Authors: Joanne Hyppolite
SETH AND SAMONA
Pick of the Lists
Winner of the Second Annual
Marguerite de Angeli Prize
“The story dramatizes that ‘normal’ is neither static nor uniform … it’s the variety of religions, family values, languages, ethnic customs, and individual personalities that vitalizes the neighborhood. Readers will enjoy the irreverent fun.”
“The dialogue and characterization combine flawlessly to give Seth a loud, clear voice; through him, readers come to know Samona, who is a special person indeed.”
School Library Journal
In memory of
Amelie “Manchoune” Stinville (1904–1993),
and for my parents, Claude and Gisele.
Who could have asked for more?
remember the first thing I thought, the day I met Samona Gemini. She was standing behind Mrs. Gray, our third-grade teacher, with her short hair cornrowed tight to her scalp and making one horrible face after another while Mrs. Gray introduced her to the class. That wasn’t the worst part either. Right there in front of the entire third-grade class of Atticus Elementary, she was wearing a pair of underpants so red that you could see them through her white skirt. Everybody was giggling but all I could do was stare with shock. Right then and there I thought, “That Samona Gemini is one crazy girl and I plan to stay away from her.” I remember it so well ’cause I’ve been saying the same thing for two years now, and though I try to stay away from girls as much as possible, that particular one has managed to make me her accomplice in trouble time and time again. Like last summer when she talked me into helping sell this all-natural homemade shampoo door-to-door ’cause it was gonna make us a million bucks but she forgot to tell everyone,
including me, that the special ingredient in it was horse manure. The few people who used it were stinking for days after, and me and Samona had to hide out before they stopped looking for us. Or the time our class went on a field trip to the zoo and she said she knew a shortcut to the concession stands and landed us right in the middle of Monkey Paradise with the chimpanzees. We weren’t allowed to go on field trips for the rest of the year.
It doesn’t help that everybody thinks Samona’s my special responsibility. Right after Samona’s family moved to Boston, her mother saw my mother in the supermarket and it turned out that they’d known each other from way back in New York City when my mother first came to the United States. Manmi made it my special assignment to get to know Samona and make her feel like she belongs here. I did it ’cause I had to and ’cause when you get down to it, I’m a nice person, but ever since then I haven’t been able to get rid of Samona.
After two years, you would think I would know how to avoid her, but she has a knack for tracking me down. Take last Wednesday afternoon when she came running down my street, shouting my name at the top of her lungs in broad daylight and looking a pitiful sight. Her hair was in braids to keep it from sticking out all over the place, ’cause she’d tried to hot-comb it herself the other day and made a mess of it. My first instinct was to hide but as it happened there wasn’t a
single parked car or thick green hedge in sight. I stuck myself behind one of those straggly baby trees they plant in the middle of gray city blocks to try and make them look better.
Despite the fact that I’m about as skinny and dark as that tree, she picked me right out. Then from all the way across the street that I have to live on, she put her hands on her hips and shouted, “Are you going to the bathroom behind that tree, Seth Michelin? ’cause I know you were raised better than that, and anyway you’re in civilization now!”
While I just about died of embarrassment, she waved to all the people who’d stuck their heads out of their windows and were looking down at us. I knew by tomorrow word would be all over the neighborhood that I had tried to pee outside on the sidewalk.
“What do you want, Samona?” I asked when my face stopped burning. The worst thing you could do was ignore Samona when she had her mind set on conversing with you.
“I want you to come over with me to Mrs. Fabiyi’s.” Samona smiled cheerfully like she hadn’t just said the stupidest thing in the whole world.
“Mrs. Fabiyi? That batty old Nigerian lady? How can you go over there when she threw that pot of cold vegetable soup at us on Halloween?”
“I think it was potato soup, and anyway I don’t think she’s there or maybe something’s wrong with her. She hasn’t shouted out the window at me in a week. We
can bring her some food or something in case she’s sick. Want a piece of gum?” She held out a squashed piece of Juicy Fruit.
I took it and stuck it in my mouth. “Well, that’s a beautiful sentiment, Samona Gemini, but what do you really want to go over there for?”
Samona snapped her gum and shifted her weight so that her hip stuck out at an angle. As usual, she was wearing clothes that didn’t fit. The shirt that she had on had to be her brother Nigel’s. I learned quick never to say anything about her clothes to Samona. She’d only ask me whether I preferred that she should run around buck naked. I can’t keep a straight face after she says that.
“Weeelll, Nightmare ran over there last night and she hasn’t come back yet. I want you to help me find her.”
Nightmare was Samona’s black cat.
“That cat has scratched me every time I go over to your house. Besides, you know she’ll come back when she feels like it. Why should I help you find her?”
