Over twenty years had passed since Richard's last visit to Africa. His life and work there had taken a solid place in the back of his memory but now rarely forced its way to the forefront. But the news came as a shock and forced some painful memories upon him. He had never talked to anyone about that day. The one time he had tried, his wife had shut him up. For her, it was too painful to relive. She just wanted to push it as far back as possible and keep it there. But now 20 years later his TV and computer screens were telling of the same warped terror. Rebels attacking, shells going off left right and centre, hand to hand fighting just a few hundred yards away. People fleeing, others pillaging the houses of the former. Chaos and disorder supreme.

But those weren't the only memories he had. There were unseen things which had marked him and made him what he was today. Uncertainty - what decision should he take? Stay or leave? He took it. It was the wrong one. Ever since decisions were weighed up so long, they were rarely taken. His wife was always nagging him about it. But she had been only too ready to remind him the one time he had taken the wrong decision.

She'd left him that day. It seemed the right thing to do at the time. Most expats were being evacuated and with an 11 month old son it was only normal that she should go. Richard knew he had to stay, so she went alone with their son. He agreed with her decision but the sense of abandonment never left him. She never returned and so just seventh months later Richard was forced to abandon his work at the dispensary and return to the home which had never been his, only to be greeted by 18 month old son who cried when he took him into his arms.

The next few years were disastrous. Nobody wanted a doctor who'd not worked in a proper hospital for years. And the feelings of abandonment and indecision played havoc on his marriage. But they'd made it through. They'd sought help and been given some good counsel, helping them to slowly rebuild. But the real reasons for their demise remained untouched. It was only now, reliving these events from far away, that Richard began to realise. And he had to talk. He had to get these things out.

His wife came in and crossed over to the desk where he sat, kissing him gently on the top of his head.

"Dinner's ready."

He followed her into the kitchen where he was greeted by his expectant family sitting on a mat around a steaming pot of sauce and an upturned calebasse.

Boule!!! It must have been months since they'd last had boule. So many wonderful memories of shared moments around the boule. Other more colourful memories of Africa, of shared stories and shared lives. Boule meant more than food. It meant conversation, sharing, giving of oneself to another. Richard knew now was the time to put to rest ghosts of the past.

This week's Fiction Friday prompt is to write a story using text messages or any form of message that is short and often cryptic. I've never been into text messages, but recently I've got hooked on the idea of writing 6 word stories or 6 word summaries of my day, so I've decided to use this form. I hope it's short and cryptic enough to qualify.

Damian where? So much joy. Over.
Unsure at first. Warmed quickly. Miracle.
Days together. So happy. Wonderful memories.
Why? Stupidity. Bewilderment. How could I?
Now? Repair. Tried, failed, rejected again.
Where? Get in touch. Forgive. Please!

Day Trip

"Hello, this is Simon Brightwell, from the Espace Loisirs in Gensdouce speaking. Could you put me through to Mr. Sebastien Boncourt, please."

"Dear Mr. Philippe, following our recent conversation I am writing to confirm your booking..."

"Dear Sir, on behalf of the centre "Espace Loisirs" I wish to express our thanks...."

Looking back over the few months before the centre's official reopening, I wonder what I actually achieved. If I still had the phone bill from those days I suspect, it would give me some sort of an answer to that question. But nothing actually sticks out in my mind. Meetings, phone calls, letters, requests - the daily routine of getting a centre like ours up and running. Routine, I hated that word. And up until now, I'd successfully managed to avoid anything that might be construed as routine. Life was exciting and full of adventure: the adventure of getting to know new countries, conquering new hearts, finding a new home. Routine was inimical to all this - wasn't routine the main reason why I'd left Ireland? That and...?

