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VI. Creative pieces

Télétravail, Famille, Patrie

Cécile GIRARDIN

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"Télétravail, Famille, Patrie" est une chronique de la vie quotidienne sous le confinement qui a été imposé aux citoyens en mars 2020, du point de vue d'une mère célibataire de trois enfants en bas âge. Rédigée dans un style sarcastique, elle se concentre sur les petites contrariétés de la "nouvelle normalité", en évoquant les tâches quotidiennes par le biais de dialogues réalistes et de descriptions précises de la vie matérielle (le défi de sortir en groupe, de faire les courses, de se débrouiller sans connexion Internet, de faire l'école à la maison, etc.).

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1“I’m moving out of here on March 13,” I say, trying to think fast. “That's a Friday. I'll have some work done over the next few days. A bit of painting, that kind of thing. So you two can move in the week after that. Why don't we say, Thursday? March 19?”
The four of us are seated around the table in the dining-room: the real estate agent, the couple of tenants, and I, ready to sign the lease. I can’t believe how smoothly everything is going. Moving into a larger apartment and letting mine to people who were, the agent told me, extremely reliable, with a deposit from their wealthy relatives, who live in the south. As the saying goes, planets have aligned. And I deserve it, after all these shit years.
“The writing on the walls is pretty bad in the children's room,” my future tenant tells me with a worried look. “You’ll take care of that, too, won’t you?”
“Why, of course.”
Child 2 has engraved his wall with the initial of his first name with a B2 pencil, several centimeters wide, and he has colored it in brightly. He has so much graffiti around his bed that Child 3 claimed her right to draw on her own part of the wall as well.
“And the carpet’s going, too?” the man asks.
“Because I am allergic to dust mites,” his wife echoes.
“You can remove it if you want. At your convenience. Underneath is good old-style parquet. Excellent condition.”
“But what’s it glued with? You know, it can be troublesome to remove. If there's glue everywhere, we’d have to sand it down,” the man says knowingly.
“My ex-husband used double-sided tape in a grid pattern. He did a nice, clean job. I can't say that of everything he did, but this one is spot on. You won't find any glue to speak of,” I explain.
Meanwhile, Child 2 has gone on a trip to explore the bedroom carpet, and he howls in triumph, “Look, I’ve taken out a piece of the carpet. It's not hooked at all. I found some Lego underneath!” The tenant gives him the look that American actresses put on when they feel a sudden dislike for a boy who has just exposed his silliness, or simply plain good sense, raising her eyebrows and rounding her eyes with dismay. I feel compelled to comment, “This apartment has plenty of good vibes for kids. You'll see for yourself.” I’m terrible at socializing, especially in a real estate negotiation setting. Child 1 comes in, looking pissed off. “And which Lego did you find? Show them to me. Now!”
“Oh no, never in a million years. I'm keeping them, I'm the one who found them,” claims Child 2.
The real estate agent is getting impatient, and I understand him, in a way. The tenant looks lovingly at his wife. He has just said that his wife is pregnant, and that the bedroom will be used for their Baby 1, so he wants it to be nice. He puts an arm around her shoulders, but she makes sure that their two bodies regain their independence shortly.
“Plus, the neighborhood is great for daycare, playgrounds, and all that,” I add.
“Oh yeah?”
“Oh, yeah. Creches have sprouted all over the place in the last few years. We had no problem for Child 3.”
“For the third one only?”
She picks up on everything pretty quickly; I am not quite used to that, and what the hell, I am tired, too.
“And which school do your children go to?” she inquires.
“Holy Cross. As far as public schools go, we're not very well zoned here, let’s face it. But I’ll give you the name of the school. The children do well there, don’t you, kids?” I want to add, “despite appearances to the contrary.” The real estate agent is giving me a look. They had not even asked and I’ve just said that the building was in the wrong catchment area, sabotaging his fine speeches about the bourgeois neighborhood.
Once the bundles of papers xeroxed four times are initialed and signed, read and approved by all, I can’t help trying to befriend them, again, in spite of everything; perhaps out of anguish, at leaving my apartment in the hands of strangers.
“So when is Baby due?” I ask.
“Oh, it's only the first trimester.”
“Wonderful. Make the most of it, it's the best time. After that, it's over. You’re in for a life sentence!”
But my humor still does not register. She looks at me coldly and says, “It can't be any worse than it is now. I've already had to cut down on smoking and drinking.”
So she finds it hard. Hasn’t she said she had respiratory problems? I should have kept my mouth shut, once again, so I move onto some innocuous topic, “And do we know more about that virus? They're not going to make it harder to move, I hope?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. It’s all happening in China, you know. They may limit air travel, but other than that,” the agent answers confidently. “Well, it's all wrapped up ladies and gentlemen. I wish you all the best.”
He is in a hurry to leave, and I send my tenants on their way, promising them a brand-new apartment in a few days. I’m in a surprisingly good mood. We have been cramped for too long, what with three kids on bunk beds in one room. Not that we are moving into a palace, but this is a fresh start.

