This Morning, This Evening, So Soon



JAMES BALDWINwas born in New York City in 1924 and as a boy first tasted the poverty and discrimination of a Negro in Harlem. In 1945 a Eugene Saxon Fellowship enabled him to free-lance, and the stories, plays, and novels which followed established him as a young writer of extraordinary power. After living and writing in England and on the Continent, he has returned to this country and now makes his home in Greenwich Village.

You are full of nightmares,” Harriet tells me. She is in her dressing gown and has cream all over her face. She and my older sister, Louisa, are going out to be girls together. I suppose they have many things to talk about — they have me to talk about, certainly — and they do not want my presence. I have been given a bachelor’s evening. The director of the film which has brought us such incredible and troubling riches will be along later to take me out to dinner.

I watch her face. I know that it is quite impossible for her to be as untroubled as she seems. Her self-control is mainly for my benefit — my benefit, and Paul’s. Harriet comes from orderly and progressive Sweden and has reacted against all the advanced doctrines to which she has been exposed by becoming steadily and beautifully oldfashioned. We never fought in front of Paul, not even when he was a baby. Harriet does not so much believe in protecting children as she does in helping them to build a foundation on which they can build and build again, each time life’s high-flying steel ball knocks down everything they have built.

Whenever I become upset, Harriet becomes very cheerful and composed. I think she began to learn how to do this over eight years ago, when I returned from my only visit to America. Now, perhaps, it has become something she could not control if she wished to. This morning, at breakfast, when I yelled at Paul, she averted Paul’s tears and my own guilt by looking up and saying, “My God, your father is cranky this morning, isn’t he?”

Paul’s attention was immediately distracted from his wounds, and the unjust inflicter of those wounds, to his mother’s laughter. He watched her.

“It is because he is afraid they wall not like his songs in New York. Your father is an artiste, mon chou, and they are very mysterious people, les artistes. Millions of people are waiting for him in New York, they are begging him to come, and they will give him a lot of money, but he is afraid they will not like him, Tell him he is wrong.”

She succeeded in rekindling Paul’s excitement about places he has never seen. I was also, at once, reinvested with all my glamour. I think it is sometimes extremely difficult for Paul to realize that the face he sees on record sleeves and in the newspapers and on the screen is nothing more or less than the face of his father — who sometimes yells at him. Of course, since he is only seven — going on eight, he will be eight years old this winter — he cannot know that I am baffled, too.

“Of course, you are wrong, you are silly,”he said with passion —and caused me to smile. His English is strongly accented and is not, in fact, as good as his French, for he speaks French all day at school. French is really his first language, the first he ever heard. “You are the greatest singer in France” —sounding exactly as he must sound when he makes this pronouncement to his schoolmates—“the greatest American singer"—this concession was so gracefully made that it was not a concession at all, it added inches to my stature, America being only a glamorous word for Paul. It is the place from which his father came, and to which he now is going, a place which very few people have ever seen. But his aunt is one of them and he looked over at her. “Mme. Dumont says so, and she says he is a great actor, too.” Louisa nodded, smiling. “And she has seen Les Fauves Nous Attendent — five times!” This clinched it, of course. Mine. Dumont is our concierge and she has known Paul all his life. I suppose he will not begin to doubt anything she says until he begins to doubt everything.

He looked over at me again. “So you are wrong to be afraid.”

“I was wrong to yell at you, too. I won’t yell at you any more today.”

“All right.” He was very grave.

Louisa poured more coffee. “He’s going to knock them dead in New York. You’ll see.”

“Mais bien sûr,” said Paul, doubtfully. He does not quite know what “knock them dead” means, though he was sure, from her tone, that she must have been agreeing with him. He does not quite understand this aunt, whom he met for the first time two months ago, when she arrived to spend the summer with us. Her accent is entirely different from anything he has ever heard. He does not really understand why, since she is my sister and his aunt, she should be unable to speak French.

Harriet, Louisa, and I looked at each other and smiled. “Knock them dead,” said Harriet, “means d’avoir un succès fou. But you will soon pick up all the American expressions.” She looked at me and laughed. “So will I.” “That’s what he’s afraid of.” Louisa grinned. “We have got some expressions, believe me. Don’t let anybody ever tell you America hasn’t got a culture. Our culture is as thick as clabber milk.”

“Ah.” Harriet answered, “I know. I know.”

“I’m going to be practicing later,” I told Paul.

His face lit up. “Bon.” This meant that, later, he would come into my study and lie on the floor with his papers and crayons while I worked out with the piano and the tape recorder. He knew that I was offering this as an olive branch. All things considered, we get on pretty well, my son and I.

He looked over at Louisa again. She held a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other; and something about her baffled him. It was early, so she had not yet put on her face. Her short, thick, graying hair was rougher than usual, almost as rough as my own — later, she would he going to the hairdresser’s; she is fairer than I, and better-looking; Louisa, in fact, caught all the looks in the family. Paul knows that site is my older sister and that she helped to raise me, though he does not, of course, know what this means. He knows that she is a schoolteacher in the American South, which is not, for some reason, the same place as South America. I could see him trying to fit all these exotic details together into a pattern which would explain her strangeness strangeness of accent, strangeness of manner. In comparison with the people he has always known, Louisa must seem, for all her generosity and laughter and affection, peculiarly uncertain of herself, peculiarly hostile and embattled.

I wondered what he would think of his Uncle Norman, older and much blacker than I, who lives near the Alabama town in which we were born. Norman will meet us at the boat.

Harriet repeats, “Nightmares, nightmares. Nothing ever turns out as badly as you think it will — in fact,” she adds laughing, “I am happy to say that that would scarcely he possible.”

Her eyes seek mine in the mirror — dark-blue eyes, pale skin, black hair. I had always thought of Sweden as being populated entirely by blondes, and I thought that Harriet was abnormally dark for a Swedish girl. But when we visited Sweden, I found out differently. “It is all a great racial salad, Europe, that is why I am sure that I will never understand your country,” Harriet said. That was in the days when we never imagined that we would be going to it.

I wonder what she is really thinking. Still, she is right, in two clays we will be on a boat, and there is simply no point in carrying around my load of apprehension. I sit down on the bed, watching her fix her face. I realize that I am going to miss this old-fashioned bedroom. For years, we’ve talked about throwing out the old junk which came with the apartment and replacing it with less massive, modern furniture. But we never have.

“Oh, everything will probably work out,” I say. “I’ve been in a bad mood all day long. I just can’t sing any more.” We both laugh. She reaches for a wad of tissues and begins wiping off the cream. “I wonder how Paul will like it, if he’ll make friends — that’s all.”

“Paul will like any place where you are, where we are. Don’t worry about Paul.”

Paul has never been called any names, so far. Only, once he asked us what the word metis meant and Harriet explained to him that it meant mixed blood, adding that the blood of just about everybody in the world was mixed by now. Mme. Dumont contributed bawdy and detailed corroboration from her own family tree, the roots of which were somewhere in Corsica; the moral of the story, as she told it, was that women were weak, men incorrigible, and le bon Dieu appallingly clever. Mme. Dumont’s version is the version I prefer, but it may not be, for Paul, the most utilitarian.

Harriet rises from the dressing table and comes over to sit in my lap. I fall back with her on the bed, and she smiles down into my face.

“Now, don’t worry,” she tells me, “please try not to worry. Whatever is coming, we will manage it all very well, you will see. We have each other and we have our son and we know what we want. So, we are luckier than most people.”

I kiss her on the chin. “I’m luckier than most men.”

“I’m a very lucky woman, too.”

And for a moment we are silent, alone in our room, which we have shared so long. The slight rise and fall of Harriet’s breathing creates an intermittent pressure against my chest, and I think how, if I had never left America, I would never have met her and would never have established a life of my own, would never have entered my own life. For everyone’s life begins on a level where races, armies, and churches stop. And yet everyone’s life is always shaped by races, churches, and armies; races, churches, armies menace, and have taken, many lives. If Harriet had been born in America, it would have taken her a long time, perhaps forever, to look on me as a man like other men; if I had met her in America, I would never have been able to look on her as a woman like all other women. The habits of public rage and power would also have been our private compulsions, and would have blinded our eyes. Wc would never have been able to love each other. And Paul would never have been born.

Perhaps, if I had stayed in America, I would have found another woman and had another son. But that other woman, that other son are in the limbo of vanished possibilities. I might also have become something else, instead of an actorsinger, perhaps a lawyer, like my brother, or a teacher, like my sister. But no, I am what I have become and this woman beside me is my wife, and I love her. All the sons I might have had mean nothing, since I have a son, I named him, Paul, for my father, and I love him.

I think of all the things I have seen destroyed in America, all the things that I have lost there, all the threats it holds for me and mine.

I grin up at Harriet. “Do you love me?”

“Of course not. I simply have been madly plotting to get to America all these years.”

“What a patient wench you are.”

“The Swedes are very patient.”

She kisses me again and stands up. Louisa comes in, also in a dressing gown.

“I hope you two aren’t sitting in here yakking about the subject.” She looks at me. “My, you are the sorriest-looking celebrity I’ve ever seen. I’ve always wondered why people like you hired press agents. Now I know.” .She goes to Harriet’s dressing table. “Honey, do you mind if I borrow some of that mad nail polish?”

Harriet goes over to the dressing table. “I’m not sure I know which mad nail polish you mean.”

