Je Ne Sais Pais
by Ronen Manselle
It is true that love is a powerful, wonderful emotion. But it brings so much hate. This is what Matis believed – no, knew. It was after the boy's mother died that he began taking in Germans. He’d stand there on the porch all day, waiting. Sometimes Matis would join him.
There was something uncanny about the wait. It tugged at Matis, a horrible wrenching feeling. “A normal boy would smile,” he told his brother Antonie, the boy’s father. “Laugh, spend his time rolling over hills, breathe for heaven’s sake!” That was the last thing he’d ever told Antonie. “A normal boy,” the father said, coughing grievously on his bed, his face made wise by the lines and stretches that pulled even his brown hair to string, “does those things with his parents.”
Matis forced himself to suppress the memory.
“They beg us,” the boy said finally, still looking on the path. “’S'il vous plaît,’ they say. ‘Pour la France.’ How can words like that not bring a man to tears? Do you know what that invokes, for each man?”
“Would you help any man who begged you on the street?” Matis replied furiously. “Should any beggar cry ‘food, water!’ and invoke the name of France, must all men rush by his side? It is the man’s own fault he is poor. ‘They beg us!’” Matis imitated this dramatically, holding out his hands as if in a spout of passion. “‘Pour la France!’ How carelessly do these Germans invoke the spirit of France? They beg us unto death!”
The boy looked sadder now, but still unwilling to look from the pebble path that led to their cottage.
“The ugly maiden cries!” Matis stomped his foot. “Bleh! What, must we roll over dead?”
“The Germans are not bad men,” the boy said quietly. “They are men.”
“I have heard that. I have heard that they will give you a song, if you ask nicely. S'il vous plaît, sing me a pretty song!” Matis snorted.
“I do not think I understand,” the boy told him.
“Of course you don’t understand,” Matis told his nephew. “You speak in lyrics! Twisted tongue, lyrics, verse, but not French. Not everyone feels the same as you. The man coming today will probably forget about you the next month. Ditto for every other man who’s come here.”
The boy shook his head. He crossed his arms stiffly, while a cool breeze rolled over the hills and through his loose hair.
“But... that’s not what matters,” he said. “I help anyone who crosses this path. There are no exceptions. Only wanderers – and this war has made so many of those. You say they sing over the trenches. Of course they will sing! That is their magnum opus, insight into their final dreams crushed by the war – we are not so different, Matis.”
Matis spat to his side.
“You say you are waiting for an old man, with blue eyes?” Matis grumbled, his eyes wandering over the empty horizon. “Is he a Hun?”
“The letter did not specify.”
“Well, what was his surname? I can tell such things. Give me a name.”
“I was not given a name.”
“He is probably a Hun.” Matis said this assuredly, as his chair creaked, and the sun peaked around their little porch to discover his worn features.
The gentle breeze became the noise of the moment, and it swallowed their little conversation. Matis tried to rest in the quiet, tried to lay back in his rocking chair, tried to shut out all the world. But he could not. All that filled his mind was the Huns. He could never trust them. Everything they did was of hate.
“You are nothing good, boy!” Matis cried. “You are bad news again and again. You and your nasty love, your nasty, evil love. You and your morals, and your pride!” Matis rose harshly, turning to glare at the boy, and he found the boy looking straight back at him. Matis could not hold the look for long. “I hate people like you. If only I were not your uncle... if only your father was here... you both have the same, nasty love.”
“I am glad you are here.”
“Well, I wish I were not!” Matis tried sitting back down, but grew awkward, and rose to stare deep into the boy’s eyes. They were blue – much like those of his mother. They were blue like the sky. Every emotion was in those eyes, so much so that Matis could not stand to look into them. “If only you were not so much like your mother. At least your father was French – but how could anyone love a German? They are not even human.”
Matis burned with these bitter words, which ate him up from the inside out, his emotion growing distraught.
“In every man,” the boy said with a cautious smile, “there is something that runs deep. It is some peculiar emotion, buried inside mankind. Some calling that churns around in our souls. It is impossible to name. Those who try merely end up grasping air – silky, white air, blown around with veins of sticks and leaves. It is inseparable from us. We all run from it... we all run... do you know what it is, Matis?”
“Je ne pas,” Matis said hopelessly, barely keeping his voice from choking up. “I do not know... je ne pas, je ne sais pas! ... your father knew, and I do not.”
“That is where you are wrong,” the boy said stubbornly, nodding his head. “It is a choice. You do not have to hate the Germans. You do not have to hate this time. You may just wait... wait, and watch, and dream.”
And to this Matis cried. It was a ferocious, coughing sob, one with tears still learning the way down his cheeks. It was so much more than the words the boy had said.
Some harsh feeling had been sitting in Matis for a long, long time. It had been waiting in the very corners of his soul, deciding now to surface itself. For all of his life, he had been running, while staying in the same spot. He’d forgotten how little it mattered who came to their small cottage, and the buried joy he felt at the chance to welcome them.
For a long time, the two men sat there, one in tears, the other standing, leaning, eyes fixed forever on the winding path, waiting.
The boy was cursed – or perhaps more awake than any – to know the heart of man. He could not help but see the human in all suffering. The boy was cursed forever to wait, and Matis would stay with him, for he could not leave the boy alone, not for any reason, not all he had left. And when the sun would finally set, he would still keep watch over his little boy.
Ronen Manselle is an avid writer who often spends his free time researching history, talking walks, or listening to music. He loves reading fantasy and historical novels.
Phuong Tran is a visual art major and is currently a junior at an arts academy. He has an identical twin sister and three dogs.