Chapter 2

Back home the young ones must respect the elders. It is an unspoken rule that we are born engrained with, and proceed through life with: first respect the parents who give birth to you, then the wider circle of strange faces that become less and less strange as time goes on. The elders of the village, the chief and his family, the family of the future bride…


In my new home in America it seemed completely the opposite. Monsieur Jacques worked long hours in his office and always had some important-looking, well-dressed men in top hats visiting. Whenever they came, they would tip their heads in acknowledgment of Monsieur’s authority, or so it seemed, and would proceed into his office like a trail of lost ducklings I had one day seen outside on the path by the pond, seeking the warmth of their mother duck.


Monsieur Jacques was much younger than those men with their bushy grey moustaches and eyebrows, and grey hairs that stuck out of their top hats in frizzy strands before the black hats were removed and the hairs smoothed out in swift, practiced movements as the men entered the house. As they left, again there would be the respectful tipping of the top hats and a warmth playing in the eyes of the various visitors, who ranged from old to very old, as if Monsieur Jacques has just solved their lives’ riddles.


Monsieur Jacques, in turn, seemed so completely enthralled with his children that would spend as much of his free time as he could with them, joining in the games the children had taught me to play, and even sometimes winning, which often brought Toni to an acid remark about him cheating, and a pouting of red lips. But this would all be smoothed out the next morning when, frost dripping from the rim of his hat and skin weather-beaten from the cold wind outside, Monsieur Jacques would emerge from the streets, a new toy, a new play-game, a new gift wrapped in beautiful packaging paper for his youngest daughter.


To me, it looked like society here was reversed. The old seemed to venerate the young, and served them, appeased them, and respected them for their actions in the world. Perhaps there was some untruth in that, I wasn’t sure, but it certainly sometimes looked like that from the side of the observer – me.




A few weeks into my service with Monsieur Jacques, I was for the first time allowed to leave the spacious rooms of the house and explore the much more spacious outdoors of Monsieur’s garden. I knew his house rested just on the outskirts of the small but growing town we lived in. The expansion property was nestled behind tall trees I had never seen before and bordered the shore of a large pond, where Monsieur said one could ice skate in the winter. I wasn’t sure what ice skating was, but I was keen to try. Anything Monsieur did seemed to place a smile on people’s lips. I was sure that could place a smile on mine.


As I wandered outside with Toni, she holding my hand so that neither of us would slip on the slow forming ice – that’s what they called it; I had never seen it in my lifetime – over the little garden paths made for the convenience of the garden’s visitors. As we neared the pond I couldn’t see any of the ducks I had once seen out of the window of the small room I lived in, and some of the plants that had taken my attention had now wilted, dried, their tiny branches cracking and breaking into thousands of pieces under my fingers as I touched them.


A thin layer of something – ice, I guessed – was forming on the surface of the pond, and I wondered how the fish that Monsieur fed personally every morning would survive the winter that was to come. I wondered how I would survive it too. No clothes could possibly make the heat-loving heart of a black boy like myself love the cold, could they? I would have to pretend it was alright, and continue to play with the children in the ice-cold months that Toni kept describing to me. And now, though I had on the new tweed jacket Monsieur Jacques had kindly bought for me, and thick trousers that were too warm for the indoors but kept the cold well away outside, my ungloved hands felt bitten by the little winds racing by every now and then, and the soles of my little boots did not do much to protect my feet against the cold ground. It would be alright, surely, if only I kept smiling? It might not even come to be as bad as Toni seemed to think. She hated the winter with a certain fervent craze. Her mother had died in those cold winter months, lying in fever beneath thick blankets that seemed to do nothing against her shaking.



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Describe his room. What is his reaction to the cold? Is he wearing shoes? How is he clothed for this new environment and how do they make him feel. I imagine you are setting the scene for Toni and the boy to form a forbidden relationship. This is coming through well.