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May 10th, 2015, 08:01 PM
Lost in France.




Marseille, that old harlot dressed for late summer in blue and sandstone yellow, perfumed with salt, garlic and Gaulloises. I asked myself for the third time that day, what the hell was I doing here. With money running out I had looked for casual work and found none. My French stopped short of ordering food and drink and a few guide book phrases, I had also discovered that the natives had long memories that go back to Crecy, Agincourt and Waterloo; in short they have no love for the English.

Any way work was now out of the question, I was ill. A steel band was tightening around my chest and the sweat; I felt I was burning from the inside. I bought an hour of rest in a roadside café off the Rue Paradis with a glass of cheap larger beer. The pain spread its fingers up to my shoulder blades. I stretched my back again to reduce it to a manageable ache

A gaggle of middle aged American tourists, escaping from their tour guide minders wandered into view. Bermuda shorted men and their trouser suited partners clicked away avidly with oversize cameras at the indifferent café clientele.

"Oh look” squealed one buxom matron pointing to a long apron waiter "Isn’t he just too cute. Get a picture Elmer”

I smiled in spite of the pain. The naive assumption that American tourists seem to have in thinking that any country apart from their own was a Walt Disney stage set out for their delight. Their flustered guides caught up with them at last and snapping at their heels drove them out of sight. If you want to see France in two days you have to keep to a pretty tight schedule.

My last coherent memory, I put my elbows on the table to rest my aching head, missed and fell, a babble of voices, then—nothing.



Clean sheets, soft pillows with the smell of jasmine. Eyes, magnified through rimless spectacles, peered into mine, a far away a voice, a London voice.

"Will he be Ok?”

The eyes moved away.

"Mademoiselle e is very ill, pneumonie. I will telephone the hospital de la Timone”

"No, he stays here, that dump is a halfway house to the bloody morgue”

"As you wish Mademoiselle, but e will need drugs, very expensive, and nursing.

"You get the drugs, I’ll do the nursing”

"As you wish”

The sound of a door closing

She had a pretty face, no scrub that, quite beautiful.

"Well Sunshine, got ourselves in a right old state haven’t we?”

"How did you_____?

The voice wasn’t mine, it sounded like it came from a busted squeeze box.

"Know you were English?” she smiled” Simple Sunshine, you were giving out a right load of Anglo Saxon. Rest now, plenty of time for talk later”.

"Wait" I croaked "I don't know your name"

"Which one would you like” she grinned

"Your real one”

"Caroline, but I’m quite partial to Mary, you know Mary Magdalene, seeing as she was in the same game as me”

"You’re joking”

"Look around; you don’t get a place like this from scrubbing floors”

"I don’t know what to say”

"Then don’t say it.”

"You mean you’re on the streets?”

"Leave it out; I wouldn’t do that even with a minder. How long have you been in this dump? No, I’m high class, by appointment only”

"Ok, then Mary it is”

She stood up.

"Now I have to put some slap on, work tonight and a bit of overtime too this week, your drugs will cost a packet. Don't worry Maria the housekeeper will be here before I leave”

She paused at the door.

"Oh and don’t get any ideas, TLC but no freebies, got it, besides in your state it would probably bloody kill yer”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next days I spent in a hazy mix of oblivion and delirium. I remember trying to pick a bouquet of flowers from the floral wallpaper and a conversation with my mother who had died two years previously. In my few lucid moments I was aware of faceless figures around the bedside and the stabs of needles.

I opened my eyes to the shafted sunlight through an open window. Pain returned with consciousness, which proved to be helpful as I struggled to regain a hold on reality. I let my eyes wander in the narrow limit of my visibility which I feared to increase by turning my aching head. The clock on a small table pointed its hands to ten twenty. The hum of passing morning traffic from the open window was, well kinda soothing. I closed my eyes and slept.

I woke as the door opened.

"Thank God”

Even without make up she looked a peach, or was I quite awake?

"We thought you weren’t going to make it” Were her lips trembling?

"Ah, but I had my Guardian Angel watching over me”

"Shut up, you’ve cost me a bloody packet”

But still the look of concern lingered in her eyes.

"I expect you want me to feed you now?”

"Great, ham and eggs will go down just fine”

"You’ll get chicken soup and bloody like it”

"Why” I asked.

"Why what?

