"Noooooooo!" I woke up to my own scream, and Catherine almost jumped out from the bed by my side. I don't actually remember what the nightmare was.
"Mérde! You have been screaming and talking in your sleep all night through!" Catherine complained. "What is so wrong with you?"
I apologized. And then I recalled that she had gone to fetch me at the beach during the night, and I apologized for having taken her out of the bed, too.
"You must have dreamed that." Catherine promptly dismissed my apologies. "Just this morning did I get up to go to the bathroom, having been woken by your chatter... But I went to the toilet, of course, I didn't go to the beach."
"How come you did not, Catherine? I had... joined Armand in meditation and you called me..."
"Last night? You did not leave this bed, darling. Like I said, you screamed a few times, and talked within your sleep all night long, and as much as I have poked you, you never woke from your tormented sleep; only turning to the other side to resume with your chatter."
"It can't be..." It was impossible that Armand's mea culpa had been a dream of mine. The words were so beautiful and wise, his thinking was so clear... I'd be incapable of imagining that! Maybe having heard him call me in a whisper was a dream, but I had in fact awakened and gone down to the beach, and Armand's discourse forgiving me and Catherine and her mother and father, all of it had been... real?
There was one way to find that out.
"What is it, anyway? You're looking weird today..." Catherine wanted to go back to sleep, but my agitation made her uneasy too.
"I'll be right back! I need to check something!" I ran out of the room towards Armand's office.
I clearly recalled Armand's instructions the night before about where the money was, hidden in the false bottom of a box.
And in fact the money was there, like he had said. I had not been dreaming.
"Will you steal that money?" I suddenly heard Catherine's question at my back, while I counted a bundle of French franc notes. Intrigued with my behavior, she had followed me to the office, from where she had already removed her books and notebooks, all stored in her backpack.
"Of course not!" I replied, indignantly. "Armand told me I could take as much as we needed... He agreed on paying me, so we'll have enough for our trip."
"When did he tell you that?" Catherine raised her eyebrows. "I just glanced from our balcony onto the beach, and he is still sitting there, in that same spot since yesterday, playing statue... what a madness! He must have pissed and shited on himself by now..."
"He told me about it last night, Catherine!" I was trying to ignore her scorn and irony. "How come you don't remember having gone to fetch me at the beach?"
"So that's it? You guys go crazy together? This meditation thing unites you on a trip... I saw a lot of drunk and drugged people, but this is new to me... You may get crazy, but I won't! I know exactly what happened last night, and in no moment did I go down to the beach. Nor did you..." Catherine was peremptory, "...get out of bed after we... did it, babe."
"Catherine!" Why should she insist that I was lying or inventing my telepathic conversation with my friend? "Do you think that I could steal from Armand?"
"I don't care!" She shrugged. " Gaston has given him this money; then it's mine, too! Anyway, daddy will replace whatever you take... Daddy is always so nice to his firstborn, the brilliant Armand, the good student, the good son... the great pretender! Take all that stupid money! Take it all at once! He should have more hiding somewhere else, that... faggot! We'll need to eat, shop for new clothes, and books, and I want to stay at the best hotel!"
I didn't tell Catherine that I intended to stay at the hotel next to the port, just as Armand had recommended, and where he would pay for the bill -- very generously, as always.
Later, when we spotted the boat, we were ready.
I mean, we were dressed and our things packed, and maybe Catherine was ready to go -- but I wasn't ready to leave the Île du Blanchomme.
I went to say goodbye to Armand, who was still in deep meditation, and Catherine decided to go with me, revealing a curious preoccupation with her half-brother.
"What if this idiot should die of hunger or thirst or heat stroke? If they later find out that we're taking his money, they may want to incriminate us for murder... This is so absurd, to stand still for so many hours! We're not in a circus!" Catherine had raised her voice thinking that she would be heard by Armand, but I was sure he was in a contemplative state in which nothing would distract him, just like the Buddha had not been distracted even by the passage of an army.
I tried connecting Armand's mind again, to tell him the last words and still try to apologize, since I hadn't done it overnight. But Catherine wouldn't stop chattering next to me, and I only managed to pray a little and thank him for everything. At the end, I bowed to my good friend.
"Now, what is that supposed to be?" Catherine was allergic to anything even slightly religious, and she was horrified thinking I was somehow adoring or venerating Armand, though in my salute and demonstration of respect to him there was indeed reverence.
I placed our few belongings inside the boat, while Armand's trunks and new pieces of furniture -- that he would no longer need -- where brought onto the beach. Catherine then put into action a crazy plan she had just devised. She made the few passengers go ashore, and led them to the side of the island where Armand was.
"Mérde, aren't they a lazy bunch! Why is it that they don't want to leave the boat?" People seemed to resist her orders. "Don't they understand French?" Since I had never explained to her that the Île du Blanchomme was considered taboo, probably that being the main reason for the natives to be so reluctant to step off the boat, on those final moments I thought I shouldn't say anything.
"And why do you want people to disembark on the island, Catherine?" I asked, puzzled. Had Catherine given up on our trip and wanted to found a colony on the island? Oh, I was so heartbroken, and my desire was to stay behind... All the walls I did not paint, the garden I did not finish... was I really abandoning all that... forever?
"I want them to kick Armand, to check that he is still alive!" Catherine replied as she was driving those few scared people with the least patience, roughly, as if she led cattle. "They shall be our witnesses that we did not kill him!"
But Catherine was to be disappointed in her intention. Upon seeing Armand levitating and shinning light, the natives threw themselves to the ground and started doing prostrations, praying and worshiping Armand, but without approaching him. Catherine became even more furious when, having finally given up on making them poke her half-brother, she had difficulty when she tried to make them leave his presence.
"So... they didn't kick Armand after all!" I was amused with Catherine's frustration.
"How ignorant these people are! This corner of the world is more savage than it seems! That idiot just sitting there, playing statue, and people were worshiping him, as if he were actually the statue of some god to be venerated... And they kept repeating something like Xanadu, Xanadu, Xanadu..."
"Wouldn't it have been saddhu, saddhu, saddhu?" I laughed, correcting her.
From that moment on, she ignored me, and also all other passengers on the vessel, considering us foolish and ignorant. And in such a mood the journey of nine hours to the Elder Sisters Islands wasn't pleasant, with Catherine again feeling sick.
And while she was trying not to vomit, I was crying, as I saw myself leaving the Île du Blanchomme, from where I had not intended to depart so soon, nor ever leave my best friend and his sweet company...
I thought I had seen Armand waving goodbye to me from the beach, standing beside his trunks and the new, useless pieces of furniture -- but it probably was just another hallucination.
The last image I was to keep from that island in my heart is clouded by tears.
So many recollections... The sunset and moon rising sessions like film festivals that had evoked our frequent movie sessions at the Cinémathèque Française... our lively conversations at the table on the veranda, like once in the room that we had shared during the École... and Armand's exotic culinary preparations that had so improved since our common times in Paris... I seemed to have so many memories with him on that island, but the fact is that we had stayed together for only a week... and one more day, a fatidical day on the Île du Blanchomme. Was it due to the fact that I had thought of him daily -- or almost every day --, even during his absence? Or because of his coming out to me, so deep and sincere, that had given birth to my romantic heart... or because like our single kiss under the moonlight, everything had been so intense...
It seemed I was leaving a piece -- the main piece -- of my own life behind.