“Stop, stop, STOP!” squawks Mrs Permalloo, our director.
Sick of rehearsing in the early December Mauritian humidity, I sigh.
“Ayo, what now?”
“Joseph and Mary ride into Bethlehem on an arse, not an ass! Use the British pronunciation, not the American!”
The school bell rings, saving me from yet another tired debate about the English language, and whether errors are due to different accents or mispronunciations.
Jessie and I grab our backpacks and sprint to the crushed-seashell parking lot to make sure we get good seats on our bus. In Mauritius, like the rest of the world, all the cool kids sit at the back.
We scramble aboard the bus, ducking under the tinsel and plastic chillies hanging above the door and yelping as our thighs meet the sizzling pleather seats. I take out my new yellow walkman and hand one earphone to Jessie.
The bus clatters forward and with Ginger Spice and her girls serenading us, we gaze through the windows at hunched women in baggy grey smocks. They hack down sugarcane while packs of mangy dogs chase rats in the fields behind them. A whisper of burnt treacle hangs in the air from when they set fire to the cane to make it easier to cut.
Anand, our bus driver, swears in Créole as a moped with a bundle of sugarcane balancing precariously on its driver’s knees swerves in front of us, buzzing like a mosquito.
“German?” Jessie elbows me. She nods at tourists at the roadside dholl puri stand, gaudy new sarongs clashing with lobster-red legs. “Definitely German. Look at those socks and sandals.”
“What about her?” A woman in a tight white sundress, her blond hair held back in a gold scrunchy, argues with a vendor over whether the fruit he is selling is a pawpaw or a coconut.
“Listen here you! Don’t think I’m an idiot, coconuts are hairy and brown, not smooth and green!” her voice is clear through the open window.
“South African. Look at how she’s wearing all her jewellery. It won’t get stolen here!” We grin at each other, enjoying our game.
The bus bumps to a stop in front of a black basalt rock wall. I can just see the thatched roof of my house poking through the blazing red flowers of a flamboyant tree. The flamboyants are one of the few good things about a Mauritian December, when the island seems to sweat tourists.
I jump off the bus, followed by my sister who has had her nose in a book for the entire hour-long journey. I’m certain I’ll win today. I’ve worn my swimming costume underneath my school uniform. I bolt down the dusty driveway, past the cottage that Marc, our gardien shares with his wife Margarette and their son Adrien, who is a few years older than me. Their other son, Cedric, died last year. He had a hole in his heart and they couldn’t afford to fix it.
I dump my schoolbag in the dust and almost trip as I try to ditch my shorts and shirt at the same time. I get a good run up on my dive-bomb and cool, salty water satisfyingly sprays everywhere. Yesssss! I win!
We swim until we see the deep-sea fishing boats coming in, red flags flapping if they’ve caught marlin, white flags for sharks. The sun is setting over the murky Grand Bay, and the spicy smell of curry coming from our house, mixed with the sweet cloud of marijuana coming from a group fishermen on the beach, reminds us that it’s time to go inside.