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The first time I saw Paris was in winter. It was drizzling and a chill wind buffeted the river Seine. I had flown in on an early flight and taken a taxi to my inexpensive hotel with unreliable plumbing and a whiff of drains.

Feeling hungry, I headed out to find a café. There were plenty to choose from and I entered the second one along from the hotel. Inside was steamy, noisy, and busy with a lingering aroma of French cigarettes and perfume. Remembering my schoolgirl French, I ordered a café au lait and croissant, which was brought over to my table at lightning speed by a charming waiter in a spotless white apron. I was used to instant coffee at home in Bristol so my first sip of French coffee was like tasting ambrosia. The croissant was as light as a moth's wing - buttery and delicious.

Fortified, and grasping a map and phrase book, I set out on my mission. Sandra had disappeared two years previously leaving a mysterious note. All it said was that she had met a French student called Jean Claude and that she was moving to Paris with him. I had tried every lead but each one had been fruitless but, now that our mother had died, I felt compelled to find Sandra. Besides, I had inherited our mother's antique furniture business and was overwhelmed at the prospect of running it alone. Sandra, as well as being artistic, was a natural saleswoman and I felt sure that she would enjoy running the business with me. I was loath to give up my job as a medical secretary mainly because I needed the security but with Sandra by my side, I could possibly become a fulltime antiques dealer. My mother's last words to me were, "Kate dear, find Sandra."

Paris is a huge city and my search was a challenge. All I had was a photo of my sister taken before she left home at the age of twenty-one. I started at a local police station and, with faltering French, reported Sandra as a possible missing person. Giving a Gallic shrug the officer said that he would do his best but they did not have anyone answering Sandra's description on their books. Somehow I was not surprised. After contacting local hospitals and tramping round the city with her photo, I gave up after three days and, footsore but not defeated, returned home.

Spring came and a hopeful atmosphere permeated the city on my second visit. I stayed in a different, more salubrious area this time and continued my search for Sandra. Fragrant blossom peppered the trees, and tables and chairs graced the pavements outside the numerous cafes. Once more I tramped the streets and graceful boulevards armed with my photo and a slightly better grasp of French after attending a language course. I felt frumpy as I was passed by chic women of all ages and decided to cheer myself up with a visit to a local department store, where I bought a beautiful dress in navy blue with a white trim. But my hopes were dashed after another unsuccessful trip and I returned home to a floundering antiques business and an empty house.

Summer in Paris was smouldering in a heat wave and heaving with tourists. Once more I checked myself into a small hotel. The proprietor was ancient, dressed entirely in black and had a Gauloise hanging from her mouth like an appendage. She instructed me not to waste water.

I continued my search, each day becoming more and more despondent. Sandra could be anywhere. She might not even be in France, I decided. Sitting under an umbrella and sipping an iced Perrier water, I wondered if I should give up my search and try to sell the antiques business. I could barely afford to pay the loyal assistant who had run the shop with my mother for the past twenty years. Nearby, a busker was playing an accordion and I decided that I was beginning to fall in love with Paris but once more I returned to home with a heavy heart.

Autumn in Paris was sad but magical. The trees were adorned with copper leaves, which fell like so many tears. I remember the fun Sandra and I had as children as we kicked through thick carpets of leaves on Bristol's suburban pavements. I decided to give finding my sister one last shot as I checked into yet another small hotel. This one had an ancient bath in the bedroom and looked onto the river where the street artists were plying their wares. I was hungry and longing for a coffee as I ventured out once more on my quest to find my elusive sister. Strolling past the artwork, I was drawn to a stall displaying portraits, which were sketched in charcoal. Suddenly my heart leapt, for there in front of me was a picture of Sandra. Could it be that she had been here recently? Excited, I enquired if the artist knew the girl in the picture. He said that he did. Trying to remain calm, I asked how I could find her. He told me that I had just missed her - that she had left Paris. I felt tears coursing down my cheeks. When would my luck change? Did he know where she had gone? I was greeted with the now familiar Gallic shrug. All that he knew about Sandra was that she too used to have a stand in the market and painted pictures for the tourists. Desperate for information, I quizzed the other stallholders. Some knew her a little and some not at all. They said that she kept herself to herself but that she had decided to go somewhere abroad.

I left and decided to call off my search. Looking down from the passenger window as the plane began its ascent, I decided that this would be the last time I would see Paris. She could be anywhere. As we broke through the clouds I breathed, "Sorry, Mum."

Bristol seemed drab after my short sojourn in France and a chill wind announced an early onset of winter. The persistent drizzle seemed like a reproach and, once more I felt saddened by my failure to find Sandra. It was with a heavy heart that I let myself into the family house in Clifton. Inside, I was greeted with the aroma of coffee brewing and an exotic sweet perfume filled the air.

"Kate - it's me. I'm home," Sandra appeared from the kitchen, smiling as if she had never left.

"What?" I felt faint. Was I imagining things or had the wanderer actually returned? She looked the same but different, having a certain je ne sais quoi.

She kissed me on both cheeks and asked if I'd like a coffee.