WHAT IF YOU WEREN’T THERE
“This book is a bit like a secret I’m going to tell everyone. The story of a promise I made as a child and managed to fulfil thirty years later. An extraordinary, fragile love story which ended in the most beautiful gift we could give each other.
The1940s. A Sunday in July, I was 6 and had never seen my mother. She arrived in a handsome black Citroën and took me away in just ten minutes. I’ll always remember Yaya running in the white dust whipped up by the car and throwing her black apron over her head. I clambered up to the rear window and made a silent pledge: I’ll find you again, I swear it.
I grew up without any sorrow but with one aim: to grow, grow big enough to set out and find Yaya. Problem: I didn’t know her surname. People in the village called her Miss Emilia. That’s why it took so many years. Enquiries in Brest where she was born, in the Creuse region where she grew up. I eventually traced her to a telephone number in Paris. I’d lost hope. A woman’s voice said “Hello”, and I don’t know what came over me, I said “Yaya?” very softly. I heard an explosive, joyful laugh: “My Claire !” I asked her where she was and she said “They’ve put me in an animal home!” That was my Yaya – never beaten and knowing that laughter was the strongest weapon.
She was 87 and this was three months before her death. We spent them together.”
Claire Gallois is a novelist, essayist and literary critic. Her most noted works include À mon seul désir (Buchet / Chastel, 1965), Une fille cousue de fil blanc (Grasset, 1970), L’Homme de peine (Grasset, 1989) and Les Heures dangereuses (Grasset, 1992).