Prose Header

Monsieur Deux

by Julie Wornan

I am a rational person. I have never believed in God, spirits or astrology. Whatever may seem strange about the events I will relate here can only be ascribed to coincidence. How could it be otherwise?

Every evening a fruit seller sets up his stand just outside the metro station where I get off. He is a short man and evidently from some other continent. He sits, smiling broadly, behind glowing mountains of oranges, apples, melons and pineapples. I seldom see him have any customers. This is probably because, at the late hour when I pass, most of the crowd that spill out of the metro have their minds on getting home quickly and are in no mood to shop. This has always been my case, anyway. Until a couple of weeks ago.

One evening, a heap of bright yellow bananas caught my attention. They seemed to glow out from the gloom. I recalled that I hadn’t had a banana in a long time and bananas are full of vitamins and really go well on top of a fruit salad. So I selected a bunch of six bananas and asked, “Combien? — How much?”

The merchant hesitated a moment, then said, “Deux.”

I had to ask him to repeat, because with his heavy accent it sounded more like “doux” — sweet; but clearly that didn’t make sense. “Deux,” he said again and held up two fingers.

Deux euros?” I asked, foolishly. The euro is the currency of France, the country which is now my home, so what else could he mean?

He said nothing. I found two 1-euro coins in my pocket. But then the avocados caught my eye, small but perfectly ripe. I chose four. The merchant put them in a green plastic bag along with the bananas. Then he must have seen me looking at the limes, because he picked up a lime and added it to the bag.

Combien?” I asked again, indicating the bulging bag.

But he only repeated, “Deux.”

So I handed him the two euros. He nodded and smiled, and I walked home.

Two days later, I noticed the grapes. I don’t normally buy fruit out of season, but these were so juicily purple, I couldn’t resist selecting a large bunch, and then a colourful mango to set them off, and several nectarines — my girls love nectarines. The price of the lot was the same as the last time: Deux.

It flashed through my mind that if this was the only number he knew, I could probably buy the whole stand for two euros! I paid him the small sum. ButI had the impression, as he took my 2-euro coin, that his smile was no longer as warm.

When I got home I noticed that the two top buttons of my coat were missing. Odd. I hadn’t noticed that they were loose.

The following week, I had missed my neighborhood’s Sunday market so I was glad of the chance to restock. Apples, pears and tangerines filled the large plastic bag I had thought to bring along. Sure enough, all he asked for the lot was the habitual “deux,” which I paid willingly, thinking what a good story this would make. The merchant was not smiling, but I didn’t give it much thought.

When I put the fruit away, I noticed that my collection of kitchen magnets had dwindled from ten to eight. Nobody could tell me what had happened to the others — my favorites, as it happened, little art-nouveau delights I had bought in a museum in Berlin. The kids sometimes play pranks but this time their faces were straight.

I don’t know why, but I felt uneasy when I made my next purchase from Monsieur Deux. I bought a fragrant ripe pineapple, a dozen large oranges and a few other bits. The merchant’s face was rather severe when he took my coin.

When I got home, a pair of antique bookends were gone, the books flopping over. The bookends had sentimental value for me, but they were hardly so valuable that one could imagine a thief taking these and nothing else!

The twins were seated at the table supposedly doing their homework, but their heads were drooping. Kathy complained of a headache, and Carla was running a fever. They didn’t want any supper. I tucked them into bed. I threw the pineapple in the garbage, and gave the oranges to our neighbor because her boys love orange juice. I got up several times during the night to check on the girls. But in the morning they were fine and they went to school.

Nowadays, I choose to get off at a different metro station. It takes me a little longer to walk home but I enjoy the walk and it does me good. That’s why I do it. What other reason could there be?

Copyright © 2013 by Julie Wornan

Proceed to Challenge 530...

Home Page