Mademoiselle Jolie is considerably younger than most patients (she reduced the average age by at least ten years when she arrived).
She’s in her mid-twenties while the rest of us, with a few exceptions, are over 50 and the majority are over 60. She’s had a hip replacement – a long term outcome from a serious car accident nine years ago. She has the habits and preoccupations of many young women – she worries about her weight (although she’s half the size of most of the women here as well as half their age!) her favourite drink is a mojito and she’d like to find a “petit ami”.
She arrives at the dining table clearly upset. She’s gained two kilos in a week!
I tell her this is impossible. The scales must be wrong. Madame Ecole and Madame Gestion agree with me.
But Mademoiselle Jolie can’t be persuaded. She decides to opt for the diabetic menu on the grounds that, without sugar, it will have fewer calories, and she vows to eat only half of the food on her plate.
She has bright hazel eyes, long dark lashes and porcelain skin. My husband is very taken with her and, not surprisingly, she has her admirers in the clinic.
Monsieur Capable, who presides over the dining room with matchless efficiency, clearly has a soft spot for her. He divines that the diabetic option is often a disappointment – especially on the days when lunch is steak and frites and the diabetic option has no frites. He brings her a plate of frites. Her eyes light up. She thanks him. He blushes with pleasure.
Monsieur Papillon, a silver-haired man of military bearing, hears that she has an electronic keyboard in her room (she’s learning to play the piano and would love to write music). He pays her a visit to admire, ostensibly, the electronic keyboard.
Mademoiselle Jolie is one of a coterie of smokers. They gather near the entrance to the garden, or in the courtyard outside the dining room after lunch and dinner. They are a jolly group. They include Monsieur Bonhomme who is extremely tall and extremely nice and has beautiful manners.. He too is younger than most of the residents, but is older than Mademoiselle Jolie.
He’s very nice, I say to her. He has a lovely smile. Is he married? Does he have a partner?
He’s not married, she tells me. He’s had several relationships. He has no “copine” at the moment.
But Mademoiselle Jolie only has eyes for someone else.
Monsieur Bonhomme leaves the clinic. He shakes my hand, kisses me on both cheeks, wishes me a speedy recovery and leaves to a chorus of farewells (the clinic is very sociable).
So I’m astonished to see him among the smokers in the garden a few mornings later.
He tells me he’s come to visit Mademoiselle Jolie.
Mademoiselle Jolie is not at the table at lunch time. I see her in the corridor around four o’clock that afternoon. She’s flushed and happy. She’s been out to lunch with Monsieur Bonhomme.
We hear all about it that evening at dinner. They went to a restaurant by the Garonne. They sat outside.
“J’ai bu un Mojito (I had a mojito),” she says. “Et deux coupes de champagne (two glasses of champagne)!”
He’s very nice, I say to her later. Don’t you fancy him just a little?
“C’est un bon copain, (a good pal)” she says. “Il est fidèle, très attentif (meaning he listens to her) et il me fair rire (he makes me laugh). C’est tout (that’s all.)”
Madame Ecole is leaving. Our little group of table companions have coffee together to say our goodbye and exchange addresses and telephone numbers. Madame Ecole asks us to say goodbye to some people – including the person who has taken Mademoiselle’s Jolie’s fancy – on her behalf.
“Je lui ai fait des bisous pour elle,” Mademoiselle Jolie tells me next day, with a mischievous smile.
I can guess whom she kissed on both cheeks for Madame Ecole.
I think Monsieur Bonhomme is a better bet, but I say nothing.
He turned up again today to take her out for the afternoon.
Cher Monsieur Bonhomme – bon copain, fidèle, attentif – I wonder if patience is another of your virtues?
I rather hope it is.