Excerpt (first page) from My Innocent Absence
“One can no longer say: ‘I’m a stranger everywhere’, only ‘everywhere I am at home” D.H.Lawrence
PART 1, DISPERSAL
A large passageway … Or was it a veranda? Perhaps more like a big empty hall. The floor was stone, or maybe well-worn marble. Tall, sweeping arches across the length of the wall looked over the street – or were they windows? – opposite our space on the floor against the solid wall. The mattress marked our place. The mattress and the area next to it where all our possessions – in my mother’s small square trunk and our old suitcase – now stood. My mother had dug out my nightdress from among our packed clothes; she was now pulling off my dress as I stood facing her on the mattress ready for bed.
The day had been exhilarating. Never before had I seen such long white flowing robes. They glided along, swathing everyone everywhere. Even those old men sitting about on the ground in the dazzling light, by the side of the dirt road, were wrapped in them. Ce vieux, qu’est-ce qu’il fait là-bas, Maman? They also flapped around the lively men rushing and shouting behind their stalls in the open air bazaar – the white canvas overhead curbed the fierce sunlight – as I tiptoed round breathlessly examining their unfamiliar wares, resisting my mother’s attempts to move on. Those crossed red and black leather sandals, Maman, please can I have them? That darling little terracotta jug! But oh, the women! Maman, why can’t we see their faces? Darting dark almond eyes tantalisingly imprisoned in the narrow gap between the white veils stretched across their cheekbones and the white cloth draped over their heads to slide down into their fluid white robes. And white here was whiter, in this hot bright light. And everywhere the bustle and chatter, the earthy smells, the dusty dirt paths.
But now it was night-time and we were getting ready for bed. Our mattress. One in a long row of straw mattresses, lying side by side, heads against the wall – on and on, as far as I could see – each lodging a family in transit from Marseilles to Mexico.
‘You know, Maman – first we had a big house, then we had a little house, then we had a room, and now we have a mattress.’
The memory of a memory of a memory of a memory … like an image caught on facing mirrors that goes on reverberating till it is almost lost …