Friday, June 22, 2007

Heart things

Beth came in from taking out the garbage and told me that she had noticed a couple of teenage boys hanging around the neighbor's dumpsters across the street. As she had to make two trips she was curious to see if they'd still be there when she returned. Ten minutes later she went out there again and there they were. She looked at them and one boy smiled at her and said, "Hello."
Not a little surprised by the audible "h" - a sign of something more than the usual French pronunciation - she smiled back and said, "Hello." Then she went back into the yard and reported the encounter to me. I listened and wondered who it might be, thought about going out there to check, but then I got sidetracked by something and pretty soon an hour or more had passed and I forgot all about them.
Then the bell rang. I went out to the street and saw three of my students from seconde - Bertrand, Delphine, and Melvin. They were standing there all smiles, a bit awkward and shy. I was delighted to see them and invited them in. As I showed them in I noticed that Melvin was holding a folded sheet of paper. I introduced them to the kids and to Beth and offered them a snack. Beth's smile told me that these were the same two boys she had seen over an hour earlier. It turns out they had been waiting for Delphine before ringing the bell.
"Did you get the book?" Melvin asked.
At first Beth and I were puzzled. "Book?"
They all looked a bit surprised and even worried. "Two days ago? We left a book..."
Then Beth and I understood. Two days earlier we had come home from a bike trip to the beach and found a lovely hard bound reference book on the Bassin d'Arcachon leaned up against the door. No note, no card , no inscription....mystere.
"We didn't have a pen or anything," said a sheepish Bertrand. "We were afraid you wouldn't be here again."
We all sat down at the table on the terrasse. Melvin handed me the paper - it was an original poem written in French with an English version included. The sentiment was lovely and coming as it did completely outside the school year, the result not just of their own diligent work but also of their vigilant waiting.The English version touched me equally because as their English teacher I was impressed that they had succeeded in avoiding the word by word translation trap and produced a version that stood on its own....impeccable.
We chatted at the table for over an hour, kicking around ideas for reuniting one day. I feel certain that one day I will see Bertrand again...maybe the others as well. It seems more and more plausible that some kind of exchange might be feasible between students at our two high schools.
When they said goodbye, I watched them walk out the gate. Suddenly, I realized that I had forgotten to take a picture of them. I dashed into the house and back out into the road a few yards past the place where Beth had first seen the boys waiting patiently for Delphine. I joked with them about how long it takes to say goodbye and then snapped this photo. For the umpteenth time in the last fifteen we said goodbye again.

I walked back into the house basking in the afterglow of their kindness and affection. As I passed the dinner table I noticed that I had completely forgotten to mail two important business letters. It was 5:10 pm. Was the post office closed. Suddenly I couldn't remember the hours - ten months here and I still couldn't remember - Beth urged me to make a run for it.
I grabbed the car keys and headed out the door. Colm, who was playing on the floor perked up.
"Can I go?"
"Come on."
Colm fell into step beside me absolutely pleased... I love how easy it is sometimes to say yes and have it count for something.
We drive to the post office. I get out of the car in a hurry partly because Colm has figured out how to unbuckle and get out himself and he doesn't always remember to look for traffic. As I usher him to the curb he chirps, "I pushed the door really hard, that way I don't have to push it two times."
I'm focused on the letters but I have to grant him that, closing the door in one fell swoop sure beats having to do it twice. I peer inside the glass door and press the ringer. It's hard to see, a bit dark -bad sign - but there's someone in there. I push on the door but it doesn't move. I ring and push again. Suddenly the door opens and I realize I've been pushing on the hinges. A woman smiles at us and tells us they're closed. As she talks, Colm squeezes past her into the building. I reach past her knees and get his shirt and reel him back.
"What are the hours?" I ask overcoming my own embarassment at not knowing.
She points at the sign on the glass a few centimeters from where my nose had been pressed only a minute earlier. She smiles still as if she knows that the feeble minded are God's creatures too.
"Ahh...merci...come on Colm."
Flustered, I retreat to the car, though not as directly nor as quickly as I would prefer since Colm wants first to mount and traverse a little brick retaining wall and then show me how he can jump off of it. It's easy to see why he is oblivious to my disappointment about the letters.
As I drive home I notice the school on the left where Colm and Tess have spent this year. I don't know if Colm sees it too but a moment later he says to me, "Daddy?"
"Yeah, Colm?"
"When we went to Butterfly Land, I tried to speak French."
It's the very first time I've ever heard Colm talk about himself speaking French. "That's great, Colm. I'm proud of you for trying to speak French." I add, "I hear you speak sometimes, and I think you do a good job, you know?"
A couple of seconds pass and then, "Oui," comes the barely audible reply from behind me.
By the time I get home I've forgotten about the letters again. All I can think of is the kindness of three French kids who passed the afternoon with us and who left after closing time, of why I left anyway. Maybe this was why I went to the post office, why I said yes to Colm, why he asked to come with me in the first place, why I'm so damned lucky...


Anonymous erin said...

What a great day!

11:09 AM  

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