Growing up, I used to bargain for things all the time. I made deals with my parents for more independence. One day, the question of going to school on my own popped up. My father suggested that twelve was a reasonable age to do so. My mother did not fully agree. She argued the neighbourhood was not safe enough at night. Some of my classes finished at around 6pm a few days a week. She was not comfortable with the fact that it meant I would come home on foot in the winter when nightfall was at 5pm. It is true that the Bastille area had become perhaps less “homogeneous”, as she said. Thus it became populated with homeless families sleeping on benches and eating leftovers from the Thursday and Sunday markets. Some of them looked a bit out of place. Although I never saw them as dangerous, I changed my opinion as I started to see things more clearly as a soon-to-be teenager. My father said that argument made no sense. No place was ever absolutely safe. I had to grow up someday. And “Paris is no Alcatraz,” my father said.
Eventually my mother sighed and nodded. As she did often, when she was not fully convinced of something but still wanted everyone in the house to be pleased. More than anything she wanted peace. She did everything in her power to make sure she had it. She had grown up in a house where everyone argued. Maybe that is why she always compromised. I liked to think that I would turn out as selfless and generous when I grew up.
My birthday happened during the holiday. But as school started again, they honoured their promise and confirmed that I was to go to school on my own the following day. I was happy to have a privilege my little brother Nicolas did not. I did not get along with him. He was three years younger. A baby compared to me.
At dinner we argued. I started with an unnecessary comment:
“You’re so dumb. You can’t use your knife right. It’s the other hand,
“Yeah, well, you have spots on your face. You look like a pocket calculator.”
As I was falling asleep, I thought about what I had told him. Thinking that maybe I shouldn't have said it.
The next day, I woke before everyone and left early. Just so I could take time to enjoy my walk. The day went on. Nothing special happened. The French class passed slowly, then Maths, then lunch, then Science and eventually English. Finally, I came back home.
I could tell something was wrong when I found the front door open. I was sure I could hear an animal in pain, producing some kind of roar. When I announced myself, no one answered. I walked a few steps and found my parents in the living-room. My mother was crying in my father’s lap. She was the wounded animal.
My father looked broken. I had never seen him cry. His pupils had disappeared behind the lines around his eyes. I hesitated before I sat down with them. A part of me did not want to know. My mother sat up, she could not breathe. People say that parents feel their children’s pain. That it only goes one way. It is not true. In that moment, I could feel her pain. I could feel it before I knew why. The seed was there. My throat tightened. My chest felt hollow. My vision blurred. My father struggled to say:
“A girl pushed your brother in class. He fell on a pair of scissors. He died. I’m sorry, Delphine.”.
After that, my mother changed. She changed the way she took care of us. And mostly of me. She no longer hums to herself when she cooks or when she does the laundry. She no longer watches a movie with us after dinner. She spends a lot of time in her bed, waiting for the day to end. She even changed her daily greetings.
Coming home from work, she used to say “Bonjour” in the same way every day. The vowels of the word would resonate through the whole house. The “oo” sound would go up and up. She left the note suspended in the air. It was a singsong, a habitual greeting that she made hers. So much so that when I hear others say “Bonjour,” I am always reminded of her. I imagined her combination of phonemes would sing in my head, all my life. It was a part of my routine, for as long as I can recall. My father or the nanny would fetch me and my brother from school. And a few hours later my mother would arrive and pronounce her ‘Bonjour’ as if she had invented it. Day after day, her “Bonjour” remained the same.
Now my mother says nothing when she comes home. I have to pay attention to her now. I have to listen for the new ways of her existence. I usually know whether she’s here or not thanks to the noise her footsteps make on the stairs. Those steps have not changed. They are still as discreet as before, almost silent in fact. It’s the subtle creak of the stairs that gives her away. Or the crack of her knees. She used to waltz into every room making no noise, always startling us. Now she walks around, dragging a heavy weight with her. She still does the same things as before. Watering the plants on the balcony, reading her book in the living-room. On weekends, when five o’clock strikes, she prepares black tea. She drinks it in the cup my father gifted her years ago. The cup is old. The pattern has been erased by the sandpaper of time and the chemicals of the washing machine liquid. The bottom of the cup is permanently darkened by the tea. And the handle has cracks all over; it threatens to separate from the cup. But it’s from Dad. So she always drinks from that one when it’s clean.
