Friday, August 8, 2008

Tour de France- Part V

Dinner over, Amma said “Go down to the Mini Marché and buy some milk, cheese and toothpaste”, handing over a crisp ten franc note. “Don’t forget to get the change”. Pocketing the money, Suji skipped out, snaking plaits flapping up and down against her woolen pullover - down the stairs, out the door opening onto the courtyard, down the steps and driveway, through an arched opening onto the street behind.

The sky had turned an inky blue and the street lights were switched on in Rue de la Rochefoucauld. Suji waved in response to a friendly wave from a little girl backlit at a second floor window as she turned left on the street. A few minutes later, she had arrived at the Mini Marché with its red awning extending over the sidewalk. Ignoring the swarthy cashier’s cheery greeting and raised eyebrows at her lack of response, she ran down the back aisle heading for the dairy section. “Recette pour le Gloubi-boulga” ( recipe for Gloubi-boulga) bubbled the cartoon dinosaurs on the back of the milk cartons arranged neatly on the shelf. She grabbed one and turned around to look for the shopping baskets, lips puckering in concentration before noticing the stack of baskets less than a foot away at the aisle’s end. Placing the milk carton in a basket, she pushed on toward the cheese section, where she picked out the package of cheese cubes she had gotten addicted to in the brief weeks after her arrival.

Quel beaux cheveux!” ( What gorgeous hair!) a tiny lady suddenly gushed behind her as she turned into the health and skincare aisle. The lady rushed up to her as she half turned and gently pulled her long plaits to the front to better examine the red-bowed gleaming well-oiled braids. Suji sputtered in surprise, mumbling an uncertain Je ne comprends pas” ( I don’t understand!) More rapid-fire effusions followed. Here and there a glimmer of comprehension crept in, “…Cheveux… Si beaux…un petit cadeau…” (Hair…so beautiful…a little present…) The lady pushed something in her hand. Wresting herself from the lady’s clutches, she managed a weak “Merci” as she fled to the cash register without the toothpaste and tendered her money in a hurry to escape. The cashier’s eyes crinkled in merriment at her plight as he rang up her purchase and gave her the groceries and change. He twinkled at her: “Bonsoir, mademoiselle”.

“The people here are crazy”, she burst out to her mother, still panting from the breakneck run back from the Mini Marché. Amma just smiled as she blurted out the details of the incident. “She was just admiring your hair, nothing to worry about.” Back in her room, Suji looked down at her clenched fist and opened it to find a half-melting square bar of chocolate wrapped in wrinkled foil, and a smile lit up her face.


Lekhni said...

Did my comment disappear?
Oh well, I was saying that I am a little surprised that you were so shocked at your hair being pulled. Don't they pull kids' cheeks in India? Although, I agree, pulling hair is usually done by siblings rather than strangers ;)

Sujatha said...

I was well used to the cheek-pulling. In France, the norm is apparently to walk up to strangers and pull their braids out to admire them. I got quite used to it, over time ;)
Maybe, that's why I don't have much hair left now, as well, all that pulling must have cast quite the 'evil eye' on whatever I used to have.