"Why are you doing this, I mean I don’t even know how I got here”

"I was three tables away from you when you fell, got them to stop a cab and brought you here”

"Yes but why”

"Don’t know, getting soft I suppose, besides you from home, from the Smoke”

I smiled.

"So the Good Samaritan”

"The what”?

"Never mind”

Over the next three days I grew stronger, if by stronger meant that I could sit for a couple of hours in a bedside chair. I longed for a bath or a shower but I had to endure the daily wash down by the capable hands of Marie the old housemaid, who showed all the interest and enthusiasm of scrubbing my privates as she would had have cleaning a bunch of carrots.

Mary was my only relief from boredom, she usually came in around six and we chatted or played cards for an hour or two. The more I got to know her the more my respect for her grew. Though she spoke English with a heavy London accent when she turned to French her voice took on a softened lilt and she spoke the language like a native.

One evening she brought in a bowl of fruit and set it on my bedside table. She was dressed for a later appointment in a black dress that just oozed class and the stole round her shoulders was obviously not rabbit fur, my god she looked stunning.

I did an immediate re-think on my preconceived views of the ladies of the night. I had seen the parade of easy flesh at a price, this was France where most things were for hire, but Mary was no average prostitute who advertised her wares in a leg wiggling show of the merchandise, no Mary was class.

Maybe my libido was subdued by my illness because I had no thoughts of extending our relationship. No, it just wouldn’t have been right. I had came to look on her as a mother figure, which was about as stupid as you could get for I judged that she was only two or three years older than me.

Another evening she was in a rather pensive mood and the conversation got round to the future, hers, not mine.

"How long are you going to stay in France” I asked.

"A year or two then back to the old country”

"Back to the Smoke?”

"Nah, always wanted a place in the country, a thatched cottage, roses round the door and all that”

I laughed.

"You’d be bored stiff”

She shook her head

"No, I’ve lived in dumps most of my life and I’ve earned a bit of peace and quiet”

"And marriage?”

She shrugged.

"Maybe, if I can find a man who doesn’t keep his brains between his legs”

I smiled.

"If you do he will be a very lucky guy”

"Now don’t you go and get all bloody sentimental with me”

"I notice you never bring your-er customers home”

"What do you think this is a bloody whore house? Listen Sunshine business is business and home is home, got it?

"I get it”

"Good”.

After ten days I felt my strength slowly returning. I learned that Mary had arranged for my things to be picked up from my apartment so I could now take a bath and get dressed.

She came in one morning and gave me a wad of notes.

"Stuff that in your sky and get your arse out. Have a walk, have a drink, but don’t get pissed. I’m not bleedin picking you up again.”

"Look I couldn’t”

"Yes you could, that little bitch of a maid is coming in today to clean the pad and I’m not leaving you alone with her, that little cow hasn’t got any scruples, not a single one”

I smiled; a prostitute with morals.

-------------------------------------------------------

If you can struggle through this, I’ll post the end in a couple of weeks. Oh and most of this is a true story.

Bevo
May 11th, 2015, 12:52 AM
Oh man, why did it end?

i enjoyed that thank you!
looking forward to more info, are you the prostitute;) or patient?

Carousel
May 18th, 2015, 10:18 PM
Part Two

I wandered the streets spent an hour in the Vieille Charité Museum, found a bar on the Rue Farjon and ordered wine.
Four men seated themselves three tables away, they were not French and their clothes spelt out the fact. I studied them at a distance.
Sailors perhaps? No I dismissed the thought they were not sailors. One raised his voice and spoke louder in English, an opportunity to good to miss; I got up and sauntered over.
“I heard you speak English, can I join you?”
One of the large guys looked up
“No”
I shrugged and returned to my table and ordered a brandy in consolation.
I finished the brandy and was on another when the large guy walked over and sat down.
“English?”
I nodded.
“Tell me, have you seen service?”
“What?”
“Have you served in the British army?”
“What the hell do you want to know that for?”
He leaned closer.
“Just answer friend”
He was big and I was in no state to argue
“Five years”
“Active service?”
“Ireland, 2nd Para, bits and pieces”
”What are you doing in Marseille?”
“I’ve asked myself that a dozen times”
. He spoke English with an accent, Australian? No, then it came to me South African
He paused in thought with his elbow on the table and his thumb under his chin.