But now I was getting sucked into routine without even realising it. What's more, routine was becoming necessary - how else was I supposed to achieve anything. Somewhat more disturbing, however, was the way that my relationships with others were becoming the means to an end. If I went to see Thérèse and Guillaume now, it was to talk over a problem, or to discuss a new idea I'd had. I scarcely saw Jean, at all. And relationships with the villagers were growing increasingly distant. So amidst all the routine, I needed to put some spice back into my life. I decided to take a day off and invited a couple of friends to join me on a trip to Besançon. The ancient fortress and citadel had just been refurbished and among the events to mark the occasion was a concert of ancient and modern music given by the students of the conservatoire where Morgana taught. That Morgana had time to do any teaching was a minor miracle because she insisted on typing all my correspondence - a small miracle in my eyes, since I had never got on well with a typewriter. And to think, I'd never taken the time to thank her. I certainly owed her an apology on that one.

It was lovely weather and my heart was singing and there was a quite a buzz in our group as we set off on the trip. We first attacked the citadel and spend an informative and pleasant morning going back into the history of this so pivotal town for our region. After visiting the various exhibits we got together again for a celebratory picnic. The fame of the French when it comes to eating is both well-known and well-documented, but this was the first time I realised that it even spread to their picnics. No soggy bread sandwiches hurriedly made before leaving. Nothing but the best would do, and some of my fellow trippers confided that they'd taken close to two hours to prepare everything. I'm afraid all I had to offer was a white lie, that I'd left my picnic at home. The resulting blush was far paler than it would have been, had I actually unpacked my meagre offering. Not that it made any difference. If I hadn't seen people eat, I would have sworn we took more food home, than we actually consumed. And this was very definitely my first picnic where wine was served. Luckily for me, it was not to be the last.

But it was in the afternoon that I made the find of the year. Thérèse and myself had been bickering for months over the relative merits of our favourite authors. For some years now, I had been seriously obsessed with the Latin American authors and their magical realism. Thérèse also enjoyed them but didn't really consider them serious writers. She far preferred the more philosophical French style prevalent at the time. For her literature had to inform not to entertain. So it was a minor triumph for me when just days before Gabriel García Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Thérèse was bemused but had to admit magical realism had arrived in the literary world. For weeks before our journey she had promised me a trip to a very special bookstore which specialised in "minority literatures" as the French so beguilingly called them. And it was there that we found a book by an as yet totally unknown author, a young Chilean woman, relative of the deposed former President Salvador Allende. La Casa De Los Espiritus (The House of the Spirits) was Isabelle Allende's first work and we were lucky to have it at all, for no one was interested in translating what was as yet unproved talent. But the store owner's niece had been studying Spanish and had just obtained her degree in translation. To prove her talent and to get a first foot on the ladder she had spent the better part of the last year of her studies translating Allende's book and had persuaded her uncle to invest his life savings by publishing the book. It took him just one reading to be convinced and we were now holding the first French versions ever to be sold. Needless to say both niece and uncle became established figures in the literary world as a result of their championing Allende. And it didn't hurt them financially either. But we couldn't hang around talking all afternoon as we had to get back to the Citadel for Morgana's concert. It was a fitting close to a wonderful day and it convinced me of the need to plan such days into what was rapidly becoming my very busy and lonely schedule.

"Isn't it strange how one passion can lead to another," echoed the voice from his TV.

Dai knew exactly what she was talking about. He remembered a time when he'd never taken up a pen in his life, other than when forced to do so by some over enthusiastic teacher who didn't know what was good for herself. Now, several books later Dai's passion shone through his very being. Yet, it had started with his passion for all things Celtic. That, of course, was intricately bound up with his Welshness which had nothing to do with passions. That was part of his very being. But then even being can be passionate.

As a teenager this passion lived and played itself out on the rugby field. But soon Dai got involved with a group of youngsters absorbed by Celtic music. They listened to all the records and went to all the concerts. They lived for their music. But Dai wasn't satisfied. This was passion at a distance. But true passion had to get involved. So Dai bought himself a fiddle and went for lessons. The lessons taught him a lot about technique and right notes but they almost chased the passion out of him. He stopped just in time and started to improvise. He'd go around the country fairs every weekend to play in his own inimitable style. It may not have been polished but it was definitely passionate. Others joined in. Soon they were a small group - Motley Music, they called themselves.

