j.m.g. le clezio

As far back as I can remember I have listened to the sea: to the sound of it mingling with the wind in the filao needles, the wind that never stopped blowing, even when one left the Shore behind and crossed the sugarcane fields. It is the sound that cradled my childhood. I can hear it now, deep inside me; it will come with me wherever I go; the tireless lingering sound of the waves breaking in the distance on the coral reef, then coming to die on the banks of the Rivière Noire. Not a day went by when l didn’t go to the sea; not a night when I didn’t wake up with my back sweaty and damp, sitting up in my cot, parting the mosquito net and trying to see the tide, anxious and full of a desire I didn’t understand.

I thought of the sea as human, and in the dark all senses were alert, the better to hear her arrival, the better to receive her. The giant waves leapt over the reefs and then tumbled into the lagoon; the noise made the air and earth vibrate like a boiler. I heard her, she moved, she breathed.

When the moon was full, I slid out of bed without a sound, careful not to make the worm-eaten floor creak, But I knew Laure was not asleep; I knew her eyes were open in the dark and that she was holding her breath. I scaled the window ledge and pushed at the wooden shutters, and then I was outside, in the night. The garden was bathed in white moonlight; it shone on the tops of the trees, swaying noisily in the wind, and I could make out the dark masses of rhododendrons and hibiscus. With a beating heart I walked down the lane that went toward the hills, where the fallow land began. A big chalta tree, which Laure called the tree of good and evil, stood very close to the crumbling wall; I climbed onto its highest branches so that I could see the sea over the treetops and the expanse of cane. The moon rolled between the clouds, throwing out splinters of light. Then suddenly, over the foliage and to the left of the Tourelle de Tamarin, I saw it: a great black slab alight with shining, sparkling dots. Did I really see it, did I really hear it? The sea was inside my head, and when I closed my eyes I saw and heard it best, clearly perceiving each wave as it crashed onto the reef and then came together again to unfurl on the shore.

I clung to the branches of the chalta tree for a long time, until my arms grew numb. The wind from the sea blew over the trees and the cane fields, and the moon shone on the leaves. Sometimes I stayed there until dawn, listening and dreaming. At the other end of the garden the big house was dark, closed in on itself like an abandoned wreck. The wind made the loose shingles bang and the framework creak. That, too, was the sound of the sea, as was the groaning of the tree trunk and the moaning of the filao needles. I was afraid to be alone in the tree, but l still didn’t want to go back to the room and I resisted the chill wind and the fatigue that made my head heavy.

It was not really fear. It was more like standing on the edge of an abyss or a deep gully and staring down, heart beating so hard that it echoed painfully hi my neck. And yet I knew I had to stay, and that if I did I would at least learn something of great worth. It was impossible for me to go back to the room as long as the tide was rising. I had to stay, clinging to the chalta tree, waiting for the moon to glide across the sky. Just before dawn, when the sky became gray over Mananava, I would go back and slide under the mosquito net. Laure would sigh because she had not slept either during all the time I was outside. She never talked about it. She merely looked at me during the day with dark questioning eyes, and then I was sorry I’d gone out to hear the sea.

/J. M. G. LE CLÉZIO
excerpt from “The Prospector”

Time passed: nothing changed. One could go on for years in this way, without doing anything. Without ever having anything to do. Without talking or thinking, just walking on, eyes taking it all in, ears cocked, nose alert, skin exposed to every fluctuation of heat and cold, while a sequence of insignificant events announced themselves by means of small discomforts, fleeting sensations, anonymous sounds. There was no limit on the time one could spend thus, an entire lifetime, perhaps, swallowed up amid this debris, wandering through the jungle for an eternity stretching from birth to death. It was easy: one just had to let oneself drift with it.
—  J.M.G. Le Clézio (The Flood)