The third country on Granny’s list; opulent plains, rich mountains and beautiful coastlines…
After what seems like an eternity in the crawling Parisian traffic, the taxi finally gets onto the highway and makes good speed the rest of the way. She takes in the different shades of green of the lush countryside, marveling at the lilacs and wisteria blossoming in the small villages they drive through.
It is early afternoon when the taxi turns left into a long alley with century-old plane trees. Gratefully she pulls down the window, drawing a deep breath smelling of newly cut grass. The air is warm and birds are singing in the trees.
L’Académie d’Art de Saint-Simon, or Saint-Simon’s Art Academy, is nestled between lush hills and picturesque vineyards. Granny takes in the beauty of the site as the taxi slows down in front of an old three-storey brick mansion and smiles to herself. It wouldn’t surprise me if they have a fantastic cook as well…
She pushes the great front door, and steps into a luminous hall pulling her suitcase behind her.
‘Monsieur Lambert sera à vous dans un instant, Madame Grey.’ A brisk and efficient secretary ushers her to the Director’s office. She continues explaining that the headmaster will soon be back from lunch, but that he’s an extremely busy man so it will be the Housekeeper, Florence Petit, who takes her on a tour of the facilities after the meeting.
‘Asseyez-vous, Madame. Please have a seat. Would you like a cup of coffee while you’re waiting?’
‘Merci.’ Granny sits on the antique couch, retiring her light grey calfskin gloves and putting them in her old Hermès Kelly handbag. The secretary is soon back. She puts down a small expresso cup of coffee on a coaster on the table with a kind smile. The coffee is hot and extremely strong. Granny grimaces, admiring the book covered walls.
She is not at all prepared for the shock the sight of the Headmaster, swiftly striding into the office, gives her.
François Lambert! My François. It can’t be… Oh, my God. How come I didn’t make the connection? Stupid, stupid me…
Stunned, she blinks stupidly and quickly shuts her gaping mouth but he doesn’t seem to have noticed.
‘Please remain seated, Madame Grey.’ He takes her outstretched hand and cordially shakes it, meeting her eyes a brief moment. Granny’s heart almost stops beating.
‘Mademoiselle,’ Granny mumbles self-consciously, feeling her cheeks burn.
‘Excuse me?’ He holds her gaze just an instant. He looks a little thoughtful but doesn’t show any sign of recognition.
‘Err… Nothing. The coffee is excellent,’ she blabbers nervously, watching him walk over to his desk where he rummages around in a drawer.
His attention is drawn to someone behind her and she follows his gaze. ‘Florence Petit, our “Gouvernante” and FLE teacher. And today she’s also my assistant.’
Florence puts some heavy files on the desk and shakes Granny’s hand.
‘Welcome to Saint-Simon, Madame. Is it your first time in France?’ Her English is heavily accentuated and Granny struggles to understand.
She glances at François, but he’s busy signing documents in a leather folder. Granny inquiries about FLE and learns that its French foreign language. Florence Petit explains that Taïga will have several hours of French per day until she understands enough to be placed in a “normal” class. They small talk a little while, the time it takes for the Headmaster to finish the paperwork. He closes the folder with a thud. ‘Enfin! Now, let’s get down to business. Did you bring the new brochures?’
‘I’ll see to it, Monsieur. Il faut réceptionner le nouveau linge des lits et-’ She shrugs. ‘New drapes for the dormitories,’ she explains to Granny, ‘We shall talk later.’ She turns to leave.
‘Merci. Peux-tu nous apporter deux expressos, s’il vous plait, Florence?’ François calls after her.
He sits down in the armchair on her left, crossing his long legs clad in spotlessly clean white slacks. ‘Ah. La voilà…’
The secretary brings two cups of coffee and a paper bag with a multitude of black business folders. Politely Granny sips the strong black liquid, wondering if she will ever be able to sleep again.
