7:45 – This time, I’m really running late! I jump out of bed, have a quick shower in the bathroom before joining Claire in the kitchen where I gulp down a cup of coffee as weak as water.
— Your Americano coffee is so bad I almost regret sharing a flat with you! I said, pulling a face. It’s really awful!
— If you got up first, you could make coffee for yourself, my dear Eva! she said, cheerfully. We know each other far too well to mince words or, on the contrary, risk giving offence. And anyway, she added, you can just consider it training for our forthcoming trip.
For the past few months, Claire has been dreaming of moving abroad. You can’t stop her talking about it: “It’ll be a fantastic experience, it will look great on our CVs… and also, in some countries, it’s easier for young people to succeed…” I’m not as convinced as she is but I admit that I’m tempted by the idea. Tonight, she wants to consult Le Coût de L’+xpat, a price comparison website, to find the best destination within our means, and then get further information on Erasmus+x loans.
Claire has a practical mind and will always carry through on an idea. I often tell myself that she’ll get on in life. As for me… that’s less certain… The Brunolds are a complicated lot!
— This evening, we’re off to Spain, said Claire. Or Iceland, we’ll see!
— See you tonight… in Madrid!
I slammed the door of the flat and stepped into the lift. On the ground floor, I slipped a hand through the slot of the letterbox: two advertising leaflets, my mobile phone bill, and a blank white envelope. Well, not entirely blank. Upon inspection, I saw a small, handwritten message penned in violet ink: “To the attention of Eva Brunold,” nothing more: no address, neither my own nor the sender’s. Someone must have hand-delivered it. But who on earth still uses a fountain pen?
Probing deeper, the tips of my fingers touched a strip of white paper. It was blank, not a single word was written on it… A fragrance drifted out of the envelope. The early morning sunlight played upon the huge bay windows and flowed into the entrance hall. I placed the thin scroll of paper under my nose, and shook it a little: the scent didn’t remind me of anything.
The envelope contained nothing else apart from a calling card in the name of a certain Charles Langley. No profession, no address, no phone number or e-mail on the rectangular card. An unknown name, a fragrance and above all… thirty-five minutes late! I’d better get a move on!
On the other side of the avenue, my bus drew up at the bus stop. I slipped the envelope and calling card into the pocket of my trench coat, zigzagged between the cars, narrowly avoided two pedestrians immersed in their telephone conversations, walked around a lorry unloading its wares to the protestations of its driver and… a scooter screeched to a halt a few inches in front of me! If his reflexes had been a bit slower, the driver would have knocked me down. “Sorry, but I’m really in a hurry,” I said, out of breath. The man, aged about sixty, whose greying hair provided a stark contrast to his dark jacket, gave me a startled look at first but was then visibly reassured that he had avoided an accident.
— Better to be hurrying in life than standing still, he answered.
— That just about sums me up!
He laughed as he motioned me to pass. I had almost reached the bus stop when I saw the bus drawing away, without me. A twenty-minute walk, missing my first lecture… a really perfect start to the day; you couldn’t have wished for more! Too bad, you have to take the rough with the smooth, as they say. I briefly leant against the bus stop to check my e-mail and bank accounts on the Banque Populaire app before setting off to the university on foot. As I was walking under the trees along the boulevard, I took out the envelope and breathed in once again the perfume slowly wafting out of it.
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.