Risk

Translated from French by Christine Schwartz Hartley. Alain Mabanckou was born in the Congo and currently teaches literature at UCLA. African Psycho will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2008.

What do you say, am I doing it or not?

I met Germaine a month ago at the Open Air restaurant on the Left Bank. I can still picture to this day the moment I knew she was the one I would kill.

Open Air looks like all the restaurants found in abundance in the He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot district: bamboo tables in an immense courtyard stretching to the edge of the street, with old loudspeakers blasting music that can pierce the eardrums of clients and passers-by. The smoke clouds the place in general indifference. People scream with laughter, they get up and dance in a corner. Cars park out front and drivers emerge, often accompanied by their latest female conquests.

It was a Sunday afternoon.

I was seated in a corner of the packed establishment, my gaze a bit distracted. My dish of chicken in peanut sauce was being served at the precise moment I saw Germaine heading toward the cashier's desk. She was talking with the proprietress. It even looked like an argument, for the two women seemed not to agree about something. The proprietress opened an old notebook and showed it to Germaine, who shook her head no. The proprietress closed the notebook and Germaine walked back toward the customers. That's when I finally saw her face. What intrigued me was her sombre gaze. She must have had serious problems.

Anyhow, how was this any of my business? So I averted my eyes and focused on cutting the chicken leg that, truth be told, I was finding skinny and tough. Before I had time to swallow the first bite, Germaine was in front of me.

"Don't you have a cigarette?" she asked me, addressing me casually from the get-go. Her question was inane, as my pack of Camels was on the table. I stared at her, this time up close: tall, lightly dressed with her miniskirt and see-through white top, hair pulled back, a round face with dimpled cheeks, and small eyes, deep but dulled by the anxiety that filled her at that moment.

I told myself that she was probably one of these whores from the country over there who come to our country in their canoes and whom the shopkeepers of He-Who-Drinks-Water-Is-An-Idiot use during the day to incite clients to empty their wallets. I am not criticizing this practice, as I have also occasionally benefited from it. When such was the case, and before Germaine came to live with me, I would find myself with one of these girls at home. But I always took her to my workshop, among the scrap metal on which Germaine was to heap abuse later...

Everything went really fast. To this day I still can't believe it. Germaine came to my house every day, very late at night. She cooked, tidied up the mess I left in the house. And me, I waited to have my meal with her, even though my eyes were heavy with sleep. She kept on saying that I was a good guy, that she didn't believe in men anymore except for me, that it had been a long time since she'd felt in love that strongly, that she was now attached to me, that even if I wasn't handsome, my humane qualities made me so, that she couldn't accept any money from me, that she thought about me all the time, that I made love well while the others fucked her, blah, blah, blah...

For my part, I wished to tell her to come live with me because it suited me. But you had to be patient. Not precipitate matters. So I waited until it came from her. That she herself decided to come live under my roof. She told me in confidence that she liked flowers, surprises, kind words and all these useless things that allow cretins in suits to go in circles around a young lady instead of simply saying: "What do you say, are we doing it or not?"

In any case, thanks to Germaine I learned that the roses that these cretins in suits give women weren't always pink, that they could be white, red, purple, yellow and who knows what other colour. Personally, I don't give a shit about flowers. However, you've got to make sacrifices, pretend, play the game.

I faked being moved, smelling the fragrance of the roses. And so, what can I say, I would pick flowers near the "Seine" and when she arrived at night she cooed thank-yous, kissed me everywhere like a bitch licking its master...

One day, to my great surprise, Germaine came with a bigger bag than usual and announced that she was going to live with me, that she was going to stop whoring, that she wanted to give me all her love, that she wanted me to cover her with all the flowers that exist on earth. It was moving to see her overexcited in front of the man that I am, a man who since his birth has had to put up with a rectangular head.

Without any humility, on that day I told myself that I was truly handsome and that I hadn't realized it. Germaine talked a lot, as if to justify her decision to settle in my place. Then she sat on the sofa and burst into tears. I came to be by her side. I told her I was delighted with her decision but that, on the other hand, I didn't agree with her stopping her daily work. I launched into my refrain according to which whores, like ambulance drivers, like notaries, like real estate agents, like sheet-iron and auto-body workers paid their taxes, therefore were not engaged in a shameful activity. She was persuaded. She said she would continue her craft as old as the world, but part-time, just to make me happy, and that she would no longer put her clients' things in her mouth, which she used to kiss me. And she kissed me. Before we made love, I imagined her as a corpse at my feet. I felt in a state of deep bliss. Germaine was sleeping like a little angel, and me, I was looking at her. Talking to myself, a smile at the corner of my mouth, I told myself I would fatten her up for two weeks, three maximum, so that she'd be in very good health on the day of my deed...

Another day has dawned.

I do not see time go by anymore. That's how it is. When you have a project, you're surprised by sunsets and sunrises.

Two days I've been going around in circles! Am I ready? Have I acquired the determination that characterizes a person who accomplishes an important deed? I no longer have a choice. I am face-to-face with myself. I can't go back. Nothing can stop me.

I have decided to kill Germaine on December 29.

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