Fiction · 11/18/2015

Excerpt from Tram 83

Translated by Roland Glasser

In praise of a night of transgression, followed by Lucien and the Diva’s reading.

Not all nights had the same chronology of beer, music, dancing, single-mamas in the first flush of youth, dog kebabs, and madness. Those who went out at night knew the plot, the prosody of events, the convulsion of circumstances, the gloomy processions toward the unknown. Sometimes they began with the decrepit-single-mamas, followed up with poetical dancing on the paltry beds at Body-to-Body Granny’s brothel — the Face-to-Face — continued with some jazz, prefaced with some mulled wine, sampled some cat and olive stew, boiled rice, and dog kebabs with saffron potatoes, smoked some Indian hemp, and raided the Polygon of Hope Mine armed to the teeth. Nights were a delight for those who knew how to make the most of them. True nights were long and popular. True nights were always eventful. True nights were no longer free from corruption and other low blows. True nights stank of neuralgia, the spit and traumas of those who built this broken beautiful world.

“It’s during the night that the giants of this world manufacture our misfortunes with the zeal of self-taught bakers,” laughed the girls with eggplant-breasts crammed into the mixed restrooms of Tram 83 with their desire to satisfy vast as the sea, to deal a second death, Gehenna, Revelation 19, verse 20, Revelation 20, verse 14, Revelation 21, round about the eighth verse, or even the books of Corinthians. These girls were extraordinarily beautiful and they reprised the same psalms.

“We are warm and welcoming, inventive, flexible with our flesh that devises delights of other ages for you, and in this your wives are not even half the women we are, they’re too traditional, don’t know how to set their hips a-swaying, they’ve forgotten how to thrust with their left leg, and spend the night asking you for pocket money, university registration fees for the children, this and that, whereas us, we’re eternal, we proffer ourselves body and soul, just long enough to drive you, to drag you, to ecstasy. ” Meanwhile the negotiations regarding rates always pushed upward, the legs giving way, the urge to be done with the pleasures of the underbelly, the beer that answers back, and the body bristling with nostalgia for dumping, soiling one’s pants (dump = transgress = expel = jettison = evacuate = download = release on bail = defecate = shit, and, not to sink into silliness or appear less crude, let us say crying need, or even transfer).

The for-profit tourists, the Chinese tourists, the second-class tourists, the young ladies of Avignon, the waitresses and the busgirls, the strikemongering students, the diggers, the suicidals, the mercenaries, the slim-jims, all of the City-State poured into the Tram.

The Diva and Lucien mounted the podium to the applause of the Tram. The writer was trembling. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the audience, or even communicate with the prima donna, who smiled to reassure them about their act.

The rumors that spread from the Cuba Club to the Polygon by way of Vampiretown recounted the detail of his abundant lovemaking with the diva after each concert. The busgirl with fat lips confirmed these below-the-belt doings. She became hysterical when refused a tip and, to regain control of the situation, described at the top of her voice the way in which Lucien pumped the Diva. These revelations saddened every man who only had eyes for the fine body of the queen of these nights of boozing.

When Lucien showed up at the Tram, the mercenaries, the second-rate tourists, the slim-jims, the baby-chicks, and the diggers rushed over and begged him to spill the beans. He answered with silence. Not only did this heighten our curiosity but it made us extremely cross. We at least had the right to know the truth.

The Diva danced the same bolero. Upon hearing the question, she opened her arms and let rip a magnificent laugh. The most sensitive among us ejaculated in their pants. We spent the rest of the night picking over the prima donna’s laugh until, weary of suppositions, we fell back on the baby-chicks.

The Diva is eternal. You don’t forget her with one or even two baby-chicks. The next day, the desire to hump the opera singer returned, refueling the speculations and the gossip even more intensely. As a counterbalance, the diggers and the second-rate tourists therefore suggested holding a Miss Baby-Chick contest, since the first-rate tourists were threatening to quit coming to the Tram. The Diva is eternal. Even those who plotted against her are the same who covered the podium with flowers at each of her concerts.