*

2April 2020 is closing in and I’m already used to lockdown routine. I’m a true patriot, fulfilling my public-service mission, taking care of the kids by myself all day while trying to get some work done. But no one applauds me at eight p.m., when confined people pop up at their windows and clap, in tune with the honking cars in the streets. The neighbor across the street shows up every night with his drink in hand and the same shirt hanging out of his pants. One of these evenings, I could perform a striptease for his sake, while sipping at my herbal tea, for variety: at least he might applaud for a good reason, with the same idiotic look. He leans on the railing, waves at my neighbor on the third floor, and I hear him say, "How are you holding up, Robert? ", and he goes "Yay" in concert with the honking and clapping. He takes one last sip and closes the window. I can imagine him hanging around his kitchen in his slippers and dirty jeans.
Child 3's bedroom faces the street and at that precise hour, I’m gathering my last bit of strength to read to her. Her face is bathed in the orange light of the streetlamp hanging next to her window. Without curtains we are exposed to natural and artificial light, probably for a little while. But the children do not mind, they adapt to everything, even to that in-extremis move that left us with boxes and half the furniture; they adapt to the missing TV, computer, Internet, because, of course, the connection could not be made either. Nothing bothers them, basically, except my own motherly flaws. When’s dinner? What’s for dinner? Oh no, not again.
In the late morning, while the sun is beating in the neighbor’s window across the street, I can see his curtains perfectly drawn. I can imagine him under his comforter, in his crumpled tee-shirt, lying on his stomach, his thick thighs spread out, his mouth open. All in all, he does enjoy working from home, and he wonders, barely awake, if tonight he will open the Pouilly fumé or the Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil.

*

3One by one my friends all disappear from view. I keep on calling them, though, and some take pity on me, but those really willing to complain about the lockdown are thin on the ground, I find out, even among the families with kids. But I long to complain, to say how bad it is, how they should see my place. Boxes everywhere. I relay that story to whoever is patient enough to listen to me: as soon as the movers took off, lockdown took over. All I have is a fridge and a micro-wave oven. You can't get anything delivered or done anymore. And my tenants have bailed on me. Some try to soothe me, saying at least this way I won't have to hurry to get the place in order before they move in. And I agree, they're not coming back anytime soon. They went back to the south, they didn’t want to take any risks with the baby. My sympathizing sister and I wonder which risks they are afraid of. Together we nicely fuel each other’s anger, “And goodbye to your rent money,” she rightly notices.
“Exactly. Hey, I'm a landlord, so I'm rich, you know. I called the real estate agent. Answering machine. Just like the man who was supposed to do the coating and painting. He would have been all by himself in the apartment with his brush. What's wrong with these people?”
“It makes me so mad.”
“And what’s up with those authorized outings?”
“We'll only be allowed out one hour a day for good-enough reasons, like when you must go to the doctor, or take care of grandma. You need a written authorization for that. Apparently you can go out for a jog or assist your dogs when they need to defecate.”
“I've got three of them that need assistance, the cops’ll understand.”
“Seriously, with the kids around all day our work is ruined. We’re being punished. They’ve no right to do this to us.”
My sister is ranting – but she lost all her clients overnight, that’s a fact. Why should she feel supportive of old people? Her theory is that baby boomers had everything they could have dreamed of. No war, sexual liberation, full, life employment, the thirty fucking glorious years, spa treatments, cruises, and we should stop everything for them because they reached the age limit?
“We’re left hearing about single and middle-aged people without kids “recharge”, that’s the new word, and listen to mindfulness meditation podcasts. And brag about it!”
“It makes me so mad.”

