Avatar de Erwan
Chapter 1

When all, or almost all,
the city sleeps…

It’s 2 am and the city sleeps. The façades of the buildings along the boulevards seem to be dozing. The headlights of a few passing cars sweep away the shadows for a second or two before letting the façades fall back into obscurity and sleep. Along the avenues, in the heart of the squares, the monuments and statues seem resigned to their fate, as if awaiting the dawn to rouse themselves from slumber and attract the gaze of locals and tourists once again.
Away from the main thoroughfares, the stillness of the night seems to thicken like the plot of a murder mystery. Splashes of color wink at one another: a red traffic light turns green to match the illuminated sign of a pharmacy standing on the corner of Future Street, probably the quietest street in the city. Here, the silence is all-embracing, soft, and reassuring.
The numbers scroll by in unruffled tranquility: 2, 4, 6… not a sound… 8, 10, 12… what’s that? It sounds like distant music, probably just a car in the avenue nearby… 14, 16… No, it’s a regular muffled beat growing louder and louder… 20 Future Street, a door painted violet with a magnificent wrought iron grille, the carefully worked twists of metal as delicate as ivy… the sound is coming from here: the deep throb of a bass guitar along with the regular, almost mechanical beat of drums! A light is shining from a single window, the middle one on the 2nd floor: Erwan Verlech’s apartment.
Inside, a 22-year-old man with headphones on his ears and, on his knees, a guitar plugged into a computer, is sitting before a keyboard and screen, nodding his head in time with the music. He taps two or three times on the keyboard to turn the volume up a little more. Yes, that’s it; the mix is just right. Erwan has spent all evening working on his music after getting back from the school of architecture, but it was well worth it. OK, just a shade louder… The student looks around his apartment, gazing at the posters of majestic sailing yachts on the walls, his other passion, as he listens to the beat and succession of chords. A new guitar track flashes up on the computer screen; its timing is perfect, flowing smoothly into the melody, the volume rising again in his headphones. Then gradually, instrument after instrument, the music begins to fade. Erwan will soon return to the silence of his room. It’s his favorite moment, when the melody and beat flow back like a retreating wave, leaving behind the foam of a few forgotten notes suspended in the air. The instruments fall silent… to be replaced by the sound… of shouting! Angry voices!

 

“When are you going to turn it off?”

 

 

And banging on the door! “Turn off that horrible din!” He immediately realizes what he’s done: forgotten to disconnect the speakers on his computer! The music has been playing in his headphones but also blaring out in his apartment, along the corridor, up and down the stairs, the whole building! He rushes to the door:

 

“Are you taking us for idiots?”
shouts Yves Arnoux,
the retiree from the left-hand apartment on the 3rd floor.

 

– Do you know what time it is? I need peace and quiet to concentrate! yells Mona Delernes, the fortune-teller from the 1st floor. They are standing there with Martin Korvan, the neighbor from the 3rd floor, right-hand apartment, clearly still half asleep.
– I’m… I’m so sorry. I forgot to… stutters Erwan. It won’t happen again. I…

Everyone returns to their apartments, exhausted by the late hour and their sense of outrage. The student closes his door gently,
making sure not to slam it. A few seconds later, someone knocks again. Erwan shudders, opens the door, and is relieved to see that it’s only Sylvia, the tattoo artist from the 5th floor.


– I see you’re making yourself popular! she jokes.
– Don’t you start… it can happen to anyone, he says, stepping aside to let her in.
– I could hear you up on the 5th floor! You’re going a bit far… And to cap it all, old Mr. Arnoux is on the warpath right now. Last week, he noticed that the roof hatch was half open. He asked me why I was going up there. As if I’d go wandering about on the roof! All the same, he’s got a point. I’ve already heard strange noises during the day coming from up there.

They sit at the window, resting their elbows on the little wrought-iron balcony. Down in the street, in front of the building, Hanane, the 4th floor tenant, is parking her motorcycle. She often comes home in the early hours of the morning.
– Coming home so late… she must have found herself a new boyfriend, says Sylvia, with a smile.

 

 

– Very funny! replies Erwan.
– Just kidding. I’ve no idea what she gets up to. You can still hope…
– But I’m not hoping for anything at all! A girl like her would never look at a guy like me, says the young man wistfully. I recently read an article about her and her fintech.
– Oh, please! You’re making me cry! By the way, thanks for that weekend in Brittany. I had a great time. Did you know that I’d never been sailing before? I’ll reimburse you for the petrol, she adds, swiping the Money Friends icon on her smartphone.
– Would you like to go again next week?
– Sorry, I can’t. I’m off to see my family in Saint-Étienne. You should come with me; a change of scenery will do you good. We’re having a big party to celebrate my sister’s new job. The charm of the ladies from Saint-Étienne is legendary… in case you haven’t already noticed! Well, I’d better be off. Try not to wake the entire building!

To be on the safe side, Erwan quits his music software before checking his Facebook page. He then reads an architecture newsletter: “Buildings that protect the planet,” was the title of the leading article. At school, he’s already studied some impressive projects in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. He’d been fascinated by the course. He, too, dreamed of working on ambitious, eco-friendly projects like that. At the sight of the buildings on his computer screen, Erwan begins to sketch imaginary structures. The hours fly by and the day begins to dawn. The young man stretches, makes himself a cup of coffee and sips it slowly, standing at his window. The sign above the bakery is the first to light up in the street still plunged in shadow. Too bad, he’d sleep a little later in the day. He grabs his jacket and starts down the stairs to buy some croissants. On the ground floor, when he turns on the lights,

 

he glimpses
the silhouette
of a man in a raincoat

 

 

hurrying out of the lobby as if trying not to be seen. When he arrives in the street, he sees him again, walking towards a group of three men. One of them takes out his phone and snaps pictures of the façade of No. 20. The man in a raincoat leans towards the photographer and points to the roof of the building. The phone flashes several times in the sleeping street. Intrigued, our architecture student turns up his jacket collar and goes into the bakery. When he comes out, the men have disappeared. Perhaps they’re waiting inside the building? He enters the lobby cautiously: nobody there! Only the sound of his footsteps echoing against the floor tiles as he passes.