Quots From The Stranger
"Maman died today. Or yesterday
maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: 'Mother deceased.
Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.' That doesn't mean anything. Maybe
it was yesterday."
"Seeing the rows of cypress
trees leading up to the hills next to the sky, and the houses standing
out here and there against that red and green earth, I was able to understand
Maman better. Evenings in that part of the country must have been a kind
of sad relief. But today, with the sun bearing down, making the whole landscape
shimmer with heat, it was inhuman and oppressive."
"Once we were dressed, she
seemed very surprised to see I was wearing a black tie and she asked me
if I was in mourning. I told her Maman had died. She wanted to know how
long ago, so I said, 'Yesterday.' She gave a little start but didn't say
anything. I felt like telling her it wasn't my fault, but I stopped myself
because I remembered that I'd already said that to my boss. It didn't mean
anything. Besides, you always feel a little guilty."
"Then he told me that as a
matter of fact he wanted my advice about the whole business, because I
was a man, I knew about things, and then we'd be pals. I said it was fine
with me: he seemed pleased."
"Then he asked me if I wasn't
interested in a change of life. I said that people never change their lives,
that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn't dissatisfied
with mine here at all. He looked upset and said that I never gave him a
straight answer, that I had no ambition, and that that was disastrous in
business. So I went back to work. I would rather not have upset him, but
I couldn't see any reason to change my life. Looking back on it, I wasn't
unhappy. When I was a student, I had lots of ambition like that. But when
I had to give up my studies I learned very quickly that none of it really
"The sun glinted off of Raymond's
gun as he handed it to me. But we just stood there motionless, as if everything
had closed in around us. We stared at each other without blinking, and
everything came to a stop there between the sea, the sand, and the sun,
and the double silence of the flute and the water. It was then that I realized
that you could either shoot or not shoot."
"I knew that it was stupid,
that I wouldn't get the sun off me by stepping forward. But I took a step,
one step, forward. And this time, without getting up, the Arab drew his
knife and held it up to me in the sun. The light shot off the steel and
it was like a long flashing blade cutting at my forehead. At the same instant
the sweat in my eyebrows dripped down over my eyelids all at once and covered
them with a warm, thick film. My eyes were blinded by the curtain of tears
and salt. All I could feel were the cymbals of sunlight crashing on my
forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling spear flying up from the knife
in front of me. The scorching blade slashed at my eyelashes and stabbed
at my stinging eyes. That's when everything began to reel. The sea carried
up a thick, fiery breath. It seemed to me as if the sky split open from
one end to the other to rain down fire. My whole being tensed and I squeezed
my hand around the revolver. The trigger gave; I felt the smooth underside
of the butt; and there, in that noise, sharp and deafening at the same
time, is where it all started. I shook off the sweat and sun. I knew that
I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach
where I'd been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body
where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking
four quick times at the door of unhappiness."
"He struck me as being very
reasonable and, overall, quite pleasant, despite a nervous tic which made
his mouth twitch now and then. On my way out I was even going to shake
his hand, but just in time, I remembered that I had killed a man."
"As always, whenever I want
to get rid of someone I'm not really listening to, I made it appear as
if I agreed. 'You see, you see!' he said. 'You do believe, don't you, and
you're to place your trust in Him, aren't you?' Obviously, I again said
no. He fell back in his chair."
"When I was first imprisoned,
the hardest thing was that my thoughts were still those of a free man.
For example, I would suddenly have the urge to be on a beach and to walk
down to the water. As I imagined the sound of the first waves under my
feet, my body entering the water and the sense of relief it would give
me, all of a sudden I would feel just how closed in I was by the walls
of my cell. But that only lasted a few months. Afterwards my only thoughts
were those of a prisoner. I waited for the daily walk, which I took in
the courtyard, or for a visit from my lawyer. The rest of the time I managed
pretty well. At the time, I often thought that if I had to live in the
trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but look up at the sky flowering
overhead, little by little I would have gotten used to it. I would have
waited for birds to fly by or clouds to mingle, just as here I waited to
see my lawyer's ties and just as, in another world, I used to wait patiently
until Saturday to hold Marie's body in my arms. Now, as I think back on
it, I wasn't in a tree trunk. There were others worse off than me. Anyway,
it was one of Maman's ideas, and she often repeated it, that after a while
you could get used to anything."