*

4We must not go out for anything other than emergencies and basic shopping, but day after day I sneak back into our old building located half an hour away. For the moment, strolling about and doing a little wall painting and floor scrubbing in the empty apartment every day brings me comfort. I put my crumpled permission slip in my pocket and walk the streets with the kids, shamelessly.
The boulevards are empty. A few days earlier there were monster traffic jams, horns blaring, drivers yelling at each other, deliveries on the sidewalks, crashing and clashing of scooters and bikes, now there is nothing. You can hear a bus coming from afar, and there it zooms by, with two people inside at the most, separated from the driver by big red and white ribbons to prevent contamination. Most shop windows are covered by iron curtains. In the closed cafes you can see the chairs piled up in dark rooms. Only the food suppliers attract pedestrians, who form long lines especially in the late morning. People are suspicious, so they stand one meter away from the closest customer, and they try not to talk to each other, even though they long to.
Our new home remains desperately bare. The furniture shops do not even bother to call to tell me that my deliveries are canceled until further notice. Phone lines are contaminated, too, but the tobacconists and the wine shops are thriving. I finally find an open DIY store in our new neighborhood. There is a copy of the official decree glued to the door, granting special authorization to "retail trade of building materials, hardware, paints and glasses in specialized store" which the owner has highlighted in yellow. The shop features an impressive array of goods of all kinds. Its owner sits in a corner by his cash register, surrounded by neatly arranged boxes of cleaning products and household appliances large and small. A bunch of wires hang over his head, and behind him are stacked bags on which he has written names in black felt-tip pen. This shop offered a pick-up service even before everything stopped, but he tells me that now customers are wary of retrieving their parcels, so he keeps them in store.
From the look of him, he is from Punjab or Pakistan, but he confides to me that he is from Gujarat. I tell him that I know Ahmedabad quite well and that makes him the friendlier. He will sell me a toaster, a garbage can, some glue remover, an ironing board, pots of paint, brushes, mouse traps in large numbers, a bathtub stopper, light bulbs and batteries, steel wool, a saucepan, a power strip, putty, silicone. He will always greet me with "Hello my friend, how are you doing today?" and assure me of his sincerest support for all the work I seem to be undertaking alone. When I decide to purchase paint remover, he tries "And what does your husband say about all this?", but he soon understands that the latter has no say in it.
So far, he is the only person who does not complain about the virus, who does not go on and on about what is happening, about patients and resuscitations. He gets on with it, businesslike. He assures me that if I need help they also do plumbing, masonry, carpentry, or have someone hammer nails or carry heavy things, because he has seen my build. He looks up and around and says, “You know, dear neighbor, this is God's house.” I agree wholeheartedly.
Back at the old apartment, I work non-stop, perched on my stepladder, and I do take some pleasure in the illicit activity. The outcome is not as good as what the YouTube tutorials promise, and I get allergies from the paint fumes that keep me up at night, but at least the kids’ graffiti is no longer visible, and the exercise entertains me somehow. The removal of the carpet is trickier than expected; the double-sided tape is particularly tough to remove but after several days I find the way to do it right. Then I clean all the windows and floors one last time, check the condition of the remaining furniture, glue the broken drawers of a wardrobe, nail down some boards. The tenants can move in now. But when?

