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“At one time, when the realm of the dead became overpopulated, you hid in me”
“Tell me about the bakery,” she said, “that transparent four-eyed window…”
“Because”, I said, “by crawling, the Casern moved all the way to the cash at the bakery. Our hands, reaching for the cash to cover our most basic needs, were cut off at the shoulders. They claim that ‘money soils humans’. Here, the cash was soiled by a human.”
It was wintertime, it was cold, in the ground floor apartment that was our home, the stove was only lit in one of the rooms. As for the building, it dated from the war years with this gas heating… A stove… Since he was selfish, since he was pitiless, he only heated his own room. In the other rooms, the walls lost their paper, strip after strip, as if ripped off a human body… Between the edges of these strips, greenish mold wept black tears.
Such labour it was, labour, producing day and night, together, with all those little children…On my mother’s head, no, this was not the case! Our every bitefull was counted. Each piece of bread in our mouths, like razor blades, if I swallow, it will tear my throat, best to spit it out…
And that deathly silence. Sincerity no longer existed.
German customers came to the bakery, bought a coffee, a dessert, the woman would pay for what she had eaten and drunk, the man paid for his own. I was flabbergasted in the rear. I wondered what kind of family this was. “In the name of God, how do those two make love in the same bed?” …
All things considered, they were the peaceful ones. “Take my rose, give my rose.” Look, our stove, our money, our Casern… I have no idea of what comes in, what goes out. “I’ll handle it, you don’t understand a thing about paperwork” said the Casern to the cashbox. Over time, everything changes, everything becomes soiled.
True enough, what would we know about fraud, gimmicks behind our back, clandestine investments, what would we know of swindling one’s own children, of living off others, what would we know about grabbing someone else’s work…?
The children are small, I can’t go on with my studies, nor can I have a trade, but I must do something, I must do many things… I must get out of here, escape from the Casern.
We had a German customer by the name of Gabi. She lives with her daughter. She is a nurse in a retirement home, dropped by after work, we would have a coffee and chat at the bakery.
– Find me a job, Gabi, for mercy’s sake, I’m suffocating. Casern is going to kill me…!
Gabi takes a look at the oven, then at my dying eyes.
– I’ll take any kind of job…
– How about house cleaning?
– Of course, why not. Do people lose their soul from doing it?
The following day, she had me meet Brigit who in charge of the retirement home and also a painter. Under the doorbell at her home, there’s a family name ending in “dovski”. She is a descendant of the first Polish carpenters who arrived in Germany in the 1800s. We talk, we look at her paintings. Colorful, with flowers and kites… Such happy paintings that induce serenity. I would like to take my children by the hand, enter these paintings, disappear in them, evaporate.
– So, are they beautiful?
– They are beautiful.
“Draw Frida’s wounded stag for me, Birgit, that’s the state I’m in” I say to myself.
We talk about Goya, Dali, Van Gogh, about Käthe Kollwitz’s pencil drawings. She hands over the keys to her house. Her daughter, her husband and herself leave in the morning and come back at night, I’ll clean the house until they come home…
I have two daughters and a son. He is still in the cradle. That morning I send off the two oldest to school, I place the small one in the stroller and head for Birgit’s. A three storey house, the little one sleeps on the ground floor, I start work on the upper floor. From time to time, the little one wakes up, I feed him, I get back to work…
At the end of the day, Birgit rings the doorbell, holding in her hand a bouquet of flowers and a fifty euro bill. Her house has never been cleaned like that since it was a house…
“Oh how I love you, pearl of salt on my brow.”
There’s much to do, there’s much to be done, I must also get rid of Casern.
I head to the women’s bureau, Birgit and Gabi have indicated the way.
The woman at the bureau is middle aged, she lends a good ear to my problems, asks a few questions from time to time. I begin with the pink clouds, the love letters, and work down to my slow disappearance in a deathly silence, until Casern shoots me in the back… I crash down the stairs of my life.
The woman sits in front of my chair, she takes my hands in hers and says “Ah girl, your Casern is a secret narcissic pervert”… So I learn something new. In fact, a something that becomes many things.
“You must leave Casern without turning back, there is no remedy to this trouble, you cannot sow affection on this field”, she tells me. She writes a letter as a consequence, makes a few phone calls and directs me toward a housing bureau.
For days, with children holding on to my skirt, I make round trips to this housing bureau. I’m sent away with “not today, come back tomorrow.” In the end, I sit on the doorstep and don’t leave any more. Three hours go by, someone slips the rental contract and the key to an apartment in my hand.
I start cleaning a different house every day. The sweat of my brow falls on my lips. I love the taste of it, I adore it.
With a simple signature, the State hands over the key to your home to Casern, turns you into a prisoner, you suffocate in the cleaning-children-bedroom triangle…Your property rights are noted on your marriage contract, but is separation that easy?
For years, in order to divorce, you step in and out of tribunals. The institutions are not willing to open up this triangle and set you free. And if that is not enough, the family gets involved, and so do the neighbours. But it doesn’t matter, you know your reality, your life knows it.
During those years, you search for the organs ripped off your body, your fragments. You find them by roadside, in front of windows, in pastures, on mountains and you sew them back into place, one after the other.
Then you tell yourself “wow, living is beautiful!” Living, without Casern, without tanks, without bullets or bombs.
Then Casern’s ropes return, wrap around your neck, you find yourself alone.
You say “to hell with those strangling me with your rope, drop it.” You come to terms with the mirrors. “wow, life is beautiful!” You are despised, banished because of the work you do. But you laugh inside with a glass of wine, you celebrate your deliverance from Casern. Your daughters enter university. You teach them one thing, way before all the labels, “Just be honest”…
Then, you get back on the navy blue bicycle…
– Hey, brown-haired one, where are you off to?
– I’m off to do housework, I’m off to clean the world.
Salt of my brow, I love you…
Image : Naz Oke 2022. adoptart.net
Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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