The Broken Clock
A car horn blared aggressively and Nigel quickly stepped back onto the pavement.
The alarm had woken him at 3.30 this morning and his brain seemed to be half asleep. He really must be more careful or else he would find himself under the wheels of one of these crazy French drivers.
He had caught the 7.20 flight from Luton airport to Nice and less than two hours later was enjoying the warmth of the Cote d'Azur. He had just been admiring the deep blue colour of the Mediterranean Sea as he strolled along the long palm tree lined Promenade des Anglais. Then, when he had attempted to cross the busy road back toward the city, he had almost walked into the path of a speeding car.
When he was safely on the other side, he looked at his wrist, then cursed to himself as he remembered that, in the rush to leave home this morning he had left his watch on the bedside table. It was however, probably somewhere around 12 noon. "Time to think about having some lunch soon," he thought. He continued walking in the general direction of the old harbour before cutting through the arches into the famous flower market.
"What a thriving bustling place this is," he said to himself. It was full of people - a mixture of locals buying their daily provisions and tourists who stopped at every stall to examine the contents. Stall after stall was aflame with colour; red, white and pink roses, purple and blue anemones, and yellow daffodils. Stopping every now and then, he inhaled the perfume of the blooms and admired the delicate blossoms of the mimosa sprays.
Further along the market Nigel came across the fruit and vegetable stalls. Strawberries, apples, bananas, aubergines, giant tomatoes and vast array of fungi. He stopped at a stall to buy some fresh strawberries, where the lady owner, after asking if he wanted to eat them straight away, washed his selection before serving them to him.
Then, realising that time was passing and remembering his 3 p.m. business appointment, he turned back toward the city, increasing the pace of his steps.
His appointment was in the Avenue Jean Médecin and, as he crossed the Place Messena, he saw the very road he needed. "Good," he said to himself, "That's easy to find after lunch." Shortly after he came across L'Horloge - the clock. Above the entrance to the restaurant was a large highly decorated clock showing the time to be a little after 1 p.m.
"Two hours is plenty of time for a nice leisurely lunch and to stroll along to the meeting," he thought. He pushed open the door and went in.
The restaurant was housed in a building dating from the 19th Century, when the Victorians had been so influential in developing the French Riviera, but the décor and the table linen were very much in the bright happy colours of the Provénce region. Many of the tables were occupied with people already well into their meals. Their conversations were almost exclusively in French and animated by extravagant hand gestures. "A good sign," thought Nigel. "A restaurant frequented by locals rather than tourists is always a good place to eat in."
Looking through the menu, he found some difficulty in choosing from the wide variety of delicious sounding Mediterranean dishes. He hardly knew where to start there was so much choice.
"As I have a meeting this afternoon," he said to himself, "I shall eat something light now and then really push the boat out this evening before I fly back."
When the waiter arrived to take his order, Nigel said, "I will start with `Salad Baie des Anges and after that, I think I shall have les moules."
"And to drink, Monsieur?"
Thinking again of his meeting at 3 p.m., Nigel replied, "Just a glass of red wine."
While he waited, Nigel opened his briefcase and read through the notes he had brought with him.
His Managing Director considered this meeting so important, that only Nigel in his capacity as a Director of the company could attend. They had been having a problem with their French agent in Nice and negotiations were at a delicate stage. They simply could not afford to lose this key account.
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the waiter. On the plate he put in front of Nigel was a crisp green salad, decorated at the edge by sections of firm succulent tomatoes. On top was a mountain of mixed seafood and the whole thing was enhanced with a smooth delicious dressing.
"Well," he thought. "This is almost a meal in itself." He savoured his food, taking his time to enjoy each mouthful. Then came the main course - a bowl filled with mussels cooked in white wine. His mind drifted as he thought of the pleasures to come with his evening meal. Then suddenly remembering the purpose of his visit, called the waiter over to ask for the bill.
He reckoned he had been in the restaurant for about an hour, which would make the time just after 2 p.m. He wondered however if the clock above the entrance kept good time, so when the waiter returned his credit card, he asked, "Is the restaurant clock accurate?"
The waiter glanced up at a clock high on the wall behind Nigel - a time piece that Nigel had not seen. "Ah, No Monsieur. It is …," he struggled to find the English word, "er," he paused again, "broken. It is er one hour late."
"An hour slow!" thought Nigel. Then, panicking, grabbed his briefcase and rushed out of the restaurant. The other diners watched him go in some bemusement.
Pausing momentarily on the pavement outside, he looked back up at the ornate clock above the doorway. It showed 2.20. His heart beat rapidly. "2.20 - that means it is really 3.20 and I am already late."
He ran to the corner and turned back into Avenue Jean Médecin. It was not far to the offices of Secur Azur but it seemed that everyone conspired to delay him. Tourists dawdled in his path as they gazed into the shop windows and up to the buildings along the avenue, motor scooters were parked on the pavement and woman walking her tiny terrier almost tripped him as she crossed in front of him.
Finally, the doorway of the Secur Azur offices was in front of him. He pushed his way in and, ignoring the lift, sprinted up the stairs.
The receptionist looked at him in surprise but her voice was calm, "Bonjour Monsieur."
His hair was dishevelled and he was out of breath as he gasped, "Nigel Wallis to see Monsieur Joffre." Then added, "Tell him I am very sorry I am so late."
The receptionist looked at the appointment time on the computer monitor in front of her and then at her watch. "But Monsieur Wallis, you are not late. Monsieur Joffre is expecting you at 3 o'clock and you are half an hour early."
He looked up at the clock, which clearly showed 2.30 p.m.
If you enjoyed reading this story, you may be interested to know that Jack Windsor has published an anthology of 40 of his stories. It is called 'Secret of the Lake'. Published by Braiswick you can order it from your local bookstore or buy online from Amazon.com
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