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 RAIN ...

 Joseph ANDRAS; 
 Translated by
 Simon LESER

An excerpt from a novel called 


Lyrical and arresting work, ADRAS’ novel, TOMORROW THEY WON’T DARE TO MURDER US [DE NOS FRÈRES BLESSÉS], narrativizes the life and death of Fernand IVETON—the only pied noir among the 198 supporters of the FLN who were executed during the war in Algeria. A young revolutionary, Iveton plants a bomb in a factory on the outskirts of Algiers during the Algerian War. The bomb is timed to explode after work hours, so no one will be hurt, but the authorities have been watching. Iveton is caught, the bomb defused, and he is tortured, tried in a day, and sentenced to death by guillotine. A literary and political sensation in France on its first publication, TOMORROW... won the Prix Goncourt for First Novel, was applauded by Le Monde as a ‘vibrantly lyrical and somber’ debut, and lauded by La Croix as a ‘masterpiece.’ To mark the release of TOMORROW... in a new English language translation by Simone LESER (published by Verso), see below for an excerpt from the novel.

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NOT A PROUD AND FORTHRIGHT RAIN, NO. A stingy rain. Mean. Playing dirty. Fernand waits two or three meters from the paved road, under the shelter of a cedar tree. They said half past one in the afternoon. Four minutes to go. That’s right, one thirty. It’s unbearable, this sly rain, no guts for real drops: just a petty drip, barely enough to wet the back of your neck and get away with it. Three minutes. Fernand’s eyes are focused on his watch. A car passes. Is that the one? The vehicle does not stop. Four minutes late. Nothing serious, let’s hope. Another car in the distance. A blue Panhard, registered in Oran. It pulls up on the shoulder—ramshackle grille, an old model. Jacqueline has come alone. She looks around as she gets out: left, then right, then left again. Here are the papers, the information’s all there, Taleb’s thought of everything, don’t worry. Two papers, one per bomb, with precise instructions. Between 19:25 and 19:30. Timer, 5 minutes . . . Between 19:23 and 19:30. Timer, 7 minutes . . . He isn’t worried: here she is in front of him, nothing else matters. Fernand slips the papers into the right-hand pocket of his work overalls. The first time he saw her, at a comrade’s, amid hushed conversations and soft lighting, of course, he took her for an Arab, this Jacqueline. Her hair is certainly dark, very dark, she has a long arched nose and full lips, certainly, but still she’s not Arab, no. Rounded lids over large, dark—if hearty in laughter—eyes, black fruits now ringed by fatigue. A beautiful woman, no question. She takes two shoeboxes out of the trunk, sizes 42 and 44, it says on the side. Two? Impossible. I only brought this one bag, look, it’s too small to carry more than one bomb. The foreman’s been watching me, he’ll notice if I return with a second bag. Yes, he really will, believe me. Fernand holds one of the boxes to his ear: makes a hell of a racket, this thing, tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock, are you sure it won’t . . . ? It’s the best Taleb could do, but everything will be fine, don’t worry, Jacqueline answered. I understand. Get in, I’ll drop you a little further down. Funny name, this place, don’t you think? We’ve gotta talk about something, Fernand tells himself, thinking that any topic will do so long as they haven’t yet . . . The Ravine of the Wild Woman, do you know the legend? she asks. Not really, I forget. It’s about a woman, last century—really puts the years on us, doesn’t it—a woman who lost her two children in the forest up there. It was after a meal, a picnic, little blanket on the grass, Springtime . . . I’m not going to paint you a picture. The poor little mites disappeared in the ravine, they were never found and the woman lost her mind, she spent her whole life looking for them, so people called her feral, wild, and she refused to speak, only uttered little cries like a wounded animal, until one day they found her body somewhere, over there, maybe, on the very spot where you were waiting for me, who knows? Fernand smiles. Strange story, for sure.