And their passion rubbed off on others. Wherever they played, people gathered round and the dancing followed. And once again Dai was captivated. Dancing gave him a sense of intoxication he'd never known before and he just couldn't get enough of it. Whenever the group was not playing, he would be at one of the other gigs weaving his way between partners, spinning around the sets as if his life depended upon it. It was either that or listening to some of the other music sessions going on. That was where he first saw Bethan and Dai was smitten from the first. His heart could not contain the fullness of his passion for this brown eyed beauty with the angelic fingers which swept across the strings of her harp and conjured him away into the land of many dreams.

Bethan, too, was Welsh but she lived with her parents in Sweden, just spending the summers at the family home In Swansea and visiting sundry music festivals. Dai couldn't see enough of her, and before long they became the talk of the country scene, most agreeing the passion would not last beyond the summer when Bethan returned home. That was when Dai took up his pen. His first letter was so long he'd had to put it into three different envelopes. Others followed and Bethan came back to Wales at Christmas when the couple got engaged. They were married the following summer and went on a honeymoon of country fairs and folk festivals. But although they were now together, Dai did not put down his pen. Once the festivals were over Dai relived and reworked them in his memory and soon one book after another came out, providing more than an adequate income for the couple to live on and for Bethan to pursue her music career.

"It's really quite easy my dear," echoed Dai back to the TV presenter. "You just need a passion for life. The rest follows on without fail."

Another World


I don't know if you're actually going to get this letter. A parting was so swift and so brusque that I've a lot I still need to say to you. But who's to say that that parting was for ever. I hope and pray every night, that you will one day be able to join me here. I'm not really sure what happened. One minute I was fighting with all might against a worm I was hoping to bring you home for dinner and the next minute I was flying through the air. And wow, was that special! I've never experienced anything like it yet, and I'm sure I'll never quite experience such excitement again. It was fantastic. And just as I'd reached the highest point, I started to get this really strange sinking feeling; like I was going to plummet right back down, not back into the waters beside you but into the deepest depths of despair. And just as I was about to overwhelmed a friendly hand reached out and snatched me up.

Well, it took me a while to come to, but once I did, well it was all so incredible. It was like a completely different world. There are very strange creatures here. They come in all shapes and sizes but they are really very good to me. The creature that gave me a helping hand - they call him boy here - is really very kind. He knew I couldn't stay out in the dry for long so he put me straight into some nice, cool, soothing water. True, there's not that much room to move but he's promised me lots more space when we get home. In addition, it's really very strange water here. You can actually see right through it. I don't mean like we can see through our water and look at the plants etc. all around us. From here we can see things even more magnificent and wonderful than ever we could before. I do so wish you could join me here.

The boy says he's going to take me home and put me in his garden. He'll give me lots of food and after a few days I'll be invited to his birthday party. His house must be cold because he's told me all about the nice hot oven they will prepare especially for me. You see, how wonderfully kind he is. He's making sure I feel really at home. I'm wondering whether he'll bring me back to you after the birthday party. But to be quite honest... well I just wish you could join me here. It's all so amazing and so beautiful. Remember that old couple we met last year just before the holipond leap-year? They amazed us with their wisdom and puzzled us with their parting remarks:

"We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after a year."

We had no idea what they meant at the time. Well, I understand completely now that I'm here. My scales have been opened and my fins are all on edge. Yet, it's so amazing, I just can't describe it all. If you do come, bring Versify our champion fish poet with you. I'm sure he'll find the words needed to build a thousand and one pictures of this amazing new world.

I love you very much and do so hope to see you soon.

