The beginning of September. The magical white page time. Lou-Anne puts on a pair of pale jeans, a bottle-green tunic, and white sandals. She clips little silver half-moon earrings and with a sweep of a hand organizes the dark mane of her hair on the shoulders. The weather is still warm, summery, giving the town of Brussels an appealing tune. Ready to go. She starts the car parked in a quiet street in front of her little house at the border of Ixelles and Watermael neighborhoods, the Music 3 radio switching on automatically. Her two boys are staying with their father this week, which makes it a lighter start for her.
She remembers another September, the one of the long divorce; the boys were small, spending most of the time with her. How could she pull herself through all that with a full time job and them on her hands? Never mind, she did pull through, and this is a different September now. She crosses the town, not yet jammed with traffic, as if everything was still in a slow vacation mood and drives into the yard of a manufacture building transformed into a language school a good hour before the first class starts.
Lou-Anne, French as a second language teacher, skilled, competent, passionate, moving swiftly up the stairs on her flat sandals, attracted by the coffee machine and the still silent classroom. She is starting the semester with a class of false beginners´ level, not an easy deed, somehow, it was easier to start teaching a language from scratch. She will have to carefully check and assess their true level, but… coffee first. She puts a grey cup under the pipe and makes herself a double expresso that she takes to the classroom. Nobody yet there, but the eager first ones will appear soon. She adjusts the loose upper part of the tunic so that bra straps are not visible, aware of the skin exposure. Complexion darkened by holiday; tan accentuated by delicate freckles. The board is clean, markers ready, her book and notebook placed on the desk, from time to time she nods towards a colleague passing the door. In no time, the class indeed is busy with a fresh load of students and Lou-Anne is not anymore alone, and, still so alone behind the teacher´s desk.
Here, the guy in front of her, probably coming from Syria, or some country bearing stan in its name, he might be fleeting from a war, or he was sent by the family to earn money and to provide for the parents, siblings. He is observing her with cool brown-green eyes. He is clever, for sure, intelligent, if he speaks English, it would be hard to persuade him French is worth the effort. And he will be critical to her suggestions, Lou-Anne knows the kind. There, apparently knowing each other, are a few EU housewives, up-market fashion, a mixture of eagerness and shyness, some of them might be language or music teachers themselves, wondering why they are sitting on students´ benches. Some of them will try to make friends with her. Lou-Anne could not respond to that; her life is too busy as to make more friends with sophisticated girls from all over Europe. They´d admire her, if they knew how boring her life was. School, preparations, homework with her boys, especially Jon, the younger one, paying bills, worrying about the bills, cooking dinners that often burn as she was multitasking. Her violin locked in the living-room cabinet, each week she was promising herself to take it out. They would be disappointed, the girls with all the time on hands and plenty of credit cards. The advantage, most of them will progress swiftly, intelligent, ambitious, with lot of free time, why not? A few Japanese wives, their husbands working for Toyota or some other company, French is a hard nut to crack, if the mother tongue is not European. A few guys looking Flemish, perhaps got jobs in Brussels and need to brush their rusted French. The veiled women, similarly, in need of French for their jobs.
Lou-Anne takes a deep breath.
“Bonjour à tous, je m´appelle Lou-Anne. »
She finishes the day with a a Francais écrit course designed for people who live in Belgium, speak French but are not literate in it. 6 pm, and she is glad to be out of the classroom, out of the school building, on the sun-warmed yard. This could be a day to take a bike, but here is the little red car waiting. Lou-Anne buckles the belt with a sigh and a comforting thought that she might sit in the garden for a while this evening to take some fresh air. Stomach empty, head light with tiredness, limbs slightly achy after the first day of teaching. She will get used to again. Passing chaussée Bondael, she spots a parking space in front of the supermarket, quite a rare occasion, as all local inhabitants know. On the spur of a moment she decides to stop for shopping and find a few goodies for herself. A bottle of beer, for example. Lou-Anne, with some effort, banned herself from drinking on the weekdays´ nights. It was a too easy option, numb herself after a long day with wine or beer. Plus, she is planning to play the violin one night, and for that she needs to be sober. The sound would get out horrible anyway, after many years without practice. But this is the first day, and the boys are not at home. She parks the car; as a local resident, she does not have to pay, and enters the shop.
Absorbed in her thoughts, Lou-Anne realizes somebody is calling her only when the person appears in front of her. A tallish round woman with a scarf that oncology patients wear. A slightly familiar face.
“It is me, Martha, remember? You were my teacher five years ago.”
“Oh, yes,” Lou-Anne or Anne-Lou set her voice deeper into the teaching timber. “Of course, how are you? I did not know you were still in Brussels.” It was quite a safe sentence and true. Should she comment on the scarf?
“Well, coming out of a difficult period,” Martha brings the subject of illness up herself. “But I am almost healed,” she adds, “the doctors say and so I feel. My hair is growing back.” Martha points to her head.
Martha´s French is fine, a slight English accent, but correct grammar and melody. Lou-Anne could never suppress the teacher in her: “That is good news,” she says.
“Oh, yes, actually, I am out of the first school day dying of hunger – “ She breaks herself in half of the sentence; not a good one, why is she suggesting she would like to finish the conversation, plus mentioning dying? Not sensitive at all.
“Oh, sure, I am not going to take up your time, I am expected home soon anyway, my partner is cooking dinner, I just stopped to grab a bottle of wine.”
Lou-Anne feels relieved, and suddenly feels a real desire to have a coffee with Martha and a chat. “We could get together one day, when I do not have the boys, and go for a coffee, I will give you my number,” she suggests.
“Of course, I will tell you about the others from the course.”
Oh, god, that is less appealing, Lou-Anne thinks. If only the students knew how much she could not keep them in head. Nevertheless, they exchange the phone numbers and part.
At home, after a shower, she puts on an old summer dress that used to be the color of lilac but now it is almost grey-white. She takes the cold beer, a few figs and a triangle of goat cheese to the garden table, puts her legs up on the other chair looking into the dense green hedge. She did not tell Martha her name was Lou-Anne, not Anne-Lou, she realizes. Another sip, another bit of cheese and a fig. The evening is getting colder, she realizes with a shiver. She stands up, abandons the plate and the glass, goes inside and walks to the glass cabinet in the tiny living room. The silver half—moon earring glistens in the glass reflection, her face, though, is absorbed by retrieving light. Carefully, with a steady hand, Anne-Lou takes the body of the violin out.