raining on the way to school. It would rain just as hard even if it wasn't the way to school. I wouldn't mind taking that other way, but where would it lead? Somewhere nobody's expecting me. Toffee will never want to come with me.
Now I am in class. A note. "They were important because they said what the gods had said." I reply: "Gods don't exist." Note. "You do it on purpose. They existed for them." I snigger, on the note: "Of course; without the gods it's they who wouldn't exist!"
The teacher interrupts. We would do better to listen to the History Lesson rather than writing silly notes. I tell him they were about the Greek gods but that's not on the curriculum for today.
The teacher has asked me a question; I have read the answer off Toffee's book. The teacher is pleased with my answer. He doesn't know I read it out of a book. Toffee pushes the book over towards me in case I have to answer another question. She's pleased I read from her book.
I notice that I have gone up in the teacher's esteem. Not very much, perhaps, but still
Must I lose that advantage because the Greek gods
And if they really existed, those Greek gods, what would they say to me? Perhaps that if I could read through walls, I would go up even further in the teacher's esteem.
A note from Toffee: "If I could get the book into you through a hole in your head, you could answer everything! Through the nose, for example!" I see her laughing silently. It's true, if that were the case I would indeed be highly esteemed.
After school, for fun, I tell an older boy about the incident. He is indignant:
"If I see you doing such a thing during an exam, I'll tell the invigilator."
"Why does it bother you?"
"It doesn't bother me, I just think that
And I get a lesson in ethics - perhaps the one he's just learnt.
I'll get you!"
He has finished his outburst with the shining eyes of a hunter shooting a wild animal shut in a cage. The animal doesn't understand, but doesn't it feel that Man knows it, and isn't it afraid for that very reason? If it could kill him
Toffee takes me aside to talk to me about some homework. My mind is elsewhere.
"You're thinking again", she says.
"Do you remember the bird that played dead?"
"When you obey, you do nothing by yourself, it's like playing dead."
parents - at school?"
"Obey what has to be done."
"What we're told to do?"
Toffee starts laughing softly.
"Why are you laughing?"
"You're afraid of what you want to do."
"I don't want to obey."
"Yes, I'm afraid."
Toffee looks at me, surprised. No, I suppose that she looks surprised because
that's how she ought to look. But she has a keen look; a wound opens inside me. How long have I known Toffee? Who decides what has to be done?
The rain has gone away; I feel washed out by the afternoon's pale sun. It's good to think only about the ball that has to be hit; Aoide's brother should be the victim. But however much I think only about the ball, the ball doesn't think at all about me. And I have lost again.
We stroll back.
"I've lost my pen", he says.
Fate seems to have it in for him. I try and console him:
"You didn't like it anyway."
"But I haven't got another!" he says emphatically.
"You've just had your pocket money, buy another one!" I say in the same tone of voice.
"But I've spent it all."
He says nothing; I insist:
"Was it really so necessary?"
"No, no. No
it was for
A silence falls; I feel embarrassed.
"I've got three", I tell him nonchalantly. "Come round, you can choose one."
He smiles his thanks and, gently mocking, says:
"It'll only be a choice between two. I don't think I could take the one my sister gave you!"
We burst out laughing.
I didn't go to school today. The desire to see other lives exist elsewhere. I took a train that was going far - making sure all the same that I could get back in the afternoon. No reason, no purpose. Just to see.
I saw; places unknown to me, rather similar to the ones I usually knew. But the train didn't stop, the landscapes were only landscapes, the life I guessed in them passed by without my being able to enter into it. I imagined myself walking along that road, going into that house, talking to that man, but the landscape faded to replaced by another and I found that other road, that other house, that other man who did not answer me, whose life did not depend on mine. It was like reading a book which speaks to me without hearing me.
And yet a man did come up to me; he was pleasant, benevolent even. He stopped close to me, smiling, and said:
"Your ticket, please."
I avoided dinner that evening. "No, I'm not ill - Yes, I had some biscuits - Yes - Yes - Yes - Yes."
No, I don't feel like working tonight; in any case, there's nothing worth doing.
Who can I tell about my
journey? Anyway, there's nothing to tell. My parents? "You should have
" or "You shouldn't have
" The cat? He wouldn't say anything, but after school, when night had fallen, he would look - I was going to say with his motionless big green eyes, but that would be analogical - he would rummage around in the pile of homework to see if my essay
Aoide's brother? He wouldn't believe me. "You must have had a reason - go on, tell me!", or "You could have told me, I'd have come with you." Let us avoid other examples.
One of the girls at school - a smile full of jam, a skirt that bunches up at the waist - only confides in her dog. "At least he understands me."
Perhaps a dog
would listen to me; but in what way? A dog's way, of course. I would have to be able to speak its language - if I could learn it all. But nothing more, nothing more. The rest is lost, or bounces back towards me. As for making any sort of suggestion
What it does of its own accord, yes; otherwise, force it? But I will never be able to make it eat what its stomach cannot digest. Same as with me, yes. We do not eat the same things. What I'm really afraid of? If this dog were my master, what would it let me eat?
This morning, anyway, breakfast was huge and I was hungry. My mother was worried, but only talked about cheerful things. Through my mother's words my father launched into a speech which had more than a whiff of preparation - what a fine piece of homework that must have been! - and was intended to make me understand that personal life was acceptable only in society. The paternal thought processes had clearly been extremely well nourished by the dinner I had missed the previous evening.
My mother went with me to the door of the house, though I felt that she would have liked to go as far as the school. She knew that that was where I was going, but it was a sort of happiness to know that I was in what she doubtless thought of as a Greek temple.
The history teacher talked about less ancient times. I listened to him, thinking about one of my mother's friends; she talked about the past too, though an even more recent one. Such and such had done this, such and such had said that; all that was missing to make it into another history lesson was the time and the place.
So where was the difference? Of course, the events studied by the teacher were considered to be more important that those analysed by my mother's friend - though I am not sure she would have paid much attention to such a remark - yet the only difference I felt came from the obligations I was supposed to have towards the teacher and my mother's friend.
The objective pursued by each seemed to me to be the same: I was supposed to follow the right example and shun the wrong one. But as for choosing between the opinions of either, was there any reason that was not fear alone?
Two notes from Toffee were in front of me; they must have been there for a while because the second said: "Are you cross?" The first asked me what I had done yesterday. I replied, through the same channels, "No" and "I wasn't there."
"I know that", says Toffee, almost aloud.
Misunderstanding. The teacher thought it was directed at him. Toffee extricates herself with difficulty, plainly not having been listening. She always gets out of it, she knows how to recite her lessons.
Exchange of notes:
"Not saying anything?"
"I'll tell you."
I'll have to explain to my parents this time. After yesterday evening
My mother was disappointed. "Really? Well don't be too late, your father
Tea is sumptuous. What's going on today? I observe Toffee as she brings the victuals. She is totally caught up in what she is doing, watching with care, almost anxiety, what she puts before me. My mother does the same.
I have to talk about my
journey. Toffee doesn't ask me to, but
doesn't touch her tea, and looks at me.
I begin - awkwardly; she is still looking at me - steadily. It's like answering a question from a teacher. I stumble over the words, repeat myself. "The lives on the other side of the train window."
"You get bored when you're with me", says Toffee calmly.
"No I don't
She doesn't move; I know that
that's not what I should say. Not saying anything isn't an option either. I
no, I don't know what - yes - no - what I should say. By chance, the emotion, the embarrassment, brings tears to my eyes. Toffee drops her gingerbread.
"That was horrible of me."
I take her wrist and grasp it hard, for a long time.
She has fallen silent; she is still not moving.
A calm smile appears; slowly she nods her head.
"Come and explain that geometry question to me", she says gently, "I'd like that."
I slept well that night. At breakfast in the morning I felt like talking, my mother too, I think. By the time it took to find something to say I was outside. Aoide's brother was waiting for me at the school door. He wanted to come round after school, with a friend, he said, to work on the maths homework, which looked very hard. "Fine", I said. During the day I mentioned it to Toffee, who did not seem interested in the meeting. "Too many people", she said without looking at me.
The meeting began after we had had tea. My mother gave us bread and jam and compliments on our industriousness. And although our work was not necessarily industrious, at least it enabled us to achieve the desired result. Our relief was commensurate with our initial anxiety and we were able to move on to pleasanter subjects - which entitled us, after a little time, to remarks from my father about great decisions and putting them into practice.
It did not stop us from talking about what we wanted to. The subjects were varied and I willingly took part in the discussion. Sharp retorts, peremptory assertions, theories about the World
of girls in the class: the conversation was animated and joyful. Time went by seamlessly.
All the same we had to go our separate ways - it was late. Alone, I felt in a good mood, without apprehension; life seemed smooth.
Sleep, school. We had people for dinner in the evening; fortunately Aoide was there - with her family - otherwise I would certainly have been bored. No homework for the next day, we could talk about what we wanted to. What we wanted to. Like yesterday. Ah, yesterday! I wanted to tell Aoide what we had talked about
I wanted to tell
It wasn't words I was short of, or ideas: we had talked about so many things. Her brother had already begun the report; what he said was true, was interesting. Listening to him, I couldn't understand why I found nothing to say. What was missing? My life. A life spoken by him seemed to me not to be my life. There was everything but nobody. Neither me nor him. Yesterday evening's conversation could have been taken from a play; and this time the text was by me, or at least some of it was. So was my life devoted to a play?
Again. Again, again and always. The conversation becomes general.
You have to work to succeed.
"You don't work at school, you learn", I say.
The conversation continues: the young, responsibility, life - ah yes, life, what life? - the cold weather, art, poetry that doesn't exist any more, the
What if I had to relate this conversation? I can still hear yesterday's, of which this seems to be the continuation.
"When you're older
I have caught the phrase on the wing; so nothing will change then, when I'm older?
"You have worked hard."
I don't know how the compliment was meant for; me, perhaps. I say again, rather loudly:
"You don't work at school, you learn."
The conversation stops. My mother passes a dish round. My father speaks:
"If you want to learn properly you've got to work; I
"If you want to learn properly, there has to be something to learn."
A guest says thank you for the dish.
Aoide speaks up, doubtless flying to my rescue:
"Not everything is equally interesting but even so there are some subjects
"Do you think our parents know what we learn?"
My father speaks:
"You have a curriculum which corresponds to your class
I want to interrupt but don't.
for each subject. Your teachers know better than you do what helps to train your mind
This time I do interrupt.
"Better than you too?"
Aoide's brother joins in:
"Look, as long as you get good marks
"Well, don't complain if one day your father finds fault with you; if you look, I'm sure you'll find someone to say you're right."
My words seem to surprise him.
"Because you don't go looking for good marks, I suppose?"
"I don't need to go looking", I say calmly. "They come of their own accord!"
"Stop it, you two", exclaims Aoide. "You're annoying everybody."
'Everybody' was not annoyed, 'everybody' wasn't listening; their conversation had become general again. I have no part in general conversations.
The parents in the sitting-room, us three in my bedroom. I can't manage to slip into the conversation even though I'm part of it. A couple of words with Aoide and his brother breaks in. I'm happy to talk with him but with them there would have to be two of me. Meaning none of me.
"You've got to go through it", he says. "Afterwards you'll be someone. Me too", he adds, laughing.
"So to be someone you first have to accept what the others want."
"That's what I think too", sighs Aoide, "but even so school gives us
She doesn't know how to go on.
"A bracelet depends on the jeweller who made it
or repaired it", I reply sarcastically. "You weren't happy with your jeweller; you changed to another one, I believe."
"She's never happy with anything; you know how demanding she is!"
"To the point of changing the curriculum?"
"She's not the teacher
"He couldn't change anything even if he wanted to
Aoide stares at me.
"You're right", she says slowly. "We ought to know who designs the curriculum."
"There must be specialists to do it", suggests her brother.
"Specialists can only decide things about their speciality; my father said something about training minds, but who's the specialist in that? The maths teacher, or the jeweller, who perhaps also decides what should be in the curriculum for teaching jewellery?"
"Oh, give us a break", mutters the little brother.
Aoide says nothing, then
"I haven't even changed jewellers."
