He had bought a boat. He took us along in his enthusiasm for this project of leaving with the whole family. We didn’t talk during the preparations. It lasted for an eternity.
We made mechanical movements to pack our belongings, load them, find gasoline… Did we have any idea of what was waiting for us? No.
And when my uncle untied the rope from the mooring pontoon, I was the only one to look up at the quay.
The old bourgeois tower in the distance, shrouded in a pink crumpled with gray, smiled laconically from its only clear window. The sun was watching us flee. In silence.
We set sail. When we left the harbor, my uncle started to laugh out loud. He spoke to me about God while stroking a wave.
We were orphans of an absent God, who had let terror invade our humiliated city. Our country, our rich houses and smiling cities, when we were men locked in square offices. And while he philosophized, the city was slipping away, but I was the only one who regretted it.
They can demolish our churches with their machetes, » said my uncle, standing on our boat,
« but they won’t look for us at the edge of the ocean, where the devil himself has no hold.
I wanted to cry. But why make my family feel guilty?
We were leaving because there had been another terrible attack. My uncle, this solid and cautious man, a giant-sized brick, said that since the extremists and fanatics were fighting for power, simple people saw their lives shattered – sometimes. And he preferred security. Certainty.
For my grandmother, her only certainty was that she would follow her son everywhere. She didn’t talk much since we left. She seemed as disappointed as I was nostalgic. She sometimes smiled painfully at my uncle standing on his boat.
He would wave his fist at the terrorists in the middle of the ocean. My mother was looking at the clouds, as if her brother’s thoughts were distressing her. Finally, after two weeks of peaceful crossing, we arrived.
Indeed, I should sometimes say to myself years later, when I returned alone from the island, we had left the danger. But not the fear. This contortionist nestled in the rough edges of the too rare fish, in the evening when the knife of hunger fell. The fear of missing out. Fear hid in the simple smoking fire. Fear of the unexpected, fear of death and the passing days. For me the feeling of loneliness, far from men, but close to the madness of my uncle, replaced the fear of death. The fear of forgetting.
I used to walk along the coast. This one extended on kilometers of stony sand beach, which married the shape of flint of the island. The others slept late, unconsciously transported in anguishing dreams by the smell of iodine. Then I walked. In silence. Before the sun returned in its fullness. My cheeks reddened. The wind went around my blue raincoat.
With my nose in the air like a dog that sniffs, my eyes moist from the heat, I paced the beach. I was running away from my uncle and his words that flattered the rump of anguish. I was running away from the touch of my mother’s sweaty hands. When I walked away from them I could feel my breath come alive. I thought of our old town.
Far, far away from them, on the beach that had welcomed our fleeing family. The island certainly provided us with distance and survival. Me, without a schoolmate or teacher, drowning in the absurdity of an imposed solitude, I could only trot with my nose in the air.
In search of the ghosts of friendships. To seek in the intranquillity of the coast to get rid of our guardian angel – Cowardice.
We found a carcass of a fisherman’s boat on the other side of our island. Black, entirely. Fat and bloated, overturned at an angle. Like an omen of shipwreck. I had only seen it once. I didn’t care about its fatal color. A stranded boat is an honest goal for a child. I sat on the ground next to her. I looked out to sea.
The tide was carrying away the ocean. Sloping ponds were moving away in angry hordes out to sea. I shivered. What if the devil was coming for us? My fingers began to trace horns on the sand. I grabbed some small stones to make eyes. My devil looked like Uncle. Would I go to hell? I was not a bright or imaginative boy. But I invented the story of that boat.
Which sailor could have sailed it? A hero or a deserter? I felt compassion for both. Oh island sailors, demons of the waters, heroes of ropes, what have you become?
Surely, life on an island wraps the delights of childhood in darkness. Reminding us of our proximity to the ocean, and to death. We brush against infinity every day.
A word was painted in white on the side of the hull. Perhaps the name of the boat. A woman’s name. I scratched the black hull mechanically. The white of the thick letters crumbled under my fingers. I needed action. In books, adults don’t just dream about their beloved. They also build a tower to reach her. They dismantle some drawbridge. It is not easy to have fun alone. The games one finds without a playmate are often conventional.
Still, I’ll try to have some fun, I thought suddenly. I frowned at my overly thick eyebrows. « I am a sailor, » I thought. « A sailor. And even if a deserting sailor is a scoundrel to you, I am a proud and brave sailor. I don’t abandon my boat or my country or my city to run away when I am afraid! Oh my ! Sus!
