There is snow today on Canigou, the highest peak in the whole Catalonia, which is also the legendary mountain in Catalan minds. I don’t know how much time it has been there, the snow. These days it has been quite cold, especially for a person coming from a tropical country like me. I was excited, because it was the first time I have ever seen snow in my life.
Despite of the weather, sometimes I managed to open the window, to inhale the cold crispy wind as I used to do when I was small, in the high mountains in the far north of Vietnam where it could be as cold as it is here during the winter, to watch squirrels running and playing on the trees in the sport park nearby, thinking about how France fails me, how inefficient its banking system is, how racist some French people I met are, how the empire betrayed the soldiers who had fought for it in the Algerian War, or maybe many others who fought for it in many other wars “the great country” was involved.
Yesterday it was also cold, I went out for some fresh air because I could not stay in my room all day but it was not so long before I had to come back. I texted Aziz to tell him that I was sorry because I didn’t talk to him properly before when I was near the laundry house when he came by to greet me while I was talking to a Vietnamese girl. He made some remarks, that I was enjoying some air, and that it sounds beautiful to him, the Vietnamese language I was speaking. I told him to come over to have some hot chocolate. He accepted, but he wanted to make me some tea instead, North African tea. He came at first in the kitchen on my floor. But it was cold and I suggested that we go to my room where it was warmer and it would be faster to boil water for the tea.
When we were waiting for the tea, he asked me about the European map I put on my table, in which every country’s name is written in its respective language, on which I put small dots and names of the cities where I am going to study for the two-year masters, with which I told him that I would spend just a semester here in France, then I would go to Scotland and finally Spain. He said it would be very nice to travel, and to study in many universities. And I could tell from his eyes that he was sad about that fact, about what I said that I was trying to improve my French here but I thought there was not enough time to do that, just staying in the country for a few months. Pas assez de temps. Is it that I don’t have enough time to know him better?
We sipped the tea, smoking and talking. He is handsome and desirable, even more so when you stand so close to him. He is French on papers and Algerian by blood. He has beautiful sad eyes which, I imagine, hold in them a repertoire of stories that I would love to know more, spending nights with him talking. He told me he loved the view from my window, the fact that many of my classmates would agree, though in this side of the building it could be very windy, and with the wind comes in dust. About people in the sport park, I don’t care (je m’en fous), I told him.
I am confused by what you tell me. He said, three times in French and once in English, after I told him that I am gay, the fact that he had to ask me again and again, three times in French and twice in English. And he was telling me that he is not gay.
Does he know that I like him?
Almost two months ago, when I first arrived in France for a few days, I was sitting alone on a bench in the sport park when he came and gave out his hand to greet me. “Ça va?” he broke the ice, which I misheard as “savoir” by his strange accent. He asked where I come from, and we talked for a while before his friends asked us to join them for a game in which we threw the metal balls as closely as possible to a designated point. They are really nice, the North African guys, those handsome guys with beautiful eyes, those who, a week later, at the Journée Internationale, even asked me to take photos with them even though we rarely talked, partly due to my rusty French, partly because when I tried to speak, they replied me half in French half in Moroccan or Algerian, which I don’t understand.
I didn’t see Aziz weeks after that. And then one day he showed up, as if out of nowhere, in spite of the fact that we live in the same building. From then on I see him almost every day, numerous times during the day and at night, in the campus, near the library, near the laundry house, on the way downhill to the campus… but we hardly talked properly except for some simple greetings, for he was always with his friends and I was with mine. He would, most of the time, first comment on the weather or the sky, like “It’s really nice today” or “The moon is beautiful”… Then one day I bumped into him when he was walking near the library, we talked, and I told him that the other day when I didn’t have cigarettes, I came to knock on his door but it turned out that a girl is living there. He told me that he changed his room. And the other day we talked about literature, which was interesting. It was always he who talked something that I am interested in. I know he is studying geography, but I don’t know what to talk about geography, except for maps, for which I have a love.
We sipped the tea. And he told me that I should not tell everyone that I am gay. I asked why, and whether it would be dangerous, in the sense that I can face hateful comments or harassment because of that. No, but still, I think you should not tell everyone, just because you don’t know who can be your friends and who cannot, he said.
And he told me about his childhood, about his grandmother who used to live in Rivesaltes concentration camp, about his early years growing up in an immigrant’s neighbourhood, about racism in France, about how hard it is for immigrants’ children like him. I also told him about Robin, the cook I met in the city centre, to whom I was attracted physically, yet whose thoughts I hate, who is fascist and racist though he denied it, who told me how he hates this part of France because there are too many black and Gitan people here, because the city is so poor, so on and on.
During the colonial times, French people went to Africa and Asia and elsewhere and looted almost everything they could from those countries to bring back to France, leaving a mess behind. And they hate people of different races from their former colonies coming to France, those people who have very few chances to go up in the rigid ladders of social classes, those who have limited access to education, those who are likely to end up in the streets stealing, robbing or selling drugs, among other things, because of which, the French French people, in their turn, hate them. A vicious circle it is. Aziz said. I wanted to kiss him without asking, but in the end I managed to hold myself back.
Today I think about how France fails me. It has been two months since I first arrived in France but I still don’t have a French bank card. I had to go to the bank numerous times and made requests, again and again. They told me they sent me the cards, but the secret codes always come while the card doesn’t. I made complaints, and suggested that they can give me the card in person, right at the counter. They told me they are not able to do that because it would be against the rules, that it was not their fault that the card was lost, and suggested that I should go to ask the central office of the university residence if there was something wrong. I went to the office and they told me it was not their fault and that I should go to the post to ask for it. I went to the post and they said they could not track letters and it was not their fault. So, is it my fault not having the card sent to my address? I was mad at them and told them that after the vacation if the card doesn’t come, I will close my account there and transfer all my money to a British bank account I managed to open.
I think about the day I went with Diana to Rivesaltes Memorial. It was a sunny day, the sky was blue and the wind was playing my hair. I didn’t know before that there was a concentration camp in this far south of France where they kept and treated people like animals for many years, first the Spanish immigrants who ran from Franco regime during Spanish Civil War, then Jewish people during the Second World War before they were deported on trains to gas chambers in Germany, and then the harkas from Algeria, those soldiers who were hired by French colonial administration to fight for France during Algerian War, who could not have chances to survive in the country after the war, who had to go to France just to be kept in a camp by the very government that used to hire them. They were outright betrayed. It was distressing to see and hear their stories.
And I come to wonder why there are no black French politicians, why there is only one black professor in the whole faculty of letters and humanities in University of Perpignan (and maybe there are not too many such professors in the whole France), and why there is no single author from former colonies in our syllabus while we study a lot of white European philosophers whose ideas, in my class about race, I first knew that were racist. I come to conclude how hypocritical France is when it is always bragging about its motto, which appears everywhere, that reads: liberté – égalité – fraternité while it is too far to be the land of such ideals. Or are they the ideals that we, as human beings, cannot find anywhere on Earth?
On se verra. We said when we bid farewell at night. Bonne nuit. I told Aziz yesterday, and in silence the nights I think about him before going to sleep.