SO I ASK HER FOR HER NUMBER
Like a tourist, I walked to the wheat fields just outside Auvers sur Oise where van Gogh painted his famous "Wheat field with Crows". As luck would have it, to my amazement, there were even three crows fluttering about. I made a quick watercolour sketch on a postcard; even used a post-impressionistic style. Satisfied, but still amazed at the crows, I take a pic of my postcard on my iPhone and try to send it to my son. As per the last three frustrating weeks, the MMS message fails to send. Airtime or data bundle or wi-fi or whatever. I will send it from my laptop later. So I wander down to the famous church in town that van Gogh painted; L 'église Notre-Dame d' Auvers.
I enter the sacred space with its vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows on cushioned feet. For a while I stroll amidst burning candles in a hushed, respectful silence. Then this figure from another world appears noiselessly, as if floating on air. Timelessly dressed in a black habit with a starched white cornette framing her oval, pure face. Unblemished by make-up. Unblemished, full stop.
"Pardon, Mademoiselle," I ask, "may I take a picture, s'il vous plait?"
She gives the tiniest nod of her head and starts to step aside.
"May I take a picture of YOU?". Again, a little nod and she looks directly into the iPhone in my hand. I frame in by the arched gables. Perfect. I squeeze the button and the camera clrrrks.
"May I see?" she whispers in perfect English. I hold the phone to her. Her slender hand reaches for it and our fingers touch. A faint ZRRR passes between us; static electricity. She gives me the faintest smile and takes the phone from me with both hands as if it is a dead dove. She scrutinizes the screen much closer-up than my eyes would allow me to.
"Can I send it to you"? I gesture with my forefinger backwards and forwards between us.
"Sure," she says, so I ask her for her number. Instead of passing me the phone, she starts typing with a teenager's familiarity using both thumbs. Her delicate, pale fingers, short nails, dance across the screen. I sneak a look at her face. Her skin is milk; fat-free and almost translucent. She has the complexion of a linen sheet that's been scrubbed on a flat rock next to a mountain stream; with pale shades of blue and pink floating just underneath the skin. That flimsy film between a pomegranate's pips. Pink inside her eyelids and blonde eyelashes of a newborn piglet. A strand of hair peeping from under her cornette is strawberry blonde. It will be in need of a cut, I am sure, but I imagine what her hair would look like loose, blowing across her face. With a delicate middle finger she would gracefully tuck it in behind her ear and she would throw her head back and laugh as she feeds the crows out in the wheatfields.
What am I thinking. NON in Afrikaans, I consider, means NO in French.
The sound my iPhone makes when it sends an MMS successfully echoes through the holy space. For a moment, a couple of Chinese tourists stop and glance. I am startled to the present.
She is holding the phone out to me. Our fingers touch. ZRRRR.
Again, that faint Mona Lisa smile.
"Excuse me," she says, "I have to go feed the crows".
She knows. And she knows I know that she knows.