Throughout the following year, I noticed time slowing down. At school, I was constantly checking my watch. I was eager to go home. I don’t know why, since once I got there I wanted to leave. Maybe I wanted to go home and make sure everyone was still holding up. They were not, by the way. I felt lonelier than I ever did. My father had thrown himself into a legal battle with the school and the family whose daughter had caused Nicolas’ death. After all, my father was a lawyer. When he was not doing that, he was at work. When he came home, it always seemed he was about to leave. This is how he survived.
My mother took leave from work for a while. That was a shame since she had always loved her work. She was a chef in a traditional French restaurant on Rue De Vaugirard near the Senate. My dad and I knew there was no such thing as taking leave in high-end restaurants. She laid the workload on her chef commis and second commis, thinking she would just come back when she felt like being her old self. But her old self was gone. She had aged a lot in just a few weeks. I could hear a slow cry at night. The same one I heard when I came back from school the day Nicolas died. You would think we’d remember images more than anything else. But it’s her roar that I hear when I cannot sleep at night, after all those years.
For a while the house was full of the ghost of my brother. The one we had created. Not one meal passed without one of us looking at the seat he used to take at the table. For a while, we saw him in every room. Playing with his toys. Making noise. Noises of a child. Asking all sorts of questions.
I recall a moment from two years ago. We were all in the living-room. Nicolas was putting pieces of a puzzle back together. Dad was on the rocking-chair, reading a book. Mom was braiding my hair, humming a song that haunts me: “L’eau Vive”.
Nicolas interrupted the quiet to ask:
“Papa, what is work?”
“You know work, Nicolas. You do it all day at school. Work is what you do to earn
“But I don’t have a living. What is a living?”
“A living is when you need to feed your family for example. Like me and your
mother. Even if you don’t have a family to feed yet, you work in school so that you can
earn a living later in life.”
“You mean, when I become an adult like you?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
Those questions were incessant. Still, my father was always diligent in his answers. This moment in particular comes back to me a lot. I think it was one of those in which you’re happy without quite knowing it. And so the moment passes by.
I tried to share it at dinner a few weeks after Nicolas died. My father was talking about the news. To fill the silence I think. When he finished, I said:
“Do you remember? About two years ago, when we were all in this room. It was dark outside, probably autumn. And Nicolas and I, we were playing I think. And Nicolas asked what work was. And he was all cute and you know….”
My father’s face lit up. He remembered, I think. Or at least he pictured it.
“I don’t recall,’ said my mom. “And I don’t think Nicolas would have asked something like that. You’re wrong. He wouldn’t have asked that.”
My father’s face went gloomy. He looked at my mother. But she did not look at him. She looked at me. The harsh white lights made her look pale and serious. It was like she was looking at my forehead to avoid my eyes. As if she were an actress and I the audience she needed to convince. The conversation ended there. I understood I was never to mention memories again.
After all the crying of the first year, the sadness devolved into a more discrete emotion. The once deafening melody of my heart dwindled to a sweet lullaby I could live with. I had made peace with my brother’s absence. I liked to imagine that he was still here. I talked to him often. I wondered what he would have thought of everything I did. I sometimes imagined what he would look like growing up. What sort of life he would have led. On harder days, I wondered how much skin was left on his corpse, how much of his thick hair was still there. But I also wondered whether there was anything left of who he actually was on this earth. Was he at peace, or was he not fully gone?
The day I turned thirteen was a bad day. Blowing out the candles, I did not make a wish. I could not even force a laugh. The only thing I could wish for, I knew I would not get. I opened the presents with a forced smile. And it showed. My father knocked at my door after dinner as I was preparing for bed.
