Bilingual short story: “Homecoming” / “Retrouvailles”

11 11 2014

I wrote this as part of an application for a French-language writing job, which I have since not landed. So here it is: a short story of less than 500 words about “a man meeting a woman in a park.” Enjoy!

* * *

Il avait été en train de pleuvoir. Et Linn Wou était certaine que, malgré ce jour ensoleillé, l’eau avait eu la même couleur il y a soixante-huit ans, sous la pluie qui l’avait accueillie à ce côté de l’océan. Pas de ciel capitaliste vif 2005ien ce jour-là. Qu’une pluie bien fasciste : triste, et sans fin apparente. Comme le temps qu’elle avait passé sur cette île.

Le ferry était vide sauf les trois. Linn, penchée sur la proue, fixait de son regard la surface morne de l’eau, qui avançait et retombait avec chaque bond du bateau. Elle n’arrivait pas à lever les yeux au massif boisé là-dessus.

Dont les deux hommes quarantaniers avec elle, l’un portait des lunettes rondes en Harry Potter. L’autre, sans lunettes, tenait un gros appareil-photo dans les mains.

-Maman, tu veux encore de l’eau? demanda Harry Potter pour la quinzieme fois.

-Ça va, elle dit fermement.

Appareil-photo baissa la tete près de son frère. -Laisse, marmonna-t-il.

-Quoi, laisse ? On la soutient, nous. C’est toi qui lui a convaincu de venir.

-Arretez de parler de moi, Linn aboya. -Comme un pair de singes, mes fils.

Elle poussa un «heumf» et tourna de nouveau vers l’eau. Harry Potter fit un signe exasperé des yeux: Tu vois? Appareil-photo haussa les epaules et tourna à son tour vers la baie, faisant un spectacle de s’absorber dans la photographie.

Linn frissonna, et l’eau tomba soudain non pas le demi-mètre rhythmique des flots, mais des mètres, des mètres dans un ombre verdâtre de 1937. Elle voulait crier, mais elle se tut, une gamine effrayée dans la foule qui grouillait aux garde-corps de la navire à vapeur qui glissait sous le pont Golden Gate.

-Maman. On arrive.

Angel Island.

Un nom ironique, puisqu’ils s’étaient crus dans les mains des démons pendant les examinations violentes des docteurs. Des hommes vêtus en blanc : selon la tradition chinoise, la couleur de la mort. Leurs mots criés lui sonnaient encore bruts et sans visage, comme si ses six décennies de vie en anglais ne s’étaient pas passées. Six décennies sans remettre pied ici, là où elle serait toujours une immigrée déstituée.

L’homme qui attendait sur le quai n’était pas en blanc cette fois. Il était en tenue de la Service des parcs nationaux, et il lui serra et lui serra la main. -Madame Wou. Bienvenue, bienvenue, dit-il. -C’est un honneur de vous accueillir.

Comme dans un rêve, elle erra par-delà lui, vers le vieux Bureau d’immigration. Ses fenêtres, auparavant les yeux tout-voyants d’une empire, restaient vides, festonnées de feuilles. Ses bureaucrats, ses policiers étaient disparus.

Mais Linn était là.


Il explosa de Linn soudain un rire triomphant mais dur, comme un cri. Le vieux bâtiment offrit aucune réplique. Qu’un écho marmonna dans la vallée de chênes qui se déroulait par-dessus. Puis tout était tranquille.

Linn tourna de nouveau vers son guide et ses deux fils américains, tout grandis.

-Alors, monsieur, elle dit, et son visage s’illumina pour la première fois avec un large sourire. On va nous faire visiter l’histoire ?

* * * * *

It had been raining. Linn Wu was sure that, despite the sunshine today, the water had been the same color sixty-eight years ago, beneath the rain that had welcomed her to this side of the ocean. No shiny 2005 capitalist sky back then, but an appropriately fascist rain: sad, and with no foreseeable end. Like the time she had spent on that island.

The ferry was empty except for three. Linn was perched on the bow, her gaze fixed on the dark surface of the water that rose and fell with each shudder of the boat. She couldn’t bring herself to lift her eyes to the tree-covered massif ahead.

Of the two middle-aged men with her, one wore round glasses, Harry Potter-style. The other clutched a big digital SLR camera. “Do you want some water, Ma?” Harry Potter asked for the umpteenth time.

“I’m fine,” Linn said curtly.

“Let her be,” Cameraman whispered close to his brother’s ear.

