(Le tableau noir) ©2011
Anna, still wearing her coat and shoes, drops her flowery backpack in the hallway. She zips it open, pulls out a sheet of paper and waves it in front of my face.
“Look!” she says, beaming.
I read the first of the questions:
“What was your favourite toy? Hmm...”
I see myself at her age, playing for countless hours with blond, red or dark-haired dolls; one is missing an arm, another has a funky eye, permanently shut no matter how vigorously you wake her up. But the image that stays with me is that of a three-legged easel at the back of which – on the plywood part - I used to write “secret” messages.
“My favourite toy was a blackboard,” I say.
Anna lifts her eyebrows.
“A blackboard? What is a blackboard?”
In Anna’s school, all classrooms have interactive boards. From her desk, the teacher opens and closes folders on the white screen that faces the pupils. A large “Good morning,” displayed across a bucolic background of cows and green hills finally appears to greet everyone. The shape of the letters will look the same tomorrow. There will be no way to tell if the teacher has had a good night’s sleep.
I have often wondered why I do not feel the expected nostalgia whenever I take Anna to school. I recall a picture taken when I am her age, entitled “Ecole Primaire Arthur Rimbaud, Cours Préparatoire.” I am sitting at a small desk, similar to the ones I see in her classroom. I am wearing a white pullover with a large emerald green shamrock splayed across the front. My mother’s inspired needlework was my uniform for that day.
Suddenly it dawns on me. The smells. I recall the scent and velvety feel of chalk; the sponge smelling of the past, that feels like a frog, and that you have to squeeze above a bucket with water the colour of a pond. The noises are different too. The clanking sound of the pointing stick dropped on the teacher’s desk, the occasional teeth-jarring screeches of chalk on board, the soft snap of a long piece being broken in two to better fit a small hand... All these sounds have been replaced by modern ones.
Tap, tap, tap, on the keyboard.
Click, click, click, on the mouse.
The voice of my godchild draws me out of my reverie.
“Marraine, what happened to your blackboard?”
“Well, I was probably too big for it.”
I clearly remember my disappointment the day I found out it had been given away; I suspect my mother wanted to help me let go of the past, so I could grow.
On the way to school the next day, I carry my imaginary tableau noir under my arm. Anna is hopping around me, showing off her Irish dancing steps. Her arms are slightly lifted for balance.
“Look what I learned yesterday!” she says, beaming above her dicky bow.
Her feet tap, tap, tap the ground.
My hands tap, tap, tap the keyboard.
I pause, and decide to save those lines.