Every time I check the mail, I see the name of a martyr that France has wept since most of us stood united in early 2015 behind a sentence that started with “Je suis.” His name in proper spelling, with its final T, printed on a white rectangular label made by the co-op some decades ago. Before his name is his widow’s (more commonly referred to as the upstairs neighbor), the two names hyphenated together. I moved into the building less than a month before the attack, had never met him or her. I wasn’t even aware that they had been living for years in what has now become my building. It took me some time to understand why all these people were appearing in the staircase with a look I had never seen before on anyone’s face. I remember being surprised by what they were bringing her—care packages of necessities, including multiple copies of the daily, weekly, and monthly papers.
Time has passed by but we still occasionally meet in the staircase. She once asked me if I knew who she was. I don’t remember what I answered. We talk for a while or maybe a little every time we meet. She doesn’t know how to pronounce my name. I have never bothered to correct her. The other neighbors mispronounce it as well, yet in a different way.
The first time she cried in front of me I didn’t know what to do. Truth is, I don’t remember meeting her on the stairs without seeing her cry. When we meet on the street or uninterestingly enough at the hair salon, she manages to hold it together. But within the confinement of our building, there’s no way for her to hold her tears inside. She will be standing there with groceries, hesitating to climb the stairs to her floor or to stay in between floors with me discussing how life is going these days. It’s easy to see that she has been happy in her life. Her happiness has not worn off year after year. You can still see traces of it on her classically featured, sweet face. It is as if her muscles still remember what it is like to stand still with no negative thoughts. Once she told me she was sure I was raised in a house that read his newspaper. I lied. Truth is, we never bought it. We didn’t like the way the drawings looked.
One night after going to the movies, I picked up the mail from my mailbox. Number nine. I did so in a way that was almost burdensome. The mailboxes are further down in the courtyard, after the door of the part of the building I live in. It always feels unnatural for some reason to go all the way to those mailboxes. As I robotically crossed the courtyard back to my building and typed the code to the front door, I stumbled upon an envelope with a name different than mine. There it is, I thought. There he is. Black letters on white paper. His full name—not the one used when they mention him on TV. The power of reading his actual civilian name. His first name I had heard no one use but her. It was a rather thin envelope, those long shaped ones. There was probably just one page of A4 horizontally folded in three inside. Short of breath and with my eyes focused on those few letters, I turned around to put it in the correct mailbox. Hers. Number eight. I did so in a weird rush, my heart pounding as if I had just run to catch the bus, but with an additional hint of embarrassment. It was as if I had stolen something in order to find out a secret that was not mine to discover. When I got to my apartment seconds later, it took me a minute to calm down. I remember not taking my coat off right away as if I had something else to do, or would maybe need to go out again. Eventually, I got over myself and went to bed. I wondered afterwards why I hadn’t given it to her directly. I very well could have slid it under her door. His mail.
Haydée Touitou is a writer from Paris, France working mainly in English. Haydée has been published in different independent publications including Apartamento magazine for which she is today one of the contributing editors. Her non-fiction writing has also been presented in Double magazine or Kennedy magazine among others. She works as an editorial consultant for brands and agencies, with a range of missions going from producing editorial content for both internal and external communication, as well as overseeing the making, editing, and publishing of books. In 2017, Haydée co-founded The Skirt Chronicles, a collaborative publication that aims at reflecting a feminine voice without excluding anyone from the conversation. Haydée is currently working on her first book, a collection of four short stories entitled Name in Full as well as other projects including a book in translation and a children’s book.