I watched the sun splash the Seine. The candelabras of the Alexandre III bridge were taking on coppery hues. The evening was about to fall. A cloud seemed to change shape, to stretch out lasciviously and take on the appearance of the woman I loved. She was holding out her arms to me in a kind of daydream. Except that I didn’t have a wife, I didn’t have the courage to tell the one who animated my nights without bottom that she made me dream.
I took my phone and sent her twenty messages in a row to explain to her the beauty of the evening that falls, red and dancing, on the boats of Paris, to show her by A plus B my exhaustion to plunge my soul in the ocean of the night in her absence. I spoke to her about the wind, the sun, the moon, what do I know, she answered me three hours later laconically.
I climbed the steps leading to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Once inside, I wanted to light a candle for all the feelings that, like trains, leave our souls for a journey without return. I looked up at the ceiling. Suddenly, the building shook. I looked up into the nave. The tourists had disappeared and the interior was pitch black. Only a small candle was lit in front of the altar. I reached for it, like a ghost haunted by its living past, and grabbed it. Just as my fingers were burning on the pink flame, a thunderous voice was heard in the religious monument:
I took a step backward, and a shadow passed over me. I slumped into one of the wooden chairs in the church, exhausted by this unlikely adventure.
The ghost suddenly took on human form. I saw it stretch out and take on the features of the woman I loved, then of my mother, then of Jesus. I stretched out an angry fist in the darkness:
— What are you playing at, spirit of woe?
I came to tear you away from your imbecility, whispered the spectre, and he wrapped his long smoke trail around my chest. I shivered, I was cold, the adventure was freezing the blood in my veins consumed by love.
The ghost burst out laughing. I closed my eyes and slumped to the cold ground. I was thinking about the last time I had made love to a woman, when the sound of a bird singing woke me up. Around me, the sun was burning an ash-colored cornfield. An opaque moon was gradually disappearing in the grey clarity of the pearly sky. I looked for Paris, but the brilliant blue sky told me that the ghost had taken me on a journey of no return. I felt my pocket. My phone was still there. I tried again to send a burst of messages to the young woman who was making me dream. But an old man snatched the phone out of my hand as I waved it toward the sun to get service.
—Who are you stranger?
—Where am I?
In the distance, the ocean was receding with a drumming sound.
—Southwest Pacific. You must have come to the Solomon Islands with the last shipment of rosewood.
—Am I on an island?
—You are on the possibility of an island.
—The Solomon Islands and Makira exist only in your heart. You visited them as a child to escape your parents’ slap. Since then, you have forgotten about this asylum. Your encounter with the Devil in the basilica led you to me.
—God delegates to him all the boring matters of the heart, which he doesn’t feel like dealing with. The Devil is just trying to help you forget a woman.
—I will never forget her!
I ran away. I knew, having memorized it as a child, that the Solomon Islands are a double chain of islands separated by a channel, including the islands of Santa Cruz, Makira, Malaita… and Ysabel, named after the woman I loved.
In the distance I saw the smoke of a volcano fading into the calm morning. I clenched my fists and realized that my phone was still there. I tried compulsively to send a message to Ysabel, to tell her about this adventure, but she didn’t answer me. I continued on my way, brushed by children holding a small dog on a leash. The capital Honiara surrounded me with its low buildings. The forest left a dark trail behind me and soon became a memory.
I crossed the city and lit a fire in the night cut by a collar of red clouds, on the beach of Guadalcanal. Families laughed quietly beside me. Houses on stilts lit candlesticks in the dark distance. A woman chased a rat with a broom and her gaze pierced me.
The Devil appeared, while I was still trying to get an answer from Ysabel. The torrential rain fell on us like an omen, and I began to dance alone on the beach, with the Devil as my dance partner.
— The southeast trade wind is to blame, not me, » replied my companion, who had taken the form of a white bird.
Small boats continued to coast in the moonlight and rain ahead of us. I put my hand in my visor and stopped my dance against the weather.
— You see, the Devil, I couldn’t forget her here.
He put a wing on my shoulder, he had the size of a tall man, and I saw his yellow eyes change color. Then I understood that he had changed me too, into a bird. I followed him over the Solomon Islands, over the fishing canoes and the blazing foam of the evening.
We crossed the forest of the Kwaios of Malaita, the banks of the Arosi of Makira. The bird swooped down to steal a bit of beef roti skewered on a beach. It tore off a piece of the meat and handed it to me. I cried a little as I realized that my phone was useless with wings.
We arrived at the port of Malaita. Sailors were unloading a load of soap, kerosene and plastic bowls. I saw a man spreading a mosquito net on either side of two breadfruit trees for some reason unknown to me. I shuddered when I saw a young woman with a dazzling smile, who reminded me of Ysabel.
South of Guadalcanal, we spent a night to rest in the village of Komuvaolu. Nobody noticed the presence of two white egrets. When night came, I escaped from my companion’s grip and flew over an incantatory ritual; the smoke stung my ears but I continued my flight, piercing the clouds, which wept a little above the divinatory fires. I almost hit a wall in my flight, and as I caught my breath, I realized that it was a church, isolated a few blocks from this small beach of Guadalcanal. A bowl had been placed there on purpose, with berries and a little tapioca puree, which I pecked at. The Devil had not followed me, and I entered the church flying like a madman, lost in my regret for not telling Ysabel I loved her, and bumping into the stained glass windows like a mosquito into the burning bulb of a bedside lamp.
The confined air of the church held a fragrance of frangipani and tulip tree. I thought of Ysabel’s white neck, of the movements of her hands when she explained to me one day that she did not love me, and I closed my eyes.
— Let’s go back to Honiara, said the Devil.
How he had found me, I did not know.
We flew over the Lunga River east of the capital, to White River, Point Cruz and the surrounding hills. In the Ranadi district, an industrial area sent its night-blue fumes over us and I coughed in the darkness.
The morning dragged us in its relentless swell. Tired, the Devil had taken the shape of a grey smoke trail. A yacht club was waving in the heat of the early day. I listened to a pidgin radio and followed the Devil over the Solomon Islands until he decided to wrap himself around the happy white clouds. The ocean made a sliding carpet for us into the dark distance. I prayed to see Paris again, I swore that I would never fall in love again. And then, when the sun had finished burning my efforts to remain at an unreasonable altitude and to bring me closer to the heat that was rumbling in my heart, I joined the Devil below the clouds. He slowly sang me a lullaby in pidgin, I was caught by the sound of the waves, jostled by the Devil’s song, I was flying without being aware of it.
I was thrown on the floor of the basilica, and my face was black with soot. I looked for the Devil, he had disappeared. I looked up at the ceiling of the nave, snow was crying in the darkness set on fire by the candles of the building. I began to dance in the midst of the snowstorm that was raging in the church. There was no one there, I was alone with my ashen heart and my memories of the ocean. And then, when God had finished reminding me of his greatness and the cowardice of my heart, I violently pushed open the door of the building’s entrance.
A resplendent sun was blazing through the heart of Paris. I stretched over the low-angle view of the capital and pulled my phone from my pocket. I sent a last message to Ysabel to apologize for disturbing her daily life while I was having a thousand adventures with the Devil, then my gaze merged with the twilight, and turning into a white bird, I forgot God and love.