Chaque Week

She is a nomad. She started her journey 20 years ago in the heart of Africa and she’s been in Europe ever since, moving from one country to another, working a bit here, a bit there, being exploited a bit here, a bit there, being hospitalized a bit here, a bit there, mostly in northern Europe and in 5 different countries, now speaking 3 different languages, not counting the native one and the quasi-permanent dialogue with the voices in her head… Her zigzag voyage has finally brought her to our hospital; she is here for now but we both know that this is just another stop in her journey. After a period lived on social aid and after a lot of work from our side, she will one day decide that we are no longer suitable to her needs, or helpful, or naïve enough, and she will swiftly depart for new horizons…

– Where and when would you like to stop?

She smiles.

– You know… you are aging… Time passes, you have moved a lot and you didn’t find your place yet. Where is your place? Where would you like to live?

– I want to stay here. Here will be my place.

– Here in France?

– Yes. I have family here.

She is lying. Her family is in Switzerland. She will just stay here because France is more permissive with the migrants. It remains to be established whether this is humanism or foolishness…

– Where do you see yourself dying? What is going to be your final resting place?

I am forcing the situation with atypical and tough questions. She skillfully avoids the answers. She is not thinking about this. She is living in a continuous present. Death and old age are simply ignored.

– If you move all the time, you can’t stay enough in one place so as to get to know well other people. You risk losing contact with your ageing relatives in Africa and finally die alone among foreigners. Is this what you want? Isn’t it better for you to perhaps return to your family in Africa? You are looked after by social services for many years, you can’t reach your full potential, you are too restless, you change too much too frequently. You risk wasting your life… you already did this quite a lot…

She has no problem.

I also suspect that those voices in her head are inexistent but saying she hears them helps her find food and shelter and free medical care in the many European psychiatric hospitals she has already visited. I mean, how can you prove that someone doesn’t hear voices!?!

Chaque week…

And I stop. Something is not right. I look at the nurse next to me and I see her smiling.

– Every week…

– Yes, every week… I wasn’t speaking in English?

No. I wasn’t. The entire interview was conducted in English, exceptionally, because the patient doesn’t speak French well. I used to think directly in English and directly in French, but I always separated well the 2 languages. This was the first time when I failed to do so. I am in France continuously for almost 2 years. I have – or used to have – a better command of English compared to French. Yet all this time has apparently left a mark… I am mixing what used to be unmixable.

Since this interview I can’t find my peace of mind. I dream trains. And railway stations. I don’t know where the trains are going and where they are coming from. I don’t know the name of the railway stations, I don’t know where to buy a ticket and I don’t know which way I ought to go. Sometimes I am on a train and I have no ticket. Sometimes I get off but I don’t know where I am. Sometimes I am changing trains but have no idea what am I doing…

I left my native country 10 years ago, I relocated many times, I did many zigzags between cities and countries. I also am a nomad myself. I can completely turn the mirror and ask myself exactly the same questions I asked my patient. Similarly to her, I don’t know where I want to live… or die… But this encounter with her, and my unforeseen language error, had the effect of a blitz: suddenly the light was on, even if only for a moment, and everything became clear.

I think I no longer want to speak French chaque week for the remainder of my life.