Not long ago Mom had to start working. She cleans rooms at the Formula 1 Motel in Bagnolet while shes waiting to find something else, soon I hope. Sometimes, when she gets home late, she cries. She says its from feeling so tired. She has an even harder time during Ramadan, because when its time to break the fast, around 5.30 pm, shes still at work. So if she wants to eat, she has to hide some dates in her smock. She even sewed an inside pocket to avoid attention, because if her boss saw her hed be totally pissed.
Everyone calls her "Fatma" at the hotel. They never stop shouting at her, and they keep a close eye on her to make sure she doesnt steal anything from the rooms.
Of course, Moms name isnt Fatma, its Yasmina. It must really give M. Smith a charge to call all the Arabs "Fatma," all the blacks "Mamadou" and all the Chinese "Ping-Pong." Total freaking jerks all over.
M. Winner is Moms supervisor. Hes from the Alsace region. Sometimes, I wish hed fall down to the bottom of a deep basement and gets eaten alive by rats. When I say that, mom gives me a hard time. She says you shouldnt wish death on anybody, not even your worst enemy. One day, he insulted her and she bawled her eyes out when she got home. Last time I saw someone crying that much was when Myriam peed her pants on the school skiing trip. That bastard Winner thought Mom was disrespecting him because, with her accent, she pronounces his name Weener.
Since the old man took off weve had a whole parade of social workers coming to the apartment. Cant remember the new ones name, but its something like Dubois or Dupont or Dupré, a name that tells you shes from somewhere, from a real family line or something. I think shes stupid, and she smiles all the time no good reason. Like even when its totally not the right time. Youd think she gets off on being happy for other people, but more like she has to be happy because they arent. Once, she asked if I wanted us to be friends. Like a little brat I told her I didnt see how that could happen. But I guess I messed up, because I felt the look my mother gave me cut me in half.. She was probably scared social services would cut off our benefits, if I didnt make nice with their stupid social worker.
Before Mme Du-Thingamajig, there was a man Yeah, she took over from this guy who looked like Laurent Cabrol, who used to host Heroes Night on Channel 1 on Fridays. Shame it doesnt air anymore. These days, Laurent Cabrols in the bottom right hand corner of TV Guide, page 30, wearing a yellow and black striped rugby shirt, advertising central heating. Anyway, the last social worker was his spitting image. Total opposite to Mme Du-Whatsit. He never cracked a joke, never smiled and he dressed like Professor Calculus in The Adventures of Tintin. Once, he told my mom hed been doing this job for ten years, and it was the first time hed seen people like us with a one-child family. He was thinking Arabs, but he didnt say so. Coming over to our place was like an exotic experience for him. He kept giving weird looks to all the knick-knacks weve got all over, the ones my mom brought over from Morocco after she got married. Seeing as we wear babouches - as in Moroccan slippers at home, he took off his shoes when he walked in, trying to do the right thing. Except he had alien feet. His second toe was at least ten times longer than his big toe. It looked like he was giving the V-for-victory-sign in his socks. And then there was the stench. The whole time he played the sweet caring government worker, but it was all a front. He didnt give a shit about us. And then he quit. I heard he moved to the countryside. Retrained as a cheese-maker, for all I know. He drives around the little villages of dear old la belle France in his sky blue van on Sunday mornings after mass, selling rye bread and old-fashioned Roquefort cheese and saucisson sec.
Excerpted from Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, by Faïza Guène. (c) 2006. Reproduced wither permission of the Publisher, Harcourt Books. All rights reserved.
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