by Martin Hanley. ©12/31/2013
The impromptu trip to Paris had been a real eye opener for me. Of course I’d been warned by all and sundry about Les Parisians and their superior attitudes to the rest of us, but despite my initial anxiety, the day had flashed by seamlessly without a single hitch. We’d made progress; they were trés gentile as they’d say themselves and I could tell they were happy with me and my work by their gestures. They’d even surprised me by finishing off the afternoon session with a round of celebratory drinks at Café de Flore.
Eventually my new-found clients checked their phones, made their excuses and left me in the capable hands of our pretty translator, Anne Sophie du Conte. She’d been indispensable during the day’s proceedings; a diplomatic life saver, discreet and almost invisible except when required. She raised her glass to me “Cheers” and nonchalantly handed me her embossed card adding, “Perhaps you may use me again Monsieur Carthy at your next meeting, yes?” I smiled like a twelve-year-old and nodded positively back at her, “ Oui”. Despite her confidence and panache she looked tired to me as if life had taken a bite out of her lately but every now and then her eyes sparkled revealing her true self.
I checked my phone as we maneuvered our way past the café’s clientele and survived an uncomfortable silence or two. Two hours till flight check in and outside on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue St. Benoit the rain was pelting down. I decided I’d stay put for now, no sight-seeing and eventually get a taxi to Charles de Gaulle. Sipping my l’Orangerie ‘09, I touched Anne Sophie’s arm and she smiled knowingly back at me. “Same again? ” I inquired as she shook her head while checking her phone. Then without hesitation it was she who called in our order.
The barman obviously knew her and they joked together in French as he handed her our drinks. She smiled at me and added “What, what is it?” I blushed “Nothing really, it’s just been one of those days you dream of. I started out with zero expectations, wasn’t really prepared for the meeting truth be told and yet it’s worked out fine”. She grabbed my arm and led me towards a table adding “Yes, you had a very good meeting Monsieur Carthy. I know I shouldn’t, but I overheard Antoine and Michelle sing your praises before they left. They know you haven’t a word of French, it’s partially why they hired you!” I smiled and raised my glass as if to say a symbolic thanks to them and we sat down. The sky darkened outside and the rain turned into a hail shower clattering down on the cars and cobbled streets.
The wine helped the mood and soon we had dispensed with all formalities. “What made you think I was flirting earlier?” I said. “You were waving your hands around, touching which you must know is a major no – no in Paris and you kissed me on both cheeks.” “I did, I suppose I did. You do understand Sophie, it’ s my first time in Paris, I’m not used to this, it’s all new to me.” She glanced away and waved at a couple leaving. For once she really seemed bewildered by my answer as she swept her dark tresses back. I could feel my neck muscles begin to spasm but I tried to ignore them.
“It’s too cold to be flirting Stephen, even in Paris. Shall we have one for the road ?” I checked my phone, nodded a yes please as I had plenty of time before check in. As the drinks arrived her phone rang and she answered it. Her mood changed and that weary look I had observed earlier surfaced again. Anne Sophie hung up abruptly and was silent. Her air of self confidence vanished and she seemed withdrawn and far away. She tapped the phone off the corner of the table and then gulped the whole glass down in one go. My mind was racing searching for the right words to comfort her with.
Eventually I determined the right words were none of the above. Anne Sophie smiled gratefully at me “I’m sorry Stephen that was a friend, I’m afraid I must go now, apologies, safe journey home!” Before I could say a word she had her coat and scarf on. I stood up and hesitantly kissed her on both cheeks again. She smiled at me and held my hand “Call me when you’re back in Paris again, yes?” I assured her I would before she disappeared into the rain and rush hour traffic. Eventually I made the check in after initially running along the escalators, picking the wrong desk. The flight home was uneventful, except for a wailing baby and an almost continuous line of inebriated businessmen including myself stationed outside the forward toilet. They shuffled back and forth in their shiny suits moaning about the prices, the horrible weather and how rude the Parisians were.
All I could think about was Anne Sophie’s beautiful sad eyes as I hid her card in my wallet, beneath a photograph of my wife and kids. The plane landed after a short delay and I made my way outside to an empty taxi rank. Beneath clear frosty skies and a full moon I rang Geraldine and asked her to come collect me. She was less than pleased to put it mildly “ Do you know what time it is Stephen, why can’t you get a taxi?” The dual carriage emptied as I waited for her to calm down. I could see her curse me before finally warning me, “ Ok Stay bloody put, I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Thanks a lot Stephen! ” was followed by a deep sigh.
As I thanked her and hung up, a small creature came out of the bushes on the far side of the dual way. It crossed the usually busy carriageway toward me like a surreal apparition. A wild Irish hare silently stopped in front of me. We eyeballed each other and I smiled stupidly at him before he continued again on his way. Just then a young man passed by and I called to him, “Hey, did you see that ?” The young man gave me a ‘you’re mental mister ‘ glance as his lift home arrived. I stood there shaking my head and smiling as the moon shone brightly above.