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Chapter 2

The morning rush

Alice Korvan always does the same thing at the start of every day: she removes her earplugs. Even though Future Street is relatively quiet, she seems to sleep more soundly with her ears hermetically closed by wax. And if she can judge from her husband Martin’s weary expression this morning, standing in the kitchen, hypnotized by his cup of coffee, she isn’t mistaken:
– Didn’t you sleep well, darling? asks Alice.
– Don’t tell me you didn’t hear a thing?
– No. What am I supposed to have heard?
– The artist on the 2nd floor. He thought he was at a pop concert, at 2 o’clock in the morning! grumbled Martin.

The children get up one after the other, each seeming to pull the other out of sleep like dominoes rising in succession instead of falling. The day gradually gets back into its hectic stride: breakfast, the brushing of teeth, the muddle of odd shoes… And Martin doing everything in slow motion this morning, thinks Alice… “That’s a cause for celebration! I’ll have another coffee,” she hears him say to their daughter. As if he had time for another coffee! Then the unscheduled exchange of satchels and, another novelty, an overstuffed pencil case spilling out its pens in the hall and sending marbles rolling under the furniture!

In the midst of this confusion, Alice suddenly hears her mobile phone vibrate. She rummages through three coats before locating it. This may be the news she’s been waiting for since yesterday. The name of Erica, her colleague at Natixis Human Resources, flashes up on the screen.

 

“Hello, Alice?
We’ve got it! It’s in the bag!

– Are you sure?
That’s fantastic! We’ll have to let everyone know about it!”

 

 

– Let’s get the news out this morning on Yammer! We’ll talk about it when I get to the office. Natixis has been certified Top Employer France in 2017!, she told her husband as she hung up. So, are you impressed?
– Absolutely! That calls for a celebration. I’ll have another… Alice gives him a dark look.
– Will you be dropping the children off at school this morning?
– Yes, answers Martin, but I’ll be coming home a little later than usual tonight. I have a meeting with my customer who wants to develop his business overseas, do you remember?
– No problem, I’ll take Zoé to the riding school. I’ll manage. But don’t forget, next week I’m off to Belgium for a couple of days.
– Yes, I haven’t forgotten.
– Well, I’d better be off or otherwise I’ll bump into Arnoux who’ll start pestering me for advice about the best bank for his shares! He just can’t understand that I work for HR and not in investments. Honestly, I don’t know what to say to him!
– After you, ladies and gentleman! says Martin in a booming voice as he opened the door to announce that it was time to leave.

In the street in front of the building, Alice kisses the children and sends some SMS messages as she walks towards the bus stop. She bumps into Jeanne, the florist, who runs the shop on the ground floor of the building.

– Early, as usual, Jeanne! Already back from the flower market?
– No, this is my bookkeeping week; I try to do a little every morning. It’s a part of my job where I’m not really competent.
– Are things going well?
Yes, not bad. After just one year, I can’t really complain. If I get things organized properly, my second year should be good, too. I already have some new plans… and even some ideas for when I have employees… and become a 2G web-savvy boss! she said with a laugh.
– I’m impressed. It takes courage to set up your own business. I’ll pop in to see you later on this week for my window boxes.

Alice Korvan sets off again but is immediately approached by a young woman who asks her whether she’d answer a few questions, for a “survey of changes in the neighborhood.” Alice did odd jobs like this in her student days and knows it’s not easy. She makes a point of always answering.

– I only have three questions, says the young pollster from the outset. It’ll only take a couple of minutes, don’t worry. First of all, do you consider yourself mobility oriented?
– Sorry? What exactly do you mean by…
– And, if so, would you say you maintain a degree of real-estate market awareness?
– I don’t…
– And finally, over what time horizon? Have you fixed an optimum date?

 

“Who exactly are you working for, Miss?”

 

 

asks Alice rather coldly, to stop the barrage of questions.
– For a group of companies that are thinking about redeveloping the aven… (she hastily looks at the text on her tablet)… Sorry, about the future redevelopment of neighborhoods in… (she glances at the screen once again)… in… attentive to the needs of local residents and users of the…
– I’m sorry but I don’t understand a word you’re saying.
– Uh… Anyway, I’ve finished my questionnaire. Thanks very much.

She hurriedly stuffs her tablet into her bag, visibly embarrassed, and apologizes profusely for disturbing Alice and walks away. Alice watches her for a moment before pulling herself together: time to get a move on or she’ll end up being late! That’s when she sees Yves Arnoux, her neighbor, coming from the kiosk, reams of newspapers under his arm, smiling, good-humored, unavoidable!

– Mrs. Korvan, hello! I was just thinking about you. As you work in a bank, I wanted to ask your opinion and… Is everything all right? You seem worried about something?

 

 

– No, but… It’s that young woman over there. She just asked me some very strange questions.

 

“I’ve seen her before!”
declares Arnoux.

 

 

– Last week, she asked me if I wanted to live in another city. Straight out! For thirty-eight years I’ve been living here. In those days, the price of a square meter cost the equivalent of two packs of butter today. And that young lady wanted to pack me off to live somewhere else, thinking she could confuse me with her intolerable gibberish! What a cheek!
– It’s strange, she just asked me the same questions, says Alice.
– More real estate agents looking for property… As if we’d to decide to move on a sudden whim. I think I’ll call a meeting to inform everyone in the building about it. Don’t let yourself be pushed around! By the way, I read in the newspaper that your bank has won a prize. Well done! In fact, I wanted to talk to you about a little investment I’d like to make and ask your opinion about…
– I’m not an expert in that area, as I’ve already told you, interrupted Alice, speaking as sweetly as possible. “You’d do better to go to your local branch.
– Yes, I see, I see. I’ll keep you updated about our little meeting.

The rest of Alice’s day is less chaotic. “Fell into the clutches of Yves Arnoux. Easier to discover my digital profile than escape from him!” she texts to her husband during lunch. The afternoon passes quickly. After her daughter’s riding lesson, she returns to 20 Future Street. When she arrives in front of the violet-painted front door, she notices two men in the middle of a discussion:
– 19th century, first half, says one of them, his red hair standing in a sharp contrast to his beige raincoat. And, we’ll have to…
He was about to finish his sentence when he noticed Alice’s arrival, falls silent and smiles before turning away without a word. “Excuse me…” says Alice to attract his attention. But the man only turns up the collar of his coat and walks away quickly without looking back. In the lobby, as she opens her letterbox, she noticed a message taped to the notice board in the middle of the wall:
“Dear Neighbors,
could we meet tomorrow evening in my apartment? For the pleasure of spending a moment together, of course, but also to tell you about a matter I find somewhat unsettling and that concerns us all.
See you tomorrow!
Yves Arnoux.”