I still want to know what Marguerite looks like now she is a mature woman. And what kind of a woman she became. She is no figment of my imagination. She was real, as real that is as any girl of twelve can be. I am sure she is beautiful and strong but I’ll have to let you make up your own minds about that. And so I suppose I had better tell you a bit about her and about the circumstances by which I came to know her.
Daniel was about nine months old at the time. I could be wrong. I’m often wrong about minor details such as life and dates. He’s about forty-three at the moment. You do the Arithmetic. Marguerite was twelve as I said. It was in January. It was France, just a little north of the Spanish border. The last town on the coast before Spain.
If you believe all the things people say about France you might just be wrong. This was no tourist town. This was a fishing village with a dock and houses built along terraces cut into the hillsides. We had a room with a place to cook and a bed and from one street that ran parallel with the esplanade you walked halfway up a stairway to a door. Or you walked halfway down from the next street.
On the second day of our stay Marguerite knocked on the door and explained to Daniel’s mother, who understood a little French, that she lived in the house above us and she was ‘la fille du boulanger’ and my French/English dictionary led me to believe that her father was the local baker. This turned out to be true.
She then asked if she could take ‘le bébé pour une promenade dans le poussoir’. This we both seemed to understand with sans recourse to a dictionary.
So for the next three weeks, Marguerite would run from school, knock loudly on the door and take the baby for a walk in the pusher.
On one occasion we handed the baby to Marguerite and went for a walk by ourselves around the harbor to the other side. We sat and enjoyed a quiet bière française, (always ask for a French beer and not a bière allemande for even now it makes for good relations with the locals to refuse German beer). Then came the very distinct sound of “Rock-a-bye-baby” and there was Marguerite proudly walking le bebe in le poussoir accompanied by three dancing friends with ‘their baby’.
I have often wondered what people would think, now, of handing one’s nine month old baby to a twelve-year-old girl in a foreign country. I have never felt guilty. I trusted Marguerite. She knew I trusted her and she never betrayed that trust. I think that is the way it works.
On a number of occasions she would ask me how long we would stay. I had felt as the weeks went by, that I was beginning to understand her and she was beginning to talk slowly and she used simple words. Anyway I always answered her question with a simple ‘Janvier trent un’. But on January twenty-nine she said to me, and I understood everything she said, and I will render it in English, “Our teachers have always taught us that there are thirty-one days in January. But this year I did not wish it would happen.” And I do believe that we both had tears in our eyes; she and I.
So on the morning of Janvier trente un with our soon to collapse old English Bedford van well packed, and a large cake baked by Marguerite’s father, we said goodbye to Port Vendre and to Marguerite – distraught and inconsolable – and to the baker and his family and to Madame Boudec, the wife of the harbourmaster. (That is another story if you wish.)
And I have often wondered what woman Marguerite became.