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That evening, he walked out of the office building clutching a box full of his belongings. A framed photograph of his mother. Letters from a certain young lady in Heidelberg with whom he had been corresponding for almost six months (before those letters mysteriously ended for no reason). A stapler. Well, perhaps it’s true that not everything in the box had belonged to him. But it did now.
The box found itself unceremoniously dumped on the hallway floor as he entered his single-bedroom apartment. His evening wine, let out to breathe before he left for work that morning, was abandoned for a large bottle of Heidelberg beer fresh from the fridge. It was painful to see the German written on the label, but not as painful as seeing the French scrawled across the crate, in her own hand. Using the penknife he kept in his pocket, he pulled the bottle cap off in a single, swift motion and drained the bottle in two glugs. He shrugged, discarding the bottle into the sink, and pulled a second one from the fridge. He dropped his trousers on the way back to the sofa, and sank gently into the soft fabric.
From which he did not move for three days.
Over that weekend, not a single person noticed that he had confined himself to his apartment. Not a single phone call. Not a single text message. Not a single email to his personal account. For three glorious days, he was all alone in the universe, and not a single soul realised that he was nowhere to be found.
It was Tuesday when he ran out of bread. He sighed and rolled his eyes as he slammed the breadbin shut. He had enough paté in the cupboard to last for some time, he guessed, but it wasn’t quite the same without bread. Normally, the trip to buy bread wasn’t much of an issue. He lived directly above the bakery, after all. But today it was an effort. He huffed as he hoisted his jeans. He clicked his tongue as he bent to do up his shoelaces and the knots immediately fell apart in his hands. He grumbled as he ran gel through his hair and tousled and teased it, apparently to no effect.
“Fifty cents,” he muttered to himself, standing in front of his box of office mementos in the doorway to his apartment. Fifty cents. Not enough for a full loaf, not at the prices that Milo was now charging. But a half loaf, perhaps. A partial baguette. Just something to fill the hole.
He browsed the boulangerie for just a moment longer than he normally would. Most days, the throngs of shoppers aggrieved him. He would push his way through the people, snatch up his loaf of bread or his bag of cakes, and push his way to the counter. He would pay in exact change, ignoring Milo’s incessant small-talk, and he would leave again. He would get in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. But today he relished the other people. He enjoyed the feeling of their shoulders pushing into his, the reflex of his murmured “excuse me,” the joy in the eyes of friends meeting for the first time that day.
He smiled at Milo as he placed the half baguette on the counter.
He scowled as Milo gestured to the woman behind him, who pushed him aside as she walked to the counter and placed down a bag of freshly baked brioche.
He smiled again at Milo as he placed the half baguette on the counter again.
And another scowl, as the gentleman in line behind him pushed forward for his pain au chocolat and packet of fudge.
A third smile, and a third person pushing past him, brought Jean-Marc to the end of his patience. He slammed his fifty cents onto the counter and stormed out of the bakery, swearing under his breath.
He tore into the bread with his teeth, stopping only to slather more paté onto the end before tearing it off again.
He hadn’t realised that he had been so hungry, but as his teeth sank through the hard crust and into the soft white fluff of the bread, he struggled to remember the last time he had eaten. When had he actually run out of bread? He remembered...well, no, in truth, he didn’t remember Friday evening at all. He had slept until noon on Saturday. Had he eaten then? He wracked his memory, but nothing was forthcoming.
No matter. The bread was good.
By Thursday, he was bored. Usually he enjoyed his own company. He often preferred it to the chattering idiocy of other people. But aside from his single trip to the boulangerie, he had been alone for a week and was feeling trapped within his own mind. He tried to text a friend, but had received no reply by Friday night. Nor had he received any response from four other ‘friends’ he had tried to get in touch with. He smacked his phone against the palm of his hand, wondering if perhaps it was broken. It was an old model, after all.