Where I Sit

The old woman gazed at the streets below, bustling with shoppers and tourists.  She pulled the hand crocheted blanket closer over her knees, feeling the cold even though it was early June and the Mediterranean temperatures were rising.  The arms of her old chair were frayed and worn.  From her window on the 3rd floor of the ancient Niçoise building she could look into the Notaire’s office opposite.  He was there, as usual, even though it was a Saturday morning.  A tall man with dark hair, but her failing eyesight meant she couldn’t make out his features clearly.  Justine, her femme de ménage, had brought her a cheap pair of binoculars so that she could see more of what was going on in the streets below, but she didn’t really like using them; felt like she was intruding. Once though she had managed to get a good look at the man opposite and thought he seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t be sure.  He worked at his desk, a small lamp glowing in the shadowy room, from early in the mornings until about 7.30 each evening, except Sundays; she never saw him on Sundays. Occasionally there would be a woman there too, sometimes they shared a bottle of wine and they laughed and embraced. 

Glancing across at the antique dresser next to her chair she picked up a photograph in a silver frame, lifting her glasses she squinted at it. The picture was of a young woman wearing a brightly coloured orange patterned headscarf, sat next to her was a tall, dark good looking boy about the same age, he was holding a baby. Pulling a crumpled flowery handkerchief out of her apron pocket she dabbed at her moist eyes. She looked back down at the streets below; listening to the familiar sound of the tram bell clanging, warning pedestrians of its approach. Taxi horns echoed up through the mini canyons created by the 5 or 6 storey buildings either side of the narrow streets which dissected the Avenue Jean-Médecin.  At the end of the street she could see the twin steeples of the Basilique Notre Dame where she used to go to mass, but these days it was too difficult, so many stairs to negotiate, so the priest visited her.

“You should consider the maison de la retraite Estellehe told her.

“Maison de retraite  indeed! I would rather live in a cardboard box by the side of the road, with that young beggar girl down there.”

“Just go and visit, look around, you may be surprised. I’ll arrange a visit.”

“You can arrange all you want, but I’m not leaving my home until they carry me out in a wooden box!” Estelle was resolute.

Standing up, she steadied herself gripping the arms of her chair tightly for balance, and looked down to where the young beggar girl sat.  The same spot every day, except Sundays, she never saw her there on Sundays.  She reckoned the girl was probably in her early twenties, but it was difficult to tell because she could only see the top of her head on which she wore a brightly coloured orange patterned head scarf.  The girl never looked up; she just sat there on her knees all day holding out a plastic cup.

“Pauvre petite enfante,”  thought Estelle and wondered where she went on Sundays.


The young girl knelt on the pavement. Beneath her knees a thin pink baby’s blanket which she had found on the beach, along with the small white cat asleep next to her.  The kitten was in a cotton bag which had been tied up and thrown in the sea. It had been washed up and she had heard its plaintiff cries and rescued it. She held a plastic cup aloft, hoping for a good day. Good meaning enough for a cheap meal from McDonalds and some food for the cat, maybe enough to buy something to eat on Sunday too.  Tourists flooded the streets of Nice at this time of year; the locals rarely gave anything except the man who worked in the Notaires office down the street. He always gave her something, although he had not been as generous as usual that morning. 

She always sat in the same place; on the corner of Avenue Jean-Médecin and Avenue Notre Dame.  It was busy there and she could listen to the music coming from the CD shop on the corner; she loved music; loved to dance.  She remembered the day tickets for the Michael Jackson concert in Paris went on sale in the shop, 1000s of people queued up outside all day and she had to empty her plastic cup into her knotted blanket several times. Cabin crew stayed at the Hotel Mercure opposite.  They were generous; one of them had given her a puffer jacket last winter which had helped to keep out the penetrating cold all winter long. She never looked up at the people giving money, she felt ashamed. She just held out the cup and stared straight ahead, uttering the occasional “merci” or “s’il vous plait”

Chewing on a croissant, she savoured the buttery sweetness.  The taste reminding her of the croissants her Grand-Mère used to make which she’d eat straight from the oven with some jam made from strawberries she’d picked from the garden. Even though she couldn’t have been more than 2 years old, she could still visualise Grand-mères house in the lavender scented hills above Nice. Pascal, the kitchen porter from the Hotel Mercure always gave her some food when he could. He would be in trouble if they found out; maybe even lose his job, but he too had once lived on the streets and knew what it was like. Maybe one day someone would give her a break too so she could work and make her own way in the world; try and find her family, her mother and father and Grand-Mère, if she was still alive. 

Putting her small tanned hand into the pocket of her thin grey cardigan she took out a creased photograph of a young woman wearing a brightly coloured orange headscarf and a man holding a baby. She put her hand up and touched the headscarf on her head.  It no longer made her feel sad to look at the photo, she could feel them in her heart.


