‘Is This How Women Grow Up?’ by Leïla Marouane


From Words Without Borders:

August 1994.

The afternoon seemed endless, the heat relentless. She was stretched out on the bed, hardly dressed, reading, smoking, splashing herself with water, dropping off into a deep sleep. Then she roused herself and went back to her reading.

So much for her days, until nightfall. Once silence and darkness were at their peak, she left her room. She slipped into the bathroom, where she relieved herself and washed, then into the kitchen, where she threw a meal together, generally a glass of milk and a slice of bread, or some leftover rice, which she then swallowed down within the confines of her room, door and louvered shutters closed.

Her clandestine journey lasted no more than a quarter of an hour. Any more than that and she risked running into someone, in particular the someone she had once loved, and who had loved her, before love turned to hate and scorn. My sworn enemy, she murmured, and crushed the cigarette butt in the overflowing ashtray.

She lit another cigarette and closed her book. She wanted to think about the days to come. In vain. She returned to her reading and while she was looking for the page where she had stopped, the door opened and he appeared. She should have jumped with surprise, cried out in anger, told him he had no business in her room, honestly, who did he think he was to burst in like this without warning, without knocking . . . But a sort of tenderness overwhelmed her, tightening her throat with pain. How handsome he is, she thought.

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