An excerpt from
Sun of a Distant Land
by David Bouchet translated by Claire Holden Rothman
The next Saturday, while we were all walking together towards Jarry Park, we met a woman who seemed to be homeless. She was a strange woman, young, with ripped jeans, a shaved head with a tattoo on her scalp and earrings in her nose. To be honest, she wasn’t a pretty sight. She was scary. A big black dog lay next to her, with several chains around its neck. Later on, Charlotte would explain to me that it was like a different culture, one called punk or grunge. They refused everything but money. This poor woman was rummaging in the garbage cans and sharing the crusts she found there with her dog. We passed her, and Mère didn’t want us even to look at her, so she sped up. Maybe it was out of fear, or maybe it was because in Senegal you never see whites picking garbage, and never women, madwomen no less. Who would have believed it existed – white people picking through garbage and living in poverty? Another myth shattered, and Mère didn’t want us to see this type of thing when we had only just arrived. But Papa took three steps and stopped. He stood completely still. He had understood. Mère urged him to keep walking, but he was like a statue, his eyes wide open, staring in front of him and blinking as if he’d just discovered some great cosmic truth.
“I’ve got it!” he said. I know who broke into our home.
Mère said he was crazy because she’d thought all that was forgotten. A week had passed since the incident. She didn’t want to think about it anymore, but for him, it was a different story. It still occupied him. Despite the fact that he’d lost his memory, he’d retained a thing or two. Walking towards Jarry Park, he laid out his theory.
“It was the boudiouman.”
We didn’t know this story because when it happened we were with Mère at the Haitian hair dressers on Jarry Street. A boudiouman had collected the empty bottles left by the previous tenants—and this boudiouman was our thief. Papa was convinced of it.
“You don’t have any proof. And besides, that will teach you to talk to whoever happens to cross your path.
Mère gave him a lecture. It was better to keep to yourself. You should never talk to people you don’t know. That would teach him to stick his nose into everything. But Papa stood by his theory. The boudiouman must have mistaken him for a Frenchman, he speculated, because even though he’s black, his accent is French. The boudiouman didn’t know who had drunk all those beers, and he must have thought there were a lot of people partying in our apartment, probably French people on holiday, and that they must be rich given the number of empties in the hallway. There had been at least fifty beer bottles, plus bottles of vodka. The boudiouman must have said to himself, “Life’s pretty good for these folks.” He probably figured there were lots of young people from France living in the apartment, definitely not a small family of African immigrants. So when we went to Rosemont to sign the lease on the day of the Formula One Grand Prix, he happened to pass by. And he must have said, “I’ll just knock on the door. If someone is there, I’ll ask if there are any more empties. If no one answers, they’re probably at the Grand Prix, and I can break the window pane.” Quick as a flash.
It was a solid theory, and Papa raged inwardly as we walked towards Jarry Park. Because a boudiouman doesn’t understand the value of a memory, because a boudiouman is the type to look in your fridge, take the cheddar cheese and stick his finger in the butter, because a boudiouman doesn’t know what a Nintendo is, so he doesn’t even see it. But he confuses a hard drive with a … a … Papa had no idea why this boudiouman stole his memory, what could possibly have been going through his head when he took the black box. But Papa was now convinced he’d identified the thief. He’d entered as quickly as he left, and with the speed of light swiped whatever he could, grabbing things at random, like the landlady’s old DVD player and her two DVD movies—things of no value, just because they were loot and they’d appeared just like that at his fingertips.
The old lady upstairs told some dangerous lies because they accused black people, and that was what the officer put in his report, and this document would be stapled to all the other papers in the government reports, and might even get printed in the newspapers. And it would perpetuate stereotypes. Because in certain newspapers here, they don’t say “a man was arrested” or “a man held up a pharmacy,” they say “a black man held up a pharmacy.” They specify “black.” Like in the United States. “We’re in North America,” Mère had said. “We’re going to feel it.” At the time, I didn’t understand what the “it” was. I’m still trying to understand it.