The following is a text that I wrote in French while I was living in France and have just translated into English. This is the first time that it has been published in either language. I wrote it the day after the incident.
30 July 2001, Anjou, France, 11:10 p.m.
The neighbours have sent their children to bed. I can hear windows and shutters banging.
It is strange. Their windows remain open all day, letting in the stifling air from outside, and they close them in the evening when it is a lot cooler. I do the opposite. Each to his own taste.
The window of my bathroom, an en suite to my bedroom, stays open all night. It has solid bars, conceived to discourage any thief who might have had the laughable idea of trying to find something worth stealing in my apartment.
The bars, around ten centimetres apart, do let in quite a lot of visitors however. Every morning, I remove the leftovers from the nocturnal meals of the two spiders who are comfortably installed in ambush in my bathroom. They sort through the Unidentified Flying Objects which have had the audacity to penetrate my home while I am asleep. I leave them there on purpose, as a first line of defence.
From time to time, I receive the visit of a big moth who has temporarily lost sight of the moon and, led astray by my bedside lamp, braves the bars and the spiders.
This evening, I am reading. I am not yet in bed, but am sitting on it, with my back to the room. Theoretically, I am immersed in Emile Zola’s La Debacle, but I am having trouble concentrating. I can still hear the windows and shutters banging.
I am starting to have some auditory hallucinations. I hear something fall in the bathroom. I raise my head. I listen. Nothing. Anyway, there is nothing susceptible of falling in the bathroom. I go back to Zola.
I hear some sort of movement behind my head. A big moth. I see it out of the corner of my eye when it changes direction.
First thought: its colour is very dark.
It passes behind my head again. I bid it “Good evening!” Yes, I talk to moths. I know, I am crazy, but this is not the right moment to discuss that subject. I raise my head to look at this nearly black moth. I am wearing my reading glasses and am surrounded by an artistically out-of-focus decor. The Flying Object has gone into the bathroom and makes a left-hand turn before plunging towards the bathtub.
Second thought: it’s not a moth; it’s a bird! How did it manage to get through the bars? I’m going to have fun trying to catch it to set it free!
Third thought: it looked odd. Why? Its flight. It’s not a bird! It’s a bat!
Fourth thought: what do I do now? Help!
“First of all, we must remain calm. It’s a tiny, little bat from Anjou. It’s nothing like the enormous vampires in South America.”
“Maybe. But it’s in my bathroom!”
“That’s true. It’s in your bathroom. But it’s there by accident and it’s more than likely that it wants to be somewhere else.”
“Then why doesn’t it just go away?”
“It would already have done so if there weren’t any bars. You’re going to have to help it.”
“I don’t mind doing that, but firstly, it needs to know that I’m trying to help it and don’t want to hurt it.”
“Well, tell it that.”
“Yes, yes, of course! I take an accelerated course in Ultra-Sounds, specializing in Bat!”
“Like all living things, it feels your thoughts.”
“In that case, it mustn’t be very confident at the moment.”
“So, you already have that in common. In your opinion, who has the biggest problem? You, or it?”
“All right. But what is it going to do when I go into the bathroom?”
“If you were in its place, what would you do?”
“Huddle in a corner and pray.”
“So, that’s probably what it will do, too.”
“Let’s stay on the subject. In your bathroom, there is a living creature who is afraid and wants to leave. You need to make it understand that you are going to help it and that it must trust you.”
“And all that through my thoughts. A piece of cake!”
I put Zola and my glasses down on the bed and walk the metre and a half separating me from the bathroom, which is vaguely lit by the bedside lamp.
If we start with the premise that the very, very, very tiny-little-animal-hiding-somewhere-in-the-dark doesn’t like light very much, switching on the bathroom light would be a mistake. Therefore, we won’t.
When last seen, this really-minuscule-little-thing was plunging towards the bathtub, fortunately white, and has not made the slightest sound since.
Different things decorate the top of my bathtub: among them, my toothbrush and the toothpaste; the latter in the form of a little plastic bottle. Between the two, there is something dark-coloured. It is not moving.
Right. Let us say that it is the bat. How am I going to take hold of it? This is my first bat rescue. Let us do the same thing as for wasps and bees: a clean cloth.
I explain, out loud, that I am going to fetch something to help it out of there. It listens to me attentively and does not move.
I find a tea-towel in smooth cotton, in which the bat would not risk getting stuck. I return to the bathroom.
I explain to it that I am going to take away the tooth-brush that is just in front of it. Which I do. The bat does not move.
It has magnificent ears – all rounded. What a pity that I can’t turn on the light to see it better. Naturally, I can’t take a photo of it, either.
I can’t see it very clearly and am very surprised when, after having told it what I was going to do, I pick up the bottle of toothpaste. It is clinging to it.
I start to put it down again, then decide to try to pass it like that between the bars.
Despite its immobility, its nerves must be very taut. They snap, and it lets go of the toothpaste.
I put down the bottle and tell it that I am going to try to take it with the tea-towel, but that I would have preferred that it were turned the other way. It seems to understand and begins to turn around. I am astounded.
It slips on the enamel and spreads its wings to land in the bathtub. I can see it a lot better. It is very beautiful.
Now, it is turned the right way around, but its wings must be folded. It does not agree with this.
It tries to fly onto the edge of the bathtub, but does not have enough room for take-off. It slips. It can’t hold on. It tries again. This time, I understand.
I hold out the tea-towel and it grips the side of it. I lift them both slowly. The bat folds its wings and I pass the tea-towel between the bars. The bat is outside. We look at each other. It does not fly away, but I am absolutely certain that it knows that it is free. These few seconds during which it remains clinging to my tea-towel, looking at me, are a gift that it is giving me.
“Go!”, I tell it. The bat unfolds its wings, holds on for another instant, then takes off into the dark. I bring in the empty tea-towel.
I feel a bit uneasy. This bat has greatly troubled me. I have the impression that I have been dealing with a being of an intelligence that is equal, if not superior, to mine. Different, of course, but not inferior. I feel very humble. I am not sure that I like this feeling.
In my bedroom, I look at the time: 11:20 p.m. The last three hours have taken only ten minutes. Apparently, that is what is known as Relativity.
I go to bed. I am exhausted. I wonder what the bathroom spiders think of it all. I shall have to ask them tomorrow.