Harriet and Louisa, somewhat to my surprise, get on very well. Each seems to find the other full of the weirdest and most delightful surprises. Harriet has been teaching Louisa French and Swedish expressions, and Louisa has been teaching Harriet some of the saltier expressions of the black South. Whenever one of them is not playing straight man to the other’s accent, (hey become involved in long speculations as to how a language reveals the history and the attitudes of a people. They discovered that all the European languages contain a phrase equivalent to “to work like a nigger.” (“Of course,” says Louisa, “they’ve had black men working for them for a long time.”) “Language is experience and language is power,” says Louisa, after regretting that she does not know any of the African dialects. “That’s what I keep trying to tell those dicty bastards down South. They get their own experience into the language, we’ll have a great language. But, no, they all want to talk like white folks.” Then she leans forward, grasping Harriet by the knee. “I tell them, honey, white folks ain’t saying nothing. Not a thing are they saying —and some of them know it, they need what you got, the whole world needs it.” I hen she leans back, in disgust. “You think they listen to me? Indeed they do not. They just go right on, trying to talk like white folks.”She leans forward again, in tremendous indignation. “You know some of them folks are ashamed of Mahalia Jackson? Ashamed of her, one of the greatest singers alive! They think she’s common.” Then she looks about the room as though she held a bottle in her hand and were looking for a skull to crack.

I think it is because Louisa has never been able to talk like this to any white person before. All the white people she has ever met needed, in one way or another, to be reassured, consoled, to have their consciences pricked but not blasted; could not, could not afford to hear a truth which would shatter, irrevocably, their image of themselves. It is astonishing the lengths to which a person, or a people, will go in order to avoid a truthful mirror. But Harriet’s necessity is precisely the opposite: it is of the utmost importance that she learn everything that Louisa can tell her, and then learn more, much more. Harriet is really trying to learn from Louisa how best to protect her husband and her son. This is why they arc going out alone tonight. They will have, tonight, as it were, a final council of war. I may be moody, but they, thank God, arc practical.

Now Louisa turns to me while Harriet rummages about on the dressing table. “What time is Vidal coming for you?”

“Oh, around seven thirty, eight o’clock. He says he’s reserved tables for us in some very chic place, but he won’t say where.” Louisa wriggles her shoulders, raises her eyebrows, and does a tiny bump and grind. I laugh. “That’s right. And then I guess we’ll go out and get drunk.”

“I hope to God you do. You’ve been about as cheerful as a cemetery these last few days. And, that way, your hangover will keep you from bugging us tomorrow.”

“What about your hangovers? I know the way you girls drink.”

“Well, we’ll be paying for our own drinks,” says Harriet, “so I don’t think we’ll have that problem. But you’re going to be feted, like an international movie star.”

“You sure you don’t want to change your mind and come out with Vidal and me?”

“We’re sure,” Louisa says. She looks down at me and gives a small, amused grunt. “An international movie star. And I used to change your diapers. I’ll be damned.” She is grave for a moment. “Mama’d be proud of you. you know that?” We look at each other and the air between us is charged with secrets which not even Harriet will ever know. “Now, get the hell out of here, so we can get dressed.”

“I’ll take Paul on down to Mme. Dumont’s.”

Paul is to have supper with her children and spend the night there.

“For the last time.”says Mme. Dumont and she rubs her hand over Paul’s violently curlyblack hair. “ Tu vas nous manquer, tu sais?” Then she looks up at me and laughs. “He doesn’t care. He is only interested in seeing the big ship and all the wonders of New York. Children are never sad to make journeys.”

“I would be very sad to go,”says Paul, politely, “but my father must go to New York to work and he wants me to come with him.”

Over his head, Mme. Dumont and I smile at each other. “Il est malin, ton gosse!” She looks down at him again. “And do you think, my little diplomat, that you will like New York?”

“We aren’t only going to New York,” Paul answers, “we are going to California, too.”

“Well, do you think you will like California?”

Paul looks at me. “I don’t know. If we don’t like it, we’ll come back.”

“So simple. Just like that,” says Mme. Dumont. She looks at me. “It is the best way to look at life. Do come back. You know, we feel that you belong to us, too, here in France.”

“I hope you do,” I say. “I hope you do. I have always felt — always felt at home here.”I bend down and Paul and I kiss each other on the cheek. We have always done so — but will we be able to do so in America? American fathers never kiss American sons. I straighten, my hand on Paul’s shoulder. “You be good. I’ll pick you up for breakfast, or, if you get up first you come and pick me up and we can hang out together tomorrow, while your maman and your Aunt Louisa finish packing. They won’t want two men hanging around the house.”

D’accord. Where shall we hang out?” On the last two words he stumbles a little and imitates me.

“Maybe we can go to the zoo, I don’t know. And I’ll lake you to lunch at the Eiffel Tower, would you like that?”

“Oh, yes,” he says, “I’d love that.” When he is pleased, he seems to glow. All the energy of his small, tough, concentrated being charges an unseen battery and adds an incredible luster to his eyes, which are large and dark brown — like mine — and to his skin, which always reminds me of the colors of honey and the fires of the sun.

“Okay, then.” I shake hands with Mme. Dumont. “Bonsoir, Madame.” I ring for the elevator, staring at Paul. “Ciao, Pauli.”

“Bonsoir, Papa.”

And Mme. Dumont takes him inside.

Upstairs, Harriet and Louisa are finally powdered. perfumed, and jeweled, and ready to go: dry Martinis at the Ritz, supper, “in some very expensive little place,” says Harriet, and perhaps the Folies Bergere afterwards. “A real cornball, tourist evening,” says Louisa. “I’m working on the theory that if I can get Harriet to act like an American now, she won’t have so much trouble later.”

“I very much doubt,” Harriet says, “that I will be able to endure the Folies Bergere for three solid hours.”

“Oh, then we’ll duck across town to Harry’s New York bar and drink mint juleps,” says Louisa.

I realize that, quite apart from everything else, Louisa is having as much fun as she has ever had in her life before. Perhaps she, too, will be sad to leave Paris, even though she has only known it for such a short time.

“Do people drink those in New York?” Harriet asks. I think she is making a list of the things people do or do not do in New York.

“Some people do.” Louisa winks at me. “Do you realize that this Swedish chick’s picked up an Alabama drawl?”

We laugh together. The elevator chugs to a landing.

“We’ll stop and say good night to Paul,” Harriet says. She kisses me. “Give our best to Vidal.”

“Right. Have a good time. Don’t let any Frenchmen run off with Louisa.”

“I did not come to Paris to be protected, and if I had, this wild chick you married couldn’t do it. I just might upset everybody and come home with a French count.” She presses the elevator button and the cage goes down.

I WALK back into our dismantled apartment. It stinks of departure. There are bags and crates in the hall, which will be taken away tomorrow, there are no books in the bookcases, the kitchen looks as though we never cooked a meal there, never dawdled there, in the early morning or late at night, over coffee. Presently, I must shower and shave but now I pour myself a drink and light a cigarette and step out on our balcony. It is dusk, the brilliant light of Paris is beginning to fade, and the green of the trees is darkening,

I have lived in this city for twelve years. This apartment is on the top floor of a corner building. We look out over the trees and the roof tops to the Champ de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower stands. Beyond this field is the river, which I have crossed so often, in so many states of mind. I have crossed every bridge in Paris, I have walked along every quai. I know the river as one finally knows a friend, know it when it is black, guarding all the lights of Paris in its depths, and seeming, in its vast silence, to be communing with the dead who lie beneath it; when it is yellow, evil, and roaring, giving a rough time to tugboats and barges, and causing people to remember that it has been known to rise, it has been known to kill; when it is peaceful, a slick, dark, dirty green, playing host to rowboats and les bateaux mouches and throwing up from time to time an extremely unhealthy fish. The men who stand along the quais all summer with their fishing lines gratefully accept the slimy object and throw it in a rusty can. I have always wondered who eats those fish.

And I walk up and down, up and down, glad to be alone.

It is August, the month when all Parisians desert Paris and one has to walk miles to find a barbershop or a laundry open in some treeshadowed, silent side street. There is a single person on the avenue, a paratrooper walking toward École Militaire. He is also walking, almost certainly, and rather sooner than later, toward Algeria. I have a friend, a good-natured boy who was always hanging around the clubs in which I worked in the old days, who has just returned from Algeria, with a recurring, debilitating fever, and minus one eye. The government has set his pension at the sum, arbitrary if not occult, of fifty-three thousand francs every three months. Of course, it is quite impossible to live on this amount of money without working — but who will hire a half-blind invalid? This boy has been spoiled forever, long before his thirtieth birthday, and there are thousands like him all over France.

And there are fewer Algerians to be found on the streets of Paris now. The rug sellers, the peanut vendors, the post-card peddlers and moneychangers have vanished. The boys I used to know during my first years in Paris are scattered — or corralled — the Lord knows where.

Most of them had no money. They lived three and four together in rooms with a single skylight, a single hard cot, or in buildings that seemed abandoned, with cardboard in the windows, with erratic plumbing in a wet, cobblestoned yard, in dark, dead-end alleys, or on the outer, chilling heights of Paris.

