A love of youth Chapter 5
By working this novel I focus on information that help me to choose a theme that would interest readers fond of stories of manners, problems of society. I still feel a great pleasure to talk about the past and evoke the sequences as they presented at that time. The image that gives our society with this intermixing of people of various origin - where different beliefs - can make me treating this topic related to cohabitation, to evoke the sublime understanding between people of varied ethnic and to imagine a story that could be experienced by each of us or people we know. This is one reason why I'll be able to say that many people can recognize or identify themselves through each of the characters mentioned in the narrative. For this it would have been enough for me to go look in the crowd for a central character and follow him or her in his/her movements. A young girl filled with ambitions and a poor family seems like a good pretext for an ideal start to address the subjects I want to develop.
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A love of youth
Alone in an immense city
I felt lost in front of the immense city. It seemed old and had a strange fascination on me. The peculiar aspects of the buildings frightened me. I stood up on the embankment after saying goodbye to Florence. I felt alone and had no idea of what to do. Rachid asked me to wait for him. He wanted to find an appropriate lodging for me. I was in a tough situation, so it was useless to ask me twice. I was happy and even touched by his kind gestures. He had a greater experience than me to find a lodging. Therefore, I trusted him. I stayed a long time in the shade projected by the high wall of a building. It was doing warmth. A tremendous hunger gnawed at me. I bought some croissants and fruit juice in the café across the street. The clock of the church indicated ten and a quarter when Rachid joined me in an old car. Two of his cousins accompanied him. They were amusing and talkative. Later, we drove along the narrow shady streets, boarded by dilapidated buildings. The car made a lot of noises while climbing the hills.I knew that we avoided the towns and took shortcuts by crossing the districts of immigrants.I was tired and fell asleep. I woke up when the car stopped in front of an old building.It was a humble pension mostly occupied by immigrants. A room was free on the second floor.Rachid came and ask me if I would enjoy staying here. I wanted to take a rest and answered I did not mind spending a few days here. They brought my luggages to my room while I paid the bill at the desk.
Rachid invited me to have lunch in a restaurant situated within walking distance of the pension.In spite of my embarrassment, I could not refuse.We spent a pleasant moment together. While we were around the table talking about everything, a friend came to see Rachid and whispered something in his ear. His face thoroughly changed. I understood that it was serious. Rachid was sorry to leave for a moment. I seized the opportunity to say to him I had to go back to unpack my suitcases and take a rest. I thanked him for what he did for me. While Rachid and his buddy went to a corner to speak, I left the restaurant and went quietly to the pension. It was three o'clock when I finally arrived in my room. I ran some water and stayed a long time in the bath. In the evening, I slept like a log. The following morning, as I was on the terrace for breakfast, Rachid came to tell me that I will not see him for a while. He had some work to do in other cities.I assured him that I will get by and he must not worry about me. However he insisted to introduce me to a distant cousin called Mamoud. He was a boy of approximately twenty years. I met him a little later. He was Algerian and had been working for some years in Marseille. His parents were killed during the Occupation. He was living with an aunt who did not take care of him and spent her time drinking to drown her sorrows. She had lost her husband and children during the bombing of the cities. Later, while getting to know him better, he told me how he had always been unhappy in life. He worked hard to live. He had difficult moments but had not stopped struggling in misery. He often grabbed the hands that were presented to him. He succeeded in giving a sense to his way of living. The things he told me about him made me feel sorry for him. I often gave him tips for the services I asked him to accomplish. He often shopped for me even late at night. I called him to tidy my room. He deserted all his works at the risk of being reprimanded by his boss. He devoted himself a lot to me. I understood that he had a strong admiration for me. I was happy and proud to be obeyed and respected in this way.
After some time, I wanted to move. I did not feel at ease in the pension. I was fed up with the problems of neighbors.When we met in the corridor or on the terrace they did not stop talking about their life.It made me sad to know the difficulties they faced. Most of them were foreigners who settled there a long time ago. They were immigrants with no paper. They were not declared and did all jobs.The boss exploited them and took advantage of them. They were interested in earning money and avoid problems with the authorities. When the police controlled the area, they found refuge in cellars or attics. Some even left for a time before coming back to continue their miserable life.
Mamoud announced me that he knew that an apartment was in rent in the city. He asked me whether I was interested.I told him that I wished to visit the house and meet the owner before taking a decision. An appointment was fixed on a Saturday morning.
