Shahrazad asked a group of European and non-European writers to compose
open letters addressed to ’their Europe’. The results were published in Letters to Europe, a book highlighting how this continent means different things to different people.
Salem Zenia (1962) is an Algerian poet, novelist and journalist who currently lives and works in Spain.
Letter to my lady
By Salem Zenia
I have so many things to tell you that I don‘t know where to begin, and I‘m afraid of getting confused. My letter might be, for you, like a bottle thrown into the sea. Maybe it will be intercepted, like all those curiosities that the waves carry to the shore. Perhaps it will even be read. But, I am convinced that it will soon be consigned, like dozens of others, to oblivion. For my bottle contains no treasure map.
My letter is not cheerful either, I know, and is even disagreeable. Because with this letter I would like to make you part of my deep pain, even if it troubles your bliss. Ah well. You will note that my letter is written with my blood, because for some time now blood has replaced ink over there, on the other side of your world. By which I mean over here, in my world. You well know that many of my people have already died for you, so today you can amuse yourself by playing with our heads. You have become like that lantern burning in a dense darkness with a wick that is overly soaked with oil (which comes from my world). You are the lantern that gives off a blinding light, the only light in the night attracting all sorts of bugs to feed and die, dazzled with illusions.
So many continue to die and to drown out of hope for you. I don‘t know, maybe you have noticed their burned bodies, or the bodies buried in communal graves under the x right in front of you. No! Yes! Doesn‘t this bother you? You know, for us, to burn a body is to die twice, it‘s death after death. But why not bury them, then? It‘s just as easy, don‘t you think? Oh, I see, even dead people take up space in your cemeteries. You must turn them back for good, even the dead. Don‘t you know at least who they were? Of course not! They were just the bodies of immigrants, similar to those birds that suddenly find their usual watering place dried up. Poor creatures. They die of thirst and fatigue because the subsidized farmers decided to plant transgenic corn for producing gasoline, just over their only watering hole.
If I knock on your door so often, it‘s also to tell you that I am not content in my own home. It‘s because certain men there, crazy with God, reproach me for not loving their God enough. I don‘t understand, because God and I are good friends. I insult him, he takes it; I implore him, he listens; I mope, he sulks; I judge him, he lends an ear. He and I never have problems, we complement each other. It‘s not God I have problems with, but with men. I am a peaceful man, I just want to flee the violence and live.
I have always believed that the land belongs to men, animals and even the insects. I think I was mistaken. How naive I am! Horizons are always blocked, and so are spirits. One man opens a horizon, another closes it behind him. So, he continues to open other horizons, building his world at the same time as he builds a wall.
Oh, you will say, you‘re just being dramatic! I admit it. It‘s true that our situation is more dramatized than taken seriously. All of our situations are dramatized to the point of confusion. The barrier that separates the theater from reality has simply vanished. You‘ll remember the anecdote that I often told, the one about two men who drop dead in the same moment and the same place: one died from starvation and the other died of gluttony. The third, who arrives and looks at the upsetting spectacle, tells them: glutton, if you had shared, you would both be alive and well right now.
What a sad reality, isn‘t it!
If I knock on your door, my lady, it is because you are no stranger to me. You are far from being a stranger. I am quite sure that we already know one another. You already invited yourself into my home, even staying for a long time, a very long time, isn‘t that right? Or do you have a short memory? I thought that we were already friends, but you don‘t know anything about me, though we are so close. You forget quickly, perhaps out of ingratitude? It‘s true that we were a bit entangled, but that‘s not a problem, it was just a squabble. Don‘t close the door on me. If you close the door, I risk dying on your doorstep, and you risk suffocation by staying shut away.
Illustration by Tom Schamp.