I was born in the midst of the sea
Musique : Julie Fowlis – Rugadh Mi 'n Teis Meadhan Na Mara
I woke up with a jolt when the conductor asked for my ticket. I wished I could have had an excuse to complain, but we were almost there anyway — no point in going back to sleep. Still drowsy, I watched the intruder as he walked up the aisle. Grumpy and tired figures, everywhere. There weren't many people on that train, and they were old, most of them. Going widdershins, it felt like. A verse echoed back from an old, long-forgotten childhood tale. Childe Rowland to the Dark Tower came, I whispered. But I'm no knight.
I did not want to look out the window — did not want to see the city disappear as I rowed back time, back to where I grew up. Yet I could not help thinking of what was happening behind the shabby curtains. Behind my closed eyelids dansed figures of mighty giants being devored by mud and lichens, and of busy streets slowly changing into deserted fields. Life is in cities, not in the harsh, empty countryside. I had been sensitive, once, to the beauty nature can offer – jagged cliffs, dense forests and raging seas, my realm as a child. But I grew up. What was it again? When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I grew up, I gave up childish ways... God, I sound like I'm still going to catechism.
The cold air felt like a slap on my face when I got off the rickety train. When it had eventually stopped with a last spasm I had waited until everyone had gotten out, but one can't postpone things for ever. There I was again, trapped between the low grey skies and the sharp autumn wind. I looked at the dusty, ageing railroad platform. Time sure flies by. A cry stirred me out of my thoughts; my aunt Loaven, it was. So much ye've changed... I alm'st didna recognize ye, 'ta ! Well, people change in fifteen years. We loaded my luggages into the bumpy family car, thoroughly avoiding to allude to the true reason of my coming. I wasn't in the mood for talking anyway. My aunt felt like a stranger to me, despite all her efforts to act like we were as close as we used to.
This time I did look out the window, at the once familiar patchwork of green, orange and brown – fields and trees and ferns, alongside the sinuous roads that meandered between the hills like frozen rivers. Cloudy figures of sheep dotting the pastures. A huge flock of starlings in flight. The skyline and the deep blue of the sea, so far away to the north that they were almost impossible to tell apart. And greyish smoke rising from some of the stubby cottages that stood here and there between the hills. They had never been much to look at, these old houses, but I didn't remember them to be so worn out. Most of them were covered in creeper – no, not creeper, ivy. Some seemed to have lost their inhabitants while I was away. Aren't the Guennegans living here anymore? Nann ma dear, the old man pass'd away – five years ago I think it was – and poor Mrs Guennegan wasna long tae follow. I could feel that my aunt was relieved to have something to talk about. She went on but I wasn't interested in listening anymore. I did not want to care, nor to seem to. I kept on staring outside. As for the bairns ye ken, they've left for the ceeties, like all the others. It's as if there isna one youngster left in these parts anymair.
When my aunt handed me my suitcase, I almost dropped it. I couldn't really remember the car stopping in the yard, nor me getting out of it. The whole world had shrunk to the house in front of which I was standing. I couldn't talk, couldn't think, couldn't breathe — I was eight years old again and shame was crushing me. I was coming back from school, and entering my own house felt like a slow descent into the darkness of ignorance and loutishness. Home had become the symbol of a degenerating culture, and my native tongue but a primitive language of rumbling and hissing.
Dun ye worry ma dear, come in. What was the point in resisting anyway? The beaten earth of yard felt spongy under my feet as I surrendered to my aunt. I felt so out of place, with my neat urban clothing. I crossed the threshold. My eyes needed some time to adjust to the obscurity inside. Not many windows, never had been, but I didn't recall the house being so dark. My first thought was, where has the sunshine gone? Aunt Loaven had already took my luggage, and I could hear her rustling up the stairs as she stowed them in my old bedroom. It felt strange, alienating in a way: here I was, in the house of my childhood, next to the floral curtains I used to hide behind, with the fading smell of smoke from the oven and the faint ticking of the grandfather clock in the hallway, as if all of them had been frozen in time — yet everything seemed so quaint, so eerie even. The house had never been this tidy and neat either. Made me think of the interiors you see in magazines, cold and uninhabited, impersonal. Dun ye want tae see her? I hadn't even noticed my aunt coming back. Sure. I followed her to my mother's room as if I had forgotten how to go there. I'll leave ye then. A deep inspiration; I opened the door.
She was asleep. A ray of ashen light fell from the little window upon her hollowed face. How old and shrivelled she looked — how frail. Her breathing, though faint and almost inaudible, seemed to fill the whole room. I couldn't believe it really was her. Who took my mother from me? A slow exhalation, her eyes opened. For a second I thought she wouldn't recognize me either; her stare was so blank, her tired face so indecipherable. Then her eyes watered and a whisper escaped her lips. Ye came back. Mo tredig-vihn, ma starling.
I was born in the midst of the sea, the song says. I can't help humming it, throwing stones at the waves even though I am too far to reach them. I had loved this place. The harshness of the coast, the pebble beaches and the jagged rocks covered in limpets and white foam. I would come here hoping to catch sight of seals and mari-morgans. Who took my mother from me? I sit on the grass, a few yards from the beach. On my way to this place I went past my old school, which has been closed down years ago. All the window panes are broken, the roof slowly collapsing, and the entire building is clad in ivy and moss. Nature is taking over — taking itself back. Who took my mother from me? I lie down on the damp grass, under the salt wind and the pale sky, and keep on humming.
What could I tell You, severe God,
Sea of kindness ?
How sour is the milk of the poor;
How the rose dries without dew;
How madness defiles the earth.
What could I tell You, severe God,
But how weary I am...
Tags : short-story, écriture, personnel, nouvelle, tales of the sea
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