7

Where the author is interviewed by a Transit Authority lawyer and flies to France.

On August 21 I first go to the lawyers'office and from there the junior attorney and I take the subway to Brooklyn. On the way I ask him if the questioning is going to be under oath. "No, no," he says. "It's just for internal use."

When we arrive I'm surprised to see the senior attorney waiting for us at the entrance of the Transit Authority building. At the check-in desk, the junior attorney salutes the clerk with friendly small talk, which upsets me. We take the elevator to the legal department where we are directed to the waiting room. It's a vast space divided by partitions.

The senior attorney takes me to one of the cubicles and starts to quiz me about the answers he and his son have imposed on me. The quiz turns into a mindless drill, the drill into a brainwash- ing, the brainwashing into mental rape until I answer like a robot.

I think this won't last long but still nobody has called us after almost one hour. Nobody calls my case until one hour and fifteen minutes after we got there! He keeps asking the same questions:
"Were you wearing a helmet? What part of the bus hit you? How long did the contact last between your body and the bus? Where on the avenue did you fall? Were there any cars parked there?" And at every false answer I feel a cold hand grip my stomach tighter and tighter and my true self being eclipsed by this foreign body, this pack of lies that has invaded my soul.

When my case is called the senior attorney leaves. I didn't know he would be there and when I think he'll stay he leaves. Neither of them has told me anything beyond the minimum necessary for me to do what they want. As they say in the CIA, they give me information only on a "need-to-know" basis.

We are shown into a classroom. To the right of the door is a blackboard against the wall and a heavy desk on a platform, and filling the room are rows of student desks. A narrow alley runs against the left wall. I follow a young man who, midway into the alley pulls two chairs from the rows of student desks and asks me and my lawyer to have a seat. Then he pulls a table no bigger than a typing table an places it in front of us, then he pulls two more chairs for himself and the T.A. lawyer who has just walked in. He puts his seat away from the table and deploys a stenographic machine. The four of us are squeezed shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee in the narrow alley in this big classroom full of desks. It doesn't make sense!

The questioning starts without my being sworn in so I have no compunction answering the questions the way my lawyers want me to. When the TA lawyer asks me if I saw the bus before the colli- sion, for a fraction of a second I see the bus approaching me from behind the way I saw it with my head hanging low then I don't see anything. Only a blank screen.
"I don't remember." I don't remember seeing the bus on my left at the red light, I don't remember that I turned around and saw it come at me, that it was the front corner that my shoulder made contact with, and that my shoulder slid against the glassed front door in full view of the bus driver. From now on the most incriminating evidence of intent is obliterated from my memory and I believe that it was only an accident.

When the lawyer sends me a copy of the transcript asking me to sign it before a notary public and return it to him asap in the stamped envelope provided for my convenience, I think that I had been wrong all these years: when you sign before a notary public, it doesn't mean that you swear under oath to the truth of the statements, it only means that the notary public verifies your identity. How could it be anything else since I had not been under oath at the T.A. interview?

Now with physical therapy three times a week I can flex my left leg at forty-five degrees. Not enough to walk normally, but I can walk, slowly. And with the hearing behind me, I can't put off the trip to France much longer. But the thought of being among my kin frightens me so much that I ask my Puerto Rican neighbor if he knows a Santeria ritual for protection. He tells me to fill a glass with water, place a saucer on top and turn the glass and saucer upside down, and place it next to a white, lit candle by the door. I also ask my former Cuban boyfriend for a protective amulet and he gives me a string of beads with a medal but he chides me for being afraid of my family.

I book a round-trip on Air France for Friday the 13th of September and call a Cuban pianist in Paris, a friend of my ex, and ask him to reserve a hotel room for me. I call him again the next day and he gives me the address of the hotel. It's in Montmartre.

I let Arturo stay in my studio during my absence and give him enough money to feed my cat and keep himself in booze and food for a few weeks. My next door neighbor dumped an adult cat on me just two days after I returned from the hospital. The poor animal is terrified and its coat is dull and matted. I worried that the cat would kill my parakeet, but my parakeet has flown out the window in early July, to my great chagrin. Now I ask Arturo to keep brushing the cat about three times a week. I also explain to him that I don't want my family to know that I've already left for France and that if anybody calls from France to just say in French that I'm out. I teach him how to say it: "Elle est sor- tie."

My last night before the trip I dream that after my father's death my mother has moved to a large apartment in a high rise and I come to visit her for the first time in her new home. She doesn't show me the apartment, we stay in the living room. When it's time to go to bed she opens a window and shows me a cornice that runs along the building just below the window. She says that it's where I'm going to sleep and she passes me a sleeping bag. I lie down on the narrow ledge, high above the ground, and she goes to sleep in her room. Helicopters fly around and planes about to land at a nearby airport circle close above my head. All these moving lights and all this noise prevent me from sleeping. After several hours I decide to look for a better place to sleep and climb back into the apartment. I open a door, turn on the light and find a newly decorated bedroom with a bed covered with a fat comforter and fluffy pillows. The smell of fresh paint is still in the air. The next morning I ask my mother why she didn't let me sleep in that bedroom and she says categorically that it's Norbert's room, meaning that nobody else is allowed to use it.

At the check-in counter at JFK an attendant observes that my French passport expired several years ago, but I protest that she can't prevent me from returning to my country and she lets me go. While I walk on crutches along the endless corridors of the airport, I regret that I refused the doctor's offer to have a wheelchair waiting for me at the airport. People pass me at a hurried pace and there I am, the only one on crutches and I ask myself the eternally unanswered question: "Why is this happening to me?" And I hear my exasperated mother repeat year after year: "Il n'y a qu' toi qu'il arrive des choses pareilles!" Or "You're the only one to whom such things happen!" As if it was my fault. At the plane disembarkation at Roissy airport there's a wheel- chair and an attendant waiting for me and without a word I seat myself. The diligent Frenchman pushes me to customs. There's no comment about my old passport and I breeze through.


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