People Like Us

Chapter 19

Where is Danisha? That's a good question! Another good question: Where is Julian?

Oh, thought Esmeralda as she and her company descended many steps down into the bowels of an abandoned chateau on the other side of the river, thank goodness we're off that old ugly island. Ah, to be back in the city, albeit in hiding again...

She and Katerina led Danisha and Nadine through darkened underground tunnels. "Well," voiced Danisha to an amused Esmeralda, "at least this isn't the catacombs and all that disgusting, stinking, sewage! If that was the case then I'd change into my grubbies."
Thank goodness Nisha had time to change into more serviceable attire for the period – and the journey to the other side of town. The smart and expensive St. John suit was hardly the thing to wear through the hidden back alleys of Paris. And, Nisha thought with a twinge of triumph, thank goodness she finally came to her senses and came 'thisclose' to dumping Claude Frollo.
Perhaps Évrard was right that Frollo, despite the many times he put his life on the line for this lady, really didn't have her best interest at heart after all. In these recent days, in spite of the apparent renewal of commitment, Danisha began to feel the relationship becoming somewhat marginalized and compromised. That is, she felt that she had to continuously hide certain facts from Claude; a precise example would be the budding friendship between Nadine and a little Romani girl.
Danisha made Nadine promise, "Never tell your papa about your friendship with Katerina. He won't understand and may keep Trina from coming over."
"Why, Mommy?", the child would ask. "Why doesn't Papa like people like Trina? I have all kinds of friends at home and he doesn't mind that. Why does he hate Trina and her folks?"

There wasn't a simple explanation Nisha could offer Nadine, nothing that a six year old would understand. Even for a very bright, extremely observant child, Nadine was at that age when fantasy and reality are still blended together. Nevertheless, her attitudes towards people different from she are readily shaped; this is why Danisha never allowed the child within earshot of Claude Frollo's anti-Romani rants. Oh there were times when she'd counter his attitudes with stories of her own – how it was for her growing up in a society bent on sorting people by color and race. She'd relate examples of atrocities inflicted upon her people, and how more than 400 years of racial bias and prejudice at times fostered bitter feelings that on occasion exploded into violent rage. But there were times when she felt all the "re-education of Claude Frollo" backfired, and what transpired recently was a perfect example of how much that re-education was all in vain.

As she neared the secret chamber which served as the current Court of Miracles, Nisha wondered if she made the right decision: to give Claude Frollo his "walking papers". Deep down she didn't want to go to such extremes, and she hoped that Aunt Nola would talk sense into Claude, perhaps pave the way for some sort of reconciliation. She still loved Claude with all her heart, body, and soul; she kept praying that there was room for a second chance, a new beginning. The deep devotion was still there, but the fire and sparkle, what she thought had been regained, was still not the same. All Danisha could do was bide her time, and hope Claude would understand the reasons behind her rash undertaking. Perhaps an intense one-on-one session with Aunt Nola – and Nisha's dear auntie was a force to be reckoned with – would at last bring Claude around. Maybe Quasimodo, once he shows that to Claude, will be the catalyst to....

Come on, Aunt Nola! Quasi, I'm counting on you, too! Talk to Claude; tell him my side, and how much his actions and attitudes have derailed our relationship...I got in front of TV cameras, before millions of people, and poured out my heart about my "French delight" who's the inspiration behind so much of my recent success...Without Claude, this book, this move to NYC, this whole new opportunity and adventure awaiting us, would've never been possible... He says I've impacted his life in so many ways...He doesn't realize how much he's impacted mine...I truly don't want to end this...

However the tide would soon turn for Danisha as she came face to face with Clopin. What the Romani chief related to her within those few hours, and what she would learn about Julian, would finally seal the fate of a most unusual romance. At last Danisha would be able to answer the classic Ann Landers question: Will I be better off with Claude Frollo or without him? But if it came to the latter, Danisha pondered if she'd be better off with Évrard Ouimet, who now, along with son Orry, anticipated an unforgettable journey.


"So, I finally meet Guillaume Sarrisin's kinswoman."

