Last year, I was having a drink with a newly met friend in a small, nearly empty Spanish bar in the Center of Brussels when I had one of the strangest encounters of my days. I was telling my friend about my past and my mixed origins when a man who was drinking a beer at the table right next to ours suddenly turned his chair in our direction.

He said: ” I’m very sorry to interrupt you, but I was absentmindedly listening to what you were discussing and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking over what you said about your relationship with your mother. ”

He was around 40, had plump cheeks, a delicate French accent and a distinguished style which made me think of some kind of character from a Proustian novel. Unsurprisingly, Brussels is one of these big cities where you can met odd people at the corner of any street. Usually, I politely listen to whatever they have to say before silently ending the discussion by an amused smile. But I wasn’t really prepared for what this man – I think his name was Goldstein – wanted to tell me.

” I think I heard you say that you used to be very close to your mother, isn’t it right? ” asked the man named Goldstein.

” That’s correct, I responded. ”

” Is it not the case anymore? ”

” Well …” , I babbled, disconcerted, ” my mother and I used to be closer when I was a child. Now we’re having a more conflicting relationship even though we love each other. ”

” Do you tell her you love her? ”

” I… No, I don’t. Actually, my family has always been quite undemonstrative about our feelings for each others. I think my mother and I never said “I love you” to each other. ” I realized the intensity of what I had said only a moment later.

” I see… ” , said Goldstein after a short pause. ” I’m sorry if my questions have been intrusive but you see, I lost my mom six months ago and I’ve found dealing with my grief extremely difficult. You don’t necessarily realize what a mother is to you before loosing her. My mom was a monument. You were talking about your mother and, you know, this is a word I’ve always had troubles to use. “Mother” sounds so cold, so angular, so distant yet a bit presumptuous. I could never call my mom a “mother”, even when she wasn’t in the room… Anyway, I won’t disturb you any longer. If I might give you just a piece of advice: tell her you love her. It’s always too late when you realize you should have. And read the Book of My Mother by Cohen, it’s been a constant solace in my grievance… ”

I stayed silent. This short discussion had stir complicated emotions inside me while filling me with an unexpected, warm sensation of gratitude.

When my parents’ marriage started to fall apart, I was only a teenager. At that time, I wasn’t really able to realize that the divorce was like a bomb attack. Of course, I won’t blame my parents for that: they did all they could to protect their children. If even love and family are dead, you can’t just keep pretending and fest on what is left of it. But still, I have tended myself to minimize the emotional burden that the separation of my parents would represent to me. Everything changed at this point: my father became more and more distant, my mother started to develop a bitterness. And I locked myself in. I’d always been a shy kid but since that moment, opening myself to the outside world have proven to be quite challenging.

Six years ago, when I left Casablanca to study in Brussels, my mother followed me shortly after. She wanted to rebuild her life in the country she had left at my actual age. During two months, we lived in a 17 m² studio before being able to rent a bigger apartment. Times were tough, my father could not help financially and my mother had troubles finding a job back. My relationship with her suffered a lot during the storm, but it built us both stronger too. My mom is my monument: a broken one, parts in ruins, others still proudly standing on their feet. Her face washed by half a life of nostalgic sunlight. A few months ago, I texted her « I love you » for the first time. It was in the subway after I had dinner at her place. She texted back « Love you too » and an emoji with heart-shaped eyes. It was new, a bit childish. But I felt so much gratitude.