By Marie Lebert, 21 December 2017.
Translated from French by Jane Golding.
Drawings by Denis Renard.
Twenty-eighth of December / Twenty-ninth of December / Thirtieth of December / Thirty-first of December / First of January / Second of January / Third of January / Fourth of January / Fifth of January
On the third of January, dawn was breaking and it was raining. Bub moved from a sitting position to a standing position and walked briskly towards the same café nearby to drink his morning coffee with a drop of milk. He opened the door and closed it without slamming it. His teeth were chattering with cold. The proprietor recognised him, despite his change of clothes.
Bub managed to say,
“I’ve come to pay you the ten centimes from yesterday, and I’ll have a large coffee with a drop of milk, to warm me up a bit.”
The warm coffee went straight into his bloodstream. It was the best moment of the day.
“Mind you don’t slam the door,” said the proprietor.
Bub didn’t slam the door.
With a coffee in his tummy, a clearer head and three packets in his pocket – there’s no need to say they were packets of peanuts – Bub walked towards Hermanville-sur-Mer. When he arrived, he sat down on a bench to have a think.
His amazing intuition told him that the marble was no longer on the beach. So, what to do? Knock on all the doors? Visit the schools on the coast? It was a waste of time. There was no point wasting his energy on useless ventures.
He went back to the lost and found office in the city hall. Nothing. That was a waste of time as well.
No time to go to the library, that was open. He was on a mission, with the urgent task to find a lost marble. He could sense that, up there, in front of his screen, Coffee would be in agreement. It was a good idea not to have sold his Earthly shoes.
Bub walked back to the coast. He gazed nostalgically, in the distance, at the end of the sea wall of Lion-sur-Mer, where he had spent the last two nights, unforgettable nights.
He saw the Maison de la Presse near the post office. Should he put an advertisement in the local press? No, he might as well look for a needle in a haystack. There, this Earthly expression was now part of his vocabulary, which was a small cause for satisfaction in a day which had begun in a mediocre way.
There was a beautiful bakery nearby, with a large window showing bread, pastries and chocolates. Should he enter and eat something? Unfortunately not. He only had money for the next day coffee and peanuts. Another time, may be, during a holiday trip on Earth, to order three delicious round pancakes.
Half-way down to the beach of Hermanville-sur-Mer, he changed his mind. Today, he would stay at the end of the sea wall. He loved the rocky coast, the seagulls and the feeling of being alone in the world. If it hadn’t been so cold, he would have been in ecstasy looking at the sea for such a long time. He had some peanuts left so all was well. The hours passed slowly. Night fell. Bub stared wide-eyed at the sea. The yellow lights of Ouistreham and its ferry terminal were shining in the background. It was a very beautiful night.
What was happening on planet Coral during this time?
Mouse was very pleased with her clever trick. A perfect trajectory to a small rock in the middle of nowhere, what a success! She had already told this story to her family several times, and each time, she set off a storm of laughter.
However, on the official papers related to the mission, she had noted that the target achieved was Hermanville-sur-Mer. All her colleagues in the department may have had a sense of humour, but this wasn’t necessarily true of Plastic or their fellow workers in the administrative and financial department of the research centre.
On the same official papers, Chief had noted that the main objective of Bub’s mission was the comparative study of Coral’s scientific marbles and the Earthly marbles used in games, in a place called Hermanville-sur-Mer, which was particularly representative of Earthly towns because part of it was on the coast, and part of it was inland.
On the afternoon of New Year’s Day, as planned, Chief went to try out his new catapult, a New Year’s present from Frondex. First of all they went to the bubble office to pinch all the marbles they could find. As you would expect, they carefully avoided Coffee’s office. He didn’t even notice that they were there. While drinking coffee after coffee – served up on a flying tray that went back and forth incessantly from the kitchen to the office – he was following Bub’s adventures on the screen of the intergalactic computer.
After the business that had caused so much fuss in the department three days before, Chief and Frondex carefully checked that each marble was not marked with a “SI”, which meant “super important.” Then they went down to the basement, which for once was strangely empty because of the holidays.
Nearly all Chief’s shots were good ones. The target was a cheap dartboard at the end of a very long corridor that linked the six underground scientific departments. In a lyrical flight of fancy, a bespectacled journalist once described it as the longest corridor on the planet in an exceptional scientific complex. No-one ever checked to see if it was correct.
One single shot missed the target. The marble got stuck in Plastic’s left eye when she ran out into the corridor. Yesterday evening, Chief had phoned her to invite her to watch a few shots. Cleverly, he suggested that she came in the middle of the lesson, and not at the beginning, so he wouldn’t look too ridiculous.
Plastic didn’t shriek with pain; she calmly removed the marble from her left eye. Chief apologised profusely. Plastic replied, with a smile,
“It’s not serious. These things happen.”
Then she rummaged in her handbag and pulled out a brand new plastic eye from a little Tupperware pot. She placed it carefully in the correct position. Her empty eye socket was adorned with a jewel that was at least as beautiful as the old one. That was Chief’s opinion, not Frondex’s. Frondex was rather annoyed by this distraction.
The lesson continued with a merciless competition between Chief and Frondex, which Plastic offered to referee. She was very happy to have this perfect opportunity to test her new left eye, which was proving to be much better than the old one; proof that you can’t stop progress.
Chief proved to be an excellent pupil. The following day, Frondex gave him a one-hour lesson in the morning, an hour at lunchtime and an hour in the evening, which makes three hours in the same day. Chief made amazing progress, so much so that he and Frondex even considered a professional competition during the New Year drinks.
Coffee, as we already know, was following Bub’s investigation day and night on his screen. As for drinking coffee, he had got into an alarming rhythm. At this rate, he would finish the hundred tins of instant coffee and the twenty cartons of drops of milk that had been ordered just after the drama three days ago. Three days to drink the quantity usually allowed for a year. Even Hob was impressed.
Although he always appeared so phlegmatic, Coffee was actually quite tense, so tense that he was under medical supervision for it. However, he didn’t doubt for one minute that Bub’s mission would be successful. Years of shared coffee-peanut breaks had forged a perfect, solid friendship between them.
The bubble office’s doctor came every seven hours. He shook his head when he saw what state Coffee was in and made his diagnosis at lightning speed. His prescription, always the same, was short and to the point.
“As much coffee as you can drink, and nothing else.”
His diagnoses were always accurate, his prescriptions concise. He didn’t waste his words, he never kept anyone waiting and he would see patients at home or at work. He was an exceptional doctor.
So, day and night and minute by minute Coffee followed Bub’s Earthly odyssey: the Earthly coffees, the Earthly peanuts, the Earthly sea, the Earthly walks. It was like watching the football cup on television – he felt as if he was there himself.
Boubou would come to keep him company from time to time and drink a coffee with a drop of milk. She couldn’t wait for Bub to return from his intergalactic trip.