A day in bygone ©

It was still raining heavily, when Andrew turned into the dark country road. He had been driving all evening round the Bedfordshire countryside, trying to find his clients' house. He was not from this part of the world and was driving at a snail’s pace, keeping one eye on the road and one on his map. He had lived all his life in a big city, used to its bright lights and constant buzz; although somehow always feeling out of place. He earned his living selling insurance. In his spare time, he read up all he could about World War 2. That era fascinated him. His ability to understand some French enabled him to gain different points of views. He always dreamt of himself as a “soldat de résistance”, spending hours daydreaming of his “previous life’s feats”. 

 Andrew had found himself a few times before looking for clients’ addresses, but mainly in the city’s suburbs. Tonight, he was driving down a dark and wet country lane, looking for Nightville. 

The Corgou family had been introduced to him by another client of his, 10 years ago. He always dealt with them over the phone and by post. It surprised him their lack of e-mail. Still, they only had a small policy for a Peugeot 402. A really old car. Its nickname was the “coach”, but that was in the years gone by. Tonight, they wanted to speak to him about life assurance on each other. They phoned him yesterday and he made an appointment to see them. It would always be Mr. Corgou on the phone, who spoke with a French accent.

“There” he exclaimed to himself, when he saw an opening in a hedge. It was right opposite a junction, as the Corgous had described it. The rain was now relentless. He stopped to check with their instructions he had written down and cross-referenced them on his map. 

As he turned into the opening he noticed a very old sign, barely hanging up on a pole. The writing on it had faded but he could just about make out some letters. “N...tv..le 0.5km” was all that was left on the village sign. He drove carefully down the muddy country lane, his little red Fiesta beaten by the rain. 

The village appeared suddenly, as if out of nowhere, in front of him. Andrew noticed that it was built in a horseshoe shape, with its main square in the middle. On the square, there was a well, surrounded by cobbles. It had a bucket hanging over the top. About 30 yards behind it, lay a small village church. An old man stood outside looking at it. He wore a bright red shirt and dark trousers. A cigarette appeared to be stuck to his bottom lip. A dark coloured béret was perched on his head. 

Andrew was startled by the sudden squeak of his windscreen wipers. He realised that the rain had stopped and quickly turned them off. The village square was completely dry. A shooting star travelled down in the distance and Andrew quickly closed his eyes and made his wish. It was always the same one. To have enough money to dedicate himself to his passion. 

The tapping on his window, made him jump. The old man was standing next to his car. Andrew wound his window down. The old man puffed his cigarette and asked “Tu est perdu?” Andrew was taken aback and was trying to think of a reply. In the end he just muttered “ Corgou, s’il vous plait?” “Ah! C’est la maison là-bas” the old man stated pointing at a large country house with a big barn next to it.

The house was large and imposing. It was separated from the road by a narrow pavement with a small curb, which curved round the front of the house as the road lead out into the fields and turned into a mud path. The house was built mainly by large cement bricks, fortifying its image to the eye. Its front entrance looked like a large patio door leading onto the path outside it. It was brown and three leaved, with white lace curtains hanging behind its three windowpanes. On either side of it, were two large shutter panels. They were a deep brown colour like a chocolate cake. Above it, protruded a small square balcony with two protective rails carefully following its contour. Behind it was a set of white French windows, with four glass panes and thick wooden frames. The bottom panes were longer than the top ones, giving it a sense of grace and height. 

The slated roof had a gentle rise to it, leading to a tall brick and clay chimney. Below its eves, a brown brick pattern followed the roof’s shape. On its left, lay a red tiled  barn with a large brown sliding entrance door. In its door was a smaller hinged door cut out to offer easy access into it. To its leftmost side, another house like door could be found, indicating a utility room.

The ensemble of it, gave off a noble aura. Andrew looked to the side of his car where the old man was standing, but he was gone. The old man was once more outside the church, entering it by its front door. He was more like floating in, rather than walking in! 

Andrew shuddered and then drove towards the Corgou residence. He parked his car outside and picked up his zip-up attaché from the passenger door. He took a deep breath and exited the car. The fresh evening air filled his lungs. Being more used to the dirty air of the city, it felt intoxicating. 

He approached the front door and noticed that there was no doorbell. Just a large metal knocker in the middle of the door. Through the window he could make out a fire palce, with flames dancing in the middle. There were no lights in the house so its shadows formed different shapes, like a shadow theatre. He felt strangely warm near the house. Almost relieved to be there. He remembered that feeling from his younger years, when he used to run home after school. The colder it was the sweeter the feeling when he arrived home.

He got a sudden shiver. “Someone just walked over my grave”, he thought, as he got near the door. He reached slowly for the doorknocker, almost as if out of habit and rapped twice on the door. 

“Martha” he heard. “J’y vais chérie”. The entrance hall light was switched on. It was feeble and flickered. The door opened and a man in his sixties stood by it. Almost behind him was a little woman, about the same age dressed in black. Her face was deeply ploughed by sorrow. Her blue eyes had lost their sparkle and her face was drooping below them. 

On their left, was a dogleg staircase leading to the first floor. Behind them was a separating wall with various pictures on it and an old two drawer low dresser. He could make out the flicker of a candle in front of a cross.

“Monsieur Andrew?” the man asked warmly.
“Yes, hi” Andrew said and extended his arm. The man accepted and shook it firmly. “This is my wife, Mme Corgou”, he pointed with his open palm. “I’m sorry but we have recently lost our son” he said lowering his voice. Andrew shook the woman’s hand whilst softly uttering “I’m sorry”. He stood there waiting to be invited in, feeling a bit uneasy with the sudden silence. The woman never raised her eyes to look at him.

“Come in” said the man suddenly, as if waking up from a dream. They both moved out of the way  and Andrew stepped in. On the wall in front of him a photo was hanging.  

It was a photo of Andrew in a world war II RAF uniform. On his elbow there was a sawn-on badge that read “FRANCE”. Andrew stood there looking at the photo with his mouth agape. The woman raised her eyes to him for the first time and their eyes met. She well up and softly whispered “t’arrive’. 


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