A love of youth Chapter 11
It was at the beginning of 1977, a year that started well for me. After an unforgettable Christmas with friends and a year’s party in joy and fun, Akbar and I boarded on a Boeing which landed thirteen hours later on the new airport in Gillot. Akbar was not informed of the real goal of this journey. I had spoken very little of my parents to him. But I had told him that we were going to visit my native island. He asked me lots of questions about myself. I was happy to answer to him and explain things in details.
I wondered about the transformations that I noted on the infrastructure of the island. The city of Saint-Denis that I left ten years ago had changed a lot. The housing estates that had been built everywhere in the free spaces had absorbed many families who lived in shanty towns. The streets were crammed of brand new vehicles from various origins. The stores were renovated and full of luxury goods. Numerous old buildings were rebuilt, fronts were refreshed, and walls painted. People wore dresses made by famous international dressmakers.
The city smelled like wealth and opulence. The taxi drove along Rue Maréchal Leclerc to allow me to admire the City. The streets were clean and the traffic was regulated by traffic lights. However, the heat was oppressive.We had left snowflakes in Paris and we were now under the ardent rays of the sun.
The taxi dropped us off in front of The Meridian hotel before midday.I took a shower, ate a very copious lunch, a typically Creole dish and spent the afternoon resting in my room. A strange sensation invaded me. Around five hours, when the sun began to decline behind Place of the Barachois, I sat next to the window to contemplate the sea that spread in front of me. Exhausted by the long journey, Akbar woke up a little later; I was ready. I changed his clothes and we left to go for a walk in the streets of the city. We went to Rue de Paris. We walked slowly on the sidewalk where we could take advantage of the shadow of the buildings that bordered the street. People went to the cathedral. The students left the academic center.We headed to the war memorial. Akbar brushed his fingers against the grids that surrounded the garden next to the Prefecture. While walking up this street in the direction of the State Garden, I planned to go along the home I left ten years ago in Rue Monseigneur de Beaumont. Some cars were waiting at the traffic lights. The motors were running in order to demonstrate the anxiety of the drivers to go back at home after a day at work. A lot of women were driving their car.Taxis were rare. There were not bicycles that blocked the circulation. On the other hand, some motorcycles often passed with infernal noises. As it was midway, the bell of the cathedral rang. Akbar was thirsty. There was no shop around. We went along the museum Léon Dierx. The long shadows of the buildings and the big trees announced the arrival of the night. We crossed the Rue de Paris and we took Rue Monseigneur de Beaumont. Many memories crossed my mind while I walked on the sidewalk, holding Akbar by the hand. I told him about some of my thoughts that reminded me marvelous moments I spent in this place. He listened to me and asked me questions I was pleased to answer.
My heart was beating faster when I approached the house of my parents. The old portal made of wood was replaced by another made of iron and gray sheet metal. The street was deserted. Some cars were parked on the left side. We stopped at the corner of Rue Jules Auber and waited for some instants. I hesitated before going to knock at the door of my parents. Akbar didn’t understand the situation. He wanted to cross the street. I saw a metropolitan youngster who left by the portal. He was coming in my direction. I seized the opportunity to ask him if he knew the owner of the house he just left. He was the son of the owner. His parents had bought the house from an Arabian family eight years ago as he was in high school.He knew nothing else and could not provide more information. He proposed me to meet his father if I wanted to know more. I accepted and thanked him infinitely. His father was an old man who received me in his living room. He was very talkative and put me at ease. He wanted to know what kind of relationship I had with Mr. Issopjee. I didn’t want to tell him the truth. I tell him that I was a remotely related niece and that when I was young, I had spent some days in the house. As I was a few days on the island, I wanted to say hello to the parents before leaving for France. He believed me and spoke to me about Mr. Issopjee. When he taught me that Mr. Issopjee had sold the house because he had lost his wife, I was shocked. I did not say a word anymore and went back to my hotel like a zombie. I cried all night long.
I decided to go to see my father in his workplace.I went to his office the following day early in the morning. When I presented in front of him, he could not believe his eyes. He was moved. He shed tears of joys while hugging me. I saw his deep pain. I could read it on his face. He picked Akbar up and took him in his arms.I shed tears because of the deep emotions that touched my heart. He insisted that I come home. While taking me home with my son, he told me that he had married another woman and wanted to introduce her to me. I met her a little bit later and found that she was pleasant. My father wanted me to come and settle home. There was some place for me and my son.The house was big. I would have the first floor and would not be disturbed. He could not accept the idea to see me staying in a hotel whereas his house had so many rooms. I didn't want to hurt him and accepted to go to live at home.
