It was 1785 in France.
We were middle class, my father a merchant, my mother a maid. We were happy with our way of life, content without the grand splendor of an Aristocrat, but not so poor that every last penny counted, though sometimes we found ourselves scraping a meal together.
However, my mother, Marie, my father, Louis, and my brother and sisters, Henri, Annette, Jacqueline hated the Aristocrats. Mamma said that they were spoiled, pompous, people who turned their noses up at us. Papa said that they weren’t good people, in his usual gentle way. Henri, Annette, and Jacqueline tried to explain to me that Marie Antoinette was the reason we sometimes hardly managed to eat a meal a day.
Then there was me, Giselle. I didn’t hate the Aristocrats. I was curious. I couldn’t distinguish the difference between the Aristocrats and the poor. I was ten years old.
I had just shut myself into my room, because of a fight between me and Jacqueline, a huge one over a small thing, and was gazing at the blue sky, blotched with white clouds, just like in the paintings.
That’s when I saw her. A tall woman, with golden hair flowing down her shoulders, wearing a dark red gown, a pearl necklace, and a ring on each finger. She looked like an Aristocrat, and seeing the way she walked, I could tell she was a proud one. She walked with her head held high, posture perfect, a haughty expression painted on her lovely face.
But it wasn’t she who caught my attention. It was the shadow behind her.
She was a pretty thing, who looked about my age, with golden locks curled into perfect ringlets. She wore a light blue gown, with a flowing skirt, and a brocade waistline, which I envied so much. I wanted to run down, and demand the gown from her, and offer her my coins. I was ashamed of my own plain, white, ratty gown and black bodice. On top of her golden head, she wore a large red hat, casting a shadow over her sweet face.
She, unlike her mother, who passed without a second glance, lingered. She gazed at my house with curiosity, before picking up her skirts, and rushing after her mother.
It became a game I played. I would rush up to my room, and watch her as she passed on her daily walk. Her gowns would change every day, but she always wore the red hat. From that day onward, she became known to me as red-hatted girl.
This happened for about a year, until the red-hatted girl looked up at my window, and smiled a dazzling smile. She raised her hand in greeting, and I raised my own in return. Her smile widened, innocent blue eyes filled with delight I often felt. It seemed to me as if I had found my first real friend.
From then on this happened every day, for the next three years. We would smile at each other, wave, before silently bidding each other goodbye.
I never talked to the red-hatted girl, not once. Yet I felt as if we were bonded, beyond any bond I had with my family.
Then came the dreadful day, October 2, 1789. The revolution had been going on for three months.
I wasn’t completely against it. Marie Antoinette had got what she deserved. But I was dead set against the thought of all Aristocrats being executed just because they were Aristocrats.
My family, however, were amongst the people who cheered every time the guillotine fell, while sometimes I sobbed myself to sleep because I thought of the children being executed.
Little did I know that the heartbreak that I had felt before was nothing compared to the pain I would feel that day.
I was sitting by the window, waiting to see my red-hatted friend. But she didn’t come. She never did.
Instead, I finally caught sight of her in the filthy wooden cart I had seen so many times, passing as it went towards the guillotines.
Her mother was weeping into her hands, her father holding her tightly, but her face was serene. Dirt was streaked across her face, and people sneered at her, but when she caught a glimpse of me, she smiled brightly as always. I knew she knew what was happening, but she still smiled. She waved at me cheerfully, and I waved back until the cart disappeared. She wasn’t wearing her red hat.
I wept harder than I ever had that night. I refused to eat for three days.
I didn’t even know her name, yet she had smiled and waved. She had been nothing but kind to me. I think she was like me. She didn’t see anyone as high class or poor. She just saw people as people.
I never saw that red-hatted girl again.
It was 1785 in France.