Magazine article UNESCO Courier

From France, with Love

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

From France, with Love

Article excerpt

IN the night I call your name, Oriya my wife, and you, Samira, Jamila and Ali, my dear children. I have begun with your name, and it is with your name that I shall end, Oriya my wife, because you are the woman I love more than anything in the world. When I left Tata three years ago, when I left all I had loved and known since my birth, my parents' home, I had nothing to take away with me. We were so poor that I had to leave. I took what was most precious to me: your names, yours above all, Oriya. It is a very sweet name, I repeat it every day and every night. Your name gives me strength, it makes me work, it bestows a blessing on me.

Oriya, your name stirs me and fills me with happiness whenever I utter it. It is deep within me, it has entered the innermost part of my body, sometimes it feels as if I have been hearing it all my life. Every evening, when I come back tired from Guiglione's building site, I enter the room in the Rue d'Italie which I share with Malik, the Tunisian, and I stretch out on the mattress. I no longer hear the sound of the television set, I do not see the blue light flickering in the room, nor those meaningless images, those images that you, Oriya, will never be part of. Malik watches television until he drops off to sleep. He does not talk, he watches everything--sport, films, quizzes, talk-shows, everything--I sometimes think he is going to go mad.

I close my eyes as I lie on the mattress by the window, and you, Oriya, appear before me. Malik cannot see you. I am the only person who can see you in this poky room, because your name is written deep within me and because I am waiting for the day when I can be with you again. Your name is written in a very long sentence, a never-ending sentence that is moving slowly towards you, towards the other side of the world where you are waiting for me. So I can see you.

I am so far from you all, in this city, in this room. Up here under the roof, it is cold in winter and stifling in summer. Our mattresses are laid out on the floor. Malik has the mattress near the door, and mine is near the window. In the middle there is Slimane's mattress. A week ago Slimane, Malik's brother, was crushed by a wall that had not been shored up properly on the site. He lost his right arm. He will not be able to work again. When he gets out of hospital, he will go back to his wife and children in Tunisia. Malik at least talked about that, then went on watching television, his face full of anger. I could not help wondering what you would say, Oriya, if the same thing happened to me, if I came back home maimed. What would our children say?

I like sleeping by the window. On spring mornings I can guess what the weather is going to be like. I can hear the swifts screeching. It is almost as if I can see a little of the light of Tata, the light that you see with your eyes, Oriya.

Tata. I like saying that name too. It's a name that makes the people here laugh. They do not understand it. I lower my voice apologetically when I say it because they find it funny, to let them know that I cannot do anything about it. It is a very sweet name, a name like yours, Oriya, which gives me life and strength. I also say to myself the familiar names of the villages and the markets. They are like the names of my family. Souk Ileta, Tazart, El Khemis, Aiggo, Imitek. I say them with my eyes shut, and I am close to you, Oriya, even if my hands cannot touch you, even if I do not eat your bread or drink your water.

I can see your smile, I can hear the murmur of your voice in my ear, as you sing a lullaby to our son, whom I have not yet seen. …

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