The cleaning lady

As she rubbed the furniture to make it shine, she upbraided me, telling me that the life I led was unhealthy. She had remarked that I had a tendency to drink a little too much, it was bad for the health. Very bad, for a man at the height of his powers. Wasn’t I going to buckle down and find some work for myself? All right, so I had an inheritance. That was no reason to sit around and do nothing all day. At least get married. Did I intend to go one living all alone, like some impotent? I ought to start a family. Man is made to have children, and there’s nothing cuter than little ones underfoot. And then when they grow up and you grow old, they don’t abandon you to poverty; no, they reach out a helping hand when you need it most. If there’s anything worse than living alone, it’s dying alone, with no one around to offer you a little milk of human kindness. I didn’t know what was in store for me.

*

She was downstairs, with the concierge, next to her door. When they saw me they stopped talking. Were they talking about me? All I want is for them to leave me alone. I can do whatever I want. I can loaf all day if I’ve a mind to. That’s my business. Oh! I can feel myself getting angry. I hurried through the lobby. But before I exited I glanced back: I saw them looking at me. They were waiting till I had disappeared before going on with their backbiting, their malicious small talk. What could they be dreaming up about me? The whole concierge system is a kind of plot.

*

She had grown used to my comings and goings at the same time every day, and adjusted to my strange solitude. ‘You look to me’, she said to me at one point, ‘like you’re hiding from the police. Or from some rivals’. I told her that no one was after my skin, that as far as my hash was concerned I was sure no one was trying to settle it, and that I had never belonged to the underworld. ‘Just as I suspected’, she said, ‘you don’t look brave enough for that’.

— Ionesco, The Hermit (tr. R. Seaver)

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