He had never seen such a thing.
Seated on the front steps of the little house with the blue shutters, François scratches his head, mechanically looking at the file that he already knows by heart. Modern kitchen, gas heat, two light-filled, spacious rooms, a sunny living room looking out onto a charming little garden with a path of round paving stones.
The last visitors have just closed the door, with the jaded look of people who have already seen too much.
In his twenty-seven years as a real estate agent, he had never seen a house stay on the market so long.
Before him, the "charming little garden" looks more like a botanical labyrinth where the "path of round paving stones" winds among thick, threatening brambles.
He takes a box of cookies out of his briefcase and nibbles on them as his mind wanders.
He thinks back to the enthusiasm of his first years. To his first showings, his first house sold. A "little farm in an idyllic setting," a house that needed to be totally renovated, cut off from all civilization. His pride and the champagne that flowed freely as his parents looked on with admiration and his fiancée gave him loving glances.
However, this little house is quite pleasant. Yet he has put all his energy, all his flair at the service of the owner who doesn't know how to get rid of this real estate burden. Yet he has done everything to spark the imagination of potential buyers with his creative gusto. "Imagine the vegetable garden you could have in this little bit of paradise, the flowers in the garden, freshly cut and placed on the lovely table in the kitchen filled with morning light, your friends relaxing at the bar in this completely modern kitchen. Did you see this oven? And these ceramic burners in perfect condition? You can already smell the scent of mushroom ragoût or veal stew simmering on the stove, while their delicate aroma, under the entirely renovated roof, rises to reach the quivering nostrils of your children, who are playing in complete tranquility in their spacious bedroom."
No, he doesn't understand it.
The sky is slowly darkening when he finally thinks of leaving the concrete steps to go back home.
The next evening, his car climbs the steep road once more and parks in front of the little house with the charming little garden. He takes a lawn mower out of his trunk, to the amused looks of the neighbors who watch his comings and goings behind the sheer curtains in their Provençal kitchens.
Two hours are enough to give the small green space all the charm that it had been described as having. Happy, François returns to his spot on the steps to admire the completed work, noticing, however, that the cherry tree really needs to be pruned.
He works on it the next evening and is quite proud of the result, rewarding himself by nibbling on a few fruits sitting at the base of the tree. The sun, which is gradually hiding behind the nearby roofs, surrounds him in a peaceful pink light. With a smile on his lips, François goes home to his duplex with a terrace in the center of town when night has already fallen.
He has the same smile the next day when he puts a few tools down in the garden while whistling, along with some cold drinks behind the bar in the small modern kitchen.
Night after night, François works at restoring life to the little house, which treats him well. During these few hours every day, François is happy and calm, far from the commotion of his work life, far from tumult, pressure, or boredom. Happy to receive silent and gratifying recognition of his cheerful efforts.
And François is certainly busy. He cleans, fixes up, nails, saws, paints…. To the point of forgetting everything: time, friends, the other houses, and his own apartment.
Day after day, night after night, when he leaves his colleagues or friends, François jingles the keys of the house with the garden in the pocket of his wrinkled jacket.
Day after day, night after night, he loads the trunk of his car with various pruners, hammers, screw-guns, packs of drinks, all kinds of cookies, and other accessories, consistently saying to himself the liberating words "just in case."
Then, one evening, after having worked much longer than usual, he is happy to settle down in one of the spacious rooms onto an improvised bed made of boxer shorts and other undergarments he found stashed in his car.
In this way François organizes his new life, going to the agency every morning to start work after a quick shower in the bathroom conveniently adjoining his office and bringing work back home, as it were, every night. In the greatest secrecy, by the light of his cell phone, which he recharges during the day, he continues in the silent twilight to make the residence more welcoming. While he works furiously to restore the little house, he is in much less of a hurry to post the ad, which is now on page twenty-four of the website, after many a three-bedroom villa with delightful living rooms looking out onto tree-filled yards.
A few days go by like this. Several weeks maybe.
One morning, he gets a call. A man with a serious, determined voice questions him about house number D-392 on the website. The house with the little garden.
François is happy, but not that happy.
An appointment is set up to see the house the very next morning at eight.
However, overnight, there is an unfortunate combination of circumstances. Restless sleep, a poorly-digested dinner, a phone that's not charged, an alarm clock that doesn't ring….
François is awakened by weak sunlight filtering through the dirty panes and gently caressing his bed of crumpled underwear.
When he stretches with a yawn in front of the window that is wide open to let in a little refreshing morning breeze, he is somewhat surprised to find himself facing a couple of a certain age, settled in the little garden and staring at his boxer shorts with a horrified look.
But François smiles in the clear morning light, because he is savoring the happiness of starting a day, and a life, in the house that he now knows is his. Yes, he smiles, while the visitors walk away toward the gate shaking their heads, muttering that certainly they have never seen such a thing.
Translated by Kate Deimling