When I picked up the twins after their first day of school yesterday, Mallory came flying down the stairs, full of the big news. There is an ANGLOPHONE girl in her class that speaks hardly any French!! Mallory was assigned to take care of the new arrival. She was telling me how she had had to translate for the girl, show her around the school and just sort of explain the mysteries of the system. I asked where her new class mate had come from and she had no idea. I’d seen a car with Canadian embassy plates near the school, so I hazarded that as a guess. Then I heard a voice chime in slightly American-accented French: “We are from the United States”.
The woman who had spoken turned out to be a newly-arrived Fulbright scholar in Burkina for a year of research. I had just started to chat with her, when Alexa came tearing down the steps, telling me all about her new job taking care of some new American girl….It took a while to sort out, but it seems that Jill the Fulbright scholar has twin daughters: one is in Alexa’s class, the other in Mallory’s. And my twins have been put in charge of her twins.
All last night, my girls could talk of nothing else. They were SO pleased to finally have someone to speak English with at school. I really did TRY to explain that they should actually help Sophie and Ella improve their French….
It got to be bedtime. I read the kids about four chapters of “The Lamplighter”, that infinitely entertaining Victorian novel aimed at the moral improvement of Young Persons. A wretched, unloved orphan girl undergoes many trials and grows up into a fine, virtuous young woman who can paint charming watercolours. The best sentence in the whole book regards the heroine’s little pet kitten that has been thrown into a pot of hot water by the cruel foster mother: “The little animal struggled and writhed for an instant, then died in torture.” They don’t write books like that anymore, I’ll tell you that. And my kids are loving it, the little savages.
Anyway, I got everyone off to sleep and went myself, only to be woken at 3am by a very panicked, feverish Mallory. 102.5 and rising. I dosed her with Motrin and tucked her into my bed, but she was still very restless. She began to cry. “If I am too sick, I can’t go to school tomorrow. What will that girl DO? She won’t be ok. I HAVE to go to school.” She was quite upset, but I assured her that her new friend would get along just fine and she finally went back to sleep.
Morning came and Mallory felt even worse, but she crept out of bed and got dressed. She emerged unsteadily from the bedroom, all ready for school.
“Mallory, you have a huge fever. You have to stay home.”
“No, I can go. I’ll be ok. I have to help my friend with French. She won’t understand anything, otherwise. She’s only been here 10 days”
She didn’t convince me. I made her stay home and took the other kids to school.
In the schoolyard, I saw Mallory’s teacher. I told her Mal was home sick. She, in turn, told me what an extraordinarily good translator and guide Mallory was for the new girl. Apparently, Ella had been very nervous but Mallory had got her calmed down and functioning happily in the classroom.
Just after that, Ella and her mother came up to me, looking for Mallory.
“Well, honey, Mallory is really sick and can’t come to school today.” I explained to the girl.
Ella immediately burst into tears and started sobbing miserably.
So much for “she’ll be just fine”. The poor child was inconsolable.
Alexa got busy, little arranger that she is, inviting Sophie and her sister to our house to play on Thursday. That didn’t work miracles, but the sobbing got somewhat quieter.
I tore out of there like the coward I am and got home to poor Mallory. She spent the rest of the day vomiting and had to have a blood test, two of her least favourite activities.
Mallory asked about Ella
“Fine.” I said. “ She’s fine. You just sleep now.”