I see my bedroom in full sunlight for the first time. Everything is as I remember it, yet everything has changed. Lifeless. Cold. As if no one ever grew up here, as if no one ever laughed or cried. As though everything had to be forgotten. I lie in bed and listen to the silence I have so longed for these past few years. But now I yearn mostly for the noises that make life normal. The everyday sounds I used to wake up to. The ones that made this house my home. Mama’s footsteps. The clatter of glasses, cups, and plates. The sound of warmth. It’s not something you can describe, but you’ll surely hear it when it’s gone.
I would have prevented the sun from coming up, if I could. It shines stubbornly into my bedroom and reminds me that I belong to the living. But I can’t make myself get up. I’m wearing jogging pants, socks, and a sweater; it’s a sizzling early September morning, and yet it feels ice cold in here. I want to get out of bed, but what then? What’s my next step? Life has never been so not-cut-and-dried. As long as I stay in bed, I can cling to the thought that I don’t owe life anything. That I don’t owe anyone anything.
Through the closed window I hear the small park up the street come to life. The grassy field allows the neighbourhood children to dream, just like we used to dream there. Life was simple then, the ball just had to cross the white line. No more and definitely no less. Out on that field, we all believed we could conquer the world. That we could be something. Nothing, not even sunset, could keep us from getting closer to our dreams. We would keep on playing, keep on kicking the ball over the white line. No thirst, hunger, pain, or doubt could come between our feet, the ball, and the net. It was there on the grass, surrounded by oak trees and dandelions, that I learned to fight for something. For myself. For my dream. But I’ve forgotten how. The white line used to be your goal. But that line’s gone now. I have no idea which way I have to go. No idea at all.
A child has just one wish before she falls to sleep: to grow up. Now I would give anything to revert to my youth, because only there can you really start with a clean slate. When I got out, they told me I was getting a second chance, and that I should make the most of it. I wonder if it’s really a second chance, or if they’re just asking me to retrace the rocky path of my first chance. Rocks that, every one of them, cut deep into my flesh.
Finally, I’ve managed. I’m out of bed. I stretch and give a long, deep sigh. From this perspective, too, it’s a fact: nothing has changed, and yet everything is different.
My wardrobe in the corner still looks just as puny as the last time I took my clothes out of it. I’d like nothing more right now than to shatter the two mirrored doors. I used to stare at myself in these mirrors during my years of self-searching, exploring who I would become, but now I don’t even dare look. If I saw anything in myself back then, I certainly won’t see it today. I close my eyes and take two steps forward while I grope for the handles. I jerk the doors open and sniff the musty smell of a wardrobe that’s been shut for too long. I open my eyes. It’s not just my old clothes lying in there, it’s much more. Every pair of pants, every skirt and every T-shirt comes with a memory, and every memory comes with regret. Smells, colours, and sounds come tumbling out. I hadn’t expected this. I close my eyes again, quickly close the wardrobe doors and take a few steps to one side. My jeans and favourite sweater are still hanging on the hooks. I feel around in the jeans pockets and come across a few reminders of my old life. A piece of chewing gum, some small change, a cinema ticket. The ticket stub is illegible now, but I know exactly what it says. Which movie it was. Time can blur an event, but it can’t erase it entirely. The memory lies dormant, waiting for someone to dig deep enough to find it. I hold the ticket stub. My stomach knots up. I still remember. Summer evening. Hand in hand. Popcorn and laughter. Cuddles and tender words. Jokes and Cokes. Movie and making out. Strolling and a talking, so many talks, for hours on end. About us. Children. Names. If we had a boy, he could choose the name. ‘Samir,’ he says. I remember how happy he was when he talked about our children who still had to be made and born. I knew then: he’ll be a dream father. I push that memory away and wonder if I’ll ever see him again. I wonder if I still want to.
By Ish Ait Hamou
Translated by Jonathan Reeder
Extract from HET MOOIS DAT WE DELEN (‘HE, SHE, AND THE INEVITABLE US’)
Published by Angèle (2019)
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Ish Ait Hamou is known to the general public as a dancer and choreographer. He made his literary debut in 2014. He has also written and directed a short film. He was awarded the Prijs van de Gelijkheid – the Equality Award – in 2016.
Jonathan Reeder has a dual career as a performing musician and literary translator. He has translated several Dutch-language operas into ‘singing libretti’ and provides the English surtitles for all DNO productions. His translations of Conny Braam’s The Cocaine Salesman and Peter Buwalda’s Bonita Avenue were both longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.