“Come in.” I said.
He came in like he did not wish to be heard. “Hey, can I talk to you?” He whispered.
I nodded. He sat on my bed. I sat up, back against my pillow.
“So, how is school these days?”
“Papa, you know school is fine.” I sighed. A little too loud maybe.
“Good, good. That’s very, very good. But I wanted to say… I wanted to tell you that....”
He looked fidgety. I knew this did not come naturally to him. Communication. Mom was no better at it. But at least he tried.
“You know, I’m sorry we haven’t talked a lot last year. And I realise it was hard for you, too.”
I looked down at my hands. My throat tightened and my lips twisted. The tears were going to flow.
“I’m sorry, my darling. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there. You needed me. And I wasn’t there.”
Then he took me in his arms. And I let go completely. Letting my tears soak his shirt. I think he cried, too.
After that night, he talked to me about Nicolas when mom was not around. He looked more sane, less restless. I liked to think we could talk to each other again. He told me he was no longer fighting against the little girl who had pushed my brother and her family. He had gone back to his old self in many ways. He started being funny again. Not in the same way, of course.
As for my mother, she did not go back to work. And my father did not try to make her. Not that I saw anyway. I sometimes asked myself why he never forced her to come back to us. But then, I did not try either. I think maybe he was scared. A lot of couples separate after the death of a child. And he loved her, even though she withered to a shadow.
I could tell she resented me and my dad for smiling again. She almost never smiled. I don’t know whether she kept the joy from being felt when it came, or whether she didn’t allow herself to see it at all.
Secondary school soon ended and then lycée. After that, I stayed in Paris to study journalism. I spent three years living with my parents while studying. I tried to reconnect with my mother in vain. Once during a holiday, I went to talk to her while she was having her tea.
“Maman, do you think we could do something together today? We could go to the museum, and then go to a salon de thé. We could talk, like we used to.”
She looked up from her cup, and looked at me with what looked like pity. Pity for me, or for herself, that I could not tell. Steam was escaping from her cup. But she looked cold, and old. I thought she looked nothing like my mother.
“Darling, you should go see your father. He would love to do something with you, I’m sure of it. I’m quite tired, I should rest,” she said, as she took her cup upstairs. I watched her go, thinking that there was not much of my mother left in this house. During the third year in journalism school, I decided that I wanted to do the fourth abroad. Our teachers encouraged us to do so. And I found there was not much keeping me in France.
I chose the farthest place from home I could find: Singapore. I wanted to leave
home more than I wanted the international experience.
When I left the house, I realised what I used to call home was only furniture and walls full of stuttering memories and dry words. There was no hope of saving myself here.
I packed my bags. Both of my parents took me to the airport. My father hugged me so hard I couldn’t breathe. I saw tears in his eyes. They were good tears, I think. My mother kissed me on both cheeks. Like a French lady following etiquette. Not like a mother. My father was smiling at me when I left. And he was holding my mother by the arm as if to communicate to her she should watch me go and not leave the airport immediately. She didn’t look moved. She had expressed enough feelings for a lifetime. There were none left.
The next few months were full of a new kind of loneliness. The loneliness of the foreigner. I am quite sure it had something to do with the flat I was in. It was small and too modern. There was no charm to the place. The walls were all so white and empty. I tried to stick drawings and quotes on the walls, but they all fell. The wall did not allow them to stick. I had no right to punch holes in the walls, of course. So I had to stare at those blank walls whenever I came back from school. It made me want to go out again. But when I thought about my parents’ flat, that felt like a strange place as well. There was no home for me it seems.
I didn’t make friends at first. I was having a hard time catching up with my classmates and was overwhelmed with work. When I wasn’t at school or working on my homework, I was working part-time in a café. I was surprised they had even hired me. I think it’s the French accent that did it.