All in my frenzy to become a sailor I wanted to turn the boat over to put it in the water. I started to build a tunnel. Soon it was big enough for me to slip under the hull of the boat. Inside, I could barely sit up.
My uncle and mother must have been awake by now. Maybe they were looking for me all over the island? Just like the last time. I had tried to go to war with the crabs on the island. I had fun killing them by throwing colored stones at them. When there were no more black stones, I threw white stones at the red shells and the shells broke in a deadly firework, but I kept on doing it until I was exhausted.
Suddenly, my hand touched a large stone on the sand of the beach. I dug for it. It took me a few seconds to pull out an object I had never seen before. It was a sort of crenellated stick in two parts, one silver and the other covered with a leather handle. The silver part was bulging in the center and more detailed. Between the two parts there was a half circle of metal. The object was shaped like a boomerang. It was a boomerang.
I did not have time to enjoy my discovery. I heard someone shouting. There were only four of us on the island. The voice was that of a man. The shouting was getting closer. « But I am protected from everyone, » I thought. « You will not reach me. « Down with the terrorists! « .
I got out of the boat, holding up my find and came face to face with my uncle.Where did you get that thing, » he asked me, whistling. It had a hair on its tongue and could become terrifying.
— This is my steel boomerang, I told him sullenly. I was afraid the object would be taken away from me.
— It’s not for children. This… This is not for kids. Put it down. You must not handle it. Give it to me.
— Is it yours? I asked him. I wanted to save time.
— It’s my gun.
Do you go to this side of the island often? I know you’re bored, but… Don’t forget why we live here. For the gun… anyway, it’s not loaded anymore. It’s a despicable weapon. No need, » he said, twirling my boomerang in his hands, like an actor in sight.
He put his big paw on my shoulders so that I swung around under his weight and he pulled me along. We walked side by side while my uncle held the gun in his hand. This object he clutched with passion despite his contempt.
It was time for our ritual. It consists in listening, every day, at the end of the afternoon on the radio, to the news of the continent. We count the dead while closing our eyes. A shiver runs down our spine as we repeat to ourselves that we are the only ones safe on our boring little island. But we are desperately alone. My mother cries as she listens to the radio. I know she would rather not listen. But my uncle whispers a few words to her. He nags her and she smiles and obeys. He always gives us the best shares of the catch. But he has become strange.
An icy calm, determined, has taken over him. His gaze has become that of a steel lamp, with huge eyes radiating coldness. Which of the four of us has changed the most?
The radio is placed in the middle. Uncle turns the crank that feeds it with electricity and music can be heard. We hear the presenter going over the news of the day. I no longer know this continent, where I once lived, nor these dead and living people that are being talked about. So I pretend to have compassion for them.
The voice on the radio lists the number of dead: about thirty each time. When one of the dead has done something interesting in his life he sends his regards to his relatives and declaims a few verses. My uncle and mother look at each other and bow their heads.
These people are dangerous, » the reporter finally says. Beware, but don’t be afraid, » says the journalist. Don’t be afraid… because the government is doing everything it can »…
My uncle shivers. He turns off the radio. He stares into the void for a long time. My mother cries a little, and my grandmother grumbles. She says that she will have to finish her life in exile surrounded by children who are good for nothing except shaking in front of a pair of antennas picking up the worst nonsense.
Fear is my uncle’s sworn enemy. That’s why he made us run away from the continent. It’s for our own good. But I’m a child, and I…more than anything I don’t like to be taken away from a toy that I discovered myself. That’s why I threw myself on the wicker mat. Crying my heart out.
Suddenly my uncle came and patted me on the shoulder and with his thin lips promised to give me another toy instead of the gun.
An hour later, he seems to have forgotten his promise. He has made a habit of banging on the cave wall, and spends several hours muffling his own cries. He does this in case we ever really face danger. This way he could escape the fear of getting hurt. Maybe he was going crazy too?
Yes, maybe my uncle was crazy. And he must have forgotten his promise of the afternoon. However, at nightfall he went to the beach for a few hours, and we did not see him come back. He brought back a piece of hardwood. Painted white, it must have belonged to the old boat. The next day there was a curved object near my head whose white and black paint was crumbling when I woke up. A real boomerang.
