Excerpt from The Secret Voice

Short stories

"The Open Cage"

Here we are. Why? We don't know. We want to rest. From what? Well first of all, from the trials of getting here.
It was a dark Sunday in November, soaked with rain. My companion was cursing the bad weather. There's no way, she grumbled. She was right. I agreed. My mind was bogged down in the numb swamp of autumn. I could not even concentrate enough to read an article in the newspaper. Instead my eyes strayed to an attractive photograph of the tropics.


No, there was no way. For Christmas and New Year. I mean, no way we were going to spend our holidays in the freezing cold. Momo was right. We couldn't take it any more. We had to do something decisive.
Now we have arrived. It wasn't easy. We never before had the money to go beyond our own little neighborhood. But with a little willpower, what can't you do? When you come down to it, it's all so easy. Economize here and there, a few vaccinations, get your papers in order and make a plan. It's so simple. The proof: here we are. In the South. For the first time in our lives. It was time, as Momo said. To wake ourselves up.
To wake up - in a manner of speaking. The heat here swallows our breath like ether and puts us to sleep in the middle of the day.
This afternoon we were in a taxi which drove us from the airport to the hotel. My eye could hardly keep up with the changing countryside. It had no continuity, you might say, but jerked spastically from one scene to the next, like slides on a screen. One after another I recognized them from the tourist brochures. Perhaps I exaggerate. Or maybe it was an illusion: it's possible and doesn't really matter. With my elbow propped against a suitcase, and Momo (who drank too much on the airplane) dozing on my shoulder, I was proud of our decision. The smell of the sea came through the open windows. Finally a summery life under the open sky was to be ours. The driver was singing. His cheerfulness was carried along by the wind and the rolling waves. This feeling of well-being cancelled out the memory of the months of preparation, the long delays, the tension of the flight, the problems of disembarking: forgotten the rude smokers, the squalling children, the pains shooting through the eardrums while descending, the dull formalities at customs, the exhausting struggle for our baggage, etc., even the exorbitant price of our taxi.
Now we are installed in our home-to-be for the next fifteen days. We had reserved a sea-side room with twin beds. We have only one mattress, but comfortable, and our window looks out on the mountains. This is a famous hotel. There is no hot water. But to tell the truth we don't need it. In this stifling country a cold shower wakes you up, as Momo says.

Yesterday evening we agnostic lovers celebrated Christmas at the hotel restaurant. There was nowhere else to go. Nor could we choose what we wanted to eat: the food is obligatorily local. But that is part of the experience and thus very good. Also, this special feature gets us out of our usual eating habits.
I didn't sleep last night. Doubtless because of my state of total euphoria. Everything here invites us to live each moment to its full intensity (novelty excites, as is well known). It should also be mentioned that our room is above a very popular discothèque. Doors slammed joyously until dosing time: three o'clock in the morning. Happily, the noise of these insomniacs didn't affect Momo's sleep.
I hardly had time to doze off when, about six o'clock, it was time for the early risers: golf players and hikers getting ready to leave. I have always wondered where those who neither stay up late nor get up early are supposed to live - perhaps on some other planet.
Towards seven o'clock the smell of breakfast from the kitchens went to our heads. To the point of waking Momo. And since we were both up, we went down to eat before the rush. But the dining room was already jammed and we had to wait.
The great event, on this first day of our vacation, was to take ourselves to the beach. Finally we could joyfully open ourselves to the sun and drink the sweet essence of the elixir of the sea. For years I had dreamed of this frank unfurling of the senses, of tasting this total ecstasy of being that rises and falls with the limpid swells.
First contact with the waves: I was expecting a warm welcome, I met a powerful enemy. Its mindless arms enveloped me in a blind mass of brown water, stones, sand and sticky seaweed. Quickly they raised me up - then they threw me to the bottom.
I was almost swept away. I escaped - miserable and wounded - dizzy with shock, smothered in salt, my skin all scratched, my spine bruised and my toes twisted.
Momo, more prudent, only waded in: a jellyfish bit her: Her sobs and cries of fear quickly attracted a crowd. We learned there had been two drownings yesterday. And I understood why other holiday-makers hardly strayed from the shore.