Morning. Another long break I know, but this morning all my work is done and I have a break at home alone to get a story out. So I've linked up with the lovely folks at Studio 30+ again. I used the prompt humiliating.
It was still humiliating, Derrick thought, as he stepped out of the tabac. For over thirty-five years he had made this town his home. The butcher, the grocer, the laundry lady, even the mayor accepted his well learnt and practised French with graciousness and without sarcasm. And yet every morning, in the simplest of exchanges over a packet of cigarettes and a newspaper, the man in the tabac replied in English, as crisp and smooth as a tennis lawn.
Derrick walked across the square to his favourite café. Inside the smell of freshly ground coffee and the remnants of last night’s menu greeted him. He took a seat by the window. Jean Pierre waved at him from behind the bar. Breakfast would be on its way shortly.
He opened the paper. Train strikes planned over the long weekend. Cars stolen by pretend hitchhikers in the south. A new production of Hamlet touring. Laws to be changed regarding dog ownership. He turned to the crossword and got to work.
His pencil was nibbled, was tapped. He scribbled. It was a short, stubby, well-worn and well-travelled pencil. This was its 1000 crossword. He should savour it. Derrick leaned back, stretched out his legs, sipping his coffee and pondering number 19 down.
Out in the square delivery vans beeped to the shop owners and tardy teenagers flopped past wanting any distraction to stop them from going to school. Derrick remembered what it was like and smiled. He licked croissant crumbs from his mouth and signalled for another.
The door opened as Derrick was filling in 19 down. He listened to the exchange at the bar and the voice made him look over. It was the man from the tabac. He had never seen him in here. He put down his pencil and listened. His pencil rolled off the paper and onto the floor.
The tabac owner’s daughter was seeing the café owner’s son and he wasn’t happy about how late they were staying out. They needed to agree for them to both be home by 11 each night. Jean Pierre shrugged, but agreed. The tabac owner pressed him, wanting him to agree again. Jean Pierre did so. The tabac owner sighed, thanked him and turned to leave. He noticed Derrick.
“Hello,” he said briskly as if he was going to pass, but he stopped at Derrick’s table and looked down at it. “Oh. You do the crossword I see?” He stared at the paper, scrutinising Derrick’s answers.
Derrick said nothing and watched him.
The man from the tabac stepped back and looked at him. “I see you speak French then. How very bizarre I never knew!” His tight face slipped open for a second with a smile. “Au revoir Monsieur.” He turned and left the café.
Derrick sat, stunned. He let the feeling wash over him and he soaked up his little win. The man from the tabac finally understood. Tomorrow morning would be different. This deserved a little celebration. He ordered a cognac with another coffee.
Back to the crossword.
He searched and searched, but he never found his pencil.