Just One Year, Page 2Gayle Forman
“Ce ne sera pas nécessaire,” I say.
“Ahh, you speak French?” he asks in French.
I nod. “It came back to me. ”
“Good. Everything else will, too. ”
“So I can go?”
“Someone must come for you! And you have to make a report to the police. ”
Police. It will be hours. And I have nothing to tell them, really. I take the coin back out and play it across my knuckle. “No police!”
The doctor follows the coin as it flips across my hand. “Do you have problems with the police?” he asks.
“No. It’s not that. I have to find someone,” I say. The coin clatters to the floor.
The doctor picks it up and hands it to me. “Find who?”
Perhaps it’s the casual way he asked; my bruised brain doesn’t have time to scramble it before spitting it out. Or perhaps the fog is lifting now, and leaving a terrific headache behind. But there it is, a name, on my lips, like I say it all the time.
“Ahh, Lulu. Très bien!” The doctor claps his hands together. “Let us call this Lulu. She can come get you. Or we can bring her to you. ”
It is too much to explain that I don’t know where Lulu is. Only that she’s in the white room and she’s waiting for me and she’s been waiting for a long time. And I have this terrible feeling, and it’s not just because I’m in a hospital where things are routinely lost, but because of something else.
“I have to go,” I insist. “If I don’t go now, it could be too late. ”
The doctor looks at the clock on the wall. “It is not yet two o’clock. Not late at all. ”
“It might be too late for me. ” Might be. As if whatever is going to happen hasn’t already happened.
The doctor looks at me for a long minute. Then he shakes his head. “It is better to wait. A few more hours, your memory will return, and you will find her. ”
“I don’t have a few hours!”
I wonder if he can keep me here against my will. I wonder if at this moment I even have a will. But something pulls me forward, through the mist and the pain. “I have to go,” I insist. “Now. ”
The doctor looks at me and sighs. “D’accord. ” He hands me a sheaf of papers, tells me I am to rest for the next two days, clean my wound every day, the sutures will dissolve. Then he hands me a small card. “This is the police inspector. I will tell him to expect your call tomorrow. ”
“You have somewhere to go?” he asks.
Céline’s club. I recite the address. The Métro stop. These I remember easily. These I can find.
“Okay,” the doctor says. “Go to the billing office to check out, and then you may go. ”
“Thank you. ”
He touches me on the shoulder, reminds me to take it easy. “I am sorry Paris brought you such misfortune. ”
I turn to face him. He’s wearing a name tag and the blurriness in my vision has subsided so I can focus on it. docteur robinet, it reads. And while my vision is okay, the day is still muddy, but I get this feeling about it. A hazy feeling of something—not quite happiness, but solidness, stepping on earth after being at sea for too long—fills me up. It tells me that whoever this Lulu is, something happened between us in Paris, something that was the opposite of misfortune.
At the billing office, I fill out a few thousand forms. There are problems when they ask for an address. I don’t have one. I haven’t for such a long time. But they won’t let me leave until I supply one. At first, I think to give them Marjolein, my family’s attorney. She’s who Yael has deal with all her important mail, and whom, I realize too late, I was supposed to meet with today—or was it tomorrow? Or yesterday now?—in Amsterdam. But if a hospital bill goes to Marjolein, then all of this goes straight back to Yael, and I don’t want to explain it to her. I don’t want to not explain it, either, in the more likely event she never asks about it.
“Can I give you a friend’s address?” I ask the clerk.
“I don’t care if you give me the Queen of England’s address so long as we have somewhere to mail the bill,” she says.
I can give them Broodje’s address in Utrecht. “One moment,” I say.
“Take your time, mon chéri. ”
I lean on the counter and rifle through my address book, flipping through the last year of accumulated acquaintances. There are countless names of people I don’t remember, names I didn’t remember even before I got this nasty bump on my head. There’s a message to Remember the caves in Matala. I do remember the caves, and the girl who wrote the message, but not why I’m supposed to remember them.
I find Robert-Jan’s address right at the front. I read it to the clerk, and as I close the book it falls open to one of the last pages. There’s all this unfamiliar writing, and at first I think my eyesight must really be messed up, but then I realize it’s just that the words are not English or Dutch but Chinese.
And for a second, I’m not here in this hospital, but I’m on a boat, with her, and she’s writing in my notebook. I remember. She spoke Chinese. She showed it to me. I turn the page, and there’s this.
There’s no translation next to it, but I somehow know what that character means.
I see the character here in the book. And I see it larger, on a sign. Double happiness. Is that where she is?
“Is there maybe a Chinese restaurant or store nearby?” I ask the clerk.
She scratches her hair with a pencil and consults a colleague. They start to argue about the best place to eat.
“No,” I explain. “Not to eat. I’m looking for this. ” I show them the character in my book.
They look at each other and shrug.
“A Chinatown?” I ask.
“In the thirteenth arrondissement,” one replies.
