She arrives at exactly 09:30. She sits at her table at the back of the room, near the big bay window. From there you have an unobstructed view of platform one. She waits anxiously for the train which arrives at 09:52. It is only after that that I may serve her her hot drink, otherwise she gets upset. Now I am used to it; I avoid being rebuffed for serving it too soon.
When the train comes into the station, she sits up imperceptibly. Her face brightens. I see her watching, craning her neck, as people get off the train. The passengers from Quimper hurry along, half asleep, jostling each other. They reach the inner hub of the station, pulling their luggage in an excited bustle. At those moments she is very beautiful, and very dignified. She does not move. She sits up straight in her seat. Then, when the last passengers reach the end of the platform, she sinks back, disappointed. Her pretty light-colored eyes cloud over. Then she signals for me to bring her her drink.
I feel for her. Last year, I dared to ask her who she had been waiting for like that, over the months. She did not reply. I never dared ask her again. But last week, when I went to pick up her cup, she suddenly said, “He’s called Souleiman.” That was all she said and I did not ask any questions. I do not know if this Souleiman is a son, a friend, a former lover… I imagine he must be very important.
Sometimes we chat a bit, when she has time or her heart is too heavy to let her leave straightaway. Her name is Marie-Rose Taittinger, like the champagne. She is sixty-nine. She likes cats. She comes in from the suburbs but she is not from here. That’s about all she has told me about herself in two years. Besides, when I say we chat, it’s more that I talk to her, and I am not really sure if she listens to me, But I really like talking to her and watching her nod her head absent-mindedly, rather like a doll.
Today, like every other time, I knew she was waiting in vain. The train came in at 09:52 like it does every Thursday, and the passengers all got off without one of them being her Souleiman. She shrank back as the last of them passed the bay window. It was time for me to make her coffee, which she would hardly touch. Like every other time.
I brought it to her, whistling a stupid tune that was on the radio, its words incomprehensible. I set her cup on the table with a smile and said to her cheerfully, “There you are, there’s something to warm the cockles of your heart.”
Marie-Rose looked at me, vexed, and replied, “I don’t think I will come any more, Gaspard. I have wasted enough of my time.”
I didn’t know she had noticed my first name, it was the first time she had used it.
I wondered if I should be happy or sad that I would not see her again… I did not want to believe it. Her weekly appointment with the Quimper train had become rather like an appointment for me too. I will still keep her table for her, next Thursday.
Translated by Wendy Cross