She pulls up. Get out here, this car shouldn’t be seen near the factory. Good luck. He gets out of the car and waves. Jacqueline waves back and steps on the gas. Fernand adjusts his sports bag on his shoulder. Pale green, the strap lighter in color next to the drawstring opening, borrowed from a friend who uses it when he plays basket-ball on Sundays. Look as natural as possible. Like nothing’s going on, nothing at all. For the past few days he’s been taking it to work, to get the security guards used to it. Think about something else. The wild woman from the ravine, strange story that. Mo is here, ponderous nose overhanging his mustache. Everything alright? Yeah, sure, went out a bit to stretch my legs. Work wiped me out this morning. Nah, a little rain doesn’t bother me, Mo, it’s nothing, just a little drizzle, gonna pass any minute now, I’m telling you . . . Mo pats him on the shoulder: nothin’, nothin’, is this really Frenchie talkin’? Fernand is thinking about the bomb at the bottom of the bag, the bomb and its tick-tock tick-tock. It’s two o’clock, the time has come to return to the machines. I’m coming, just putting my bag down, be right there, Mo, yes, see you in a sec.

Fernand glances around the yard, keeping his head still as he does so. As natural as possible. No sudden movements. He walks slowly toward the abandoned shed he scoped out three weeks ago. The factory’s gas holder was inaccessible: you’d need to get past barbed wire and security guards, posted at three different points along the way.

Worse than a city-center bank or a presidential palace (not to mention that you have to strip off all, or almost all, your clothes before they let you through). Impossible, in short. And dangerous, much too dangerous, he had said to comrade Hachelaf. No deaths, that was the main thing: no deaths. Better that little storeroom where nobody ever goes. The old worker, Matahar, his mustard-colored head the texture of crumpled paper, gave him the key without the slightest suspicion—just need to take a nap, Matahar, I’ll give it back to you tomorrow, don’t tell the others,  aux autres, promise? The old man was as good as his word, والله العظيم, I’ll never say anything to anyone, Fernand, you can sleep tight. He takes the key out of his pocket, turns it in the lock, glances behind him, no one, he enters, opens the cupboard, puts the sports bag on the middle shelf, closes the door and turns the key again. Then goes around to the factory’s main entrance, greets the security guard as usual, and approaches his machine tool. It’s stopped raining, did you see, Mo? He did indeed, awful weather, this, been gray and doing whatever all November.

Fernand sits at his station and puts on his gloves, worn out at the seams. A contact, whose first and last names he does not know, will be waiting for him when the factory closes at seven, that is, just before the bomb goes off. That person will take him to a hideout in the Casbah somewhere, he doesn’t know where exactly, and from there he will hook up with the guerrillas . . . The next day, maybe, or in a few days—not his decision. He has to wait patiently for his turn to leave, every day, at the same time as everyone else, put down his worn-out green gloves, every day, joke a little with his friends and see you tomorrow, that’s right, g’night guys, say hello to the family for me. Don’t raise any suspicions: that’s what Hachelaf kept telling him. Much as he tries not to, he keeps thinking about Hélène. He’s not doing anything else, in fact—his brain, that three-pound brat, has a taste for melodrama. How will she react when she finds out that her husband has left Algiers and gone underground? Does she suspect? Was it such a good idea to keep this a secret? His comrades certainly thought so. The struggle forces love to keep a low profile, ideals require sacrifices, no room for soft hearts in this fight . . . Yes, it was for the best, for the smooth running of the operation.

It is almost four o’clock when someone calls him from behind. Fernand turns around in response to the question mark punctuating his name. Cops. Damn.

Before he can even think of running they seize and immobilize him. There are four of them, maybe five— the idea of counting does not cross his mind. Oriol, the foreman, stands further back. He pretends not to notice, but still, the bastard’s mouth is trying not to smile, not to reveal anything, you never know, they say communists are past masters in reprisal. Three soldiers appear, airmen first class. Called to the rescue, no doubt. The factory is sealed off, we’ve looked everywhere and only found one bomb so far, in a green bag inside a closet, says one of them. Beardless. A kid. An infant. Asshole under a round helmet. All three have machine guns hanging from their shoulders. Fernand says nothing. What’s the point? His failure is complete and his tongue, at least, has the modesty to recognize it. One of the officers goes through his pockets and finds Taleb’s papers. So there’s another bomb. All hands on deck inside their military skulls. Where is it? they ask Fernand. There’s only one, it’s a mistake, you already have it. The leader gives an order, take him to the Algiers central station right away. Oriol has not moved, would be a shame to miss the show. Fernand, now handcuffed, eyes him scornfully as he passes: he was hoping for a smirk, at least, a mark of avowal, but there is nothing, not even an involuntary pucker. The foreman is impassive, outwardly collected, ramrod in the boots he lets the soldiers wear on his behalf. Did he rat him out? Did he see him enter the storeroom and leave without his bag? Or is it Matahar? No, the old man wouldn’t. Not just for a nap, at any rate.