I was so busy, I forgot to eat regularly. By the time exam week arrived, I realised I had lost ten pounds. My collarbone was more visible than ever and my neck seemed longer. Even my chubby cheeks had disappeared, drawing a more mature face on a different body. I noticed that when doing some expressions with my face, thin lines made their way onto my forehead, between my brows, and into the corners of my eyes.
It’s all the brow furrowing I did when I was twelve. It shows. I was twenty-one and felt terribly tired. I realised I had to take care of myself after exams.
One night, at around eight, I went out to buy myself some chicken, sweet potato noodles and vegetables. It was dark and humid outside. It’s always humid in Singapore. I lived near the botanic gardens, in a particularly deserted street. I always knew that no matter the hour, I would meet no one but old people or sketchy fifty-year-old men. In the crisps aisle, a young man bumped into me. Or maybe it was the other way around. He apologised in such an old-fashioned and posh accent that I giggled.
“Did you just laugh at me?”
“Yes, I mean no. I’m sorry.”
He passed me and went his own way. I bought what I had planned to buy, keeping an eye out for that man, but I didn't see him.
The next time I went to the store, I saw him in the vegetables section. I saw him in the neighbourhood too, about three times in the next week.
One day, when I was coming home from school, I found him sat on the doorstep of my building. He was looking at his phone, tapping his foot frantically on the ground. Then suddenly he looked up at me. His expression shifted to a somewhat satisfied pout. I think I froze for a second. He really looked at me. It had been a while since someone had done that.
I asked: “Hey, do you live here?”
“What does that mean?”
He smirked. “Nothing. No, I work around here. I am waiting for a friend right now.”
His phone vibrated. He looked at it and raised his eyebrows. “But he’s not coming today apparently.” He looked reflective for a second, frowning his brows, then he asked: “I’m Jinsu by the way,” he said, holding out his hand.
“I’m Delphine,” I said, shaking his hand.
He had a firm grip. I knew that to be a good thing. My dad always said: “Don’t
trust someone who doesn’t know how to shake a hand.”
“Well, that’s a peculiar name. It’s lovely though.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
Silence was about to settle when he saved us from an awkward goodbye. “Do you wanna do something?”
I had so much to do that day but I lied: “My schedule is pretty clear today.”
He got up and walked a few steps, then he turned to me. “Have you ever visited the botanic gardens? Not the part for tourists, the interesting part.”
“I don’t know which bit you’re talking about. But I’d do anything to stay out of my flat, so I’ll follow you.”
“What is so bad about your flat?”
“It’s the walls. They’re so white. It’s depressing.”
“Fair enough. Have you tried sticking posters or something?”
“Well, yes, but they fall. I think the paint on the wall is slippery.”
“Can you repaint it?”
“I can’t do that. I only rent the place.”
“There’s only one solution then. Wallpaper.” He said that as if he were an expert of the craftsmanship of wallpaper.
We walked for a while inside the gardens. Later, we got ice cream and sat down to eat it. I had been there many times on my own, but places don’t quite look the same once you revisit them with a stranger. Although Jinsu was not such a stranger anymore. He told me he was from Japan. When he was eight, his parents moved to Singapore where he had lived since then. He had studied to become a consultant in accounting. He had travelled all over the world.
“But then I quit. I knew I had sold my soul when I went into that field. But it was worse than I thought. I couldn’t bear it anymore. I was very wealthy – that was a plus. And the idea of travelling everywhere was great. But I had no time to do anything but work. I was so tired, I had become a hyper version of myself, hyper-aware, my eyes always wide open. I could never just simply be. I left without any regret, believe me.”
He looked up when he was saying all that. As if he truly had to dig deep to remember it.
“What did you do afterward?”
“I went back to doing the only thing I really liked. Which was cooking. I had fallen in love with it as a child, watching the women in my family do it. But I never really thought I could make a career out of it. So when I had to choose a university, I chose something that would please my parents. When I realised I wasn’t happy with what I was doing, I quit. Thanks to my old job, I had savings. I also found investors thanks to people I knew."