*

5One day, a masked technician finally rings the bell and we welcome him like the Messiah. He starts by removing the cord that connects the fiber to the box. The man performs a service deemed necessary. Thank God his job has been maintained.
“There’s a problem with the signal. You see, our competitor installed the fiber in your building. You know what that means?”
His face goes blank.
“They will not do anything. For months.”
“I see.”
“So, what we usually do,” the technician offers, “is, we buy pieces of fiber from them.”
“Oh, okay.”
“So in your case, that's what we'll do. We're going to order some stuff. Then we'll be able to connect the box.”
“How long will that take?”
“We have no idea. We can't reach the guys at the Central office. They’re the ones with the power to connect. But they don’t work for us. They’re outsourced.”
“You mean, the guys with the power to plug us back in?”
“That’s correct. Usually, they plug it in and off you go. But we don't know how long it can take, what with the Corona. We can't get through to these guys at the moment. There's a lot of working from home.”
“So what do I do?”
“Wait, ma'am. I’ve just visited another client, same problem as yours, he's been waiting for four weeks, so brace yourself.”
Then he hesitates, again.
“We'll also have to check if the signal has deteriorated.”
He leans towards the wall again and points his laser.
“Deteriorated how?”
“Does it tell the time ? I mean, does your box display the time?”
What kind of question is that? I’m on the verge of losing it but I keep the act going, for the children’s sake.
“Well, apparently it doesn’t. So your signal has definitely deteriorated. We’ll send a request.”
“You’ll send the request to the headquarters, then?”
He looks at me in amazement.
“The Central is just for the connection. Didn't you understand?”
“Why, yes, I did. Of course.”
“Oh, okay.”
“And how will I hear from you from now on? Should I use this number?”
“Absolutely not, I'm leaving the area. It won't be me next time, ma'am. You must wait for the guy from the central to connect the line.”
“Oh, okay.”
“I’ll say goodbye to you ma'am. Take care of yourself.”
When I close the door, I feel like I am in
Lost and that I have just been visited by a guy from the government who promised me, under the cover of state secrecy, that help was coming but that in the meantime they had to go and save other people needier than myself. All this in a premonitory dream. I have this intense feeling of abandonment, and I immediately wish I had invited him in for coffee.
“Mom, is the box connected or what?”
“No. Patience is the mother of all virtues.”
“When, then? Didn't the guy even give you a day? You've been tricked,” says Child 1.
“Or, a date!” Child 3 exclaims. “Mom, wouldn't you be in love with that man? He was handsome, don't you think?”
“Wow, yuk, did you see his big head, and what was up with his rotten mask!” vents Child 2, mimicking the guy’s face in disgust, arms stretched out as best he can to conjure up this monster's head.
“But when are we going to get the Internet?”
“They must connect our box to the Central first,” I explain.
“What’s the Central?”
“It's like God. He's on a cloud, he's working from home, he's got lots of wires to manage and he needs to find the label with our name on it. Written in black felt pen, probably.”
“But are you in love with him or not?” Child 3 keeps on asking.
“But why should I be in love with him, I don't even know him!” I protest, slightly amused by the idea. “He was the first one who actually showed any interest in our problem from the beginning, so we can't blame him, poor guy.”
“I'm telling you, he looked weird.”
“And it's not only about looks, enough with that nonsense, okay?”
“Of course it's all about looks!”
They retreat to their rooms. And I’m left with no Internet for an indefinite period of time, with a technician who has tragically left the sector.

