Ca y est! The home-sweet-home story ends happily ever after. Or maybe it would be more appropriate to say it begins.
Squirming in the wicker chair outside Comptoir des Colonies yesterday afternoon, I can barely finish one tiny shot of espresso — the price I paid to sit here for five minutes. I glance nervously at my watch, then return to distracting myself, keeping an eye on the passersby as they effortlessly negotiate the cobble-stoned passage in their heels and boots. The pixie-haired lady at the table next to me lights her cigarette. She’s squawking, quite animatedly, about her latest visit to the hospital. “Je me fais toujours mal,” she exclaims to her friend across the tiny round table. I’m always hurting myself. Another glance at my watch. I finish the espresso, down two sips of water, and hop, c’est parti! Rendez-vous in front of the brasserie down the street.
Hurry up and wait. Two minutes after 2:30 and every man who comes around the corner could be Monsieur P. A young man in a business suit, its skinny-fit slacks cropped at the ankle, looks like he’s heading my way. But he hurries by, favoring one leg. Maybe he works in a bank — one of the only industries I know requires a suit around here. A heavy set man comes around the corner. I’m sure he is looking at me, so I smile — my “French smile,” subtle and sans teeth, so as not to look too excited. (My smiles are often misunderstood as flirtation in this country.) He passes too, his eyes set on someone else. The next man I peg as Monsieur P is tall and tattooed, a straw fedora on his head. This time I wait to smile, and as he gets closer I hope it is not him. Too badass to be a landlord.
When Monsieur P arrives I am looking the other way, of course. It is not until he is close enough to reach out and shake my hand that I see him coming on his shiny black bike — the Harley of city bikes. “Vous etes Emily?” he offers, his tone intentionally gentle and unassuming. I extend my hand and my American smile makes its entrance, unannounced. “Oui, Monsieur. Enchantee.”
I follow him behind the brasserie to a shabby door — the back entrance, he assures me. A moment of doubt passes as my eyes adjust to the darkness just inside the door. We are standing in the giant spiral stairwell of one of the old Dijon mansions, its cold stone no match for the beautiful details on the banisters and walls. “Un bel immeuble,” says Monsieur — a beautiful building — “avec que des vieux, grands, apartements” Big, old, apartments — except, he laughs, this little studio. We make our way up one spiral, taking into account what a waste of space — in theory — such a huge staircase is.
At the door my breath catches. After all the advertisements and all the “the apartment is already rented”s, my hopes are high. But in as little as one minute I know I might be back to square one, and with a sigh be on my way…again. Monsieur P doesn’t leave much time for suspense. He opens the door and voila! I am bombarded with light. Even before my eyes readjust I am happily checking this off the list. Lumineux? Check!
In thirty seconds I have taken in the entirety of the room. Another thirty and I can’t hold back my grin. Monsieur covers all the bases, explaining and pointing and selling. I’m sold. You know that feeling when something that at first seems good transforms — almost instantaneously — into great, and then awesome, and then extraordinary? No matter that it’s a tiny studio apartment I could never do jumping jacks in. As I look around my mind fires with thousands of ideas. I see myself making dinner at the cute kitchenette…washing my face in the miniature sink…falling asleep to the sounds of Centre Ville outside my (three!) windows.
Monsieur is still answering all the questions I’m not thinking to ask. It’s a very quiet building he says. Doctor’s office on the first floor, a nice old man on one side of the studio and “une dame d’au moins cent-cinquante ans” — a 150 year old woman — on the other. I laugh. “May I just have a little time to consider it?” I ask. (I had told Nico I’d wait to talk to him before I committed.) “Take the time you need,” replies the monsieur. “I just have to leave for work on Friday.”
“I’ll call you tonight,” I say.