I always thought that it was the sense of sight that first made you realize you were far from home, through the discovery of new landscapes, new faces. It’s true. But, in the case of Provence, it’s a little different; it’s more a question of smell and hearing. Today, I’m sitting in one of the meeting rooms of the business incubator hosting my company. The open window lets the tangy scent of the pines and chant of the cicadas flow in. At moments like this, I realize that my life has really changed. It always comes as a surprise when the first cicadas begin to sing… perhaps because I’ve only been in this part of France for two months.
I must have been daydreaming for a few seconds when the buzzer on my phone called me back to reality. An SMS from Maxime: “OK with the Balland brothers. XXX.”
I knew it! I felt that the two farmers had understood our project. We needed their flowers for several fragrances. And I was really impressed by their respect for the natural environment. I replied with a series of smileys, before moving on to my other appointments: my accountant, graphic designers, the representatives of a franchise network interested in the perfume and, finally, a quick update with Maxime. The perfume is due out in about two months. We’ll soon be receiving the first prototypes. Suffice it to say that there’s no time for lunch breaks in my busy schedule. It’s hard just to find an hour to read the newspapers and listen to music at the end of the day.
I’m driving when the phone rings: it’s Claire.
— How are you doing, Eva?
— Good! Exhausted but feeling great, it’s odd… And what about you in Germany?
— I won’t be here much longer. I’m off to work in San Francisco at Pramex International ! Confirmation came through this morning!
— California! That’s brilliant! I always said you’d do well!
— When you decide to launch in the American market, you’ll know who to contact.
I draw up on the side of the road to speak more easily.
— Honestly, Claire, I’m really happy for you. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it?
— True. Strange but fantastic!
— Nothing turned out as planned…
— All the better!
— You’re right. I’ll call you back this evening. I have to rush, I’ve got a meeting…
It was 6 p.m. when I got back to the office. Maxime hadn’t returned yet. Near the door, I found two huge boxes, stacked one on top of the other. A white envelope addressed to me was attached to the top one. My name was written in violet ink. How could I imagine he would disappear from my life so easily? I hesitated before opening the envelope. After all, I’d taken the plunge, I’d changed my life; things had gone too far now to turn back. He can write what he wants. I rip the envelope open with my fingers and take out a calling card with the message: “Admit you were afraid, weren’t you? Signed: Maxime Blain.”
— You know how hard it was to find that violet ink? said Maxime, coming into the office, smiling broadly. A final homage to Langley. We owe him that!
— You had me completely fooled!
— I noticed. Come on, open up the box, said Maxime, handing me a pair of scissors.
I cut the tape and opened the box, and my hands rummaged through the polystyrene flakes until they found polished glass. I grabbed a bottle, took it out and raised it to eye level. It was superb. Simple, elegant, the names Mien and Mienne etched on the glass with flowing strokes to resemble handwriting. It’s here. It exists. At long last!
— It’ll be on sale in a few days time, and then it’ll be in our customers’ bathrooms and on their bedside tables. One day, we may even be invited on the Ambitions d’entrepreneurs program! Yves would have been so proud,” added Maxime, his voice thick with emotion. “We succeeded, Eva… You succeeded.”
Slowly, I removed the golden stopper, poured the liquid from the additional flask and waited a few seconds. Then I placed my index finger on the vaporizer. I pressed down a single time, quickly. The fragrance mingled with the air in the room.
— Perfect. An excellent match… with just the right dominant of citrus fruits, and a real, yet not overly volatile, presence, said Maxime, his eyes closed.
For once, I found Maxime was a little hasty. Personally, I detected a host of other nuances in the fragrance drifting around us: a note of wistfulness, childhood and mystery, a note of retribution too, offset by a hint of audaciousness and tenacity. Where is Langley now? I find it difficult to hold back my tears, and I take a deep breath… to regain my composure but also to enjoy this unique perfume: the fragrance of dreams at last come true and time regained.
Illustrations: Karolis Strautniekas/Agent 002; Yann Le Bec/Illustrissimo
Photos: Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac ©Luc Boegly, Yvan Zedda/BPCE, Banque Populaire, Stéphane de Bourgies, CASDEN Banque Populaire, Caisse d’Epargne, Julien Crosnier/KMSP/DPPI, BPCE, DPPI/BPCE, Le Pot Commun, Neustockimages, Fidor Bank.
Getty Images: Btrenkel, picturegarden, Inimma-IS, Koraysa, Moodboard, Rachel Dewis, Peter Carlsson, Clu, Twohumans, Donal Husni-EyeEm, Nikada, egafoldo, Oscar Wong, Alija Izetbegovic, Uschools, Westend61, Bloom, milazvereva.
Shutterstock: Jacob Lund, EQRoy, Prostock, Diego Cervo, GaudiLab, Monkey Business Images, Travel Stock, Zhu Difeng.
Design and production: Havas Paris
Groupe BPCE, Corporate Communications Department.
Author of the short story: Jean-Pierre Montal.
Editorial consultants and drafting of the “Clues” pages: Information & Conseil.