François clears his throat, opening the sleek black folder in his hands. ‘As you already know, l’Académie d’Art de Saint-Simon, or Saint-Simon’s Art Academy, is a private school here in Champs-sur-Sauloise. In keeping with our mission statement of creating students who are lifelong learners, our school enlists their parents as partners in the educational process…’
‘We strongly believe that with shared decision making at its core all members of this school community work to support my new standards for instruction in all curriculum areas, specializing in art and music, bien sûr.’
Granny nods her agreement, but he doesn’t look at her.
He pauses for breath, shuffling the papers around and she studies his face. Discreetly, of course. He mustn’t catch her gawking. He hasn’t changed much – a few more lines and wrinkles and his already greying dark hair is now a light shade of grey… But still as thick. She remembers how it felt touching it and she shakes her head, trying to focus on what he’s saying.
‘… as a result, St Sims Art Academy students are provided with a variety of instructional modes that enable them to achieve both scholastic excellence and strong personal values…’
Yada yada yada…
The same old keynote speech she had already listened to in China and in Egypt. Her mind wanders.
So which school will it be? They learn the same maths, the same geography and whatever. It’s all about what the school offers in addition to that – Oriental mastering of the body and mind? Discipline? Art? How to choose? Taïga loves art, but she wants to become a doctor, so that rules this school out… Which is probably for the best…
She’s both miffed and relieved that François hasn’t recognized her. After all, how long ago was it? She furrows her brows, counting discreetly on her fingers.
Oh, my. Almost thirty years… It’s no wonder he doesn’t recognize me…
He clears his throat again, putting the folder on the table. ‘This combination enables the students to meet the demands of life in a highly technological, global community.’
Amen… Granny nods again.
He pushes the neat black folder with the school’s elaborate seal towards her and she picks it up, taking it as a sign that the interview is over. She fumbles nervously, trying to make it fit into her handbag.
‘Thank you for taking your time-’ She cuts herself off in time, almost having called him by his first name, François. ‘I will keep you informed of my decision.’
Tightlipped, she forces a smile, thinking that she’ll never let her granddaughter study here. Every time she’ll come to visit, she’ll run into him and his wife… Dang bag! Unnerved, she takes out the paperwork, folding it and stuffing it inside, leaving the empty black folder on the table.
‘Err… It might seem inappropriate, but-’
She looks up at him, preparing a rapt answer if ever he would dare chastise her for folding the admission papers. But he just takes a deep breath, finally meeting her gaze. ‘Would you like to have dinner with me, Tara? Tonight?’
Granny just stares at him. Tara! And I thought he didn’t recognize me! Or didn’t want to recognize me. Oh, my…
‘Or maybe you would prefer lunch? Tomorrow at the Bistro? Just to catch up on old times.’
He looks anxiously at her, and she realizes she hasn’t answered yet.
‘Oh.’ Granny croaks. ‘Ahem, that would be lovely. Dinner I mean. I’m flying out tomorrow morning, you see.’
François Lambert checks his watch. ‘I just can’t let you leave without a tour of our facilities. Especially as we are renovating and expanding. And it seems I haven’t had my coffee yet,’ he adds, winking. Noticing her empty cup, he asks if she’d like a refill but Granny shakes her head. Could it be the strong coffee that makes her heart beat so fast?
‘I think I’ve had my dose of caffeine, thank you.’
Time flies by as their discussion quickly flows from school matters to politics and food. They carefully avoid talking about their personal lives though, wisely threading around the more personal matters, keeping to neutral grounds. She learns, nevertheless, that François’s wife passed away a few years ago and that he lives alone with his grown up daughter ‘who’s studying for a Master’s degree in Archaeology at the Sorbonne in Paris…’
After having talked for the better part of an hour over a cup of coffee, François Lambert takes Granny on a tour of the Château, proudly showing her the different accommodations. They start with the dining room and Granny is surprised that the only decoration is a large wooden cross.
‘I don’t know what I expected to find on the walls of an art school, but not something as ascetic…’
‘We’re a Catholic Private school, as you’re aware – even though it is not an eligibility criterium. The French state finances part of our activity, the rest comes from the school fees and private donations.’ François rubs his chin. ‘But we have to satisfy the Church’s requirements, too.’
