The Laughter of My Little Neighbor

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Gecko Bleu

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I went blind by choice. Because the light which was so precious to me, the colors which enchanted me, no longer made up for what my daily life had become. By an effort of will, I extinguished my disappointments and made my sadness invisible. In the dark, imagination is king. I recreated a new life for myself. The strength of my desire even fooled the doctors. I am sightless and science is unable to explain why, how, how long it will last or how to cure me. I am proud of that at least.
I learned Braille, because I could not have borne to be deprived of reading. You do not need to see to be able to read. My imagination, constantly called into service, enhances beautiful pieces of writing and mercilessly kills off any bad ones. Huddled in my willed nighttime, amidst books and wild flights of the imagination, I lazily await the end. This has been going on for some twenty years and I have always been perfectly happy with it.
Until the laughter of a child came along, disturbing my darkness and exciting my passion.
It was a joyful, tinkling laugh that seemed to echo endlessly through the air of my living room. The child laughing like that was surely charming, gentle, with round cheeks and twinkling eyes. His parents have moved into the apartment next door. Our patios adjoin and the little one plays outside every day.
At first I would listen absent-mindedly, happy to hear a bit of life in that building once again. Then I began to listen out for the times when the child was outside. His laughter, babbling and exclamations endeared him to me. One day when I was sitting in the sun on my deckchair, he addressed me in his tentative language, a mixture of words, noises and shaky intonations.
“He wants to show you his red truck. Hello, my name’s Louise, I’m this young man’s Mommy.”
I turn round and can tell she has realized, from my posture and my dark glasses. I make a sign to her to say nothing, so as not to risk bursting the child’s bubble of innocence too soon.
“Will you show me that truck?”
I reach out my hand in what I guess to be the direction of the small child. Louise helps him give me the toy and we both spend a few minutes exchanging noises about how lovely the wheels and the bodywork are.

I want to put a face and a smile to that little voice.

It has taken me longer to re-master the light than it did to get rid of it but I have succeeded. I have ripped apart the fog and swept away the shadows. Nobody knows. That swarthy little boy with the dark eyes and tiny white teeth has been cleverer than the doctors. The first time I saw him, he was wearing a red T-shirt and long denim shorts. His bare feet slapped against the patio tiles and his face had fruit smeared all over it. My laugh caught him by surprise as he was putting his chubby little hands on all the white surfaces, leaving strawberry and raspberry imprints. He turned round and looked at me, and the music of his joy, bursting out in pure, clear notes, finally convinced me that I had made the right choice.

Every day I share some time with my little neighbor. Louise has told me that the child loves stories, so I spend hours inventing them. My whole life is organized around the story-telling ritual. We sit on either side of the wrought iron fence, me in my deckchair and the little one on a big yellow cushion, and we set off to explore a world we create together.

The weather has changed and the child cannot go out as much as he did before. I dare not ask Louise if I could visit just to tell a story. I have made up dozens, all waiting for the return of the sun.
From time to time the magic laugh echoes in the corridor and I feel my heart constrict. The shadows close in upon my field of vision, the daylight hurts.

This morning, Louise came and knocked timidly on the door.
“Hello, I was wondering... The little one has been asking for your stories for the past few days... I didn’t like to say anything but he won’t give up...”
I can’t see any more but I can still tell stories. As she thanks me profusely, I feel like hugging her. I can feel tears misting up my dark glasses. She guides me into her living room and helps me sit down. I have hardly settled in the chair when I feel the child’s little hands on my knees and I can tell he is standing in front of me, perfectly attentive, expectantly waiting for the story. I hope his fingers are covered in fruit or in colors of some sort and that they will leave their mark on my pants.
I start the story at the exact place where we stopped and the magic works as it did before. I can picture him clutching his teddy bear at the most exciting bits, shaking his brown curls in agreement with something the character does and stretching out his arms to mimic the paddles of a boat. He makes the noises of the train, the animals, and the wind, and howled with laughter in his joy at getting his world back again.
I am glad I can’t see him any more; I couldn’t bear these memories to be spoiled.

Translated by Wendy Cross

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