Here comes Sylvie now.
Sylvie likes to make herself known. Sylvie is returning to her hotel after souvenir shopping. Sylvie drops her bags in the doorway. Loudly. And groans. Loudly. It’s a cheap hotel with a barely-adequate tripadvisor rating. So, there’s no porter. Sylvie knows this. She wants the charming owner to come downstairs and help her. Only, he’s not there. Upstairs, in reception, the handful of people sheltering from the midday heat pretend they haven’t heard Sylvie. Though they have. They evaporate. In that heat.
You see, Sylvie likes oversharing. And they aren’t interested – they’re on holiday. Sylvie knows this. She just can’t help herself. Sylvie decides to labour up the stairs, one at a time – left foot up, right foot together. Stop. Left foot up, right foot together. Stop. Panting heavily the while, those gasps remind Sylvie she exists. At the top of the flight, she looks across, mildly surprised, to see the woman from room 111, caught in the final act of a Skype call home. Sylvie waits patiently for her audience – and traps it with a clammy exclamation. In that heat.
‘J’ai peur de tout!’ Sylvie shouts, knowing Ms 111 understands. And she does. Ms 111 clicks her laptop closed, breathes deep, forces a smile and it’s ‘Bonjour, Sylvie’ (no ‘Ça va?’ – Ms 111 knows where that leads). Sylvie is needy and all too ready to talk. Sylvie also knows she has to give a little to ask a lot. ‘Which part of France do you come from?’ she asks Ms 111, who cracks and makes eye contact. This compliment gives Sylvie the ‘in’ she craves, so in she goes.
Deliberately, Sylvie drags her feet and her shopping over to her listener. Her skin is limpid with perspiration from that heat and the exertion of carrying the shopping and her large pink frame up the stairs. Her short white fringe sticks to her forehead and her girlish ponytail to the nape of her neck. She insists on wearing a black woollen cardigan over her beige linen dress. In that heat. Her heart! Her ears! Her feet! Her legs! She suffers, you see. Oh, and she has claustrophobia – it nearly kills her every night to sleep in that tiny bedroom! She opens her heart and her bags to Ms 111.
Sylvie is a 76-year old woman of whom everyone already knows too much. But evidently, not enough for Sylvie. Fiercely, Sylvie hugs Ms 111. ‘Je ne reviendrai jamais!’ Sylvie cries. Ms 111 has dared to question the wisdom of carrying so many kitsch gifts home. Sylvie blurts out her tale of misery. Her anorexic daughter died aged 36; suicide. Her husband died aged 50; brain tumor. That was 37 years ago, and they’d been married 20 years. She cries and hugs a lot. Ms 111 could be forgiven for reflecting that Sylvie really needed her daughter – but maybe too much.