I am a cliché.
An exotic cliché, indeed, I’ve been living here close to thirty years and like clockwork, I am asked the same questions, the same commentaries. So you come from there, it must be so beautiful so wonderful; why do you live here when your island is so lovely. I just dream of going there, to relax under the beautiful tropical sun, allow me to tell you madam, that you have the charm and kindness of the people from over there. Yes, nice and charming, that’s what I am remembered for. I am the foreigner, the other who comes from somewhere else, but who is more like you than you could ever imagine; and so I am filled with the same shit that festers in the dregs of your aborted dreams.
Then come the victim-clichés, usually after a few glasses of booze, the hangdog look when you are red in the face and not fully aware of what you’re saying, or perhaps you just want to let out what your real thoughts are. That yes, over there, with the coconut palms, the natives must be really happy, busy merrymaking. That’s the legendary island laziness; it’s the weather, the indolent sun that makes you want to laze around, sleeping and dreaming; thank goodness we succeeded in civilizing them. But being charming and nice, I keep quiet; for a long time now I’ve just been skimming the surface of people and things; whatever you say, think or shit; I can’t care less.
I don’t even give a fuck actually.
I am a cliché. Cuz, I am in the average lower class. I live in a small, crummy apartment on the outskirts of the big city. No need to describe it. You just need to know that it exudes the stink of mediocrity. I am neither rich nor poor, neither beautiful nor ugly, intelligent or stupid. I am nothing. But no one would want to say that . We live in a positive era. We should be positive. The world is in bad shape. We have enough bombs to blow us all the way to hell but we should be positive. I am positive. I am nothing but I am positive.
I am a cliché. For I am an old woman, and the old woman is expected to know how to behave in society. You need to hold yourself up, dear. For instance, she can’t be belching forth that she is scared shitless at the prospect of death. She cannot say that she doesn’t have any desire to play with her grandchildren. Anyway, I don’t have any. She has to make herself small, all gnarled up like a chamber pot, oh so sorry for my rudeness, let’s just say a flower vase, which we would like to get rid of but can’t because we are nostalgic about times past. Over in my island, we like old people, especially when they have enough land to feed several generations of heirs. Here it’s civilized, so we send them to what is modestly called a retirement home. Strange prudishness when we all know that they spend their days in piss- and shit-filled diapers.
I am a cliché because I hate my husband. Nothing venomous, I need to emphasize, of course, but again, I dislike him. My husband, le seul et unique (I express myself in French; I am from there you know, the so-called exotic island, a former colony; we speak every language but master none and please don’t think that I’m bashing the sacrosanct French Language). Let me make this clear, he is not a bad man, just mediocre. After all what do you expect after thirty years of cohabitation? Do I need to talk about true love, the kind of love that crosses boundaries of time and space; the love that is fulfilled in the fusion of body and soul? We’ll leave that to the big-hearted and intellectually challenged teenagers. He is just like any other man, neither better nor worse. He watches his porn discreetly and manipulates his dick with the same gentleness as the remote. He is a soccer fan, he follows Liverpool (why Liverpool and not Manchester, I would like you to meditate once more on our colonial history). He watches the games, a can of beer in hand and swaying like the very devil himself. He thinks he is such a great soccer player, he has the gait of a referee and the gawky look of a ball boy. I have never understood, for the life of me, why heterosexual men, at least to all appearances, enjoy watching twenty-two men in briefs chase a ball. We’ll not understand the mystery of the male anytime soon. Let’s move on. No need to evoke poetically the tricks he uses to fuck me, sorry, I mean to make love to me. Or his stubbornness, his gauche ways or his loud clothes, he tends to lean toward pink and orange.
I am a cliché. I am a predictable woman, in predictable surroundings, in an aseptic society, which eliminated violence and sells prefabricated dreams to the masses, which thinks death can be fooled with a consumption frenzy. We live in the era of triviality. Prosperity made us mawkish. I am a predictable woman in a society of predictability.
