He had called a cab to drive us to the train station. I loaded my small bag proudly into the trunk of the car, and it may have been my imagination but I think he nodded approvingly when he saw that. We didn’t speak in the car. We took the TGV to Avignon, and during the five-hour trip we were silent too. He read a book and so did I. In the four weeks I had intensely studied the strange language I had picked up enough to read and write simple sentences, and in the library I had found a fairly easy children’s book to practice a bit. Time passed, and eventually we arrived. Everything was arranged for us; a rental car was ready to leave at the train station, and a quick stop at the owner of our accommodation provided us with the keys to a cosy little cottage in the middle of a cherry orchard. It was idyllic. The heat was different, less burning. It seemed to be carried on the howling wind the local people call the “Mistral”. While at home being outside made you feel like someone put a plastic bag over your head and suffocated you, here it was like a soft veil being draped around you. I stood under the cherry trees while he was putting our stuff in the house, and for some reason I wondered what it would be like to walk around naked, with nothing but the heat to cover my body, the golden light that shone between the tree leaves like sparkling gems on my skin. I remember that thought, it was like a vision; I could almost see myself walk out there, free from care and sorrow. A warm voice sounded behind me.
‘Tell me your thoughts, Catherine.’ I didn’t hesitate.
‘I wondered what it would be like to walk naked through the orchard.’ I didn’t have to turn to know there was a smile on his face.
‘Never stop wondering, my dear Catherine. There is no insight without an interesting outsight…’ I turned, but he had already walked back in. I sighed. The mental image of me in the orchard dissipated, and I followed him. It was small; only one room and an open kitchen, upstairs a bathroom and a bedroom. There was only one bedroom; when I saw that my heart almost jumped out of my chest.
‘The sofa can be turned into a bed for you. I hope it will be comfortable enough.’
‘It… it sure will be.’ Once again I felt great disappointment… and strangely enough relief as well. I didn’t understand it at the time.
I can say that I wasn’t in love with him in those days. He attracted me, with his beauty and with the aura of mystery that covered everything around him. I wanted to get to know him better, but I didn’t love him. Not yet.
Every morning we ate breakfast on a little metal table on the patio, enjoying the sunshine and the cool morning air. We spoke his language; my sentences quite often broken and grammatically incorrect, his of an incomprehensible fluency. He always corrected me when I made a mistake, even when that meant interrupting the conversation completely. He knew no mercy when it came to that; it reminded me that I was there to learn and nothing else. Still, I enjoyed our conversations. After breakfast we cleaned the table and started studying. I don’t know what I had expected from the trip; sightseeing perhaps, meeting people, going out. We didn’t. In our little orchard –see, I already speak of “our”- we had all we needed: food, wine, books, and each other’s company. Sometimes, when I had done my best exceptionally well, he took me for a stroll through the orchard, or we cooked something together. I held on to those moments as if they were treasures, and I think he knew. The bright southern sunlight didn’t only light up my face; somehow it also lit up my mind, my mood. One morning I was awake before him, and I rolled out of the sofa bed, stark naked. The sun tickled my skin and I remembered my earlier thoughts… I got up and prepared breakfast, all in my birthday suit. I doubted he would find it amusing if I would wake him with a cup of coffee in that state, so instead I walked outside and took that stroll through the orchard. Little stones and leaves and rotten cherries scratched my feet, but I didn’t care, I had never felt better.