Well, I am a girl, I have been fifteen for forty-nine days, I have an incredible appetite for life and three hours ago, I perched on the spire of the Empire State Building, with no experience or authorization. I spent most of my childhood being rejected, hurt and despised by other people. Too sensitive, too thoughtful. Different and always out of step. Always on the edge of society, on the doorstep; as soon as I went too close, and my foot crossed the threshold, the door would be slammed in my face, with unusual and devastating violence. I have been surviving, rather than living, every day since my birth. Every morning, I take a step forward towards social circles only to feel, a few moments later, a quivering in the air caused by those around me taking a step backward, or else their total indifference to me as a my person.
That was why this morning, as dawn tinted the New York sky with orange reflections, I attempted the impossible. To show the world that I exist and to scream at the sun that I will not fit tidily into the role allocated to me. Just to prove to them that the embers of existence are still burning inside me and that they will never extinguish them.
The day before, I hid away in a corner of the panoramic room and at dawn’s first light, I climbed over the barrier and went even higher, right up to the spire that seemed to pierce the azure sky. The Statue of Liberty was nothing more than a little blueish landmark. I could see as far as Central Park and Manhattan, and look down on the most imposing skyscrapers.
A police siren screams to my right and hurtles down the little street where I am hiding out. These are the repercussions of having dared to perch on the top of the second highest tower ever built: I am now actively being hunted. I managed to get down from my perch at the last moment by taking the elevator, but I made the mistake of getting out at the first floor. I had to break a window and jump. I sprained my ankle as I touched the ground, but was otherwise unharmed, which is either a miracle or the luck of the innocent. Then I began to run, limping, and I have been hiding ever since.
I stand up. I must get away, I am only at West 38th Street. Dogs are barking, boots are pounding the pavement. They are so near. I tell myself that they are going to catch me, and take me into custody. That I am going to cop it for having wanted to feel alive at least once and I feel anger rise up within me. I would like to walk towards the boulevard, stand up straight in the flashing lights and scream silently all my contempt for the society that abandoned me, to turn finally to the police with the smile of a hero on my face. Not from provocation, but because I have had enough of being confined within this crippling timidity. But I do nothing. The fear is already too great, and I feel that deep down I do not really want to become that insolent girl.
I glance at the building with the colonial architecture I am leaning against. Its smooth surface and the helicopter flying over the rooftops dissuade me from climbing up it. The main street is twenty yards away. If I am quick enough I might be able to take refuge in the crowd. I walk faster and join the yelling crowds jostling along the pavements with their heads down. Behind me, the Empire State soars up like a threat. Carried along by the bodies pushing around me, I begin to fully realize the folly of my actions. I think of that man, whose name I can never remember, who crossed the space between the two towers of the World Trade Center on a wire. I would certainly get myself arrested like he did.
The tyres of the vans squeal to a halt on the road. The police get out of the vehicles, guns in their hands. The people, completely terrified, flatten themselves against the store windows and huddle on the ground. With my heart beating fit to burst, I start to run. So much for secrecy. A voice shouts at me but I do not turn round and keep running, cursing the wave of pain spreading through my thigh.
They shout, they run, the dogs are released and they run after me with open jaws. I can’t even see where I am going. Tears are running down my cheeks, adrenalin is pumping in great waves through my veins. A quivering red spot appears on my right shoulder. I move with one leap out of the shooter’s line of fire. At the same moment, fangs sink into my injured leg. I lose my balance, screaming, and collapse onto the warm tarmac. Within a few seconds, I am handcuffed and being dragged towards the vans.
Just before the door closes, I catch sight of the sun shining coldly in the faded sky.
It is mocking me. In its ethereal smile I see the disdain of the powerful, those who are masters of their own futures and who are high up, much too high up for any hope of one day reaching their level.
“You will be cowardly and powerless, whatever you do. That’s how it is, you are condemned to crawl in the dust,” he whispers in my ear.
I stare at him and my lips sketch out an amused smile in return, as my heart swells with happiness.
Because today, I stood up.
Translated by Wendy Cross