In A French Café

Davide settled at his favourite table and took out his sketchbook. It was early and the town square was mostly empty, which was just how he liked it. He’d been coming here every morning for the past six months, enjoying both the coffee and the simplicity of it all.

He’d surprised himself when he’d bought the sketchbook. He’d surprised himself even more when he discovered he actually had some talent. Apparently, being bad at finger-painting at age four was no marker for being able to draw at age twenty-four. He was fairly certain he wasn’t up to professional standards (though he had little doubt if he were to market his work, people would buy it just for his name), but it was nice to find he was competent at something beyond making a car go very fast.

He still wasn’t sure what he was really going to do with his life, having walked away from that world without a plan, but for now, sitting at a French cafe table, drinking coffee and sketching the town square suited him. This morning’s subject? The church across the square from where he was sitting, which was a true gothic monstrosity complete with gargoyles and grotesques. It was a challenging subject, but one he’d been having fun with for a couple of weeks, as the mood took him.

As Davide studied the church’s facade for the hundredth time, he became aware of a disturbance behind him, in the cafe. Voices, slightly elevated in volume. Not quite shouting, but definitely frustrated. He listened for a moment or two and immediately identified one voice as being that of the cafe owner, Pierre, a man old enough that his boasts of being in the Resistance might just be true. The second was much younger and female. Her French was halting and clearly lacking in either confidence or the vocabulary to express her problem clearly.

Setting his sketchbook down, Davide got to his feet and headed in. Standing before the counter was a young woman about his own age with shocking pink hair and a large backpack. She was holding a phrase book in one hand and a map in the other and he guessed that she was both a tourist and lost.

“Ah, Davide!” Pierre looked relieved to see someone else enter. “I do not know what she wants, her French is bad, my English is worse…” He shrugged expressively. “Can you help?”

Davide grinned. “I’ll do my best.” In English he offered, “What is it you need?”

The girl, who’d also looked relieved at Davide’s arrival, now looked even more lost. She shook her head and said something in a language that was neither French nor English.

Davide’s eyebrows rose as he recognised the language. For the first time he blessed his former career. Switching languages he said, “You are Hungarian?”

The girl’s mouth dropped open in astonishment before she unleashed a torrent of her native language. Her expression and tone suggested excitement and even more relief than before, but beyond that Davide didn’t get a word. When he didn’t answer, her face fell again, and she muttered a choice bit of Hungarian that Davide knew extremely well.

He chuckled. “I only speak a little,” he said. “My German is better?”

“I speak German too,” the girl offered, switching to that language. “Much better than French!”

Davide chuckled again. “Where is it you’re trying to go?”

“There’s a farm near here, where I’m supposed to be working,” the girl answered. “I was supposed to meet someone at the station but they didn’t show so I thought I would hike there but…” She gestured to the map. “Either my map is wrong or I am horribly lost.”

He nodded. “What is the name of the farm?” Davide asked.

She named it, but the name meant nothing to Davide. He turned to Pierre and asked, in French, “Do you know a farm called Chateau Rose?”

The cafe owner frowned for a moment, then nodded. “Yes but that is the other side of the railway from here. How did she get here?”

The girl clearly understood more French than she could speak because as Pierre asked the obvious question, her face heated in a blush. She looked again at her map and then turned it through 180 degrees. She again muttered that choice piece of Hungarian, then added in German, “So I’m officially an idiot.”

Davide offered her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’m not very good with maps, either.”

“I guess this means I have to walk back to the station and then go in the other direction.” She sighed. “Stupidity should hurt, I guess.”

“Well that would be stupid,” Davide agreed. “Do you have a phone number for the farm?”

He watched as she facepalmed with the hand holding the phrase book, and winced in sympathy. “Yes,” she said. “I should have thought of that sooner. I am so stupid…”

“Not stupid,” Davide corrected. “Overwhelmed. Travelling Is always a lot of stress. You have a phone?” The girl nodded. “Then you call the farm and I’ll buy you a drink. What will you have?”

The girl smiled. “Thank you – cafe au lait.” To Pierre, she added, “Merci.” Then she headed outside to make her phone call.

Pierre shook his head, bemused by the whole encounter. “You are buying her a drink?”

“Please.” Davide relayed the girl’s request and watched as Pierre got to work.

As the drink was made, the girl returned, her expression a mixture of amused and annoyed that made Davide’s eyebrows rise.

“They’d forgotten I was due to arrive,” she said. “But they’re coming into town later this morning so they’ll meet me here.”

“At least you’ve got a chance to sit down and rest your feet,” said Davide. “And a fresh cup of coffee too,” he added as Pierre placed the drink on the counter for her.

“Thank you.” The girl shook her head. “This would only happen to me. My name’s Klaudia, by the way.”


Klaudia smiled. “So how does someone in a small French village come to know any Hungarian?”

Davide chuckled as he led the way back to his table. “My–one of my former colleagues was from Budapest. Mostly, I know how to swear, order a meal and say hello or goodbye.”

Klaudia tipped her head back and laughed. “The most important parts of any language.”

“Absolutely.” Davide retook his seat at his usual table. “What is it you’re going to do on the farm?”

Klaudia shrugged out of her backpack and took up one of the empty seats. “They – my sister, Reka, and her husband – are getting some heavy horses and they need someone to look after them.” Klaudia smiled. “Dream job.” She sipped her drink. “And you? What does a man who speaks German, French, English and enough Hungarian to be rude do here?”

Davide smiled. “Still working it out. I guess you could say I’m on a career break.”

Klaudia gave him a quizzical look, but she was spared from needing to find a response to that as a battered 2CV careened into the square and skidded to a halt.

Davide inclined his head towards it. “I think that might be your ride.”

Klaudia looked over her shoulder at the car where a woman was climbing out. Older than Klaudia, but unmistakably related. “It is.” She drained her coffee and waved at the other woman.


The other woman hurried over and Davide watched as she and Klaudia hugged and exchanged greetings in rapid-fire Hungarian. Then Klaudia waved a hand in his direction and added something which made the other woman look up and across at him. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. Instead she stared in astonishment and Davide knew he’d been recognised. He tensed, fearing an awkward inquisition.

The woman opened and shut her mouth a couple of times, then shook her head, then mustered a smile. In French, she said, “Thank you for looking after my sister.”

Confirmation, had he needed it, that this was Reka. He smiled back. “Happy to help.”

She hesitated a moment, then said, “Perhaps you’d like to come out to the farm sometime next week? Say, Tuesday?  I can’t imagine you’ve ever had the chance to visit a working farm before.”

Davide shook his head. “You’re right. My last career didn’t give me much opportunity to. I’d like that. Thank you.”

Klaudia looked puzzled and asked her sister a question. The response was one his nascent Hungarian was equal to: “I’ll tell you later.”

“Should I bring anything?” Davide asked.

Reka smiled and gestured to the table. “Only your sketchbook. You’ll find we have some lovely views there.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

With a few further pleasantries, Klaudia and her sister departed, leaving David’s alone at his table once more. He returned his gaze back to his sketchbook, but his mind was elsewhere. For a day that had started in such an ordinary style, things had suddenly become interesting and he found himself very much looking forward to visiting the farm and to seeing Klaudia again.

Perhaps she’d show him the horses she’d mentioned.