“Left Bank. ”
“Would an ambulance have brought me here from there?” I ask.
“No, of course not,” she answers.
“There’s a smaller one in Belleville,” the other clerk offers.
“It is a few kilometers from here, not far,” the first clerk explains and tells me how to get to the Métro.
I put on my rucksack, and leave.
I don’t get far. My rucksack feels like it’s full of wet cement. When I left Holland two years ago, I carried a big pack with many more things. But then it got stolen and I never replaced it, instead making do with a smaller bag. Over time, the rucksacks kept getting smaller and smaller, because there’s so little a person actually needs. These days, all I keep is a few changes of clothes, some books, some toiletries, but now even that feels like too much. When I go down the stairs into the Métro, the bag bounces with each step, and pain knifes deep into me.
“Bruised, not broken,” Dr. Robinet told me before I left. I thought he was talking about my spirit, but he’d been referring to my ribs.
On the Métro platform, I pull everything out of the rucksack except for my passport, wallet, address book, and toothbrush. When the train comes, I leave the rest on the platform. I’m lighter now, but it’s not any easier.
The Belleville Chinatown begins right after the Métro stop. I try to match the signs from her character in my book, but there are so many signs and the neon lettering looks nothing like those soft ink lines she wrote. I ask around for double happiness. I have no idea if I’m asking for a place, a person, a food, a state of mind. The Chinese people look frightened of me and no one answers, and I begin to wonder if maybe I’m not really speaking French, only imagining I do. Finally one of them, an old man with grizzled hands clutching an ornate cane, stares at me and then says, “You are a long way from double happiness. ”
I am about to ask what he means, where it is, but then I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a shop window, my
eye swelling purple, the bandage on my face seeping blood. I understand he isn’t talking about a place.
But then I do glimpse familiar letters. Not the double happiness character, but the SOS letters from the mysterious T-shirt I was wearing earlier at the hospital. I see it now on another T-shirt, worn by a guy my age with jagged hair and an armful of metal cuffs. Maybe he’s connected to double happiness somehow.
It winds me to catch up with him, a half block away. When I tap him on the shoulder, he turns around and steps back. I point to his shirt. I’m about to ask him what it means when he asks me in French, “What happened to you?”
“Skinheads,” I reply in English. It’s the same word all over. I explain in French that I was wearing a T-shirt like his before.
“Ahh,” he says, nodding. “The racists hate Sous ou Sur. They are very anti-fascist. ”
I nod, though I remember now why they beat me up, and I’m pretty certain it had little to do with my T-shirt.
“Can you help me?” I ask.
“I think you need a doctor, my friend. ”
I shake my head. That’s not what I need.
“What do you want?” the guy asks me.
“I’m looking for a place around here with a sign like this. ”
“What is it?”
“Double happiness. ”
“I’m not sure. ”
“What is it you’re looking for?”
“Maybe a store. Restaurant. Club. I don’t know, really. ”
“You don’t know shit, do you?”
“I know that I don’t know shit. That counts for something. ” I point to the egg on my head. “Things got scrambled. ”
He peers at my head. “You should have that looked at. ”
“I already did. ” I point to the bandage covering the stitches on my cheek.
“Shouldn’t you be resting or something?”
“Later. After I find it. The double happiness. ”
“What’s so important about this double happiness?”
I see her then, not just see her, but feel her, soft breath against my cheek as she whispered something to me just as I was falling asleep last night. I didn’t hear what she said. I only remember I was happy. To be in that white room. “Lulu,” I say.
“Oh. A girl. I’m on my way to see my girl. ” He pulls out his phone and texts something. “But she can wait; they always do!” He grins at me, showing off a set of defiantly crooked teeth.
He’s right. They do. Even when I didn’t know they would, even when I’d been gone a long time, the girls, they waited. I never cared one way or another.
We take off, walking up and down the narrow blocks, the air thick with the smell of stewed organs. I feel like I’m running to keep up with him, and the exertion sets my stomach churning again.
“You don’t look so pretty, friend,” he tells me right as I retch bile into the gutter. He looks vaguely alarmed. “Are you sure you don’t want a doctor?”
I shake my head, wipe my mouth, my eyes.
“Okay. I think maybe I should take you to meet my girl, Toshi. She works in this area, so she might know this double happiness place. ”
I follow him a few blocks. I’m still trying to find the double happiness sign, but it’s even harder now because I got some sick on my address book and the ink’s smeared. Also, there are black spots dancing before my eyes making it hard to see where the pavement really is.
When we finally stop, I almost cry in relief. Because we’ve found it, the double happiness place. Everything is familiar. The steel door, the red scaffolding, the distorted portraits, even the faded name on the facade, Ganterie, after the glove factory it must have once been. This is the place.
Toshi comes to the door, a tiny black girl with tight dreadlocks, and I want to hug her for delivering me to the white room. I want to march straight to the white room and lie down next to Lulu, to have everything feel right again.