A Lovely Person

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Mary Benoist

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As usual, the 06.45 train was late. Aurora climbed up the high steps to the carriage and went to sit on the folding seat at the end, the one which faced away from all the other passengers. This was more or less her preferred seat, and none of the other regular passengers on that suburban train ever tried to stop her taking it.

Aurora was an unassuming young girl whose only desire was not to be noticed. On her best days she thought she looked ordinary and, more often, downright ugly. Of course, the fact of being nicknamed ‘Aurora the horror’ at school had not helped, and her habit of cheering herself up with candies had done even less good.

Her job was one of the only pleasures in her life and she gave her all to it. She thought she would always be alone, that she would always have to rely totally on herself and she had got used to this idea. It was therefore of the utmost importance that she should be a model employee. Her managers appreciated her and her colleagues did not pay her too much attention. That was all she wanted.

But being a model employee meant arriving at the office on time, and this wretched 06.45 train that was quarter of an hour late annoyed her. Yet again, she would have to run to be on time, which meant she would attract people’s attention and she didn’t like that.

As usual, Aurora stood up well before the train came into the station, so she could be the first to get off. That morning, there was another person standing in front of the door. An elderly lady, weighed down by shopping bags. In a basket on the floor could be seen tomatoes and courgettes. Perhaps she was a grandmother bringing vegetables from her garden to her children and grandchildren in Paris? Having a kitchen garden was like possessing a golden goose. At the sight of those tomatoes, Aurora began to dream. Eating one that had grown in good soil, without pesticides or other treatments ending in ‘ide’, was something she had not done for a very long time.

As soon as the train stopped, Aurora hurried off it, not without noticing that the elderly lady was having considerable trouble getting down. On these suburban trains the steps were high and trying to go down them with a shopping bag in each hand was really not a good idea.

Aurora was about to rush to the exit when she heard a cry. She turned round and saw that the lady had fallen. The basket had fallen too and tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes were spreading over the platform. As were the cute little gherkins. As the owner of the vegetables tried to get up, people pushed past to get off the train, irritated at being late and also at having to pick their way through the vegetables. They were all making for the exit with complete indifference and Aurora was tempted to do the same. Helping that lady would mean getting herself noticed and this was what she feared above all else.

Nevertheless, compassion got the better of her and she retraced her steps and began to pick up the vegetables. The gherkins took a bit longer but she finally handed the last one to the elderly lady, red with embarrassment.

“Thank you so much,” said the lady and, placing a beautiful tomato in her hand, she added, “You are a lovely person.”

Aurora, disturbed by these words, took the tomato, thanked her, and ran off. After a while she slowed down. Warmth was spreading through her soul and her whole being, her cheeks were on fire. Had someone really said that she was lovely? She couldn’t remember this happening before. Of course, it certainly did not refer to her physical appearance, yet did they not say that a beautiful soul was reflected in a beautiful face?

For the first time she stood up straight and continued on her way, facing the people walking past her, not afraid to look them in the eye.

A young man smiled at her.

Translated by Wendy Cross

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