Your baited lover,


Make or Break

Back in Gensdouce it was time to get down to the serious stuff. Officially, of course, I was still a trainee on placement and occasionally an experienced centre manager got in touch to see how I was doing. But effectively, I was on my own together with the small team I had gathered around me. Our aims were simple. To get the centre up and running and to make sure it served our little community. This, in itself, was quite ambitious. Not so much the serving the community part, the centre had always done that, and so long as it was under the responsible of the town council, no one had really had to unravel the financial side of things: no one, that is, until Mr. Demille came along. Which was why, now, we also had to make it financially viable. And not only that. My first twelve months salary as administrator were guaranteed, but beyond that the centre would have to pay me; a heavy burden for such a small community.

My first evening back I'd arranged to meet with Thérèse and Guillaume at the pub, so that Jean and Annie were able to be present. And Thérèse had invited another person to the inner circle. This was the first time I'd met Morgana. Whilst she wasn't exactly pretty, her appearance was definitely striking. Her flame red hair and emerald green eyes left no one in any doubt as to her Celtic heritage, lending her a charisma which it was difficult to fathom. She felt quite at ease in our presence and as the evening wore on I realised just how much she had taken this project to heart. She was with us heart and soul was obvious.

My first priority was to put together a team susceptible to back me up in my tasks as administrator. I needed some wise counsellors, who would advise me and with whom I could bat around any ideas I had. I also needed someone with enough punch to stand up to me if I made mistakes and refused to listen. At first, I'd asked Jean to take on that job, but he felt an outsider would be better and thought he knew someone who would fit the bill. Guillaume agreed to take on the post of treasurer for the centre and Thérèse proposed Morgana for secretary. She herself would act as advisor to this ad hoc committee along with Jean. I'd also proposed Gérard in this role but the consensus was that it was too early for this and it might compromise him in front of his father bringing down further wrath on us.

Our first major task was to put together the program for the first year's activities and we jotted down all those who were willing to help in any way. I was amazed at the latent talents within our little community. We had activities that some of the larger centres were green with envy over, including the already thriving folk dance evenings, wine tasting sessions, a creative writing workshop, French classes for the many foreigners who had found a new home in some of the villages around the big city, and a car maintenance workshop run by the now retired village mechanic who still hung his oily T-shirt in front of his house in remembrance of old times. The one area we were still weak on was music and I saw a wistful look in Morgana's eyes as we talked about this. How she must have longed to share some of her skills with the villagers she had come to know and look upon as her family.

I went home that evening with a light step. With a program like that how could we fail to attract a large audience. We had a chance of success and since that success lay in our own hands, then we would succeed. For the first time in months I felt we really would make it. That's what comes of leaving Gensdouce, I thought. A few months away and you'd lost all hope. Just one day back and you can conquer any mountain. And then I thought of one other person who had left Gensdouce. Why had she gone? And where was Violette now? Was she all alone? Did she need help? One lonely creature in an unloving world.

Sleep evaded him. He tossed and turned a hundred times, eyes closed, counting sheep, counting all the different remedies for sleep that were possible. But this was no time for sleep. His mind was awake. He was full of ideas. This was the time to banish sleep and let creativity take over. He got up and crept into the salon so as not to wake anyone else. But as he put pen to paper, he realised, this was the wrong pen. This was to be a work of art; he needed his plume, nothing else would do. But how to get hold of it without waking his wife. He crept back into their room and crawled to his desk. Waiting a few minutes to let his eyes get accustomed to the darkness, he opened the draw and pulled out all he needed. Back he went, but hardly had he got outside, then he realised inkwell was missing. He must have put it down beside where he was sitting and if his wife got up and knocked it over, there'd be hell to play. This is when he realised, that it was no use. The creativity had gone out of him now. He'd probably never right again. He crept back to his bedroom hoping beyond hope that he might get a little sleep, when his alarm clock woke him out of the fretful state of unconscious he'd been in for the last few hours. Why on earth had he set his alarm clock. Of course! He had to get to his agent's up in London by 9 o'clock. Today he was signing the contract on the first book: "Sleepless Nights".