I have got up late this morning. It's dark outside; it's going to rain. What shall I do today? Work, of course. I don't feel like doing anything. I slouch over to the kitchen, get something to eat. I'm not hungry.
"Are you ill?"
My mother is worried; I usually get up earlier.
"No, I just didn't feel like getting up", I reassure her.
"Do you want something to eat?"
"Aren't you afraid I won't be hungry for lunch?" I ask, laughing.
"Come and have something to eat."
I'm still not hungry; the rain starts to fall. It's dark. I nibble my bread; jam.
The sitting room; I leaf through a newspaper - yesterday's. So the whole world wants to know that a dog has bitten a man - it might have been news if it had been the other way round - and that another - man, I mean - hurt his leg falling off his bike - no, actually, he was in a car, so it must be more serious; at the other end of the world - I exaggerate slightly - interest is centred on two brothers who are both running for the position of president of some sporting body - one, it is true, that federates all the nation's sportsmen and women, though I don't think it's called a federation; a whole city, far, far away, will be scrutinising, with all the excitement of an explorer, a detailed statement of the daily expenditure of my neighbours - that makes a lot of neighbours, it is true; the whole country will study, rather better than at school, one speech given by politician X and another by politician Y, who holds opposite views; and a baby has just been born in a country no-one's ever heard of into a family no-one's ever heard of, but almost died - of something very rare, to boot.
"Taking an interest in the news?"
My father is surprised; hardly surprising, since I never read the paper.
"When I read the paper, I feel as though I'm snooping on the neighbours from behind a curtain, even though what they do is none of my business."
"The political news has a bearing on your life."
"You mean on everyone's life."
"Yes, but yours too."
"What do you mean? Aren't you like everyone else?"
I don't answer; my father gets impatient.
"Well, aren't you?"
I still don't answer. Why should I? If I say what I think, it won't be what I'm supposed to say, it won't be the opinion that has the right shape and size and fits into the right place. And who would want to change the shape and size and place to fit me?
"Of course, you can't be like everyone else!"
Of course. If it's so obvious, why bother
And yet I do manage to slip in a remark, heard somewhere sometime.
"Everyone has their own personality
To tell the truth, I don't really know what it means; my father has already launched into his speech. I am not capable of listening to it all, or hearing it all, I don't know which. Was that "personalities which get involved" or "personality which gets involved"? If it's the former, it means there are more than one.
"You're not listening!", says Dad crossly.
"Did you say personality or personalities?"
"I don't understand."
He does understand in the end, but I'm not in the right place in his tirade. I am smiling slightly; it's like in class, it wasn't in today's lesson plan.
"What are you laughing at?"
I wasn't laughing. Oh yes, that's right, I had smiled! What can I say? But my father is off again already:
"You don't realise the responsibilities
They are certainly not the same sort of responsibilities as those I usually have to assume. They are there to absorb criticism if I have not been perfect, whereas those my father is talking about are of a higher order - the responsibilities of those who watch over me; and they are above criticism, so I am the only one who can be called into question.
My thoughts must make it look as though I am paying attention; my father seems satisfied:
glad you're listening to me seriously. Of course, people can have their own ideas, but their diversity gives rise to conflict. If everyone were willing - had the courage - to drop their own ideas and modestly take up other people's, mankind could at last live happily!"
"Are animals happy?"
I don't know where my remark came from. My father seems less satisfied:
"I thought that for once you wanted to have a discussion with your father, but I can see
"I do want to have a discussion, really. But you want someone else to talk in my place, someone you would hear echoing the world in which we live
"Can't you speak plainly?"
"That's just it; an echo is always plain - all it does is
"I know what an echo is, thank you very much!"
"Some echoes are deformed, like distorting mirrors. But if you look in a distorting mirror, it's always yourself you see."
"You're very complicated today", exclaims my mother, coming into the sitting room.
"Our son is a great philosopher", says my father, in the tone of voice usually reserved for the thickest of the thick.
My mother thinks it is time to spread oil on troubled waters.
"Come along now, it's Sunday today!"
Sunday! That's the day
"Sunday! That's the day you don't have to wake up", I say aloud.
"You see?" says my father.
"I've made a nice cake
I wasn't listening but the cake had no trouble getting through. I felt my thoughts beginning to scramble. I am irritated.
"I'm supposed to say I'm happy, and it's true, I am happy
"So if you're happy, it's not a reason to be cross!"
"I'm not cross, Mum, but I'd have to talk about cake all my life just to make you happy!"
My mother has stopped - what's the phrase? - arms akimbo, but it's what she's thinking that I find akimbo. I'm a bit ashamed of that kind of thought. At least I haven't said anything; is that enough to temper my embarrassment?
"If I'd known
"No Mum, the cake, it's all right, I meant something else
"Since you're such a know-it-all", breaks in my father, "you should be able to make yourself understood!"
"I'm happy to try. Here we go. When I talk, I'm never supposed to let anything out of the ordinary appear
"You mean anything upsetting."
"It's the same thing, Dad, it's the same thing. But if I'm only supposed to talk about familiar things, I can't ever talk about myself. It I talk about a cake, everyone knows what a cake is - there are others
"But you", breaks in my father, "you're unique."
"You never told me I had a twin!"
Mum is bothered:
"Is there something wrong?"
I laugh, but without humour.
"The sort of something wrong that people know how to cure?"
"Something wrong at school?"
"Yes, Mum, but no; not at school; here. School is here. You got rid of me by sending me to school. That's where I have to be all the time, even when I'm here, at home. You don't show me what life is; you want school to do it for you. You want it to be people who don't care, people you don't know, people you don't know anything about. Children are told not to follow a stranger in the street, but I have to be at the mercy of the same stranger if he's part of a group accepted by
everybody else, as Dad said just now."
A silence has fallen in my head; a great silence that has spread throughout the house. No-one can speak. My mother should be rattling pots and pans - but no, we are all in the sitting room. My father - I'm not looking at my father; perhaps he doesn't want me to look at him. Movements seem difficult to make; moving
the bird doesn't move in front of the cat. The cat makes me think of school, where I will be tomorrow, where he will be too. "Write about a Sunday at home, drawing on memories from your reading
" No, the memories are mine; reading is meant to help you organise
the first thing is to make a plan
My father is looking at the carpet. My mother is weeping softly.
This morning I left without having breakfast. At school - did I go to school? - I heard the burble of professorial discourse; Toffee spoke to me, I saw her crying - no, she wasn't crying, it was just droplets of fog on her face.
the fog has followed me through all my classes today. Toffee spoke to me; I would have liked to understand
understand what she was thinking, through her words which I could not hear.
She is worried. I don't want her to be worried because then she'll ask me
no, she asks nothing, she has surrounded me with biscuits, orange juice, with
She talks, or doesn't, I don't know. I must answer her, I must eat the biscuits, I feel good, here, on the carpet, as usual.
Back home, to bed, time to sleep. "You'll be tired tomorrow at school ", my mother said. My father nodded with resignation - that's the effect his nodding produces, but in fact he may be thinking something else - during dinner, he talked about his business, or politics, or both.
I'm not tired and I'm not sleepy. I've done what has to be done for school tomorrow. What if I hadn't had school tomorrow? Would my mother have said: "You'll be tired tomorrow at
"? Must I be well-rested only for school? "Of course, that's where you learn
", my father would say. He's right; that's where. So there's no point living, anywhere else? "Oh yes, you can play when you've finished your work!". My father has often said so. At school, you have to work; elsewhere, you have to play. "Nobody's forcing you to play!" I don't know who would say that - me, perhaps. But if I do something that isn't what I've been told to do, what is it called?
"Disobedience, of course", laughs Aoide.
I'm at her house because her brother has asked me to fetch a book he had lent to a friend. "You look sad", she has said, and I have told her yesterday evening's deep thoughts.
"You can laugh; me, I wonder whether I exist."
"That's not the sort of question that would bother my brother much", she says, still laughing.
"No, really. I went to get the book from his friend; he wasn't in and his sister didn't even notice I was there."
"You just went to get a book. Does it annoy you?"
"No, that's not
I really don't care
"So it would seem."
"She didn't notice that a human being had appeared
", I say angrily.
"Should she have gone down on her knees?"
Have you ever watched dogs together? They don't see each other
"Haven't you ever seen dogs playing together?"
"Of course I have. That's not what I mean. They don't see each other - they aren't aware of each other. That girl didn't see me!"
"She's not the only girl in the world; I can see you, I think."
"Yes. Yes. Yes, you can see me", I say jumpily. "But you know me already. She didn't. So does that mean she can only see what she knows? In which case how do you see something for the first time?"
"Calm down. What's she like? I don't know her."
"I don't know."
Aoide smiles calmly:
"You see? You didn't see her either."
I have opened my mouth to reply but nothing comes - not a thought comes to my mind. I can hear Aoide talking to me; I don't know what she's saying but it does indeed calm me. I don't understand - I was calm, I just wanted to understand
"I just wanted to understand
I've interrupted her in the middle of a sentence. She gives me an amused look.
"What did you want
I interrupt her:
"I don't know what you want to know."
"I didn't ask anything."
"No, I mean the girl, I don't know what you want to know."
"Yes, you asked me what she was like."
"What she's like
"Yes. What she thinks, or
if she has blue eyes?"
"I'd rather know what you think", says Aoide slowly.
"What I think about her?"
"No, about you!"
"What I think about me?"
"No. Are you unhappy?"
I don't open my mouth this time. After a moment I say:
"How is one happy?"
"If everyone's happy with you."
"If I think
"No-one can know what you think; they can only know what you say."
"You mean I can lie?"
"No, just that it's impossible to say a thought. It takes a whole chapter to describe a landscape; a thought's much bigger."
I wonder if I am frightened. But of what? I look at her squarely:
"Would you like to read my mind?"
"Yes, like when you open
Aoide smiles kindly.
"It would be amusing", she says after a pause.
"Yes, especially when it comes to closing the head again."
The silence is full of shivers; Aoide's murmur pierces it:
"Sometimes you frighten me; if you weren't your age
"I'd still be the same, and you would know me."
"But I do know you! You said so your
"I know, I know. But you would know me knowing that I would still be the same
"Yes, but if I were to change, you could say: 'He's changed'."
Aoide tries to laugh; her voice comes out jerkily:
"Because I couldn't
"No. As you know, children grow up. Adults are
adult. When I'm an adult I will no longer be entitled to grow, or change. If I change, people will hold it against me. 'What a liar.' 'I thought I knew him.' 'You can't count on him.' Whereas now, all that people expect of me - hope of me! - is that I will change. - 'Hasn't he changed, your son!' Followed by a rictus of joy: the son will soon be joining the ranks of human statues."
Aoide's brother is back; he's in his room. He has seen us, motionless and silent, and thought it better not to say anything. Perhaps he thought that we were having an argument and that he would embarrass us. I must tell him
Aoide breaks into my thoughts.
"You want to stay the same but be able to change as well
"If the world around me starts to change, what will people say of me if I stay the same?"
"That you have character - or personality."
"'Which you acquire by growing up', as my father would say."
"The caterpillar has to turn into a butterfly", she says softly.
This evening I'm still not sleepy. Nor do I feel like working. I've hardly eaten. "I've got a cold", is my excuse. A good one; Mum has surrounded me with her affection - colds don't think.
The maths homework was easy; I did it without even noticing. "There's no merit in that", my father tells me in such cases. "It's work that should be rewarded", he adds when I try and protest. Maybe he's right after all. Man, through work, has managed to make aeroplanes. It's not birds that should be rewarded; no, they get eaten. Was there a first bird? The one that wondered if it were possible to fly? Did it get eaten too?
Toffee has phoned; she's stuck with her maths. I don't feel like going into explanations; I dictate and tell her I'll come round tomorrow to "give her a lesson". That makes her laugh. "Thank you, kind sir", she says, the tone of her voice showing me that she is curtseying.
A strange impression; worrying, perhaps. The feeling of an obligation - can I add: decided by myself. What obligation? The solution to the geometry problem? No, no, that's not it. I told Toffee
no, I gave her
no, it's as though I had brought what she needed and that I was the only one - no, that's silly, anyone could have done the same thing! Anyone.
