A love of youth Chapter 1
“The picture that our society in Reunion island gives, allowed me to evoke in my novels the relations that exist between people of different stump. I invite you to discover these people of the colony through the scheming, struggles, fights, loves, passions that separate and approach them."
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A love of youth Chapter 1
My birth coincides with the end of the Second World War
The birth of a child has always been an important event in the history of a family. The birth of the first baby is expected with new sensations, strong emotions, huge expectations and a great joy. Only the woman, who carries him during nine long and sometimes painful months, knows about the difficult moments of pregnancy. On the other hand, she feels an intense happiness in giving birth to a creature that brings light and joy in a home and represents the symbol and proof of love between two persons. Their existences are welded and strengthened so that the father can share the same emotions and deep joys.
My birth coincided with the end of the Second World War. It was a difficult period for the population of Reunion Island, French Colony at that time. The shortage of goods had allowed dishonest merchants to take advantage of the situation. The island didn't succeed in pulling out of misery. People grouped together early in the morning in front of the shops, their ration coupon in the hands, to buy a few kilos of cassava root, corn or bacon. Several unscrupulous persons were arrested, prosecuted and fined. The black market was a common way of selling. Times were tough and relentless. However I felt comfortable there, tiny, stark naked, letting out a piercing scream as soon as the umbilical cord was cut and I was moved away from the maternal warmth. This could be interpreted as a distinctive sign of freedom. For Mom it was a relief after nine long months of pregnancy. I was heavy, three and a half kilograms at least and delivery had lasted long. Several persons were present that day to help Mom to give birth to me.
It was a Friday, just after the great prayer. My father came back as I was still in the arms of the person who made my first treatment. When I was put in the brand new cradle that was near the bed, my father came close to me and gave Azan in my right ear and Ikamah in my left ear. Every Muslim child who was just born must hear the evidence of faith and the call to adore the Creator. When I was born, I was particularly admired thanks to the funny faces I had when crying for my meal. My mother didn’t feel well enough to satisfy my daily needs. She should have given me powdered milk that my father could buy at merchants he knew in town. He was a storekeeper in a company specialized in fabric and building material importation that just opened in Saint-Denis.
My father was from Mauritius also called “Sister Island”. As the war raged in Europe, my father often went to Reunion to sell goods. He traveled by boat, carrying suitcases filled with rag bag and went up and down the paths of the highs to sell his goods. This is how he earned money. My mother lived in a large family in the Mountain. It was the time when many families left the city to shelter in the highs for fear that the Germans bombed the capital. My mother was the fifth child of a Christian family and was twenty years when she met my father. She was a beautiful girl, with a clear complexion, long brown hair, a pointed nose and looked like Nastasia Kinsky of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, Thomas Hardy’s famous novel, bring to the screen by Roman Polansky.
The first time my father saw her was on a Sunday morning as she came back from the church of the ‘Délivrance’ in Saint-Denis. He was struck by her beauty, her nonchalant walk, her ease but he was not in love with her yet. My father was 22 years old at that time. Combed like Rhett Butler in Gone with the wind, a thin mustache above the lips, he was charming and exalted a charisma that left no woman insensible. But my mother was not attracted by him. She lived in a family with many children at kilometer 15th and all her time was taken by her brothers and sisters and the daily household chores. Her father worked in a furniture workshop in the Port. He had to leave the house very early in the morning and come back late in the evening. Her mother was sick and could not manage to do the household alone. My mother was called Sylvie. Her three older sisters were already married and lived in other cities and villages of the island. His older brother who had already graduated from school worked in a transport company in the west. He lived in a flat in La Possession, a few kilometers away from his workplace and lived together with a girl he met at the vocational school when he was a student there. He visited them once or twice a month. Three brothers and two sisters aged between eight and seventeen were still dependent on their parents. The three brothers were boarders in a high school situated in Saint-Denis and the two sisters were pupils at the school in La Montagne. They left early in the morning and returned home at five in the afternoon. My mother picked them at the end of the path, most of the time with an umbrella as it often rained in the region.
