Photo (and feet) by M.G.S.
It's busy at our jardin communautaire these days. I went over fairly early in the morning a couple of days ago, a time when I knew it would be pretty quiet. After I'd been working for a while, making a loose cage of bamboo stakes and strings for my delphiniums, I heard the chain and padlock clink, and in came a mother, with her little boy in a stroller.
I'd seen this woman before. She's Muslim, and wears long flowered dresses and a coordinated headscarf. She and her husband built a raised bed, and in it they grow all sorts of vegetables and greens that I can't identify, but I'm very curious about. The husband always says bonjour when I greet him, but although I've said both bonjour and salaam to the woman, she's always been too shy, or too conservative -- I wasn't sure -- to speak back to this very white woman with her bare arms, tank tops and shorts. I kept on working, but I was thinking about how I might be able to break the ice.
Pretty soon I noticed that the little boy was out of his stroller and wandering around. He's skinny, with a nearly shaved head, and big, brown, curious eyes, and he kept looking over at me, so I stopped working, grinned at him, and waved my fingers. No reply, but he noticed, and I heard him go over to his mother and start chattering. Good, I thought, he's telling her that woman over there waved at me. The sun had vanished under dark clouds moving in from the west. I finished my work and gathered my tools to take back to the shed, and started walking down the row.
Just then the woman also straightened up and headed in th same direction, her back toward me. She went over to a pile of branches that had been left for people to use as plant supports, chose a few, and started back; now we were almost face-to-face. Bonjour, I said, and gave her my most friendly smile. She looked straight at me this time, still shyly, and whispered "Bonjour," holding the branches in front of her chest.
Parlez-vous francais? I asked.
She gave me a helpless look; I knew the feeling. Je parle un peu d'anglais, she said.
Oh! I said, laughing, and switched into English: That's better for me too. She smiled a little, for the first time. I looked over at her son, who stood off to one side, his big eyes moving from one of us to the other. He's very cute, your little boy, I said.
Thank you, she answered, and smiled again, looking at the ground.
What's his name? I asked. She uttered a long name, several words strung together, and I didn't get any of it. I smiled though, as if I had, and, feeling shy now myself, went off to the dry sink to rinse my tools under the hose before hanging them up.
When I came out of the shed she hadn't gone back to her garden, as I had expected, but was still standing near the end of the row, clutching her branches. Oh, I thought, she's stayed here to say something else to me! I smiled and came closer, silently admiring her long dress with its garden of flowers in muted tones of purple, blue and maroon against the blue headscarf. I wondered again where she was from, but decided to save further questions for another day.
She looked up at the sky, now full of gathering clouds, and then at my face. You think...rain? she asked.
I nodded and said, Yes, but maybe...fast. I moved my arm across the sky from west to east. Maybe...over soon, then sun again.
She nodded solemnly, agreeing with that assessment. Good weather now! she said. Things grow well!
Yes! I said.
But not too hot! she added, and we both smiled.
Bye-bye, I said to the boy, who was now looking quite amazed -- what was going on with this mother of his? -- and said goodbye to the woman. Goodbye, she said, and watched as I took my bike out the gate, then taking her boy by the hand, walked back to her garden.
(thanks to my niece M. for taking these pictures in the garden last weekend)