Twenty Years Agoview galleries
One day, twenty years ago, she just appeared on the bench when the ferry arrived. She had a job at the English bookshop, it was as sudden as that, it was the first time I had seen her. She was sitting on the bench eating her lunch watching the ferry disembark. Then she came to the bookshop door when the afternoon ferry came.
I asked her once who she was waiting for but she didn't say. She just smiled.
I said that maybe he had forgotten, this man she was waiting for, or maybe he had lied when he promised to come for her. Still she said nothing.
Then for a while I took to saying maybe tomorrow when I saw her coming back from the bench. And she would smile at me.
It must have been a year before I hit on the idea of asking her to recommend a book.
I remember a blond young man asking the question loudly as he entered her shop. I remember berating myself for not thinking about talking to her about books.
I waited a week before I asked. She smiled, the smile I was becoming quite familiar with, she thought a while then suggested The Stranger. She had it in more than one language, I could choose. I chose English. I didn't realise it was a translation until I opened the book that evening to read.
The next day as I waited for the lunchtime ferry to arrive, I took my coffee and sat on the bench in front of my office in the sun to read my book.
When she came passed I told her his mother died. I had only read the first page and didn't know what to say. It is the first thing that happens in the book and I wanted to say something.
Maybe a thank you would have been better. Or I could have just held up the book to show her what I was reading.
She looked confused, shocked even and I realised my faux pas. I looked in the book and read the first line of the book: Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.
She smiled and said something like oh, or that’s alright then. Even though it had gone badly it became the routine, or perhaps because it had gone badly I tried to make it better the next day. And the next. I would read a few pages every day and tell her what Monsieur Mersault was up to.
The conversations I hoped the book would spark never came. Her comments about the book were decisive, complete. Her observations were beyond my understanding, I was never able to do any more than nod. Never able to repost, or counter, or add. I am still not sure what she meant by Camus being a moralist despite his simplification.
I admired how clever she was. I admire how clever she is but being clever did not mean she did not do something very stupid.