3. The Impersonator

IN THOSE EARLY DAYS we worked for a small publishing company that was slowly sinking into ruin. The publisher, Joan, was the heir to a sizeablefortune, although by now the money had almost run out. Every couple of months we would launch another book, which Joan was convinced would be the title that would save the company, and every single time she was wrong. Yannick and I were the company's only employees. He took care of the books - he didn't choose them, Joan did that. Secretly, I knew he loathed the books we published. He just edited them and took care of the production side of things. I was the bookkeeper, which in practice meant I did everything else.

We would take the train home together every night. We lived on the same train line - I got off three stops before he did. I don't know how it was that we always left work at the same time. At the beginning it was just coincidence, I suppose. I can't remember the first time, but I imagine we caught the rickety lift down together and walked off in the same direction and he must have asked me where I lived and we figured out we lived on the same train line. I'd been working there two years, Yannick even longer, so in a way it's strange it didn't happen earlier. Back then we made each other laugh. There aren't too many people in life you can say that about. We spent most of our time on the train together laughing, I seem to remember, even though I've always found that kind of behaviour irritating when I see others doing it. It didn't take too long for it to become a ritual. He would stop by my desk and ask when I was planning on leaving. At first if one of us was working late we went home separately, but soon enough it became natural for one of us to stay behind too, if the other was working late, or if one of us was leaving early, for the other one to find a way of leaving early too. Both of us had our own families, our spouses and our children, whom we were relatively more or less happy to see when we got home at night. It was a friendship, albeit an odd sort of friendship. We would hardly see each other during the day. We never saw each other in the morning, on the way in. If we saw each other in the office we said hello but we rarely talked, as if there was an unspoken rule to leave that pleasure for the train. I think we lunched together once, toward the end, when it began to get complicated. But I try not to think of that time. I like to think of Yannick the way he was in those early days, the way he held his body, leaning forward from his large hips (he called them 'womanly' hips), leaning forward but at a slight angle too, tilting toward the left, the way his fingers stretched out at odd angles too. We talked easily, endlessly. We talked about what was happening in the office, the latest gossip, the latest outrage. I seem to recall we spoke a lot about our boss, a loud South African man called Pierre with an especially irritating laugh. Pierre was the kind of boss who was really only interested in his own problems, and more than that expected you to be interested in his problems too. Our problems were merely irritations to him. Whenever he berated someone on the floor, he spoke loudly enough so that we all knew what was happening, sparing no-one's feelings. Yannick did a superb impersonation of him, an uncanny impersonation of him that he would bring out at least once on the train journey home, and over time it got better and better, to the point that if you shut your eyes it was hard not to believe that it was actually Pierre speaking, and not Yannick. Which obviously is where the trouble began.