Battered Baby?

Rick was fed up of hearing the words battered baby. He'd made sure that not many people actually saw the scar just behind his ear; his long hair had seen to that. But everyone who did see it, immediately uttered those two dreadful letters: BB - Battered Baby. He'd first been labeled with the etiquette the day he started school. The teachers had conducted a test to check everyone's hair was free of unwanted organisms, and the beast, though small, could not be overlooked. The fact that his aunt had tried to put a bandage on it, only served to fuel suspicion. The next day Rick was called to see the school doctor and for the first time had to defend himself against the accusations of being a battered baby. After all, who else was there to accuse? His parents had been killed in the accident that had given him this reminder that the world was against him. As Rick could only stammer a few incoherent words in his defence, both teacher's and doctor's reports were unanimous in their condemnation. Rick Albeen was a battered baby.

As he was no longer allowed to wear a bandage to school, Aunt Debbie let him grow his hair long. She was very bitter in her condemnation of the authorities so quick to point the finger at those who could no longer defend themselves. She knew her sister was not a baby beater, but how to prove that? Especially, since the doctor had conveniently forgotten to mention the scar in his report of the accident. Had he too suspected Rick was a battered baby.

Two years later the chance came to begin over again. Uncle Jonathan got a new job in Newcastle and they all moved north. The teacher's report, of course, went with him, but his long hair meant that none of his friends were able to see what he was hiding. Not, that is, until his first game of rugby. As he was quite strong and thickset, he was picked as prop forward and received a bandage around his head to enable his fellow prop to get a good hold. Making sure the bandage was on firmly, the teacher recoiled when he saw the scar, and after checking up his report gave the students a long lecture on the horrors of baby battering. Once again the long finger of accusation was leveled against him, and it didn't take long for the students to discover who the battered baby, in question, was.

Another move followed, this one forced upon his aunt and uncle by the increasing taunts leveled at Rick from what had been his school friends. Another move, another new beginning. But that new beginning once again turned into a nightmare and Rick lost all ability to explain what had actually happened. Maybe, he was after all a battered baby? Would relief come from admitting that? Accepting what he knew wasn't true?

At eighteen Rick went up to university. There he avoided all contact with sports clubs and threw himself into his studies. In fact, as much as possible he avoided contact with anyone. Most of his acquaintances had normal fingers but Rick knew from experience how the could grow when raised in accusation against him. And as he avoided others, they tended to do the same, not shunning him but not going out of their way to get to know him. True, some students did ask for help with various essays. After all, he was one of the best students of the class. But beyond that they had little to do with him. Then, he met Bethan.

Bethan was pretty much a loner herself. She'd never been a popular girl and was desperate to find someone to talk to. She latched onto Rick who was glad to have someone around. As Rick had never been much of a talker, he threw himself into listening, glad that it afforded him the luxury of not having to talk himself. Bethan and Rick grew closer, and in a while Rick began to believe he had, at last, found someone who would not recoil in disgust upon hearing his story. The two went together everywhere and the two were unwittingly the subject of quite a lot of student banter. But Rick wasn't worried. Say what they want, he felt safe with Bethan like he'd felt safe with no one before. He even began to envisage cutting his hair and telling her his story. For him BB no longer meant battered baby but Bethan Bolten... until the evening of the scream.

They'd shared a wonderful meal together before walking out along the bank of the canal to watch the sun set over the town. Bethan was standing behind Rick stroking his hair when she saw it. The scream was as unrehearsed as it was unavoidable. It did its damage. From that moment the letters BB only ever had one meaning for Rick.

