The stranger (1)

January 30, 2010


Un petit enfant pleure dans la rue. Un monsieur vient et lui dit: “Mon enfant, pourquoi pleures-tu?” “Ma mère m’a donné deux sous et je les ai perdus.”

“Ne pleure plus,” dit le monsieur. “Voici deux sous,” et il donne deux sous à l’enfant. Le monsieur part. Il entend l’enfant qui pleure de plus belle. Il revient. “Pourquoi pleures-tu à présent?”

“Si je n’avais pas perdu mes deux sous, j’en aurais quatre à présent.”

—from Short Stories for Oral French,
by Anna Woods Ballard, p. 4



Mother warned me never to talk to strangers, or you will suffer their stories, she said, but when I came across a crying old man one day in the road, I stopped to ask what was distressing him so that, in the attempt to right the wrong in the old man’s world, made little, I guessed, by his declining memory, his scuffling gait, the number of dumplings he could fit into his mouth reduced to two, I could discredit Mother’s warnings about strangers, or at least this warning, one of a handful she dispensed daily and without a break in her speech from other, more pedestrian matters, for instance her announcement for bedtime went something like “Keep your arms at your sides and your legs straight, or whoever’s looking in through the window will think you’re a cripple and then rob you the first chance he gets, good night.” I always thought that to speak in this manner signaled lunacy, and having learned early on at school that lunacy was inherited, I resisted any urge to spout such nonsense myself. This turned out to be easy enough, for when one’s mother was the most famous actress in Mule City, where acolytes, colleagues, and even rivals prayed to her image torn from magazines and taped to their walls, one didn’t have to say a word, or rather one didn’t have a word to say, for she hoarded them all in perpetual rehearsal. She became a jawline to me, a set of wrists and fingers, knees, a waist artfully bent, and slowed down only on three occasions—when she stood on a stage, when she slept, and when she was greeted by strangers.


He stopped crying long enough to introduce himself. . . .


“I’ve lost my purse,” said Zhen Cun. . . .


“I am not a weak woman,” Mother said to me. . . .


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