Yes, really, her face seemed familiar to me. That little smile for example. But it was only at that moment that I realised where that impression had come from. In fact, Mathilde looked like a girl who’d been at high school with me, in the lower or upper sixth, I can’t remember which. I took a little while to remember her name: she was called Astrid Gregoire.
Astrid wasn’t very pretty either. I think you might even say, without risk of exaggeration, that she was frankly hideous. At the time I knew her, her face was covered with a layer of red, granular tissue, and her teeth, unlike her, were particularly spoilt. What’s more—and this didn’t help matters—she was slightly simple. All this was enough to isolate her from the world and annihilated any hope of being loved by a boy one day. For the same reasons, she had no friends in the class. Nobody ever spoke to her. But this was doubtless not the first year of loneliness for her. I even think she must have always been the girl people could hardly remember and whose sea-monster face they noted in passing. A profound indifference reigned around her, and there was no reason to hope that it would one day be otherwise. Certain lives pass by like that, in silence. She arrived in the morning and didn’t say a word until evening. Basically, now that I think back, I might even have doubts about whether she really existed.
Obviously I don’t remember the day I saw her for the first time. All I’m saying is that she was in my class. She worked hard but wasn’t a good student. But she hung on. Doubtless she already knew she would have to fight harder than the rest in order to succeed. But for what purpose? What did she dream of achieving? At the time, I didn’t ask myself many questions about her. Like everyone else, I accepted her presence while feeling a little sorry for her, but not too sorry and above all, at a distance.
I began to take an interest in her, following an insignificant incident. One day, between two lessons, I went to the toilets, and as I was washing my hands, I heard someone sobbing behind a door. I approached, and almost said something. There was no doubt: it was a girl. And yet we were in a place reserved for boys. But what surprised me more than anything was the terrible intensity of her sobs. If it is possible, this person was physically dying of distress. I didn’t know what to do. In the end I went out, without making a sound. In the corridor, I encountered a guy and started talking to him. It wasn’t premeditated, but by so doing, I was able to see Astrid emerge discreetly from the toilets a moment later. So it was her. For the next hour, I was seated a few metres away from her and I observed her: there was no longer any trace of those sobs on her face. Her eyes seemed as dry as usual. And I told myself that this might not be the first time she had locked herself away like that to weep. I even told myself that she must cry like that every day. Amid general indifference. Certain lives also pass by like that.
A few days later, coming out of school, I followed her down the street. At first it wasn’t intentional, we were simply going in the same direction, then my curiosity took the upper hand, and at the point when I ought to have turned right, I continued along rue Saint-Andre. The weather was pretty good that day. I’d guess it was sometime in May. She walked as far as the boulevard. Then she went to have an ice cream in a brasserie. She watched the passers-by through the window. She had the look of a little girl, seated by her window. I don’t know why, but at that point I told myself there must be stuffed toys in her bedroom. From time to time she must embrace them forcefully. Basically, she was condemned to watch the others flying the next without uttering a word: bodies discovered pleasure, relationships were forged, the girls put on make-up, the boys chatted them up continually, and she…she was eating an ice cream in a lonely brasserie.
This went on for quite a while. Then she stood up and left. Even today, that is still the perfect image of loneliness to me: Astrid Gregoire sadly eating an ice cream whlie watching through the window as the people pass by.
Florian Zeller, the Fascination of Evil, 2004, 95-97