*

6The kids play together during one of those rare moments of quiet. I can hear Child 3 read to her brothers the poem she was supposed to learn at school.
“What are they making you learn?” Child 2 suddenly exclaims. “Hey, Child 1, listen to this, the guy who wrote the poem is called Jacques Pervert.”
“That is disgusting. Don’t even try to learn it. I forbid you.”
Meanwhile, I Google on my phone the query "How to cook without an oven", but I’m interrupted as they burst into the dining room. My life boils down to generalized fragmentation. I start doing something, but I must stop, postpone. I get up, they argue, I step in, I yell, it is already meal time, I clean the dishes, I peel vegetables, I motivate myself to motivate them to do their homework, I give up, I insist, I run a washing machine, I pick up the clothes on the floor, I yell again, I set the table, I tidy the table, I air out, I get the vacuum cleaner out, I leave it in the middle of the hallway, I try to get some work done, I correct their homework, I say it is time to go out.
“I can't find the Nutella.”
No wonder, we are out of it. I don’t know if I’m saying it or thinking it, because sometimes I choose not to answer so they can think for themselves. I’m delusional, it never works.
“And how do I copy the formula into the Excel table?” Child 1 asks with a hostile face. “Your computer is rotten, shouldn’t you have a Mac like Daddy?”
“Can you play Happy Families with me?” Child 3 pleads. “You promised me four games of Happy Families.”
I had to promise this out of despair when I wanted to go to bed, but I hate card games. I’m a grown-up woman, damn it, I’m well over forty and I’m confined and doomed to playing Monopoly and Happy Families. “You know I don't like to play those games. I’d be happy to play music, read, write, do math.”
“I want to play Happy Families. The boys don't want to.”
“I can understand that. But what are the boys doing anyway?”
“They are playing with Lego.”
“Wasn't Child 1 working on an Excel spreadsheet thirty seconds ago?”
“Yes, but you didn't answer him, so he went ahead and started playing with Lego.”
I walk past the box, which boasts, "Association with the box server in progress", along with small squares flashing in an endless circular movement.
“Okay, here we go. In the Skiing Dogs family, I’d like the mother.”
I’m already bored to tears. I want to slap the Skiing Bitch, what with her cool fluorescent suit and her satisfied look at the top of the slope.

*

7At the butcher's, there are two employees behind the stall, one cutting and wrapping, the other ensuring health and safety. The latter stands by the cash register, a little agitated, and he gives his colleague worried looks. The procedure looks new. Next to me, a customer in her seventies takes her time: "An extra slice of garlic sausage please", and "oh, and, that lamb chop, how long should I keep it in the oven?" interspersed with her thoughts about Covid. The butcher marvels, "We don't know how long it’ll last. I’m told they’re triaging patients at the hospital, that's how bad it is.” Since the beginning of the national lockdown, there may be queues outside, but people take their time to chat, when they finally feel they are allowed to.
I’m trying to make eye contact with the second butcher but he avoids looking at me. He balances on his two legs and rubs his two giant hands together, giving off a pharmaceutical smell. He has a huge build, blood-red hands, eyes that pop out of their sockets, and he ostensibly spreads hand sanitizer on his palms before taking the victuals from his colleague. The bottle of the precious liquid, as big as it is, will not last more than a day at the rate he is going at it. On his hands you can see small bleeding wounds, cracks, nails cut painfully short or bitten, I can’t decide, and his knuckles look like huge pudgy sticks. As the lady is about to pay, he says: "We prefer contactless." Then he hands her the bag as if she were plague-stricken. Contact has become a touchy issue these days, indeed, and I smile to myself, thinking of the DIY shop owner who always says to me with a little grin, "I prefer contact, my dear, but what can you do?"
While I order steaks, my three animals are made to wait in the street, but their voices can be heard inside. Lately Child 1 has developed a routine consisting of adding the word "asshole" into every sentence. Child 2 plays at dropping his scooter over and over. Child 3 is claiming some awful injustice has befallen her. " You wanted your scooter; here it is, asshole.” Another metallic clatter on the sidewalk. The butcher looks sideways as if to say, those brats had better not break my window. "Yeah, and here! " followed by a huge howl of pain.
"I'll tell Mom that you kicked her, I'll tell her!"
I say to the butcher, with a smile: "I’ve no idea who they belong to.” But he’s not reacting. The respectable lady is still sorting things in her shopping bag, and she says to me, "I’ve got to tell you. You’re not responsible. Taking all these children outside. I can’t understand why you’d do such a thing".
When I come out, Child 2 asks me if for once I have bought enough steaks, as if what had just happened had not happened. Where did I go wrong, bringing them up?