My mother liked to be well turned out. She often went to the city to shop for the house and took the opportunity of window shopping in the main streets, although she had no money to pamper herself. She admired the beautiful dresses in the windows, dreamt of wearing nice branded shoes and stayed for a long time in front of a jewelry store to admire gold chains, diamond rings, and pearl necklaces. By chance, one day as she was waiting for the bus at Barachois station, she ran into my father who had just arrived on the island and passed by there. He insisted to accompany her home, although she thought it was not a good idea. He sat next to her in the bus but said no word during the journey that lasted an eternity (that’s what she would say later) as my mother feared to get noticed by people who knew her and reprimanded by her parents when informed she was seen in public with a man. It was a decisive moment for these two persons who tried to ignore each other and had no feeling that could have brought them closer. But it is necessary to understand that such approach, as daring as it may seem, was the trigger that was going to bring closer those two persons who had nothing in common. It was the beginning of a mechanism that no rule could stop. When my mother understood this man was interested with her, she didn't believe it. She could not understand how love could exist between a man she ignored everything about and herself who was of a different confession. In her innocent heart, fragments of the elixir injected by the eyes of the man, his sweetness, the few words he hardly had time to pronounce, appeared. She began to think about him. And from now on, this thought was slowly contaminating her feelings without a break. When he came to the house, her heart quivered. She began to feel something for him and the most difficult had to be done. My father was ready to do everything to reach his goals. He also lived in a large family whose financial situation was far from being comfortable. A family of ten children depended on the revenues of an old and sick father. The children who were able to manage themselves had no choice. Beau Basin where the family lived in an old house made of sheet metal was a city with no appeal at the time, and the opportunity to find a job was nearly inexistent. Each member of the family had to take his destiny in hand and try to contribute the best he can to feed the others.
Reunion Island still was a small French colony lost in the Indian Ocean. It had potentialities that only well-advised people would recognize. My father was part of these very few people ready to bet a lot to take as much advantage as possible of the precarious situations. He decided to stay on this island, to take up every challenge, to face every obstacle that could stand on his way.
He simply asked my mother if she would accept to share his life. She took her time to make her decision and to inform her parents before giving her agreement to my father.
He found a flat in the capital and they started to live together. In Europe, the war ended. One year later I arrived in this world.
I was the happiness that filled my parents in their everyday life. I increased nevertheless the expenses of the family and my parents had to be extremely cautious not to spend the poor salary before the end of the month. I was precocious and was rarely sick. I was happy when I had had my meal. I easily got used to people around me and when I grew up, the neighbors took me home for the day. I had the bad habit of damaging everything when I was a child. I used to climb on the dressers, to open the drawers, to get onto the tables, to break everything nearby and amuse myself likewise. I sulked and threw me frankly on the floor when I was kept prisoner in a playpen. I liked so much to gesticulate that I hardly could stay doing nothing. I often looked for shelter in my parents arms.
My parents were religious people. Since my very young age, I understood why they feared God. They woke up early in the morning and spent a lot of time reading the Coran. My father went to the mosque for the five mandatory prayers at scheduled hours. In the morning, when he came home with some bread and croissants bought at the bakery Sorbe situated two streets from home, I was already awake. He wore a white courta and a Turkish cap on the head. He came to see me in my narrow and dark room with a small bed and a closet for my clothes. He sat next to me a few minutes, asked me if I had slept well, if I had made beautiful dreams while stroking my face. Then he joined Mom in the kitchen. She always sat on a sofa near the door to take advantage of the lighting and read the Coran. Her head was covered with a delicate colored shawl bought to itinerant merchants.
I often joined them while they drank the hot and steaming tea. I sat on dad's knees and leaned my head against his shoulder. I wanted to doze off a little while listening to their voices. They spoke for a while before Dad decided to go to work. The sunbeams began to leach through the windows. It was daylight. I was one year old when Reunion Island changed its status and became a French Department.
When I grew up and that my parents let me go out alone, I used to play with friends who lived very near my small house. We enjoyed going for a walk to admire the windows of the stores. We passed through areas where we could have a look through the grids, open courtyards covered with lawns wet with the dew of the morning and the big houses. I liked to contemplate the beautiful colonial houses framed by beautiful and gigantic fruit trees that made the owners and occupants proud.
