Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Miracle on Ménilmontant or ya win some ya lose some.

A couple Thursdays ago was L'Ascension - the day the Holy Ghost rose to join the Father, I believe, but I - Mom that is - was not brought up a good catholic. My Sunday school was done at Unity...

In France, on the Thursday of l'Ascension there's no school for school children! For four days straight! Some Thursday, huh? (Be quiet Miss Crankypants, we all know what you think of the secular French school system...)

To occupy Malcolm and Henry during this long weekend, I agreed to accompany them to a place down Pyrénées called Cash Converters. It's a pawn shop basically. Every now and again, Henry and Malcolm have dreams of saving up their weekly allowance of 2 euros a piece to buy this season's lastest video sensation - meaning the console and as many games as possible! This time, they want to buy a PS2 and they've come within close enough range of their dream to know that used versions of it are available at Cash Converters for 59.99 euros... They've been saving for a couple weeks now and on Ascension Thursday they had some 10 euros in the piggy bank.

The evening before, they'd waited up for me to get back from work to ask me if the next day I'd take them to PS2 heaven. Nil the river was also saving up and his Dad had agreed to take him so Henry and Malcolm figured we should make it a neighborhood outing. That's what we do here.

This time, the three boys had decided to sell and THEN buy. They'd gotten all their old educational CDroms together (Arthur's ABC's, Math with the Wizards, Sam Pyjam...) in a bag with Henry's old tennis racket, one half-finished series of mangas and a couple old DVDs too. They were psyched to sell!

After breakfast, Stella took me aside and whispered "Mom, try to make them understand that they might not get very much for that stuff." I told her not to worry, as of 8am, I had been putting a seriously wet blanket on their hopes. Stella said "I remember when I was little and I used to have wild dreams like that, that I'd sell my stuff on ebay and buy an apartment in the XXth..." The girl is not yet 15, but her dreams of some day hitting oil already seem wild to her... (That's French education! "Down Miss CrankyPs! Down! Sit!")

Well, we set off for Cash Converters, a relatively heavy bag over Malcolm's shoulder and Henry with only his tennis racket lashed neatly across his back. When we got there, only one man was at the counter. We had the waiting area to ourselves. The boys were anxiously trying to guess how much they'd get for their stuff. I bet 12euros for Nil's goods; he had some pretty recent PS2 games in his bag and... Well, we'll see, for H and M's.

Nil got 12 euros for his stuff and H and M...well... At the last second, Henry wisely pulled back Malcolm's 1/2 manga collection, realizing they could probably get more for it at a used book store or at a sidewalk sale. Smart kid! Even if it did lower their total takings from 10.50 to 8.50 euros.

On the walk back, they were grumpy. A small herd of grumpopotomi still lugging a 1/2 manga collection back UP Pyrénées... By the time we got home, I was so sick of their grumbling that I sent them to the park without a snack! "GO OUTSIDE and PLAY BADMINTON!!! NOW!!!" They went, grumpily. Then, after about an hour they came home again, grumpily.

For some odd reason which I no longer remember, about two hours later, I realized they had forgotten the badminton rackets at the park. This made me mad and I sent them off to bring the rackets back if they were still there. I too went out on some errand or other. As I was coming back, I passed Malcolm going off on his rollerblades. "Where are you going?" I asked. It was getting late.

"Oh, I'm just going around the block." Malcolm answered.

"At this hour? Does Thierry know?"

"Yes, he said I could go."

"Mmmm. Be careful," I said.

When I got up stairs I asked Thierry if Henry was back. He wasn't. I asked why Thierry had let Malcolm go out for a ride around the block rather than sending him to the park with Henry. Thierry said he HAD sent him to the park!We were getting a bit worried. Then Henry came back. Grumpily.

"I didn't find the rackets but I found this." He held out a small black nylon wallet. Malcolm came back and got a talking-to by Thierry... Henry and I were already rifling through the wallet trying to find out whose it was. That became clear very soon.

It belonged to a Frenchman man who lived in Jerusalem. There was no French address nor telephone number but there were several numbers in Isreal. We began by calling the three numbers listed in the Parisian phone book for people called Sam Cohen living in the vicinity of our neighborhood.*

*editor's note : in this true story, the names have been changed to protect privacy.

The first number didn't answer. The second was a little old woman who was the mother of a Sam Cohen. When I announced he'd lost his wallet she was quite upset and her husband finally got on the line. I tried to reassure him, saying it wasn't very serious, we'd give it back, I promised, then I realized it was perhaps not even this guy's wallet. I asked the man when his son's birthday was and MUCH to his credit he knew it. It was not the same birthday as the guy who'd lost his wallet. Their son was five years older than our guy. We said our good-byes. Mr Cohen's mother was quite releived. I could hear her cooing happily in the background. Mr Cohen's father was quite relieved too and also slightly exhilarated by this small excursion into the adventure of someone else's life. The third number didn't answer.

Then we decided to call Jerusalem. A lady picked up right away and when I said I was trying to contact a certain Mr Cohen she said "Oh, he's in France!"