The Arab cafés are closed — those dark, acrid cafes in which I used to meet with them to drink tea, to get high on hashish, to listen to the obsessive, stringed music which has no relation to any beat, any time, that I have ever known. I once thought of the North Africans as my brothers and that is why I went to their cafes. They were very friendly to me, perhaps one or two of them remained really fond of me even after I could no longer afford to smoke Lucky Strikes and after my collection of American sport shirts had vanished — mostly into their wardrobes. They seemed to feel that they had every right to them, since I could only have wrested these things from the world by cunning — it meant nothing to say that I had had no choice in the matter; perhaps I had wrested these things from the world by treason, by refusing to be identified with the misery of my people. Perhaps, indeed, I identified myself with those who were responsible for this misery.

And this was true. Their rage, the only note in all their music which I could not fail to recognize, to which I responded, yet had the effect of setting us more than ever at a division. They were perfectly prepared to drive all Frenchmen into the sea, and to level the city of Paris. But I could not hate the French, because they left me alone. And I love Paris, I will always love it, it is the city which saved my life. It saved my life by allowing me to find out who I am.

IT WAS on a bridge, one tremendous, April morning, that I knew 1 had fallen in love. Harriet and I were walking hand in hand. The bridge was the Pont Royal, just before us was the great horloge, high and lifted up, saying ten to ten; beyond this, the golden statue of Joan of Arc, with her sword uplifted. Harriet and I were silent, for we had been quarreling about something. Now, when I look back, I think we had reached that state when an affair must either end or become something more than an affair.

I looked sideways at Harriet’s face, which was still. Her dark-blue eyes were narrowed against the sun, and her full, pink lips were still slightly sulky, like a child’s. In those days, she hardly ever wore make-up. I was in my shirt sleeves. Her face made me want to laugh and run my hand over her short dark hair. I wanted to pull her to me and say, Baby, don’t be mad at me, and at that moment something tugged at my heart and made me catch my breath. There were millions of people all around us, but I was alone with Harriet. She was alone with me. Never, in all my life, until that moment, had I been alone with anyone. The world had always been with us, between us, defeating the quarrel we could not achieve, and making love impossible. During all the years of my life, until that moment, I had carried the menacing, the hostile, killing world with me everywhere. No matter what I was doing or saying or feeling, one eye had always been on the world — that world which I had learned to distrust almost as soon as I learned my name, that world on which I knew one could never turn one’s back, the white man’s world. And for the first time in my life I was free of it; it had not existed for me; I had been quarreling with my girl. It was our quarrel, it was entirely between us, it had nothing to do with anyone else in the world. For the first time in my life I had not been afraid of the patriotism of the mindless, in uniform or out, who would beat me up and treat the woman who was with me as though she were the lowest of untouchables. For the first time in my fife I felt that no force jeopardized my right, my power, to possess and to protect a woman; for the first time, the first time, felt that the woman was not, in her own eyes or in the eyes of the world, degraded by my presence.

The sun fell over everything, like a blessing, people were moving all about us, I will never forget the feeling of Harriet’s small hand in mine, dry and trusting, and I turned to her, slowing our pace. She looked up at me with her enormous, blue eyes, and she seemed to wait. I said, “Harriet. Harriet. Tu sais, il y a quelque chose de très grave qui m’est arrivé. Je t’aime. Je t’aime. Tu me comprends, or shall I say it in English?”

This was eight years ago, shortly before my first and only visit home.

That was when my mother died. I stayed in America for three months. When I came back, Harriet thought that the change in me was due to my grief— I was very silent, very thin. But it had not been my mother’s death which accounted for the change. I had known that my mother was going to die. I had not known what America would be like for me after nearly four years away.

I remember standing at the rail and watching the distance between myself and Le Havre increase. Hands fell, ceasing to wave, handkerchiefs ceased to flutter, people turned away, they mounted their bicycles or got into their cars and rode off. Soon, Le Havre was nothing but a blur. I thought of Harriet, already miles from me in Paris, and I pressed my lips tightly together in order not to cry.

Then, as Europe dropped below the water, as the days passed and passed, as we left behind us the skies of Europe and the eyes of everyone on the ship began, so to speak, to refocus, waiting for the first glimpse of America, my apprehension began to give way to a secret joy, a checked anticipation. I thought of such details as showers, which are rare in Paris, and I thought of such things as rich, cold, American milk and heavy, chocolate cake. I wondered about my friends, wondered if I had any left, and wondered if they would be glad to see me.

The Americans on the boat did not seem to be so bad, but I was fascinated, after such a long absence from it, by the nature of their friendliness, It was a friendliness which did not suggest, and was not intended to suggest, any possibility of friendship. Unlike Europeans, they dropped titles and used first names almost at once, leaving themselves, unlike the Europeans, with nowhere thereafter to go. Once one had become “Pete” or “Jane” or “Bill” all that could decently be known was known and any suggestion that there might be further depths, a person, so to speak, behind the name, was taken as a violation ol that privacy which did not, paradoxically, since they trusted it so little, seem to exist among Americans. They apparently equated privacy with the unspeakable things they did in the bathroom or the bedroom, which they related only to the analyst, and then read about in the pages of best sellers. There was an eerie and unnerving irreality about everything they said and did, as though they were all members of the same team and were acting on orders from some invincibly cheerful and tirelessly inventive coach. I was fascinated by it. I found it oddly moving, but I cannot say that 1 was displeased. It had not occurred to me before that Americans, who had never treated me with any respect, had no respect for each other.

On the last night but one, there was a. gala in the big ballroom and I sang. It had been a long time since I had sung before so many Americans. My audience had mainly been penniless French students, in the weird, Left Bank bistros I worked in those days. Still, I was a great hit with them and by this time I had become enough of a drawing card, in the Latin Quarter and in St. Germain des Pres, to have attracted a couple of critics, to have had my picture in France-soir, and to have acquired a legal work permit which allowed me to make a little more money. Just the same, no matter how industrious and brilliant some ol the musicians had been, or how devoted my audience, they did not know, they could not know, what my songs came out of. They did not know what was funny about it. It was impossible to translate: It damn well better be funny, or Laughing to keep from crying, or What did I do to be so black and blue?

The moment I stepped out on the floor, they began to smile, something opened in them, they were ready to be pleased. I found in their faces, as they watched me, smiling, waiting, an artless relief, a profound reassurance. Nothing was more familiar to them than the sight of a dark boy, singing, and there were few things on earth more necessary. It was under cover of darkness, my own darkness, that I could sing for them of the joys, passions, and terrors they smuggled about with them like steadily depreciating contraband. Under cover of the midnight fiction that I was unlike them because I was black, they could stealthily gaze at those treasures which they had been mysteriously forbidden to possess and were never permitted to declare.

I sang I’m Coming, Virginia, and Take This Hammer, and Precious Lord. They wouldn’t let me go and I came back and sang a couple of the oldest blues I knew. Then someone asked me to sing Swanee River, and I did, astonished that I could, astonished that this song, which I had put down long ago, should have the power to move me. Then, if only, perhaps, to make the record complete, I wanted to sing Strange Fruit, but, on this number, no one can surpass the great, tormented Billie Holiday. So I finished with Great GettingUp Morning and I guess I can say that if I didn’t stop the show I certainly ended it. I got a big hand and I drank at a few tables and I danced with a few girls.

AFTER one more day and one more night, the boat landed in New York. I woke up, I was bright awake at once, and I thought, We’re here.

I turned on all the lights in my small cabin and I stared into the mirror as though I were committing my face to memory. I took a shower and I took a long time shaving and I dressed myself very carefully. I walked the long ship corridors to the dining room, looking at the luggage piled high before the elevators and beside the steps. The dining room was nearly half empty and full of a quick and joyous excitement which depressed me even more. People ate quickly, chattering to each other, anxious to get upstairs and go on deck. Was it my imagination or was it true that they seemed to avoid my eyes? A few people waved and smiled, but let me pass; perhaps it would have made them uncomfortable, this morning, to try to share their excitement with me; perhaps they did not want to know whether or not it was possible for me to share it. I walked to my table and sat down. I munched toast as dry as paper and drank a pot of coffee. Then I lipped my waiter, who bowed and smiled and called me “sir” and said that he hoped to see me on the boat again. “I hope so, too,” I said.

And was it true, or was it my imagination, that a flash of wondering comprehension, a flicker of wry sympathy, then appeared in the waiter’s eyes? I walked upstairs to the deck.

There was a breeze from the water but the sun was hot and made me remember how ugly New York summers could be. All of the deck chairs had been taken away and people milled about in the space where the deck chairs had been, moved from one side of the ship to the other, clambered up and down the steps, crowded the rails, and they were busy taking photographs — of the harbor, of each other, of the sea, of the gulls. I walked slowly along the deck, and an impulse stronger than myself drove me to the rail. There it was, the great, unfinished city, with all its towers blazing in the sun. It came toward us slowly and patiently, like some enormous, cunning, and murderous beast, ready to devour, impossible to escape. I watched it come closer and I listened to the people around me, to their excitement and their pleasure. There was no doubt that it was real. I watched their shining faces and wondered if I were mad. For a moment I longed, with all my heart, to be able to feel whatever they were feeling, if only to know what such a feeling was like. As the boat moved slowly into the harbor, they were being moved into safety. It was only I who was being floated into danger. I turned my head, looking for Europe, but all that stretched behind me was the sky, thick with gulls. I moved away from the rail. A big, sandy-haired man held his daughter on his shoulders, showing her the Statue of Liberty. I would never know what this statue meant to others, she had always been an ugly joke for me. And the American flag was flying from the top of the ship, above my head. I had seen the French flag drive the French into the most unspeakable frenzies, I had seen the flag which was nominally mine used to dignify the vilest purposes: now I would never, as long as I lived, know what others saw when they saw a flag. “There’s no place like home,” said a voice close by, and I thought, There damn sure isn’t. I decided to go back to my cabin and have a drink.

