Festival of Hope 1 / 24 April 2020

Old Nono Sayings

“Life is a lock down whose outcome is certain…”

I am trying to imagine what Old Nono would have said about the situation that we are experiencing. Nono is the character of my first novel The Restless. She embodies the figure of the Guadeloupean woman who has endured all kinds of social and personal hardships, being born into a modest family twenty years after the end of slavery. In 1868. She is one of the voices of my deceased characters. She wanders around for she was buried without her dentures and without one of her legs that she is looking for. There she is, seated in a huge armchair. That’s what it takes for her to pronounce the oracle: the entire world is trying to envision the “aftermath” and now the question is asked to her. In the light of her past life, can she guide us towards this aftermath? Nono bursts out laughing. She puts a hand in front of her mouth to prevent me from seeing her toothless gums. Overcome with laughter, she cries out:

“The aftermath? Which after? After all this time spent on Earth, haven’t you already understood that there is no before, no after, but one and only ongoing strangeness — strange enough to upset you and repetitive enough to be reassuring?”

Nono, its a truism.

Apparently, she doesn’t understand the word but won’t let me explain it to her. 

“I remember your first steps as a little girl in your parents’ courtyard. I also remember your first questions! You enjoyed asking questions but the answers would never do. Today, you’re going back into the yard, aren’t you? You’re in the yard and you’re facing once again the riddle of death. The first time I witnessed your mother being lost with your questions, was returning from the wake of one of her aunts, a very old lady, ninety-seven years of age. Weirdly, it’s the age at which you made me die in your novel… The story of today’s lock down puts you directly face to face with death. You’re not allowed to go out because you could come across death. When you were six years old, you decided that you would no longer leave the house because you were afraid of running into death. It took all the patience and intelligence of your mother to make you understand that life was precisely about this: facing death every day, knowing that it was there, both on the pavements and in the living room, in your bed as well as along the boulevards of Pointe-à-Pitre and elsewhere. You had to understand that every moment in life was haunted by death, and yet we had to live, live at all costs — both to keep it away and to make it worth something. Because you see, death knows that it’s useless, that it’s empty if the living keep their existence under glass, whilst waiting for it to come. I’m quite sure this is what your mother explained to you. I can still recall how surprised you looked. Do you remember? Today, let me add to the answer. I’m dead, as you well know — you’re the one who decided that. I’m dead and I’m looking for my leg because I need it to dance the quadrille here, in what you consider to be the void. I need to dance, do you understand? After death, we must and we can still dance.”

Nono has always been talkative. She has eaten away the whole space that I had been given to meet the commission: seven hundred words on hope for the lock-down aftermath. Strangely, the exercise brought me back to this moment when as a child, sitting in the yard, I was looking at the sky and wondering what I was doing here. It was a stunning day — a clear sky, a bright sun, warm wind, and it was the beginning of it all. I had no idea what precisely was going to happen. I could just feel that the possibilities were endless and that it was up to me to make them happen. Is this hope? A new start? 


Gerty Dambury

Gerty Dambury is an author, stage director, born in Guadeloupe and currently living in Montreuil, France. Since 1981, her plays have been staged in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Avignon, Paris, Havana and New York. As an Afro-feminist militant, she is active among the collective “Décoloniser les Arts”, which she co-founded.