In a menswear boutique in Draguignan, I stand at the comptoir, hesitating between the powder-blue chemise and the olive-green one. As I hem and haw, Jackie taps her foot, says either shirt will look good on Papa, and sighs for the nième time. I remind her that if she is patient, I will buy her the mood ring she has been asking for—the one all her friends are sporting at school.
Next, the little bells hanging from the shop's entrance begin to jingle as the door opens and a small woman is swept in with the wind.
"Bonjour, Messieurs Dames!" she says, shivering from the cold mistral. The little woman has a purse hanging from the fold of her left arm and she is holding a small boîte in her right hand. Her white hair falls just below her shoulders and is held back with an intricate tortoiseshell comb. She is wearing a dress, nylons, and little heels, which is more effort than a lot of women living this far north of the Côte d'Azur put into suiting up in wintertime.
"Tell Hervé it is from Madame Kakapigeon!" the woman with the box and the heels says.
I look down to the blur of blue and green shirts and mutter the name I have just overheard, not sure I have heard correctly. "Kakapigeon"? Its sound causes me to blush. Poor thing, to have to go through life with such a name!
"Tenez." Madame holds out the box, offering it to the saleswoman. "I'm off to the bank now! Je n'ai plus un radis!"
Our heads bob back and forth as my daughter and I witness the quirky exchange between the lively, gift-toting grandma and the store clerk. My eyes return to the vendeuse, who has taken the box of chocolates with its pretty cloth ribbon.
"Au revoir, mes chéries," says the woman without a radish and, with that, the door swings shut making the jingle bells do their thing.
"What did she say her name was?" I ask, indiscreetly.
The saleslady smiles. "She calls herself 'Madame Caca Pigeon' because she is always feeding the pigeons from her balcony, just above our magasin. The well-fed birds are always 'messing' out in front of the boutique. Madame is sorry for the salissure, but it doesn't stop her from feeding her feathered friends. So every year, about this time, she comes in with her box of chocolates... compliments of 'Madame Caca Pigeon'."
le comptoir = counter
la chemise = shirt
nième or énième = nth, umpteenth (time)
la vendeuse = saleslady
bonjour, Messieurs Dames = hello, everyone
une boîte = box
la Côte d'Azur = "The Blue Coast", The French Riviera
tenez (the verb is "tenir") = here, take it
au revoir, mes chéries = goodbye, my dears
le magasin = shop
la salissure = filth
===Text beyond this line will not appear in the printed book===
Note: A final paragraph was removed from this story. I hope that the vignette will stand on its own without the "overworked" ending that has been deleted. If you feel this story needs a punch line, let me know in the comments box!
I may need to add my daughter's age (she was nine at the time) to this, or to another story in the opening of the book. Any other ideas? Click here to comment.
ne pas/ne plus avoir un radis = to not/no longer have a cent (or a penny) to one's name