“What, let her be? We’re her support! It was your idea to come.”

“You can stop talking about me,” Linn snapped. “My sons! Like a pair of monkeys.” She let out a ‘harrumph’ and turned away again.

Harry Potter made an eyes-wide gesture of exasperation: See? Cameraman just shrugged and turned away too, making a show of being absorbed in taking pictures.

Linn shivered. Suddenly the water plummeted, not the rhythmic six inches of the choppy spray but fathoms, fathoms down into the greenish 1937 shade. She wanted to cry out, but fear held her tongue: a scared little girl crushed in the crowds that milled at the railings of the great steamer as it slipped under the Golden Gate.

“Mom. We’re here.”

Angel Island.

An ironic name, since during the ruthless medical examinations they had thought the doctors were demons. Men all in white: in Chinese tradition, the color of death. Their harsh voices in her memory still sounded garbled and alien, as if her six decades of living in English had never happened. Six decades in which she had never again set foot here. Here, where she would always be a terrified immigrant.

The man that waited for them on the jetty was not all in white. Instead, he wore a National Park Service uniform, and he shook and shook her hand. “Welcome, Ms. Wu. It is such an honor,” he gushed.

Like one in a dream, Linn drifted past him and gazed up at the old Immigration Center. Its windows, once the all-seeing eyes of an empire, lay empty and blind, festooned with leaves. Its officers and bureaucrats had all gone.

But Linn was here.

“Ha!” Linn suddenly exclaimed, a violent laugh-cry of triumph. The old building offered no reply. Only an echo murmured in the oaks that rose away beyond; and then all was still.

Linn turned back – back to the guide and her two American sons, all grown.

“So,” she said, and a wide smile lit her face. “Let’s take a tour of some history.”


It Happened One January

27 02 2013

Ways The Israelites Got Out Of Egypt:

-parting the Red Sea

-Leaving before their matzah was done

Ways I Got Out Of Egypt:


-back of a pickup truck

-wading barefoot through a flood with my luggage on my back

Everyone told me I should write it down, so here goes.

It all starts with my friend Robbie. I met Robbie on the bus from Jerusalem to Eilat. We got along really well, followed each other to the same hostel in Eilat, and became inseparable.

Now Robbie was already planning to go to Cairo, which you need a pre-approved visa for. On his way to the Egyptian consulate in Eilat, he got astronomically lost and eventually an Israeli lady took pity on him and drove him there. In the car she told him about this place, which at first I could only remember as some name that sounds like “Rosh Hashana”, where we should go: a village on the beach an hour or so south of the Egyptian border, full of both Israelis and Egyptians. It’s actually called Ras esh-Shaitan.

Eilat kind of sucked- it’s a very Miami Beach type of place, not fun unless you want to pay for the buffet dinner and the dolphin show. So in the full spirit of YOLO, I decided to come with him.

At the border we were channeled through a ridicul0usly unprofessional barrage of checkpoints, double-checkpoints and tax agents before being spit out into Egypt. I’ve been to Egypt once before, but I forgot the true insanity of it. You have a feeling you’re getting ripped off kind of 24/7 because of this certain sketchy way people act during consumer transactions. Robbie got kind of frothed up during our first, frustrating haggle attempt (to get a cab). Then, as we drove off, the driver had to honk because a herd of wild camels was lumbering along the middle of the road. I think that was Robbie’s smack into reality. He dived for his camera while stammering, “Whoa. Whoa. That camel. Is eating. That bush. Right now.”

Less than a kilometer from the malls and brightly-painted ATMs of Eilat, the highway was a dirt road and the smoke of cooking fires rose from slums hunkering beneath the bare mountains. As darkness slowly fell, we passed a handful of old Crusader castles as well as an “I Am Legend”-level amount of unfinished construction. Mostly, though, we drove through total emptiness. It was just getting dark when we arrived.

Ras-esh-Shaitan, Arabic for Satan’s Head: a dusty beach at the end of the world, where the barren cliffs of the Sinai Desert howl down to a small flat space of thatch-roofed huts and withered old desert trees. There were twinkling lights strung in the trees, the camp was almost completely empty, and we got a cabin for less than $10 a night. That first night, it felt like an otherworldly, mystical place. Thin, secretive cats flitted through the shadows. There were open-air verandas with carpets and cushions strewn on the floor beneath them; the bathrooms had beautiful ceramic toilets but no roofs… and THE DOORS HAD NO LOCKS. This is an important detail and it’s going to come back to haunt us later.

but I digress.