Then he talked about food for a while. He was fascinated by the sound vegetables make when they’re frying in the pan. He had that same flame in his eyes my mother used to have when she taught me how to cook. What struck me about him first was not his looks, or how he was easily satisfied with life. I did not know yet how brave he was, or how truly kind he was. It was how passionate he became when he talked about what he loved. He looked truly happy. And when I saw that, I thought that must be what love feels like.
After that, he bought me some wallpaper for my flat. We settled for the British flower curtain pattern. I thought it was brilliant. He even helped me apply it to the walls.
Anyway, we did not have to tell each other that we wanted to date. It happened. And when the year ended, we decided to move to London. Jinsu would open a restaurant and I would look for a job with my journalism degree. We both loved the city. I wanted to go back to Europe and he wanted to leave Singapore. This was the perfect plan.
Of course, nothing happened according to plan. London was extremely expensive. We could only afford a miniscule studio in Bowes Park, where nothing happens.
Jinsu struggled to find the right place to open his restaurant. But he had saved a lot of money and eventually opened a café near Notting Hill. As for me, I changed jobs four times. Either I quit or got fired. It was quite easy to lose your job in the UK. At first, I worked for an online lifestyle magazine. The general content consisted of writing features on ‘Pinterest Mums’ who dwell on their children’s allergies way too much and Instagram influencers who base their whole life on their looks as a brand.
I tried to tone down my cynicism for the whole concept, but it did not work and I was fired. After that, I wrote for a decent magazine that made me work full-time but paid me like a part-time intern. I left because I could not afford my half of the rent. About a year and a half after we had settled in, I got a decent job working for the Economist. It was a big deal for sure. I did not like the newspaper all that much though. Writing pieces on current affairs every week could get pretty dull. But it taught me to keep my opinions to myself. I knew something better would come later. And it paid well compared to my previous jobs.
During this time, my father wrote me postcards, which my mother merely signed.
Sometimes he would call me, and talk to me for a few minutes before the silence got between us and one of us found an excuse to hang up.
Jinsu asked me to marry him on the night he learnt he was making profit with his restaurant. I said yes. Finally, I decided it was time Jinsu met my parents. I had not seen them since they came to Singapore for Christmas. I hadn’t even introduced them to Jinsu back then.
We took a EUROSTAR on a Friday night to Paris Gare du Nord. My father was waiting for us at the station. He hugged me tight.
“You are as pretty as the sunlight,”; he said.
I noticed his embrace had changed slightly. His beer belly had grown bigger. His walk was less dynamic. His expression and face suggested he was tired of life. While I had never felt more accomplished and confident.
He drove us home, spoke broken English with Jinsu and smiled a lot. We arrived home. Walking through the door, I felt every sensation I felt last time I left. The fear of what I would find in Singapore, the liberation of leaving home. Leaving my mom, as terrible as that sounds.
When I was putting my bags in my bedroom, I realised she still hadn’t made a sound. I sat down on the bed, Jinsu sat next to me and looked at the posters on the wall.
“It’s a nice bed you have. And a nice room. Tasteful decoration.”
“I know. The 2000s in all their glory.”
“Are you okay? You seem a bit… tense.”
“I’m fine. There are a lot of memories in this flat. And not just good ones.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s something I never told you. I know I should have. But I have always been secretive. It was easier to keep it for myself, I guess. I never like to tell people. I don’t like their reaction. But you’re not... people. If someone should know, it should be you.”
I looked at him. And he looked at me with this gaze I knew so well now. He was pushing strands of hair aside from my face. Like he always did when we were having a heart- to-heart conversation. I realised in that moment how much I had grown to appreciate that man. Apart from the love for him I couldn’t help, I could see the extent of his kindness now. Something I had always taken for granted before.
“I am not an only child like I told you. I grew up with a younger brother. His name was Nicolas. Some girl at school pushed him. He fell on a pair of scissors. He died very suddenly.”