My father hid nothing of what happened since I had left.He informed me of the distress that had taken him and explain why he found no consolation after my mother's death. He had very few people to confide in and he had nobody to that to share his pains, and find relief. The comfort he received from friends was not sufficient to help him to overcome his sadness. For him it was the punishment he could never forget and he needed a lot of courage to fight in such a hard moment of his life. After losing me, the only person who remained, disappeared in an atrocious and brutal way, without he could use his power, nor his influences, nor fortune to solve the situation.
His relationship was limited to his professional activities. He never invited people at home and never received them when someone came to knock at his door. He became withdrawn and sedentary who had lost the joy of life. He looked at the existence with a total indifference. The fortune would not mean anything anymore for him and the popularity was the least thing of which he aspired.The deep pains caused by his wife's atrocious death were sensible during several months during which he took refuge in religion.
My intention was not to stay in Reunion for a long time.It was for this reason that I didn’t want to hide anything to my father. One Sunday afternoon, when we were at Plaine des Palmistes in a superb house my father had recently bought, I took my courage, and while being alone with him, I told him the story of my life.The summer is especially rainy in La Plaine. I liked the tropical climate a lot.It is what I missed in France. I liked the vagary of the weather and the shades of the nature. I was used to the cold weather and had experienced rough and hard climatic conditions. I felt an attraction and admiration for the cyclonic weather. It is very possible that the whistling of the wind and the raging of the nature had on me a certain fascination but I can stay a long time looking through the window at this strange phenomenon. I feared the damages caused by the passage of a violent cyclone; maybe it reminded me some bad memories. My father became attached to me; his behavior caused the jealousy in the heart of my stepmother who was cold with me. I could also hear the irritation in her voice and exasperation in her gestures. But I had not taken all this into consideration thinking that I may be imagining it.
My father was very thoughtful and listened to me with a certain admiration that made me understand that he really loved me. I was convinced that I probably reminded him my mother and that he saw in me the features of characters he didn't want to forget. He searched for my company as soon as he came back home.
I had the intention to spend on the island a month vacation to take advantage of the beach and rest if possible. But my father's presence changed all my projects in a way. I was certain I brought a lot of joy in his heart. Akbar was spoiled by the number of gifts he received during the few days he was on the island. I wanted to settle things with my father.I went to his office the day I had to travel. We talked for a long time during which he informed me of his business. He wished me to come back to live in Reunion. He promised me a furnished house and I would work as a sales manager in his company if I wanted to work. I explained him that I loved staying with him, that his proposition was really kind but that I had to go back to France. He made me promise to return as soon as possible. Now that he had met me again, he didn't want to be separated from me for a long time. He was afraid to lose me a second time.
My father and my stepmother dropped me in Gillot. When I said goodbye, he gave me an envelope he asked me to open later. I guessed that it was money. I didn’t wait a long time to open it. I was embarrassed and didn't want to accept this gift. He insisted, saying to me that I would need it to buy me what I wanted. I thanked him wholeheartedly while separating me from him, the eyes full of tears.
While returning to Paris, I received a telegram from Devika. She asked me to come to join her as soon as possible. She had serious problems. The address of the telegram didn't correspond to the one I usually sent my letters. I was concerned and all sorts of ideas went through my mind.I had not had news from her for several months. Her last letter dated at least six months before and had left no doubt on the happy life she led with her husband.What happened in the meantime? She was not informed of my journey to Réunion. I packed my luggage immediately and asked for a visa for India.
Because of the start of the school year for which Akbar had to get ready, I could not take him with me. I needed a lot of courage to accept to separate me so suddenly from him. I knew the ordeals that were waiting for me in India. I didn't want to put my child in danger in a succession of adventures that may not be pleasant for him. Akbar knew that I had a friend who was called Devika who lived in India. I used to speak of her and showed him the photos I sometimes received in my letters. I explained him that Devika had helped me a lot when I just arrived in the area and now that she was in trouble, it was my turn to help her. He was sad that he could not accompany me. I succeeded in making him understand that it would be an exhausting journey. He accepted the idea of being separated from me and promised to be good during my absence. It was important for me to be sure he had understood the situation and agreed. Otherwise my conscience would not be calm.I decided to leave him in my neighbor’s care who knew him well and who accepted to take care of him when I asked her. She had two children of the same age than Akbar and they all got along well. I left him on a Sunday evening, the eyes full of tears.