My mother taught me the basis of my religion. I recited long verses of the Coran before going to bed and often prayed with her. When I entered school, I used to wake up early in the morning. I took my time to prepare myself; before choosing a dress I stayed a long time in front of the closet. My friends liked clothes. I didn't want to dress myself differently. My mother often shouted at me and reminded me that it was useless to be nice to go to school. I had difficulties to explain to her that it was important for me to wear fashionable clothes. In class I was a hardworking pupil and I was known as a brilliant and disciplined student.
I often accompany my parents to visit the other districts of the island. We left the house early in the morning before the sun rises. We drove a long time along the coasts of the mountains. We often stopped on the sides of the road to admire the landscape while the engine of the car cooled. The journey was exhausting but I appreciated this moment a lot. It gave me the opportunity to discover lovely places of my island. Some friends from Mauritius or Madagascar often stayed home, and Dad took them around the island to show them the volcano, the circuses. I was lucky to see those very interesting places and admire the imposing and picturesque landscapes that fascinated me.
I became a maiden when I was ten years. My mother who had not prepared me for such an event was upset about my fast growing. One afternoon, as I came back home after school, teardrops in my eyes because I lost blood that didn't stop, my mother panicked and pushed me to the bathroom to wash me and show me how to do and explain me what is the menstruation. At first, I was embarrassed and when in the evening my father looked at me with contentment, I guessed my mother already told him. I felt ashamed that made me think about the change that had happened to me.
At school, my life became interesting. I made friends with lots of girls and spent pleasant moments with them. I was living in a changing society. I became aware of the reality of the things very early and quickly understand that to make my way at school, I had to respect the rules and to know that success belongs to those who have initiatives and that luck favors the brave. In the meantime, my father's situation improved. He bought a second-hand pick-up Peugeot 404 to go to work and dropped me off at school. My father intended to use the pickup to sell goods at the highs on weekends in order to make ends meet. He had many projects for the future. He wanted to buy a house in the city. He was ambitious and wanted to succeed. Therefore he didn't want to fold his arms. He decided to move, to seize the opportunity. The city of Saint-Denis offered several perspectives of success. Business appeared the best way to make fortune very quickly if the person could be on a good thing.
One of his friends put him in touch with a district trader who offered to buy his pickup. As he didn't intend to sell it, he proposed twice the price he paid for it. The person accepted the offer. The profit he made was the equivalent to one month salary. My father had the idea to launch a business of second hand cars.
One day, as leaving school, my mother told me we will have to go to Mauritius. We had received a telegram informing that my paternal grandfather was ill. My father had already requested our passports to the Prefecture. Then he asked the director of my school the authorization for some days leave. This journey was memorable to me. I feel it happened yesterday. One of my father’s friends dropped us on Le Port embankment in the afternoon. We were to embark on the Jean Laborde. I was sick all night long and had a very bad trip. My stay in Mauritius was short. I saw my grandfather once in his bed before he passed away. One week later we were back to Réunion.
While returning from school in the afternoon, I used to stroll on the way. I chatted for hours with friends at the corners of the streets. Sometimes I went to their home and stayed late at night before going back home. We listened several times to the same pieces of music on a gramophone and copied lyrics on a sheet of paper. My mother didn't want to understand that I was with friends and often reproached me for my bad conduct and even suspected me to spend my time with boyfriends. To prove that she was wrong, I invited my friends at home and my mother was happy to meet them.
When I was sixteen, I was beaming with joy and discovered, while walking in the streets, the looks of the men on me. I never let boys woo me and avoided to talk to them. I held to my reputation. I respected the advice my mother gave me. I preferred slipping away as soon as I sensed the intention of the boys who wanted to speak to me at the school gates. I had no buddy when I started my study at Butor high school. I didn't want any.
Sometimes I exchanged some words with schoolmates but we only spoke about home works and lessons. I preferred my girlfriend's company with whom I felt at ease.
I felt no regrets behaving this way. I didn't know that I was transgressing the laws of the high school while trying to masquerade as a serious and chaste girl. The suitors were not patient anymore. However I was not going to change my behavior. I continued to be insensible to their attentions, indifferent and deaf to their call.
Translation by ©Kader Rawat Author