It was with a heavy heart that I left Gensdouce just two days later to return to Olonne. I had just four weeks of my course to go but I knew they were going to be four long weeks. I sat there and imagined what they would be like. The work, the nights at the beach, the contacts with other students and teachers, they all seemed so trivial now. Violette had disappeared and I couldn't get her out of my thoughts. Was I still in love with her? I had certainly loved her once, although it may have been more a fascination with her beauty than true love. Certainly, she never really showed much love towards me; nor to anyone else for that matter. Maybe that was her tragedy. She so wanted to be loved, it made her unable to give it to any one person. After her disappearance rumours soon surfaced that she was pregnant. I remember asking Thérèse, but she refused to confirm or deny the rumours. At first, I thought they were true. But when Gérard swore to me that it was absolutely impossible, I believed him. Strangely, the thought never occurred to us that it could have been someone else.

Gérard and me were once again becoming friends. Not the kind of friendship we'd shared in those heady, carefree days of our first meeting in Ireland. I guess he never was that kind of person and I'd most definitely changed since then. I couldn't help wondering what his father would have made of me, had he met me for the first time now, and not the unruly youth I was back then. To be honest, I could even muster up a measure of understanding for his attempts to prevent Gérard from having anything to do with me. But this slight I got at the time I was most vulnerable hurt me deeply and it took me a long time to forgive him, despite his humble apologies. But now, we were growing closer again, and I slowly began to look on him as a friend.

As for the centre things were beginning to look up. Most of the old team had promised to renew their activities when we started up again after the holidays. In addition, we had one or two promising, new additions to our list of activities, including aquarelle painting and electric guitar. But our biggest gift was Morgana. Guillaume and Thérèse had mentioned Morgana several times in their letters and I was disappointed not to have had the chance to meet her. She came from Brittany, so was a fellow Celt. She was a music teacher and had recently been named the new director of the Conservatoire in Besançon. Not being used to large cities she decided to live outside the city and found a flat in Gensdouce quite close to the railway station. Being a stranger, yet not having the exotic touch an Irishman would have had, meant the population was somewhat cool towards her at first, but she soon won them over with her gentle manner and her willingness to do almost anything to help.

Unfortunately, French employment laws did not permit her to teach music other than at the Conservatoire, but she didn't let that stop her. The moment she heard about the espace loisirs she immediately volunteered to run a folk dance workshop, and didn't wait for us to open up to start. So every Thursday evening Jean's pub was turned to a dance hall and rocked to the sound of traditional folk music from all around the world. It even began to acquire the reputation as the place to go to look for a girlfriend. But that wasn't all. Morgana also volunteered for a fair amount of the centre's correspondence and thus became the centre's first secretary - unpaid, I hasten to add.

As for me, I was once again going to have to get used to school life. The prospect didn't quite fill me with unmitigated joy. It had been a chore at the best of times, but the events of the past few weeks made it more difficult than ever. At least, there were no more exams and the four weeks crawled by until, at last, I was once again sitting in the train and returning to Gensdouce, excited at what the next few months would bring. Make or break time was coming near. Would we beat all the odds and make the centre work? Would I still be in a job in six months time? And most important of all, would I see Violette again?


As David stood next to Simon in the aisle, only one thought passed through his mind. Why on earth did they have to pick, this day of all days. David hated Valentine's day, ever since the trick that had been played on him. And what made things worse was that Melanie had no idea about what had actually happened. Melanie, if the truth be told, had suspected that he was in love with her, but had soon given up any hope in that direction when she found out about the Valentine's card to Veronica. But how could she know it was all an elaborate hoax.

David had been a longstanding and very proud member of the 2nd Tredegar Boy Scouts Troop, so once he's reached the age to move up to the Venture Scouts he was immediately given the job of secretary, part of which included having to sign the minutes of all their leaders' meetings. He attended these regularly so was surprised when Simon asked him to sign the minutes of a meeting he'd known nothing about. But he thought nothing of it, and didn't even notice the carbon paper hidden between the sheets above a Valentine's card. This was Simon's way of getting rid of a rival. He'd send the card to Veronica, and if all went well, he'd soon have Melanie all to himself. And it all worked out perfectly well. Veronica was so surprised to receive her first ever Valentine's card, David didn't have a chance to escape. And some six months later, Melanie said yes to Simon's proposal. So that was why David stood here today in the aisle of the church playing best man instead of husband. And in just one week's time, the roles would be reversed, as Simon would take on the role at David and Veronica's wedding.

