Meeting Camille

Jacques and Martin walked for the remainder of the day. Well, Jacques walked, Martin just lolled about his shoulders, making unhelpful suggestions and remarks. It was the usual stuff: "Are we there yet?", "I'm hungry!", and once, to Jacques' surprise, "My mummy's waiting for me in heaven. Where's yours?" By this time, Jacques was tired and worn out from walking with a small, but solid eight-year-old on his back. But he immediately regretted it when he replied, "Just SHUT up Martin! You've been annoying me all day, and if you don't shut your horrid little mouth, I swear I'll-" But he didn't finish his sentence. The little boy might be annoying, but his family were quite obviously dead and buried, and he was weak with loss of blood. Martin started to cry. Jacques set him down on the road and apologised:

"Look," he sighed,"I'm sorry for what I said Martin, but if we're going to make it to Paris, you'll have to keep quiet. Save your energy, because tomorrow I am definitely NOT carrying you."

The boy nodded and sniffed. Tears still trickled down his cheeks. Jacques passed him a handkerchief and said "Here, it's yours to keep. And you need a wash. Good Lord! You absolutely reek! It's almost unholy. As soon as we get to Paris, I'm dunking you straight in the Seine!"

Martin laughed, "You'll have to catch me first!" and ran off down the road. Luckily, no cars or military vehicles were in sight, so Jacques knew his companion was safe. The strange thing was that Jacques seemed to have formed an attachment to the boy, even though he had only known him a day. It was odd, thought Jacques, how war could make you do things for other people you never would have dreamt of otherwise. if someone had told him three years ago that in a few years time he would be taking an seven fingered little boy to Paris in the middle of a war, he would have looked at them like they were crazy. But Jacques could not dwell on the past. In a couple of days, Martin would go home, wherever that was, and Jacques would have no reason not to go to the front. He dreaded that moment, but he knew it would have to come eventually.

The two boys had reached Paris by evening the next day. Jacques had never seen the city in such a state. Th Germans must have taken over fully. The streets were empty, apart from a constant stream of refugees from northern France. Everything was in a total state of disrepair. It was almost heartbreaking. Jacques told himself not to be over-sentimental. Martin needed to get back to his family. The trouble was, neither of them seemed to know where they might be. At least there was food here. The many cafes and restaurants that had been abandoned when the first bombs fell still had heaps left, but Jacques felt guilty for taking it. Mind you, war was war, and the food would go off in a few days anyway. He grabbed what he could from a deserted bakery, then set off to find Martin. The streets would not be safe at night, so they needed to find a place to sleep, and soon, before the sun went down. He decided to look by the river for a doorway or arch to spend the night. 

Martin hadn't gone far. Jacques had let him walk a bit further up the road than himself, and he had liked that. But Martin did not know the dangers, but he needed to keep close by. So Jacques caught up with the little boy and put him on his back.

"Listen mate, I'm going to find somewhere to catch some shut-eye. You have to stay on my back and keep absolutely quiet. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Monsieur." Martin whispered.

Jacques was about to tell Martin that he didn't have to call him Monsieur, that plain old "Jacques" would be fine, but stopped himself. He quite liked his new term of address. It made him seem more important. He didn't see why it should, a nineteen-year-old being shown respect by a child was to be expected, especially as he had saved his life. But it gave it a sense of importance he had never had before. So he decided to test the youngster's dedication, and said, "That's Monsieur Beauvais to you." But Martin could tell he was pulling his leg, so replied cheekily,

"Non! I'll call you whatever I want, whenever I feel like it!"

Jacques was tickled by this. He had never heard someone so young be so impertinent to an adult like himself. Well, he supposed he wasn't quite an adult yet. He hadn't ever even fallen in love. So he laughed at Martin's jokes, but with a certain amount of sadness in his voice, for he knew that the little boy might not act like a little boy for much longer.

They reached a perfect spot down by the Seine. It was a back lane, somewhat detached from the main boulevard. The stench was enough make Jacques feel nauseous, and Martin did not look too good himself. Jacques gave him an apologetic look, as if to say "I'm sorry, but it's here or a street full of Germans." Martin understood and sat against the wall. This was his way of saying "We're staying put!". 

The night passed quickly, as by the time they had eaten all the bread, it was almost ten o'clock. Jacques kept suggesting that they should get some sleep, but Martin wanted to stay up, talking. Not about much; About Jacques' family, and about his life before the war. And the unusual thing was, Martin just wanted to listen. He was quite happy to hear the nostalgic stories of Jacques' childhood, without uttering a word about himself. Jacques noticed this, and found it bizarre. Most children of that age would chat for endless amounts of time about the most ordinary things. But Martin didn't want to answer the most basic questions. When Jacques asked why he was on the road to Paris the other day, he shut up like a box, and would not say anything until the subject was changed. So Jacques kept talking, and eventually, they both fell asleep.

Martin woke with a start. He was not in the alleyway any more. He opened his eyes and found himself in a room with white wallpaper and luxurious carpet. There was a girl sitting in a chair in the far corner of the room. He guessed she was about fifteen, maybe a little older. She looked at him. She smiled. The girl seemed nice. Presently, she went out of the room, and Martin had time to think. Who was this girl? And where was he? He got up, and looked out of the small window. He saw the lane where he had slept the night before, although he was two or three floors above it. He heard the girl shout down the corridor, "Uncle Jean, Martin's awake!" and a man's voice shout back, "Merci Camille. I'll be along to his room in a minute." Martin rushed back into bed and pulled the covers over himself. He realised he was wearing a set of pyjamas. They were not his, but they were warm and clean, and hey! they were free clothes! Who was he, who had only ever had three pairs of trousers in his life, to complain?

The girl, whom he now knew was Camille, came back in.

"Bonjour! Ca va? How are you? Uncle Jean will be here in a moment to explain everything. In the meantime, Jacques is next door. Would you like to see him?"

Martin's face lit up, and he said, yes he would, as he needed to say thank you. Camille led him out into a nicely decorated hallway, then through a door on the right, a little way along. Then Camille smiled again as she opened the door, and Martin knew she was to be trusted. She was his friend. 



The End

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