It's three o'clock. Three in the morning. I couldn't have stayed there
I must have gone to sleep. Fortunately my parents didn't notice anything amiss; they must have thought I was working and then gone off to bed. I'll get into bed too. A strange impression, but not worrying. I want to go to sleep. Tomorrow I have to go to school; I may not want to, but
I think I will want to.
The carpet is covered in calculations, the sheets of paper mixed up with biscuits; Toffee is listening with
I was going to say gratitude. I'm a little bit embarrassed; I can't see myself as a great teacher, perhaps I make her believe
But I still feel that same obligation - the one I felt last night.
"I've got it!"
Toffee's eyes are shining. She says it again:
""I've got it!"
I want to be important. I get the feeling I have only done what I ought to and fear invades me: have I done what was necessary?
Toffee rolls on the carpet.
"I never thought I could know", she says, her voice full. "I thought I could only do."
"You have to know in order to do."
"I learn; then I do what I've learnt. But I don't know."
"And this, have you just learnt?"
"No, I've understood; it's as though I had something more."
"Yes, you have what you have understood."
"No, it's something else. It's like growing, you're longer."
"Taller, you mean."
"Whatever. You're always more precise. It's good."
Her answer surprises me. What does it mean, being more precise? I ask her. She answers feverishly:
"It's like copying instead of translating
"Yes, if you change languages."
"Even without changing languages; if I live on a planet where there's nothing but dogs, I can understand, I can learn, I can know how to walk on all fours. But the dogs will still tell me that I can't do it right. Or that I'm no good at it."
I don't know what I'm supposed to be answering; to give myself time to think, I continue:
"Why I think? I do think too, sometimes."
"You know? You know a lot. You're right. People don't find it unusual for cert
for certain people to talk about what they think; if I say too
it seems odd to those who are listening to me. My parents don't listen to me, they wait for the answers to their questions. You listen to me
eat; why aren't you eating?"
A biscuit has stopped half-way to my mouth, which is probably open, I don't know.
Toffee taps my hand, the one that is free, and rolls on the carpet again.
"Mummy reckons I don't work hard enough", she says from the other end of the room, watching me closely.
She laughs, a tinkle that lingers and fills my head. How am I supposed to think? I hear:
"Only my father could have that kind of idea? Is that it?"
She lies on her front.
"Yes, it was my father who said that, not my mother", she says to the carpet.
It is time to react.
"My father tells me the same thing", I say with assurance.
"You can defend yourself against your father. We'd better finish the homework otherwise I'll forget everything."
The week has passed without entering my memory. Every day I talk, other people talk to me; at the time, nothing seems more important than what we talk about. The game, the games during which life stops even as it is challenged. It is there amongst us, life, while we play, we take it whole. The game is over, and life with it. It was a decoy, real life was elsewhere; but in that case what was it that happened during the game?
There were other subjects. I can't remember the words for which they fought; who fought, then? Was it there, that real life I cannot grasp?
The girls at school. Their concerns are not the same as ours, as us boys'. We talk to them, they talk to us; at the time, nothing seems more important than what we
no, it is they who choose what we talk about. We, the boys, just complain. Real life flies over us, too high for me. That's the life the girls at school seem to talk to.
Here's one; she's with a boy. They come nearer; the boy waves. It's Aoide's brother. That's right, he wanted
he'd mentioned a girlfriend - it must be her.
She's rather small - I'm surprised, without knowing why. She has laughing eyes, everything in her constantly in movement. She speaks briskly, smiling the way people smile at small children to reassure them.
Aoide's brother does indeed seem reassured and assumes a protective pose; he shows her off to me, describes her, explains her, not realising that her mere presence was far more revealing.
"He's told me a lot about you", says the girl, smiling.
Why does her lip, the lower one, tremble slightly? A mocking smile comes to me, mocking on account of the words it amuses me not to say: "All of it good, I hope!" or, worse, "None of it bad, I hope!". All of a sudden her smile hesitates, the trembling freezes - Aoide's brother sees nothing - and I start a laugh, crowned with mischievous eyes, which causes panic among
I was going to say the enemy - how silly.
"He hasn't told me anything at all about you!" I find to say.
Her eyes try to escape; I add:
The brother intervenes:
"I told you!"
The girl recovers her face which moves, but her eyes look from very slightly underneath.
"No, he's only joking", she says with a toneless laugh.
"That'd be something new", grates the brother.
"Not at all! Your prudence is in fact very limited."
"How horrid you are! Look at how upset she is."
"Not at all", she protests, "it's more amusing that way. Your friend is really different. No, I don't mean
oh, I don't know what I mean!"
She bursts out laughing.
"It's as though I'd always known him", she continues. "But never known him either. Yes, as though I could never know him."
The brother gives me a surprised glance. He looks down - that means he's thinking.
"I don't know how my sister ever manages to understand him."
"Perhaps she tries to find out what he wants."
Now it's my turn to stare.
My question was brusque. She looks at me squarely:
"She's interested in you."
"Interested in me or in what I want?"
"Why don't you both come round, she's in, it should be interesting!"
Nobody has realised - not me, in any case - and here we all are, the four of us.
Aoide has said the right things: "You're really nice, you're very"
nice skirt, "you're very" whatever. Her brother snaps up what suits him as it goes by, meaning compliments on his girlfriend - who snaps up nothing at all and keeps watch with a look that plays at hide-and-seek while constantly showing her eclipse smile.
"Your brother tells me you sing."
"Only for pleasure
"Do you like the guitar too?"
"It's more intimate than a piano."
"Of course", I say smoothly, "it's only got six strings."
"Will you sing us something?"
"She can give you a real concert, my sister knows lots of pieces."
"Really? I love music."
Aoide has a good guitar, a present from her father; it sounds good, it sounds clear. My guitar is softer, it doesn't like shouting so much, it dreams along with me; fortunately I don't have it with me this evening.
"You accompany really well!" says the girl after the
concert. But I don't accompany her! We are together
How silly of me! I had never thought that accompanying meant precisely that: being together. And yet that's not what people take it to mean. The girl goes on: "It's good, it's nice, it's
" and it was precise and it was expressive and it was
Aoide has sung the sadness of the one who wrote the song in order to remember.
What's a heart for when the only thing that's ever expected of you is reason?
"I'm having some friends round next Sunday. Will you come? I'd like that. And bring the guitar. We'll have a musical evening."
The invitation takes me by surprise; I would like to say no but Aoide gets there first:
"OK. What about you? Do you sing, or play?"
"No. Well, yes. No. I could never do it in public, I'm too shy."
Aoide smiles calmly.
"It's not always easy", says her brother.
The girl crinkles her eyes!
"Not for the others."
"Shy or prudent too?" I slip in.
"I prefer it when you play the guitar."
"My parents also prefer to see me doing my homework."
"Time to go", says the brother with a mocking laugh. "Whatever else, next Sunday won't be boring."
And off they go.
"Why did you accept?"
"As a favour to my brother, you know that. Much more and you'd have broken the strings."
"In any case it was out of tune, your guitar."
"Not that bad, don't you think?"
Aoide gives me a mocking smile:
"Doesn't leave you completely indifferent, perhaps."
"Yes, that's right, the
I give Aoide what is generally called a black look:
"I don't have to go, you know."
"Are you afraid of getting yourself into trouble?"
"Who would I
"That's just it. Who."
I heave a deep sigh. This conversation
"Yes, the song you sang just now; I'll be more careful with the strings."
She had sung again. That song, and others. And now, with sleep coming over me, the singing mingles with the softness of my pillow where I await the morning.
The teacher is talking; I don't listen. And yet he is talking about Earth, describing it; he is talking about a far-off country that I will doubtless never visit. The sky I can see through the window doesn't talk to me, but still it calls me. Where would I go if I could fly out of the window? To that far-off country? I don't know anyone there. Of course, I could meet other people, but I would have to begin a new life. I would speak a different language and the teacher would tell me about a far-off land. And then I would have visited that country, the one where I am now.
Toffee, who is beside me, would be a stranger. "Hello, who are you?" Toffee glances at me, I must have spoken out loud without realising it. Maybe she thought I was a visitor from a far-off land. She sometimes looks at me as though I were, as though she were wondering where I was from. I can answer: "I'm from home". But if I were only visiting this country, I would have said the same thing.
A note: "Don't look out of the window, he's watching you." Was I looking out of the window? Yes, I was. The leafless trees are getting blacker and blacker; it's raining. There may not be anything behind the clouds.
A note: "Stop looking!" This time I leave the sky for the teacher. There may not be anything behind the teacher.
Oh yes, there's some homework to be done; with a map. I don't know how to draw maps and don't feel like drawing anyway
A note: "I'll draw the map." I return the note with my reply "With strawberry jam?" It comes back: "This evening?" I give a nod and a smile I have brought back from the far-off land.
Toffee draws quickly; the countries take shape under her hand as though the Earth were coming into being. But the mountains are only a pencil stroke and the valleys have no depth on the flat paper. The rivers do not talk about their adventures - there is no talking in class.
"What's the point of drawing maps?"
Toffee looks at me with an air of distracted surprise.
"To get good marks", she says in a tone of voice that is neither affirmative nor interrogative.
"So everything we do is just to get good marks?"
"And to learn. Do you do it on purpose?"
"No. But we're only supposed to learn what we're told to."
know better than us, I know, I know. But they only know what they were told to."
"Don't you like my map?"
I look at it closely.
"Yes, it's very
"You don't like it!"
"It doesn't matter. It's only for school. And then, it mustn't be too good
"Or they'd know it wasn't me who'd done it."
"You haven't even finished the strawberry jam!"
"Don't worry, it's fate is sealed!" I say. "At least that's something I like."
"It's lovely, your map", I add in a gentler voice, "but I don't like maps. I can't like everything I'm asked to like. Or that I'm obliged to like. But I like your map because you did it for me."
Toffee turns the pages of her book. I concentrate on the jam.
I will get a good mark; the teacher glanced at my map, he liked it. How could he think I had drawn the map? Doesn't he know me at all? So the homework we give in is only reading for him, like the newspaper which he doubtless comments on like my father. Homework is done by pupils, not boys and girls, and even less so by me, him or her, by something other than names in a register. Would the teacher read a piece of homework if there was no name on it? In the newspaper, would he read about an accident that had happened to someone at the other end of the earth if the person's name, however ordinary, were not printed in the paper? Characters in plays have names too, just like in everyday life. How does the teacher manage to recognise life in a piece of homework or in the newspaper? The accident at the other end of the earth did happen; we saw it on TV. Then we watched a film in which an accident was staged. How does my father know which one is real life if he hasn't been told?
Told by who? By those who make the world, as the teacher is saying, talking about the past? They decide what is real. Tomorrow I will have to recognise that reality through the decisions they have taken. Them, not me. I just have to learn, learn what others do, learn to repeat it
ad infinitum. No, actually, I learn so that one day, when I am told, I in turn will be able to make the world. Do you have to be a good passenger in order to learn how to drive?
"Are you playing or dreaming?"
Is Aoide's brother annoyed? No, he's looking at me with curiosity. I have spent too long thinking about my move; should I move up my pawn or take his queen? I take his queen. My opponent in turn sinks into thought; I take advantage to go and ask my mother for some biscuits and juice. My opponent is still deep in thought.
My vengeful comment falls on deaf ears. I try and find some other cutting remark but my thoughts vanish. I hadn't thought about my last move
"You scared her, the other day."
I must look stupid, answering:
"I suppose you could call her that."
Oh yes, that's right, he'd come round with a girlfriend, the other day.
"Why did you say that?" I ask with a trace of anxiety.
"It doesn't matter."
He makes his move - a poor one, as I see straight away.
"Not very brilliant."
"She thought you were - brilliant, that is."
"I wasn't looking for
"You never do."
"I'm not like her."
"Of course you aren't. That's not
I interrupt him, and not to change the subject.
"I'm not like the cat either."
"It doesn't matter. I'm not like my father
"What's the matter with you? Everyone's different, everyone knows that. Is that all you've got to say?"
"The unknown is frightening."
"Ooooh, scary! Your move."
