I am very pleased to let you read the first chapter of '' Raphaël '' my new novel published few months ago.
For a few days now, unable to explain the reason why, Raphael had the strange feeling that something was going wrong in his life. This unexplainable feeling made him feel nervous because his living days seemed to be filled with anachronisms as well as with a kind of joy close to fulfillment.
It was like in one of those pleasant dreams that remind us reality and in which we are an actor. Suddenly an objet, a person, an event precipitates us in a kind of doubt, simply because this element is where it shouldn’t be, because a situation seems illogical. We wake up in the morning with images in our mind, and those pictures impose themselves all through the day to the evening as an obsession.
Raphael looked away, his eyes fixed on the horizon. His soul was lost in the midst of his thoughts, in the memory of the past, hopes for the future. Was it reality? Why would he doubt?
Facing the sea, he felt the spray that the wind threw on his face not totally awake. He liked to come and sit here, to feel so small in front the immensity, beneath the sky barely lit by the sun. Everything seemed so alive and calm before the place belongs to tourists, onlookers who come to enjoy the warm days of summer, the first light of dawn of winter.
Raphael’s nights stretched languidly, living his body and soul to his own loneliness; empty nights without dreams. He dreamed awake, sitting on a bench on the top of a hill overlooking the landscape. Sometimes he imagined the arms of someone who would share with him this delicious moment of contemplation. He dreamed of not opening his eyes in the morning, without a soul close to him in this cold bed with sheets made as rough as loneliness.
Away, the sea flowed into the sky, unless it was the sky which then flowed into the turbulent or calm waters. From time to time he could see a boat gliding over the waves, lost in the silver sea. A closer look, he found that forms enlivened the scene: it was people, boating, fishing. Free seagulls were flying over the space; suddenly one of them dived, cleaving the air with its wings. The bird approached the sea, seeming to caress the water with the tip of its beak; then it went back quickly, rising faster into the air and taking away an unconscious fish that it swallowed on its way.
As the sun began to emerge, Raphael was looking at the comings and goings of a kite raised by the breeze. While a couple watched and listened to him, a child was playing, laughing. Then the kite went crashing against the golden sand of the dunes. Raphael knew this family. The parents were teachers in the village. The lady used to take care of the little ones; her husband was the teacher in a class with first and second graders. Their child Benjamin often came to visit Raphael at home to hear storytelling. They were neighbors. Raphael suddenly remembered that these people were gone since at least two years. What were they doing here? It wasn’t yet school holidays! Perhaps they came here to spend a few days? He probably would have known that! He thought he was mistaken. He thought that his eyesight was failing, that this man, this woman, and this child who accompanied them, were probably some other people.
Raphael never had a chance to experience joys of fatherhood. He was now forty-five. Formerly, he hardly felt able to fully take care of a family. So, he chose to focus on his career. And then, with time, he was persuaded that his professional activity (which incidentally made him richer) would not allow him to do both: working and family-care. Raphael was a story-writer for children. Created by himself, he added drawings to his stories. But what he loved above all was writing police novels.
Despite his reputation, he continued to live simply. Some even said he was living frugally.
Often unshaved, pale, he always deferred to later time to go to the hairdresser. He hated when someone touched his hair. Moreover, he couldn’t simply stand to be touched by unknown persons.
He took refuge into his own world for many years now, never very far from reality, but far enough not to be caught by civilization.
Sometimes when looking at himself in a mirror, he could discover a silver thread at his temples, a new wrinkle as a small path at the corner of his eyes. He wasn’t worried about that. Then his only thought was to his own future, saying that it was now time to proceed, and give himself a break to break with loneliness.
His gaze was so impressive, so deep, deep blue, almost cerulean.
Since how long didn't he meet a lover? He had stopped counting the years. As he was scared by women, we could say that he had chosen to run away from then.
Once he believed that he wanted to know the joys of living with someone but he soon realized that to be married wasn’t for him. Finally, to be exact, someone made him understand this fact!
Raphael was selfish, terribly focused on his little personality. In addition, he acted in evident bad faith. Certain about the truth, he always felt the others were wrong.
When he was a kid he was a spoiled child, surrounded, loved, pampered. Later, but he was too young, he met a girl with whom he thought he was attached. Then after all these years, looking at him going away, so alone, all we can see is a guy going as a sixty years old man goes. The weight of the days seemed to weigh on his shoulders.
Mother Nature and life had given him everything, intelligence, physical, money. Since the age of twenty-five, his weight had hardly varied from a few pounds. He had an athletic stature often hidden under baggy clothes.
Around the age of thirty-seven, he bought a small house a few steps away from the sea where he finally decided to stay and work, to escape from the city, from the people too. Before that, he loved to be alone: loneliness is not bad, only if desired!
- Today will be a beautiful sunny day, thought Raphael standing up from the bench because an inspiration pulled him out of his dreams.
