I won’t write any more of my grandma’s story today, because today is the first day of Crossing Border. I was awake very early, or perhaps I didn’t sleep. That’s just how it is: insomnia, dipsomania, vendetta – the basic elements of the writing profession.
Starting today, I’m going to be a good person. When I was in the lift going down for breakfast, I ran into another girl who was up early. It only just gone half past six, and she was dragging her suitcase down to leave, going off to some other place. She was very pale, as if she hadn’t slept well. “Your scarf is very pretty,” I said to her. She jumped at the sound of my voice and looked at me in surprise, as if I were some dark spirit without any taste in clothes. I took no notice and smiled back at her.
Starting today, even if the sky falls on my head, I’m going to get out for a walk. So I went. There was no-one I knew in the lobby, so I asked the way to the Royal Theatre, and set out in that direction on my own. It was cold outside. An Asian guy stood at the side of the road smoking a cigarette. A group of children ran blithely across the square, like newly released angels. I went over a bridge, turned right, then headed straight on. I’d walked this route seven or eight times over the last three days here, and it had finally submitted to me. Following this set path today felt like a return to a familiar hometown.
Starting today, I’m going to be a more cautious person, like they used to say in the olden days: “inspect oneself three times a day.” I will consider my words and actions at all times. When I got back to the hotel, I got an email from the translator, Philip. It was only ten o’clock, and he’d already completed his translation of today’s column. “Are you actually a robot? Who sent you to invade the Earth?” I wanted to write to him, but after some consideration, I gave up this idea.
Starting today, I’m going to stop being solitary. I’m going to spend more time with other people. In the afternoon I finally found Wiam and Marek in the lobby. Let’s go out for a walk,” Wiam said. “OK,” I replied at once, hoping that she might pop me straight into her pocket and whisk me away. We went for an extraordinary meal at which I broke my ban on rice. I haven’t eaten any for eight years. We chatted for a while, Cairo, Prague… Like children returning on Halloween with their treats, we each opened our pockets just a crack, letting our companions catch a glimpse of the sweeties we had garnered. Candy is sweet, but it’s not everything.
Today I feel exhausted. But the carnival is here, and we had many things that we wanted to see. The Royal Theatre was thronged with every sort and stripe of person. I’m sure they all have their own stories, but I didn’t have time to ask every one of them. Marek was taking me to meet up with the other writers and translators, then we were shaking hands, doing readings, answering questions, laughing, speaking a Babel of languages our own and not our own. Afterwards, Nicky and I decided to go and see a band called Daughter playing. I didn’t know who they were, but they were telling me that they were all daughters to someone out there. Standing in the darkness, we couldn’t see anyone at all. Then a beam of light suddenly illuminated the stage, shining on the lead singer. She sang a slow song in a silky voice: mother, she sang, mother.
It sent my mind reeling, as if a lover had taken a knife and plunged it into my heart. Under the cover of darkness, I found myself crying. Nicky noticed and patted my shoulder. I found some tissues and quickly wiped my eyes.
“You’re such a sensitive child,” my mum once said to me. Eight years ago today, when of course I had no idea that I would come to the Crossing Border festival in The Hague, I spent the whole day with my mother in her hospital room. We didn’t talk much, but she held my hand. She was very thin by then, just a pair of large dark eyes still shining, looking at me like a deer, waiting.
At some point, I don’t know when exactly, she pinched my hand, and we both knew it was time. She took one last look at me and closed her eyes. I never saw her again.