There was a cablegram from Flarriet in my cabin. It said: Be good. Be quick. I’m waiting.

I folded it carefully and put it in my breast pocket. Then I wondered if I would ever get back to her. How long would it take me to earn the money to get out of this land? Sweat broke out on my forehead and I poured myself some whisky from my nearly empty bottle. I paced the tiny cabin. It was silent. There was no one down in the cabins now.

I WAS not sober when I faced the uniforms in the first-class lounge. There were two of them; they were not unfriendly. They looked at my passport, they looked at me. “You’ve been away a long time,” said one of them.

“Yes,” I said, “it’s been a while.”

“What did you do over there all that time?” —

with a grin meant to hide more than it revealed, which hideously revealed more than it could hide.

I said, “I’m a singer,” and the room seemed to rock around me. I held on to what I hoped was a calm, open smile. I had not had to deal with these faces in so long that I had forgotten how to do it. I had once known how to pitch my voice precisely between curtness and servility, and known what razor’s edge of a pickaninny’s smile would turn away wrath. But I had forgotten all the tricks on which my life had once depended. Once I had been an expert at baffling these people, at setting their teeth on edge, and dancing just outside the trap laid for me. But I was not an expert now. These faces were no longer merely the faces of two white men, who were my enemies. They were the faces of two white people whom I did not understand, and I could no longer plan my moves in accordance with what I knew of their cowardice and their needs and their strategy.

That moment on the bridge had undone me forever.

“That’s right,” said one of them, “that’s what it says, right here on the passport. Never heard of you, though.” They looked up at me. “Did you do a lot of singing over there?”


“What kind — concerts?”

“No.” I wondered what I looked like, sounded like. I could tell nothing from their eyes. “I worked a few night clubs.”

“Night clubs, eh? I guess they liked you over there.”

“Yes,” I said, “they seemed to like me all right.”

“Well”— and my passport was stamped and handed back to me — “let’s hope they like you over here.”

“Thanks.” They laughed—was it at me, or was it my imagination? — and I picked up the one bag I was carrying and threw my trench coat over one shoulder and walked out of the firstclass lounge. I stood in the slow-moving, murmuring line which led to the gangplank. I looked straight ahead and watched heads, smiling faces, step up to the shadow of the gangplank awning and then swiftly descend out of sight. I put my passport back in my breast pocket — Be quick. I’m waiting — and I held my landing card in my hand. Then, suddenly, there I was, standing on the edge of the boat, staring down the long ramp to the ground. At the end of the plank, on the ground, stood a heavy man in a uniform. His cap was pushed back from his gray hair and his face was red and wet. He looked up at me. This was the face I remembered, the face of my nightmares; perhaps hatred had caused me to know this face better than I would ever know the face of any lover. “Come on, boy,” he cried, “come on, come on!”

And I almost smiled. I was home. I touched my breast pocket. I thought of a song I sometimes sang, When will I ever get to be a man? I came down the gangplank, stumbling a little, and gave the man my landing card.

Much later in the day, a customs inspector checked my baggage and waved me away. I picked up my bags and started walking down the long stretch which led to the gate, to the city.

And I heard someone call my name.

I looked up and saw Louisa running toward me. I dropped my bags and grabbed her in my arms and tears came to my eyes and rolled down my face. I did not know whether the tears were for joy at seeing her, or from rage, or both.

“How are you? How are you? You look wonderful, but, oh, haven’t you lost weight? It’s wonderful to see you again.”

I wiped my eyes. “It’s wonderful to see you, too, I bet you thought 1 was never coming back.”

Louisa laughed. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you hadn’t. These people are just as corny as ever, I swear I don’t believe there’s any hope for them. How’s your French? Lord, when I think that it was I who studied French and now I can’t speak a word. And you never went near it and you probably speak it like a native.”

I grinned. “Pas mat. Je me defends pas mal.” We started down the wide steps into the street. “My God,” I said. “New York.” I was not aware of its towers now. We were in the shadow of the elevated highway but the thing which most struck me was neither light nor shade, but noise. It came from a million things at once, from trucks and tires and clutches and brakes and doors; from machines shuttling and stamping and rolling and cutting and pressing; from the building of tunnels, the checking of gas mains, the laying of wires, the digging of foundations; from the chattering of rivets, the scream of the pile driver, the clanging of great shovels; from the battering down and the raising up of walls; from millions ol radios and television sets and jukeboxes. The human voices distinguished themselves from the roar only by their note of strain and hostility. Another fleshy man, uniformed and red-faced, hailed a cab for us and touched his cap politely but could only manage a peremptory growl: “Right this way, miss. Step up, sir."’ He slammed the cab door behind us. Louisa directed the driver to the New Yorker Hotel.

“Do they take us there?”

She looked at me. “They got laws in New York, honey, it’d be the easiest thing in the world to spend all your time in court. But over at the New Yorker, I believe they’ve already got the message.” She took my arm. “You see? In spite of all this chopping and booming, this place hasn’t really changed very much. You still can’t hear yourself talk.”

And I thought to myself, Maybe that’s the point.

Early the next morning we checked out of the hotel and took the plane for Alabama.

I AM just stepping out of the shower when I hear the bell ring. I dry myself hurriedly and put on a bathrobe. It is Vidal, of course, and very elegant he is, too, with his bushy gray hair quite lustrous, his swarthy, cynical, gypsylike face shaved and lotioned. Usually he looks just any old way. But tonight his brief bulk is contained in a dark-blue suit and he has an ironical pearl stickpin in his blue tie.

“Come in, make yourself a drink. I’ll be with you in a second.”

“I am, hélas!, on time. I trust you will forgive me for my thoughtlessness.”

But I am already back in the bathroom. Vidal puts on a record: Mahalia Jackson, singing I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About lit My Song.

When I am dressed, I find him sitting in a chair before the open window. The daylight is gone, but it is not exactly dark. The trees are black now against the darkening sky. The lights in windows and the lights of motorcars are yellow and ringed. The street lights have not yet been turned on. It is as though, out of deference to the departed day, Paris waited a decent interval before assigning her role to a more theatrical but inferior performer.

Vidal is drinking a whisky and soda. I pour myself a drink. He watches me.

“Well. How are you, my friend? You are nearly gone. Are you happy to be leaving us?”

“No.” I say this with more force than I had intended. Vidal raises his eyebrows, looking amused and distant. “I never really intended to go back there. I certainly never intended to raise my kid there —”

“Mais, man cher,” Vidal says, calmly, “you are an intelligent man, you must have known that you would probably be returning one day.” He pauses. “And, as for Pauli — did it never occur to you that he might wish one day to see the country in which his father and his father’s fathers were born?”

“To do that, really, he’d have to go to Africa.”

“America will always mean more to him than Africa, you know that.”

“I don’t know.” I throw my drink down and pour myself another. “Why should he want to cross all that water just, to be called a nigger? America never gave him anything.”

“It gave him his father.”

I look at him. “You mean, his father escaped.”

Vidal throws back his head and laughs. If Vidal likes you, he is certain to laugh at you and his laughter can be very unnerving. But the look, the silence which follow this laughter can be very unnerving, too. And, now, in the silence, he asks me, “Do you really think that you have escaped anything? Come. I know you for a better man than that.” He walks to the table which holds the liquor. “In that movie of ours which has made you so famous, and, as I now see, so troubled, what are you playing, after all? What is the tragedy of this half-breed troubadour if not, precisely, that he has taken all the possible roads to escape and that all these roads have failed him?” He pauses, with the bottle in one hand, and looks at me. “Do you remember the trouble I had to get a performance out of you? How you hated me, you sometimes looked as though you wanted to shoot me! And do you remember when the role of Chico began to come alive?” He pours his drink. “Think back, remember. I am a very great director, mats pardon! I could not have got such a performance out: of anyone but you. And what were you thinking of, what was in your mind, what nightmare were you living with when you began, at last, to play the role — truthfully?” He walks back to his seat.

Chico, in the film, is the son of a Martinique woman and a French colon who hates both his mother and his father. He flees from the island to the capital, carrying his hatred with him. This hatred has now grown, naturally, to include all dark women and all white men, in a word, everyone. He descends into the underworld of Paris, where he dies. Les fauves — the wild beasts — refers to the life he has fled and to the life which engulfs him. When I agreed to do the role, I felt that I could probably achieve it by bearing in mind the North Africans I had watched in Paris for so long. But this did not please Vidal. The blowup came while we were rehearsing a fairly simple, straightforward scene. Chico goes into a sleazy Pigalle dance hall to beg the French owner lor a particularly humiliating job. And this Frenchman reminds him of his father.

“You are playing this boy as though you thought of him as the noble savage,” Vidal said, icily. ”Ça verit d’où — all these ghastly mannerisms you are using all the time?”

Everyone fell silent, for Vidal rarely spoke this way. This silence told me that everyone, the actor with whom I was playing the scene and all the people in the “dance hall,” shared Vidal’s opinion of my performance and was relieved that he was going to do something about it. I was humiliated and too angry to speak; but perhaps 1 also felt, at the very bottom of my heart, a certain relief, an unwilling respeet.

