Picture it: Boulevard Saint Michel. A two-way street comparable to any urban city. There are strings of cafes, "do-it-yourself" shops, boutiques, and of course little markets or grocery stores. The market I stop in at every morning is what most people here call "The Arab". Not only do I myself find that title extremely offensive, but it's clearly politically incorrect. I understand the joke, or the stereotype, but it doesn't make it right. So, I will just call it my friendly Boulevard Saint Michel fresh-fruit market and petit grocery store.
Perusing the outdoor market baskets, I pick up my usual, a Gala apple and maybe a peach or two. I've gotta stock up on cheaper-priced snacks for the day ahead of me. I notice the wind pick up on this chilly Parisian morning so I quickly choose my fruits and step into the little store, eyeing the candy to my left while greeting the dark brown man to my right, behind the counter, with a friendly, "Bonjour!"
I set down my fruits and tell him, "C'est tout!" when a little girl catches the corner of my eye. Very innocent in nature, of course she is afterall a little girl. Probably about four years old, wearing two curly shoulder lengthed dark brown pigtails, which complimented her dark skin and deep brown eyes. A splash of contrast hits my eyes when I notice her bright pink shirt and electric blue leggings. Clearly someone's mom knows how to dress their child.
But today it wasn't a long stare or a playful smile that caught my attention, it was the chocolate flavored popsicle she was sucking on...at 9 in the morning. I checked my running watch to make sure it was for one, still working and two, to see if I was running late and somehow it was already noontime. No-- it was definitely 9 am. She stared straight up at me, and never once removed the plastic wrapped popsicle from her mouth. I'm not sure at what point she dribbled a little onto her shirt, but I assumed she was just saving it for later.
I knelt down to her eye level, so as not to appear so looming and "scary" in my colorful Parisian scarf, jeans and bright yellow tank top. I softly asked her, "C'est un peu tot pour la glace, non?" She smiled and giggled a little and she turned away and ran behind the counter. I assumed she ran to hide behind her father, who laughed as well. Peeking her head from around his back, the man gave me my total and as I pulled out my credit card-- no cash, he said, "Il faut payer 10 euros minimum." Damn. Gotta buy cookies or juice, or something.
So I ask for a minute while I pick up a few things I think the group at school will like. And like a good little watchwoman of the store, the girl followed me around the two aisles, popsicle in mouth, to ensure I didn't steal any of the precious goods. I grabbed a carton of my favorite cookies and a new juice I hadn't tried before; banana, strawberry & orange, with skim milk blended in too. When I caught glances with the girl, she ran into the other aisle, her giggles trailing behind her. I dumped the goods onto the counter and hoped it would be enough. But suddenly I felt a little breeze, not from outside on the street, but from right behind me. And the little girl whipped herself around me and back behind the counter again.
I waited for her to pop her head out from behind son pere, and when she did I stuck out my tongue to strike back. She removed the popsicle, only for a second, to stick her tongue out too. And when the man told me I still needed another Euro, I said, "Ah, what the hell, it's 5 o'clock somewhere" and turned to grab some French candies. I figured if she could eat sugar this early in the morning, then I could too. When in Paris, right?
So I knelt down once more and told the girl to enjoy her treat and I would enjoy my bonbons on the way to school. I collected my things and started to head for the door, wishing the man behind the counter a wonderful day and hoped he would stay warm. The little girl in the pink shirt and blue leggings followed me to the edge of her father's store, sucking silently on her popsicle, watching as I left to start my day. Little did she know, I left a little piece of my childhood with her as I pulled out my sugar coated candies, looked into the sky and breathed in the bright blue sky.