— It’s a better boomerang than my gun, » said my uncle. Consider it your birthday present.
We went outside. A flock of seagulls was flying towards the ocean.I would like to be free like a boomerang or a bird, I said. Yes, it would be nice to be a seagull, going and coming and caressing the waves.
But sometimes the waves suck you in, my uncle says mechanically.
— He can hurt himself with that, can’t he? » said my mother, who had approached like a ghost.
My grandmother was the only one who was happy about my enthusiasm. She replied that no, you couldn’t hurt yourself with a little boomerang. Only idiots forget to look in front of their noses when they throw it, » she added, « but her grandson is not an idiot, and he is the only one in the room. Then she withdrew and went back to sleep.
I walked around with my new toy clutched in my fist. I called it the dzing. I went to throw the boomerang on the beach. The dzing flew straight out to sea without a boat, caught the wind over one of the offshore waves, and returned. I had held my breath the first time. When I caught it in flight, I was convinced at first: I was not an idiot. I had caught it. After an hour of playing, I lay down on the wet sand, my hair in the shells. I looked at the blue sky. I thought about the continent.
« Yes, we lived in a cave. My family had even stretched green and blue blankets across the walls of the cave. We lived there in dryness and safety, but in almost total darkness. There was my grandmother, my uncle’s mother and my mother. The old lady would lie wrapped in thick, dirty blankets during the day at the bottom of the cave. My mother liked to trace patterns in the ground with a piece of the rock. Or brush my hair. She talked more and more to herself. She almost never went out. From time to time I would look at her young, thin face. I found a kind of madness in it. But it made me anxious to think of my mother like that. So I tried to concentrate on my games with the boomerang.
The last year, my uncle screamed from the beach. He had injured his foot while fishing. His harpoon had gone into his thigh. The wound was getting infected and hurting. So Mom was the one who went fishing in the evening. She had learned everything from her brother: fishing, spearing, fear. How to determine the time according to the tides. She even knew how to analyze the information on the radio. Even though her comments always sounded the same. She wasn’t afraid of anything, suddenly, except the same thing we all are afraid of: the next day’s news, blared from the radio, relentless and repetitive every afternoon.
In the last few months, Uncle’s injury has spread to his entire leg. He can no longer walk.
Uncle begs Mom to go to the mainland for help. He will die if he doesn’t, he says. Mom is terrified, but she doesn’t hesitate for a moment:
— The mainland is dangerous, she says. There are attacks. We are in exile, we won’t come back.
My grandmother did not speak at all. At that time, the last month of my exile, it is winter, she shivers and coughs, more and more strongly. We dried the laundry on the line, stretched the line between the door and the nearest tree. I slept for a few hours after the news. Mom often strokes my uncle’s gun. Who knows what she wants to do with it. There are still three of us in the cave: the old woman, Mom and me, but the old woman coughs more and more. Mom curses her, then starts to cry, thinking about uncle. It is my birthday. While my grandmother sleeps, I open the blanket over the door, which leaves us in the dark. The contrast of the daylight immediately hurt me. I took a step outside. Suddenly, I distinctly heard two gunshots. I did not turn around.
My uncle used to say that in the far north, the sun never sets. Here the sun blows my eyes out as it does every time I go out in the sun. I will never travel to the far north, so I stretch my arms and smile.
The day seems beautiful, I trot towards the beach: the beach is a few meters away. I have to walk straight and the sand starts to replace the pebbles. It seems to me that I hear a last shot when I arrive.
Like every morning since I got my boomerang I like to perch on a small sand dome, upstream from the sandy expanse. My hand in visor, I explore the immensity of the sky above me, of us, of our little island, especially.
Silhouettes of black birds fly high above my head. They come from the continent, that’s for sure.
Instinctively, I shield my eyes so that they don’t all burst out of my eyes, and the fear of suffering makes me run down from the sand pile in the wake of the mute silhouettes.
I like the rush, smelling the iodine while sliding, rolling on the sand, and also feeling my muscles and my stomach contracting with fear and joy. I stop my run before the water, and jump for joy in front of the first waves.
There is a boat on the horizon.
I decide to wave to it. Maybe it will come to get me?
I hope so.
Then I reach into my pocket and pull out the Boomerang.
Dzing is the name I gave to my boomerang. It is painted white, dried and varnished. I throw it towards the continent, but it always comes back to me.
I am not afraid of anything, except the open sea.