‘What about the nicely dressed table? Is it for the teachers?’ She nods towards a long table in the middle of the room dressed with fine china, several different sized glasses and lots of cutlery. It is decorated with bouquets of fresh flowers and, even if the chairs’ tapestry is modern, they seem antique.
‘Oh, no, the teachers eat over there.’ He points to an area secluded by a wooden movable partition wall. ‘The table is for our honor students, and they have to earn their seat by getting good results as well in sports as in the academic subjects or by doing something special for the community. They also learn good table manners,’ he adds. ‘Follow me, I have something special to show you.’
He takes her elbow and steers her out from the dining room and through some winding corridors. They stop in front of a double door with large windowpanes, which let them glimpse a wooden dance floor with an upright piano basking in the sunlight. The muted music heard through the soundproof door seems to come from a stereo, though. François peeks through the windowpanes and shakes his head.
‘I hoped that Mademoiselle Béjart would have been free at this hour, but apparently she’s giving special classes this afternoon. After what I learned in your application letter, your granddaughter is a dancer, am I right?’
‘Oh, yes. She’s quite talented, if I may say so.’ Granny leans forward and looks through the windowpane into the large room. In the far corner she can see a slim, redheaded woman dressed in white leotards gracefully go through some basic movements with a small class of four.
François lets her take her time. Walking away a few steps he makes the most of the opportunity to answer some important mails on his cell, but after almost ten minutes he discreetly clears his throat. ‘I’d love to let you watch a while longer but there is more of the Academy to see.’ He continues as they follow a sign with “Girl’s dormitory” written on it, ‘Mademoiselle Béjart is a former dancer at the Opera Garnier and only became a teacher after a slight accident, depriving her of her chances to become a Prima Ballerina.’
‘Oh, but that’s awful!’ Granny exclaims.
‘You’re right. But good for us, n’est-ce pas?’
‘… and these are the girl’s dorms.’
He pushes a door open to the right wing. ‘Voilà! Let me show you what your grandchild’s accommodations will be – at least until the new rooms are ready. I’ll see to it she gets priority, it’s the least I can do,’ he adds when Granny protests. ‘You’ve already met Florence Petit.’ He follows Granny into the room. ‘Did I say that she’s teaching French to our foreign students?’
François tears away his eyes from hers. ‘Err… She is also putting in hours for my assistant, who is at a conference today. She has got a room here and with her sixth sense for organizing I guess we could safely say she’s our unofficial err… “Gouvernante”. I don’t remember the English word,’ he says with an apologetic shrug.
‘Oui, c’est ça.’
Florence Petit finishes arranging the sheets, explaining that they’ve just received the new bedcovers, but that usually the boarders make their own beds. Her heavy accent is interspersed with French interjections, but Granny gets the hang of how she runs the house.
François interrupts her politely, ‘I’m sure you have a lot to see to before tonight, Florence. Shall we…?’ He escorts Granny out through a door on the opposite wall and down the central staircase.
They stop at the landing on the second floor, and François points out the different classrooms. They can’t visit immediately as they don’t want to disturb class.
‘… the left wing is being restored, so we can’t go there, but there are pictures of the project in the brochure I gave you. Here, let me show you while we’re waiting for the bell…’
While Granny is listening to François explaining the improvements of the left wing, the front door downstairs open on André Lefebvre, who is arriving with a class from a combined Art/History visit to a local castle. The boys run upstairs, politely greeting Monsieur Lambert and Granny who asks them what they are doing.
‘Sports, Madame! We have to hurry as we have football and there’s a match.’
‘Oui! We’re taking the bus! Again!’
The girls are more quiet, standing around in clusters talking and giggling under Monsieur Lefebvre’s strict surveillance. ‘Quiet boys! Don’t disturb classes!’ He throws a worried glance upwards at the Headmaster and the visitor.
‘They’ve been on a field trip to Château Lautrec – it’s a medieval castle dating from the early 13th century…’ François fills her in on all the cultural treasures nearby and she is suitably impressed.
The boys are soon back, dressed for sports in shorts, team shirts with the school logo and with their soccer shoes in their hands. They troop out trying to be as silent as possible but without success – as soon as they’re outside they let loose their excitement and cheering they get on the bus.