It's an easy one. But the pieces on the board get under my skin; they hold the power. The knight will only go on to the squares he has chosen in advance. The choice he leaves me is not infinite and there's nothing I can do about it. "You agreed to play with me!" he says. In fact the knight is a horse, that's the way the pieces are made.
"I agreed to play with you; so what?"
Aoide's brother looks at me, appalled.
"What's the matter with you?" he says huskily.
"What if I made a move that's not in the rules?"
"Look, if you don't want to play, just say so; it's fine with me. We can do something else."
"I don't agree with this knight!"
"Yes, I saw, you can take one of my pawns."
"What if wanted to take your castle?"
"My castle? You can't, your knight doesn't go there."
That's what the knight had told me. I try and protest:
"So I have to do what a horse tells me!"
"You can't just change the rules
"I know. Whether you accept them or not
"Hey, it's only a game!"
I pull a face. He continues:
"When it's something really serious
"A matter of life or death?"
"There you go again. You ought to talk about that kind of thing with my sister, it's not really my cup of tea."
"Would you cheat if your life were in danger?"
"Yes, of course; so would you."
"Would you turn yourself into a knight?"
"I don't get you."
He's upset; I've spoilt his game. Yes, we could cheat; yes, we could change the rules of every game. But we could not canter around a chessboard, turned into a horse. Whatever our choices, even pushed to the extreme limit, we would still be people. Even our most extravagant deeds would be human actions. The horse can go anywhere it likes - within eight squares. Eight squares.
I have the advantage in this game; I clap my opponent on the shoulder:
"I can't see where to go from here. Shall we start again? I promise to pay attention this time."
"And no more great speeches!"
We set the board.
"Will you be like that on Sunday?"
I look at him without understanding.
"Yes, on Sunday", he goes on. "We're supposed to be going
"Sunday? Of course, I
It clicks; I correct myself:
"No chess, no great speeches. If I were a snake, I'd shed a skin."
I could hear the answer he did not give: "You would keep your poison to yourself." I exaggerate; he doesn't think things like that.
We start another game. Everything's all right. And what if, one day, the snake's skin didn't grow back?
The rain has come in through the classroom window. Without permission. The window has been closed as a punishment; the cat is talking about a beautiful text for which he demands the utmost attention. The text describes loving your neighbour; you have to help each other, not abuse your strength, your qualities, your knowledge. You have to help the weak, share your possessions.
The cat is moved, his voice vibrates. He does not speak just for himself; his gaze settles on one of us, another, all of us at the same time. His voice swells to condemn, subsides to praise.
The cat's eyes gleam with goodness. I wonder who will be caught in that gleam.
There is still some time before the end of the lesson. We have to write a brief summary to show that we have been listening. The silence is disturbed only by the raindrops which knock on the window to ask if they can come in. And yet I can hear a whisper. So can the cat. His eyes flash: "I'll give zero to anyone who copies off their neighbour!"
The raindrops catch up with me as I leave school. I turn my face up to them; gradually they erase the image of the class I've just come from.
"I'm going to the library. You coming?"
Is Toffee asking me a question? In any case, she knows I'll say yes.
"I have to find a quotation I've put in my essay", she says on the way over.
"If you've put it in your essay you don't need to find it."
"I want to be sure."
"You don't often forget."
"I'm afraid of
I wouldn't like to get it wrong."
"Would getting it wrong be serious?"
"It would be sad
for oneself. Very sad."
Toffee lets a silence linger, the rain interrogative. Then she goes on slowly:
"But people are alone; they can hide. Nobody knows."
She slows down; the rain waits.
"No-one else must get hurt."
She picks up speed again.
"The library'll be closed", she laughs.
The quotation doesn't take long to find; there was no mistake. The books smell good. I want to open them; it's as though I were knocking on a friend's door. The friend is in, he talks to me; there was so much to tell me, so much time gone by since he last saw me. But what joy to have a friend like that, one who gives me everything, asks nothing of me and whispers to me: "He's got even more marvellous things to tell you." And I go towards that other friend, enfolded in his binding, who I didn't even know liked me. So many friends. Though some are missing. They weren't needed, in Alexandria and elsewhere.
"Well, make good use of those that are left and study them", the cat would say. Sorry, friends, I've got to go; I've got to study you.
"Look", says Toffee in a low voice. "I've found a text that could help us with our homework."
She's right, the text is
I skim through it, find
"No, not that bit."
She's right, I'm never able to keep to
"I'll copy the page
I break in:
"I'll do it; keep looking."
I've spoken too loudly, as the librarian points out: "It may disturb others who come here to work". I blush; she's right. I have no wish at all to disturb
I look around: everyone is motionless in front of their books. I apologise to the librarian. She hasn't heard. There is nothing I can say to all those who are working; I am alien to them.
Toffee's voice soothes me. I give my opinion - quietly - on a sentence from the page to be copied that is hard to understand. Talking to Toffee does me good. The sentence isn't difficult.
My mother is horrified to see me come in soaked through. "What have you been doing?" I tell her about the library. "But it doesn't rain in a library!" I explain: "I walked there
" It's not an explanation. "The library isn't that far", my mother interrupts. I walked with the rain; the rain said: "I'll cover you, the way you like it."
I am not wet any more, not now. My mother has annexed me eagerly; I am again in the bosom of the family.
Dinner is quiet. I have come from the rain as if from another world; my mother serves me with tender gestures, my father looks at me. I talk about the library, the books. "You like reading, good", says my father; he doesn't ask me what I read: if the books are in a library they must be good. Did the books have to get good marks in order to be accepted? If I had written one of the books, would it, being opened, disturb "the people who come here to work"?
"Don't be silly, books don't talk out loud!"
My mother ends her interjection with a laugh. I look at her with surprise; what had I said?
"Then books are allowed to enter a library", I reply without realising.
"What do you mean?" asks my father. "Readers are allowed to go in too."
My voice is a murmur:
"What about authors?"
There is chocolate sponge for pudding; I tell my mother how glad I am. "Have you done your homework?" she frets to show her satisfaction.
No, I still have to write an analysis of a piece I liked a lot. What shall I put? My ideas? Aoide's brother told me one day to talk about ideas - but not mine. It's true, I am a pupil not a teacher. I must have pupils' ideas, not teachers'. Books' ideas, not authors'. I must learn, not know; it's not for me to smell the scent of life.
Sleep got mixed up in my essay.
Maths this morning. We do sums, give demonstrations; but what can we find other than what already exists. "Without mathematics you couldn't build an aeroplane", said the teacher. "Birds don't do sums", I answered. "Do you want to give the lesson instead of me?"
No, of course I don't want to give the lesson instead of him - at least that's what he thinks. I hear from afar: "You've got to
" Oh yes, you've got to! Once you accept "you've got to" there's nothing else to be said. If the goal is set before the deed, what's the point of thinking? I must have spoken aloud again; the teacher draws himself up: "When you left home this morning, I suppose you didn't know you were going to school?" Yes, I did know. He's right, I did know.
What do I know? I know that I'm hungry; I know that I'm scared.
The following lesson was cancelled; the teacher was away. Toffee is talking with another girl. Boys are playing some game or other. One of them asks me off-handedly what I'm doing. I'm not doing anything. "Aren't you playing?" No, I'm not playing. Someone mentions the comments I made in the previous lesson. "It's always ideas with you, isn't it!" Do I really always have ideas? I'm not aware of it; if anything, I'd say I were short of them. "... and offbeat with it." What does it mean, offbeat? A long discussion ensues. "You've got to be like other people - you've got to be different from other people - you've got to follow the example of the best - you've got to be happy with
" Maybe I should say something too, but nothing comes to mind. Unless - a vague thought; it had to be possible to say of me who I was, even if
The vague thought slides away.
"If you don't follow the others, you'll fall behind."
I look at the boy who has just uttered this profundity. There is no doubt in his eyes. He is sure that the sun will come up in the morning. I answer despite myself:
"What if they've gone off to fight
The cat talks to us about poets - no, about poetry. You become a poet when you write poetry. What makes poets is their sincerity; they love, they contemplate beauty, they forget the world by becoming one with nature. Poets are admirable because they sacrifice their life to the unreal, because they are souls unsullied by all earthly taint. Dreams are their confidantes.
A slight breeze has got up; the bare branches of the trees on the other side of the window make signs to me: "We're the poets; come."
Toffee nudges me without looking at me. I have no time to react; the cat picks me out:
"If you're not interested in the lesson
I'm going through some songs with Aoide this evening. She greets us, her brother and me, with tea. "How did it go? - And you?" This and that; comments. School has trouble crossing the threshold into home. Only the parents heard it coming. "How did it go?" All you have to do is tell them. Ask them? Their life? It seems so remote, even though it's there and devoid of mystery. Aoide's brother vaunts my philosophical prowess. "When you're older", says his father, "you'll understand that you're not the only one to have ideas." I've known that for ages. What I haven't understood is why mine are only good if others have the same - and even so it depends on who. I try out a few arguments and we conclude with "The most important thing is to get your homework done!"
The homework apparently having been done - I don't really know when - Aoide and I will rehearse our songs. Songs through which I listen
"Will you play, on Sunday?" Aoide asks me.
"Sunday. You know, we're going to
"Of course, I'd forgotten."
"Forgotten? But that's what you came for!"
"Yes, I know. I meant I'd forgotten while we were practising."
"We're not going to give a concert, you know!"
no. I don't know if I really want to go."
"My brother will be disappointed."
"It's OK, I'll go. But I'll feel as though I'm begging for charity from the rich."
"What's wrong with that?" laughs Aoide. "They're the ones with most to give."
"Yes, but they have to be proper when they do it."
"Come on, play something."
We choose some songs for Sunday.
"The idea is to entertain them, not wear them out", says Aoide gently.
"By entertain them, you mean make them think of something other than what we're saying."
"If you like; everyone would rather think about things they enjoy."
"What's tiring is listening; if you listen you're no longer alone, you no longer think. Thinking isn't tiring, it just happens."
After listening to me, Aoide has doubtless thought so as to give herself a break. Finally she says, with an absorbed look:
"You have to listen at school; it may not be quite the same thing as with friends, but it's true that it's tiring."
She goes on after a pause:
"Is it because we have to learn?"
"All we learn is how to parrot things."
"That's not true; the teachers often tell us we should have our own ideas."
"Yes, as long they're about things we're supposed to be learning."
Aoide looks at me with surprise:
"You can't talk about just anything!"
"No, of course not, because I've got to get good marks."
"Well, you can talk about what you like with your friends."
"Oh really? I thought we had to entertain them, not wear them out."
Aoide says nothing. I add, almost violently:
"Friends give good marks too. The same good marks: the ones that mean you're not hounded out."
A quiet family lunch. Dad is relaxed and chatty, not having any immediate obligations. Mum enjoys the absence of issues. The bad mark I got in history was a small cloud on the horizon but it happens so often that reactions have become relatively muted. My father did venture a few comments.
"The country you had to write about is well-known for having extremely law-abiding citizens", he said. "I'm surprised at your criticisms - which you weren't asked for in any case."
"I know, I'm always doing things nobody asks me for."
"Is it to show off?"
My father's question makes me smile:
"Maybe, but it often seems to boomerang!"
"It's difficult to be appreciated by everybody", puts in my mother.
"Especially if you go against the facts", continues my father. "How can you accuse someone of going against the laws when they abide by them?"
"They're their own laws."
My answer seems to vex my father. Mum mentions dessert. The meal quietens down again. Exchange of views about politics, about people who act. My father develops the exchange of views.
The sitting room welcomes us benevolently for coffee. Dad must have been chewing over my answer.
"A country abides by the laws it has set for itself", he says. "That's obvious. I don't understand your comment; it's not going to abide by another country's laws."
"It's not the country that's another, it's time."
"What do you mean, time? Time can't be
"Laws are made one day, but
"The country your essay was about has never experienced a coup d'état or a revolution. So you can't say its citizens have trampled over existing laws so as to institute new ones."
"Your son's right", puts in my mother again. "People who trample over laws can't claim to be law-abiding."