With slow steps, Raphael walked away from the bench on which he was since more than an hour. He knew that tomorrow he’d come to sit here, no mater if wind blows, rain or snow falls. So many years passed since the first time he came here. Tomorrow wouldn’t probably be different than the other days.
Going slowly to the village, walking on a green path through the field, Raphael could glimpse the top of a church. The wind of the plain carried to his ears the chime of a bell. Mechanically, Raphael looked at his watch as the bell stopped tinkling: height a clock!
As he was arriving on the high street of the village, hitting a pothole he twisted an ankle. Irritated he began to rail against the street-cleaning and sweeping services: "Damn, isn’t it worth enough to pay so much local taxes? «
Limping a bit, but as the booboo wasn’t that serious, Raphael continued on his way.
Hands in his pockets, he was going his way, the collar turned up. He looked up to the sky, now the sun had risen – “yes, it will be a great day!
The streets of the village were now a bit more alive. A farmer passing on his tractor said -hello! forcing Raphael to stand away on the side of street, to let pass the vehicle pulling a trailer full of smoking manure. Raphael said to himself that the farmer was looking like a man he had known when he was a child. That man was a farmer too, from a village situated in the Drôme where, as a kid, Raphael used to spend school holidays. The guy was exactly the same that Raphael kept the image of, in is memory. This seemed to be strange to him; perhaps that man was just a lookalike!
Away from here, when the smell of the manure was dissipated, a pleasant smell of hot bread, croissants, began to perfume the air. Forgetting his ankle, Raphael decided to move to the terrace of one of the small bars of the village. He often went there; because he liked the company of the owners. The young couple came in the village to raise their children. The man was a baker; her wife then was taking care of the bar.
During the summer the place was always full, because a campsite was set out of the village.
It wasn’t uncommon to see men and women wearing swimsuits, walking on the streets, coming to buy a loaf of bread, a pack of cigarettes.
Raphael didn’t really like this population of tourists, but he had to admit that these people were making living the place. Since a few years, the village had been raised until losing its soul. He would have preferred to live in a less populated area.
The other people could recognize him because of his reputation, but they never had to bother him, maybe because of his surly side that was only an appearance; he wore a mask to ward the intruders away.
During all these lonely years, Raphael had finally confined himself into a bubble, slowly, without realizing it. Old friends and family were gone Love was an illusion, an impossible dream. Across his life, from time to time, his eyes met a young woman; but he never dared to approach her. Those who didn’t really know him (and they were many of them), mistakenly believed that Raphael was grouchy.
We can’t say there were rumors about him. However, some questioned themselves about his case. They knew he was famous, even if his television appearances were rare. Sometimes it happened that his portrait was printed in magazines; then in the bookshop of the village, some curious reading the press report could make a comment concerning what they read, the comment was never bad.
Raphael was invisible. Yes, by hiding himself, he became almost invisible to the others.
As he was sitting at a wooden table under the shelter of a wisteria barely flowered, Cecilia, the owner of the coffee-shop came to him, smile on her face.
- Hello Raphael, how are you this morning?
- I'm well thanks. I'll have a coffee and two croissants: I love the croissants prepared by your husband!
- Ok, let's have two croissants and a coffee...
As soon as Cecilia had left the place, Raphael returned into is bubble because inadvertently he had left a smile on his face, and who knows why, he regretted that hint of a smile.
As Raphael was searching into his pockets, looking for a white piece of paper and a pencil to do some sketching, Cecilia returned, carrying what the client ordered.
She put the coffee and croissants on the table, in front of him, saying:
- Do you prepare anything at this moment, a story for children, or a thriller? My husband likes your detective novels; he has read all of them!
- I finish a novel, just a novel...
- Not even a police novel?
- No, not this time. This is just a…
As he was about to reveal the story of his new book, someone called Cecile. She left immediately, without waiting to hear from Raphael the contents of his new fiction.
For a few seconds, he had the unpleasant feeling of being left with his words stuck in his throat. He swallowed them.
The coffee smelled good. Whether was pleasant. Bees were twirling around the wisteria. A dog was sleeping on the steps of a house. A cyclist came in, laid his bike against the wall and went into the bar, saying hello. Raphael nodded to reply.
That day of April was a beautiful sunny day. In a few weeks the tourists would begin to arrive. Shops of souvenirs were reborn: that fact announced the coming summer days more surely than the sun itself.
Raphael was looking upon his past. A tear drop trickled down his face, silently, solitary, just like him. The tear drop rolled slowly down the cheek of the writer. He let it go. Maybe he wasn’t realizing that he was crying. But what was he crying about; about fate; about his past; about the loss of someone; did he know it?
He raised the cup to his lips, without added the sugar cube placed on the saucer. The coffee had a strong taste, almost bitter. It was the woody flavor of countries in which Raphael had never been. We must say that he never wanted to get away from Europe to discover some other countries, probably because his fear of flying in a plane. Moreover, only professional duty could force him to leave his homeland.
