I missed the rest of the conversation because, while the good actor was carefully cooking his sentences with criticisms spiced with kindness, another member of the group, a young man who looked Chinese, with a face like raspberry jelly, stumbled up to me.
His naturally yellow complexion was complemented by bright threads of broken veins, more purple than red. He had thick hair, a receding brow, jutting cheekbones, narrow eyes whose dark pupils seemed more polished than alive, a barely visible moustache the color of dead leaves, a little salt and pepper beard that was worn out like an old carpet, a long neck with an Adam’s apple stuck in it like a huge walnut, and shoulders like a scrawny old horse which did not fit with his thick, short chest and his pot belly. He was knock-kneed and bowed legged, with kneecaps shaped like coconuts.
He also borrowed Doctor Magne’s chair, blew cigarette smoke out his nose, and took his turn to tackle me. His language was less elegant than the other two; it was hard for him to speak, which you could put down to shyness. He was dull and awkward. He seemed horribly unhappy and sorry to have come over, but there he was. He had to march on—and he did so heroically!—death in his soul.
“Monsieur—finally yes!... Monsieur… I don’t like to jaw about brothers… absolutely not! But I have to tell you that Desbosquets is a lot more… absolutely… oh, I’ll blurt it out… a lot more… absolutely cracked than our friend Magne. Absolutely yes!”
He wanted to be frank, to open up, which he constantly regretted, because he knew that he would be clumsy and mocked; he felt ridiculous and it was killing him. But his need for some honest self-indulgence gnawed at him, and he spit out his slang and his absolutelys—‘absolutely yes!’ and ‘absolutely no!’— which made him think he was revealing the deepest depths of his soul.
He continued. “Maybe they told you about me—yes! I know: bing, bang —mechanics! Absolutely yes! A hack, they must have told you…” (Aha! I thought. So it’s my colleague the poet!) “…and the worst trouble, right?
That’s Leonard—yes! Ah! When I’m a little…bing, bang…mechanics! I guess—grumpy—I don’t say… but there’s not an ounce of meanness in me! Disgusting, this awful problem with talking, but the mechanics, you know—because it’s the mechanics—no way! Do you want me to tell you my name? Ah! Totally unknown, my name, but don’t want them to mangle it mechanically when quoting it to you: Oswald Norbert Nigeot. Don’t say Numskull—no!—Although my verses!... Ah! Damned mechanics!... A bonehead, a stupid bonehead, bitten by the morbid mania to write—and the slander of the old students of the Polytechnic! Oh! To write! Terrible trade for the poorly gifted like me who are… bing, bang, not mechanics! And angry at the mechanics of words. Polytechnic pigs manufacture words; so, poor hacks can’t use them. Ah! Even this is mechanics!... And drunk on it, Desbosquets too, very drunk! Obviously you see it: Cusenier, Noilly-Prat, why not Pernod? It’s awful for people like him and me! See, you know— liquids are scarce—but thanks to the guards’ hatred of Bid’homme… and thanks to old Froin, too good, don’t believe in any bad—but can you call that bad? He lives with the Heaven of…mechanics…of…bang…of derangements, no! I want arrangements, not derangements!”
Mr. Nigeot seemed very proud of having successfully (?) completed such a long sentence propped up by only one “bang” and one “mechanics,” but in spite of his satisfaction, he was scared of continuing less elegantly and he got all tangled up in a run of bizarre expressions in which the hated Polytechnicians and the bings and bangs (not to mention the absolutelys) got so out of hand that I could not understand a word of what he said.