My father gets angry: "But I've just said there's never been
" My mother retorts that there could have been
So what are these laws that do not touch on any past?
The conversation flags and dies out. The parents settled down to watch a film. I would rather go and do my homework.
Actually, I don't have much to do. Maths, just as easy as always; an analysis of a text by a great writer who isn't around to contradict it; some stupid stuff to learn by heart from the geography book. The writer? The author of the text? Yes, I would have really liked to have talked over his text with him. But it's dangerous, he could have ideas that are not on the curriculum; and as he's been dead for centuries, he won't be able to testify that it was he who told me them.
The telephone. Toffee is cross, she hasn't been able to find a sweater of the right colour.
"Your right colour was too red", I tease her. "Look for something a bit more chocolate!"
"Greedy-guts! Chocolate's just so
I thought you liked green."
scarlet; or purple. No, scarlet."
I can hear her think.
"If I were magic", she breathes, "I'd give my sweater any colour I wanted."
"If sweaters existed in every colour, you wouldn't need magic."
"That would be convenient, but it's impossible."
"One day everything will be possible", I pronounce with authority.
"If I were the only person in the world who wanted that colour, no-one would want to make it."
Toffee smiles, she's happy; I saw her.
Sunday. I have called by to pick up Aoide and her brother to go to the girl's who has invited us
to give a concert.
"Knock it off! She just wanted to see us", says the brother.
I'm not buying it:
"It's you she wanted to see. You just didn't want to go on your own!"
"I got the impression it was you she wanted to see", Aoide says to me, looking mockingly at her brother.
The brother snorts, the baiting continues and - here we are. The girl is delighted to see us; she was waiting for us; without us the day would have been wasted. "Do you know my friend? No, of course not! Do you know
" I didn't know anyone. The atmosphere was very jolly. I was bored already. "Make an effort", whispers Aoide. "Yeah, yeah, it's OK", I say, "but I don't know what to talk about." "Nobody's asking you to talk", slips in her brother. Let's not talk. But everyone is, and I don't know what about. And yet they are subjects I'm familiar with: films, books, music, judgments about friends - friends who aren't there - parents, teachers and the stuff that goes with it: good marks, bad marks. But the conversation stops just where it should be starting. At each new and orphan sentence, I have a vision of schoolchildren reciting a lesson they haven't learnt properly and that no-one had given them to learn.
Music. Pretty, nice; the girls get the boys to dance.
"Want to dance?"
The girl invites me; I wasn't expecting it. I dance badly. She laughs:
"I'll teach you!"
She teaches me nothing; she dances without taking any notice of me while looking into my eyes and smiling as though she were expecting an answer. An answer
but to what? She doesn't ask any questions. I try to say something polite. She laughs all the more and says nothing. I clutch onto platitudes. "Why are you talking?" she says in response. I
dancing without saying anything, looking at her, not looking at her, I don't know what to say
And the music doesn't stop.
"It's true you dance well", she says.
The music has stopped. She's still laughing, very loud, and disappears in the crowd.
So there has to be talking; and dancing, and more talking. A girl with captivating jade-green eyes goes on about the help that has to be given to those in need: invalids, poor people. I make a comment: "Don't rich people need help?" Everyone laughs, the jade-green eyes grow pale: "What would you give them, since they're rich?" A silence falls while my answer is awaited. I feel as though I'm surrounded.
"When you're rich, you've got nothing left to hope", I say hesitantly.
The silence thickens.
"Did men ask Prometheus if he was rich?" I add flatly.
The jade-green eyes grip me:
"He shared what he had; that's good."
"To have it, he had to
go and get it, yes. You have to make an effort to help others."
"Prometheus wasn't the only one capable of making an effort."
"He was stronger than the others!"
I reply calmly:
"So the others had to be helped; Athena was wrong to help Prometheus."
"If she had helped the others, they could have become as strong as him."
"He was the only to have had the idea of taking fire."
"The poor can have ideas too. But they have more need than others of being
She gropes for her words.
"Warmed up?" I finish.
The music has started again. I don't feel like dancing. A few other idlers prefer to chat about this and that. A literature lover is complaining that he wasn't able to get a commentary on a text he really liked: "I asked him, but it was after school and not even in school - he said he had other things to do, that he couldn't spend his whole life talking about literature and that I should listen carefully to what he said in class." I try to start a discussion with the literature lover but I am not on his level; he knows too much and I am content merely to share in the characters' lives. The literature lover abandons me. Aoide comes to tell me it's time to sing
We sing; by which I mean: she sings. I strum her guitar. But she sings well, we go from happy songs to sad songs, a single sad song, the last one, the one about the Princess. I do not strum, I play. The Princess was happy but her friend died. Aoide weeps on the last note. A storm of applause.
Suddenly I have become famous. People talk to me without saying anything; they listen to me and don't contradict me. They liked our songs; we are consecrated great musicians. Perhaps we have talent. Who will ever know? But they will know - know already, because they're applauding. The more of them there are, the more talent we will have. Or else it is enough for only one to applaud; the cat will decide if I have talent, he has the power to do that.
"You must have worked really hard on your songs!"
I don't know who said it; everyone, I think. No, not everyone, but many. My parents too would like me to work.
Aoide's brother is delighted. His girlfriend is glad to have invited us and rewards him with an abundance of smiles and kind words. It's all thanks to him. As for me, I'm glad to avoid the girl's cries of admiration.
"You play better than
She says a famous name that I don't recognise. I have not avoided the girl's cries of admiration. Since I am an artist, she talks to me about what she likes; music, painting, sculpture, mosaics, monuments - she likes everything. And speaks eloquently about them. Aoide's brother is delighted and glad that we came.
"I'd like to do mosaic", the girl tells me, "but it's such hard work; it takes a very long time, you really need to persevere."
"But it's fun too", says Aoide's brother. "It's like a puzzle, you have to put all the little pieces in the right place to make a picture."
"It's not a game", says his girlfriend. "It's proper work, it's art."
I once read a book which talked about mosaics; people found the little bits of stone in a river. I imagined children playing with the multi-coloured bits of stone
"Do you want to become a musician? Are you learning the guitar?"
The children depart, taking the river and its little bits of stone with them. I have to answer the girl; all I can find is a platitude:
"It's just for pleasure
"That's a shame; you're really good."
It makes me laugh, I don't know why:
"If that's true, my pleasure is all the greater!"
"You're selfish," she mocks.
"Taking pleasure in making music doesn't deprive anyone else."
"She's right, you are selfish! If you became a great musician, everyone would benefit."
? Oh, of course, the girl with jade-green eyes, always ready to share. So what has she got to give, then? I say in a neutral tone of voice:
"So I have to become a great musician for other people's pleasure?"
An energetic boy declares:
"And you'd make a lot of money too!"
"With which I would buy music for my pleasure", I answer.
The girl with jade-green eyes does not give up:
"You benefit from what people have done before you; why don't you want to give to others?"
The question seems so simple. One single desire, to say: "You're right." And yet I say:
"Do they want what they ask for?"
A burst of laughter from the audience. I hear: "You're right, we're not here to talk philosophy!"
"Music, music, let's dance!" The dancing starts again, to a slow beat.
"Come and dance", says Aoide.
I am pensive without knowing why. After a moment she says:
"I'm glad we didn't perform anything by a great composer."
She has emphasised the word "perform"; I answer - I answer nothing, because the girl with jade-green eyes has just bumped into me. Laughs, words that get lost
Aoide teases me:
"The great performer's made a hit! I shouldn't have stopped you from dancing with her!"
"I really didn't want
I tail off. But it's true, I really didn't want
The more I defend myself, the more sarcastic she looks. I decide to go on the offensive:
"You can't set the performer on the same level as the composer; after all, it's you who wrote our songs."
"We did them together."
The discussion founders. The music stops.
"Without a performer to interpret the music, the composer would be unknown."
Aoide and I turn our heads, surprised, and see the literature lover.
"I heard what you were saying", he adds. "Dancing's boring."
Aoide says angrily:
"That's not very nice for your
"No, no, I wasn't dancing with anyone", he laughs.
I couldn't care less whether he was dancing or not; but the word "performer" provokes me.
"So all the performer has to do is make the composer known without adding anything else", I say.
"Otherwise you might as well buy the music and read it yourself", he answers.
"Why not?" says Aoide. "You don't need an interpreter to read a book."
The literature lover is not without resources:
"Especially if it's in a foreign language."
"That's not interpreting, it's
"Translation is interpretation too; thoughts in two different languages are not identical."
"So you might as well say that you can never know the thought of a text written in another language. You see: the performer, or translator or interpreter, is redundant."
"So you're not interpreting when you read? After all, authors don't read themselves!"
"The only interpreter that exists is myself!"
I was listening to their discussion while thinking about something else. But what?
What was I supposed to be giving my opinion about? I hear:
"Don't you have an opinion?"
"He always has an opinion", replies Aoide.
I force myself to laugh to gain a little time - and perhaps to find out what I'm thinking about. Finally I say:
"I was thinking about teachers. Are they interpreters too?"
"Do you mean music or literature?" asks the literature lover.
"I don't know; both, I think."
"The teacher's job is to help the pupil learn
"I don't need a teacher in order to learn; I may need a teacher to explain something I don't understand."
"I don't see what that has to do with performing, or interpreting."
"Teachers are used to giving their views - no, their opinions."
"What's the difference?"
"You have to take their opinions into account, otherwise you get a bad mark."
The literature lover laughs:
"A bad mark isn't that serious!"
"It can change my life, if all my marks are bad because I don't want to follow opinions
not just those opinions."
"You want to do just as please!"
"You see", breaks in Aoide. "I told you he always had opinions."
"So teachers have no purpose either?" he asks me.
"Yes, they do; I told you: their job is to explain. But not to force us to accept their ideas. They can propose them, to make us think, to make us find things out. They can be our guide, but not our master."
Aoide looks at me thoughtfully, almost questioningly.
"You always want to be your own master", she tells me in a raw voice.
"You are also your own master when you write music; the author is always his own master, no-one can give him a mark, all you can do is mark the performer by comparing him with
What can you compare him with?
The literature lover leaps into the breach:
"People mark writers too
"I know", I break in. "By comparing them
"That's not it at all! By comparing them with what a writer is supposed to do; but if they did that, they wouldn't be writers any more, they'd just be copyists: that's what's expected of them."
"But writers have to follow rules all the same
"They make their own."
"If the rules don't suit the reader, he won't read; that's the mark!"
"Writers don't write for readers
"You're exaggerating", says Aoide, sounding amused. "You're getting worked up
Who else but a reader can read?"
The literature lover laughs joyfully.
"That's got you!" he snipes.
"Yes, that's got me; I have no doubt that the reader's knowledgeable voice is worth more than the writer's ideas."
"If he's got any!"
"And if he has?"
"You're losing the track", breaks in Aoide.
"He is, you mean", retorts the literature lover.
He pauses for breath, then adds, giving Aoide a complicit glance:
"You said yourself that a person who reads is a reader."
A short silence. The music is still there, the dancers keep their distance.
I know what I mean; but
it's so silly. I say it all the same:
"Artists don't create for those who read or listen or look
"Who do they create for, then?" asks the literature lover, who seems to be getting bored.
"For someone who is alone, like him, and who he'll help to live."
The dancers are tired; food takes the place of dancing. Everyone starts talking. I should join in.
"No, no, don't bore us to death with your big ideas!"
I don't know who said it. I must not talk, I must just repeat, like at school.
Aoide brings me something to eat. What does she talk to me about? Her voice is calm, calm; listening to her, I don't feel anything stir. It is good just to be there.
It's raining. The classroom windows covered in droplets seem to hide secrets that live in the trees over there. My mind travels between the dull darkness that wraps me and the sun which shines on the gleaming helmets of valiant warriors who are going about their business, I don't really know why, down Ilium way. Battle is joined, the history teacher's voice rises like on TV when a goal is scored. And yet the fighters take the time to speechify, in the middle of all the hooha. The gods themselves are there, full of ardour; Apollo puts on mortal disguise and throws himself into the middle of the fight. What panache! But would he do it if he really were mortal?
