Our second day in Morondova we decided to drive out to the Allée des Baobabs. It was sticky hot and my flip flops made sand cake on the back of my legs. The trees were larger than I had imagined them to be. Thousands of years were in their trunks. White and strong and thick, with the leaves brushing the clouds in spurts on the tops.
I walked along the sand path and almost immediately a little girl approached me, with the greeting I had become accustomed to, “Salaama Vozaha!” basically, hello white person. Her voice was sweet and high and matched her pretty face. She was wearing a dirty skirt that hung to her knees, and no shirt covering her little girl body.
“Salaama” I said, looking down at her.
“Comment tu t’appelle tu?” she asked, inquiring about my name.
“Je m’appelle Lola” I said to her.
“Lola” she mouthed. “Lola.”
She had asked so casually, as if we had been seated next to each other at a dinner party or were rubbing elbows at a bridal shower. She wasn’t afraid of me and wasn’t off-putting in her boldness. She reached her hand out in order to put it in mine, as opposed to the thin, bony fingers always reaching towards me, palm upturned, sad begging eyes saying more than the meager “Madame??” coming from tight lips.
I took her hand and we walked along the allée. I told her there were no baobabs where I live. She giggled and skipped, and I wondered if she even understood what I had said. Her short life had all been lived under these trees, these monsters. They were as natural to her as daisies or pines.
We passed by her village. A little boy ran up to me and proudly pulled the wings off of an unsuspecting butterfly, lifting the carcass up for my approval. The little girl brushed him away, she was possessive, I was her vozaha. Then she started singing.
The song was like little bells ringing. It was a French children’s song, and the way she sang it with her soft Malagasy accent made the notes dance in my ears. “Will you teach it to me?” I said. She did, and we sang it together as we walked back down the allée. I got back to the car and looked down on her big brown eyes. “I have to go now, ma petite. I’m sorry.”
I cupped her face in both of my hands and just looked, just looked at her. She was so beautiful. I had seen so many beautiful women, bent over in rice fields, two babies tied to their backs. Beautiful women had sent their children out to me on the streets. “Un petit peu Madame? pour partager?”
She lifted her hands back up to me but she was too small to reach my face. She looked at me with pure love and acceptance. I wanted to give her everything.
I wanted to tell her to be good and study hard in school. I wanted to tell her to be strong. She pursed her lips and waited. I bent over and kissed her. “Au revoir, ma cherie.” I said. “Valoom.”