Oliver Who?

Oliver didn't know what to do. Ever since he'd dared ask for more, his life had been turned into a misery. Now, there was little option left open to him but to beg, steal or borrow. Well, maybe borrow wasn't a good idea. Most people had something against getting regurgitated, borrowed goods back. But now, a new source of provisions was opening himself up to him. It all started when he went to sleep in one of these new-fangled telephone cells. They weren't exactly comfortable but they did, at least, afford him some little respite from the cold and moist London evenings.

The first night he'd been kicked out pretty quickly by a guy who'd threatened to call the police if ever he saw him again. The second night he'd sought out a cell quite a distance away from the first, and actually managed to stay there most of the night, not being disturbed until the infernal contraption started ringing and sent Oliver into flight, fearing that once again the police were onto him. The next night he decided he'd try his luck elsewhere but the cold soon got to him and forced him into desperate measures. This third cell proved to be the strangest of them all. The moment he crept inside, he realised it was far bigger than he'd ever imagined and full of the strangest contraptions. Then, a man entered, and Oliver hid himself in a corner, afraid that once again he'd be summarily evicted. But no, this man didn't evict him, he didn't even notice him. The man, apparently some kind of a doctor, was soon joined by a young woman, and together they pushed a few buttons. Oliver noticed nothing, but after a few minutes they talked about having arrived somewhere and decided to go out exploring. In case anything happened, they were to meet together at eight o'clock the next morning. The moment they left Oliver crept out of his hiding place. He had some ten hours and peeked outside. The landscape that presented itself to his eyes, seemed most strange and, not being as adventurous as the doctor and his companion, he decided to stay inside. He turned to the console in front of him and his eyes feasted themselves on the many buttons that presented themselves. He determined not to touch a single one; who knows what might happen. But temptation soon got the better of him and seeing several buttons that said London, he pressed one, and before he knew he was in the London of 2008.

He had in fact landed at precisely the same spot that the telephone cell had stood. But he recognised nothing because the site had been turned into one of London's biggest and most elegant hotels, and he was in the kitchen, or to be more precise, in the part of the kitchen where the fridge stood. Now, I'm sure you're all aware that a telephone cell would scarcely fit into a kitchen fridge, even if it was no ordinary hotel and no ordinary kitchen. But this cell could squeeze itself into almost any gap, including the smallest fridge space possible. Once Oliver felt certain that it was safe to do so, he opened the door and his eyes fell on all the wonderful goodies that had been prepared for a party that evening. He stared and stared. He'd never seen anything like it, not even back at the warehouse, in the governor's kitchen. In fact, he stared so much, that he almost forget to try anything. But he soon pulled himself together and attacked the contents with gusto, eating a lot and taking cramming all he could into his pockets, which seeing as he was in the magic tardis had now grown quite big.

Now came the greatest problem. In two hours time the doctor would be back and would wonder where his machine had got to. He let his eyes roam over the consul once again, but as he had no idea where he had come from, he had no idea which button to press. Then, he saw the abort button. With a bit of luck that might work. And indeed it did. And what's more, upon his return the doctor and his companion were kind enough to return their still hidden stowaway back where he came from. Now all he needed to do, was to memorise the place where this strange contraption stood, then he could pay a visit every day to the place with all the wonderful goodies. But as we all know, the tardis never stands in the same place for very long, and so Oliver was disappointed in his attempts to revisit the future. Instead, he turned to writing books about his strange adventures with the doctor, and earned himself a fortune, especially once the BBC got hold of his stories and started televising them.

