One day a year or more ago, Francoise, my then cleaning lady, didn’t turn up for work. She had been with me for fifteen years and not only was she always on time, she was frequently early. So, after half an hour or so, I phoned her at home just to check all was well. There was no answer, so I tried her mobile phone. No answer there either. I then phoned her friend Jacqueline and no, she wasn’t there and nor had she been seen for several days.
I went outside to speak to Vanina, our gardener. She told me that she had been round to see Francoise, had knocked several times, but there appeared to be nobody in. Both Vanina and I felt concerned about this because Francoise was absolutely not the kind of person to go off without telling anybody, least of all her employer.
So we hopped in to Vanina’s trusty car (deary me … but that is a different story) and drove in to the town where Francoise lived. Her flat was on the first floor. We knocked several times and then knocked at the neighbour’s. No, he hadn’t seen her. Her car was outside, which was also unusual because Francoise was quite fanatical about putting it away in the garage at night.
“That means she is here somewhere,” Vanina told me.
After knocking many times and asking neighbours, Vanina and I made our way round to the back of the building. This was easier said than done for it involved clambering over a barbed wire fence and wading through stinging nettles. Her living room doors were open on to the balcony where we could see washing. Moving round the corner, there was her bedroom window. And perfectly clearly we could see poor Francoise lying on the bed.
Back through the stinging nettles and over the fence we rushed, both of us trying to dial the emergency services on our mobiles. Vanina started to cry. I kept my British stiff upper lip, as one does. Or at least one tries to if one is British. Doesn’t one ?
The police appeared remarkably quickly, and even more remarkably quickly broke down Francoise’s door. The neighbours loved it. They hadn’t seen so much excitement in years.
Francoise was inches away from death. She had been lying there for three days.
Francoise recovered in hospital. I don’t know to this day what had happened. She was sixty-eight then, had not taken an overdose or anything of note, but had simply lain down to rest and had not got up again. Her own two sons and her daughter, none of whom live far away, had not noticed she was missing. And the saddest SADDEST part of it all was that when she was released from hospital some five days later, the only person willing to go and fetch her was me.
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites. Her sketches are on her web site http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk . Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.