The melodious electronical bell rings but the doors to the classrooms stay closed for a minute or so before they open and the students emerge. The silent corridors are suddenly filled with shouts and laughter and Granny smiles to herself. Kids are the same everywhere. In this school they are hard to tell apart, to Granny they look all the same in their dark blue uniforms. She thinks it is a good idea, especially at a place like this. There’s no way to distinguish rich from poor, aristocrats from paupers when they are all wearing exactly the same outfit.
‘Where do you order the uniforms? Is it something taken care of by the school or…?’
‘We give the parents a list and a link to our tailor’s Website. We have used the same company since we started, they are established in the Marais, in Paris, but their post order is functioning extremely well… I think we can visit a classroom now.’
He knocks on the open door to the maths classroom, but doesn’t wait for the teacher to acknowledge him before entering. She is lecturing a young girl who apparently refuses to admit she made a mistake on the last test. The other students slip quietly past. They’re surreptitiously looking at the Headmaster and probably wondering why he’s visiting. When the annoying little girl finally admits her own error, she snaps the test out of the teacher’s hand and angrily pushes past Granny on her way out to join her comrades waiting just outside in the corridor.
Granny thinks the girl is extremely rude, and she can imagine the teacher is of the same opinion as herself. They lock eyes for a brief moment, feeling some kind of complicity in their disapproval of the snotty girl. François introduces her to Béatrice Bonnet, showing Granny the now empty classroom and she quickly forgets all about the incident.
‘… as they are all equipped the same – video projectors, high speakers and, of course, a state of the art computer or laptop with access to the Internet…’
‘… here, after you, dear…’
After visiting the English foreign language class and having had a quick peek in the science lab, they walk out onto a little balcony overlooking the winter garden. François gestures towards the students painting a still-life of a Venus sculpture.
‘… relocating painting class to the winter garden was my idea. The Northern light in here is incredible, especially during the dark months…’
They continue the visit and Granny gets to see the kitchen and the bathrooms before finally heading out into the sunshine. They walk in silence down a large paved path leading to the park. When they pass the winter garden Granny stops. Curiously she tries to see over the maze of lilacs through the windows at the children studiously painting, and is rewarded by finally getting a glimpse of their skills.
‘Incredible,’ she sighs.
‘Oui, ma chère. Some of them are quite good,’ François muses.
She can’t tear her eyes away. What about her granddaughter’s skills? Suddenly she is overcome with doubt. Is Taïga talented enough to fit in here among the rich little artists…?
She hurries to catch up with François who continues talking about the next big improvements of the old building.
‘We shall have to change the pavement anyway. With the large trucks bringing the materials to the site, it will probably be completely destroyed…’
Two young boys are coming rushing around the corner. They immediately stop, politely greeting Granny and François.
‘Bonjour, Madame! Bonjour, Monsieur Lambert!’
‘Bonjour, Monsieur le Proviseur!’
François nods. ‘Bonjour, Votre Altesse. Henri.’
‘Your Highness?’ Granny is incredulous.
‘Yes, Fahd Al’Hafed Bin Hakim is an Egyptian prince.’ François looks after the two boys who are running again. ‘Most of our students are European aristocrats, though.’
‘Don’t worry. Your granddaughter will fit right in. I think you mentioned once your ancestors came to America on the Mayflower.’
Granny nods, flattered that he remembered. ‘Yes. On my father’s side.’
‘So you are American aristocrats.’ He winks, motioning towards a huge fountain ejecting water several meters up in the air.
‘Come.’ François beckons her to follow him. He points at two girls painting in the sunshine. ‘The girls over there are your granddaughter’s age, they’ll probably be in the same class…’
‘Princesses?’ Granny asks, with a point of humor in her voice.
‘No. Just very rich.’
Granny would like to see the paintings, but François takes her elbow and steers her away. ‘We shouldn’t disturb them, they are competing.’
‘… they will receive a diploma and their painting will be exhibited during the whole year in the local museum, next to big names like Rembrandt and Andy Warhol.’
