When I was seventeen I went to the Parisian suburb Bobigny—a very ugly place, with concrete block upon concrete block as far as the eye can see; and every road called Rue Lenin or named for some other Communist militant, for they have elected Communist mayors there since forever. I slept in a gymnasium under yellow lights that stayed on all night, I didn’t have a sleeping bag—just a rucksack and some clothes to cover my eyes. Outside the gymnasium there was a lone hawthorn tree and I plucked an off-growth from it and wrapped it in a napkin and took it home—just a whim, just a whim I planted in the church graveyard, just by my parents’ old house.
Then came the years. There I am in a line to receive my university ID. There I am in an exam hall, with an invigilator who paces round me. There I am at my part-time job dropping leaflets for club nights into bags. There I am at an interview in a cheap suit and tie that do not fit me. There I am when, after several other interviews, I sit at my desk in a “proper job”. There I am when I am promoted, just after a lunch at the restaurant in the mall—the boss takes me aside to confirm it. There I am reading a text from a friend to check my Facebook messages—“She’s upset you didn’t respond to her.” “I didn’t know I had a message!” “Really?” “Yes, really—I didn’t know at all…”
There I am with a tiny pink finger round my little finger. There I am with the little casket. There I am in Oman—my colleague has her passport confiscated, but I kept mine. There I am with the divorce papers, finalised. There I am at the hospital bed, “Your mother will be fine.” There I am on holiday, in Athens. There I am—retirement. Here I am, under the hawthorn tree.