“You are doing it all wrong,” he said, more gently. Then, “Come, let us have a drink together.”

WE WALKED into his office. He took a bottle and two glasses out of his desk. “Forgive me, but you put me in mind of some of those English lady actresses who love to play putain as long as it is always absolutely clear to the audience that they are really ladies. So perhaps they read a book, not usually, hélas!, Fanny Hill, and they have their chauffeurs drive them through Soho once or twice — and (hey come to the stage with a pertormance so absolutely loaded with detail, every bit of it meaningless, that there can be no doubt that they are acting. It is what the British call a triumph.” He poured two cognacs. “That is what you are doing. Why? Who do you think this boy is, what do you think he is feeling, when he asks for this job?” He watched me carefully and I bitterly resented his look. “You come from America. The situation is not so pretty there for boys like you. I know you may not have been as poor as — as some — but is it really impossible for you to understand what a boy like Chico feels? Have you never, yourself, been in a similar position?”

I hated him for asking the question because I knew he knew the answer to it. “I would have had to be a very lucky black man not to have been in such a position.”

“You would have had to be a very lucky man.”

“Oh, God.” I said, “please don’t give me any of this equality-in-anguish business.”

“It is perfectly possible,” he said, sharply, “that there is not another kind ”

Then he was silent. He sat down behind his desk. He cut a cigar and lit it. puffing up clouds of smoke, as though to prevent us from seeing each other too clearly. “Consider this,” he said. “I am a French director who has never seen your country. I have never done you any harm, except, perhaps, historically — I mean, because I am white — but I cannot be blamed for that —”

“But I can be,” I said, “and I am! I’ve never understood why, if I have to pay for the history written in the color of my skin, you should get off scot-free!" But I was surprised at my vehemence, I had not known I was going to say these things, and by the fact that I was trembling and from the way he looked at me I knew that, from a professional point of view anyway, I was playing into his hands.

“What makes you think I do?” His face looked weary and stern. “I am a Frenchman. Look at France. You think that I — we — are not paying for our history?” He walked to the window, staring out at the rather grim little town in which the studio was located. “If it is revenge that you want, well, then, let me tell you, you will have it. You will probably have it, whether you want it or not. our stupidity will make it inevitable.” He turned back into the room. “But I beg you not to confuse me with the happy people of your country, who scarcely know that there is such a thing as history and so, naturally, imagine that they can escape, as you put it, scot-free. That is what you are doing, that is what I was about to say. I was about to say that I am a French director and I have never been in your country and ! have never done you any harm — but you are not talking to that man, in this room. now. You are not talking to Jean Luc Vidal, but to some other white man. whom you remember, who has nothing to do with me.” He paused and went back to his desk. “Oh, most of the time you are not like this, I know. But it is there all the time, it must be, because when you are upset, this is what comes out. So you are not playing Chico truthfully, you are lying about him, and I will not let you do it. When you go back, now, and play this scene again, I want you to remember what has just happened in this room. You brought your past into this room. That is what Chico does when he walks into the dance hall. The Frenchman whom he begs for a job is not merely a Frenchman — he is the father who disowned and betrayed him and all the Frenchmen whom he hates.” He smiled and poured me another cognac. “Ah! If it were not for my history, I would not have so much trouble to get the truth out of you.” He looked into my face, half smiling. “And you, you are angry — are you not? — that Iask you for the truth. You think I have no right to ask.” Then he said something which he knew would enrage me. “Who are you then, and what good has it done you to come to France, and how will you raise your son? Will you teach him never to tell the truth to anyone?” And he moved behind his desk and looked at me, as though from behind a barricade.

“You have no right to talk to me this way.”

“Oh, yes, I do,” he said. “I have a film to make and a reputation to maintain and I am going to get a performance out of you.” He looked at his watch. “Let us go back to work.”

I WATCH him now, sitting quietly in my living room, tough, cynical, crafty old Frenchman, and I wonder if he knows that the nightmare at the bottom of my mind, as I played the role of Chico, was all the possible fates of Paul. This is but another way of saying that I relived the disasters which had nearly undone me; but, because I was thinking of Paul. I discovered that I did not want my son ever to feel toward me as I had felt toward my own father. He had died when I was eleven, but I had watched the humiliations he had to bear, and I had pitied him. But was there not, in that pity, however painfully and unwillingly, also some contempt? For how could Iknow what he had borne? I knew oniy that I was his son. However he had loved me, whatever he had borne, I, his son, was despised. Even had he lived, he could have done nothing to prevent it, nothing to protect me. The best that he could hope to do was to prepare me for it; and even at that he had failed. How can one be prepared for the; spittle in the face, all the tireless ingenuity which goes into the spite and fear of small, unutterably miserable people, whose greatest terror is the singular identity, whose joy, whose safety, is entirely dependent on the humiliation and anguish of others?

But for Paul, I swore it, such a day would never come. I would throw my life and my work between Paul and the nightmare of the world. I would make it impossible for the world to treat Paul as it had treated my father and me.

Mahalia’s record ends. Vidal rises to turn it over. “Well?” He looks at me very affectionately. “Your nightmares, please!”

“Oh, I was thinking of that summer I spent in Alabama, when my mother died.”I stop. “You know, but when we finally filmed that bar scene, I was thinking of New York. I was scared in Alabama, but I almost went crazy in New York. I was sure I’d never make it back here — back here to Harriet. And I knew if I didn’t, it was going to be the end of me.” Now Mahalia is singing When the Saints Go Marching In. “I got a job in the town as an elevator boy, in the town’s big department store. It was a special favor, one of my father’s white friends got it for me. For a long time, in the South, we all — depended — on the — kindness — of white friends.” I take out a handkerchief and wipe my face. “But this man didn’t like me. I guess I didn’t seem grateful enough, wasn’t enough like my father, what he thought my father was. And I couldn’t get used to the town again, I’d been away too long, I hated it. It’s a terrible town, anyway, the whole thing looks as though it’s been built around a jailhouse. There’s a room in the courthouse, a room where they beat you up. Maybe you’re walking along the street one night, it’s usually at night, but it happens in the daytime, too. And the police car comes up behind you and the cop says, Hey, boy. Come on over here. So you go on over. He says, Boy, I believe you drunk. And, you see, if you say, No, no sir, he’ll beat you because you’re calling him a liar. And if you say anything else, unless it’s something to make him laugh, he’ll take you in and beat you, just for fun. The trick is to think of some way for them to have their fun without beating you up.”

The street lights of Paris click on and turn all tHe green leaves silver. “Or to go along with the ways they dream up. And they’ll do anything, anything at all, to prove that you’re no better than a dog and to make you feel like one. And they hated me because I’d been North and I’d been to Europe. People kept saying, I hope you didn’t bring no foreign notions back here with you, boy. And I’d say, No sir, or No ma’am, but I never said it right. And there was a time, all of them remembered it, when I had said it right. But now they could tell that I despised them — I guess, no matter what, I wanted them to know that I despised them. But I didn’t despise them any more than everyone else did, only the others never let it show. They knew how to keep the white folks happy, and it was easy — you just had to keep them feeling like they were God’s favor to the universe. They’d walk around with great, big, foolish grins on their faces and the colored folks loved to see this, because they hated them so much. “Just look at So-and-So,” somebody’d say. “His white is on him today.” And when we didn’t hate them, we pitied them. In America, that’s usually what it means to have a white friend. You pity the poor bastard because he was born believing the world’s a great place to be, and you know it’s not, and you can see that he’s going to have a terrible time getting used to this idea, if he ever gets used to it.”

Then I think of Paul again, those eyes which still imagine that I can do anything, that skin, the color of honey and fire, his jet-black, curly hair.

I look out at Paris again, and I listen to Mahalia, “Maybe it’s better to have the terrible times first.

I don’t know. Maybe, then, you can have, if you live, a better life, a real life, because you had to fight so hard to get it away — you know? — from the mad dog who held it in his teeth. But then your file has all those tooth marks, too, all those tatters, and all that blood.” I walk to the bottle and raise it. “One for the road?”

“Thank you,” says Vidal.

I POUR us a drink, and he watches me. I have never talked so much before, not about those things anyway. I know that Vidal has nightmares, because he knows so much about them, but he has never told me what his are. I think that he probably does not talk about his nightmares any more. I know that the war cost him his wife and His son, and that he was in prison in Germany. He very rarely refers to it. He has a married daughter who fives in England, and he rarely speaks of her. He is like a man who has learned to five on what is left of an enormous fortune.

We are silent for a moment.

“Please go on,”he says, with a smile. “I am curious about the reality behind the reality of your performance.”

“My sister, Louisa, never married,” I say, abruptly, “because, once, years ago. she and the boy she was going with and two friends of theirs were out driving in a car and the police stopped them. The girl who was with them was very fair and the police pretended not to believe her when she said she was colored. They made her get out and stand in front of the headlights of the car and pull down her pants and raise her dress — they said that was the only way they could be sure. And you can imagine what they said, and what they did—and they were lucky, at that, that it didn’t go any further. But none of the men could do anything about it. Louisa couldn’t face that boy again, and I guess he couldn’t face her.” Now it is really growing dark in the room and I cross to the fight switch. “You know, I know what that boy felt, I’ve fell it. They want you to feel that you’re not a man, maybe that’s the only way they can feel like men, I don’t know. I walked around New York with Harriet’s cablegram in my pocket as though it were some atomic secret, in code, and they’d kill me if they ever found out what it meant. You know, there’s something wrong with people like that. And thank God Harriet was here, she proved that the world was bigger than the world they wanted me to five in, I had to get back here, get to a place where people were too busy with their own lives, their private lives, to make fantasies about mine, to set up walls around mine.” I look at him. The light in the room has made the night outside blueblack and golden and the great searchlight of the Eiffel Lower is turning in the sky. “That’s what it’s like in America, for me, anyway. I always feel that I don’t exist there, except in someone else’s — usually dirty —mind. I don’t know if you know what that means, but I do, and I don’t want to put Harriet through that and I don’t want to raise Paul there.”