“There’s a show due in the Cameroon’s, nothing too big, couple of months maybe more, if you’re interested be here the same time tomorrow, bring your passport and your discharge papers if you have them”

Alone back in the apartment I had time to think. Was it that simple, I had heard rumours that there were a couple of pubs in London where they recruited, but here in Marseille? But why not, Marseille was the melting pot of the Med and what better port for Africa where the action was. I learned later that Van Kleef, the boss man, was contracted to supply a set number of men and was two short of the number, so he had taken a gamble on me.

I shuffled my options which amounted to just two. Return home to what? My father had lived in the shadow of my mother’s personality; her death had sucked him dry. He went through the motions devoid of reason or purpose.
At the end of my service he gave me a home, secured a job for me in the civil service and so had fulfilled his obligations of a father but we had little in common with each other, perhaps I was a reminder of the happy times which he found unbearable.

Not that I helped, I was in limbo, like so many soldiers I found that the return to civilian life so hard to adjust to. I quit the job after a month; the small world of office politics and the scramble for even the most meaningless of goals held no interest for me.
I had enough cash to give me a year of freedom. My mother had left a trust that was tied to my thirtieth year. She knew too well that I was made to spend money, not to make it.
So the alternative; I had an idea of what was required but was I up to it? God I was as weak as a kitten, it was stupid to even consider it but then the chances of the offer to come again were less than slim and the thought of returning home had become unthinkable, so what the hell, a leap in the dark.

We met the next day. He took my passport and discharge papers, thumbed through both and seemed satisfied.
“What jabs have you had?” he asked.
“Sorry?”
“Jabs man, Africa has more diseases than flies”
”Only the usual”.
“No problem, we’ll sort it out in Douala”
“Hold on, what’s the pay?”
He smiled and took out an envelope from his pocket and wrote down a figure and passed it over.
“A month?”
“A week plus a bonus on results that reminds me, have you got a bank account?”
“Lloyds”
He shook his head
“No, you’re need a Swiss account, you can open one here for a hundred francs”
“I don’t have a hundred francs”
He took out his wallet and handed me two fifties.
“You trust me?”
“No, but I have your passport. We board on Thursday three o’clock number two dock, the Petrus, don’t be late”
He left without saying goodbye.


That evening I told Mary I was leaving the next day and spun her a tale about returning home, I knew she wouldn’t care for the truth but I still felt uncomfortable with the lie.
The next morning Mary and Maria went shopping leaving me to pack my bits and pieces. She had given me enough to get me back home to England. Considering my lie I couldn’t really argue, she knew my finances were hovering around the zero.
The only thing of value I had was a ring that my mother had given me on my 21st birthday. It was a sunburst ring with a diamond at the base about a carrot in weight so it would pay for my stay with some left over. I took the money she had given me, the ring together with a note, and slipped them into an envelope, went into Mary’s bedroom and placed the envelope under her pillow.

I’m no good at goodbyes and this one was going to be painful. I had heard somewhere that ladies that followed her profession disliked being kissed, so I stood in front of her and held out my hand.
“Stuff that” she said, “Come here”
We were in each others arms, tears merging, hers and mine.

I’m moving on but I thought I would complete this story before I leave. Hope you enjoy.

Cari.

Sonata
May 18th, 2015, 10:49 PM
I enjoyed the story very much indeed - it was a great read. Thank you for posting it.

jakuper
May 21st, 2015, 06:00 PM
What a great story.
As usual, it shows your dot-o-fobia, and as usual, it runs as smoothly as Amazonas.
Thank you

Carousel
May 21st, 2015, 09:03 PM
My recovery took longer than in the story during which Mary improved my French together with a few choice curse words that proved quite useful later. We spent some time talking but in my conversations with her there was no doubt that there were no go areas in her life, which I respected.
However I am sure that she regarded her time in France as a stepping stone for a better life. I suspect her bank balance was a sizable one; her ‘clients’ where among the movers and the shakers in the city. She came from a poor background without much of an education and pulled herself up by using the only thing she had going for her; her looks. In all the time we spent together I never heard her justify her way of life or utter one word of regret.

There was no doubt of the affection between us but we knew that we had different lives to lead; we never saw each other again. Mary, to use a London expression ‘Was a real Diamond’ she was there when I needed her most and how many nice girls would have walked on by? Quite a few I think.

Postscript :

I suffered a bad reaction to the inoculations I had in Africa and spent another three weeks in hospital in very different circumstances and my expected couple of months in Africa were extended into just short of two years, but that’s another story.

Thanks for reading and your nice comments.

Cari.