The van makes its way through the city. The sky is like a wet dog, puffy with clouds. Metallic winter. We know who you are, Iveton, we’ve got files on you, you communist fuck, you won’t be so high and mighty anymore with your little kisser, Iveton, your little Arab mustache, you’ll see, we’re going to make you talk at the station, you better believe it, we’re talented, we are, we always get our way, and believe me we’re going to do whatever the fuck we want with your piece of shit communist mouth, we could force a mute to sing an opera with his fingers. Fernand doesn’t respond. His hands are cuffed behind his back. He stares at the floor; a stained, worn-out gray. Look at us when we’re talking to you, Iveton, you’re a big boy you know, you’re going to have to take responsibility for your little hobbies, you hear, Iveton? One of the officers smacks the top of his head (not the kind of violent smack that makes a cracking sound, no, a light smack, meant to humiliate rather than to hurt). Boulevard Baudin. Its archways. They take him to the station, second floor. A square room, twelve by twelve, no windows.

The shoebox is on the kitchen table. No, it’s much too dangerous, don’t touch it, says Jacqueline. The timer is relentless, liable to drive a person crazy in the most literal way, tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock. Are you sure? asks Djilali (known to the state as Abdelkader, whereas certain militants—it can get confusing—call him Lucien). Tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock. Quite sure, actually. Jacqueline opens one of three cabinets and takes out a metallic sugar canister. Empties it and tries to fit the bomb inside. Too small—Djilali could tell just by looking.

Where’s the bomb, you son of a bitch? Fernand is blindfolded with a thick piece of torn cloth. His shirt lies on the floor, shorn of most of its buttons. One of his nostrils is bleeding. A cop punches him as hard as he can; his jaw makes a faint cracking sound. Where’s the bomb?

Jacqueline has wrapped the explosive device in white paper. She peels the label off the sugar canister and sticks it delicately onto the package. This should fool them if we get checked. Djilali clenches his teeth.

Tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock. She buries the package in a big shopping bag, along with a few chocolate bars and some cheap soap.

Fernand is curled up on the linoleum, the back of his head cradled in his hands. A shoe kicks his right ear. Strip him naked if he doesn’t want to talk. Two officers hold him up by the arms, a third undoes his belt before pulling down his pants and navy-blue briefs. Lay him on the bench there. His hands and feet are bound. I have to hold on, he tells himself, I have to hold firm. For Hélène, for Henri, for my country, for my comrades. Fernand shivers. He is ashamed of how little control he has over his body. His own body, which could betray, abandon, sell him to the enemy. It’s going to blow in two hours, that’s what it says on those papers you had: so, where did you stash the bomb?

Someone knocks on the door. Pounds, even. Police! Open up! Hélène instantly guesses they’ve come for Fernand. If they’re here, though, they probably don’t have him. Has he fled? What did he do? She rushes into the bedroom, grabs the dozen sheets of paper hidden in the nightstand and tears them into little pieces. Police! Open up! Sounds like drumming now. Fernand was clear: if anything ever happens to me, get rid of all of this immediately, you understand? She runs to the toilet, throws them in and flushes. A few pieces float to the surface. She flushes again.

The bomb, motherfucker, talk! Electrodes were placed on his neck, near the sternocleidomastoid muscles. Fernand shrieks out. He does not recognize his own cries. Talk! The electric current is in his flesh, burning its way down to the dermis. We’ll stop when you tell us.