A note: "There's going to be a test on Troy - Do you want to come round after school?" I look at Toffee with surprise; how does she know
She smiles and scribbles: "Haven't you seen. He's killing Hector." I try and look intelligent, but I'm completely in the dark.
The rain returns to accompany the maths lesson. I've forgotten to ask Toffee
At least numbers are not unruly; there are no surprises with addition. And you can understand them. I dream of life as a scientist. A scientist
but scientists don't know anything because they're always searching. I must have switched off for a good while; but time goes by so slowly
I can't live with numbers. I look at my watch, I look at my watch, I want to go
I don't know where I was the rest of the day. At school, obviously. The rain has stopped. The noises, outside, are not muffled and we are walking quietly, Toffee and I. I don't feel like talking. Toffee has given me a furtive glance and says nothing. We go in. "Maybe you don't fancy doing any history", she says. I laugh. "I'll get some biscuits", she says, smiling.
We're on the carpet. The biscuits get involved in the history book.
"Do you think Achilles liked biscuits?"
"If I'm right we'll get good marks", answers Toffee with a smile.
"Do you think he's really that interested in the Trojan war?"
We laugh. I don't feel like working. I try and explain
"You never feel like working", says Toffee.
"You learn stuff for your own life, not for school."
"What's school supposed to do with it?"
"School, I don't know, but the teacher
"And what's he supposed to do with it? It's no use to him."
Toffee pulls a face.
"You don't do it so that it can be of use to him."
"I sincerely hope it isn't of use to him."
Toffee looks downcast.
"I didn't want to bore you. I just thought
"You're not boring me", I reply heatedly. "You're right. If you think we ought to mug up on the Trojan wars
"I just thought it would be nice to do it knowing that
She breaks off.
"I don't know how to say it", she starts again, slighly breathless. "But
when you know where you're going, all you have to do is
buy a ticket and get onto the train."
She looks at me with surprise then starts laughing:
"And not get off until you arrive!"
I remembered a journey. A train journey. Through the window I had seen lives, other lives than mine. So should I never get off the train until I arrived at my destination? What if there were no destination?
Toffee looks at me, a bit worried; then, flicking through the book, or her notes, she says quickly:
"We'll explain how Hector
We explain. The helmets no longer gleam in the sun. Apollo has gone back to his business. But we explain well; I can see that the teacher will be pleased. I tell Toffee so.
"You see", she replies. "That way we'll know what to say; and it's interesting, too. Achilles is right to avenge his friend."
"He doesn't avenge anything at all; it's Apollo he should have killed."
"He can't. Apollo
"Great! Picking on innocent people because they're weak."
"Weaker than Apollo."
"Yes, but he was right to avenge his friend's death."
I answer very quickly:
"He didn't really want to think about his friend. Fighting Hector was uppermost in his mind."
"But it was for Patroclus
"When you love someone, you only think about them; not something else. And you're sad. And you don't think about pleasure - the pleasure of revenge."
I nod my head, in approval of what I have just said. I look at Toffee for endorsement. She doesn't stir, head in her book. I'm a bit put out.
"You only think about them", she says in a dull voice.
She still doesn't stir. I
"There's a thriller on TV. Do you want to watch it? We've finished."
I nod vaguely. She doesn't usually care for thrillers. Me neither. She's already turned the TV on.
This morning the cat talks about the main character's feelings
I've got feelings too. If I talk about them, others say
No, no, I can't say that no-one takes an interest in them; it's not that. But my feelings are considered secondary. The main character's feelings have to be studied, but not mine. I must study the main character's feelings, not
or even my parents'.
This evening, I have to read the book the cat is telling us about. The book is not boring, it is, why not? - interesting, but the main character does not inspire me with any passion. I could - I can - be passionate only for
yes, for someone who exists, who is part of my life.
But how can I get a good mark if I talk about Toffee?
A note: "Is he right to be angry?" I answer: "I wasn't listening." Surprised glance from Toffee. I write another note: "I suppose I have to learn that what is good is good and what is bad is bad!" Toffee reads and re-reads my note. I put my hand up. The cat looks at me and stops talking.
"Yes?" he says, with a trace of anxiety.
"The writer says he is right, you say he is right, but if I do the same thing one day I'll be wrong, because I'm not in a book."
The silence is prickly, it hurts. The cat has opened his mouth twice but said nothing.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to
My words scratch the silence, which moans. The cat waves his hands about, sits up straight in his chair.
"It's very good to analyse this scene, very good."
He looks as though he carries on talking, but he says nothing. Then, after a moment
"Now let's look at
The wind suddenly stops whirling. I look at the trees on the other side of the window; "No", they say to me, "the wind didn't blow here."
The maths problem is supposed to be difficult. Aoide's brother drags me along to his house so that I can help him out. I'm bored; the calculations are simple but long. I feign hesitation, point out a few things and let him get on with it. He is convinced he has done it on his own and boasts about it to his sister, who doesn't believe him.
"I'm learning a song", she says. "Will you play for me?"
She sings, I play; time passes and brings nothing other than the awareness of being.
The brother interrupts us:
"It's not very nice, your song. The last one was better. I've got work to do for tomorrow."
He has gone. Aoide laughs:
"At least no-one can say he doesn't have his own opinions!"
"Good job he isn't our singing teacher."
Aoide looks at me curiously.
"Why would you want us to have a teacher?"
I reply with a trace of irritation:
"I wouldn't, but teachers are all we get!"
"Everywhere. Not just at school."
The brother bursts in.
"Have you read the book
No I haven't, and I don't feel like doing so either.
"I'm not going to read it," I reply curtly. "It's tiresome."
a bad mark. Did your girlfriend give you a good mark, the other day?"
The brother gives a complicated smile.
"You!..." he says.
And he's gone again.
"What's all that about a book?" asks Aoide.
"We're supposed to read it
to talk about the guy who
he really doesn't interest me."
"That's not what matters. If it's for school
"What do you do if some guy wants to talk to you but you're not interested? Do you answer?"
"That's not the same thing."
"Because in the book he's dead?"
"No, he isn't dead, but he's not alive
he's not among us, you know, living."
"But the author probably meant something."
"Which the teacher wants me to know."
"And wants me to learn. And wants me to think is important. And whether I find it good or bad depends on him, of course."
"No, the teacher. I have to think the way he wants
Aoide interrupts me forcefully:
"Knock it off! No-one's asking that of you. Everyone can have their own opinion, even your teacher
"Yes, but I have to give my opinion. And to do that I have to know the guy. But I don't want to know him."
"So how do you know he's so uninteresting?"
"You don't have to read the book to know that."
Aoide laughs; indulgently. I'm crushed. But I manage to go on:
"In lit. classes I'm supposed to get excited about literature, in history about history
"There's a lot of it."
"Yes, like the news on TV. Whatever is chosen by the editors. Imagine if I were to call you to ask for news of something else. Or if I were to tell the teacher
"But you're not the only one
"How many only ones are there in a crowd?"
"You have to live with other people."
Silence has fallen. Aoide smiles at me sadly. I have the feeling I'm continuing a long sentence:
"At home, I have to think like my parents
"I've never heard them tell you
"I know. But it doesn't mean they haven't wanted to
Aoide's smile is resigned. I continue through the silence:
"Everyone wants me to live the way they expect of me. And all those expectations are different. And if the expectation comes from me, I am not allowed to
give in to it."
Aoide is not smiling any more. I feel guilty. But what of? I take her by the shoulder, shake her gently.
even me. If you're
If you do
" she murmurs.
"Especially if I do."
"If you do, it means you can; it means you're
"People can see what I am from what I do?"
I hear the yes she has not spoken. A tree whose fruit is eaten and which is then burnt is just a tree; no-one sees it mourning its children. I am not a tree. Before life, no-one could see anything; but it came just the same.
Aoide smiles gaily.
"I like it when you get all complicated", she says brightly. "But you like to eat the fruit."
"Why do people want to paint trees?"
Night had fallen; the street gleamed in the dark. Here, I was alone. No-one expected anything of me. I was the crowd, a stage set for people who came and went like on a cinema screen. No-one wanted anything from me; but did they see me? And did they want to see me? The pigeons that sometimes fly past the classroom window only look for what they can eat. People eat pigeons.
My father has opened the door. "Good of you to visit, even though it's late", he says in a sarcastic tone of voice, of course. I explain
homework, the guitar - no, not the guitar, the homework
I can't remember what it was
"Are you hungry?" asks my mother.
I'm hungry, I'm not hungry, I don't know. I'm too late for dinner.
"I've eaten; I was busy with my homework, I forgot to phone
I look for gentle words, perhaps I found some; I'm in bed, I fall asleep.
Biology. Frogs. They have got four legs.
If it's got three legs, it is no longer a frog. Or if it's got six. If you're a frog, you have four legs. If you've got three, you can't just add one. If you've got five, you can always cut one off - or have it cut off.
All frogs have four legs.
Even Aoide wants - no, would like - me to be.. to be
perhaps what she imagines
My parents, there's no doubt. I'm their son, what I have to be is their son. Is a son a person? Or is a son just a consequence? I'm not a consequence, I'm me. What is me? I read some books on the subject, but I didn't understand anything. Fortunately it's not a lesson you have to learn. At school, am I a consequence? I am taught, therefore I know. Plants can be grafted; the plant stays the same, though not always. If I have a brain graft, will I still be the same? No, of course not. Daft question. Learning is not grafting. It's not a graft. What is it then? You learn things, you learn how to be. Yes, yes, you can live a thousand lives at the same time. A life for every
A note saying "Danger". I react just in time for the teacher not to catch me out - I wasn't listening, of course. Toffee keeps an eye on me all the time. I'm listening now; or pretending to - no, I'm definitely listening. Am I listening for Toffee's sake? Why Toffee? The frogs bore me. Toffee won't be asking me questions. She probably wants me to get a good mark. Why does she
I glance at her sideways. She's writing, she's not looking at me. She can see me. She doesn't have to
It feels as though I'm obeying her. She seems so fragile. I know she isn't. What is she so sure of? When we talk, I'm always the one to do the explaining. Nearly always. She listens to what I say. The teachers give marks, they're not the only ones. Toffee doesn't mark me; she listens and she takes. And I feel as though I am responsible for what she has taken. Toffee
I get a nudge. Yes, yes, I know what it means: time to listen. I thought I had been listening. I am listening; but without hope now.
The frogs have gone back to their pond; the water has closed over them, they are no longer to be seen. The pond is hot under the sun, covered with a sort of mist; a few stalks have poked out to observe the surroundings. Motionless, life is on the lookout. It's like seeing eternity.
Some trees have got together not far off. They are chatting peacefully, lazily nodding their leaf-covered heads. One tree is missing; it has left part of its body on the ground. A man, somewhere, is walking with a stick that he has decorated with his knife. Tree, without you he might not have been able to walk. But can you still see yourself in the stick?
I feel a warm hand on my shoulder. Toffee is looking at me wide-eyed. The classroom is empty. The biology lesson has finished.
I went home after explaining to Toffee that my parents weren't very happy
She accompanied me to the door. She didn't say anything. Yes
something - I can't remember; or I didn't hear. She left without turning round, head in her coat.
Dinner went off well. The parents talked about a walk on Sunday, next Sunday, probably. I said I would love it. The parents were happy. Me too. Are they afraid of being alone? School promises us so much. Lots of people think it's true: they'll never be alone. One isn't afraid of being alone, one is afraid if one is alone. Believing that everything is true. Well, not everything. I will be told who to believe. The others are not to be believed. I think I'm one of the others. My father has turned on the TV; the parents are no longer alone now.
I'm in my room. Doing my homework. Why is it something I have to do? I do the same homework as the others in my class. So I am not alone. If I read what I want to, I will be alone. I'm not afraid of being alone. Why did Toffee look at me like that? As if from the other side of a window?
It's fine this morning. I've finished the geometry problem and I'm looking out of the window. Toffee is drawing inspiration from my exercise book which I have left wide open on purpose. No-one can criticise me for looking out of the window. I have finished and there is nothing else I ought to be doing. Should I be ashamed of doing nothing while the others are working? Should I be ashamed because I can do better than them? The teacher's look that lingers on me from time to time is not very well-defined. No, he does not criticise me; and in any case, what is there to criticise with the top of the class? Top
The hero is always ahead of the others, facing the enemy. Toffee never warned me of that particular danger.