*

8A strange idea floats in the stale air. It has become de rigueur to speak out against the death of the elderly as if it were something odd, counter-nature. Covid19 has taught us that people die in nursing homes and that we, all the others lucky enough not to live in nursing homes, should be made responsible for that fact. In the meantime, the number of battered women has skyrocketed. Molested children are not better off. An expert said on the radio that they could no longer call social services in secret or take advantage of school for a little respite. She added shyly that close relations and neighbors must remain vigilant. What a coincidence, it so happens that the epidemic has unleashed waves of friendliness in everybody – well, except in those who beat up their wives and children.
The school director calls me one morning: “Child 2 is the only pupil in the class who has not given, uh, if I may say so, any sign of life since the beginning of lockdown.” We’ve fallen into the cursed category of dropouts that the Minister of Education is so worried about. Has she called Child 2’s father, holed up alone in his apartment for fear of getting contaminated by his own children and declaring to anyone who would listen that if he had to go into an intensive care unit he would not survive? Apparently not, she’s only called the mother.
“We are all alive and well, thank you,” I say politely. “But we haven't had an Internet connection for weeks. That is true.”
“Have you tried 4G sticks? You know, they’re amazing. Or, better idea: have you tried to share the network with your neighbors? You’ve probably got friendly neighbors who would understand? People are very supportive, you know, we’ve seen a lot of solidarity since lockdown started.”
As soon as you have a computer problem, everyone tries to show you how incompetent you are, lacking in imagination and sheer common sense. She could also come and help around the house to square it all up, but I decide not to say this aloud. It is not so much what she says than the way she says it that gets me: everyone is preaching in that tragic Covidspeak, woven in big works like solidarity and benevolence.
“We’re here to help, you know. If there's anything.”
When the opportunity is given to a closeted adult with children to vent to another adult identified as hostile, they get pathetic, and I say I’m all alone with three kids in an apartment I just moved into, with no kitchen to speak of and no Internet. I say I can manage home schooling all right. But she reminds me sternly that it’s likely to last and that she’s thinking of Child 2, which is a way of telling me that with a mother like that, the poor kid needs her unfaltering support.

*

9I’m watching my current account shrink, while my food budget is skyrocketing. Because I must feed everyone, four times a day, I have become a meal-making machine, trying to come up with balanced menus to no avail. Children are beginning to develop weird eating behaviors. In the absence of an oven, Child 2 launches into cooking experiments that do not require heating. We find ourselves eating monstrously high-calorie desserts made with raw eggs, fresh cream, condensed milk, chocolate and melted butter, gelatin, custard. Okay, he adds fruit, but don't be fooled.
After four weeks, the Internet connection comes to life, and I can finally join my Zoom meetings. No more excuses. I get a shock. There are at least thirty participants, and I realize that half of them have faces swollen by the recent accumulation of fat, rosy cheeks highlighted by the dim light of their camera, and the men may have grown all their available facial hair, you can perfectly see the damage of the progressive fattening due to inertia and long-term sitting on sofas. The only ones who look healthy are those who were overweight before the lockdown.
The computer screen breaks down into small squares that slowly change places as each person speaks, like in a bizarre Tetris game. I fall in the grip of contradictory emotions. I feel completely invaded, but more than ever detached from this reality. Some colleagues seem to react otherwise, looking overexcited, talking non-stop. I’m floating in a kind of professional non-reality, and my involvement, my motivation, all these constructions that are imagined to make people believe that they’re doing an important job, are equal to zero. I watch it all like a TV show.
I have told the kids there is no reason they cannot live their lives as usual while I’m on Zoom. The truth is, the common notion that you can work from home and take care of your kids full time at home is a scam no one in their right mind can believe in. So inevitably, around noon, when meetings drag on, Child 3 comes up to me, hangs on my arm, and moans, "Mommy I'm hungry?" For a minute she peers open-mouthed at the strange stuttering heads. Private messages trickle in, "The little one’s cute", but that does not put an end to the meeting any faster. For remote meetings worsen face-to-face meetings’ flaws: those who take over the floor do so with more aplomb online, taking advantage of time lag and connection bugs. Decision-making would require a tyrant capable of getting everyone to agree right away and moving on to the next point without the possibility of asking a question. But no one is brave enough to do so and everyone is taken aback by the egomaniacs, who get angry in their little hole, while others react like cowards by cutting off the camera and the microphone. When they do so, their names in big letters replace their face, which I interpret as, "oh, he’s pouting now,” but it could very well be anything else.