Djilali and Jacqueline reach the square. A group of nuns are walking past an old bearded man in a turban, now crossing the street, slowly, trembling with all his years down to his wooden cane while a younger Arab, wearing a soot-brown suit, helps him along. A cacophony of cars and trolleybuses; a driver swears and strikes his door with the flat of his hand; kids are playing ball under a palm tree; a woman in a haik is carrying a small child, buried in her arms. Djilali and Jacqueline may not mention it, but they take note: the streets are crawling with CRS security vehicles. The first attacks claimed by the National Liberation Front have put the city on edge recently, to say the least. People don’t yet call it by its name, but it is well and truly here, the war, the one concealed from the public under the tender word events. Late September, there were explosions at the Milk Bar and La Cafétéria on rue Michelet. And then again, two days ago, at the Hussein Dey station, the Monoprix supermarket at Maison-Carrée, on a bus, on a train of the Oujda–Oran line, and at two cafés in Mascara and Bougie . . . Jean lives on rue Burdeau. Djilali whispers in Jacqueline’s ear that it would be better if she went in first, alone, so he can keep a lookout behind them. She pushes the door open with her grocery bag. He looks around, nothing suspicious, no police.

Open up! Hélène musses her hair and unmakes the bed. She opens the bedroom window and, pretending to yawn, apologizes to the officers down on the street, she was sleeping, she only just heard them, I’m sorry. Three Traction Avant police cars are parked in front of their house. Disdain in shining metal. There are a dozen men.

What do you want? she asks. Can’t you see? We have orders to search the premises, open up immediately! I’m all alone here, I don’t have to open anything, I don’t know you, besides, how do I know you’re the police? Hélène reckons that if something’s happened to Fernand she’s better off playing for time, to keep them here as long as possible. One of the officers, visibly irritated, raises his voice and orders her to open the door, otherwise they’ll smash it in. What do you want? My husband? He’s at the factory, go look for him there. Hélène does not budge from the window. We’ll smash the door down!

Why are you covering for the fellaghas, what are they to you? Cut that shit, Iveton, come on! The electrodes are now on his testicles. A police officer, sitting on a stool, activates the generator. Fernand, still blindfolded, screams again. I have to hold, hold on. Not say anything, not let go. At least give the comrades time to hide when they realize what’s happened, if they don’t already know, but how could they (and what time is it anyway?), if they don’t already know I’ve been arrested. Yes, what time could it possibly be? Why did you betray your people, Iveton?

Jean bends over the bomb. The room is dark, the lighting inadequate. Jacqueline sits on the room’s only chair while Djilali returns from the kitchen with two glasses of water. Tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock. You know how to disarm it? Jean indicates his hesitation with a grimace. He’s done it before, yes, but on a different model. This time he’s not sure he knows the mechanism. He assesses the wires which connect the device to the timer, a Jaz brand alarm clock. Jacqueline’s name is on the bomb, written in white: Taleb’s homage to a militant, a sister in battle, who’s been risking her life for Algeria despite being neither Muslim nor Arab—Jacqueline is Jewish. If you’re not sure, don’t touch anything, we don’t want it to blow up in our faces. Jean offers to get rid of it far away, outside the city, somewhere deserted where it won’t hurt anyone. Why not the Terrin Coalworks? suggests Djilali. Yes, that could work, it’s safe over there.

We’re going to shove it up your ass if you don’t talk, did you hear, are you listening? Fernand would have never believed that this was it, torture, the infamous question. The question which requires only one answer, the same, always the same: to hand over your brothers. That it could be so excruciating. No, not the right word. Our alphabet is too decorous. Horror can’t but give up before its twenty-six little characters. He feels the barrel of a handgun against his stomach. Pistol or revolver? It pokes in half an inch or so beside the navel. I’m going to blow a hole in there if you don’t talk. Do you understand, or do I have to say it in Arabic?