I am a comedian in my free time. I made hyprocrisy an artform, I deserve an Oscar for my performance, or, why not, the title of Professor Emeritus at a prestigious university. Well, don’t they confer titles on idiots, for instance, a doctorate to a great soccer player, such a great man who, what an achievement, spent his whole life chasing a ball. I imagine the scene: the crowd cheering, I am being awarded the title of Doctor in Hypocrisy or better yet, the title of Miss World Hypocrisy, and there I am, choked up, tears in my eyes, thanking everyone who helped and sustained me and, especially, and there’s a lot of them, those who messed up my life. Not only am I crazy but I also possess a great sense of humor. It seems like a lot of talent in one person, don’t you agree!
The tragedy, you see, is that I want to be by myself. I don’t need anyone. But that’s rarely possible for the simple reason that I am married. And my husband, pardon me, my dear husband, an aficionado of fashionable gatherings, is, as I said before, involved in everything, often the most repugnant frivolities such as associations, clubs, unions, and I think I said it already, he—sorry, his wonderful wife—regularly entertains at home. It’s a strange parade of bastards, half-bastards, would-be bastards, complete and utter bastards, neurotic screw-ups and dumb bastards, who think they are superior to others. Makes me think of a zoo, there’s the whole range of human bastardy spread out in all its splendor and diversity. And the lady, that’s me, I pose and play; I’m extremely gracious, I know the welcome protocol specific to each communal group. Depending on who’s the listener, I know how to pose the type of question that charms and disarms (how is your son or daughter the doctor/ accountant?). I’ve read Dale Carnegie, I will open my little mouth only at the right time, everything is well thought through. I know how to exude the poison that enthralls and throws off balance, since I am the demure wife, I try to stay away from the chat of my beloved’s friends; when he makes some insipid comments about me—isn’t she just pretty today—I play coy and simper; oh, honey stop it, you shouldn’t…right here in front of everybody. I am embarrassed and in order to play the part better, I even blush, not too much but just enough. I am in other words a real saint, a noble ethereal soul who sows friendship and brings out the best in everyone. To put the last nail in the coffin, toward the end of the evening, I talk about my charitable work with an association that caters to indigent people. You should see, I nail it down, they look at me flabbergasted and awestruck. Go on, you can applaud, but I really reach the height of my abilities when I entertain my dear husband’s family. Bunch of half-witted fools, they are, from the village-island; you can admire me, I pamper them, spoil them, I am at their every beck and call. I prepare the nice dishes they like, I take them around the city, I give the children gifts, I patiently listen to the old people telling me their problems and it works, they love me, adore me even. They tell my husband that he is very lucky to have such a wonderful wife. I am indisputably, a very gifted actress.
I play my role so well that sometimes I forget who I really am.
I am crazy
I spend all my days riding the subway. I like the dizzying feel of it, losing myself in the crowd, an anonymity that dilutes all feeling of belonging just letting yourself go, dragged along in the flow of bodies and metal. I do this because I am in search of a glance, a lascivious look from a being who would reawaken me, give new meaning to my life. I stay like that, on the trains, for hours on end, I transit from one train to the next, searching for those eyes, only one glance, but it does not come and will never come because no one sees me anymore, I no longer arouse desire in anyone.
I am invisible
I am nothing.
I allow myself a second kind of madness. I sometimes cut my veins with a blade. To be honest with you, there’s nothing to dramatize about, I always stop myself at the right moment. A few drops of blood and soon it’s all over. I am not like those teenagers, stupid and crude, who slash themselves to the bone. I have always hated drama. I am a middle-class lady, even if it doesn’t look that way, and the middle class doesn’t condone cheap acts of provocation. To tell the truth, I’m like a surgeon who can remodel a nose or tits, sorry, I mean breasts, without leaving any scars. High art.
I chisel my skin artfully.
This is who I am. A cliché, a comedian, a mad woman.
Or so I think.
Sad spectacle or an ordinary one. It’s up to you.
The essential isn’t here.
I am in love.
I love you.
© Umar Timol. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 Joyce Fortuné-Pope. All rights reserved.