On our second day we went to buy food in Nuweiba, which was more ghost-town unfinished construction. I literally watched a goat walk into the front of the supermarket, steal a tomato and walk out. We also discovered that the camp our cabbie had taken us to was one of two, and the other one – just across a little hill – had a lot more people: Bedouins, crazy hippies who stare at the fire until one in the morning, groups of bros from Cairo who brought bottles of whisky, lots of jam sessions. It was actually pretty crowded, since we were there during the two-year anniversary of the revolution, and they all knew there would be riots in Cairo. When you asked most of them how long they were staying, they’d go, “I dunno, man.” It reminded me of the land of the Lotus Eaters, which Odysseus visits on his voyage: almost sinister in its loveliness, because you could get trapped there forever.

Robbie left for Cairo on the next day, leaving me feeling kind of lonely. We became such good friends so fast and then parted ways, and mostly Ras-esh-Shaitan just reminded me way too much of Santa Cruz. I spent one more day there, being a social butterfly in the busier camp: chilling and not doing much. It was fun, but I was ready to move on. I did, however, find a good new crew of companions in the form of Lina, a soft-spoken girl who had gone to a private German school in Cairo; and her dreadlocked friend Hilel, who had lived in New Jersey.

On the day I was to leave, I woke up and my daypack was missing.

Now, I won’t go into any details that would keep me from running for office, but suffice it to say that I was somewhat hung over. This is important to the story because for the first hour, I was convinced that I had lost the bag myself. You guys know me. I do that kind of thing all the time. So I woke up and went, “Dammit, Ben, you done went and ate too many lotuses and left your backpack somewhere.”

I spent an hour retracing my steps of the past day, trying in vain to remember when I went where (I had eaten lots of lotuses), cursing myself and my stupidity. I was about to give up when I spied my bag lying on a rocky slope about 20 feet from my hut.

I froze, my eyes went narrow, and the wheels in my head clunked furiously trying to rationalize this with the “Hangover”-esque explanation I had imagined. “I must have walked by there last night…………” I thought, but the figurative ellipses were scrolling through my head at about sixty miles an hour.

I walked over. My iPod headphones trailed ominously out of the opening, plugged into nothing. Inside the bag were my jeans, and in the pockets of my jeans there was no wallet, no iPod and no cell phone.

When I told the guy at the front desk (well, the only desk) what had happened, a bunch of the Bedouins that were always loitering by the fire came over and started speaking rapid-fire Arabic to each other, asking questions. I answered as best I could, with a kid named Sohail translating. Then, at their request, I led them over to my hut and to the hillside where I discovered the empty daypack.

Thus began my very own personal episode of Bedouin CSI. Three white-robed and keffiyah-ed gentlemen warned me and Sohail to stay back as they scampered all over the hill, examining the tracks in the sand Aragorn-style. One of the guys, Ayesh, was the head honcho of the camp. Since he was also the chief of the local Bedouins, and there was no police station for twenty miles in every direction, Ayesh was the law in Ras-esh-Shaitan. “Don’t worry. One time a girl got a laptop stolen from her chusha, and Ayesh was back with it that night,” Sohail told me. “No one ever asked how he got it.”

I thought for a moment, with righteous fury, of Ayesh pointing a pistol at some thief, who blubbered for forgiveness and emptied a waterfall of stolen ID cards out of his pockets, begging for the tribe not to hold a blood feud against his family forever.

Somehow I doubted that would actually happen.

In any case, Ayesh and his cohorts disappeared over the horizon. Since I couldn’t leave without paying my hosts for the lodging, and I had no money to pay them with, there was nothing to do but wait.

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The Story of Eros and Psyche

14 01 2010

This is my adaptation of the ancient story, which I love because it’s a Greek myth that also has elements of the Western fairy tale. I’ve made plenty of my own additions and had lots of fun with it. The story itself is on a different page, because it’s too long to put in my blog without hogging the scrollbar.

To read the story, click here.

Les rosiers du minuit

11 12 2009

Translation of a short story. It’s not actually here because it’s so long that it made the little scrollbar on the right super tiny, which was obnoxious. So, to read the story you’ll have to click below, where it has its very own page of my blog.

Commentaires, critiques, etc. apprécié(e)s, mais je veux surtout qu’on me trouve des fautes… 5 000 mots, c’est beaucoup de place pour les erreurs !

Click here to go to the story / Cliquez ici pour lire l’histoire