I have been listening to her for ten minutes. she is sitting behind me. From her voice I can tell she is an elderly lady, no doubt a granny all dressed up to take her grandchildren to the park on this lovely spring day. I can’t hear the grandchildren, but that might be a good thing, after all I came here for some peace and quiet and to write. I have already changed benches twice because of the ill-bred rabble of yuppie couples who are too wrapped up in themselves to worry about my tranquility and that of anyone else. The granny’s babbling creates a calming background music, you can sense her good nature...
“Well, as I was saying, I was on holiday, staying with an aunt on my mother’s side, in Algeria. In the time of the French, as they say nowadays, just after the war, the world war, the second one of course, I’m not as old as all that. My Lucien was a sergeant in the fusiliers. He had such presence, you should have seen him, I fell in love with him straightaway. My aunt, an old spinster schoolteacher in a church school, she couldn’t stand the sight of him. Anyway, Lucien was demobbed, we got married and we stayed over there and he got a job as a postman. He had a different uniform but he still had the same imposing presence. Of course, we came back to France with everybody else in 1962...”
Granny stopped, what a shame, it was getting interesting. I could recall the pictures of that time I had seen on the news and in Paris Match magazine as well. The ‘pieds-noirs’* with their defeated faces returning with a kid in one hand and a suitcase in the other.
“Lucien, it affected him really badly. He was moved to the Paris region, can you imagine, you two, how awful it was for him not to see the sun anymore? He changed from that moment on, he started to drink and then he got violent. I could understand but I was missing the sun as well...”
“I have left my country...” At my bench I could hear the French song by Enrico Macias in the rustling of the branches. Nostalgia comes back with the first rays of the spring sun. My imagination took flight.
“Well, I couldn’t stand being battered any more, that’s no life. So, I used a weedkiller, just a little drop in his soup every day. Lucien still managed to last another year, then he was gone. That’s forty years ago now, it’s a good job I’ve got you girls! Come on, we’d better get home.”
I can resist no longer, I turn round. She is a little old woman with white hair straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, an urban Miss Marple. Impossible to tell her exact age. She puts her grey raincoat back on then bends down to pick up two pots containing rose-bushes which she places lovingly on a walker. She puts her purse over her shoulder, two large knitting-needles are sticking out of it. She notices me and smiles broadly.
“Good morning, Sir, it’s sad, getting old, isn’t it, you’re reduced to talking to your flowers.”
“Dear lady, they are the muses of the poets, there’s nothing bad about that, on the contrary.”
“You are too kind. Since my husband passed away I knit a jumper for him every year and I pull it all to pieces on the anniversary of his death and start all over again.”
“I hope your name isn’t Penelope as well.”
“No, my name is Rose, I come here every day when it’s nice weather.”
“I sometimes come here too, to write.”
“You’re a writer, I would have liked that, I must let you taste my herb soup one day, my poor Lucien loved it...”
* The term ‘pieds-noirs’ was an informal name used for Europeans, mostly French of origin, who lived in Algeria during the period of French rule that ended with its independence in 1962.
Translated by Wendy Cross