ONE DAY SHE’LL SEE THE SEA…
Renata Ada Ruata - Translation Christine Donougher
It all began when my father died. Before, there was a scratch, a very small scratch, almost nothing. Then all of sudden it ruptured, and began to bleed heavily, for a little while, and it went on bleeding, very, very slowly, almost painlessly, almost without my noticing, and now I'm dying from that wound.
My father's hands - big hands maybe, I don't remember, but in any case they were hard and calloused, half flesh, half cement. At home, he was just there, that's all, when he wasn't doing odd jobs, he'd be asleep. I lived alongside him, and I only really noticed him when he picked up a book. My father's books were always the atlas or the dictionary. In fact, more often
than not, it was the atlas, because a map, a river, a road - that's
something you can read even without being able to read. He really enjoyed
that kind of reading, and because he enjoyed it my heart went out to him a
little. My heart went out to my father when he was at home. I wished it was
only at home that I saw him. Away from home, I couldn't stand his look of
tiredness, his cap and lunch-box. When he came to fetch me once or twice
from the lycée on his maroon Lambretta, I wished he didn't exist. And then,
one month, one day, he started to stumble, and slowly, in no time, he was
dead. It was all over. I didn't have to hold his existence against him any
more; he was gone. Once he was dead I wanted him back again, to be more
alive than ever before...
Having been a boisterous little girl, a real witch as my mother used to
say, I became, at about the age of ten, a model of calm and studiousness.
Drawn to my books, which represented vaguely at first, then intensely, the
only possibility of escape, escape from being my father's daughter. When he
died, I was nineteen and in Paris there was a revolution going on. Whenever
I came in from my suburb to the Salpetrière Hospital, I'd see these guys in
black, with helmets and shields, barring the way across the bridge. The
troublemakers on the Left Bank had to be kept away from the Right Bank. I
was surprised, but not very, it seemed right somehow, something serious was
also happening to other people, everybody. Yet I was alone. At night, in
bed, in the silence of the house, I could hear explosions in the distance.
I was a bit frightened, but I thought that was normal. It seemed to me
there was a threat of something dreadful - everything, nothing - in the
air. It was only natural to be scared and to cry and tired out in the end
to fall sleep for a while.
Ever since that day in May 1968 I've wanted to make amends for what I'd
done wrong. I didn't really know what that was exactly, but I was sure
there were things I had to do, lots of things...
I went into a bookshop, I don't remember where, and took from a shelf a
copy of Simone Weil's The Working-Class Condition. I didn't care about
Simone Weil, what I wanted was to get inside that title: The Working-Class
Condition. I didn't really find in the book what I was looking for. Not
that I knew exactly what that was, but I was sure it wasn't there, or
perhaps in the title, only in the title, on that red cover with those black
bolts on it. All through the beginning of summer I go round with that book
under my arm, as a rallying signal. No one takes much notice except one
young man: André.
When I lived in my suburb I used to come to Paris about ten times a year,
more or less. Actually, Paris, for me, was essentially the Gare St-Lazare
and the Boulevard Haussmann, sometimes the residence-permits office at the
Paris police headquarters.
I lived in a rather well-to-do neighbourhood with private houses and
1930s apartment blocks, the ones with a black dome on top. Along with three
other families of modest means, we were squeezed into a long, low-roofed,
single-storey house, divided into four. Each family had behind 'its house'
a bit of garden, just a few metres, and we even had a chestnut tree growing
out of a shed that my father had built out of wooden planks and sheet
metal, to keep all his bits and pieces in. He would bring something home
from his work site practically every evening. Sometimes it was only
'serious' newspapers, as he used to call them, Le Monde, L'Express, or a
literary journal, which he would take out on the metro or the train, for a
laugh, to watch the expression on people's faces. He was convinced they
must be astonished to see a man like him with publications like that. He
was probably right. But more often than not, he brought back the
odd-thing-that-might-come-in-handy: pieces of iron, bits of glass, lengths
of pipe and - when he had worked out some way of transporting them - old
doors, dilapidated windows, an antiquated bidet, a water-heater that needed
fixing... My mother would shout that she was fed up with all this, and we
weren't junk dealers. My father ignored the shouting and continued to bring
stuff home. The thing was, my father had this idea that one day, sooner or
later, he would buy those square metres he'd sweated over so much.