‘What museum are you talking about? The Louvre?’
François chuckles. ‘Our museum is not as famous abroad as our Parisian rival, but it’s quite famous nevertheless; the Château de Sauloise.’ He waits hopefully for a reaction, but Granny has to admit that she has never heard of it.
‘Well. All museums are not the Louvre and all towns are not Paris… Anyhow, we usually have the ceremony outside, over there.’ He gestures towards some benches next to a high flagpole with the French flag leisurely flapping in the warm wind. ‘We add benches and can seat around 250 visitors. The others remain standing of course. It’s quite the ceremony,’ he adds proudly.
‘What if the weather is bad?’
‘We take it to the City Hall. But it rarely rains in July…’
They continue through the park. François continues talking about the mansion, now that they can see it from afar.
‘… as you can see, we’ve kept the original structure, even though it was never adapted to host a school. We have our hands tied when it comes to the exterior, you see. The winter garden is a “Monument Historique”, and as such we have to keep to the original plans and not build wildly – just renovate using the same materials as in the 17th century. Luckily we can do as we please inside, as long as we don’t touch the winter garden. Fortunately inner walls had already been destroyed during WWI when this place served as a hospital… Maybe you saw the picture of the labyrinth in the entrance hall?’
Granny nods. ‘In red, yes. I believe I have seen it somewhere.’
‘We saw it together,’ François says, glancing at her. ‘In Reims.’
Granny doesn’t answer. She knows he’s talking about the famous labyrinth of the Reims Cathedral. She and Rune Blackwood had ran into the Lambert-Causses on an outing to buy Champagne at what appeared to be the family château. Anyway, the four of them visited the Cathedral and as a special favor to François’s wife, got to see the light projection on the ground in the nave long before it was officially inaugurated.
She collects herself, forcing a light tone of voice, ‘So, what about it?’
‘It’s just the Monument historique official logo,’ François answers curtly, walking a little faster.
‘Wait!’ Granny shades her eyes from the sun with her hand, watching the high turrets on the four storey building. ‘What was it? Initially, I mean. Some kind of castle?’
‘Not exactly. It was what we call in France, one of the King’s hunting cottages.’
‘Oh, my. My perception of cottage suddenly changed somewhat,’ Granny chuckles.
François smiles. ‘The Duke of Saint-Simon once said in his Memoires;
“In the end the King, tired of grandeur and the crowds, decided that he would sometimes like to have simplicity and solitude.”
I’m not sure though, that we have the same idea about simplicity and solitude.’ He smiles, his brown eyes glittering and she smiles back.
The ice is once again broken.
‘Tell me about it,’ Granny urges.
‘The Château de Sauloise was built for the Sun King by Hardouin-Mansart but it didn’t please the King so he gave it to the Duke of Saint-Simon as a gift after some exploit or other. The park was more than 55 acres big, and rich with wild life, so Saint-Simon built a couple of service pavilions and smaller pavilions for guests who came for the pleasures of hunting. The school is the only remaining of the ten guest pavilions, and the smaller house over there was built on the foundations of one of the destroyed service buildings – the baths. I might add that the original plumbing bringing water from the Sauloise River is still working.’
‘I don’t believe you.’ Granny says, incredulous.
‘You saw the fountain. The original was unfortunately sold to an anonymous American collector.’ His cell vibrates and he quickly scans the message. ‘I’m sorry, but my afternoon appointment has arrived. Let me walk you back and call you a taxi…’
The taxi is already waiting in front of the school when they get back, the chauffeur smoking a nasty Gauloise and reading Le Figaro. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry, so she follows François in to duly admire the logo on the wall. He kisses her goodbye on the cheek but not the usual two goodbye kisses. Just one. More intimate.
‘I’ll pick you up at eight,’ he mumbles so Monsieur Lefebvre, who is passing on his way to Art class, can’t hear.
Granny just nods, butterflies in her stomach like a schoolgirl.
She spends a wonderful evening with François Lambert. He takes her to “Les Champs”, where she discovers the Chef Jean-Paul Beaumont’s innovative dishes which recently were awarded a star in the famous Gault-Millau guide. The restaurant is very expensive, and crowded.
