#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 90

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 90

Day 90

How to research your village history I type into my search engine in French. A few blogposts come up, a few official websites, and I’m on my way to research the history of the village I grew up in.

Since arriving in the UK, I have taken to learn the local history of places where I have lived. It has been a way to ground myself in places, to understand where I am and write myself within that history. I have never done this for any of the places I have lived with in France.

During lockdown, I have thought a lot about the past, about where I grew up and about the anger I held for so long against those places. It was an old anger, the anger of youth fed by fear and feeling of difference. Instead of learning about the places I lived in, finding ways to belong, I spent most of my teenage and university years fleeing from one place to another, hoping to find a home. I never did. Ten years later, I am curious about where I come from. What are the sides I have never seen? What are the faces I have disregarded because they didn’t fit my world view?

I look up images first. The search results are filled with shots taken during the first world war, a mixture of bomb damage and aerial shots. Next to them, a series of plans for a church that was never built are drawn neatly, digitised for me to see. There is a mansion too, one I have never seen, never even heard of. It too was destroyed during the wars.

I save the results in my computer and jump to another site. More images come up, some more picturesque ones perfect for a postcard. Mostly, though, I see the same images over and over again.

I file the photos away and turn my attention to the history of the village. I make a stop on Wikipedia and then the old and new official websites of the village. None of the articles about the village history are quoting sources but one of the writers name jumps at me.

‘Mme Maillart,’ I read aloud.

I stop my frantic copy/pasting and read the name again. I don’t need a series of sources to trust this name. Mme Maillart was my history teacher when I was aged 11 to 14. She was the best history teacher I ever had. She taught us about the lives of people, made the past relevant to the present. The day after 9/11 happened, she talked to the class. She let us express our feelings, asked questions our parents didn’t answer, and explained to us what had happened. She was careful in her use of language, making firm distinctions between Muslim people and extremism. She gave us a brief history of the middle east, of the raging wars with the west, and of everything else that was not on the school curriculum. As the bell rang the end of the class hour, we all had a better grasp of what had happened.

‘I wonder if she’s still alive,’ I mutter to myself. I perform a quick search but without a first name, I find it very difficult to locate any information. She could have moved, she could have died in another town than the village or neighbouring ones. ‘I’ll have to write to the village library,’ I think, ‘she used to volunteer with them. Maybe they’ll know’.

‘Mme Maillart,’ I say once more, straining to remember a first name. I can picture her house and my small hand handing an assignment over to her. I had been sick that day and hadn’t been to school. Since she lived in the same village as me, my mom had made me drop it off that evening. I was nervous about trespassing into a territory that wasn’t mine to be in. She was my teacher, I was her pupil. I had no business to be in her front garden. I remember tall trees and plants shading her windows from the street, a warm light coming through, and a strong wooden door I knocked on timidly. She opened, her body strange in the golden light of her house, relaxed in a way I had never seen.

‘Hello. I wanted to hand in my homework,’ I muttered under my breath, too shy to speak loudly. My cheeks burned, my skin red. I looked at my shoes.

She must have said something but I cannot recall. I went away as soon as possible, hurrying back to my own street, my cheeks still prickling with shyness and shame.

What was her first name? Have I never known her first name? Probably not, I think. I would have never needed to know her first name. She was simply Mme Maillart, my history teacher that lived in the same village as me.

My phone alarm rings, startling me out of the past. The laptop is in front of me again, the screen gone black from inactivity. I shut the lid and walk downstairs to join my partner in the living room.

‘Do you want to do some meditation with me,’ I ask, my alarm having reminded me it is time for it.

’No, I’m okay.’

I kiss her cheek and head back to the study, close my eyes, and breathe.

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