“What are you making, Meg?” asked Mom. Construction paper, glitter, sequins, and foil covered the kitchen table. “A Christmas decoration?”
I pressed red and green sequins into place on the wet glue. “A present,” I answered. I lifted the shiny shape by one of its five points. “It’s a star. See?”
Mom smiled. “Lovely. A present for whom?”
“Ashaki,” I said. “She lives in apartment thirty-eight. Her family moved in last month. She’s in the English Language Learners class at school. I see her in the hallways and at lunch. Mrs. Helms hangs Ashaki’s paintings in the art room. Ashaki paints stripes and jaggedy lines and diamonds and flowers. They’re beautiful. Mrs. Helms says Ashaki will be in our class when she learns enough English.”
“Where’s Ashaki from?” asked Mom.
“Burkina Faso,” I replied. “Mrs. Helms says that’s in West Africa. She says Ashaki speaks Moré (MOR-ay). Maybe that’s why nobody talks to her. She’s always alone, even on our apartment playground. An older girl goes with her and sits on a bench, but Ashaki plays by herself. She looks sad. I like her art, and I don’t want her to be lonely. So I’m making her a star.”
“If Ashaki’s from West Africa,” said Mom, “maybe she also speaks French. Lots of people there know two languages—the language their ancestors spoke, and also French.”
I jumped up. “Really? Remember that ‘French for Kids’ class I took in first grade? I can still say hello and count from one to ten.”
The next afternoon I spied Ashaki on the apartment playground, drawing shapes in the dirt. The older girl sat nearby. I grabbed my glittery star and asked Mom to come out with me. Mom chose a bench near the older girl, and I stepped toward Ashaki. She looked at me.
“Bonjour (bohn-JOOR)!” I said. “Un (uhn), deux (dooh), trois (trwah), quatre (kahtr), cinq (sehnk), six (sees), sept (seht), huit (weet), neuf (noohf), dix (dees)!”
Ashaki’s eyes widened. She laughed softly. “Hello,” she answered. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”
I grinned. Patting my shoulder, I introduced myself. “My name is Meg.” Holding out the star, I said, “This is for you.” I put it in her hands, and she folded her fingers around it.
“This is for you,” she replied.
“No, not for me, for you,” I told her.
“No, not for me, for you,” she said, fingering the sequins.
The older girl called out. “Ashaki!” Ashaki and I walked over to her. “I am Amma,” the girl said to me, “Ashaki’s sister. Ashaki does not know much English yet. I have learned a little. I will help you.” She talked to Ashaki in French. Then she turned to me. “I explained that the star is a gift. My sister is happy.”
Ashaki glowed. “Merci (mehr-SEE),” she whispered. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I decided to try another word. Pointing at the star, I said, “Star.”
“Star,” she said. “Etoile (ay-TWAHL). Star. Etoile.”
I tried to copy her French. “Etoile.” It wasn’t too hard. Ashaki seemed pleased. So I touched the winter cap on my head and said, “Hat.”
She repeated the word. “Hat. Hat.” Then she switched to French. “Chapeau (shah-POE).”
My turn. “Château (shah-TOE),” I said. Ashaki burst into giggles. I didn’t know why.
Amma laughed, too. “It is chapeau, not château. Chapeau means hat. Château means castle. You said you have a castle on your head.”
“Oh.” What if I had to speak French all the time? I’d make thousands of mistakes! Ashaki probably knew more English already than I knew French. But she had much to learn. I could teach her some English and learn some French—and maybe Moré. “Chapeau,” I said.
Then I waved my arms at the holiday decorations—light strings on the playground fence, a green wreath on the apartment door, glimmering trees in windows. “Christmas,” I said.
Ashaki understood. “Christmas,” she answered. “Noël (no-EHL).”
Ah-hah! A French word I knew! “Noël.” I pronounced it just as she did.
“Mom,” I asked, “can Ashaki come home with me and do art projects?”
Mom requested Amma’s permission. Amma agreed. We all headed toward the green wreath. Suddenly Ashaki stopped and laid her hand on my arm. I faced her, and she smiled at me. “Amie (ah-MEE),” she said.
“Amie?” I asked. “What’s amie?”
“It means friend,” Amma answered. “She is saying you are her friend.”
I touched Ashaki's hand. “Amie. Friend.”
She nodded. “Friend.” She said it exactly right.
© Suzanne Werkema