“Where there’s beer, there’s cheer. ”

As a prelude, the Railroad Diva performed “This Life Is Longer Than The Train To Nowhere” over the crescendoing noise of boxcars newly acquired by the dissident General in return for some as yet undisclosed merchandise. The depth of the queen’s voice paralyzed us, her delicate features in the half-light, a voice to plunge us into unbearable moods, to fill us with the impulse to run out and jump aboard the first train to nowhere, what depth, what timbre, her voice soared, pirouetted, descended, walked with the paralytics, ripped the vile stench of the rails from the frozen-hearted, the tourists (arm in arm) swore to never recommence their dirty work, the baby-chicks wiped away sobs and tears as they told us they’d be back beneath their father’s roof at dawn, the busgirls softened and gave us the fastest service in the world, Malingeau downed his ninth beer, the students buried their hatchet long as their strike, the miners bought bottles of beer for the desperados, everyone in tears, the mist, the sea crashed down, the darkness lifted from every face, the dog meat passed from table to table as in a depiction of the Last Supper, desires rose, certain tourists left their private conversations to shake hands with the diggers who whispered to them with teeth as dirty as the rails of the station whose metal structure. . . that a new world was coming, the Railroad Diva, beers were passed around, we trembled from head to toe, we dumped in our pants, we masturbated, we climbed on the tables, we banged our head against the walls, we gathered at the doors to the mixed facilities, that voice, that voice, that voice, it penetrated us, flayed us, trampled us, shredded us, voyage, birth, dream, we thought of those whom the earth had swallowed up, all those whom the trains had taken following a derailment, the bitterness and the eyes riveted on those who’d left to seek new lives across the ocean and who’d never got there betrayed by the waves, that voice, Requiem sniggered arrogantly, Lucien clung to his pen and scrawled joy is a violent dream and you need this violence in your dream to give it flavor, the publisher flung down his glasses, got up, walked back and forth across the Tram, that voice, that voice, that voice, joy is a diminished smile, we experienced a waltz of magic urges, dreams escaping in smoke wreaths from cigarettes, a voice that lacerates you, time had lost all purpose, we were in 2069 or 1735 or 926 or the Paleolithic era, filthy faces, bare feet, wearing loincloths, speaking unknown tongues, that voice, the tourists viewing their past, the diggers yelling that pride would prevent them going to Beach Ngobila and diving into the ocean with vodka and rotten mangoes for provisions, forget your wounds in a chorus of acoustic rails, walk the length of your thoughts and, despite death and the trains that depart and return empty, speak of the cracks within, of joy, joy as a rusty jalopy that carries you to your grave mine where you enter with no hope of leaving, in the beginning was a diva and her freight-train voice, that voice, that voice, that voice, that voice, that voice, that voice, joined by fatwas, angelus bells, the droning of the boxcars on platform 13, that voice, that voice, the Diva, joy means drowning your tears, your failures, your languor in a little music that is simply human, that voice, that voice, that voice. . .

“Foreplay spoils the fun. ”

Lucien began to read a text dealing with the fortuitous meeting between a man and a woman on board a train, common denominator: loss of memory. They fall in love. But how to tell each other this? How to love each other? How to talk of their previous life? Toward the end, while the man tried to fashion a language to say love with the five words he had left (history, tonsillitis, truce, shame, and weld), the Diva, who was playing the role of the woman, against a background of prerecorded sounds, unreeled a song, long and mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, mournful, and at the same time celestial with her voice, bursts of applause and applause and applause. . .

Within and without the Tram, a convulsion of incompleteness. Within and without the Tram, cries and yelling. Within and without the Tram, the songs and texts of the sacred couple, united by the same momentum, time’s wasting, the thirst for archeology, solitude.

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Fiston Mwanza Mujila was born in 1981 in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, where he went to a Catholic school before studying Literature and Human Sciences at Lubumbashi University. He now lives in Graz, Austria, and is pursuing a PhD in Romance Languages. His writing has been awarded with numerous prizes, including the Gold Medal at the 6th Jeux de la Francophonie in Beirut as well as the Best Text for Theater (“Preis für das beste Stück,” State Theater, Mainz) in 2010. His poems, prose works, and plays are reactions to the political turbulence that has come in the wake of the independence of the Congo and its effect on day-to-day life. As he describes in one of his poems, his texts describe a “geography of hunger”: hunger for peace, freedom, and bread. Tram 83, written in French and published in August 2014 as a lead title of the rentrée littéraire by Éditions Métailié, is his first novel. It has been shortlisted and won numerous literary prizes in France, Austria, England, and the United States.

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Roland Glasser translates literary and genre fiction from French, as well as art, travel, and assorted nonfiction. He studied theater, cinema, and art history in the UK and France, and has worked extensively in the performing arts, chiefly as a lighting designer. He is a French Voices and PEN Translates award winner and serves on the Committee of the UK Translators Association. Having lived in Paris for many years, he is currently based in London.