"And the more I thought about
it, the more I dug out of my memory things I had overlooked or forgotten.
I realized then that a man who had lived one day could easily live for
a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from
being bored. In a way, it was an advantage."
"He then asked the prosecutor
if he had any questions to put to the witness, and the prosecutor exclaimed,
'Oh no, that is quite sufficient!' with such glee and with such a triumphant
look in my direction that for the first time in years I had this stupid
urge to cry, because I could feel how much all these people hated me."
"As I was leaving the courtroom
on my way back to the van, I recognized for a brief moment the smell and
colors of the summer evening. In the darkness of my mobile prison I could
make out one by one, as if from the depths of my exhaustion, all the familiar
sounds of a town I loved and of a certain time of day when I used to feel
happy... What awaited me back then was always a night of easy, dreamless
sleep. And yet something had changed, since it was back to my cell that
I went to wait for the next day. . . as if familiar paths traced in summer
skies could lead as easily to prison as to the sleep of the innocent."
"Everything was happening without
my participation. My fate was being decided without anyone so much as asking
my opinion. There were times when I felt like saying, 'Wait a minute! Who's
the accused here? Being the accused counts for something. And I have something
to say!' But on second thought, I didn't have anything to say."
"In the end, all I remember
is that while my lawyer went on talking, I could hear through the expanse
of chambers and courtrooms an ice cream vendor blowing his tin trumpet
out in the street. I was assailed by memories of a life that wasn't mine
anymore, but one in which I'd found the simplest and most lasting joys:
the smells of summer, the part of town I loved, a certain evening sky,
Marie's dresses and the way she laughed. The utter pointlessness of whatever
I was doing there seized me by the throat, and all I wanted was to get
it over with and get back to my cell and sleep."
"I can't count the number of
times I've wondered if there have ever been any instances of condemned
men escaping the relentless machinery, disappearing before the execution
or breaking through the cordon of police. Then I blame myself every time
for not having paid enough attention to accounts of executions. A man should
always take an interest in those things. You never know what might happen."
"For by giving it some hard
thought, by considering the whole thing calmly, I could see that the trouble
with the guillotine was that you had no chance at all, absolutely none.
The fact was that it had been decided once and for all that the patient
was to die. It was an open-and-shut case, a fixed arrangement, a tacit
agreement that there was no question of going back on. If by some extraordinary
chance the blade failed, they would just start over. So the thing that
bothered me most was that the condemned man had to hope the machine would
work the first time. And I say that's wrong. And in a way I was right.
But in another way I was forced to admit that that was the whole secret
of good organization. In other words, the condemned man was forced into
kind of a moral collaboration. It was in his interest that everything go
off without a hitch."
"I was made to see that contrary
to what I thought, everything was very simple: the guillotine is one the
same level as the man approaching it. He walks up to it the way you walk
up to another person. That bothered me too. Mounting the scaffold, going
right up into the sky, was something the imagination could hold on to.
Whereas, once again, the machine destroyed everything: you were killed
discreetly, with a little shame and with great precision."
"According to him, human justice
was nothing and divine justice was everything. I pointed out that it was
the former that had condemned me. His response was that it hadn't washed
away my sin for all that. I told him I didn't know what a sin was. All
they had told me was that I was guilty. I was guilty, I was paying for
it, and nothing more could be asked of me."
"He was so certain of everything,
didn't he? And yet none of his certainties were worth one hair of a woman's
head. He wasn't even sure he was alive, because he was living the life
of a dead man. Whereas it looked as if I was the one who'd come up empty-handed.
But I was sure about me, about everything, surer than he could ever be,
sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me. Yes, that was
all I had, But t least I had as much of a hold on it as it had on me. I
had been right, I was still right, I was always right. I had lived my life
one way and I could have just as well lived it another. I had done this
and I hadn't done that. I hadn't done this thing but I had done another.
And so? It was as if I had waited all this time for this moment and for
the first light of this dawn to be vindicated. Nothing, nothing mattered,
and I knew why. So did he. Throughout this whole absurd life I'd lived,
a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future,
across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled
whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real that the
ones I was living."
"As if that blind rage
had washed me clean, rid me of hope, for the first time, in that night
alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference
of the world. Finding it so much like a myself - so like a brother, really
- I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything
to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there
be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet
me with cries of hate."