The Heart Has Its Seasons...

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Arno

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“This is a fruit of every season which carries the scent of its travels…”
My grandfather often repeated this little phrase to me when he was talking about his clouds. He has the best collection of clouds I have ever seen. What’s more, he‘s the only person I know who collects clouds. But he calls it ‘harvesting’, he thinks it sounds better. So for years my grandfather has been harvesting clouds. He sets off in the early morning, when they are waking up and leaving their bed in the fir trees to climb back up into the sky. They always leave bits caught on the branches of the trees.
In my grandfather’s shed jars are stacked up with the clouds inside. They are all carefully labeled with the date of the harvest and the origin of the cloud. To determine their origin, my grandfather tastes his clouds.
And from time to time, he takes me into his shed, and we have a little taste. 
“Here, Nicolas. Try this one. It’s a seventy-six.”
I grasp the nothingness with both my hands and put it in my mouth. Then I pretend to chew it. I know very well that my grandfather is mad. But his clouds are all he has since Granny died in the car accident that made me an orphan at the same time. My parents were driving Granny to the hospital when they had a terrible accident. Grandad and I are all that is left of us.
“Mmmm, I say, delicious, Grandad, really delicious.”
“Let’s see if you have made any progress. See if you can tell me where it comes from.”
And every time I say his little phrase as an introduction:
“This is a fruit of every season which carries the scent of its travels…”
Grandad smiles.
Then I say anything, whatever comes into my head.
“It’s dry like a wind from the south, light as a sail made of silk, this one has been saturated with sun, Grandad… I don’t really know where it comes from, but I’m sure it has passed over Africa.”
And Grandad smiles.
“You are making progress, Nicolas. You are really making progress…”

In the village, everybody really likes my grandfather. I don’t know if this is really for his own sake, or because my grandmother is dead.
They like me a lot, too.
One day, at school, the teacher said, “Tomorrow, bring some kind of quirky object.”
When I got back to the house where we live, Grandad and me, I asked,
“Grandad, what does ‘quirky’ mean?”
“Is it urgent?” he replied, continuing to dust his jars.
“Quite urgent,” I said, “It’s for tomorrow.”
“Well, let’s go and look in the dictionary…”
Crumbs, I have to take something quirky to school, tomorrow.
And frankly, for all the worrying I did, I couldn’t see what I would be able to find. A weird-shaped pebble? A rare animal? Like a bear, for example. A bear would be quirky… But you had to be realistic. I couldn’t count on being able to find a bear that evening and managing to tame it well enough to take it to school tomorrow. 
I could see my grandfather had an idea.
“What if you showed them something from my collection?”
I was quiet for a long while. I could just imagine myself standing in front of the whole class with my empty jar, explaining to my classmates that my grandfather collects clouds… What on earth would they think of me? But when I saw the tears in Grandad’s eyes I said,
“Oh yes! Would you like me to take one? Aren’t you frightened I might break it?”
He gave my cheek a little pat full of love.
“Of course I want you to take one, otherwise I wouldn’t have offered.”

On the way to school, I kept looking around to see if I could find a pebble, an amazing one with a really fantastic shape. A quirky pebble, in fact. But when I got to the school gate, the only thing in my bag was an empty jar. And I felt sick like I had never felt sick before. It was a really quirky sick feeling.
When it was my turn to stand up in front of the class and show them what I had brought, I was absolutely terrified. And the ones who had gone before me had had really quirky things to show the others: a stethoscope, a shark’s tooth, a squirrel… I could hardly get my jar out of my bag.
“Now, Nicolas, show us what you’ve brought,” said the teacher.
There was no going back. I took out my empty jar. And I showed it to the class.
“Er…What is it, Nicolas?” asked the teacher.
“A piece of a cloud…” I replied.
It really hurt me hearing the laughter of my classmates. They were all laughing, all of them… My ears and eyes grew hot… I think I even cried. I don’t know what hurt me the most: the fact that they were laughing at me or at my Grandad. But I felt so bad I would rather have been dead.
“Where did you get your cloud from, Nicolas?” asked a small voice.
The laughter stopped immediately. It was Sophie Soulans who had asked the question. The shyest girl in the class, who never said anything.
“My grandfather has been harvesting them for years.”
“How does he harvest them?” she continued.
Then I started to tell them all about it, the trees, the mornings, the jars, the labels, the tasting sessions and ‘Hmmm, that’s really good’, the journeys and, of course, the little phrase… 
Then Sophie put her hand up. As far as the class could remember, she had never done that before…
“Can I have a taste, please?”
I knew very well that there was nothing in my jar. But as she had said ‘please’ with such a pretty smile, I couldn’t say no.
“If you like.”
She looked at the teacher who nodded her permission to get up and join me in front of the class, and she walked up with all the pupils staring at her, intrigued. 
I opened my jar. Looking straight into my eyes, she plunged her hand into it and winked at me. She brought a handful of nothingness up to her mouth and then pretended to chew it.
“Mmmm, I’ve never eaten anything so good.”
And she stuck her hands back in the jar and stuffed herself with cloud… I couldn’t get over it. I was on the point of bursting out laughing when the teacher interrupted,
“That’s enough, Sophie, don’t eat it all, leave some for your friends to have a taste.”
I looked in the jar and said in an aggrieved voice,
“Too late. I think Sophie’s eaten it all.”
Then Sophie was in trouble. She had to write two hundred lines for tomorrow: “I must try harder not to be selfish.” I was sorry it had ended like that.

During the break, I went to see Sophie.
“Thank you,” I said to her.
“That’s OK… You know, I’d never eaten cloud before.”
“Did you really bel…”
“Shhh,” she said, putting her finger on my lips.
Then she took me by the hand and led me to a dark corner of the playground.
And there, she kissed me on the mouth.
I felt at that moment that my heart was going to burst. I had no idea where I was any more. I opened my eyes and saw Sophie for the first time in my life… I saw her as I had never seen her before. 
I still had the taste of her lips on mine, soft, fresh and rather sweet. I said to myself: Love is a fruit of every season which carries the scent of its travels.
I had just discovered the cloud of my life.
The one Grandad was missing…

Translated by Wendy Cross

126

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