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Post-its from Georges

Pictures in Maryse Wolinski's house

The cartoonist Georges Wolinski was one of 12 victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January. His wife of 45 years, Maryse, has spoken to the BBC about their relationship - and how the little notelets he left about the house are helping her get through the ordeal of her loss. This is an edited translation of her words.

On the morning of 7 January, there was a big meeting at Charlie Hebdo, their monthly editorial meeting. Georges didn't always attend those, but since this was the first one of the year, he was going along. The only thing he said to me was: "I'm going to Charlie," and he left.

I left as well, and since I also had a meeting, I turned my mobile off. When I turned it on again after the meeting I was surprised to see all these messages from people I was not in regular contact with, saying, "How is Georges? How is he doing?" I was in a taxi and I said to the driver, "This is really weird. People are asking me how my husband is." And the taxi driver looked at me in the mirror and said, "Well, don't you know what's happening? You don't know the news? There was an attack at Charlie Hebdo this morning and the whole of the 11th arrondissement is on lock-down."

Image caption Cherie, I am going out to eat couscous with my friend Nasser. It's 10 o'clock, it's time for sleep. I kiss you my love. G.

I wanted to go to the office straight away but the driver said it was impossible. At that moment I received a call from my son-in-law, who said to me, "There's no point in your going there, just go home, because at the moment we don't know anything, we haven't been told anything."

So I ended up going home and I was, as you can imagine, extremely worried. For an hour, I waited. And I had this peculiar feeling that something had happened, that my life had changed. Then my son-in law called again and he said, quite abruptly, "Georges is dead."

I sat down. I was shaking, overcome with this really intense headache and a strange sensation, like I was no longer living in the present, like the world had just stopped. And I found myself unable to do anything. I knew that the life I had been leading, my whole life with Georges, was over. I had no idea what my next life, without him, could possibly be like.

I met Georges in May 1968. In France, that was a time when big events were taking place, the mass youth protests. I had got an internship as a journalist for the Le Journal du Dimanche. Georges was also working there.

It was love at first sight. He was quite the opposite of every guy I'd ever known, and he was the opposite of everything my parents wanted for me. I was brought up in a very Catholic family, very severe. Laughing and joking around was just not something we did.

Georges was very different. I found him really seductive and he made me laugh. He provoked something within me. It was like doors opening - to a new world, a new universe. I felt that with him I would be able to develop a more creative side of my personality. With him, I felt that was something I could nurture and bring out.

Our marriage was very passionate. We were really in love until the end. In 2002, I wrote a book, Separate Rooms, which was all about why many of our friends had separated, and I was trying to analyse what made our relationship work. I think the key ingredient was humour. Because Georges had this way of looking at life, so that even in our most difficult times he would find a way of completely turning things around, of making me laugh. Then that would be it - all the tension between us would evaporate.

We had the same values - tolerance, freedom, peace, equality - but we didn't necessarily have the same ideas. So I don't really agree with what the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, that love consists in looking outward in the same direction.

Sometimes, when I was sitting at my desk at home, he would come and sit next to me and start drawing me. In many of his cartoons there was a little blond woman - that was me. Georges' colleagues would say to me, "Ah! Here you are again Maryse! You're in a drawing again!" But if he didn't think I would like the drawing he would draw a little brunette, so I wouldn't recognise myself.

He had a file of documents that he had gathered through the years about the death of his father, who had had a small wrought-iron manufacturing business. There had been someone that Georges' dad wanted to sack, and unfortunately this Italian employee got a gun and killed him. Georges was only two years old. When the attack at Charlie Hebdo happened I felt that this was the most astounding repetition in the history of his family - for Georges to go through that in his childhood, and then for it to happen to him too.

I think it's just incredible that these two men managed to get into those offices. I still can't comprehend it, why it happened and on that particular day, when they were all there. I think there must have been a leak.

During the previous [2007] court case about the Muhammad cartoons, we had received some special protection. But recently I hadn't felt the situation to be especially dangerous - unless Georges received threats he didn't tell me about. And he never drew Muhammad. His cartoons were more political or sexual, so there were no worries in particular. That's what made it even worse, if you see what I mean. Because we had no idea that anything was bubbling underneath.

Image caption 21:40 I have bought your books. I have given my drawing to Cabu. I have eaten Chinese. I am thinking of you and your courage. I love you. Georges

I never asked Georges why he didn't draw Muhammad but in a recent edition of Charlie Hebdo, Riss Sourisseau, the new editor, has written about Georges' doubts about the cartoons. He would ask questions like, "Is it worth us taking the risk of drawing these cartoons? Are we putting our lives in danger?"

And these people who have done this act, these jihadists are ready to kill for no reason, that's how I feel. There was this article in Le Monde saying they left their homes in the morning, saying to their wives, "We're going to do some shopping, we're going to the sales." And then instead of that they armed themselves with Kalashnikovs and drove to Charlie Hebdo, and they killed 12 people in 15 minutes.

That's why Georges had this worry, because we are confronted by people it's impossible to have a rational conversation with. They are monsters. They are taught to kill for religion but we know that it's not about religion. They just want to kill everyone who doesn't think like they do - that's what they want. And the cartoonists, including Georges, died doing what they did best, they died with their pens in their hands. They were on the front line, and they died in action.

As for Georges, it's very hard for me to pick out a single quality to remember him by. But what I would say is that he remained in love until the end.

He used to do one thing in particular that was always sure to make me smile. On days when we didn't see each other, or if I was going out in the evening, he would leave little post-it notes for me. They might say, "I did this or that today", or if I had a difficult meeting that evening, there might be one saying something like, "I kiss your lovely smile".

What I've done - because as you can imagine after 47 years of knowing Georges, and now he's gone, it's such a difficult time for me - I have placed all these post-it notes, one after another, around my apartment. The last one I see before I go in my bedroom says "Goodnight darling".

It is helping me to cope right now, the sight of all those little words he left behind.

Image caption I love you. I have eaten some foie gras, some soup, a bit of galette. I am thinking of you. Until tomorrow my dear. I kiss you Maryse, darling. Georges
Image caption Good night my darling. G.

Translation by Helene Daouphars. Photographs by Steven Wassenaar.

Maryse Wolinski spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service. Listen again to the interview on iPlayer or get the Outlook podcast.


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