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“The last time I saw Marie was at the end of the afternoon, yesterday, in the office we’ve been sharing for five years. She was more excited than I’d ever seem her. She had been preparing for this trip for months. Round the coffee machine, the only thing she talked about nowadays was the one she was going to meet. At 5.30 pm, a few hours before her flight was due to take off, she was bursting with impatience. Even when the Head of Department came along, she couldn’t hide her restlessness. I really thought that the old Chapuis woman was going to give her extra hours and make her do them there and then. But no, nothing. Could the person in charge of the accounting service have suddenly become a psychologist? Or maybe she had detected the acrid smell of misfortune wafting over my dear colleague?”

“Marie? Of course, I rang her yesterday, around 6 pm. Like I do every day. My daughter, I am more attached to her than I am to my own poor body. I was certainly not going to stop ringing her when she was getting ready to leave France for such a far-flung country. She was in such a hurry, the darling. She had forgotten to buy the trinkets she wanted to give him. It seemed so important to her I didn’t even try to reason with her. After all, I would have been just as keen if I had been in her place. I let her speak quickly then hung up after a record time of twenty-eight seconds. I think that was one of the shortest calls we’ve ever had. I hope it wasn’t the last.”

“Marie Mansart, the tenant on the fourth floor, came out while I was putting the garbage cans out, like I do every Thursday, around 7 pm. She was carrying a Tati bag. I know those bags well. I’ve got loads of them. On my caretaker’s salary I can’t really afford to buy clothes anywhere else. So, as you can imagine, when I passed her yesterday, that young woman who is always polite and helpful, and who looked even happier than usual although in a great hurry, I couldn’t help stopping for a quick word with her. She was off at last, she said, all excited. She was going to meet him! The very next day! And to think that… No, dear God, not Marie Mansart! Not that bundle of bundle of cheerful energy that lights up the whole building. If you exist, please reverse the roles and take instead this eighty-eight-year-old grump from the ground floor who is always looking for trouble!”

“That girl, yes, I know her. She comes here every day to buy cigarettes. She came by yesterday. She got a packet of American ones. Pretty girl. She usually buys those ones. What time? I’ve no idea. Towards the end of the day. Oh yes, she had a big bag. She told me she was leaving. To meet him. That’s when I was a bit disappointed. I thought she was single and I admit I had been dreaming a bit. Even though I know very well that I’m not in the same league as a chick like that. But I still couldn’t bring myself to smile at her when I gave her her change. I’m angry with myself. She might never come back. She might never come back, the caretaker is right. She might…”

“I picked that person up in my taxi at 9 pm. To go to Roissy airport. No, she didn’t speak to me. I remember her because she was beautiful AND smiling. That is rare, you know. You can’t imagine how unfriendly beautiful girls can be. That’s why I married my Simone. She’s not very pretty but she smiles a lot. And as for in bed! You have no idea! Which might not necessarily have been the case with the girl last night. Never mind, I would have tried my luck. But as soon as I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw her staring into the distance I knew immediately that she was in love. I’ve always been able to spot that. And I respect love! And in any case, I’ve got my Simone who’s waiting for me at home every night. Not like that beauty who’ll have so many running after her.”

“That young woman arrived at the ticket office on time. You know, for those long-haul flights you are required to check in three hours before take-off. So that must have been about 9.30 pm, French time. No, it wasn’t me who dealt with her, it was my colleague. But it’s her day off today. I remember there was an argument. The passenger had a problem. What was it? I don’t know. Yes, yes, HR will get in touch with her. Please keep calm, Madame.”

“I can’t believe it! What with the price of plane tickets, I expect better treatment! Marie seems to have had a problem at check-in, her mother’s just told me on Skype and nobody knows anything about it. My wife is in that plane and we can’t get any information! I have to go to France, I can’t stay here doing nothing. I’ll know more over there. No, my Marie can’t… My God, please. Not her. Not now.”

“I came straight home from the airport. I went into my apartment, in despair. I put down my bag in a corner, opened the medicine cupboard in the bathroom, and took two sleeping tablets, having made up my mind to go to sleep. Because of the time difference, I didn’t even call Vincent. In any case, as Mom says, bad news should always wait until a decent hour. I lay down on the bed, snuggled up in the quilt and put out the light, thinking about that stupid woman at the airport desk, with her voice like a grounded air hostess. With one little sentence of four words, she had ruined my happiness. Because of that wretched oversight, I was alone, far from Vincent and above all from Julián. Thanks to the tablets, I slept until the following evening. When I woke up, I heard the terrible news on the radio. I had had an incredible escape. There were no survivors from the Paris – Buenos Aires flight. I called Mom to say I was OK. I had not been allowed to fly, my passport was out of date. Between sobs, my mother gasped that Vincent, my husband, had just arrived. With Julián. That child from the other side of the world, whom we had longed for for so many years. Our little boy. Adopted at last.”

Translated by Wendy Cross


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