For those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis, you will know that I have had more than my fair share of ‘close encounters’ with shady Frenchmen. However, here is one with a less than happy ending – I was lucky, but another girl less so.
It took place six months after I had moved to France. My ex was digging up the floor to install the electrics, so we had temporarily relocated to a B&B just up the road. As my ex spent every day at the house, and there was little I could do to help with a toddler in tow, I took myself off for long walks in the surrounding countryside instead. Sonny was only one at the time, so enjoyed being pushed around, looking at cows, donkeys, horses and flowers. We would often collect stones or sticks on the way and turn them into little works of art on our return.
My favourite walk was through a small hamlet, in which only two of the four houses were inhabited. In one of the houses lived two brothers, both in their 60s; one of which slept in the main house, the other – for reasons unbeknown to me – slept on a bed of hay in the cellar. Although I never met the older brother, I would often speak (though it was more like him rattling away and me saying the odd word in both English and French) with the one who slept in the cellar, even though he had a rather disconcerting habit of talking only to my chest – and to my mother’s when he met her in the supermarket several years later. Most days he would delight in giving me fresh figs from his garden and showing me his cattle, but one day he surprised me. His gaze left my chest and he looked me straight in the eyes. Pointing to the far end of the hamlet he told me to be careful. As my French was still quite basic at the time, all I understood was, “Attention!” I assumed he was telling me to be careful of the busy, main road at the top of the lane. In hindsight, I think he was trying to warn me about his neighbour.
On first impressions, his neighbour seemed very nice. He was in his late 40s and was clearly in the middle of renovating his house. The first couple of times I walked by, we exchanged nothing more than a polite ‘Bonjour’. After several trips he initiated a conversation. He asked me where I came from and spoke a little about the difficulties of renovating a property on his own. When I mentioned that my partner and I were in the middle of doing the same, he asked if I would like to have a look at some of the work he was doing in his kitchen. Having a genuine interest, I said yes. As I peered through his patio doors I could see that he was a skilled artisan. He was halfway through laying a traditional, terracotta, tile floor and had just started to build his own ‘French country style’ kitchen. When I said that it looked lovely, he asked if I would like to go in and have a look at some of the rooms that were finished. As Sonny was still asleep in the pushchair, and I didn’t want to leave him on his own, I declined (knowing what I know now, it still makes me shiver to think what might have happened if I hadn’t). I continued to walk past the house for at least another week before I moved back home. I would always stop to chat but, thankfully, never took him up on the offer of a quick tour round the house or a ‘Pastis.’
Several months later I heard through a neighbour that he had been carted off to prison. When I heard why, I went white. Apparently, he had attacked and raped a young girl. Her car had broken down at the top of the lane late one night and seeing the headlights he had gone up to help. After assaulting her and leaving her for dead, he ran back to his house and shot himself through the mouth with a rifle. I have no idea whether the girl survived or not, but I think she managed to make a call to the police from her mobile. When they arrived at the scene they knew exactly who her attacker was: the man in the neighbouring hamlet, who had been arrested for a similar crime several years earlier. When they paid him a visit he was still alive. His suicide attempt had been unsuccessful and he was lying paralysed in a pool of blood on the floor.
Shocked, I asked my neighbour to fill me in on his history. Apparently, he had been diagnosed as having a mental disorder, and after serving time for his last crime, had been released back into the community on the condition that he continued to take his medication and checked in with a psychiatrist once a month. Now this is where it gets scary. Apparently he had stopped taking his medication several months before he attacked the girl (about the time when I was walking by), and that even though he had missed a string of appointments with his psychiatrist….wait for it…no one had bothered to follow it up.
Erm…….why? It leaves me cold to think that a man like this was alllowed to slip through the net. I wonder how the psychiatrist felt when they heard the news? In my opinion, not only did they fail their patient, but they put the lives of innocent people at risk. That poor girl. I have no idea what became of her, but everyday I thank my lucky stars it wasn’t me.