I learnt how to write and fight at the same time, that’s why my life is a punchline: blunt, incisive and point-blank.
I string the right words together to confound academics. With my back to the crumbling wall of block C, I expand my vocabulary, merely to find another name for the sea of shit that surrounds me. 20,000 leagues beneath all of this no one hears me shout my inflamatory verses, all these manuscripts left to rot, inscribed by the inflamed central nerve which separates my brow and the world in two. For my hands are dirty and my conscience is clear.
Out of the emptiness and from life as far as the eye can see, a world in suspense and people who are already too far removed yet who breathe as if to better justify their existence, waiting for the first bus with an overblown sense of self-worth. There is no wind blowing in my valley, no more rain in La Courly. Just me, alone in the summer of ’84 with the screech of tyres crying out for help, the metallic sound of Carrefour supermarket trollies that gives dramatic emphasis to this green patchwork of shards of glass from the bottles thrown one after the other from the top floor. It doesn’t matter whether or not this is a good story because it’s my own story. And no one can tell it for me until they have tasted my inky fingerprints.
There are no slips of the tongue, from the cortex down to the plexus, from the children’s books to the laws of the street where some champion and others surrender. I can withstand it without complying as I spit at your feet before I reflect upon the proctological promises I made to your entire genealogy. That’s how you earn the right to carve your name on the benches that are already too damaged to recall happier days.
As a child born out of poverty and the prized greyhound of my crime-infested neighbourhood, I took every one of your parables literally when I published my own Testament. Caught between the drooping street lamps and the cracked pavement, I flee from my shadow, the sun and my mother’s rebukes from the window. I continue until I reach the strange land to write these images trapped inside my head with a sharpened stick onto the dry earth sprinkled with grass of green, yellow and ochre. I’m not searching for immortality and by the six o’clock football match these few stray thoughts will be reduced to dust. I may have failed but I’ll try again!
I’ve lost more than I’ve achieved, to think that only failures can produce that insatiable hunger which casts off the future, love and honour along your life-path before disappearing into the shadows of the horizon at prayer time. I’m always on the go, I don’t get attached to things and even less to people. For I have all the qualities of a stranger and none of a native.
Yesterday, I buried my turtle behind my block of flats, holding back tears and snot to stifle my grief, my first grief. Then I carved its image with a stone on the left hand side of the no.36 bus stop. At primary school there is no such thing as grief, only lessons to learn. There you learn how to think like others, chiming out the alphabet which sticks to my skin when, every morning, the school mistress mangles my last name.
After shelled reptiles I became obsessed with American rodents. With a fake Mickey Mouse on my T-shirt, a constantly runny nose and the eyes of an angel, I defend my metallic blue lunchbox until my thick lips give way from left to right, up and down. Words come and go spontaneously, I blink without being able to open my eyes to shut them again, once and for all. I bite the dust on the tarmac while you tactlessly shout the words your father taught you last night about niggers and monkeys. The world is always so much smaller when viewed from below as your feet strike my sides. To feel pain is to be alive, to cause pain is to be a survivor! So each syllable of mine will strike you again and again as I await your comeuppance.
Upright, forthright, glowering, jaws clenched, with tears in my sinuses and crimson eyes, I finally engraved my first text with your blood in the sandbox. I based a story on it where you are the dragon spitting out fire along with my last name! What comes around goes around, but I’d rather give you a well-aimed kick up the backside rather than end up in a wheelchair.
No one wants to watch a show where every one is there under false pretences, for some rags or a few coppers. It makes more sense to avert your gaze rather than witness things that bring fear to your stomach and paranoia into the firing line. There are no heroes, only a need to return to the foot of my grey block of flats, bathed in sunlight, as I resort to invented excuses to explain my swollen face. But the words don’t come out! Truth and half-forgiven offences are out of place here.
Devoid of innocence, I tackle the shit promised to the scars of my past and the dictations of class poverty. I learnt too soon, even if it meant losing sleep between the antepenultimate line of “The Lord’s Prayer” and the mechanical rhythm of the dustmen. For now, the smell of chicken curry invades the rented apartment and the scooters begin their diabolical dance and spluttering after the 8 o’clock news. Tomorrow, the uneven path of the nursery school will speak in the conditional tense about my struggle and tonight the dentist awaits me. But for now I flirt with elementary solitude amidst the other children.
So that Vénisseux bears witness to my words, I overstep the line hitting out like a machine that screams out vowels inbetween my tower-blocks standing upright, my feet weighed down by these ever-increasing families. On Saturdays on the west side of my block of flats, The Cure can be heard from my open window to mask the sound of little men playing at being dead. As for me, I watch them like a lens, with a piece of paper and a pencil in my hand.
I can’t decide between drawing and writing, so I clumsily set about illustrating the words stuck inside my head, trapped in my mouth and smudged onto my little fists. The miniature war brings matters to a standstill as Platini and Goldorak take complete possession of my vocal cords.
I tell myself that one day I will have a whole bank full of memories, but at present I’ve got Mercurochrome, some plasters, one less milk tooth, a maternal slap tatooed to my cheek and a creole lesson on morality which runs through my mind every Monday morning on the outermost limits of the education system. So I may not be well-behaved, but at four years’ old, I never misused the name of the woman who taught me how to strike out with a dictionary. If it must be done again I’ll start again, even if I have to bring my toys back to the Council of Hospices in Lyon and stitch up my already incomplete set of rags. Try hard to remember me, I’m the little nigger from the twelth floor with the grainy head and the brown dungarees, the boy who doesn’t learn his lesson when you slap him, a real pest in shorts. I’ll make a personal memory out of you, maybe even a doggy-bag! With time, the inquisitive look that accompanies my gust of words will become a trademark and my weapon of mass destruction- made up of thirty-two teeth minus one- a school of thought.
Upon the face of the unfortunate individual who likes crossing paths with me I spy traces of my flayed phalanxes. When you love, you don’t count, I’m sure you get it. I am as nervous as I am irritating, but too pragmatic to be suicidal. My mind is composed, my mouth tells you what you want to hear, my hands transform my ideas into stories that you can twist out of shape once I have turned on my heels upon the screaming asphalt. This being the case, be aware that I prefer copyright to apologies, entreaties and compliments…
I learnt how to write and fight at the same time, that’s why my life is a punchline. That’s why I don’t know how to do it without doing harm.
Text : Sylvain Souklaye - Translation : Sophie Inge