Jean has urged Jacqueline and Djilali to go back home. It’s more sensible, best not be in the same place for too long. Night dilutes the city in soot, in coal; under a sated sun, the eil assouvi, le mue muezzin calls the faithful to prayer,  اشهد ان لا اله الا الله; on rue de Compiègne, Jean lights a cigarette and drives  straight ahead, arriving at the Chasseriau ramp, where boys are sitting on donkeys, laughing and laughing, Chasseriauoir . . . who was he, again?  اشهد ان محمد رسول الله, Jean glimpses a police station on his right, a CRS police van parked not too far away. Empty. After all, why not? The bomb is ready, set to go off at 19:30, all he needs to do is . . . He brakes abruptly, picks up the package under his seat and gets out. Behind him, cars are honking. He runs over to the van, crazy idea really, lowers the back door handle, it’s open, drivers are shouting behind him, he gets in, slides the package under one of the benches and quickly returns to his car.

Hélène has finally consented to let them in, not doubting that they might indeed “smash the door in.” She rubs her eyes again and explains that she was asleep. They search every room in the house—bathroom included—and inspect every drawer, open every wardrobe, pull out the bedlinen, leave clothes strewn on the floor, return nothing to its proper place. One fat officer, more zealous than the rest, meticulously checks the food containers. Hélène, annoyed, points out that he should be more careful and respectful of others’ property; the fat officer does not look up, he keeps at it, nose deep in rice and rye flour. One of his colleagues entreats him to listen to Madame Iveton and conduct the search with more restraint. A letter, guys, look, I found something! A cop proudly displays mail from Hélène’s father, written in Polish. Both of them are originally Polish, in fact, and this is family correspondence, nothing more: Joseph asking after his little Ksiazek, as she was known before she came to France. And to think the police take these sentences for a coded message; Hélène smiles to herself.

Fernand’s body is almost entirely burned. Every part of it, every bit, every inch of white flesh has been electrocuted. He is made to lie on a bench, still naked, head hanging backwards over nothing. One of the police officers puts a wet blanket over his body, while two others tie him securely to the bench. Your second bomb’s going to blow in an hour. If you don’t talk before that we’re going to do you right here—you’ll never see anyone again, you hear, Iveton? Fernand can finally have a look around the room: they just took his blindfold off. He has trouble opening his eyes. The pain is too sharp. His heart twitches, needles, barbs; he spasms again. Colleagues of ours are at your place right now, haven’t you heard? With your little Hélène, and from what they just said over the phone she’s quite a looker, your wife . . . you wouldn’t want her to get hurt, would you? So you’re going to tell us where the bomb is, okay? An officer puts a piece of cloth over his face and the water starts to pour. The rag sticks, he can no longer breathe, he swallows water as best as he can to try to get some air but it’s no good he’s suffocating his stomach swells and water flows flows flows.

Seven o’clock in the evening. The unknown contact, Yahia, the one Fernand was supposed to meet after work, is waiting by the factory. He has borrowed a car for the occasion, to cover his tracks in the event of an investigation. Never wait more than five minutes: an order no comrade should ever ignore. Punctuality is paramount for militants, they say, it is our backbone and our armor, any delay is conducive to debacle. 7:06. Yahia stays in the car and decides that, this time around, he’d better wait for Fernand. Who knows, a talkative colleague might be holding him up by the machines. 7:11. He gets out, glances around, takes his pack of Gauloises Caporal and lights a cigarette (another one the FLN won’t have: Yahia chuckles at the thought of the Front’s strictness—bordering on madness—regarding tobacco).