“Well,” he says at last, “you are not required to remain in America forever, are you? You will sing in that elegant club which apparently feels that it cannot, much longer, so much as open its doors without you, and you will probably accept the movie offer, you would be very foolish not to. You will make a lot of money. Then, one day, you will remember that airlines and steamship companies are still in business and that France still exists. That will certainly be cause for astonishment.”

Vidal was a Gaullist before De Gaulle came to power. But he regrets the manner of De Gaulle’s rise and he is worried about De Gaulle’s regime. “It is not the fault of mon general,” he sometimes says, sadly. “Perhaps it is history’s fault. I suppose it must be history which always arranges to bill a civilization at the very instant it is least prepared to pay.”

Now he rises and walks out on the balcony, as though to reassure himself of the reality of Paris. Mahalia is singing Didn’t It Rain? I walk out and stand beside him.

“You are a good boy — Chico,” he says. I laugh. “You believe in love. You do not know all the things love cannot do, but” — he smiles — “love will teach you that.”

WE GO, after dinner, to a Lett Bank discotheque which can charge outrageous prices because Marlon Brando wandered in there one night. By accident, according to Vidal. “Do you know how many people in Paris are becoming rich — to say nothing of those, hélas!, who are going broke—on the off chance that Marlon Brando will lose his way again?”

He has not, presumably, lost his way tonight, but the discotheque is crowded with those strangely faceless people who are part of the night life of all great cities, and who always arrive, moments, hours, or decades late, on the spot made notorious by an event or a movement or a handful of personalities. So here are American boys, anything but beardless, scratching around for Hemingway; American girls, titillating themselves with Frenchmen and existentialism, while waiting for the American boys to shave off their beards; French painters, busily pursuing the revolution which ended thirty years ago; and the young, bored, perverted, American arrivistes who are buying their way into the art world via flattery and liquor, and the production of canvases as arid as their greedy little faces. Here are boys, of all nations, one step above the pimp, who are occasionally walked across a stage or trotted before a camera. And the girls, their enemies, whose faces are sometimes seen in ads, one of whom will surely have a tantrum before the evening is out.

In a corner, as usual, surrounded, as usual, by smiling young men, sits the drunken blonde woman who was once the mistress of a famous, dead painter. She is a figure of some importance in the art world, and so rarely has to pay for either her drinks or her lovers. An older Frenchman, who was once a famous director, is playing quatre cent vingt-et-un with the woman behind the cash register. He nods pleasantly to Vidal and me as we enter, but makes no move to join us, and I respect him for this. Vidal and I are obviously cast tonight in the role vacated by Brando; our entrance justifies the prices and sends a kind of shiver through the room. It is marvelous to watch the face of the waiter as he approaches, all smiles and deference and grace, not so much honored by our presence as achieving his reality from it; excellence, he seems to be saying, gravitates naturally toward excellence. We order two whisky and sodas. I know why Vidal sometimes comes here. He is lonely. I do not think that he expects ever to love one woman again, and so he distracts himself with many.

Since this is a discothèque, jazz is blaring from the walls and record sleeves are scattered about with a devastating carelessness. Two of them are mine and no doubt, presently, someone will play the recording of the songs I sang in the film.

“I thought,” says Vidal, with a malicious little smile, “that your farewell to Paris would not be complete without a brief exposure to the perils of fame. Perhaps it will help prepare you for America, where, I am told, the populace is yet more carnivorous than it is here.”

I can see that one of the vacant models is preparing herself to come to our table and ask for an autograph, hoping, since she is pretty — she has, that is, the usual female equipment, dramatized in the usual, modern way—to be invited for a drink. Should the maneuver succeed, one of her boy friends or girl friends will contrive to come by the table, asking for a light or a pencil or a lipstick, and it will be extremely difficult not to invite this person to join us, too. Before the evening ends, we will be surrounded. I don’t, now, know what I expected of fame, but I suppose it never occurred to me that the light could be just as dangerous, just as killing, as the dark.

“Well, let’s make it brief,” I tell him. “Sometimes I wish that you weren’t quite so fond of me.”

He laughs. “There are some very interesting people here tonight. Look.

Across the room from us. and now staring at our table, are a group of American Negro students, who are probably visiting Paris for the first time. There are four of them, two boys and two girls, and I suppose that they must be in their late teens or early twenties. One of the boys, a gleaming, curly-haired, golden-brown type — the color of his mother’s fried chicken — is carrying a guitar. When they realize we have noticed them, they smile and wave — wave as though I were one of their possessions, as, indeed, I am. Golden-brown is a mime. He raises his guitar, drops his shoulders, and his face falls into the lugubrious lines of Chico’s face as he approaches death. He strums a little of the film’s theme music, and I laugh and the table laughs. It is as though we were all back home and had met for a moment, on a Sunday morning, say, before a church or a poolroom or a barbershop.

And they have created a sensation in the discothèque, naturally, having managed, with no effort whatever, to outwit all the gleaming boys and girls. Their table, which had been of no interest only a moment before, has now become the focus of a rather pathetic attention; their smiles have made it possible for the others to smile, and to nod in our direction.

“Oh,” says Vidal, “he does that far better than you ever did. perhaps I will make him a star.”

“Feel free, m’sieu, le bon Dieu, I got mine!” But I can see that his attention has really been caught by one of the girls, slim, tense, and dark, who seems, though it is hard to know how one senses such things, to be treated by the others with a special respect. And, in fact, the table now seems to be having a council of war, to be demanding her opinion or her cooperation. She listens, frowning, laughing; the quality, the force of her intelligence causes her face to keep changing all the time, as though a light played on it. And, presently, with a gesture she might once have used to scatter feed to chickens, she scoops up from the floor one of those dangling rag bags women love to carry. She holds it loosely by the drawstrings, so that it is banging somewhere around her ankle, and walks over to our table. She has an honest, forthright walk, entirely unlike the calculated, pelvic workout by means of which most women get about. She is small, but sturdily, economically, put together.

As she reaches our table, Vidal and I rise, and this throws her for a second. (It has been a longtime since I have seen such an attractive girl.)

Also, everyone, of course, is watching us. It is really a quite curious moment. They have put on the record of Chico singing a sad, angry Martinique ballad: my own voice is coming at us from the walls as the girl looks from Vidal to me, and smiles.

“I guess you know,” she says, “we weren’t about to let you get out of here without bugging you just a little bit. We’ve only been in Paris just a couple of days and we thought for sure that we wouldn’t have a chance of running into you anywhere, because it’s in all the papers that you’re coming home.”

“Yes,” I say, “yes. I’m leaving the day after tomorrow.”

“Oh!” She grins. “ Then we really are lucky.” I find that I have almost forgotten the urchinlike grin of a colored girl, “I guess, before I keep babbling on, I’d better introduce myself. My name is Ada Holmes.”

We shake hands. “This is Monsieur Vidal, the director of the film.”

“I’m very honored to meet you, sir.”

“Will you join us for a moment? Won’t you sit clown?” And Vidal pulls a chair out for her.

But she frowns contritely. “I really ought to get back to my friends.” She looks at me. “I really just came over to say, for myself and all the kids, that we’ve got your records and we’ve seen your movie, and it means so much to us” — and she laughs, breathlessly, nervously, it is somehow more moving than tears—“more than I can say. Much more. And we wanted to know if you and your friend” —she looks at Vidal — “your director, Monsieur Vidal, would allow us to buy you a drink? We’d be very honored if you would.”

“It is we who are honored,” says Vidal, promptly, ”and grateful. We were getting terribly bored with one another, thank God you came along.”

The three of us laugh, and we cross the room.

THE three at the table rise, and Ada makes the introductions. The other girl, taller and paler than Ada, is named Ruth. One of the boys is named Talley — “short for Talliafero” — and Golden-brown’s name is Pete. “Man,” he tells me, “I dig you the most. You tore me up, baby, tore me up.”

“You tore up a lot of people,” Talley says, cryptically, and he and Ruth laugh. Vidal does not know, but I do, that Talley is probably referring to white people.

They are from New Orleans and Tallahassee and North Carolina; are college students, and met on the boat. They have been in Europe all summer, in Italy and Spain, but are only just getting to Paris.

“We meant to come sooner,” says Ada, “but we could never make up our minds to leave a place. I thought we’d never pry Ruth loose from Venice.”

“I resigned myself,” says Pete, “and just sat in the Piazza San Marco, drinking gin fizz and being photographed with the pigeons, while Ruth had herself driven all up and down the Grand Canal.” He looks at Ruth. “Finally, thank heaven, it rained.”

“She was working off her hostilities,” says Ada, with a grin. “We thought we might as well let her do it in Venice, the opportunities in North Carolina are really terribly limited.”