Clopin surveyed the woman standing before him. How much she looks like Isabelle LaCroix! The unmatched beauty, the regal bearing. This woman called Danisha, descended from a long line of West African royalty, is one of Frollo's most treasured lovers. They have a child, and have shared the most dangerous, remarkable adventures. But, as Clopin recently learned, this woman has come oh-so close to giving Frollo the boot.


Because Nisha became livid that Frollo and Judge Ouimet believed those lies that the Romani kidnapped Orry Ouimet, and that Frollo never bother to inform her of the crime. It was also reported that she could no longer take what she perceived as an ever-growing accommodation of Frollo's hatred of the Romani; that is, she refused to disallow her daughter's friendship with a Romani child just because such a bond would surely anger Claude Frollo.
Clopin learned this moments after Orry was returned to Paris and reunited with his father, and while the informant safely assisted the Romani's move to a new local. It was reasoned that since Minister Philippe Ouimet's death and Orry's rescue would occupy a majority of Parisians, it served as the perfect opportunity to move the Court of Miracles to a semi-permanent locale. And who was that person who told Clopin everything, and assisted the move? None other than Julian, one of Frollo's best and ablest spies, who, unbeknownst to Clopin, had but a drop of Roma blood. Julian, extremely proud of his diverse lineage, revealed to Jehan Frollo that Esmeralda is a distant ancestor.

How about that! A Frollo spy helping the Roma. Naturally Clopin got a kick of this little cat-and-mouse game, but worried what the future will bring. Of course, the King would appoint another Minister of Justice, perhaps a man as bad as, or even worse than, Frollo. But what did it matter now?
Thanks to Julian, the Romani have a new home – no more "tent city" on a wild, deserted island. And, with further gratitude to the mysterious Julian, that man, Auburn Wade, was now holed up elsewhere within the Court of Miracles.
Clopin, at first thinking that Wade was just another citizen seeking out the Romani hideout in exchange for a lucrative reward, became incensed that this man was the one who tormented Danisha with endless probing questions concerning her ordeal last winter as "Dottie Ducharme". How dare this man hound her so mercilessly! Clopin, while recovering in Nantes many years ago and, upon meeting Guillaume Saracen and accepting the transplanted African's kind hospitality, vowed that no harm would come to Danisha. Clopin figured out that Nisha had to be Guillaume's kinswoman once he met Sarrisin's daughter Isabelle. The resemblance – that of Isabelle and Danisha – is so uncanny! Julian confirmed it all last year when the intrepid Frollo spy enlisted the Romani king's aid in trapping a vicious serial killer. But for now Clopin wanted to focus on the woman standing before him.

He surveyed Danisha and praised her beauty. The pronounced feminine curves, smooth, rich caramel complexion, the large dark brown eyes, the warm and loving expression, despite her present dark mood, were especially appealing.  "I must say, Claude Frollo is a fool to let someone as lovely as you get away."

Danisha graciously thanked Clopin for the compliments, saying only, "At the moment Claude Frollo should be in conference with my Aunt Nola. You see, she's the only one who I trust in 'putting his shoes on for him'. For more than forty years, Aunt Nola has been a highly respected, very well educated businesswoman who still stands for no nonsense, especially if someone is doing any of her family wrong."

The voice grew angry now, cold even, as she continued, "If he gets riled at what she'll say to him, if he tries to do anything to her, so help me...Clopin, I want to apologize for all injurious things I've said or thought. As you can see, Esme and I are reconciled, it's just..."

Clopin smiled as he beckoned Nisha to sit. He called forth refreshment as the pair discussed many things. "My dear  mademoiselle, when you first came to Paris those many years ago, I, along with Malus, cornered you in a darkened alley. Now, if you hadn't reacted so defensively – and I admire any woman who can hold her own – Malus would've killed you on the spot. Actually I'm rather taken with you, especially since I've met your kinsman, Guillaume Sarrisin."

