Tales of the Wretched : Fantine – Chapter 2 : Meeting Michel
27 October 2017
Patrick suddenly squeezed her hand startling her out of her thoughts regarding the new comissioner.
- There he is, he says. What is he doing here?
- Where, she says. I don’t see any man
- Don’t turn your head now as he is several feet away behind you. You can look later
- What is he wearing ?
- Brown pants with a beige shirt. I guess he is off duty today.
Slowly Fantine turns when Patrick signals she can and sees the back of a man who is graying and whose clothes seem starched. While she is appraising him, she realises that he is doing the same. She had forgotten that there was a large mirror on the wall of the shawarma dine-in and now she sees that he clearly is watching her watching him. She feels a bit embarrassed at being caught peering and becomes even more unsettled when she sees him stand up and walk their way. Fantine hopes that he will just pass by them but he stops at their table.
- Hello Fantine, I am Michel, do you remember me ? says the commissioner
- You two know each other, questions Patrick
- I am sorry, I don’t know who you are, says Fantine
- I am Michel, your previous neighbours’ son whom you used to help with studies. You used to also give me some of your lunch when the ugly trio beat me and took mine and you used to defend me when they picked on me in your presence. I could remember your face anywhere.
- Michel ! she gasped. He looked anything but skinny now. In fact he was looking pretty fit and handsome while he had been such a sickly boy back then. She remembered rescuing him countless times back at school in Caissargues near Nîmes from an ugly trio that had called themselves infernitrio and used to terrorise most of the pupils at school.
- Yes, it is me, Michel, my dear Fantine. How glad I am to see you. I asked your mother countless times where you had gone and she only recently gave me the address you wrote from
- You will not…
- No, I won’t. I understood from the address that you might be… although I hoped..
- You hoped I was indeed a seamstress. What do you know about the life we lead ? We earn our bread like you earn yours. It is a job like any other job. Why should you hope me to be a seamstress where I would earn less than one third of the money working my fingers and eyes off three times as fast as I work the other parts of my body in this profession.
- Fantine, I did not mean to be demeaning. It was just a surprise. You were so bright at school. I thought you would have done something else
- Well I am what I am. I am not doing anything else
- Please, Fantine, do not think that I think the less of you. I have always kept you in mind as a dear dear one and it will stay like that forever
- I am sorry I got annoyed. I just…
- It is okay. I can imagine how you feel…
Patrick had followed their verbal exchange with a strange mixture of curiosity, perplexity and cunning. When they had finished and Michel bade them goodbye after the heated exchanges had cooled down, he pointed towards Fantine and smiled knowingly
- I know exactly what the commissioner can be given now and it won’t cost you a thing
- What do you mean ?
- It’s you
- What do you mean me ?
- It’s your safety. He will not ask us why we are touring the Rue des Pâquis more often and neglecting other areas because he will be happy you are being preserved. We will just say that there tends to be more fighting in this area and that is it.
Fantine bites her nails absent-mindedly like she always does when nervous and wonders whether this is possible. Surely enough Michel was very grateful towards her for having protected him all those years at school but they had lost touch for over 13 years to the extent that she had not even recognised him. Yet it did seem possible as he had recognised her despite the long period of time they had not been in contact with one another. She looked back at Patrick and swung towards him the gift he had refused earlier and he beamed.
Fantine sized Patrick up and wondered whether she should shift protection from him to Michel but was sure that none of the team who had been getting gifts would be too happy with the change. Besides, she did not expect that Michel would be the type to authorise illicit concentration of outings of the police force in one area to the detriment of another area. Patrick stood up, the gift safely tucked into his breast pocket and the other packet of gifts jutting out of his coat pocket. He smiled at her and she could see again that same cunning run through his eyes. She sensed that he had guessed what had gone through her mind earlier but he chose not to say anything. He kissed her with a peck on the cheek and bid her goodbye. Slowly Michel extracted himself from the shadow where he had been hiding watching both Fantine and Patrick and started walking towards his car…
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