“There are some very upset people walking around down there,” Ruth says, “and a couple of tours around the Grand Canal might do them a world of good.”

Pete laughs. “Can’t you just see Ruth escorting them to the edge of the water?”

“I haven’t lifted my hand in anger yet,” Ruth says, “but, oh, Lord,” and she laughs, clenching and unclenching her fists.

“You haven’t been back for a long time, have you?” Talley asks me.

“Eight years. I haven’t really lived there for twelve years.”

Pete whistles. “I fear you are in for some surprises, my friend. There have been some changes made.” Then, “Are you afraid?”

“A little.”

“We all are,” says Ada, “that’s why I was so glad to get away for a little while.”

“Then you haven’t been back since Black Monday,” Talley says. He laughs. “That’s how it’s gone down in Confederate history.” He turns to Vidal. “What do people think about it here?”

Vidal smiles, delighted. “It seems extraordinarily infantile behavior, even for Americans, from whom, I must say, I have never expected very much in the way of maturity.” Everyone at the table laughs. Vidal goes on. “But I cannot really talk about it, I do not understand it. I have never really understood Americans; I am an old man now, and I suppose I never will. There is something very nice about them, something very winning, but they seem so ignorant — so ignorant of life. Perhaps it is strange, but the only people from your country with whom ! have ever made contact are black people — like my good friend, my discovery, here,” and he slaps me on the shoulder. “Perhaps it is because we, in Europe, whatever else we do not know, or have forgotten, know about suffering. We have suffered here. You have suffered, too. But most Americans do not yet know what anguish is. It is too bad, because the life of the West is in their hands.” He turns to Ada. “I cannot help saying that I think it is a scandal —and we may all pay very dearly for it — that a civilized nation should elect to represent it a man who is so simple that he thinks the world is simple.” And silence falls at the table and the four young faces stare at him.

“Well,” says Pete, at last, turning to me, “you won’t be bored, man, when you get back there.”

“It’s much too nice a night,” I say, “to stay cooped up in this place, where all I can hear is my own records.” We laugh. “Why don’t we get out of here and find a sidewalk cafe?” I tap

Pete’s guitar. “Maybe we can find out if you’ve got any talent.”

“Oh, talent I’ve got,” says Pete, “but character, man, I’m lacking.”

So, after some confusion about the bill, for which Vidal has already made himself responsible, we walk out into the Paris night. It is very strange to feel that, very soon now, these boulevards will not exist for me. People will be walking up and down, as they arc tonight, and lovers will be murmuring in the black shadows of the plane trees, and there will be these same still figures on the benches or in the parks — but they will not exist for me, I will not be here. For a long while Paris will no longer exist for me, except in my mind; and only in the minds of some people will I exist any longer for Paris. After departure, only invisible things are left, perhaps the life of the world is held together by invisible chains of memory and loss and love. So many things, so many people, depart! and we can only repossess them in our minds. Perhaps this is what the old folks meant, what my mother and my father meant, when they counseled us to keep the faith.

WE HAVE taken a table at the Deux Magots and Pete strums on his guitar and begins to play this song:

Preach the word, preach the word, preach the word!
If I never, never see you any more.
Preach the word, preach the word.
And I’ll meet you on Canaan’s shore.

He has a strong, clear, boyish voice, like a young preacher’s, and he is smiling as he sings his song. Ada and I look at each other and grin, and Vidal is smiling. The waiter looks a little worried, for we are already beginning to attract a crowd, but it is a summer night, the gendarmes on the corner do not seem to mind, and there will be time, anyway, to stop us.

Pete was not there, none of us were, the first time this song was needed; and no one now alive can imagine what that time was like. But the song has come down the bloodstained ages. I suppose this to mean that the song is still needed, still has its work to do.

The others are all, visibly, very proud of Pete; and we all join him, and people stop to listen:

Testify! Testify!
If I never, never see you any more!
Testify! Testify!
I’ll meet you on Canaan’s shore!

In the crowd that has gathered to listen to us, I see a face I know, the face of a North African prize fighter, who is no longer in the ring. I used to know him well in the old days, but have not seen him for a long time. He looks quite well, his face is shining, he is quite decently dressed. And something about the way he holds himself, not quite looking at our table, tells me that he has seen me, but does not want to risk a rebuff. So I call him. “Boona!”

And he turns, smiling, and comes loping over to our table, his hands in his pockets. Pete is still singing and Ada and Vidal have taken off on a conversation of their own. Ruth and Talley look curiously, expectantly, at Boona. Now that I have called him over, I feel somewhat uneasy. I realize that I do not know what he is doing now, or how he will get along with any of these people, and I can see in his eyes that he is delighted to be in the presence of two young girls. There are virtually no North African women in Paris, and not even the dirty, rat-faced girls who live, apparently, in cafes are willing to go with an Arab. So Boona is always looking for a girl, and because he is so deprived and because he is not Western, his techniques can be very unsettling. I know he is relieved that the girls are not French and not white. He looks briefly at Vidal and Ada. Vidal, also, though for different reasons, is always looking for a girl.

But Boona has always been very nice to me. Perhaps I am sorry that I called him over, but I did not want to snub him.

He claps one hand to the side of my head, as is his habit. “Comment vas-tu, mon frère? I have not see you, oh, for long time.” And he asks me, as in the old days, “You all right? Nobody bother you?” And he laughs. “Ah! Tu as fait le chemin, toi! Now you are vedette, big star — wonderful!” He looks around the table, made a little uncomfortable by the silence that has fallen, now that Pete has stopped singing. “I have seen you in the movies — you know? — and I tell everybody, I know him!” He points to me, and laughs, and Ruth and Talley laugh with him. “That’s right, man, you make me real proud, you make me cry!”

“Boona, I want you to meet some friends of mine.” And I go round the table: “Ruth, Talley, Ada, Pete”—and he bows and shakes hands, his dark eyes gleaming with pleasure — “et Monsieur Vidal, le metteur en scène du film qui t’a arraché des larmes.”

“Enchanté.” But his attitude toward Vidal is colder, more distrustful. “Of course I have heard ol Monsieur Vidal. He is the director of many films, many of them made me cry.” This last statement is utterly, even insolently, insincere.

But Vidal, I think, is relieved that I will now be forced to speak to Boona and will leave him alone with Ada.

“Sit down,” I say, “have a drink with us, let me have your news. What’s been happening with you, what are you doing with yourself these days?”

“Ah,” he sits down, “nothing very brilliant, my brother.” He looks at me quickly, with a little smile. “You know, we have been having hard times here.”

“Where are you from?” Ada asks him.

His brilliant eyes take her in entirely, but she does not flinch. “I am from Tunis.” He says it proudly, with a little smile.

“From Tunis. I have never been to Africa, I would love to go one day.”

He laughs. “Africa is a big place. Very big. There are many countries in Africa, many” —he looks briefly at Vidal — “different kinds of people, many colonies.”

“But Tunis.,” she continues, in her innocence, “is free? Freedom is happening all over Africa. That’s why I would like to go there.”

“I have not been back for a long time,” says Boona, “but all the news I get from Tunis, from my people, is not good.”

“Wouldn’t you like to go back?" Ruth asks.

Again he looks at Vidal. “That is not so easy.”

Vidal smiles. “You know what I would like to do? There’s a wonderful Spanish place not far from here, where we can listen to live music and dance a little.” He turns to Ada. “Would you like that?”

He is leaving it up to me to get rid of Boona, and it is, of course, precisely for this reason that I cannot do it. Besides, it is no longer so simple.

“Oh, I’d love that,” says Ada, and she turns to Boona. “Won’t you come, too?”

“Thank you, mam’selle,” he says, softly, and his tongue flicks briefly over his lower lip, and he smiles. He is very moved, people are not often nice to him.

IN THE Spanish place there are indeed a couple of Spanish guitars, drums, castanets, and a piano, but the uses to which these are being put carry one back, as Pete puts it, to the levee. “These are the wailingest Spanish cats I ever heard,” says Ruth. “They didn’t learn how to do this in Spain, no, they didn’t, they been rambling. You ever hear anything like this going on in Spain?” Talley takes her out on the dance floor, which is already crowded. A very handsome Frenchwoman is dancing with an enormous, handsome black man, who seems to be her lover, who seems to have taught her how to dance. Apparently, they are known to the musicians, who egg them on with small cries of “Olé!” It is a very goodnatured crowd, mostly foreigners, Spaniards, Swedes, Greeks. Boona takes Ada out on the dance floor while Vidal is answering some questions put to him by Pete on the entertainment situation in France. Vidal looks a little put out, and I am amused.

We are there for perhaps an hour, dancing, talking, and I am, at last, a little drunk. In spite of Boona, who is a very good and tireless dancer, Vidal continues his pursuit of Ada, and I begin to wonder if he will make it and I begin to wonder if I want him to.

I am still puzzling out my reaction when Pete, who has disappeared, comes in through the front door, catches my eye, and signals to me. I leave the table and follow him into the streets.

He looks very upset. “I don’t want to bug you, man,” he says, “but I fear your boy has goofed.”

I know he is not joking. I think he is probably angry at Vidal because of Ada, and I wonder what I can do about it and why he should be telling me.

I stare at him, gravely, and he says, “It looks like he stole some money.”

“Stole money? Who, Vidal?”

And then, of course, I get it, in the split second before he says, impatiently, “No, are you kidding? Your friend, the Tunisian.”