Five more minutes and you’re done, dead, bye-bye! Water drips from his nose, he can’t breathe. His temples throb to such an extent he imagines them exploding any moment now. An officer, sitting on him, punches him in the stomach. Water squirts out of his mouth. Stop, stop, enough, Fernand can only mumble. The officer straightens up. Another, next to the faucet, turns the water off. Alright, I know where the bomb is . . . Fernand knows nothing of the sort, of course, since Jacqueline took it with her. Rue Boench, a workshop . . . I gave it to a woman, a blonde, yes, that’s right, blonde . . . She had a gray skirt and drove a 2CV . . . I don’t know her, my bag was too small to fit both in, she took the other one and left . . . A blonde, that’s all I know . . . The chief requests the order sent, no time to waste, to all available patrols: scour Algiers with the present description. The cloth blocking his mouth and nose is removed. You see, Iveton, it wasn’t that hard. D’you really think we enjoy doing this kind of thing? We just don’t want there to be innocent victims because of your shit, that’s all. That’s our job, Iveton, I would even say our mission—to protect the people. You see: soon as you talk, we leave you alone . . . All of his torturers sound the same, Fernand can’t distinguish between their voices anymore: similar timbre, just a lot of noise, goddamn hertz. What Fernand does not know is that the general secretary of police in Algiers, Paul Teitgen, made it explicitly clear, two hours ago, that he forbade anyone from touching the suspect. Teitgen had been deported and tortured by the Germans during the war. He could not understand why the police, his police, that of the France for which he’d fought, the France of the Republic, Voltaire, Hugo, Clemenceau, the France of human rights, of Human Rights (he was never sure when to capitalize), this France, la France, would use torture as well. No one here had taken any notice: Teitgen was a gentle soul, a pencil pusher offloaded from the metropolis just three months ago. He had brought his dainty ways along in his little suitcase, you should’ve seen, duty, probity, righteousness, ethics, even— ethics my ass, he knows nothing about this place, nothing at all, do what you have to do with Iveton and I’ll cover for you, or so the chief had decided without hesitation. You can’t fight a war with principles and boy-scout sermons.

Yahia crushes the butt of his cigarette under his shoe and goes back to his vehicle. Twenty minutes late: it can only mean the worst. He starts the car and runs into an army blockade, about a hundred yards away. Military trucks have closed off the surrounding streets. Papers, please. Yahia is sure of it now: something’s happened to Fernand. A second soldier approaches to tell his colleague to let him through, he’s not a blonde and this isn’t a 2CV, we’re not about to start stopping every damn car. Yahia thanks them in a friendly voice (without overdoing it, either) and hurries to Hachelaf’s place—if Fernand is tortured, he might end up talking. They have to warn every contact he is liable to give up.

Hélène is in the back of one of the three Tractions Avant. They take her to the police station on rue Carnot, sit her down on a chair in front of a gleaming wooden desk. The chief comes in and asks, without explanation, what color her skirt is. Hélène, who does not understand the point of the question, replies that her skirt is gray. Gray, like the one our suspect is supposed to be wearing! the chief exclaims.

Fernand is still on the bench, tied up, slowly catching his breath. He knows he will be tortured again when they return from the workshop, but he nonetheless takes advantage of the small respite, this unlikely lull in the proceedings. His head is pounding. Torn up. Eyes half closed, he gazes, slack-mouthed, at the ceiling. His genitals in particular hurt— so much so that he wonders in what state he’ll find his balls when all of this is over. The door opens, he turns his head slightly to the right, hears them yelling, the apes coming in, tricolor-clad Gestapo. A brutal kick twists his lips. You took us for suckers, didn’t you, you piece of shit, there was nothing in the workshop . . . we’re going to fuck you up good.

Hélène has just been apprised of the situation: her husband has been arrested for planting a bomb, which was immediately defused: the police were called to his factory in Hamma, and found papers on him indicating that another explosive device was supposed to go off—any minute now, in fact. She had no idea, she answers, truthfully. Of course, she is not unaware of Fernand’s political views, of his activities in circles of which she knows neither the ins nor the outs, of course she suspects that he could, one day, radicalize further and seek to translate words into action, but she never imagined him capable—is that even the proper term?—of committing, or even wanting to commit, a deadly attack. All she says aloud, however, is that she was entirely ignorant of Fernand’s militancy; she loves the man himself and does not care whether his heart beats left or right, as long as it beats by her side. Do you take us for fools, Madame Iveton? She smiles. Her calm is not just a mask, a display of bravado, a protective swagger. Not at all; Hélène has, throughout her life, always known how to maintain the elegance and bearing people expect of her in any situation. You should talk, Madame Iveton, fact is we have a lot of information on your husband, some of which, I’m sorry to say, might hurt you: he’s been cheating on you for a while now, with a certain Madame Peschard. Hélène does not believe a word of it. Their speech is heavy and ill-sounding, clumsy, the flimflam of officials and servicemen. She smiles again, before remarking: I hear adultery is fashionable now, I shouldn’t be surprised if you, too, chief, were every inch a cuckold.

