Marie sat in the old man’s living room as he brought a coffee pot into the room with some old looking biscuits. He served Marie then sat down, barely taking his eyes off her.
“I can’t believe it’s you!” he said. “All these years… and you were alive.”
“Uncle, I am so sorry,” said Marie, “I had no idea we were really related. I thought… you were a family friend.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Uncle Thierry. “All that matters is that you are alive. Have you been in Paris all this time?”
“For a while, but I live in London now, I’m married to an Englishman,” said Marie.
Uncle Thierry snorted.
“Well, each to their own,” he said, “but how can you stand the food?”
“You get used to it,” she said.
Thierry laughed long and hard. Marie thought how she had forgotten his laughter. How it had brightened up her home as a child.
“Uncle,” said Marie. “I wanted to ask you some things. Something about my mother.”
“Of course,” said Thierry, “but in truth I didn’t know her so well.”
Marie looked puzzled.
“But, you are her brother?” she said.
“Ah,” said Thierry, “I know why you are confused. No, I am your aunt’s brother, yes, but your aunt was not your mother’s sister. It was her husband that was your blood relative, Marie. He was your mother’s brother.”
“But… I thought,” said Marie.
“Yes, I think they told you the other way round,” said Thierry. “I don’t know why. Your mother was… well, she was… different you know. Had some unusual ideas.”
Marie looked at the kind face.
“How would you say she was different?” said Marie.
“Well she never stayed still for a start,” said Thierry. “First she came to Paris, then moved to that village when you were born…”
“She was in Paris?” said Marie.
“Yes, yes,” said Thierry, “That’s where she met your father. He died of cholera you know, in the outbreak, when you were still inside your mother. It was a miracle she survived, that you both survived. I guess that’s why she wanted to go back to the countryside.”
“So she came first from the village?” said Marie. “The one where I grew up?”
“No, not at all,” said Thierry, “She came from somewhere South I think. I never knew where. As I said, I didn’t know her too well, Marie. Your uncle didn’t talk much about her either.”
There was silence then as Marie looked into her coffee cup.
“Here,” said Thierry, “I have something for you to cheer you up.”
The old man rummaged about in a big cupboard, grumbling and cursing. Marie smiled at this, remembering other times.
“Here it is,” he said at last and brought forward a small brass object. He gave it to Marie and she stared down at it. It looked like a compass but with other gauges and attachments.
“What is it?” said Marie.
“No idea,” said Thierry. “It belonged to your uncle. He said it was special somehow. Never explained why. Come to think of it he was a little different too. It’s no wonder you’ve run off to England!”
Marie smiled again.
“Thank you Uncle,” she said and started to stand.
“Are you going already?” he said sadly.
“I should get back,” said Marie, “People will wonder where I am.”
“Well, come see me soon,” said Thierry. Marie gathered her things and pocketed the compass.
“By the way.” said Thierry, “How did you find me in the first place? I’ve only lived here five years.”
“It was… a bit of luck,” said Marie. She hugged her uncle and then left.
He pottered a bit around the room, then looked in the cupboard again. Inside he found a small piece of jewellry and held it to the light.
“I knew you were in there somewhere,” he said.
There was a knock at the door and so Thierry dropped the jewellry on the side and went to answer it.
“Marie?” he said, as he opened the door. “Did you forget something?”
Outside stood a short thin man and a larger fat man with a glove on one hand.
“I wonder sir,” said the thin man, “if we may possibly come inside for a short moment to discuss a matter of no small importance.”
The fat man took his glove off and Thierry stared at the strange green colour of his hand.