Looking for Fogas
Angelique was bored. It was a quiet Thursday in early June, the sun so hot outside that even the stray dog which lived in the square had abandoned his normal position outside the butcher's to lie draped along the floor under the bench by one of the plane trees. She watched as his ribcage moved up and down in time with his panting.
She knew how he felt. At least she had a fan beside her, blowing cool draughts over her prickling skin and so didn't have to resort to flopping out her tongue. Although with some of the people she'd had in the office today, she'd been tempted.
Another hour and then she could go home. Slip off her shoes and have a cold beer with her feet propped up on the ornate ironwork of her balcony overlooking the church. She'd make a salad niçoise for dinner with some of Monsieur Dougnac's amazing tomatoes from his vegetable garden on the banks of the river. He'd handed her a bag this morning and she'd thrust her nose into it, inhaling greedily the earthy tang of vine ripe fruit. She'd had to resist the urge to sink her teeth into the juicy red flesh the minute he left.
She was just wondering about whether to add anchovies or not, Pascal not being the greatest fan of the salty fish, when the door opened.
Northern European. Six years at this job and she was an expert, queen amongst her peers. Her pencil hovered over the columns on the piece of paper she had to hand, hidden from view by the shelf separating her from the tourists.
German? He was red enough in the face from the heat. But there was something about that accent. And she wasn't sure about the beret pulled down over one ear. Danish maybe? She'd had one in last week and it had thrown her completely. Had him down as Swedish.
'Bonjour. Can I help you?'
She waited for him to continue.
'I look for Fogas!' he said and she felt her day start to crumble.
'There is no such place.' She'd learnt it was useless to let them down gently.
'But this is Seix, yes?'
'Massat is in the Arac valley. Go straight on to the roundabout at Kerkabanac and turn right.'
But he wasn't listening. He was thumbing through the book.
'Here!' He thrust the book across the desk. 'It says Massat.'
'Yes, I know. Massat exists.'
'Massat. It's real.'
He nodded enthusiastically.
'Is real. Yes! Massat is real. Seix is real. Fogas is real.'
'No, Monsieur. Fogas is not real.'
'But this is Ariège Pyrenees?'
'And the Salat river?' He pointed at the turbulent waters across the road.
'So Fogas, it is here. Somewhere.'
She shook her head and pursed her lips.
'I have drive over mountains. Col d'Agnes, Col de Port. Beautiful meadows full of flowers.'
She felt herself warming to his passion.
'I have eat cassoulet and confit. Drink amazing wine.'
She nodded approvingly.
'I drink coffee in café in St Girons and buy cheese from Rogallais fromagerie.'
He held up a bag which she could already smell, the pungent cheese making her mouth water.
'And now, I want to find Fogas!'
'I'm sorry, Monsieur,' she said gently. 'There is no Fogas.'
His shoulders dropped and the corners of his mouth turned down and for once she felt like lying.
'I understand,' he said morosely as he shuffled towards the door.
'Oh, Monsieur?' She'd almost forgotten the most important question.
'Can you tell me where you are from? For my records?'
Her pencil was poised. She was sure of this one.
'Where I am from?' he asked and then he smiled. 'From Fogas, of course!'
And the door swung closed behind him leaving Angelique with a quandary.
What to do? She couldn't lie and pretend that she'd been right.
So she simply wrote the word Fogas at the top of a column and placed a neat mark below it.
Now, about those anchovies…