It was an exact replay of that fateful day I arrived in Gensdouce. The same train, the same early morning wait. The same secretary... but this time I didn't sit and wait. I didn't even ask to see Meeeeezieur Demille as I had pronounced it in those days. I slammed my way through the antechamber leaving the poor woman no time to react and burst into the Mayor's office half forgetting to open the door. The one difference was that this time it was myself who had the pleasure of watching an adversary bounce his way to the bottom of the town hall stairs.

My job done, I made my way out of the town hall, across the bridge and ran as quick as I could to John's pub, but once again the village tellaphone had beaten me to it. And within minutes of my arrival people began to pour in to find out what had possessed me to commit such a daring act of folly. And it was only now that I asked myself the question. What had driven me to do such an incredible thing?

A few years back when it had been me on that same slide, I'd sworn to get my revenge for that humiliation. But that wasn't it. That revenge was cold and was still being spun out. Was it a sense of loss or betrayal? But how could I have expected anything different from him? Once again I saw his face and heard his kind words at the village meeting:

"... In addition, I am recommending Mr. Simon Brighting for the job of administrator of this centre. It's true, we have not always seen eye to eye in the past, and I'm not sure that we always will in the future. But my future daughter-in-law has convinced me of this young man's abilities and his motivation has been quite discernible in all he has said and done this evening and throughout the past weeks and months."

Now that I'd paid him back for his betrayal, I began to think over what I'd actually done. The thought of having caused him any actual physical harm didn't concern me in the least. But, one thing disturbed me profoundly. My act had almost certainly ruined any chances I still had of taking over the centre. The moment this thought entered my head, a hundred others followed it; all of them reminding me how stupid I'd been. I needed a drink and quick. Fortunately, John was there and he refused to give me one. But he did put on some good, hot coffee. When Thérèse came in, I succeeded in separating myself from the mostly admiring crowds and went into a corner to talk things over with her. Shortly after, we were joined by Guillaume with the news that the Mayor was no worse for his experience.

"Indeed, he might even have learnt something from it," he stated with a cheery voice. But we'd better start hoping he doesn't pull you up in court. What on earth drove you to do such a stupid act?"

I gave them the whole story and they were more than sympathetic. But they were still worried about the future. Apart from my attacking him I'd turned my back on the training program which was not only my gateway to a brighter future but the main hope of keeping the espace loisirs going. What were we going to do now?

"Where is he? I've got to see him at once."

The cry from somewhere behind me took me by surprise. I looked up to see Gérard pushing his large, sturdy body towards me. "Simon, what on earth have you done. Father's at home turning the place upside down and swearing to get his revenge. You've got to get out of here, now. He's just phoned up Inspector Lefevre in Besançon; he's sworn he'll see you in prison by nightfall.

"Don't worry about the Mayor. Just leave him to me."

With these words Thérèse got up and left the pub, followed by three pairs of more than astounded eyes gazing after her.

I didn't see her again until later that evening. I was sitting with Guillaume watching some soppy romantic comedy when she came in. We turned the television off as she pulled up her chair, but she still didn't take the hint.

"What are you looking at me like that for?" She was obviously enjoying every single glare of attention from us and seemed in no mood to ease the tension. But we did eventually coax out of her the fact that Mayor Demille had promised to drop any idea of a court-case. And more... If Simon would go back to Olonne and complete the last few weeks of the training program, he would find me a supervisor so that I could do my placement right here in Gensdouce.

Amazed I could only stammer, "How on earth did you manage that?"

But this time she didn't give me one of her knowing smiles. Indeed, I could almost have sworn, it was with tears in her eyes that she said, "I'm afraid, I'm not at liberty..." A loud knock then a slam and Mme. Bouclier burst into the room.

"Thérèse have you seen Violette? She's gone! She's taken everything with her, her clothes, her cosmetics, everything. Have you any idea where she is?"

But Thérèse just sat there deathly pale and staring into the emptiness.

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