“’cause then you’ll get to see what Mrs. Fabiyi’s house looks like. Everybody’s always talking about the creepy things she keeps in there. Now we can see if it’s for real or not.” Samona leaned forward like she was getting to the best part. “We’ll be the coolest kids in the fifth grade if we do it.”
“I’d rather be alive than cool.” I tried to sound grumpy but the truth was I had a piano lesson that
afternoon and even going over to Mrs. Fabiyi’s was better than that. “But I guess I can’t let you go alone.”
“You’re not doing me any favors, Seth Michelin. You can tag along if you want to. Got any food we can bring to her?” Samona led the way down the street to the building I lived in. “Mama spent the grocery money on the lottery last night. Did I tell you my sister Leticia found out that Tyrone was cheating on her? She invited him over and made him an Alpo meat loaf since he was acting like such a dog. …”
I followed her, half-listening, half-muttering to myself. Here I’d gone and gotten myself involved with Samona again.
“Are you listening to me? It’s pretty rude to go off wandering in your mind and leave a person addressing nothing but your body.” Samona shook her head at me, then flounced into my apartment building like she owned the place. But once we got inside, she shut up and stood still while we went up the elevator to the fifth floor.
The strangest thing comes over Samona when she gets around my family. For one thing, she’s a lot quieter. She just stands around looking and looking like we’re something she’s never seen before in her life. She thinks we’re funny ’cause we each other on the cheek all the time instead of saying hello and we pray in French before we eat and we say Manmi and Papi instead of Mom and Dad and Tant and Monnonk instead
of Aunt and Uncle. But I’ve been to her house enough to realize that her family are the weird ones. They’re all vegetarians and eat stuff like tofu and soy milk. Samona’s mother is a poet and she walks around in braids and black boots all the time talking in rhymes. When she’s not being a poet, she gets dressed up in different disguises because she does undercover stories for a news magazine. The first time I met Mrs. Gemini she was dressed up like a clown because she was going undercover at a circus. And Samona’s sister Leticia runs her own psychic hot line. I don’t know anything about Samona’s father except that he played the drums and he and Mrs. Gemini never got married. Samona doesn’t like to talk about him. It was Manmi who told me that her father left them right before they moved to Boston.
Anyway, my family does all that stuff ’cause we’re Haitian. Samona’s family just acts weird ’cause they want to. But Samona acts so different around my family, they think she’s the greatest thing since fried plantains. They think just ’cause Samona’s so smart and gets straight As that she’ll rub off on me or something. Manmi is always talking about how much “life” Samona has and that I should play with her more. Like I’m a zombie or something. One time, I came home soaking wet and singing ’cause I’d pulverized Samona in a snowball fight, and the whole family went into shock. My sister Chantal kept asking me if I was okay and Granmè kept feeling my forehead. Like I don’t
know how to have fun or something. They never believe she’s the reason for all the trouble I get into.
My granmè was the only one at home. When she saw Samona, she smiled and opened her arms to hug her, mumbling things in her low scratchy voice.
“What did she say?” Samona whispered over Granmè’s shoulder.
Samona didn’t understand a word Granmè said on account of the fact that Granmè only speaks Kreyol. Granmè was born in Haiti, which is on an island in the Caribbean. She came here to take care of us after her sister, Matant Margaret, and her daughter, my manmi, were already living here. Though she’s lived here for a long time, Granmè still won’t speak English. I was having a hard time trying to understand what she was saying myself, but for a whole different reason— Granmè had forgotten to put her teeth in again.
When she got a good look at Samona’s electric hairdo, a pained expression came over her face and she murmured something else.
“She wants to know why your ma let you out of the house with your hair like that,” I translated loosely before going into the kitchen.
“Don’t worry, Granmè. It’ll lay flat again in a couple of days,” Samona said, smiling at her.
When I got into the kitchen I noticed that my sister Chantal hadn’t cleaned the kitchen and washed the dishes like she was supposed to. She was probably out with her new boyfriend, Jerome. She’s keeping him
secret from Manmi and Papi. They would never let her have a boyfriend cause she’s only fifteen. Chantal was going to be in big trouble if the kitchen wasn’t clean before Manmi got home.
I found some fried chicken in the refrigerator and wrapped it in tinfoil. I know you’re supposed to give sick people some soup but I didn’t want to give Mrs. Fabiyi any ideas, since she liked throwing soup at people. Besides, I had my doubts about Mrs. Fabiyi accepting food from us, so at least Samona and I would have a good snack. I wrapped up some cookies too just in case Mrs. Fabiyi was starving.
When I came out of the kitchen I found Granmè and Samona dancing away to an old record of Tabou Combo. They’re a Haitian music group that Papi likes. Samona stopped dead when she saw me, and giggled. Granmè’s flowered scarf was wrapped around her head.
“Did you get some food?” Samona asked.
“Yup.” I held up the bag. “Are you gonna wear that scarf outside?”