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Michel Flamant (left) and Jerome (right) working in their bakery.
DOLE (France) — French baker Michel Flamant, who owes his life to the homeless man who begged for handouts outside his bakery, knows more than anyone that man does not live by bread alone.
To show his gratitude, Mr Flamant is selling the business in the eastern town of Dole to Mr Jerome Aucant for a symbolic one euro (S$1.53). The corpulent Flamant, who wears a tank top and shorts to help him cope with the heat of his bread ovens, says he has always had a big heart despite his “piggish character”.
In fact, long before the fateful day in December when he nearly died from carbon monoxide poisoning, he would greet Aucant every morning with a cup of coffee and a croissant.
“If Jerome wasn’t around that day I would have been a goner,” the 62-year-old Flamant said, recounting how a defective bread oven began leaking the odourless, lethal gas.
When Mr Aucant noticed Mr Flamant begin to stagger around the bakery, he called the emergency services.
The poisoning landed Flamant in the hospital for 12 days.
Back at work, the baker initially offered Mr Aucant, 37, a part-time job.
He soon realised how well the tattooed, dreadlocked homeless man applied himself.
“And I’m demanding. The work has to be done as I say and that’s that!” the white-haired Flamant said as he lined up baguettes on an oven tray.
He said he loves teaching people like Aucant who are “smart enough to listen to my advice”.
The garrulous Paris native says that as a child he thought he would be a truck driver when he grew up.
But his father put him to work in the family bakery when he was 14 and the job pleased him.
His companion minds the till on the ground floor while he makes bread, croissants and pastries in the basement from midnight to noon, six days a week.
‘I DON’T CARE ABOUT MONEY’
Mr Flamant, whose three daughters are not interested in taking over the business, had been trying to sell it for the past two years.
Then it dawned on him to cede the bakery to Aucant for a token one euro.
“What’s more important, money or life? I don’t care about money. I’m not rich but I don’t care. I want to be free, I want to take it easy now. And also, if this makes him happy...”
Mr Flamant has taken Aucant under his wing until September when he will retire and hand over the keys.
After that, “It will be up to him to make it work,” Mr Flamant said. “Jerome is a hard worker and he wants to succeed. He deserves a chance.”
Mr Aucant, who has shorn his dreadlocks, revels in his new work.
“I want to work and the hours don’t put me off,” he said.
Mr Aucant, with little previous work experience besides occasional seasonal stints at funfairs, is fully aware of the responsibility he will be taking on.
“I have to be 100 percent on the job,” he said, adding: “Michel has given me a real gift, and now... I want to be worthy of it.”
Mr Flamant, sitting on a stack of plastic crates to rest his arthritic legs, said for his part: “I’ve made bread all my life, now I’m tired.”