The sky outside is full of light. The black trees regret their leaves, or are waiting for the next set; they will have - a lot, a lot. Yesterday's, the one near the pond, won't have any. Man is watching.
The sun has been as high as it could; now it is sliding ever so slowly towards the earth. In class, no-one keeps an eye on the sun; does it take advantage to slip away, around evening time? And what other worlds will it go off to enlighten? Is that the way adventure lies? The character from the book I still haven't read dreams of adventure; he doesn't keep an eye either on the sun which slips away bit by bit. The school opens its gates. The sun glances over off-handedly and keeps on going. The school is pretty dark now; I don't want to lose the sun, this afternoon. I head off
The landscapes I cross are familiar; I see them every day. Is adventure somewhere else, far away, far off? Over the seas, in lonely forests? I am no longer walking down the familiar street, I 'm clearing a path through the jungle. I don't really know what a jungle is or where to find one, but it is so far away
The wild beasts - well, not so wild, actually - can be sensed behind the great trees. The birds, the great birds that I don't know, fly
through the trees or above them? I can hear their cries - their song, I should say - and the loud beating of their great wings. There are monkeys, ants, other creatures
I've forgotten their name, the biology teacher talked about them the other day.
I wanted to talk to them but they didn't answer. Still the same forest, still the same creatures. A village. People. They speak. An unknown language, but I understand it; that's how things are in dreams. I talk about myself, they talk about themselves. I am not like them; they tell me I should be like them because they have a good life. They have customs; if I would be so kind as to follow their customs, I will be as happy as they are.
The mind travels quickly. Here I am, back again in the familiar street. Familiar, with its customs. Could I live without those customs? My thoughts get hazy; I didn't feel like thinking but like
walking, following the sun - with its customs. The sun is no longer where I left it. The lesson must be finishing. Toffee is waiting to talk about the character who dreams of adventure through the pages of the book I haven't read.
School's out. The good pupils look at me with the indifference my escapade deserves. The sun, leaving us, observes them with amused irony. Toffee arrives, all wrapped up, with quick eyes. Aiode's brother gives me a reproachful look. "He's got his secrets", he says to Toffee without waiting for an answer. Toffee hasn't listened and takes me off without saying anything.
"Are you cold?" I ask.
"It's cold", she replies.
And we're off to talk about the book
There's lots to eat for tea. Toffee seems lost in thought. I eat.
"Do you think he loves her? He says - no, it's the other one who says it - that his love has diminished because she behaved badly."
"Toffee, are you sure you're interested in whether or not he loves her?"
She has looked at me without lifting her head.
it's just for
the cat, I know", I break in.
She seems embarrassed.
"We have to
I don't say anything; nor do I have anything to say.
"He doesn't love her", she goes on. "Otherwise he wouldn't change. Feelings are for ev
what's the previous chapter about?"
I reply immediately:
"He talks about the guy's mother
The text was dissected; the pieces of the guy were scrupulously analysed. In the process his feelings lost the life they had never had. The essay got a good mark.
Home is jolly this evening; the parents are having some friends to dinner. My mother fusses around here and there - dining room, living room, kitchen; my father gets ready for a good evening. Nobody talks to me about school; no, it's more that I should brush my hair and
"You could at least put on a decent pair of trousers!" I put on a decent pair of trousers. "You look tired", says my mother, "you don't get enough sleep." I do get enough sleep. "If you came home earlier you'd have time to do your homework sooner", says my father. If I don't have time to do my homework, I don't do it. "Come and give me a hand", says my mother. My father takes a deep breath. I go and help. Dinner is being prepared. Will I have time to do my homework this evening? "Don't you go looking to rub your father up the wrong way again", says my mother. I don't go looking, but it doesn't take much finding either
The guests. I know them vaguely; they have a son - he's there too. I'm glad, we'll be able to talk; if he hadn't come, all I would have had to do is answer. After dinner we can go up to my room. Parents talk about so many things
the whole world passes through the dining room. A few minutes - long minutes - to settle a vital matter; memories, which seem to exist only so that they can be talked about at dinners. "Do you remember? - Ah, but it's true." A visit is paid - in mind - to some great man who is in the headlines; a trip is made to a far-off land which everyone knows. Why waste years learning what can be known with so little trouble?
"You're very quiet, boys!"
The boys would have found it hard indeed to get a word in edgeways.
"You never say anything! How's school?"
Our universe is apparently smaller than theirs. No, that's not quite true; we are also asked what we do outside school; and just as apparently, all we do is play.
My father wanted to be encouraging; the boy tried to give an answer but, like me, he is a little hesitant about the real subject of the question being asked. By the time he's finished thinking the parents' conversation has started up again. But we are nonetheless the subject matter. The boy isn't interested in anything, says his father. It's about time he decided to be
it's not very clear.
"I'm sure you know what you want to be, you're good at school", his father says to me.
"I don't need to want, I'm me", I reply
Laughter all round. The boy's father goes on:
"You've got a sense of humour, that's good. But sometimes you have to be serious; what do you want to be when you're older?"
He has sat up straighter in his chair; are words more important when they are spoken with a straight back?
I hesitate to answer; he offers some
solutions, to help me. A catalogue of careers - which will prove my worth, he says.
At last I answer:
"So my own worth will always be less than that of the title I have. When a friend says 'Hello friend', I will have less worth in his eyes than if he were to say 'Hello Doctor'."
"But your friend will be happy to know that you can cure him, since you have the ability to do so."
I was unable to reply. Is curing more important than loving?
The conversations had started up again: "Children never know
With pudding finished there was nothing to keep us in the dining room. Did the parents notice we had gone? In my room, a surprising quiet greeted us; why surprising? It's the same quiet
no, no, it isn't the same. Like coming back from a war. What war? The few words exchanged in the dining room? It's not the first time that type of remark
"They're always so aggressive", says the boy suddenly.
"Yes; they all want to impose themselves. Not even; they all want to impose something
"On us, do you mean?"
"No, not only that. On us, yes, of course; after all, we're 'the children'!"
It makes him laugh; I smile too. He goes on:
"No, they have to impose something
"No, on others, but to
to have done it
"No. Yes. Maybe. No, perhaps to dominate, but most of all to have done it - perhaps like a ritual."
I don't really understand; I throw out a big word:
"It's their ego they want to impose."
My big word makes him laugh.
"Nice one", he says ironically.
He takes a deep breath then adds
with seriousness, an exploratory seriousness - and a note of anxiety:
"It's not even their
He stops, breathes deeply, shrugs a little, nodding his head slightly, and continues in the same tone of voice:
"It's another ego, it comes from somewhere else
He stops again, as if he knew he'd never be able to find it.
"They repeat what others say?" I try.
"I don't know. It's not what others say, it's what they think."
Suddenly he bursts out:
"Nobody says, nobody thinks. It's something that everyone has to say. Say, not even think."
of adventure comes back to me; I say very quickly:
"There are people who say how to live and insist that it's the right way."
"Yes, yes, and they may even be right. But there are other ways of living, so why that one rather than another?"
"In the interests of those who say
"Yes, but there are other ways of satisfying your interests, so why that one?"
My mind was foggy. Did I hear his
right? He spoke with a sort of anger:
"Don't savages have the right to live as savages? We know they live badly; that they don't have the infinite advantages we enjoy. But what does the explorer want? To know them or to study them? And what for? To bring them to civilisation - our civilisation, of course. In other words, to strip them of their own."
He gave a laugh, then finished off roughly:
"And aren't we savages to other civilisations?"
His parents were leaving. "Did you have a good time?" they asked us.
Today, at school, I listen. I listen to everything - almost everything. That way time passes. Time goes its way, I go mine. Nothing happens on mine - I listen. It's interesting; not everything, of course, but it's interesting. I don't notice time passing and it doesn't tell me; perhaps it doesn't need me. It must be good to listen; the teacher is pleased - no, rather, he is indifferent, it's when I don't listen that he gets cross or thinks it's useful to get cross. Toffee
I look at her without moving my head, she seems to have relaxed her watch on me, probably because I'm listening. Toffee has turned her head towards me and is questioning me with her eyes; I indicate that there's nothing special, she hesitates for a moment then returns to her exercise book. She hadn't relaxed anything at all. I listen. It's interesting, but I will have to make use of it. Make use of it as I am told to. To answer, to do, to make a name for myself. I will not be able to let what I hear settle in me the way
sediment (I learnt my lesson) settles on the ocean floor and builds mountains. I listen. Thoughts rise up but cannot spurt out from under the lid of the words that bury me. The lesson is over. It was the last lesson of the day. Time has passed.
"Don't just sit there getting bored! Read a book; I'm sure there are things you have to read for school", says my father, settling down in front of the TV.
I wasn't getting bored. I'm sure I have things to read for school. I'm sure I have things to do for
Yes, always for; for, for, for; but not for me, or
I don't know. I don't know. I wasn't getting bored; I was looking for something to
no, not to do, to
No, I wasn't looking, I had found what I didn't want to do - or rather what
How did he put it, the biology teacher?... what would not fertilise me. It's fun, being fertilised. I have homework to do, I will do it, I will learn things, lots of things, and those things will be near to me, ready to be distributed. Perhaps they are like the time that has passed, perhaps they don't need me.
Art this morning. Drawing is difficult. Why do we have to learn? To know how to draw. Those who are no good at it don't need to know how. You don't know what you feel.
"That's not how X would have done it
The teacher says a well-known name, a name familiar to everyone. I mean the name is well-known; the paintings too. The name of the paintings; and we saw them, too. Photos of them, or even in the museum, on a visit to an exhibition during which everyone remembered the painter in question. A pity he wasn't there to greet the visitors - I mean the admirers. Maybe he would have gone with them to the restaurant, after the visit.
"You're not listening
The teacher is cross. No, I wasn't listening. He adds:
My head is buzzing; has he talked about style, has he talked about personality? I answer, without knowing what the question was:
"Must I be myself by being like others?"
"First you have to learn
"To be myself?"
"First you have to learn technique
And I don't know what else. I persist:
"If I take photos, I don't need technique."
"I don't know about that. But in your drawing, you can express your feelings, your personality."
"Always by imitating?"
"You have to be patient; like I am with you."
"I have to read to know what others think, I have to look at pictures to know what others feel
"Are you interested only in yourself? Is the thought of the whole world a matter of indifference to you?"
The teacher moves on to another pupil. It's too late to answer. Answer what? Or rather what question? In the Middle Ages, if someone had told me to go to the next village, I couldn't have said 'I'll take the next train'. The teacher spoke to me about what he knows. And I don't have the words to speak of
of what?... I don't know, but
the impression of an existence which is there, near me, and about which I am mute.
The teacher has stopped at my side; he has corrected a line that was not right. In his eyes he had another line than mine. I didn't have any line at all. Seeing the thing I draw is enough, I don't want to make it worse - "You should interpret it", said the teacher. I believe I also have to put my personality into it, or something like that. I don't want to put my personality into a vase.
No school this afternoon. What shall I do? I don't know. My father will say: "
" He's right. But I don't know what to do. When you have started to do something, you know what to do; but what if you haven't started?
"Are you coming to play tennis?"
There's always someone to tell you to do something. It was Aoide's brother.
Obedience can be a pleasure.
The game is enjoyable; my opponent hits some great shots, I hit some remarkable returns. I have lost. An exchange of cordial insults that ends in a burst of laughter. I say, as though hitting a tennis shot:
"I've discovered a time machine!"
"What are you on about?"
"Nothing happened during the game, but time passed."
"What do you mean, nothing? You lost, didn't you?"
I lost; perhaps I lost
"Is this another of your weird things? Hey, do you think she
She? Oh yes, his girlfriend.
He has fallen silent. I say nothing. I don't want to hear him talk to me about it. It's stupid. Something may be bothering him; I have no reason, no reason at all, not to want to talk about it. I talk about it:
Silence. In the end we look at each other. He seems hesitant - what a psychologist I am! - I must seem puzzled. But why? He says:
"She wants me to go with her
"Well then!" I break in quickly.
