Rach’el died six months ago. He was thirty-three. One day, about two years ago, something in his head just snapped and he started tearing around all over the place. He lost his health. Then his job. Then his mind. Ophélie walked out on him. One night he killed himself.
I didn’t know about any of this. I was a kid, I was seventeen and I was into all sorts of shit. I didn’t see much of Rach’el, I steered clear of his preachifying. I don’t like to say it, I mean he was my brother, but when someone goes all self-righteous on you like that, it does your head in. He had his life, I had mine. He had this big job with this giant American company, he had the girl, the house, the car, the credit cards, every second of his day accounted for. Me, I was zoning around the banlieues with the dregs of Paris. The H24 housing project where I live is classed SUA 1—Sensitive Urban Area, Category 1. There’s no room to breathe there, you just stumble out of one fuckup into another.
One morning, Ophélie phones me to tell me something’s happened. She’d stopped by the house to check on her ex. “I had this feeling,” she said. Momo—he’s the son of the halal butcher—he lent me his moped and I bombed down there. There were people milling round everywhere, cops, paramedics, neighbors, rubberneckers. Rach’el was in the garage sitting on the ground, his back to the wall, legs stretched out, chin on his chest, mouth open. He looked like he was asleep. His face was black with soot. He’d been there all night, bathing in exhaust fumes. It was freaky. I didn’t react, didn’t say anything. I couldn’t take it in. This paramedic says, “Is he your brother?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got to say?” I just shrugged and headed into the living room.
Ophélie was in there with the area police commander. She was crying, he was taking notes. When he saw me, he said, “Come here a minute.” He asked me some stuff. I told him I didn’t know anything. This was true—I really didn’t see much of Rach’el. I had a feeling he was stressed about something, but I just thought, He’s got his shit, I’ve got mine. It sounds pathetic when you put it like that, but that’s life, we get suicides all the time around here. When it happens you’re like, What the fuck? You’re bummed for a couple of days and a week later you’ve forgotten all about it. You think: That’s life, and you get on with things.
After the funeral, Ophélie took off for Canada to stay with her cousin Cathy who got married over there to some fur trader who’s rolling in it. She gave me the keys to their house, asked me to look after it. She said, “We’ll just see how things go.” When I asked her why Rach’el killed himself, she said: “I don’t know, he never told me anything.” I believed her. I knew just from looking at her standing there shaking that she didn’t know anything. Rach’el never told anybody anything.
So there I was all alone in Rach’el’s big house, feeling pathetic. I was beating myself up about the fact I hadn’t been around when Rach’el lost it. A whole month I spent going round in circles. I felt like shit. Raymond, Momo, and a couple of other guys came round to hang out with me. They’d swing by in the afternoon, we’d talk about nothing much, knock back a couple of beers. I got a job with Raymond’s dad, working in this garage he’s got called Rustbucket’s Delight. I was making minimum wage plus tips. I could deal with being on my own. The best thing about work is you forget everything else.
A month later the police commander phoned me at the garage and said, “I need you to come down to the station, I’ve got something for you.” I went down after work. He sat there staring at me for a bit, clicking his tongue, then he opens this drawer, takes out a plastic bag and shoves it across the desk. I picked it up. Inside, there were four battered notebooks. He says to me: “It’s your brother’s diary. We don’t need it anymore.” Then he pokes his fat finger right in my face and says: “You should read it. Might knock some sense into you. Your brother was a good guy.” Then he starts talking about this and that, the same stuff he’s always banging on about, the banlieues, the future, France, the straight and narrow. I listened to him, shifting from one foot to the other. Then he looks up at me and says: “Go on, Get out of here!”