A year after her arrival, Marie packs a luggage for the two of us and I go home with her for Christmas. Marie was my youngest brother’s and my nanny. © (Unedited Excerpt)
We travel by train, just Marie and I, with our luggage and a handbag filled with sandwiches, fruits and two thermoses, one filled with hot chocolate, the other with coffee. From my seat, by the window, I discover the countryside. The leafless trees, look sad, all lined up along the roads and here and there, farms dot the fields. In the villages, I see kids, careless of their shoes and clothes, who jump in the rain puddles. A weak afternoon sun, briefly appears and disappears behind grey heavy sky—promise of snow.
When we arrive at the farm, the front door opens wide. Marie’s little sister, Joelle, two years older than me, runs, coat unbuttoned. She jumps on Marie, “Marika! Marika!” They hug. Marie buttons her up, pulls her hood over her head. “Have fun, you girls!” A washed out blonde with sapphire eyes, Joelle giggles, excited to have a playmate for two weeks. It’s almost dark. She shoves her hand in mine and we dash around the farm. Instantly, my shoes are mud. In the barn, the animals chomp on their evening feed, heads swivel and stretch toward us. She pets the cow, then the horse. Apprehensive, I stand back.
We leave the barn and walk across the cobblestone yard toward the house, then with cold hands and dirty shoes, enter into the kitchen. The smell of the winter vegetable soup simmering on the stove, reaches us. I am hungry.
Already, Marie has set the large farm table for supper. She hands me my slippers, pulled out of our luggage. Her mother, cooks and readies the meal and once we enter, she stops and kneels down to hug me. She gazes into my eyes, smiles. My arms open wide and lock behind her neck. This is also my home.
Her two brothers come in after us, followed by her father. He is a dark figure, wears dark pants, dark jacket, which he removes and places on his chair, at the head of the table. Silvery hair and pale blue eyes, he speaks little and intimidates me. Her father is the reason why Marie brought me with her. He wants her to stay. She does not. He needs more working hands on the farm. I am too small to be send back home on the train by myself. And so my mother had arranged everything and it worked, not knowing it would be the best vacations I would ever have. I left my family for her family. I played, played and played more.
Marie had left behind two brothers. The oldest one, came to pick us up at the train station. Kind and playful, the warmest big brother ever. One at the time, he takes Joelle and me in his arms, and throws us up in the air. The goal—to reach and touch the ceiling. Exciting and scary at the same time. But, he always catches us. It’s new for me; I can play with this big brother, and know I can trust him. Then after a few rounds, he declares:
“You girls are gaining weight by the day. No more desserts for the two of you. I’m sooo tired now!” He collapses on a chair, mimics exhaustion. But Joelle and I jump on his lap. No rest for the brave, for we then pull on his arms and begin a game of hide and seek.
The younger brother, quieter, lives a little bit in the shadow of his brother. Every morning, he pulls on my braids, and then sits across the table from me. Elbows on the wooden table, he grasps in his two hands, a bowl of black coffee which he drinks, little sips at the time, his eyes watch me above the edge of his steaming ceramic dish. I dunk my tartines of bread, butter and jam in my bowl of hot milk. He winks. I grin at him, a white shadow of cream above my upper lip. Later, he takes his winter jacket and I wait for him to whistle as he leaves the house to go to work. I like Marie’s brothers. They relish the presence of two little girls around them.
In the evening, with no T.V in the house, we settle around the farm table and play “La Bataille,” a card game. When Joelle and I go to bed, tired from our day, the grownups set up a board game: “Le Nain Jaune” or “Les Petits chevaux,” too complicated for my age. Joelle and I share the same bed. We talk, hold hands and fall asleep in each other arms with the light on. Marie shares the same bedroom and by the time she comes in, we are fast asleep. Her two brothers shared the adjacent bedroom and her parents sleep downstairs.
Its Christmas morning! Joelle gets up and runs downstairs. Shy, I remain in bed. I think about Le Pere Noel. He does not know I am here, on the other side of France. He probably forgot me. I hear noises downstairs, Marie calls me. A racket in the staircase and hurried steps in the hallway. Joelle’s head appears at the bedroom door, “Come down with us!” She pulls on my hand, drags me downstairs. When in the kitchen, she jumps up and down and pushes me forward. My white nightgown, all wrinkled, reaches my feet. My long braids hang down. The floor feels cold under my feet. Everyone stare at me. One brother winks and nods his head, a grin across his face. The other, hands me a large box with my name, hand written with a pencil. I opened the present and there … eyes wide open, a doll gazes back at me.
“She is beautiful!” I whisper to myself. Dressed in a short and green plaid outfit, made of hard breakable plastic—nothing like the luxurious ones I have back home, soft and pliable. I admire her. Under my fingers, her coarse hair feels like cotton to me. I take her out of her box and starts dancing in the room. Joelle joins me with her identical doll, dressed in blue. The two of us face each other, our twin dolls also face each other and our four hands hold on to them. In a round of four, we dance around and around. The sweetest Christmas morning ever. Christmas was not a big production, we had one gift each. This family feels good. I don’t remember if I had breakfast that morning. I remember two things: Playing with Joelle and the warm feeling that invaded my heart.
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