A Conversation for A Place to Call Home
Minorvogonpoet Started conversation Nov 18, 2020
Danielle had to queue to buy another ticket, as hers was out of date. This annoyed her a little, as she didn't have enough money to waste. However, she had already decided where to go - Megére. She would try to find the house where Jewish children were looked after. Even if they couldn't help her and Jeannot, they might be able to direct her to somewhere safe.
Danielle passed the ticket barrier without incident, boarded the train and found a seat. However, a group of four young policemen entered the compartment, talking and laughing. She watched as they sat down and realised her best protection was to act naturally. Fortunately, Jeannot quietened once he was sitting on her lap and pointed to trains as they passed. “Chou chou” he said.
After a while, she noticed one of the policemen was staring at her. Had he noticed her accent and thought she might be German? Was the slight curve of her nose enough to identify her as Jewish? She had heard of people having their noses measured. She wondered if there was a way to break the barrier of distrust between them. She knew her looks had suffered with the shortages of war. Always slender, she had become thin, and her hair, which she used to perm, fell straight. She was wearing no make up and her coat was dirty. At last, she remembered she had still got some apples in her bag, the last of the food she'd bought from the market.
“Would you like an apple? “she asked.
“Thank you,”said one of the policemen. He took an apple and so did each of his comrades.
She took a little penknife from her bag and cut the remaining apple into pieces small enough to give Jeannot.
“Are you going far?,” asked the man who'd been staring at her. “We’re going to Toulouse”
Danielle shook her head. “I’m getting off at Megére.”
“Pity. We won’t have the pleasure of your company.”
Danielle heaved a sigh of relief. The remainder of her journey passed without difficulty.
She descended from the train at Megére and realised she had no idea how to find the house Yvonne had told her about. She imagined that a place that housed Jewish children would be hidden. If she spoke to a passer by, she could give the location away. She wandered round the town until she found a market hall built in brick, with colonnades round a central space. At one stall selling dairy products, a small woman in a pinafore was haggling over the price of cheese. Her eyes were deep in shadow, but the lines of her face suggested kindliness. Rather than speaking to her at the stall, Danielle followed her cautiously out of the market and tried to catch up. However, she was weighed down by Jeannot, who was beginning to cry. They met at the corner of a side street.
“Good day,” said Danielle. “I've heard there's a house where they look after children. Do you know where it might be?”
The woman looked her up and down before speaking.“I don’t know much about the children, but try the road to the right.” She pointed. “The third house in the last block before the river.”
Struck by the woman’s reticence, Danielle watched her scuttle away. Nevertheless, she turned right and walked along a road which led down towards the river. The houses were two storeys and stood behind plane trees which were losing their leaves. The house the woman had indicated had big windows flanked by blue grey shutters. Danielle hesitated, until the door opened and two women stepped out beside a line of small children in neat uniforms. They walked along the road in pairs, singing. Danielle slipped into the hallway and looked round. It had clearly been a grand house once, with high ceilings and a staircase with carved banisters which swept up to the first floor. However, the paintwork was chipped and the chairs along the side of the hall varied in age and style. On one door, she saw a name plate, reading Charlotte Lopez, Director. She knocked.
Danielle entered and found herself facing a pleasant looking woman sitting at a desk. Charlotte wore her brown hair gathered at the back of her head in a pony tail. The room seemed a reassuring mixture of the business like and the homely. Four wooden chairs were grouped near the desk and a row of metal filing cabinets stood behind it, but there was patterned carpet on the floor and a wooden box of toys in a corner.
Madame Lopez looked her up and down for a moment before speaking. “Sit down. You look as if you’ve been travelling for days.”
“Thank you.” Danielle sat down and placed Jeannot on the floor, where he set out to crawl. It occurred to her that she didn’t know how much to tell this woman. “We had to leave our house near the Lot three days ago. I came here because Yvonne Garnier told me about your house.”
“Yvonne Garnier? We know her,” Madam Lopez said, but then shook her head. “ But I'm afraid we can't help adults. We look after Jewish children who've been separated from their parents. The house is full as it is.”
“I wondered if I could help. Apart from my own son, we’ve looked after refugee children in our house. Yvonne said they moved on here.”
“Are you Jewish?”
“Yes. We left because we were in trouble with the authorities.”
“Have you got papers?”
Danielle handed over both sets of papers.
Madame Lopez looked thoughtful for a moment. “We could certainly do with help. How old is your little boy?”
“Ten months.” Jeannot had crawled as far as the box of toys and was trying to grasp a ball.
“Most of our children are over two. Still, if you could help with the youngest group, you could keep an eye on him. You’d have to find somewhere to stay though.” She rose, opened a drawer in one of the filing cabinets behind the desk and took out a file.
“I’ve got a bit of money,” said Danielle, although she was aware her funds wouldn’t last long.
Charlotte laid her finger on a page in the file. “ You could try number two Rue du Quai. That’s the road to the left of this block and you can get cheap lodgings there. And you can eat with us.”
Danielle smiled as relief flooded over her. “Thank you. That would be good.”
paulh, hiding under my bed Posted Nov 19, 2020
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