Fernand has fainted. He had the sensation, right before passing out, that he was about to drown, his lungs filling up completely. An officer slaps his cheeks over and over to bring him round. He’s not going to give out on us like that, is he? Teitgen wouldn’t be happy. Mr. Ethics. That office clerk from Paris, with the soft heart, all lovey-dovey. They laugh.

Yahia does not find Hachelaf at home, only his wife, who is not aware of anything. He goes to Hachelaf’s garage and, after about half an hour, sees him coming up on his Lambretta. He motions for him to stop and explains the situation in a few words. Hachelaf has not had any news from the group, but he was surprised, listening to the radio, not to hear of an explosion at the factory. Yahia offers to hide him for a few days at his European friends’, the Duvallets, they’re good people, you’ll see, and it’s only until we find out exactly what’s happened to Fernand. He accepts.

Hélène is taken to a cell. Rounded-up prostitutes a few meters away. The water has been cut off.

Fernand comes to. Everything is dim, cops’ faces are leaning over his, and his nasal cavity is a violent, searing pain. He wants to vomit. An officer asks the others to stand back and sits on a stool, the very same on which the generator stood only a few hours earlier. He speaks to Fernand in a calm voice. Friendly, even. He has shown courage—it’ll be to his credit—but it’s useless to keep this up, come clean once and for all and we’ll leave you alone, you’ll go rest in your cell, no one will hurt you, you have my word. Time’s up, you see, we’ve heard no report of an explosion, your blonde in the 2CV must’ve found a way to defuse it . . . It’s all over, you can tell us the rest, we just want to know who you work with: names, Europeans, Muslims, and don’t tell me you don’t know anyone. Honestly, I don’t know anyone, Fernand affirms it . . . Get back to it, guys.

Prostitutes of every size, color and proportion, fullcheeked, plump, bamboo-thin in fishnets, wrinkled or otherwise marked by the smoothness of a desecrated youth. Hélène is sitting at the back of the cell; the cold seeps under her dark green coat. Fernand always said that he condemned blind violence on both moral and political grounds. This arbitrary shredding of bodies, chalking up victims at random—it’s a throw of the dice, a sordid lottery on any street, café, bus. Though on the side of the Algerian independentists, he did not approve of their every method: barbarity cannot be beaten by emulation, blood is no answer to blood. Hélène remembers other attacks, that of the Milk Bar and others, and how Fernand worried, telling her over coffee (black, no sugar), his forehead more wrinkled than usual, that it wasn’t right to place bombs just anywhere, not right, not at all, to place them among little girls and their mothers, grandmothers and humble Europeans, themselves without a dime. It could only lead to deadlock. An officer stops in front of the cell and taunts: Iveton, tête de con! Hélène stands up. Come say that to my face if you’re a man, open up and come say it. The prostitutes clap and let out a few bravos. A baton runs noisily along the bars, demanding immediate silence. Fernand would never have placed a bomb in the factory knowing it would kill workers, of that she is certain. He probably expected the building to be empty. A symbol. Sabotage, in sum.

Let him be, that’s enough, or we’ll lose him. Fernand is no longer answerable for anything. An unrelenting throbbing inside. Organs like so many wounds. He begs for the water and the blows to stop. It’s late, his comrades must know he’s been arrested, they’ve had time to hide.

Alright, wait, alright . . . I know two people, no more, I swear, Hachelaf and Fabien, a worker, Italian family, he’s young, in his twenties . . . Fernand has no idea who he is talking to and, in truth, knows nothing but the fact that when he talks the torture stops. I don’t know anyone else, you have everything. An officer writes the names down in a leather-bound notebook. That’ll do for tonight, take him to his cell. He is unable to move by himself: they carry him, naked, to the cell, and toss his clothes nearby. Rats scurry in the corners. Sleep prevails over pain: he collapses a few minutes later.

Joseph ANDRAS is the author of the novels De nos frères blessés and Kanaky. Awarded the Prix Goncourt for De nos frères blessés (Tomorrow They Won’t Dare to Murder Us), he refused the prize, explaining his belief that “competition and rivalry were foreign to writing and creation.”

Simon LESER is a writer, critic and translator currently living in New York, and working towards a doctorate in French literature at NYU.


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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