Nisha returned the smile as she accepted wine and bread. "Guillaume's real name is Jawara. He's still Crown Prince in his ancestral village in the Mother Land. Did he tell you that he and Isabelle – her real name is Binata – retained their native ways and language, and that Jawara still holds courts amongst Nantes' Black citizenry?"

Clopin nodded and smiled, then invited Danisha to partake a light supper of white cheese, wine, and bread. Ah yes, thought the Romani King, she is just as Julian described: shrewd, highly intelligent, keenly observant; and she possesses a defiant streak that I'm sure gets under Frollo's skin ever so often.
He replied, "Guillaume informed me of just that. Your kinsman exhibited marked kindness during my recovery. When I met his daughter, and learned that she married a man of Vincent LaCroix's caliber, it intrigued me all the more. Factor in what Julian related to me concerning what your people have suffered in your New World..."

Now Danisha became alarmed. What if Julian revealed the truth about Frollo's "New World" friends? So far, the secret was safe with Évrard Ouimet, and with Esmeralda. With some trepidation she inquired about Clopin's knowledge of all things "New World", and the answer supplied allayed her fears tremendously.

"Julian," replied the Romani king, "while being rather vague on a few things, did point out how your people suffered, which I estimate have been as bad, or even worse than, with what we've put up with all over Europe." He grinned as he added, "Oh yes, they expect us to...umm...'shuffle along', too. They regulate us to 'acceptable' crafts – we're barred from the guilds. They tell us where to live, where to shop – as if we're ever welcome in any establishment. That tavern you and your friends patronize, La Belle d'Avignon, was one of the few places open to us until a few very vocal and well-heeled customers complained. Old Victor Jouet had no choice but to bar us entry. The son Hugues says it's for the good of business..."

Nisha indicated that she was unaware of the ban placed on the Romani; she equated such treatment to legalized and institutionalized segregation in her postmodern country. Hmm, discrimination against the Roma isn't based upon skin color – it's religion that opens or closes the doors. Then again, it's outright hatred because the Roma are "different" and refuse to "tow the line" — assimilate — like everyone else.

She had to know once and for all: Once so many Romani converted to Christianity, was life any easier. "Clopin, how many of your tribe, or just of your people in general, have been Christianized? Does being baptized and confessing faith in Christ help your situation any? I know there were —are still—circumstances where it hasn't helped my people. In the eyes of a few 'true blues' they still think a n****r is a n****r, no matter what. That old saying, 'If you're black, get back', still rings true no matter all the positive things we do..."

She paused to catch her breath, then continued, "Sir, I fight everyday to raise a hate-free child. I don't want her ever to dislike people because they're the wrong color, the wrong religion, or don't speak the same language. I teach my daughter to treat everyone with respect, and not just 'tolerate' those different from her. To tolerate is to merely put up with, and that's not good enough. You don't know the many times I've told Claude Frollo that I don't want Nadine growing up hating the Romani, and I've recently refused to use the term 'gypsy'. It's a misnomer and only serves to degrade and sub-humanize."

Danisha stopped herself, took a healthy gulp of wine, and listened intently as Clopin rejoined. "My dear Danisha, from what I've heard and observed, you have been a telling factor in keeping my people safe from men like Frollo and Philippe Ouimet. Without you, there would be no Julian to help us; without you, Frollo would've stepped up his senseless campaign to eradicate us."
He glanced over at the pair of little girls – Nadine and Katerina – now huddled together in a far corner fast asleep. Yes, this woman has reared her child to accept and love, not to hate; Frollo should be here to see his own flesh-and-blood bonding with people like us.
"Without you, or your daughter, children such as Katerina would've found no safe haven within the walls of Paris."

The Romani king smiled as he continued to heap praise upon this lady, adding, "And may I repeat that Frollo is a complete idiot to let such a fine lady get away. I take it you have, as Julian puts it, '86-ed' Claude Frollo. Good for you! Such women who take absolutely no garbage from the man deserve special commendation."

And with that, Clopin ordered more refreshment and overnight accommodations for Danisha and Nadine. He said of the "new" Court of Miracles, "While the place may not be as comfortable as the Palais, or your own home, it offers refuge for those who feel persecuted by the Claude Frollos of the world. You and your child, dear lady, are welcome to stay as long as you wish."