Sipping his drink, he imagined the next step of the novel he was writing. Fifty sheets were waiting to be added to some new pages which would constitute the book he meant to write. He re-wrote his pages constantly, changing words here and there, correcting mistakes, eliminating entire phrases, covering his text with palimpsests and other annotations. He wasn’t exactly sure what he was getting at, but all what he wanted to do was writing a story, the story of a lonely man, perhaps his own story.
He put the cup directly on the wooden table, thought that the nature of this wood was probably some teak, at least it was a rich wood, properly maintained. He played for a moment with a teaspoon. Grabbing the first croissant that he would eat, Raphael was detailing around him wile he was swallowing greedily the pastry. The other croissant would probably be eaten too in less than a few minutes.
A woman opened a window overlooking the courtyard, quickly, almost violently. She shook a piece of tissue without even looking down and then walked away. The window still opened, allowed the sunlight to penetrate inside to warm the rooms that the early spring was slow to warm up.
A melody played on a piano came to the ears of Raphael. He thought he recognized a creation of Chopin, but he wasn’t sure. Her grandmother loved to listen to Chopin; she loved classical music, regretting not to know how to play the piano.
A young man sat down at another table in the courtyard, under the wisteria. He looked right, then left. Just installed, the young man rose up from his seat and went into the coffee-shop, at the same time as another person, an old man whose face looked as the face of a friend of Raphael’s parents.
- It seems that all the people encountered in my life have definitely a lookalike, said Raphael… Or I’m dreaming!
As the door closed automatically itself behind then, the guy nodded to Raphael who didn’t try to understand why.
Against a wall of the courtyard where the coffee-shop was set, a red old-fashioned scooter, reminded to Raphael the time of his childhood. It was a gift made by his grandfather for Christmas. He smiled slightly as he remembered.
The guy, who went in the coffee-shop at the same time as the “lookalike”, left the bar and took his place at a table, facing Raphael under the wisteria.
- Young man, you’re loosing something!
As the other seemed not to hear, Raphael stood up, approached the object fell to the ground, bent down to pick it up before putting it on the table. It was a small photograph. On the back of it, someone had written: Christopher and I, October 2007. Mechanically Raphael turned the picture and saw that it was a portrait of two people; the young man himself and another teenager. They were laughing in front of the camera lens.
The stranger didn’t move when Raphael put the photograph on the table. He stood like stuck on the spot. From time to time, he turned his head in one direction or another, and then returned to his thoughts.
Facing the guy, Raphael didn’t move, waiting for a gratitude that didn’t come. Finally the young man deigned to look at him.
- You’ve dropped this picture!
- Oh, thank you, excuse me, my mind was elsewhere, he said, without even taking the photo but looking at it from a distance
- This is the least we can say.
- My apologies again, but why should you go to the trouble for this. This picture will join the rest in the trash!
- If you say so!
As Raphael turned to go back to his sit, in front of his coffee, the young man questioned him:
-Are you Raphael Kaminker?
Raphael chosen then not to turn back, hunching the shoulders; that’s the way he used to do to avoid a conversation and to become almost invisible. Arriving near the table, he plunged a hand into one of his pockets to drag out a few coins of money that he left on the saucer, remembering the exact price he had to pay. Then, he looked for the old-fashioned scooter that was there less than five minutes ago: Disappeared… strange!
The other was looking at him:
- Don’t you heat your croissant?
Without answering, getting out his perplexity, Raphael took the plate on which was the rest of his breakfast. Passing by the table of the young man, he gave it to him.
- There’s no need to worry, I’m on a diet, but I don’t like to waste food… Then changing his conversation, he said: “I love what you do. I red all your books, I think. But, you won’t take out of my mind that, right now, smiling a bit wouldn’t hurt you… me neither. After a second of silence, he added: “Well alright, I don’t see the connection but it had to be said!”
Without responding to him, buttoning his jacket, Raphael moved away from the bar.
He was a man with a kind of wise side, except that he wasn’t seeking wisdom. Loneliness had crept into his life without noticing. Before, he believed that he was looking for loneliness, searching for it. Above all, he fled reality, perhaps even life.
There were all these moments of silence, as a kind of absence. There were all these words that couldn’t get out the ink of his pen, when he looked at the depths of his being, to become narrator of the imagination. There were all these things he couldn’t understand or wouldn’t understand. A thick veil seemed to hide reality. However, he believed that he was living in reality, in his life. He believed that he was continuing his way on the path that goes from today to tomorrow. He would meet new people, and then, maybe one of them would love him one day. Then it would be the end of loneliness. Done, all the hours past over the hill, looking for inspiration, watching the life of the others, because the existence of the others inspired him more than his own life.
Raphael continued to go his own way, in a dream, in a nightmare, in a life. He didn’t want to ask himself about what was going on. It was a powerful man with feet sealed into bitumen. He was just a man.