Albert Camus ♦ THE STRANGER
MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the
Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP
SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.
The Home for Aged Persons is at Marengo, some fifty miles from Algiers. With
the two o'clock bus I should get there well before nightfall. Then I can spend the
night there, keeping the usual vigil beside the body, and be back here by tomorrow
evening. I have fixed up with my employer for two days' leave; obviously, under the
circumstances, he couldn't refuse. Still, I had an idea he looked annoyed, and I said,
without thinking: "Sorry, sir, but it's not my fault, you know."
Afterwards it struck me I needn't have said that. I had no reason to excuse myself;
it was up to him to express his sympathy and so forth. Probably he will do so the day
after tomorrow, when he sees me in black. For the present, it's almost as if Mother
weren't really dead. The funeral will bring it home to me, put an official seal on it, so
to speak. ...
I took the two-o'clock bus. It was a blazing hot afternoon. I'd lunched, as usual, at
Celeste's restaurant. Everyone was most kind, and Celeste said to me, "There's no
one like a mother." When I left they came with me to the door. It was something of a
rush, getting away, as at the last moment I had to call in at Emmanuel's place to
borrow his black tie and mourning band. He lost his uncle a few months ago.
I had to run to catch the bus. I suppose it was my hurrying like that, what with the
glare off the road and from the sky, the reek of gasoline, and the jolts, that made me
feel so drowsy. Anyhow, I slept most of the way. When I woke I was leaning against
a soldier; he grinned and asked me if I'd come from a long way off, and I just
nodded, to cut things short. I wasn't in a mood for talking.
The Home is a little over a mile from the village. I went there on foot. I asked to
be allowed to see Mother at once, but the doorkeeper told me I must see the warden
first. He wasn't free, and I had to wait a bit. The doorkeeper chatted with me while I
waited; then he led me to the office. The warden was a very small man, with gray
hair, and a Legion of Honor rosette in his buttonhole. He gave me a long look with
his watery blue eyes. Then we shook hands, and he held mine so long that I began to
feel embarrassed. After that he consulted a register on his table, and said:
"Madame Meursault entered the Home three years ago. She had no private means
and depended entirely on you."
I had a feeling he was blaming me for something, and started to explain. But he
cut me short.
"There's no need to excuse yourself, my boy. I've looked up the record and
obviously you weren't in a position to see that she was properly cared for. She
needed someone to be with her all the time, and young men in jobs like yours don't
get too much pay. In any case, she was much happier in the Home."
I said, "Yes, sir; I'm sure of that."
Then he added: "She had good friends here, you know, old folks like herself, and
one gets on better with people of one's own generation. You're much too young; you
couldn't have been much of a companion to her."
That was so. When we lived together, Mother was always watching me, but we
hardly ever talked. During her first few weeks at the Home she used to cry a good
deal. But that was only because she hadn't settled down. After a month or two she'd
have cried if she'd been told to leave the Home. Because this, too, would have been a
wrench. That was why, during the last year, I seldom went to see her. Also, it would
have meant losing my Sunday — not to mention the trouble of going to the bus,
getting my ticket, and spending two hours on the journey each way.
The warden went on talking, but I didn't pay much attention. Finally he said:
"Now, I suppose you'd like to see your mother?"
I rose without replying, and he led the way to the door. As we were going down
the stairs he explained:
"I've had the body moved to our little mortuary — so as not to upset the other old
people, you understand. Every time there's a death here, they're in a nervous state for
two or three days. Which means, of course, extra work and worry for our staff."
We crossed a courtyard where there were a number of old men, talking amongst
themselves in little groups. They fell silent as we came up with them. Then, behind
our backs, the chattering began again. Their voices reminded me of parakeets in a
cage, only the sound wasn't quite so shrill. The warden stopped outside the entrance
of a small, low building.
"So here I leave you, Monsieur Meursault. If you want me for anything, you'll
find me in my office. We propose to have the funeral tomorrow morning. That will
enable you to spend the night beside your mother's coffin, as no doubt you would
wish to do. Just one more thing; I gathered from your mother's friends that she
wished to be buried with the rites of the Church. I've made arrangements for this; but
I thought I should let you know."
I thanked him. So far as I knew, my mother, though not a professed atheist, had
never given a thought to religion in her life.
I entered the mortuary. It was a bright, spotlessly clean room, with whitewashed
walls and a big skylight. The furniture consisted of some chairs and trestles. Two of
the latter stood open in the center of the room and the coffin rested on them. The lid