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from the September 2008 issue

Heading South

At the age of twelve I realized that I could do whatever I wanted with women. That's just the way it is. I can't do anything about it. My sister's friends are always making eyes at me, some are bolder than others. But I'm not interested in girls. I prefer more mature women. I like to see them lose their heads. Especially the serious ones. For some time now, I've been hunting a choice prey: the headmistress at my sister's school. I always make sure I'm here when she comes to see my mother for her fittings. I haven't made a move yet. I know that she's a respectable person, but I want to see her private face, her hidden face, her untamed side. So I wait. I know she has been eyeing me. I've often caught her looking at me out the corner of her eye. But I play the innocent. The one who doesn't understand a thing. You see, I have the face of an angel. My mother's features. Except that my mother, as my father used to say, is an angel. Whereas me, I'm rotten to the core. I'm like a spider crouching at the back of its web waiting for its prey.

My mother just ran out of here in a mad panic to go visit a sick friend. She asked me to offer her apologies to Madame Saint-Pierre who'll be arriving around two o'clock this afternoon. My sister went to study for her second semester exams at a friend's house in Petionville. Then she is going to meet my mother at the hospital in Canapé-Vert. She won't be back before four. That means I have two hours at my disposal. I grab a Carter Brown book from our little bookcase and start flipping the pages to pass the time. The trap has been set. Waiting is the hardest part.

I stand up and take a long, deep breath before going out to the yard. There is a dead rat near the clean water basin. With one swift kick, I fling it over to my little neighbor. He is about ten years old, but has the mentality of a two-year-old. I smile at him and wave. He just looks at me as if I were a ghost. He might not even know I am here.

A car has just pulled up in front of the house. Two o'clock on the dot.

She's a punctual woman.

I go open the door for her.

"My mother went to see a sick friend."

"Oh," she says in a serious yet musical tone, "I hope it's nothing serious."

"I don't know Ma'am. She didn't tell me anything."

"She didn't tell you when she'd be back?"

"No, but I don't think she'll be long."

"Well then I'll wait a little bit."

So, she's decided to stay.

"That chair's not very sturdy Ma'am…Sit here, you'll be more comfortable."

She sits on the edge of the chair. A way of letting me know that she's not fooled by my little maneuver and doesn't have much time to give me. I won't tread that territory with her because I already know that the one who controls the time, controls everything. I sit down calmly across from her. I have all the time in the world. I look her right in the eyes, something I've never done before, and I attack.

"Your dress looks very nice on you, Ma'am."

"Your mother is definitely an excellent seamstress."

She wants me to be more specific.

"Yellow looks good on you, Ma'am."

This borders on insolence. But my innocent face—bright eyes and such a luminous smile—saves me. She blushes. I lower my eyes. Slight trouble.

"Your mother is very courageous," she says so she can catch her breath.

I have to launch another attack immediately.

"I think that in some way all women are courageous," I say, looking her right in the eye again.

And again, she blushes. This time, she's starting to realize that something is going on here. I smile and look at her. Clearly she was not expecting such shots from her seamstress' son, a boy with eyes so sincere and a smile so candid (that's what people always say about me). But I have been training at this game since the age of twelve. If I trained for tennis like this, I would be playing world championships. I love tennis but it is too expensive, though I do spend hours watching long matches from behind the green gate at Bellevue Circle…Madame Saint-Pierre is looking at me. She isn't smiling. She seems to have realized something. What has she realized? It is that despite her intimidating air and her place in society (headmistress at a prestigious school), I am not in the least bit scared of her. Not only am I not scared of her, I am playing a game of cat and mouse with her. Vexed, she stands up from her chair, putting on the serious face that she generally reserves to intimidate students' parents. But it is already too late. At this game there is no second chance. A long moment of silence. We look at each other. She, furious. I, calm.

"I don't think I'll be able to wait any longer…You'll tell your mother that I stopped by…"

"Of course," I say, without getting up.

She remains standing for a moment in the middle of the room, arms dangling.

Somewhat unsettled. "Tell her I stopped by," she repeats as she heads toward the door.

The nape of her neck.

I quickly stand up. Just like a tiger in the urban jungle. She hesitates for a quarter of a second. Right when her hand touches the doorknob, I go over to her and lightly brush the nape of her neck. She stops cold. I don't move. I watch her jaw contract. Her hand tightens around the doorknob. Her body stiffens. Then with the tips of my fingers, I caress her again, even lighter than before. There is a cry so high-pitched that I can't swear that I heard it. We hunters really like the moment when the animal at the end of the barrel seems to be waiting for the final shot.

Kill her immediately or let her go. I hesitate. Absolute power. I give her a light kiss on the neck.

"Don't worry, Madame Saint-Pierre, I will tell my mother that you stopped by."

She finds the strength to turn the doorknob and walks out in a daze. With her poise slightly diminished and her eyes a little frightened, she runs off. From my window I watch her get into her car. I don't think she will be going too far.

From Vers le Sud (Paris: Grasset, 2006). By arrangement with the publisher. Translation copyright 2008 by Tanyika Carey. All rights reserved.

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