By Billy Pierre, Staff Writer

“Spell ‘Freeve’,” the little boy told me. I kept repeating to myself ‘frive’, or ‘freeve,’ this is not a word I have heard before! “What does ‘Freeve’ mean?” I asked him. He responded by asking me to spell ‘Freeve’ for him one more time. This time, I pretended like I did not hear him, my knees on the sofa, as I watched the snow falling outside through the window. Though I have seen snow before, I just have never seen it fall. I became intrigued by the fall and that has brought me some memories.

When I first moved to Arizona, one night my family and I decided to take a drive and ended up going to Flagstaff, one of the few cities where it snows in this deserted land.  We stopped at Denny’s and while we were there, my cousins ordered bread to eat with coffee. Americans don’t quite do this, and our server was shocked. It was fun, so we all did it. In any case, as Haitians, it is very common for us. By the time we arrived there, the streets were already covered with snow, but we were not there to see it falling. Thus, seeing that, being here in Montreal, captured my attention.

As I was contemplating this white powder the sky was spewing, I heard the little voice shouting, “spell ‘Freeve’ for me!” I turned my gaze from my object of contemplation for a moment and directed it toward Halen, my little cousin. Halen is six years old and is in first grade. He also has a twin brother named Orly. Both speak Canadian French. For some reason, he and his brother became very close to me in less than two days, during my trip to Canada. I did not expect them to get so attached to me, so quickly, since they had never heard of me before. Ever since I got there, Halen had not stopped calling me “Dad” or “Auntie”. It is rather odd that he calls me “Auntie” – it’s obvious that I’m not a girl. But I did not tell him anything about it; I found it amusing! He got so used to having me there that last night he came and laid on me until he fell asleep.

Nevertheless, “I do not know how to spell ‘Freeve’,” I told him. “Is it a French word?” I thought it could have been a word from Canadian French. “What does this word mean?” I said. He looked at me without saying anything. I wonder why he was so intrigued by the word! Along with his silence, I became confused. Why was he insisting, yet not even willing to tell me what he meant by that word? I remained silent for a moment. Then I asked him, “What about you, Halen, how would you spell this word? First, is it a French word? I’ve never heard it before.” He said, “Spell ‘Freeve’ on your phone.”

“Spell ‘Freeve’ on your phone.” He repeated.  The command took me away from my distraction. This time, he was on the verge of screaming. He was acting like he was mad at me because I would not spell the word for him. I was bothered by his behavior. “What about that word, Halen?” I asked him in, French. “What’s the problem? You keep on asking me the same question. I don’t even understand what this word is.” I looked at him, expecting an answer. Surprisingly, his face was turning purple. He started shaking. I was wondering what was wrong. You could hear his breath. He was breathing so heavily. I became panicked: What did I do? What should I do?

I grabbed him and ran to take him to his grandmother – my aunt – who was downstairs. As soon as I got to her, she took him in her arms. By this point, I was so confused. My heart was racing. My aunt looked at me and said, “What did you do, Billy?” She has never talked to me like this before. She sounded both scared and mad at me. Little did she know, I was way more scared because I did not know what was wrong. Before I could even answer her, she went to his room and grabbed what appeared to be an inhaler. After breathing in from the little pump, he was not shaking anymore: instead, he was crying.

He kept crying, but his voice intrigued me. For a six-year-old child, his voice was tender. His front teeth were missing in his mouth. That explains why some sounds were difficult for him to repeat correctly. I remember that during a telephone conversation with Ricky, my cousin in Phoenix, he asked me at some point if I was playing a video game. In fact, the sound he heard was Halen’s little voice.

As Halen was crying, his twin brother, Orly, came by to see what was wrong. I looked at him, how sad he was. I went to him and tried to comfort him because I didn’t know his brother had asthma. In his eyes, I could see that he meant that he understood me. I took him in my arms and I left Halen with my aunt.  I was still thinking about the mysterious word.  “Freeve! ” I was repeating the word in my head, imagining how I could spell it. I did not want to ask his twin Orly because of what happened earlier. I did not want him to have a breakdown, too.

While I was carrying Orly upstairs, he was humming a song. The words were not clear enough, so I could not understand. Out of curiosity, I asked him what song he was singing. “Freeve,” he replied. “What?” That was the last thing I was expecting to hear from him.

Did he want me to spell it for him too? I felt hopeless for a moment. I was wondering if, in first grade, they had already started doing dictation exercises. As if he understood my torment and wanted to break the silence, Orly finally added: “I can spell ‘Freeve’ on daddy’s computer. You can spell it on your phone.” I was still curious. So, we went to the computer. Surprisingly, Orly opened an application on the computer. The name was “Freeve.” It seemed to be a game application. Did they just want me to play with them? I hadn’t played any video game for a while now. So, I wouldn’t mind, I thought.

As the game was loading on the computer, there was a French song playing in the background. The song tells the story of a brave dad who overcomes the evil that wanted to hurt his little son. “Freeve” was the word that the father cried to say “VICTORY!” I tried to learn it quickly. Then I went back downstairs. I started to sing it to Halen, who my aunt was still trying to calm down. As soon as he heard me, he pushed away my aunt’s hand, so she could release him, and then jumped on me. My aunt could not understand. We all – Orly, Halen and I – were singing that song.

After a little while, I explained to my aunt what had happened. Then she said, “That makes plenty of sense for me now. They have been asking their dad to learn the song so that he can sing it to them at bedtime. He never did, though.” “Oh, really? What does that mean, then?”  I asked. “Well, don’t they call you ‘Dad’, too?” “Yes,” I replied. “Obviously, they want you to learn it and sing it to them every night. They must love you.”