“Hurry up Cyrus – you’re going to miss the flower battle!”

Cyrus was not ready. His cousin Agénor could carry on hurrying him along but there was no way he was going to go down now. They had only just got back from the parade and it was already time to set off again. Perhaps it would be a better idea to rest for a while. What mattered now was being on top form for the evening, for the kasécò. Agénor appeared in the doorway to his bedroom.

“You’ll be able to see your schoolmistress again,” Agénor teased him.

“Er yes. Anyway, can you tell me if you see my beret?”

Of course he was going to see Amélina. She would be escorting him to the grajé* and, who knows, perhaps they would even win the dance competition. He had managed to find his hat.

“Are you going to the Château or Casino-Théâtre this evening?”

Agénor was teasing: the Château was much too expensive for him.

“And you intend to go and see your betrothed empty-handed?”

Cyrus froze. What? For once Agénor had hit the nail on the head. He could not go and see Amélina like that. He had fond memories of the time they had shared the galette des rois at Epiphany. He had won the figurine, she was his Queen – and a Queen ought to be showered in gifts.

Cyrus was distraught. Agénor was looking at him with a smile on his face.

“Djab*! So it’s becoming serious. Stay calm, dear cousin. Look at this advert in the newspaper; I’m sure you’ll find what you’re after there. Ah yes, sorry…”

Agénor was the only one in the family who knew how to read.

“ ‘H. Chouanard: purveyor of silk and satin corsets, any style of dresses, hats, gloves, petticoats, scarves, mantillas and patent leather shoes.’ Take my bike – it’s by the door. I don’t need it to go to the battle.”

Cyrus did not waste any time thinking. He dashed off, giving his cousin a friendly pat on the shoulder. The shop was only down the road.

“Cyrus!” He stopped in his tracks. It was his grandmother, Zoé. “Where are you dashing off to like that my dear? Ah yes, you’re off to the Carnival. Well you are lucky. I am far too tired now; I’ll just have to stay in my little garden.” Zoé looked at him: “Can you be a good little boy and do something for me?”

“Of course Grandma,” Cyrus answered, already thinking of something else.

“Would you go to the botanical gardens? They’re giving out free seeds and plants today. I need cacao plants, some jackfruits and some rubber tree seeds.

“But Gran…”

“Yes dear.” Zoé poured herself a glass of Quinquina des Princes*. “My tonic is the only thing keeping me going nowadays…”

“Alright Grandma, I’ll go.”

The botanical gardens were in the outskirts, on the other side of town. He crossed the Laussat canal via the chain bridge and hurried off as fast as he could through the streets of Cayenne. It was no easy feat getting around today. Here and there, groups of people were crossing the street. Some of them were wearing frock coats and top hats, others were masked, but most of them were simply dressed up in old clothes. Musicians with a banjo and an accordion were playing as they walked along. Cyrus only slowed down a little bit to listen to an announcement being made by the town crier, a former convict:

“This evening, the conductor of the Symphony Orchestra and its clarinettists Stellio and Isambert shall be performing at the Casino-théâtre from 8pm. There will be drink stands for the spectators and dance competitions!”

The boy on the bike was fairly out of breath when he arrived at the Gardens. It was almost completely deserted. A dozen people were trying their hand at a game of croquet. A couple was wandering around. He found the warden in front of the central kiosk.

The deal was soon struck. With the box of seed firmly strapped to his handlebars, he cycled back even more quickly, exhilarated by the speed. He thought about Amélina and their second date at the Amandiers. They bought komou* sorbets before going to listen to the Harmonie Cayennaise playing polkas and mazurkas. He could picture her face… and then, suddenly, as he came around the bend he saw a group of Jwé farin* all dressed in white with their long pointed hats. Before he could avoid them, he was covered in flour. He closed his eyes for just a moment. When he opened them again, it was to see a horseman just in front of his handlebars. The horse reared up. He swerved to the right and managed to avoid it, just as an orchestra of drums and flutes decided to cross the street.

He smiled. Amélina was leaning over him. No, it was not her. It was the moustachioed face of a local policeman.

“That was unbelievable!” He said. “But what on earth were you thinking of, my boy?”

Cyrus tried to get up but he was all tangled up in his bicycle. Drumsticks, tambourines, and plants lay scattered around him across the street. But the musicians did not seem to be cross and they even helped him pick up whatever they could. Cyrus looked at the policeman, nervously.

“I ought to book you, but you’re lucky – it’s Carnival time. Remember though that the regulations stipulate that this apparatus ought to be equipped with an audible warning device which can be heard from fifty metres’ distance away.”

“Yes sir.”

“On your way, my boy, before I change my mind!”

Cyrus arrived home pushing the now useless bike. Agénor had left, as had his grandmother. Only his sister Anna and his younger brother Joe were still there.

“Where’s Grandma?”

“She’s gone to the flower battle with Agénor. She drank a glass of Madeira and said she felt a lot better.”

Cyrus raised his eyebrows.

“She also explained that you had gone to get her specs from Mr Sparrock.”

Cyrus stood dumbfounded on hearing this.

“You’re kidding!” he said, “Isn’t Sparrock a dentist?”

“Yes, but he’s an optician as well. Those Americans know how to do everything!” Joe replied.

That was when he noticed his brother’s odd appearance: his short trousers and shapeless jersey.

“Where are you thinking of going all dressed up like that?”

“I’m going to play football and Agénor said you had to take me there on his bike.”

“What?” Then he remembered that his uncle Paulius had mentioned this game of football.

“You’re out of luck, I’ve broken the bike.”

“Oh no!”

“But you can hire a Gladiator bike at the Comptoir Parisien for 1 franc an hour,” Anna said.

“Right!” Cyrus said to himself. “Apparently today it’s been decided that I won’t get a say in anything.”

He went on his rental bike to get grandmother Zoé’s glasses and dropped Joe off near the Chinese village. Their uncle Paulius, who had made a fortune in the rosewood industry, was waiting for them. Cyrus left them playing their new sport; he preferred the cycle races at the track.

Cyrus finally arrived at H. Chouanard’s shop. The shutters were already half down but the owner was still in the doorway, counting his money behind his great big till.

“We’re closed. But, seeing as it’s the Carnival, what do you need? We’ve just had a delivery of tobacco from New York, saucisson from Lyon, and lard. We’ve also got some American style derby box calf shoes – the best in town for dancing. It’s not often we receive such rarities!” Cyrus looked longingly at the famous shoes.

“No thanks, it’s for… it’s for my sister’s birthday.”

“Ah! Well for 12 francs you can buy a game of dominoes, drafts, or lotto. We also have ribbons and these lovely plimsolls with balata soles.”

“My sister’s a young lady now*.”

The shopkeeper raised his eyebrows and cast a glance at Cyrus.

“Right, I see. Well then, I can offer you wonderful madapolam and jaconas* fabrics, scarfs from Madras, a katouri*…”

But Cyrus was no longer listening: he had found what he wanted. He placed a lace parasol on the counter.

After taking the bike back, Cyrus ran back home to get ready. He only stopped off at Philomène’s to buy some cooked banana and parépous.

He eventually made it to Boulevard Jubelin, where it was impossible to miss the Casino-théâtre with all of its Japanese lanterns at the entrance. All dressed in white with a black tie and hat, his cousin Agénor was gesturing to him. “About time too, the competition is about to start!”

“Amélina -” but Cyrus did not have time to finish his question. His brother had already taken him by the shoulder and was whispering in his ear:

“Go and twirl with your girl, she’s waiting for you. You’re the king this evening!”