The sign said Rue de Passy. So if I just keep walking, the metro should materialize. Voilà, line 9. I think I can't go home, they're renovating in my apartment. The cafe at République came to mind, the one near Absolute Hostel where I used to live.
I settled in next to the window with a book and a café crème. Across the street, a brawny man in a white blood stained suit tossed a wilted corpse over his shoulder. A meat transportation vehicle blocked traffic in the right lane. Suspended by hooks a few feet above the pavement were creatures whole and headless with stomachs slit open like Christ animals. Blood marked a trail down the dangling hairless cadavers. Their heads were substituted by thick red stained bones protruding from their bodies. What sort of heads is a mystery as the animals had been transfigured beyond recognition. Somehow maybe they were still alive, playing dead and ugly in a social experiment to investigate human reactions. I watched the faces of the passersby.
The day was Paris, mild and gray, cloudy with a chance of showers. I sang along the water, eventually stepping up onto the rail that partitioned the concrete from the water. "When I go for a drive, I like to pull off to the side." The rail was about a foot wide leaving only enough room to walk one foot in front of the other. "I like giants, especially girl giants." I lowered myself to read the grafitti painted on the rail under my feet. The message read: ICI-ON-VECU-LES-PETIT-QUI-SONT-MAINTENANT-DES-GEANTS. Assuming that the author made a few choice grammatical errors, I reckon (s)he aimed to tell us that HERE-LIVED-SMALL-PEOPLE-WHO-ARE-NOW-GIANTS. I could have cried, but instead sat down to absorb this magnificent moment. "I am just a speck of dust inside a giant's eye. "
Having left my notebook at home, I scribbled on an old receipt. I positioned myself to leave, and the girl seated further down the rail didn't seem to notice. From the bridge, I could see the way the big sturdy trees hugged the water. Each branch ended in soft pink. A woman took a picture.
I parted ways with the water in pursuit of a metro. I discovered a garden instead and a playground modeled after a medieval castle. A tall elderly man rested tranquilly on a bench among the flowers. His position was comfortable yet composed. At the same time a little boy scurried across the drawbridge of his 12th century chateau. Gare de l'Est appeared in the distance. Hey, this is where Amelia lives.
On the glass doors of the station, there was a friendly sign notifying the public that Automatic doors are becoming more and more common. Since regular doors are an obstacle for everyone, we have automatic doors in this station.
Another one next to the information screen stated: In consideration for the vision impaired, the text on our information screens is large and brightly contrasted.
I heard English on the line 5 platform. A skinny blond woman with a North American accent warned of imminent metro chaos. She articulated to her large luggage-toting party of youths, "The metro car is going to be very very crowded. It's Friday, the peak day for metro riders. Pay close attention and stay together." One girl muttered something about pickpockets, and I smirked as a virtually empty train approached.
"Over here, gang." She called them gang. "Go ahead, Billy, open the door." Bewildered by this brand of manual metro doors that are an obstacle for everyone, Billy fumbled to pull the lever with enough force to free the train car door from its locked position. With the hope of more priceless moments, I climbed into the same metro car and surveyed from an innocent yet calculated distance.
It wasn't long before my interest veered elsewhere. Seated next to the door was a man wearing a yarmulke with dark skin and hair suggestive of foreign origins. His hair was neatly coiffed and and wire rimmed glasses sat on his nose. His lips moved as his eyes focused on a little brown book. I loomed overhead and peered down at the pages full of tiny Hebrew characters. I wanted to talk to him.
When I lifted my eyes, I could see in the window's reflection the man in front of me communicating with another guy in sign language. They were smiling and having a conversation
There was a vacancy next to the Jewish man. I took a seat, leaving respectful space between us, crossed my legs in his direction, and spread open my library copy of the Slaughterhouse Five as wide as possible without breaking the binding. Look, guy, I'm reading English in Paris. And you, you've switched to a larger brown book now, but you're still reading Hebrew. And holding a ratty plastic bag full of things that aren't new like a homeless person would. And those guys are communicating in sign language. And the American tourists already got off, but they were funny, did you see? Do you like Paris as much as I do right now?
I raised my eyes to the map overhead, neither perceiving nor making any serious effort to. He looked at it too. I continued past my stop.
We both descended at Bastille and I observed him disappear. In an attempt to cope with the loss, I walked behind an ambiguously aged woman with a glorious haircut. Despite her youthful appearance, an abundance of silver strands blended with brown in the short hair that tumbled alongside her face not yet reaching her shoulders. Tiny little bangs framed her forehead like an Amélie Poulain of the future.
I switched to line 8 on my way back up to République. Two Asian guys with Asian mullets were propped up against the train doors. One was finishing a sandwich. It looked like something we could share. The other had glitter in his hair. Suddenly everyone in Paris was my friend. Especially the dark-haired fellow with beautiful eyes carrying the cello by the pole.
Time to switch again to Line 11, direction Mairie des Lilas. A young woman with wildly curly hair was wearing faux fur boots. I imagined reaching down to feel them. A schoolboy with a backpack and a grave sort of adult expression gazed intently out the window. Although appearing about 10 years old, he traveled the metro alone the way that grown-ups do.
My stop: Porte des Lilas. I was never really aware of the café across from the metro before. It looked nice. I entered the Franprix grocery store and walked out sans purchase. The bus drove by. The information screen had offered legible yet incorrect information, having predicted 13 minutes waiting time. After aimlessly walking the streets for hours, I was now unwilling to travel the few blocks to my apartment. I pulled up my hood for protection against the light raindrops that had begun to fall. At the next cafe, a company of elderly folks chatted around a table while a leashed dog lounged listlessly at their feet. Two white-haired men sipped coffee at a small circular table outside. One of them, surely Francois, cried out to me, "Salut, chérie!" I replied with Bonjour. "T'es belle," he called out. I don't know what compels strangers to tell other strangers on the street that they're beautiful, but I appreciated Francois.
In the metro, I'd taken to writing on an old sheet of paper that I'd found in my purse. Months prior I'd used it to write down ideas for English tutoring. The old date was 1/7/08. The page now reads:
Head shoulders knees and toes. Eyes and ears and mouth and nose. Sat down next sp.... I want life to be like this always.