Academic journal article Hecate

Even Paradise Has Serpents

Academic journal article Hecate

Even Paradise Has Serpents

Article excerpt

I wonder if Maguy knows I am here waiting at the airport, if she's pleased I've been so summarily dealt with by the police and Monsieur Hourrichon. But she's not a malicious person so perhaps not. She's probably with Albert anyway and not thinking about me at all. Albert is all she cares about these days which is understandable given he's her ticket out of New Caledonia, so naturally she goes to a lot of trouble to please him.

An extraordinary amount of trouble sometimes. Like the day she went to the beauty salon.

It was a Saturday afternoon, I remember, only a few months ago. I was playing with the cat when I heard her charm-laden key jingling in the lock and knew she was back. As soon as she came in she fetched a mirror from the bedroom and began to examine herself while I lay on the floor twitching a piece of string for the cat. It was the prettiest little thing, all sleek and black except for a white circle on its head that reminded me of the couronnes the Tahitians wear. It was because of this I had decided to call it Tahiti.

'Alors, ça y est,' said Maguy, for we spoke French of course. 'What do you think?' She came up close and faced me as though I were a second mirror.

'It looks good,' I lied on a hopeful upward intonation, even though I thought she had looked better before, more like herself. More Maguy.

She was watching me closely as I spoke and suddenly her eyes squeezed up and she made a funny groaning noise.

'Merde!' she cried, 'Why did it happen to me? Why me? Christiane is much lighter and look at her hair! Regard it there!'

I looked at the framed photo of her family that she kept on top of the bookcase and could see it was true: by some cruel quirk of fate, young Christiane was much paler, more white-looking than her nineteen year-old sister. But it was Christiane's hair - utterly free from kinks - that particularly enraged Maguy.

She soon calmed down, being a naturally happy sort of person, and brought out the before and after photos which she'd taken for herself in one of those little booths. The first showed her as normal, grinning widely under a dark halo of hair; the second, like a ghost image, was less smiling, the skin a bit paler, the hair flatter though still kinky in a half-hearted kind of way. Otherwise she looked much the same as before, an island girl even though her mother is a French woman. As far as Maguy is concerned, that's what she is too - a French woman, white in soul though not, unfortunately, in body.

'Albert will think he's got a new girlfriend,' I offered, not knowing what else to say apart from asking how they had made her skin go paler, although on reflection I thought I didn't really want to know. I felt sad and indignant on her behalf but already, after living in Noumea for some months, I knew better than to mention this.

'It must be he is impressed because it cost me very dear. And I bought a new dress,' she grinned. She began to twirl around our small living-room and Tahiti scuttled under the couch to peep at her with surprised eyes.

'Such a dress. Ooh la la! Wait till you see.'

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking up the hem on her dress and playing the new record she had given me because she knew I liked the Beatles. It was a French version called Dans Ie Vent, not a Beatles record at all, but out of politeness I pretended to like it. You would think that by 1964 even the French would have Beatlemania but apparently this is not so. Then Albert turned up, looking scrubbed and sweetly serious. He is one of the latest boatload of cadets that get sent from France on compulsory service to the military cantonnement on the hill and Maguy had snaffled him. Albert is from Algeria and Maguy hopes to marry him and live in France, as far away as possible from New Caledonia.

I went with them, because we were part of a group who went everywhere together, four or five girls from the Pension Jeanne d'Albret where I first met Maguy, plus some boys we knew from the cantonnement. …

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