When I go with Clover to the bus stop in the morning, we often meet a sister and brother who also go to her school. The sister is a bit older than Clover, about 12 years old. The brother is younger, maybe 7, in first or second grade.
Clover and the girl talk together in their slangy, schoolkid French. But the brother does not join these conversations. He sits on the bench of the bus stop, if he can, and stares. It's impossible to tell what he stares at. I can't read him.
Clover told me that the sister told her that the brother makes her life miserable. The sister is in charge of getting him to school, but the boy resists, won't put on his shoes, won't walk properly. He makes them late. He hits her and pinches her, hard. The parents don't do anything when she complains. They don't believe her, or don't want to believe her.
This morning they come to the bus stop all in a rush. The girl is out of breath, and furious. "He forgot his cartable!" She tells Clover. "Can you believe it? His cartable!" She glares at her brother, who had found his place on the bench. "We had to get off the bus, go all the way home, and then back here." She looks up at the sky, as though heaven might help her. The boy says nothing.
A woman, sitting on the bench next to the brother, tries to make light, announcing that she has forgotten her glasses today. No one responds to this woman.
The bus appears at the other side of the intersection. I say good-bye to Clover and she and the sister move down the sidewalk to where the bus doors always open. "Come on," says the girl to her brother, who's still on the bench. The boy does not move. The sister waits a few seconds, then turns away, turns her back on him. At that moment, I think, she is finished with him. Finished. I look at him sternly but as usual he is not looking at me or anything.
The bus pulls up to the stop. All the other kids line up to get on. Slowly the boy gets up from the bench, cartable in hand. One of its zippers is open and a flap hangs down, like a dog's tongue, obscuring the cartoon characters on the front of it. I imagine him, picking it out at the store, begging to have it. Insisting on the one with those particular characters.
He drags this cartable down the sidewalk, and is the last to board the bus.