La banlieue

After a game of pool in a Mantes café pas loin de l’église, you raised your collar against the cold and asked if I could lend you money. I always admired your lean toughness, you in your Santiagos, your Arab’s eyes, quick, dark and sensitive. I gave you deux cents balles and saw your mouth quiver at the corners as you held my hand in both of yours. Boualem, this was the last time I ever saw you and then that call I got from your brother when I was in Frankfurt the image of you pendu hanging in the silence and the cold the walls could not hold back. What of Marie and le petit Arthur gosse d’un epoch that grew too heavy and tilted like a ship the water deserted? I hope that he makes his thé à menthe procedurally, your boy, and envisages the father he hardly met as a man who stood straight in crowds, the wire in his veins tightly bound, a walker of the streets whose heart was never hard. One night dans la banlieue nord at a party I saw you stand so comfortably amid les jeunes loubards out of Renaud like someone who had known the life of les HLM but escaped it. What’s a life worth, how much does it cost to preserve so that a boy might know his dad and ask, ‘T’étais là when the riots broke that time at Val-de-Fôret? I met you, Arthur, little one grown big whose daddy never really emerged solid from the shadows your eyes perceived back then. He was a good man, your dad, bird of the broken streets and the greying light, no money in his pockets to settle or take flight.

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