Easing my hand gently out from where it had been lodged – between someone’s left buttock and a standard issue French teenager’s Eastpak rucksack – I glanced tensely at my watch. The métro was taking an eternity to leave each station, the doors failing to close on the tightly packed mass of commuters and student demonstrators compressed within.
I was late for my first appointment with my new destiny; getting progressively more flustered as the minutes ticked by.
Red faced and panting, I finally arrived, complete with Tadpole and pushchair, at the address I had scribbled on the printout. A smartly dressed man with a briefcase awaited us in front of the entrance, and he motioned us inside, although not before woefully mispronouncing my surname.
Tadpole was in a very chatty mood.
“I’m going to help mummy choose a new house today!” she announced. “I’ve got three houses: mummy’s house, daddy’s house and tata’s house! And now I going to buy an udder one!” Normal rules do not apply to Tadpole-speak, a language punctuated exclusively with exclamation marks.
Mr Agent Immobilier raised his eyebrows, probably thinking that 32 square metres of working-class Paris looking onto an interior courtyard doesn’t normally qualify for “house” status.
He rang the doorbell, and a harried looking student answered the door, before scuttling back to her dissertation.
I looked around me, finally able to appreciate, after combing my way through all those petites annonces, what thirtysomething metres really felt like. Tried to imagine fitting Tadpole and me, plus as many of our belongings as possible, into a space half the size of the apartment we occupy, but can no longer afford.
I couldn’t, without resorting to use of the word mezzanine.
The indignity. Thirty four years old this year, teetering on the brink of getting myself 165,000 or so euros into debt, and I will be reduced to either sleeping on a convertible sofa in the living room, or adopting the bed-on-stilts approach in order to share Tadpole’s bedroom.
Obsessed as I may be with clambering onto the first rung of the property ladder, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would have to do so in quite such a literal sense.
I forced myself to pay attention to the kitchen, the bathroom, the electrics, the central heating, but concentration was difficult, on account of a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Because the word “mezzanine”, to me, spelled the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one which I am rather hesitant to embrace. I closed my eyes and let myself contemplate my dream home, a stone cottage nestled in the Breton countryside, one last time.
Then I took a deep breath and let it go.