Danisha thanked Clopin for his kind generosity and hospitality, but graciously informed him that she and Nadine could stay, "Just for tonight. Tomorrow it's back to the...umm..."New World" for us. I believe it's best for Nadine and I to get a fresh start, without Claude Frollo. Oh, did you hear what happened when Quasi dropped by for Orry's homecoming?"

Clopin shook his head then turned inquisitively to Esmeralda. The beautiful dancer replied that it was something Nadine did in Esme's full view that proved to be rather touching and disturbing, all the same.
"She simply walked up to Quasimodo and gave him something. I don't know what she said to him, but she was so earnest and candid. I don't think she shed a tear. When I later asked Quasi, he told me that Nadine handed over a silver charm bracelet and said, 'Give this to Papa. I don't want it anymore. He made my mommy cry'."

Esmeralda asked a now-shocked Danisha, "That bracelet must hold some significance."

Nisha, trying to fight back tears, said, "Yes, Esme, it does. Claude gave Nadine that bracelet for Christmas. Every year he adds a new charm...Oh man! I kept that bracelet with me all the time we tracked Marcel Rougelot – Sort of a good luck charm, and I do believe that kept us going even after we...And now, it's gotten so that I have to evade the man, keep him from discovering our daughter's friendship with a Romani girl. I know he'd never approve, and I...I have to protect my baby...People like us always have to protect our children from bigots, hate mongers..."

She could say no more and soon after broke down in quiet sobs. Esmeralda and Clopin looked at each other. She, Danisha, really loves Claude Frollo, as it so painfully shows, and she fights a losing battle between devotion to Frollo and allegiance to her people's struggles. Esmeralda found herself lost in a memory Julian had painted so vividly; she wished she hadn't asked him the truth — about how it really was for the "New World" Blacks.

I remember what Julian said about the Blacks in the New World...The appalling slave system, the restrictive laws telling them where to live and where to travel...They faced jeering lynch mobs and every horror imaginable. He showed me a picture of two young Black men who'd been lynched in front of a courthouse, and the people standing around watching...They carried on as if it was one big party! I could swear I saw Frollo among that crowd of sneering pale faces, or at least someone who looked like him...How can she stand by and let a man like Frollo rear her only child?! I surely wouldn't!

Danisha, as if sensing Esmeralda's thoughts, quickly composed herself, wiped her eyes and blew her nose, then pronounced, "When morning comes, Esme, would you be so kind to see me safely to Évrard Ouimet's house? There is much I want to discuss with him."
"Of course, Nisha. But what about Claude Frollo?"

The 21st Century African-American lady felt her dignity returning full force, as she squared her shoulders and gave a now-amused Esmeralda the 'defiant little colored girl' look. She said in a voice full of renewed vigor and loftiness, "Claude Who? Honey, I'm to take Évrard Ouimet on a whirlwind tour of my country – Well, New York City to be precise – and Claude Frollo can sit and rot out at his chateau the rest of his days. He gets exactly what he deserves! Dissing me and my friends with his petty bias and snootiness. When Aunt Nola gets through with him, he won't know what hit him! Aunt Nola literally kicked out her second husband after he two-timed her...Ooh! And if Claude tries anything funny, like have my auntie arrested and thrown in prison..."

Her voice became ragged, more "ghettoized", with each angry word. "I swear if he harms Aunt Nola in any way just because he doesn't like being sassed, especially by a woman, I'll come after him and jump on him with both feet!"

She calmed down long enough to add, "Besides, Orry expressed a special wish and I'm not about to disappoint him...Sometimes I wish I did marry Évrard Ouimet so I wouldn't have to deal with hiding my child's friends from men like Frollo. Évrard says he never minded Orry and Nadine playing with Trina; he thinks Trina is a great kid. But Claude Frollo? He'd probably want to paddle my baby for...Oooh! The sooner I leave that man, the better!"

To Chapter 19(II)

Copyright © 1999 by PRP