1 Chapter 1

My taxi overtook the camel shortly after we left Satolas airport in southern France,but the animal caught up with us ten minutes later on the autoroute.

We were stuck in thick traffic and she loped past us on the hard shoulder,nose in theair,like a 4x4 plowing through snow-drifts and smugly cruising by drivers stranded without snow chains.

I could see various chauffeurs picking up their cell phones,mouths open in disbelief,yet desperate to be the first to tell the news.

Soon afterwards those calls were rewarded by the whirr of a police helicopter monitoring the bizarre phenomenon of a desert animal trotting up a European thoroughfare.

The camel had now jogged way ahead of us and the spell was broken.

My driver was anxious to get off the French interstate.He took the next exit,which presented itself twenty crawling minutes later.There followed a labyrinthine detour through Lyon city to avoid the rush hour and I reached the Hilton around six thirty that evening.

I was meeting my husband there.The occasion was a three-day get-together of the Conference Board Europe,a group of financial officers chosen from a selection of companies.He was flying in from Paris for this‘working weekend’and I was flown in to play his trophy wife.(Or,as one of the accompanying wives later told me,a‘trailing wife,’the new term for Female Corporate Spouses.)

****

When Huntley walked into our suite,I gave him a big hug.“You’ll never believe this,”I started,calling to him as he went into the bathroom.“My taxi passed a camel on the way here and then she caught up with us on the motorway during an awful standstill jam.”

He poked his head around the door,not quite believing his ears.The conclusion,thatyears without meaningful employment had dulled my sanity,showed plainly on his face.

“I know it sounds impossible,I know,”I protested,“but it’s true!”

“Yes,dear,”he murmured to placate his hallucinating spouse.And then—irrelevantly,I felt—he asked:“How do you know it’s a she?”

“She couldn’t be a‘he’with those eyes!They were huge,melting brown things surrounded by six foot eyelashes.”

He groaned and his head disappeared.A moment later I heard the shower running.

Disappointed in his lack of faith in me,I switched on the television.

The news was on.The commentator began:“Ce soir,un chameau a marchéla longueur de l’A 42,vers Lyon.”

Aerial footage came on screen of the camel jogging alongside the nose-to-tail voitures,presumably taken from the helicopter I’d seen earlier.The reporter explained the‘chameau’had‘disparu’into the darkness on reaching the city.

I rushed into the bathroom and yelled at Huntley to come back and look.“My camel’s on TV!”I shouted.

Assuming he would be curious enough to join me,I perched myself on the bed to resume watching,not wanting to miss a beat.

The owner was being interviewed,a scruffy individual by the name of Monsieur Joubin.As far as I could understand,he possessed a hundred acres of pastureland andhad been given this camel by his cousin.Said relative had brought the camel with him on returning from a long spell in Turkey,where he had bet on a camel race and won.

According to local custom,he’d then been presented with the winning animal.Made to understand that giving it back amounted to a life-threatening insult,the cousin was forced to take it with him.Not having anywhere to put it,he’d dropped it off atM.Joubin’s farm.

****

M.Joubin looked morose as he explained how the camel was forever getting loose.It was permanently tied up in his field and people were always cutting its rope.However,the animal had never before wandered so far from home,the small village of Satolas-Bijeaux near the airport.He was tired of trying to retrieve it.Did people have any idea how difficult it was to transport an eleven-foot camel?

Huntley had not come out from the bathroom.I was annoyed he hadn’t seen any of this.

Dressed for dinner,he appeared in the main room well after the news item was over.

“You missed a really interesting bit on the camel,”I told him reproachfully.

“I suppose they filmed it overtaking your taxi,did they?”He laughed.

Ignoring him,I changed into my evening wear.

We were ready to leave.I flicked my white wrap in his face with what I hoped was suitable hauteur,but tucked my arm dutifully through his,as befits a trophy.We glided out of the room and down one floor to the assembled group,about thirty in all.

Next chapter