Sitting at his desk Alain sipped coffee to try and stimulate his mind.  It had been a particularly heavy night and he had stayed drinking long after the game had finished. It hadn’t been a profitable night for him either, but he knew that there was no such thing as a safe bet, he would get lucky again, maybe even tonight when he went back to the Casino, who knew.  Leaning back in his chair he wondered what to do first. His desk was littered with papers, no order to any of it.  He needed Claudine to sort him out, but that would have to wait until Monday. She didn’t like to work on Saturdays she’d made that clear from the start. Lighting a cigarette he inhaled deeply, feeling the coffee and nicotine starting to take effect.

Looking out of the window which he’d flung wide open to let in some of the morning sunshine, he could see the old woman in the apartment opposite.  She spent hours sitting in the same spot, watching everything that went on in the streets below.  That was her life. She looked vaguely familiar for some reason. She was looking over at him, he held up his hand to acknowledge her, but she didn’t respond, maybe she couldn’t actually see that far.  He hoped not, some of the things he got up to with Claudine would be enough to make her white hair stand on end.

Getting up, he walked over to the window and looked down at the street to where the young beggar girl sat. He hadn’t been able to give her as much money as usual that morning, but he’d made sure it was enough for her to get a cheap meal. He felt bad, he didn’t know why, it was her choice, and she wasn’t his responsibility for god’s sake. He wondered about her family, where they were, why they let her live that way, maybe they didn’t know, maybe she didn’t know them. 

He sat back down, opened the desk drawer and picked up a well worn photograph. He had been so happy that day. Odile sitting next to him and the baby in his arms. Every day he looked at it wondering what they were doing.

“Ah, Chérie, ou va tu?” he murmured.

He put the photograph back in the drawer, switched on his computer and started work.


The woman lay on the sun lounger. A white Gucci sunhat pulled down to shield her eyes from the midday sun; she flicked a fly away from her face with the magazine she was reading.  Sitting up, she picked up a tall iced drink from the table next to her and took a long languid sip through the straw.  She smiled at the man lying next to her. He was older than her, by about 20 years, his dark, tanned skin like leather, his chest covered in a brush of grey hair.  She didn’t love him, but she was fond of him. He loved her and he was kind and generous.  He reached out his hand, heavy with gold rings glistening in the sun, and touched the side of her leg as she got up.  She felt nothing, there was no physical attraction for her, she got that elsewhere. She pulled on a short silk kimono over her bikini, slipped her feet into a pair of jewelled flip flops and walked over to the doors which led to the sumptuous living area of the yacht.  A deck hand was fervently polishing the chrome railings on the immense central stairway which led to the upper deck. 

Antoine, have the car ready in an hour would you. I want to go into Nice to do some shopping.”

After showering she sat in front of the mirror carefully applying make up to her tanned face, pleased with what she saw. She walked over to the vast dressing room which held an array of dresses, skirts, jackets and blouses neatly folded on shelves or hanging in colour coded order.

Choosing a long silk printed maxi dress which she knew would show off her tan perfectly she reached up to the shelf above and lifted down a hat box. A photograph fluttered down and fell to the floor.  She quickly bent and picked it up, looking around nervously in case someone had seen. Glancing briefly at the photograph of the young woman wearing a brightly coloured orange headscarf and a man holding a baby, she hurriedly put it inside the hat box and shut the lid.  

“I made the right choice,” she thought. “If I keep thinking it, maybe one day I’ll convince myself.”

Picking up a Prada handbag, she slipped her Bvlgari sunglasses on the top of her head and went up onto the deck; she needed to shop; that always helped her forget.


They sat on the old wooden seat in her Grand-mères garden.  The sun beating down on the headscarf wrapped around her head. The sound of Cicadas chirping in the trees; the heady scent of lavender, rosemary and wild thyme filling the air.  She looked at Alain, smiling and looking down at the baby in his arms.  He looked so happy. He wanted to marry her.  He said he wanted to provide a secure, stable home for the baby and that with the savings he had they would be able to get a small apartment, but that if he worked hard they would soon be able to move to the country, get a small house with a garden.  But she didn’t want that, didn’t want him. This life wasn’t the life she wanted, the life she’d dreamed of since she was a little girl.  She couldn’t believe it when she found out she was pregnant. How could that have happened, they were always so careful. She wanted to get rid of the baby, but couldn’t bring herself to do it and then Alain had found out and it was too late, the decision was taken away from her.  She had just finished drama school and had been offered a place at the famous l’Ecole de danse de l’Opéra National de Paris.  Dance was her life; she wanted that more than anything, not this life that he was offering her, a life of being a housewife and changing nappies. But how could she tell him?  She couldn’t. Going away was the only answer.  The baby would be safe with her Grand-mère; she would bring her up and give her a good life. Alain would get over her, find someone else. 

“Odile,” her Grand-mère called.

 “Smile, I want to take a photo of the three of you, look up, look happy!”