He didn’t say anything. It was very anticlimactic. But at least now he knew. For a second there, I thought he would leave and never talk to me again. But he didn’t.
“It’s okay. A part of me was offended for a second. But you don’t have to tell me everything about your past if you’re not ready. But we are going to get married. It’s important that we know each other. Especially things like that.”
“I get it. I should have told you.”
At that moment, my dad passed by the door of my bedroom.
“Hey Dad, where is Maman?”
He stopped at the doorway and said: “She’s at the cemetery right now. I’m gonna go get her in about an hour.”
“Okay. How is she, by the way?”
He sighed and gave me a sad smile. “She hasn’t changed. Not one bit.” After an hour and a half of me trying to keep up with Jinsu’s cooking skills, my mother got home. She kissed Jinsu on both cheeks, and then she did the same for me, giving me a little shoulder squeeze. She did not ask any questions. She simply set the table.
Contrary to my dad, she had not aged at all compared to last time I saw her. It was like only my dad was doing the ageing bit. The one thing that had changed was her hair colour. She must have stopped dyeing them IT. Now her hair was blonde and white. She looked even more alien than how she’d used to. As a younger woman, she used to curl her hair; sometimes she would do it in various types of braids. I remembered that she plaited my hair, too, every single day for years, until I left primary school and thought they weren’t cool anymore. Now she always had the same hairdo: a tight and low chignon.
She sat at the table. I could tell it was taking her so much energy and she wanted to be alone. But tonight she would stay for a bit, out of a blind respect for social conventions.
Dinner started. I knew Jinsu and my dad were making conversation. But I wasn’t listening. I was too busy observing my mother. Seeing her in her own world. Not eating her food. Not looking at any of us. Not even faking an interest in Jinsu. This was unfair. She spoke better English than my dad. She didn’t even try to help him. I understood at that moment how much I despised her.
My dad interrupted my thoughts: “Delphine, Jinsu and I were wondering where the wedding would take place. Obviously, we have to take into account Jinsu’s parents, who live very far away.”
Jinsu looked at me. He made bizarre hand gestures which probably meant: “Don’t expand on that.”
I said in French: “I don’t know yet, Dad. We’re not looking to marry too soon. I wanted to wait to be 25, and Jinsu agreed.”
“That sounds great, darling.”
Jinsu was a bit lost between the English to French switch. I could tell he was still glad to be here. He hid his disappointment in my mother quite well. We all ate the delicious gratin dauphinois Jinsu had learnt to make for the occasion. After that came cheese. Night was falling by the time dessert came: a lemon meringue tart dad bought from the bakery. I had forgotten how great the view was from our dining-room. The fifth floor really did reveal a wonderful sight of Parisian roofs. The sky was pink and purple.
We were all looking at the view without realising. Jinsu made a comment: “This is such a nice flat. And such a nice view.”
I thought that Jinsu had very little vocabulary, although he was almost a native in English. But I reminded myself of everything I liked about him, and I forgave him.
“Yes, it is nice,” I said. “You know, Jinsu, this reminds me of the first night we were in London. We were exhausted but didn’t know where to sleep because our hotel had burned down between the time we booked and the time we got there. So we went to a park and hid there for the whole night. Just looking at the sunset.”
My dad was about to say something when my mom interrupted him: “Oh, Delphine. You don’t have to say that to us. We don’t want to know about the time you were homeless for a night.”
I could feel my heart beating faster. I knew what this was. This was anger. I hadn’t felt that type of anger for a long time. My mother had become bitter and snobbish. I didn’t know how my father could still stand her every day. He tried to save the moment by saying: “I think it’s a good story to start a new life.”
I was trying desperately to hold in my emotions when my mother stood up and excused herself. She said she was tired. It was barely nine. She was already on her way upstairs when I asked: “Why are you being like this?”
My father begged me to stop with his eyes.
“You’re not tired. You want to avoid your family.”
