‘Do you speak Dutch or Muslim at home?’ While I wonder what exactly Mrs. K. means, a massive reddish brown crayfish walks past our feet. In a slow step the animal moves on to disappear under the bench we are sitting on.
In an attempt to explain to Mrs. K. that Islam is not a language, I glance between my legs under the old wooden bench. The exotic arthropod walks to and fro confused and then looks at me startled. At least, so it seems.
“Islam is a religion and Dutch is a language, Mrs K.” The woman fumbles in the bag of bread for the ducks and looks at me incomprehension. “But what was that other language you speak?” I understand the confusion better now. “I speak Tamazight too.”
The crayfish has gathered enough courage to get out from under the bench. I follow his movements until he settles into the tall grass on the pond side. “Do crayfish belong here in the park, Mrs. K.”
She doesn’t need to know anything about it and now looks at me questioningly. “What is Tamazight?”
“That is the language of the original inhabitants of Morocco.”
Mrs. K. throws a few pieces of bread at a group of ducks that are floating peacefully in the water. The ducks look a little less peaceful when the pieces of bread hit the surface of the water. Chaos. The lobster is still hiding. Then Mrs. K. turns to me again. “Isn’t Arabic spoken in Morocco? And you recently told me that you are also a Muslim, right?”
For a moment I don’t know what I find more confusing; our conversation or the stray crayfish. “That’s right!” I answer.
“Then why don’t you speak Muslims, but you do speak that other language?”
“Do you mean Tamazight?”
“Tamazight.” Mrs. K. takes the last pieces of bread and throws them to a duck who is watching the other ducks from a distance. “Tamazight,” she repeats, looking at the lonely duckling. “That sounds exotic.” I find the crayfish more exotic at the moment.
“Mrs. K.” A crumpled empty pouch disappears into a pocket of Mrs. K.’s light blue coat. “Tell me.”
“Have you seen that lobster?”
When I point to the tall grass, the lobster is gone. “There was really a huge lobster hiding in that grass.”
Mrs. K. looks at me slightly concerned. “Shall we just paint again next time, child?”
Recognizable details have been adjusted to respect the privacy of the elderly involved.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 14, 2021