Place of writing: Toulouse in south-west France.
Like most countries, France was in lockdown when I got involved in this project. Obviously I was stuck at home, and it felt as though the world had gone…crazy. The notion of time shifted. Days became longer. The death toll increased. It was a really strange feeling to watch things get worse outside while feeling safe inside, almost like being in a cocoon.
When you think about it, the year 2020 was terrible, and it actually makes me laugh. Not because it’s amusing (well it is, in a way), but because I was wondering how it would be taught to children in a few years. And that’s why it felt important to be writing about these times : so people would have testimonies from all around the world later in the future.
* * *
This story takes place in France, because it’s the country I know best. I wrote in English but both characters are French. I also used some historic references which we’re taught at school, which you may or may not be familiar with. So whenever there’s a “¹” it means that I added a note to explain, on the last page.
Hello! My name is… Well actually, never mind what my name is, you only need to know me as “The Narrator”. I’m here to tell you stories, and things you don’t know. So here’s one thing you don’t know: the universe is divided into three dimensions. Two extremes and one undecided. Two futures and one past. Two teachers and one student. You, dear reader, are from the third dimension. You are supposed to learn from the first two, from their mistakes and achievements. So listen closely to what I’ve got to say, because it’ll determine your future.
Once upon a time, there were two young women. They’d never met each other, but they were more alike than they could’ve thought. One was named Ginette, and the other… Well, she was named Ginette as well. In order to avoid any confusion between the two of them, we’ll just call them Ginette 1 and Ginette 2.
Ginette 1 was very unhappy with her life, she cried whenever she could. One day, when she was more depressed than usual, things started to go dark around her. She didn’t worry, it had happened a lot recently. She only realised that she wasn’t in her room anymore when she heard someone sing and, raising her head, she found herself facing a dancing version of her body. But it wasn’t really herself, she was certain of it, for she was sitting in the corner of this dark strange world she’d just discovered. Still taken aback, Ginette 1 watched the other one continue moving, eyes closed, apparently unaware of her surroundings. Finally the dancer stopped. She didn’t appear a bit confused or lost. On the contrary she said, smiling: “Hello! Would you tell me why you are crying?”
Surprised that someone actually cared about her feelings, Ginette 1 answered, first shyly but then passionately:
“My life is so miserable… I don’t know who you are –why do you look exactly like me? It makes no sense! But I’m sure you heard of the coronavirus crisis… Well, after the lockdown ended, things just got worse. In every country, world leaders started to take more power than ever, and now there are wars everywhere on Earth. A lot of people lost their money, including my family, so we’re poor… My country is a dictatorship – the president has taken full control of the French Republic – and the government is just so horrible ! You should see the policies they’re running! I mean, why on Earth would they forbid women to have their own money? Everything my mum owns –and it’s not much – my father has control over it! I feel like I’m living in The Handmaid’s Tale! It’s so disgusting! And anyway, we’re doomed, because they ruined the environment! Temperatures are rising as the employment rate is lowering. How come we didn’t notice anything before it was too late? How come we didn’t see the way we were going? We should’ve protested against this authoritarian society, but we did nothing! And now, it’s too late! We’ll all be dead by the time we take our freedom back, so there’s no point in resisting… So yes, I’m crying over my lost happy life.”
And she sank back into her crying.
Ginette 2 stood in front of her, silent for a minute or two and then responded:
“‘Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently’. Henry Ford said that –it’s quite ironic in this situation, I must say. It seems that, in your world, humankind failed to stop bad people from doing bad things. But nothing’s lost yet! You could stand up and fight, defeat all those same bad people! Just… Listen to yourself! You’re talking as though you’ve already lost, when the war hasn’t even started yet! Yes, you’re in a bad ̶ very bad ̶ situation, but there’s always hope! Think of World War II, and the Resistance! Think of the Revolution in 89¹! Think of Mai 68²! Think of April 21st, 1944³! Think of what the people who participated in these events achieved, only by resisting and believing in their fight! Think of them, and take back what is yours! In my world, our leaders started taking the power from the people, too. But we said “no”. We refused to let democracy fall apart. So, we rebelled. We fought back. And we succeeded. France is now a participative democracy, the citizens vote their laws. We started changing, in order to stay below 15° C warming, and it created a lot of jobs, helping unemployed people. We organised new elections, and our new president is now a woman! We reformed the police, the education and a lot of other areas. We’re almost living in a paradise. Why couldn’t you do the same? Your life would be so much more happier!”
But, even after hearing this passionate speech, Ginette 1 still wasn’t convinced and preferred to stay in a state of desperation – she didn’t even notice how strange it was of Ginette 2 to speak of France as if it was different from the one she knew.
So, as a last attempt to try and change her mind, Ginette 2 decided that she might as well tell her the truth:
“Ok, listen to me, Ginette. I’m going to tell you something very important. I’m not from your world. I’m from another dimension. One that is in much better shape than yours. Very recently, someone who called themselves “the Narrator” told me this truth, explaining that the universe is divided into three dimensions. Our two worlds, and a third. They said that your world is doomed to fail, while mine is meant to become some sort of a paradise. The third world is supposed to learn from us. We were sent here to meet each other, because we are going to work together in the future. Our job is to tell the third dimension about our experiences, in order to help its inhabitants in their decisions.”
“Wait, wait, wait. You’re telling me that we’re not alone in the universe? And what is this place, anyway? Why should I believe you – why? What am I supposed to do?”
Ginette 1 was starting to freak out, but her other self calmed her with answers:
“It’s ok to be disoriented, I was at first, but now I understand everything. I’m going to answer your questions so you’ll know that I don’t wish you any harm. This place is some sort of a portal between the three dimensions. It’s where we can meet without anyone interfering, and it’s where we will meet our third self to convince her that she needs to fight for her rights, and to not give up. I think you already believe me, else you’d already been gone. You are my “dark version”, so this job can’t be done by anyone else. And the only thing you’re supposed to do is tell Ginette 3 about your life, and your mistakes, and give her hope about her own future. I hope this tells you what you wanted to know.”
After considering everything she heard for a while, Ginette 1 lifted up her head, a resolute look in her eyes, and said:
“What if I want to fight my destiny? What if I don’t accept to be a part of the “bad” world?”
“Then why did you try to convince me otherwise earlier?”
“I was only rehearsing my speech destined for Ginette 3…”
“I don’t accept that for an answer. I’ll work with you, because I think anyone should have the opportunity to build a better future, and I will also work to change my world into a better one at the same time.”
Ginette 2 sighed but didn’t say a word, only smiling sadly, as if she didn’t really believe Ginette 1 would be able to achieve what was on her mind. After a while without talking, the two raised their heads, looked at each other, and said at the same time:
“Are you ready?”
And from then on, there wasn’t just one happy dimension in the universe but three, as Ginette 1 kept her promise to improve her own world while helping Ginette 3 to become greater. They lived happily ever after.
That’s not entirely true, actually. I’m sorry to interrupt your joyful (or not) thoughts, but as the Narrator it is my duty to tell you the whole truth. Happiness is never acquired. You always need to fight to keep it alive. There will always be someone, or something to ruin it, and try to steal it away. (Minorities know this, because every time something bad happens, they are the first to suffer from it.) So you may think this story has come to an end, but it has just begun.
Until we meet again.
- The French revolution of 1789. (when we cut off Louis XVI’s head).
- May 1968 is a month of riots in Paris. Students and workers protesting against their working conditions.
- Women’s vote in France.
All writing, all images © The Imagining History Programme UK