The rubber gloves that Santosh, my co-teacher, and I have filled with coloured water hang limply from the line. Most of the dyed water has evaporated in the morning sun. We have finally, after days of icy rain, been able to let the children play outside.
Arav runs over, his khaki parka too big for his skinny four year old frame, the hem line at his knees and his hood making him look like South Park’s Kenny. He looks up and removes his ridiculously oversized sunglasses. Vanitha, my other co-teacher at the Auckland daycare where I now work, says he looks like Ajay Devgn.
“The water’s melted into the sky, Jacqui!” He runs off before I can tell him to take off his jacket. He must be sweltering.
Charlie Rose approaches, stepping slowly in her purple gumboots so the dead butterfly doesn’t fall from her hand. We sit on the grass and examine it.
“Do you think it was a hungry hungry caterpillar once, Charlie?” I ask, “Like in the story we read yesterday?”
“No,” she replies, giving me a look reserved only for the most distinguished of idiots, “this is a monarch butterfly.” She pauses and takes a closer look.
“It only has one antenna, maybe that’s why it died!”
I stop her as she starts to squash the dead insect’s body.
“But Jacqui, I’ve never seen inside a butterfly.”
What is it with kids and bugs? I wonder as I stretch my legs out in the sun thinking of Italy. Missing Pierre.
It was so hot that we had to stay inside the villa between ten and two while the Italian sun hammered down, making the vineyard before us look like a hazy mirage. I was looking after Pierre for the summer, while his parents ran an Italian villa on behalf of a French travel company. A South-African/Mauritian girl working for a French family in Italy – the collection of nationalities made me smile. As the afternoon grew late, Pierre grew restless. At two years old, tantrums were becoming frequent. I distracted him by taking him to the pool to watch Hicksy giving an aqua-aerobics class. Pierre and I always found this entertaining. There Hicksy stood, in bright pink shorts (a gift from my mother who insisted that they were all the rage in Europe), trying to give directions in French that he had looked up at when he googled “How to Teach Aqua Aerobics.”
“Vite vite! Er…. doucement! Now levez your bras! A gauche! Droite!”
The villa guests held back their giggles as this young man in outrageous shorts demonstrated how to do jumping jacks in the swimming pool. It was too hot for such silliness and soon the class was over. Hicksy approached Pierre and me, sitting under the shade of the grape trellis with a good view of the show.
“Fancy a gelato?” Hicksy asked.
Music to my ears! I adjusted Pierre’s hat, picked up Doudou, his beloved teddy, and hand in hand we followed Hicksy down the hill to the ice-cream shop. The hill was steep and as we walked through the field that ran alongside the vineyard we could hear the sounds of crickets chirping all around us. I thought about how in China, the sound of crickets is considered to be good luck.
Looking across the vineyard I saw a man, his white hair bright against his tanned skin. He was hunched and shirtless with his navy overalls tied around his waist as he filled a basket with grapes. “Bonjourno!” I called, picking a grape for myself and handing one to Hicksy, who pulled a face. Perhaps they needed a little more ripening time. The old man smiled.
As we continued our stroll down the hill the sound of the crickets grew louder and Pierre started looking around curiously. “Bebette?” he looked up at me. “Bugs,” I translated to Hicksy. “Ah…” Hicksy and Pierre had almost matching looks of excitement as Hicksy ran off into the long grass and started looking around. A few minutes later he returned, his hands cupped together. “Look Pierre, er.. regardez,” he bent down and put his cupped hands under Pierre’s nose. Pierre peered closer.
“Aaaai!” Pierre yelped with joy as Hicksy opened his hands and a cricket jumped out. Shrieking with laughter he followed Hicksy into the long grass to look for more, dragging Doudou behind him. It would be a while before I got my gelato.
“Ouch!” I am interrupted from my daydream by someone pulling my hair. I turn around and see Waka giving me his trademark red-cheeky grin. Even his nose is bright red today.
“Hairdresser!” he demands, threading his chubby fingers through my hair.
Wincing a little, but feeling sentimental, I let him. Wasn’t it Audrey Hepburn who said, “For beautiful hair, let a child run her fingers through it once a day?”
I look up and see Vanitha shaking her head, her lips pursed.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she frowns, “He’s got nits.”