“Delphine, please not tonight,” said my dad.
“Yes, tonight. Tonight is the perfect time. Speaking of time, why do you not find time for me anymore? I know you lost a son. I know your heart is broken. I know that. But I lost my brother. I lost my brother, and you didn’t ask me how I was coping, ever. I know – I know you want peace. This isn’t peace. This is a house full of emptiness. You don’t talk to me. Never really. It’s like you lost your son, and you forgot about me. It’s like all the love you had turned into sadness, and now there’s none left for me. And I know I’m being selfish for saying all this to you. But you don’t know what it was like for me. To grow up with you, and without you at the same time. It’s like I had to grieve for my brother and my mother at the same time.”
But of course I didn’t say that. I acted as if it were okay for her to act like this. I let her go to sleep and I never told her how I felt.
Jinsu and I left two days after that. When the taxi picked us up, my father hugged me and my mother kissed me on both cheeks as she always did. My heart tightened in my chest when she kissed me. Because I truly felt nothing at all for her.
Jinsu noticed how silent I was on the train; he asked me how I felt about the whole thing.
“I don’t know what to feel. I’m just thinking about my brother. I know he would have hated all this. He would have liked for us to stay close. But instead, our family collapsed.”
“What was he like, your brother?”
“Well, he was a quiet kid most of the time. He never threw temper tantrums. Parents rarely screamed at him. The only times he did speak, it was to ask questions. He was very curious about science. I think he would have liked to be an engineer or something like that.”
“It seems like he was happy.”
“He was. I think. I remember that I got him a LEGO space shuttle for his birthday once. He never stopped playing with it.”
“How old was he when – you know …. ”
“He was nine.”
A year after that, Jinsu and I had made progress towards a more satisfying professional activity. I was finally writing for a paper I liked: the Guardian. And Jinsu had moved his café to Notting Hill like he always wanted. All that allowed us to settle in a semi-detached house near High Barnett. It was residential and quiet. We longed for that peace and calm after a long day in the city. At the end of a particularly busy day, Jinsu and I ordered takeout and stayed home while watching Casablanca again. At around midnight, my father called me. I thought something must be wrong when I saw his name light up my phone. It was unusual for him to call me. He always Skyped me. He marvelled at that kind of technological progress. I answered, half-knowing already, like last time.
“Bonjour, Papa, is everything all right?”
“No, it’s not. You should come over.”
“Come over? What’s going on? You have to tell me.”
“Your mother is dead... I’m so sorry.”
“Dead? But what happened?”
“A group of joggers found someone in the lake Daumesnil. The police called me and they said it was your mother. She had her ID on her.” I let go of my phone. But no hollow chest this time. No blurry vision. Jinsu was probably expecting me to collapse or cry. But I didn’t. A part of me was relieved.
A few days later, my father picked me up at the airport. He looked more tired than he did last time. I could read on his face the duality of the heartbreak and the liberation. During the ceremony, people said that she was a loving wife and mother. There is a plaque on her grave which says that as well. It felt like no one knew her at all. Not even me. Her death was presented as an accident.
There was never a doubt in my mind that she had drowned herself.
My father never remarried.
I have this dream every once in a while. I’m stepping out of a house. It’s on fire. I know it’s on fire. Yet I don’t linger. I don’t call for help. I simply walk away. One might think a house burning down would sound frightening. But I can only hear the wind. And fire crackling as if I were reading quietly by a fireplace. Destruction is oddly soothing. As I walk through the city, I can see no one. Only stray dogs and dead leaves no one bothered to get rid of. Because there is no one, I can only see myself everywhere. In the reflections of cracked windows and puddles. Even though the outside world is so empty, my head is populated with thoughts. And with no one to share them with. I realise that I might as well stop thinking if my thoughts only matter to the wind. As I realise that, I wake up. And I get out of bed. I open the blinds just to check that there are still people outside. But it doesn’t matter. Because I can’t see my mother.