François stops at almost every table, greeting the people, introducing Granny and ushering her forward. ‘It’s a small town,’ he excuses himself. ‘It’s becoming an exploit to get a table with such short notice, but Jean-Paul is a friend of mine.’
He pulls out her chair and she sits, unfolding the napkin on her knees. She knows about the French system of “piston” – the French art of namedropping. You can get anything anywhere if only you know the right people. She doesn’t approve, but tonight she’s going to revel in the luxury of being with someone who can get the best table with short notice…
The Chef, Jean-Paul Beaumont, is concerned about the wellbeing of his customers, and as a personal friend of François he comes out of his kitchen twice to chat and see if everything is going as planned. He suggests the asparagus and artichoke torte with dandelion greens, barbecued lamb chops with roasted potatoes and the season’s first strawberries for dessert. He brings the couple a bottle of Champagne – curtesy of the chef.
Granny hates asparagus, but you don’t refuse the chef’s suggestion, and the torte is fantastic. She doesn’t know if it’s the wine or the chef’s compliments that brings heat to her cheeks. The fact remains; François is looking at her like he did thirty years ago…
Afterwards they stroll along the Sauloise back to her hotel, the Auberge du Vieux Relais Postal. The Headmaster takes his leave with a kiss on her hand and an intense gaze that says more than words, leaving a flustered Granny prepare for the night alone.
She doesn’t get much sleep, dwelling on today’s events. Her mind wanders back to France almost forty years ago…
She first met François on the French Riviera where she was vacationing with Rune Blackwood. It must have been the same year Shasta was born. She smiles to herself, remembering their first encounter and how she had thrown up on François’s impeccable shoes. Rune had been livid, not speaking to her for the rest of the day. He had come around when she announced that she was pregnant, though. Oh, my, what a temper…
She had immediately taken a liking to François and his aristocratic, but bland, wife. Just like herself, he hated playing golf, and they had some very interesting discussions while they followed in the wake of his brother in law and Rune playing the 18-hole round. François was doctoring in Art History, if she remembers right…
They met again almost a decade later at the 23rd International Financial Law Conference in Paris. The closing party in Versailles was supposed to be the most fantastic event of her life and she had been so excited to go. But the evening turned out to be a disaster. Rune was working the crowd, as usual, and she was left trying to find solace in too much pink Champagne.
Rune asked François to accompany her to their suite at the Ritz before she made a fool out of herself – and him.
But instead of taking her straight to his car, they made a detour.
François took her hand and they walked down to the phlox covered riverbank where they had an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower…
She sighs. Tears of guilt and shame well up behind her closed lids and she gets out of bed, pouring a hot bath to try to relax. But once she’s lying in the tub, the thoughts are back again, impossible to shake.
One thing led to another, and while she giggling picked blue flowers out of her hair and threw them out of the window of François’s Mercedes, the father of her child had a fatal heart attack and died on his way to the hospital…
She had never set eyes on François again, never answered his letters, never returned to France. She had always felt like Rune’s death was her fault. Guilt-ridden, she shut herself off from the outside world and fled to the family Cove in Bigwood Falls to raise their daughter far from everything that made her think of Rune’s death…
It’s with a twinge of sorrow ridden guilt Granny leaves Champs-sur-Sauloise – and François Lambert – early the next day.
She gets back to Vulturu at sunset on Thursday, a day later than expected. She had a little mishap during the one hour stopover in Warsaw, when she decided to do some shopping and she missed her connecting flight. The Polish airport attendants were not at all as comprehensive as their Russian colleagues and she had had to wait for the next flight which wasn’t until the day after. She had even had to stay in the tax free area and sleep on a bench. A bench!
She had seriously wanted to transform the whole lot of them into toads or hangers or something just as unproductive.
After parking her car in front of Missy’s house, she’s surprised to meet a young woman on the porch getting ready to ring the bell. She says something incomprehensible in Romanian and Granny hums and fishes around in her purse for some money. Putting a yellow banknote in the surprised young woman’s hand, she ushers her away.