I do not know what to say or what to do, and so I temporize with questions. All the time I am wondering if this can be true and what I can do about it if it is. The trouble is, I know that Boona steals, he would probably not be alive if he didn’t, but I cannot say so to these children, who probably still imagine that everyone who steals is a thief. But he has never, to my knowledge, stolen from a friend. It seems unlike him. I have always thought of him as being better than that, and smarter than that. And so I cannot believe it, but neither can I doubt it. I do not know anything about Boona’s life, these days. This causes me to realize that I do not really know much about Boona.

“Who did he steal it from?”

“From Ada. Out of her bag.”

“How much?”

“Ten dollars. It’s not an awful lot of money, but” — he grimaces — “none of us have an awful lot of money.”

“I know.” The dark side street on which we stand is nearly empty. The only sound on the street is the muffled music of the Spanish club. “How do you know it was Boona?”

He anticipates my own unspoken rejoinder. “Who else could it be? Besides — somebody saw him do it.”

“Somebody saw him?”


I do not ask him who this person is, for fear that he will say it is Vidal.

“Well,” I say, “I’ll try to get it back.” I think that I will take Boona aside and then replace the money myself. “Was it in dollars or in francs?”

“In francs.”

I have no dollars and this makes it easier. I do not know how I can possibly face Boona and accuse him of stealing money from my friends. I would rather give him the benefit of even the faintest doubt. But, “Who saw him?” I ask.

“Talley. But we didn’t want to make a thing about it —”

“Does Ada know it’s gone?”

“Yes.” He looks at me helplessly. “I know this makes you feel pretty bad, but we thought we’d better tell you, rather than”— lamely — “anybody else.”

Now, Ada comes out of the club, carrying her ridiculous handbag, and with her lace all knotted and sad. “Oh,” she says, “I hate to cause all this trouble, it’s not worth it, not for ten lousy dollars.”

I am astonished to see that she has been weeping, and tears come to her eyes now.

I put my arm around her shoulder. “Come on, now. You’re not causing anybody any trouble and, anyway, it’s nothing to cry about.”

“It isn’t your fault, Ada,” Pete says, miserably.

“Oh, I ought to get a sensible handbag,” she says, “like you’re always telling me to do,” and she laughs a little, then looks at me. “Please don’t try to do anything about it. Let’s just forget it.”

“What’s happening inside?” I ask her.

“Nothing. They’re just talking. I think Mr. Vidal is dancing with Ruth. He’s a great dancer, that little Frenchman.”

“He’s a great talker, too,” Pete says.

“Oh, he doesn’t mean anything,” says Ada, “he’s just having fun. He probably doesn’t get a chance to talk to many American girls.”

“He certainly made, up for lost time tonight.”

“Look,” I say, “if Talley and Boona are alone, maybe you better go back in. We’ll be in in a minute. Let’s try to keep this as quiet as we can.”

“Yeah,” he says, “okay. We’re going soon anyway, okay?”

“Yes,” she tells him, “right away.”

But as he turns away, Boona and Talley step out into the street, and it is clear that Talley feels that he has Boona under arrest. I almost laugh, the whole thing is beginning to resemble one of those mad French farces with people flying in and out of doors; but Boona comes straight to me.

“They say I stole money, my friend. You know me, you arc the only one here who knows me, you know I would not do such a thing.”

I look at him and I do not know what to say. Ada looks at him with her eyes full of tears and looks away. I take Boona’s arm.

“We’ll be back in a minute,” I say. We walk a few paces up the dark, silent street.

“She say I take her money,” he says. He, too, looks as though he is about to weep — but I do not know for which reason. “You know me, you know me almost twelve years, you think I do such a thing?”

Talley saw you. I want to say, but I cannot say it. Perhaps Talley only thought he saw him. Perhaps it is easy to see a boy who looks like Boona with his hand in an American girl’s purse.

“If you not believe me,” he says, “search me. Search me!" And he opens his arms wide, theatrically, and now there are tears standing in his eyes.

I do not know what his tears mean, but I certainly cannot search him. I want to say, I know you steal, I know you have to steal. Perhaps you took the money out of this girl’s purse in order to eat tomorrow, in order not to be thrown into the streets tonight, in order to stay out of jail. This girl means nothing to you, after all, she is only an American, an American like me. Perhaps, I suddenly think, no girl means anything to you, or ever will again, they have beaten you too hard and kept you in the gutter too long. And I also think. If you would steal from her, then of course you would lie to me, neither of us means anything to you; perhaps, in your eyes, we are simply luckier gangsters in a world which is run by gangsters. But I cannot say any of these things to Boona. i cannot say, Tell me the truth, nobody cares about the money any more.

So I say, “Of course I will not search you.” And I realize that he knew that I would not.

“I think it is that Frenchman who say I am a thief. They think we all are thieves.” His eyes are bright and bitter. He looks over my shoulder. “They have all come out of the club now.”

I look around and they are all there, in a little dark knot on the sidewalk.

“Don’t worry,” I say. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You believe me? My brother?” And his eyes look into mine with a terrible intensity.

“Yes,” I force myself to say, “yes, of course, I believe you. Someone made a mistake, that’s all.”

“You know, the way American girls run around, they have their sack open all the time, she could lose the money anywhere. Why she blame me? Because I come from Africa?” Tears are glittering on his face. “Here she come now.”

And Ada comes up the street with her straight, determined walk. She walks straight to Boona and takes his hand. “I am sorry,” she says, “for everything that happened. Please believe me. It isn’t worth all this fuss. I’m sure you’re a very nice person, and”—she falters—“I must have lost the money, I’m sure I lost it.” She looks at him. “It isn’t worth hurting your feelings, and I’m terribly sorry about it.”

“I no take your money,” he says. “Really, truly, I no take it. Ask him”— pointing to me, grabbing me by the arm, shaking me — “he know me for years, he will tell you that I never, never steal!”

“I’m sure,” she says. “I’m sure.”

I lake Boona by the arm again. “Let’s forget it. Let’s forget it all. We’re all going home now, and one of these days we’ll have a drink again and we’ll forget all about it, all right?”

“Yes,” says Ada, “let us forget it.” And she holds out her hand.

Boona takes it, wonderingly. His eyes take her in again. “You are a very nice girl. Really. A very nice girl.”

“I’m sure you’re a nice person, too.” She pauses. “Good night.”

“Good night,” he says, after a long silence.

Then he kisses me on both cheeks. “Au revoir, mon frère.”

“Au revoir, Boona”

After a moment we turn and walk away, leaving him standing there.

“Did he take it?” asks Vidal.

“I tell you, I saw him,” says Talley.

“Well,” I say, “it doesn’t matter now.” I look back and see Boona’s stocky figure disappearing down the street.

“No,” says Ada, “it doesn’t matter.” She looks up. “It’s almost morning.”

“I would gladly,” says Vidal, stammering, “gladly —”

But she is herself again. “I wouldn’t think of it. We had a wonderful time tonight, a wonderful time, and I wouldn’t think of it.” She turns to me with that urchinlike grin. “It was wonderful meeting you. I hope you won’t have too much trouble getting used to the States again.”

“Oh, I don’t think I will,” I say. And then, “I hope you won’t.”

“No,” she says, “I don’t think anything they can do will surprise me any more.”

“Which way are we all going?” asks Vidal. “I hope someone will share my taxi with me.”

But he lives in the sixteenth arrondissemenf, which is not in anyone’s direction. We walk him to the line of cabs standing under the clock at Odeon.

And we look each other in the face, in the growing morning light. His face looks weary and lined and lonely. He puts both hands on my shoulders and then puts one hand on the nape of my neck. “Do not forget me, Chico,” he says. “You must come back and see us, one of these days. Many of us depend on you for many things.”

“I’ll be back,” I say. “I’ll never forget you.”

He raises his eyebrows and smiles. “Alors, adieu.”

“Adieu, Vidal.”

“I was happy to meet all of you,”he says. He looks at Ada. “Perhaps we will meet again before you leave.”

“Perhaps,” she says. “Good-by, Monsieur Vidal.”


Vidal’s cab drives away. “I also leave you now,” I say. “I must go home and wake up my son and prepare for our journey.”

I leave them standing on the corner, under the clock, which points to six. They look very strange and lost and determined, the four of them. Just before my cab turns off the boulevard, I wave to them and they wave back.

Mme. Dumont is in the hall, mopping the floor.

“Did all my family get home?” I ask. I feel very cheerful, I do not know why.

“Yes,” she says, “they are all here. Paul is still sleeping.”

“May I go in and get him?”

She looks at me in surprise. “Of course.”

So I walk into her apartment and walk into the room where Paul lies sleeping. I stand over his bed for a long time.

Perhaps my thoughts travel — travel through to him. He opens his eyes and smiles up at me. He puts a fist to his eyes and raises his arms. “Bonjour, Papa.”

I lift him up. “Bonjour. How do you feel today?”

“Oh, I don’t know yet,” he says.

I laugh. I put him on my shoulder and walk out into the hall. Mme. Dumont looks up at him with her radiant, aging face.

“Ah,” she says, “you are going on a journey! How does it feel?”

“He doesn’t know yet,” I tell her. I walk to the elevator door and open it, dropping Paul down to the crook of my arm.

She laughs again. “He will know later. What a journey! Jusqu’au nouveau monde!

I open the cage and we step inside. “Yes,” I say, “all the way to the new world.” I press the button and the cage, holding my son and me, goes up.