*

10I never watch the news, and rarely watch live television, so why I turn it on today, I’ve no idea. To have an eye on something else, to feel connected to a piece of humanity. It is the end of the program, and the presenter has a cheerful look on her face, as if she were saying, "And after all the bad news you’ll see something weird that will change your mind and make you feel better.” She is careful not to say this, though, but her tone gives her away, “We’re taking you all the way to India, in an exceptional report conducted by our correspondents at their own risk, because the virus knows no borders.” As expected, the report begins with a tracking shot on a Bombay slum. Seagulls are chirping, swirling, grabbing edible waste amid clusters of people of the same color as the garbage. The reporter has asked someone, his local contact no doubt, to approach a group of children. He has selected a brother and sister, each carrying a bag and a stick used to scavenge the shit more effectively. The little girl, when framed at face level, looks like Child 3. She has the same challenging eyes, and when she speaks, her little brother stares at her in awe. The voice of a Frenchman in a booth somewhere in Boulogne-Billancourt translates over her English, in that time-honored tradition of speaking loudly and dramatically to prevent the viewer from being bothered by a foreign language.
“We can't go to school now,” the boy says.
“So we come to the dump, to help our parents,” says the girl. “But what we collect, we can't sell anymore, because the trucks won't leave.”
Asked if they miss school, the boy answers:
“Yes, of course we miss it. We usually go to school every morning. Over there.”
And he stretches his skinny arm towards a horizon covered with thick brown air. When asked about Covid, both of them start laughing, in a laugh so extraordinary that Child 3 and I start laughing, too. The girl has fine features and big eyes, and she captures the light with the unequaled grace of those who will never be aware of it. Her brother then says, “We won't catch your virus. We’re not like you, we’re strong. We’ve got much nastier viruses in here.”
The camera lingers on blackened pieces of syringe, rusty metal plates, a bluish viscous liquid that has accumulated in a cavity. Then the sister adds, “And even if we die, what does it matter? No one cares, anyway.” The interpreter sees fit to translate "no one cares" with “tout le monde s’en fout”, adding that tinge of belligerence that was not there in English. The report ends with some comment in Covidspeak, so that the French can continue to shiver with fear while holding fast to their social security card, their walker, their newly purchased box of surgical masks.

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Référence électronique

Cécile GIRARDIN, « Télétravail, Famille, Patrie »E-rea [En ligne], 20.1 | 2022, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2022, consulté le 01 février 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/erea/15104 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/erea.15104

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Auteur

Cécile GIRARDIN

Université Sorbonne Paris Nord
cecilel@hotmail.com
Cecile Girardin writes fiction in English and in French. She is also a Senior Lecturer at Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, working on contemporary anglophone fiction from India. She is particularly interested in novels that address political and historical issues, and in fiction with a strong satirical edge. She has published widely on the novels of Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, and Anita Desai.
Cécile Girardin écrit de la fiction en anglais et en français. Elle est également MCF à l’Université Sorbonne Paris Nord, où elle se spécialise dans la fiction contemporaine anglophone de l’Inde. Elle s’intéresse surtout aux romans portant sur la politique et l’histoire, notamment avec une forte tonalité satirique. Elle est l’auteure de nombreuses publications sur Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul et Anita Desai.

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