This made for juicy morsels of gossip for the goûter at four o’clock
Mirabelle was called all sorts of names: a mutt, a café au lait, a métisse, half-bred, because her papa was French and her maman was Malagasy. Her maman, who was once the chauffeur’s wife, used to be her papa’s housemaid. Her papa divorced his French wife when her maman was pregnant with Mirabelle.
This made for juicy morsels of gossip for the goûter at four o’clock when the bell rang and we spilled out from the classroom with our mothers’ packed snacks—brioche with powdered sugar on top in a plastic bag, koba peanut pâté wrapped in banana leaves. I stared at breadcrumbs dropping from handsome Alain’s mouth, my belly yearning for a whiff of butter and ham. “Here comes the mongrel,” he said to Shirley, jutting his jaw toward the outcast girl du jour who was planted in the middle of the playground like a bullseye. “Yeah!” said Shirley, swinging her long straight black hair as her mouth frowned into a tilde of disdain. She was, herself, half Cantonese and half white American. But her Daddy—as she called him—had been a deputy at the US Embassy and that gave her the right to agree with whatever Alain, the blond, pale and blue-eyed heartthrob of the class said. Alain’s best exploit: chewing and swallowing his cheat sheet when our suspicious math teacher walked to his desk during an exam.
Thankfully, they’d both forgotten their usual target: me, with my thick eyeglasses and my badly tailored culottes my mother stitched up in the middle of the night from an old pair of pants. I wanted to split away from the pack of wolves. Instead, I’d be nice to poor Mirabelle, I’d be her savior. We’d become friends. She and I against them. Wasn’t that what it was all about? Us versus them. I walked up to her, and said “Hey, Mirabelle!”
She jerked her head to face me, startled. She didn’t expect to hear a friendly voice. I saw her face filled with fear, a primal and obstinate anguish. It clung to her eyes, hair, skin, reverberating around her. She was a rabbit gripped by a sudden sound, unable to distinguish between friend or predator, a lamb at the sacrificial shrine.
“Give me your snack!” I yelled.
She handed me her bag of macarons as if she’d already rehearsed the gesture, had heard the demand so often she expected it, could not imagine any outcome different. When I didn’t hold out my hand, she laid it at my feet like an offering, then folded away and disappeared behind the jacaranda tree. Years later, I returned to the lycée in Tananarive. The tree with its purple blooms had grown taller and older.