‘No need to thank me, young lady. Go and get some fresh air somewhere. Shoo… You look like you’ve just been raised from the dead,’ she adds under her breath. She looks after the departing figure, a frown on her face. After spending time abroad, the extreme paleness of the inhabitants of Vulturu seems even more shocking than usual. ‘No way will I let Taïga grow up here – fresh air and gourmet food will work wonders for my grandchild.’
‘I thought I heard something!’ The door opens on Missy, holding a barking Tramp in a firm grasp of the collar.
Granny pats the excited dog, and almost falls backwards when Taïga throws herself into her arms.
The little girl is happy to have her grandmother back. After an early dinner they settle in the living room, as usual, and Granny hands out the gifts she has bought. Missy is happy about the Egyptian artefacts and the Biluochun (Spring Snail) tea from China. Taïga’s favorite is the little iron Eiffel tower in a snow globe that Granny got her from the airport.
However, tonight there is tension in the air. Granny doesn’t know how to break the news about which boarding school she has chosen, and Taïga is afraid Granny will find out about the party. Only Missy seems oblivious to the atmosphere as she’s deep into “Wuthering Heights”, her lips silently moving as she reads. Neither Granny nor Taïga could imagine that Missy is afraid that someone might find out she’s been fiddling with Taïga’s iPad…
Suddenly both of them talk at once, ‘Something happened when-’
‘I’ve found a school!’
Taïga jumps on the occasion to let Granny take over the conversation. They talk about Granny’s choice of school for a long time that evening. Taïga can’t help but feeling a little twinge of excitement after all – she’ll go abroad! And another twinge of apprehension – all by herself…
‘… but the rules are strict. NO MAGIC whatsoever.’ Granny looks sternly at her. ‘No riding around on brooms, no playing around with wands. Nobody can know our secret. I hope you understand, Taïga?’
Taïga just acquiesces, already feeling the burden of their secret. ‘I haven’t used magic since we got here, Granny. Why would I do it in a foreign country – alone?’
‘Exactly. Why would you? There’s absolutely no reason,’ Granny says, looking thoughtful. ‘Now, what were you trying to tell me?’
‘Err… nothing important. It slipped my mind.’ Taïga feels bad, not having the guts to tell Granny about the party… But she will. Eventually… Her eyes fall on the school paper on the table. ‘I’m on a picture in the school paper! It was published while you were away. Look!’ She thrusts the paper into Granny’s hands.
‘Well, that’s a lovely picture.’ Granny says, looking at the picture of her grandchild and three other children smiling into the camera. ‘Is it a class picture? Where are the other kids?’
‘It was taken at the Clasa III exhibit. We won, remember?’
‘Right… But didn’t you say there was a problem of some sort?’
‘Well… Not exactly a problem, Granny. It was just Mitchell talking to the reporter. Jen threw a fit because she was the one who came up with the idea of a 3D castle and he got all the spotlights. Remember?’
Granny nods. ‘It’s important not to steal the attention from your classmates. You are a team, and a team doesn’t have any stars. You see, when I was your age…’
Another boring morality story. Taïga suppresses a yawn and tunes out her grandmother. She wonders what she would have said if she had seen Leann openly laugh at the other canditates’ masterpieces? They had worked so hard on their history project every day during the winter break, and Mitchell played team leader. Taïga didn’t mind so much, she knows she would have blushed and made a mess out of explaining to the reporter. And she doesn’t speak Romanian anyway. At least not well enough to present a project.
The reporter had lined them up for a picture in front of their castle and Jen had smiled like she’d just eaten a sour lemon… Taïga giggles at the memory.
‘But it’s not funny, Taïga. Respect is a serious matter.’
‘Sorry… Did you take any pictures of the pyramids, Granny?’
‘Err, yes. But I have to get them developed first so we can put them into an album. Unfortunately I ran out of camera rolls and I couldn’t find any to buy. It seems everyone uses these wretched modern digital ones with memory cards. But I have brochures from the schools. Look…’
They huddle together and Granny tells them all about her visits…
Part I – End of Chapter 31