That was when the Diary’s name last appeared on the screen of his mother’s phone. The young woman, an academic celebrity in this West African country, had recorded a voice message to her 5-year-old sister: I miss you more! I love you so much.
Then no one could reach her.
“All I do is wait for her call,” said Binta Sow, 40, lifting another tissue in her face. “The world has stopped.”
Now millions of people are following the case and sending messages of support to Diary and her family from three continents. French police working with Senegalese investigators have expanded their search to more cities, but remain tight. Authorities have warned officials throughout the Schengen area of her disappearance.
There is anguish in Senegal, where the president has called the Diary a “rising star.” Her first novel, A Twisted Love Story, came out last year. She planned to pursue an engineering career. Her school, Lycée Louis-le-Grand, is considered a starting point for France’s leading science-focused universities.
Diary won a scholarship on full tour.
“She can do anything,” said her uncle, Mahfouz Sarr. “She’s so smart for her age. She has so much strength.”
The last night they talked, her mother said: Diary sounded tense. Teaching was to resume the next morning.
She had spent much of her vacation time in her dorm room, reading books and ordering burgers. Diary is not one that goes out much, Binta said. The coronavirus pandemic made socialization even less appealing.
New Year’s Eve was the exception. Diary traveled to Toulouse, France, to visit family friends, a mother and a daughter. They mostly sat and caught, Binta said.
Her mother reminded that Diary sounds completely normal while she describes the reunion. Upbeat. Nonchalant. She said she was back in her dorm room preparing for the school day. (Investigators confirmed she had entered.)
The daughter of a housewife and a baker, Diary went to school with far richer children. Did she face clicks? Bullies?
“My daughter would never be interested in mentioning anything like that,” Binta said. “If anyone disliked her, she would just walk away.”
Diary, of course reserved, was known for keeping his head down in school. She was busy reading and writing.
She had recently finished her second book, her mother said, and would proofread it again before sending it to publishers. Her first “Under an Angel’s Face” had hailed praise in Senegal.
Internet hypocrites had wondered: What about the pressure? What if she was simply stung by it all?
Binta could not imagine it.
“My daughter is aware of what she wants and what she does not want,” the mother said. “She’s not fake it to impress anyone.”
Plus, she said, Diary is close to her family. She loved baking birthday cakes with her father, who grew up in their village, Malicounda Bambara, about 50 miles southeast of the capital Dakar. She mourned deeply when he died in April, her mother said, but focused on comforting her family.
At home, they keep his bed made with a blanket covered in red hearts. Her bookshelf is still full. Her initials (DS) are etched into the wood.
Diary usually called her mom on the weekends – weekdays are for study – but responded quickly to WhatsApp voice messages from her 5-year-old sister, Amy Colle.
“I miss you. I love you,” the little girl said on January 3. “When are you coming home?”
“My love, I miss you more,” Diary had replied on WhatsApp. “I love you so much.”
She promised to come home for summer vacation.
Every message that Binta sent after that was unopened according to the read receipts.
A day later, Diary’s school reported that she was missing.
Nothing about the disappearance makes sense, her mother said. Diary should be safe in Paris. So many students dream of studying there.
“I put it all on God,” Binta said.
The diary’s mother said she is grateful for the outpouring of love, and the neighbors threw envelopes of cash – a traditional gesture of support during a tragedy.
On Wednesday, her living room filled with unexpected visitors. There was the village mayor, a local legislator, a retinue of people wearing T-shirts with Diary face. They gathered under Diary’s framed scholastic awards.
Everyone turned their palms up and asked for answers.
Binta’s phone, resting on her lap, kept lit up.
Not her daughter. Not her daughter.