A friend of ours celebrating her birthday in early June rented a house in the Loire Valley and invited her closest friends to visit for a couple of weeks. My husband C. and myself were very glad to be included. When the time came to leave Azay-sur-Cher, it was still only the end of June and we couldn’t remember why we’d ever thought it necessary to return, so early in the summer, to New York City. For what? C. and I followed the academic calendar and at the moment had no responsibilities anywhere. We’d spent a fair amount of time in France but had never visited Languedoc so decided to take the train south to Toulouse. Most of all, we wanted to visit friends we’d known years before in the West African country of Niger at a time when we’d all been living there with our small children. Our combined offspring had families of their own by now, but we snatched at any chance to meet and talk not only of the Niger we’d known in the early ’70s but of our long friendship. Now Vicki and Jean Francois were spending the summer in a village called Le Plan, south of Toulouse, on the old road to Santiago de Compostela.
From Tour, we took the train to Toulouse where Vicki and Jean Francois met us, then drove us to their house along roads lined on either side with plane trees, trunks raw and sun-speckled, green light winking overhead. The heat was intense. These were the foothills of the Pyrenees, Spain just on the other side of them.
Each time the four of us met I found it impossible to resist mentioning—if not recounting in full detail—the story of how we’d all become friends. C and I, who’d been living in eastern Niger, were crossing the country in an autobus with our three little daughters. We intended to buy a car in the capital, Niamey. Before we’d gone far, we’d stopped for the night in Maradi, where Vicki and Jean-Francois lived and where we’d all met briefly. The following day, as we were sitting in the autobus with the girls—waiting for the bus to fill so we could continue our trip over an unpaved road where the sand rose in clouds and floated in the window leaving grit between our teeth—Vicki had suddenly appeared outside the open window. She rapidly passed through it two baguettes and a sack containing a dozen hard-boiled eggs, as well as some toys that belonged to her own little girl. “You’ll need them,” she said.
These were the gifts we hadn’t known to ask for. Gifts that only later on I recalled as lit by a mysterious radiance.