Tuesday, February 4, 2020

the last book I ever read (Virginie Despentes's Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel, excerpt nine)

from Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne):

It was taken him three days to resign himself to sit down and beg. He spent the first day entombed in the Métro. Riding the lines from one end to the other. He rode them all. He dozed, he read the newspapers people left behind when they got off, he watched the stations flash past, he made connections, he listened to buskers. He got off at a random station, let several trains pass, then got on again and rode all the way to the terminus. To throw people off the scent. Not that anyone noticed what he was doing.

He came up to the surface when the Métro gates closed. He was somewhere near Passy. He spent his first night sleeping on the streets sheltering in an ATM booth. The weirdest thing was finding himself scouring the darkness for cardboard boxes to insulate him from the cold floor. It felt oddly as though he were playing a role. He could not quite believe what was happening. Taking advantage of a drunk from the sixteenth arrondissement staggering up to the ATM, he stepped in behind, pretending to wait his turn, cool, laid-back, three cardboard boxes tucked under his arm. Then he nipped inside, settled himself on the ground, head propped on his backpack, and waited for dawn to break and the Métro to reopen. A blanket wouldn’t have gone amiss. He is still not properly equipped. The following morning at five, he was waiting for the Métro to open, he had a nap on Line 8 then got off at République, still determined to pretend he was a guy who was going somewhere. He sat for a few hours—or a few minutes, time had lost all meaning—on uncomfortable benches staring at the wall opposite like someone preoccupied by minor everyday concerns. This time spent moving from station to station had left him covered with a film of black grime. Needing to get some air, he had come up to the surface. He walked for a long time, looking into shop windows like any other pedestrian. When he reached Opéra, he went into the Apple Store to get warm. The staff in their blue T-shirts didn’t notice him, there were too many people clamoring for their attention. He logged in to Facebook to see whether Marcia had left him a message. He saw that she hadn’t and closed the page. He tried to read the news but had a hard time finding a story that interested him, he watched a few videos with girls in them. Then he went on his way. He walked as far as Pigalle and then went down into the Métro, where he stayed until evening.

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