allotment next door l'homme de
terre is feeding the ferals and checking
them for signs of poisoning. At the gate I see la veuve noire
on the balcony tending her flowers. The Rue Waldeck Rousseau is without a
person. A bonjour depends on whether she is watering or admiring.
Like l'homme de terre, I will meet her on my way back. Madame 'Fancy'
Zeck has delivered her children to school and is backing one of her jeeps into a
body-fitting garage. I'll be seeing her again too.
I meet nobody now on the Rue Paquebot. The old woman with the face of a baby no longer takes in laundry. La sorcière had her hair cut and vanished. I observe the junk put out beside the poubelle. When someone has moved on, it is an installation of objets d'art: throwouts of sentimental value, velvet flowers, even the odd stuffed staghead. Mostly, though, it's the cardboard packaging of new electrical appliances.
On Rue Castellane the rush to the bakery comprises old people travelling at the speed of sound and the cars pulling up. Madame Baker does me the honours. If the shop is crowded with car people, or la veuve rouge is lingering for a chat, she passes me the paper surreptitiously, if I have the right change. If not, I have to wait till the car people leave, or the widow pauses for breath. Madame Baker's smile is the same no matter: sunshine in a round face. I say 'à demain' unless it's Wednesday, when it must be 'bon congé, à vendredi'. Thursdays she is closed. The widow smiles thinly. 'Merci, au revoir.'
Across the road Monsieur Du Pres is sweeping the pavement outside his house. He is formally dressed in tweed jacket and flannels. He handles the brush like a precision artist. Monsieur Du Pres chuckles on seeing me. I say 'le bonheur, monsieur' as expected, and walk on reading the weather. La veuve blanche will pass me by like a ghost. I won't notice her, complicitly.
Before turning back up the Paquebot, I stop at the bandstand to observe the port for banana boats or cruisers, and to check if spray is rising at the jetty. L'homme will be turning the corner wheeling a gas canister. He changes hands to shake mine and says something incomprehensible in response to my 'humide', 'gélé' or 'il fait beau'. We have an understanding not to understand one another. 'Fancy' Zeck slinks by with a cigarette in hand on the way to open her optics shop. We don't bonjour unless our passing is intime. I don't think she is good mornings. Particularly when she has a dog. That means it's Monday and her sportif lover from the mountains is chez Zeck. He's a handsome handful, I think.
Rue Waldeck Rousseau has come to life. I read the headlines, and acknowledge the boyish grin of the frail little man with a stick (I don't know why, but he annoys me. Something to do with his likeness to an American cartoon). The truncated bonjour of Madame Souci, who has stopped for a breather, plonking her two shopping bags in the middle of the road, pleases me. She says 'monsieur' merely, but it's solid as herself. Madame Mouse passes, barely noticeably. If I'm alert I manage a 'bonjour' (short version. No 'madame', let alone the 'ça va?'), and she echoes it, inaudibly. Her husband was born on Argelès beach when the Retirada was camped there in the late thirties. I sometimes meet them walking there, and he likes to talk at me in Catalan-French. I know he is making jokes, and laugh accordingly. I gather, though
La veuve noire waits for me on the balcony. She is looking at the sky. If I pass without greeting her (a bad mood, or bugged by some minor ailment), she is not best pleased. I exchange the metéo with her, and hear her observations on it. When it's bad I call it a 'betéo'. This amuses us both. I am home.