He sits down and starts fiddling with his racquet. I sit too, slightly aslant. A long silence.
"She's very nice", he repeats.
Yes, she is very nice. No - I have no idea whether or not she is nice. And what is it to do with me anyway? He continues:
"Do you think so?"
you're not scared?"
He turns towards me and
and doesn't seem surprised. It is I who am surprised.
"Why do you say that?"
I don't know why I said that. I answer:
"How does she say
how does she look at you?"
Now he is surprised.
"Look at me?... I don't understand
"Does she look at you as though she wanted
as though she wanted
to take you somewhere?"
"Yes, I told you: she wants me to go with her
I break in:
"I know. That's not what I mean. It
He stares at me.
"What's up with you?" he says.
I'm cold. A breeze starts up, carrying little drops of water that sting. We sit there for a moment without understanding what's happening. Our racquets start to get wet. We get up together and head for shelter. Shelter
The walk back passes in silence.
"Are you coming in for a moment?"
I accept. I don't feel like going home. It's not my home, it's just home, it's my parents'. What is the difference? I'm at my home at my parents'. As long as I'm their son. I am their son.
"Any ideas about the play?"
I haven't understood.
"The play?" I ask.
"The play we have to talk about."
"Oh, that. Yes, I've got some ideas
"You've always got ideas! But
"But you mean for school?"
"It's always the same with you!" he says angrily.
"The teacher told us we should have our own opinions, didn't he? He's always telling us. And not to copy ready-made ideas."
"Don't always say the same things; it's really annoying."
I feel a bitter taste; I answer:
"If you're hungry and nobody gives you anything to eat, won't you always say the same thing?"
"You're getting me all muddled. I'm talking to you about our homework. The teacher also said that we needed to understand how the plot works in the second act. You know: linking it with the first act and showing how it 'inevitably' leads to the last."
"Inevitably! So what room is there for my opinion?"
"You have to explain
"You have to explain in your own words an opinion that comes from the teacher."
"It's not only his!"
"No, it's everyone's; everyone who is imprisoned in our textbooks: 'Note the speech
Explain how the author manages to
Show the interest
' And what if I don't see any interest?"
He laughs in turn:
"You didn't understand it properly!"
"Yes, yes; yes, yes."
Analysing the second act is a laborious business. Maybe it does lead to the third, but the third doesn't deserve that much effort; the plot will end as artificially as it began. The audience will get what it expects. The character they didn't like will get what he deserves.
"Hard at it!" comes Aoide's joyful voice suddenly.
"We're hard at work while others go off walking", answers her brother light-heartedly.
How does he manage to be light-hearted? Aoide glances at what we are doing. A lecture. It was a good job she came along; she helps us. Done. Comments. Aoide shows me to good advantage; not in her brother's eyes, but in mine. Is it pleasant to be shown to one's advantage? Certainly. But what then? If I become myself again in her eyes
No, I am never myself in her eyes. Did I know that? Why today - Why do I notice it today? She is the same as always; she speaks kindly to me - is she happy, or satisfied, to see me, to imagine me, the way I am not? No, actually, I am a bit, even a lot, like the way she thinks I am. But my alter ego is defined; I am not defined. And I don't want to be.
"It's a pity you weren't able to give your ideas about the third act; but it's too dangerous", continues Aoide.
"Don't expect me to do it for you!" says her brother.
"My ideas are pretty vague really", I say to Aoide. "Most of all, I think I just don't like it."
"What I like", she replies, "is that you are never indifferent."
I look at her, slightly surprised. She goes on:
"No, that was silly; you are indifferent sometimes, but not when you're involved
no, that was silly again; no, I mean when someone asks you something, someone you want to give an answer to."
"I may not always say the same things
I was going to say 'depending on who I'm talking to', but I go on:
depending on what I'm talking about."
Aoide and her brother look at me with surprise.
"That was a penetrating remark!" says the brother.
I feel slightly embarrassed. Aoide comes to my assistance:
My mother couldn't have done better. Perhaps I am.
Aoide has sung; she sings well. I like accompanying her.
Sunday breakfast is a stage set for the scrutiny of my latest report.
"You don't work hard enough!"
My father has spoken these words as though there was nothing he could do about it.
"I do enough."
"You could do better; you're too confident in your own abilities."
"I'm confident in life."
My father is puzzled.
"Yes, I understand", he says.
Yes, he understands. He understands and he would rather not - rather not know.
"Man is made for work", says my father in a way that is not sententious.
"So the idle are sick?"
My mother is getting worried; the breakfast is pleasant.
"Don't get het up", she tells me.
"The world has been built by men's hands", my father goes on.
"So why do you criticise it so much?"
"I criticise those who work badly. But think how many people there are- how many scientists, for example - working day and night
"To bring happiness to mankind?"
"Happiness depends on each one of us. I'm talking about the work they do."
"There's someone like that in my class at school: he works all the time."
"And I dare say he gets better marks than you do, too."
"Yes; his marks are definitely better."
"So you see, work does have a purpose. In your life, when you're older, people will judge you on your work too."
"Yes, if I do it properly
"Yes, if you do it properly! Not if you do it badly, that's obvious!"
Silence falls again. My mother bustles around the table. Toffee
Toffee isn't there; I could have sworn she'd nudged me with her elbow.
I had almost said: "Any old
" yes, but I didn't know how to go on. Any old job? No, that wasn't' it; rather: a job for a frog with how many legs?
"What if I do, properly, a job that will end up killing me?"
My father looks at me. He doesn't say anything. His face betrays a wish of which he is certainly entirely unaware, the wish that I had never existed.
The morning went by peacefully. My father was untroubled, my mother happy to see time pass without anything upsetting the even temper of domestic life. This morning's conversation had left no trace. Water closes over a drowned man.
No walk this afternoon; it's very cold. I like the cold. My mother doesn't and my father dislikes going for walks even though it's usually he who suggests we should. We are expecting friends. I nonchalantly prepare next week's lessons. Some need preparation, like maths. Others don't, like history. There's also an essay to be done on the ideas of the great thinker - no, the great scientist - no, I mean the great artist
No, I'm making it up; but sooner or later it will have to be done; have to be. If not for school, then for
for them. For those who are around me, waiting for me to say what they expect, to take me in - and keep me.
But I do have to write about my conscience. "Should you obey your conscience?" is the title of the essay. My conscience! My conscience, or the conscience I am supposed to have, which is nothing more than a crib-sheet on which I would do well to list the orders given by those who think they have some power over me?
The friends arrive. "You're lucky to have such a studious son!" My mother is happy, my father satisfied.
"If only he weren't so contradictory
" he says nevertheless.
"He's got character, so much the better", replies his friend, smiling.
The conversation ripples: events, other events, comments - from here or there. My father's friend asks me what I think about some match or other. I have no opinion; I would rather play than watch others playing.
"I would rather live than watch others live", I say.
"You see", says my father. "That's what he's like all the time."
My mother and our friends come to my defence: I'm young
"Have you read any philosophy?" asks my father's friend.
"I almost read Socrates."
"What do you mean, almost?"
"Socrates didn't write anything."
My father throws up his hands.
"You really don't recognise any authority", he laments.
"If others must say who I am, why should I know myself?"
My father's friend seems not to understand a word of what I have said and therefore announces:
"Your son is a sage!"
My mother offers tea. I go back to my essay. Conscience
Dinner time arrives at last. The friends are still there; the conversation too. What can I do to take an interest in what is being said? I try some
gambits. Without much luck. I don't have enough perspective, I'm told. My age, no doubt, my age. When I'm older
"When you're older, if you've made a name for yourself, there'll be a place for you", begins my father.
"I'll have the place I'm given."
"How does he manage to contradict me all the time? You didn't even listen to what I was saying!"
"Those who recognise me will give me my place."
My father gets cross:
"In an educated society, it's only natural for an educated person to decide if you
"If I'm an educated person? Who decides what you need to know in order to be an educated person?"
A slight embarrassment prevails; my mother saves the situation, as she usually does, with a culinary manoeuvre. My essay becomes urgent again; I go back to my room.
This morning, class; this afternoon, class. What do I need to learn in order to be an educated person? Each teacher would like to be the only one to decide. Like so many others. None of the pupils pays any attention except the one on the receiving end of the questions. To parents too, agreement is given to what seems reasonable to them. What about the others? What about friends? What about
I don't know. What about me?
The schoolday comes to an end. It's dark outside; a great big cloud is watching me. Toffee is all wrapped up in her coat; she's cold.
"I'm not cold, it's cold outside", she says, scowling slightly.
Outside, the great big cloud is waiting for us; it is dressed all in black. Toffee says something about raining soon; she hurries on, dragging me after her with a look. There's nothing particular to do for school tomorrow. I think about the warmth of the carpet on which I will find the tea that Toffee has brought. Perhaps my mother has made tea too. Perhaps, though she's used to seeing me go to Toffee's after school. "But don't forget to tell me", says my mother with a little sigh when I leave in the morning. I don't know why, but I feel a little sad; I can see my mother in the kitchen, making tea
which she probably hasn't. I can't
Here we are on the carpet, with our tea. Toffee has opened some books. She's not looking at them, nor am I. She's waiting. I have to speak; I have to tell her.
"Saying things that displease makes the others keep their distance."
Toffee has listened, eyes wide; eyes wide looking at me. She replies in a calm voice:
"Are you afraid I will keep my distance?"
"No. Not you. My parents, the others."
"Why not me? I'm not always able to understand."
"Maybe. But I think you understand me; not what I say, or even what I think, but me."
Our tea replaces the silence.
"What must I learn in order to be educated person? Talking about things that others aren't bothered with also keeps them at a distance."
I have spoken in a rush. Toffee stirs anxiously.
"I don't understand", she says.
"Sorry, I mixed things up. I was talking with my father yesterday about what an educated person knows."
"A properly educated person?"
"I don't know. Who decides what is proper?"
Toffee gives a sad smile. She brushes her hand over the carpet before answering:
"You don't like learning lessons for school."
"That's not it. But why do I have to
A silence which she does not break. I go on:
"And afterwards I'll think like them."
She stops; lowers her head slightly, then says:
"They don't all think badly."
She lifts her head to look at me, questioning and anxious at the same time; then says very quickly:
"Yes, yes, you mustn't think like them. I'm not strong enough to get away. They always seem to be right, I don't know what to say."
She looks at me with eyes that ask questions. Is it her that I answer?
"If I think like them, even if I only pretend, I won't be myself any more. My father will be pleased; I will be how you're supposed to be. Yes, like them."
Toffee has collapsed into herself. She's thinking, probably; I'm thinking, probably. Something turns around in my head, I don't really know what. Is it the same for her? I hear her say:
"What about those who want to save people, to help them?"
Silence falls again. She's right. Yes, she's right. And I don't dare to ask myself "Should we save? Should we help?"
"It'll soon be the holidays", says Toffee in a dull voice.
"The holidays? I sometimes have the feeling that another world will appear. A world in which, suddenly, you can set out to wait for a meeting. A meeting with what others have not decided in advance, secretly, to show you. A meeting with chance."
Toffee looks down.
"You won't have to sit at a desk every day
"I prefer the carpet to a desk," I laugh.
"The carpet isn't chance."
"I'm not looking for chance; I wouldn't know where to look."
I don't know what else to say, either. Toffee leafs through a book, looking elsewhere.
"You read it
I laugh softly:
"Yes. I like to discover life; that book sprayed me with it. You read it too."
"Yes, I found it
"By chance? You see, the carpet can be chance."
Toffee remains thoughtful.
"It's by chance
She has stumbled on her sentence. Slowly she closes the book; her eyes do not move - I cannot see them. I say:
"No, it's not by chance. It is chance; the chance which means that I was born here, that you were born here. But nothing ever happens by chance. You do what you want to do - I do."
Toffee doesn't move. She says in a voice that is barely audible but clear:
I have turned off the light in my room. Sleep will come. Tomorrow I will be among men. I will have to live like a man. It is not an obligation; but where are those who are not men? I don't feel like a man.
T H E E N D
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