I said "Yes, and I think he's lost his wallet!" She turned around and cried out "Sam's lost his wallet!" and a man in the background groaned.

"I'd like to return it to him. It's got his driver's license and things in it."

"Sam's lost his driver's license," she cried over her shoulder. I could hear her dragging on her cigarette.

I asked if they had a number for Sam in France. They did but SHE didn't so HE had to go and dig it out of a drawer somewhere. Henry and I waited... then we finally had a number. It was not a French number though. It was a number to be dialled from Jerusalem in order to call France.

I sat and looked at the number for a while knowing it was not one I could use, trying to pick out which numbers I should keep and which I'd have to throw away in order to get through to someone in France. It looked something like this :


which is not a French number. Then lightning struck! I took off 003303 added a 0 in front of the 6 and got a valid French cell phone number.

"Bonjour, je cherche à joindre Sam Cohen."

"Oui..." very tentative, "C'est moi...."

"My son found your wallet, at the park."

"Yes, my wallet was stolen."

"Well, my son didn't steal it! But if you'd like..."

Sam Cohen was actually just one street away. Ten minutes later, he was on our doorstep, a tired man, ten years my senior. He thanked me. I said it was nothing. He thanked me again. I said it was nothing again. Then he told me HIS story.

"C'est incroyable! I'm staying at my mother's. She lives on an impass off the rue Boyer in a two-story house."

It was incredible. I know that house well and that impass. That's where I did my last series of all-day study periods before my final midwifery exams. I passed. It was a minor miracle! I didn't tell him.

"This morning," he continued, "when I came downstairs I found my passport, my cigarettes, my lighter on the table. I asked my mother 'Did the chair fall over?' My jacket was on the back of the chair. She said 'No, last night your brother came in and took something from the pocket.' I looked through the pockets and found my wallet had been taken. The strangest thing is, I work for a travel agency and I had an envelope with 1500 euros in that pocket given to me by a client to reserve a rental. Last night I took the envelope out and put my wallet in. I went up to bed with the envelope in my pyjama pocket. My wallet had my papers in it but hardly any money. Now I've got my wallet back too!"

I was pleased for him. Then he said "I'd like to give you this." He handed me some bills folded over into a small wad. I, of course, refused. It was nothing. Then he said "For your son. I'd like to thank him. It shows good education to bring it back." Now that I could not refuse!

"Thank you! It will make him very happy!" I said.

Now, if this were fiction or Hollywood that wad of bills would be exactly the amount needed to pay back the lost badminton rackets with just enough left over to pay off the desired PS2, right?

You know I'm right!

But this is real life!

Now, I'm very tempted to say "TEN comments will get you the end of this story..." then wait and see what you do... I could do a Scheherazade... leave you wanting more... Kind of like when I used to read to the kids at night and just at the most exciting part of Harry Potter I'd tease them, "And now it's time to go to bed!"... just like Omi used to do to Monique and me, reading The Pink Motel... but actually, I kinda want to finish this tonight. So no fooling around. It's shorter than Harry Potter anyway.

The guy gave Henry 30 euros.

As I pocketed the money and headed for the elevator I had several thoughts : I could just keep this money for myself... He should have come down with me if he really wanted this reward (before calling the numbers in the wallet, Henry had - yes, I admit it - evoked the possibility of a reward which I, always the wettest blanket on the beach, poopoohed) ... Henry's going to be sooooo happy! I hope he doesn't make his brothers and sister too jealous...

When I walked in and gave him his 30 euros he was THRILLED! And I was THRILLED! The first thing he did after gasping was grab his brother Malcolm in a very heart-felt bear hug. Then the two of them began dancing around the apartment, throwing the three bills in the air, watching them float to the ground, rolling on the bills when they reached the floor, waving them in front of their faces like a lady's elegant fan, then waving them around like ostrich feathers... they called Nil who was floored. They were very upset that Max and Stella were not immediately present to witness and enjoy the miracle!

Watching their shenanigans, which went on and on and on, I thought to myself "Thank God Sam can't see them now! Rolling in money like it was catnip! What would he think of our good education if he could see this?!!!"

Well, tonight, on the 26th of May, as Henry fell asleep after a hard day - he probably will not be accepted at the special school for athletic and artistic children; the interview was this afternoon and he came out feeling worthless - he told me "We're just 2 euros away from the PS2!"

Remember, our wildest dreams can come true!


  1. A most wonderfully told modern miracle story! One to tell the grandkids sometime.

    Yes, dreams do sometimes come true, especially when we do the right thing. M & H most certainly deserve their prize. So I will keep my fingers crossed that the PS2 may still be available next week.

    Love and hugs to those Pirates!

  2. Michelle, you do tell a story beautifully.

    A busy life does present lots and lots and lots of opportunities to teach. With each, a new story is created.

    Sorry about the badminton rackets and espeically about Henry's interview making him feel so bad. Perahps he did better than he thinks... my fingers are crossed! If not, the school's lose as far as I'm concerned.

    To practicing delayed gratification. It isn't easy but it is important, a lesson we all have to learn, over and over again.