As long as I can remember, there was a chipper, Citroën van, parked on the main harbour. We used to call in, as a family, for a drive and a small “barquette” of chips, strolling along the quiet sleepy harbour. My mother, like a lot of other vagabond, bohemian chips buffs, asked for a dollop of mustard; so was the way most of the crepuscule dreamers enjoyed them.
“Chipper Man” had a beautiful daughter; he was a single father, and worked every night but Mondays, in order to provide for the education, security and well being of Sandra; Sandra was my age, we were at school together. At first, I didn’t really pay attention to her; when my parents decided to drive downtown in our 1978 504 Burgundy Peugeot, I was too young, and too glad to enjoy the sober and simple joys of a family outing. Yet, while the Atlantic and omnipresent south western breeze caressed my forehead, I kept looking at Sandra, helping her father at the weekend, with her beautiful long fairy hair, and a smile that could tame and ease the toughest of customers.
I was a shy teenager. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed a good laugh, sometimes I even got in trouble; my mother was a teacher and a date in the Principal’s office, meant a kick up the arse, my hair pulled, my face slapped and a lecture on how I put shame on the “Mujahideen” of French National Education herself and her mates sworn allegiance to…
Anyway, Sandra and I found ourselves in the waiting room of our secondary school Principal’s office, Judge and Executioner. He was a tough, but fair man; I knew I had a chance to come clean; I had a way with words. Sandra though… She didn’t take it so well. A little “Bourgeois” kid made fun of her and her Dad, her father, the chipper guy, in a grey Citroën van… Fun of the fact that her Mum had gone. She didn’t leave them, she just died; way before her time. Children – like grownups – can be cruel, and shelter themselves from the inevitable… The inevitable that sometimes comes too soon.
“ I don’t know what took me… I punched him in the face… Twice”, she said between two spasms while sitting next to me on that old wooden bench; she cried out of anger, she cried out of regrets. To break the ice, I told her that I loved her Dad’s chips, with mustard… She laughed at my naive, yet sincere statement and said with a drowned smile, while placing her snow white hand on my right knee: “You haven’t lived until you try fries with mayonnaise!!!”