It was stifling in the train. The doors were still open, but the air in the station was suffocating, lacking any early morning freshness.
I fanned myself with my ticket, catching the eye of the young, dark haired Frenchman sitting opposite. He gave me the beginnings of a smile, before squinting at my ticket. He stretched across and took it from my hand, muttered something incomprehensible, then belted off the train with it. “Hey!” I shouted, wondering if I should go after him, but I could already see him through the window, shoving it unceremoniously into the mouth of an orange machine. He jumped back onto the train as it began to move. “Not date stamped”, he explained breathlessly in slow French. Not sure of the implications of this, but not wanting to seem ungrateful, I thanked him with a broad grin.
I settled back into my seat. Hot and tired, I had been travelling almost 20 hours. The coach trip from London had been the cheapest way of reaching the Alps, but not the most salubrious. I had finally climbed down in Grenoble, relieved to be out of the stale air and feeling as though I had spent the night encased in a peanut shell.
The speed of the train was sedate and as we travelled southwards, I had time to study the countryside and its small villages, as we seemed to stop in each one. I thought about the turn of events that had led me here only a week after finishing my Finals. One of my French teachers had a friend who needed an au pair for the summer to look after her two children. I had been the third person to go and see her about it, and a bizarre twist of fate landed me a job that by rights shouldn’t have been mine. In later years I would look back on this and call it destiny. After all, what else could it have been?
Halfway through the journey, my charming, ticket-stamping hero got off. I too was eager to arrive, as I was afraid that at this rate I would go right through the Alps and come out the other side, that the mountains would just run out and the land would become flat.
As the train pulled into the station, I checked its name against the letter I held and felt a slight jolt of panic. I would be spending two months with these people. What if we didn’t get on? What if they weren’t here to meet me? As I waited for the doors to open though, I could see a round-faced, smiley lady. On her knee sat a child with curly locks. A red-headed little chap stood next to her waving wildly at the train.
I hauled my rucksack onto my back, picked up the Waitrose carrier bag and jumped down onto the platform; pleased that my long journey had finished, never once imagining that, it had only just begun.