We entered a narrow path that ended in a corridor boarded with empty boxes and bottles well ordered, pieces of pipes and car wheels. Air chambers were hung to lots of wires. At the bottom, few beams from Singapore, corrugated iron and pieces of plywood damaged by the rain and the sun leaned against the decrepit wall. A patch of sky showed itself. Some scaffolding were put on both sides. I understood that repair works were in progress. Stairs in stone were covered with sand.I immediately knew that I could never live in such a place. I wanted to turn around. We were accompanied that day by a man named Toula. He supposed to find a discreet tenant to install me in the house. I must confess that I did not have enough money to pay such a living. I paid attention not to spend too much. It was a difficult test for a woman who wanted to get involved in the world. But I was intensely curious. It was possible that I had inherited this feature of character from my father and developed it later.
I was introduced in a sumptuous house occupied by two old persons. They asked me lots of indiscreet questions, and I felt uncomfortable. I did not want to be impolite and answered quietly and intelligently. I must confess that I told lies to hide the truth. I could not stop admiring the furniture made of massive wood that embellished the room. Some furnitures were decorated with beautiful sculptures.When the husband left, the woman asked me if I was interested to occupy a room without paying any fee. The bedrooms I visited were sumptuous. It made me dream. Living there without paying for a rant seemed strange. I immediately understood that they were pimps. I succeeded with ingenuity to leave this place. While returning to the pension I did not stop blaming Mamoud for taking me to such a place. He swore that he ignored this truth and that he only tried to help me. I believed him and thought that he was not supposed to know everything. It is hard to understand the nastiness of people. I excused him and quickly forgot this incident.
For the last time, I put on my beautiful adornments. I went out early to buy the newspapers in a kiosk at the corner of the street. I searched for a job, and during lunch, I noted the addresses and telephone numbers to contact the persons.I needed money to buy maternity dresses. My savings melt away, and I was not able to react. I had foreseen it. I knew that I would have to make my own way. It was time to react.
I found a job as a saleswoman in a small store.The salary was not attractive but was sufficient for me to pay my bills at the end of the month. I rented a small room in a building located at walking distance from my workplace.It saved me from long waiting lines to take the subway. The price of the rent was correct. I used part of the money that I saved up to buy furniture and kitchenware. The district where I settled was of ill fame.I did not know it in the beginning. I learned it quickly after.
One evening, as I went home late at night after going to the cinema to watch ‘Doctor Zivago’, I had the surprise to meet Rachid. He was waiting for me since the beginning of the afternoon. Mamoud had given him my new address. I was pleased to see him after few weeks of absence. He had lost weight. I asked him news from Florence and Bakar.He had not seen them since the last time. I thought that during his absence, he was with them. I asked him to come home and share meal with me. I had macaroni cheese in the refrigerator. Some salad and tomatoes accompanied the dish. I had already bought bread while leaving the cinema.
He thanked me immensely for my invitation. At the table, he told me that he had problems.I thought that he needed money, and he hesitated to ask me. I was not in a position to lend him money.I made him understand simply that I was not able to lend him money. His problem was not this. His life was in danger. He got involved in a deal with the drug. He had to make a delivery in Nantes.He transported five kilograms of heroin, but before reaching the city he discovered that he was followed. If he was arrested he would spend ten years in prison.Therefore he had abandoned everything in a renting car and had taken the plane.
The idea did not please me that he wanted to find refuge at home. I did not want to have problems with the justice. I prayed that he should leave as quickly as possible. Till now my life had not been a bed of roses and I did not want to complicate it more. Yet in spite of the decision that I had taken to fire him, when it was late, I had no courage to do it. He slept on the sofa until the morning. I prepared the breakfast and left my apartment early to go to work. I spent a particularly unlucky day. All sorts of thoughts crossed my mind.I feared to be followed by agents of the anti drug squad haunted me. I walked in the street with fear.The return of Rachid was not a good omen for me. My life was suddenly disrupted. I wanted to go to a distant place to avoid problems. But where could I go? Big cities frightened me.
Rachid implored me to let him stay a few days. I made him understand that he could not hide forever. He left the following day without warning me.I felt better.I did not feel esteem for him anymore. Maybe the things he told me about him had let a strange impression in the mind. I knew that the house had a bad reputation.Quite often in the evening some men knocked at my door. Before me, the flat was occupied by a prostitute. She was young and remarkably beautiful. She had a high level customers. One day she left with an Italian and never came back. The neighbor told me this story. I decided to search for another house.An old building situated apart drew my attention. A board indicated "Building for the Immigrants" gave me an idea of the kind of people living there. I met the caretaker on a Saturday morning. She asked me a lot of questions before deciding to introduce me to the owner of an apartment situated on the third floor.An old lady lived there before retiring. We got on well quickly.
I had my furniture transported some days later, and I settled there at the end of the month. My neighbor was a Mauritian woman named Devika. I met her the following day. The few words we exchanged had persuaded me that we were going to get along well. I had not been mistaken. Devika became my best friend.
Original title : Un amour de jeunesse©Kader Rawat
Translated by ©Kader Rawat