"Je vais bouger"
Connard: Insulte désignant quelqu'un qui se comporte de façon déplaisante ou déplacée, par manque d'intelligence, de savoir-vivre ou de scrupules.
“When are you getting back to Paris?”
I'm sitting alone in a somewhat art nouveau bar in a city not far from the Belgian border.
“Around 22h,” I reply.
I am surprised he would pose such a question. He told me he had a drink with a girl from Bordeaux yesterday. This seems like a lot of social interaction for him.
“Oh, that's late.”
“Is it?” I'm very nocturnal.
Seeing as it's only 18h30 and I have nothing much else left to do, I change my train to return to Paris before 20h30.
“What if I told you I'd be at your place before 21?”
“I'd feel guilty if I want to work.”
“Then stop talking to me and go back to work. À tout !”
“Now you're forcing me.” (Forcing him to do what? To work? To see me?)
“No, I'm not,” I reply, because I don't like the idea of anyone forcing anyone to do anything.
“That's amazing,” he says.
I wonder what is amazing.
I start jogging towards Lille Europe. I pass a park called Parc Matisse, perhaps the least groomed park I’ve seen since moving back to France. I reminisce on the Musée Matisse and how I nearly toppled off the bus after visiting it. That quartier of Nice was far from flat.
Parc Matisse has a big soccer field (Matisse était-il grand fan du foot?) and an abandoned children's slide beside the stairs to the street of the train station. I snap a quick shot of the metal glinting off the slide like a foil to the enormous chain hotel behind it.
On the train, I finish The Idiot (by Elif Batuman) on the train and start reading Emma.
Emma is a fucking snob when it comes to men. She doesn't think anyone is worthy of her friend’s attention.
I am basically Emma, I think sadly.
I knock on the door. He opens it. I make myself do la bise.
He is eating. Je lui ai dit que j’ai déjà dîné. Does a pint of Tripel and an overpriced sandwich count as dinner?
He eats, I talk. He washes his dishes.
"Do you always wash your dishes immediately after you eat?" I laugh.
"Yes, I've always done it like this," he says.
I stare in what I hope is not an overly disapproving way as he slides them back into the cabinet.
I am already filing this information in my mind as a con.
I quickly realize that he wants to work, or, as he says, bosser.
“Ça te dérange pas?” he asks as he turns his back to me to go on his computer.
He has stopped apologizing for his activities as he explains them.
“I just have to check this site...”
I flash him the Jane Austen. "I'm reading my book," I say plainly.
That doesn't answer his original question, but it does satisfy him.
He nods and returns to his work.
I read over fifty eight pages of my book.
My Australian friend calls me to express her disappointment that the guys with whom she had previously enjoyed two hours of jokes and lively conversation have just used "triso" as an insult.
Her sister has down syndrome.
We doubt that they even felt bad when she told them.
"Maybe for twenty seconds," she says glumly.
Finally, after a considerable period of time in the washroom, he sinks next to me on the couch. I would say "beside me" instead of "next to me" but even "beside" sounds too intimate. Only our knees are touching and he looks supremely distressed. He puts his head in his hands at one point talking about how much work he has to do.
I left my notebook open to the pages where I copied down quotes from The Idiot.
I don't know if I did this to make him feel like I was doing something or not.
He once suggested I use the adjective active instead of productive, which is bizarre because productivity is something he is intensely concerned by.
"Don't they break it down for you?" I laugh, referring to his studies for l'agrégation.
"Yeah, but you still have to do the work," he says, drawing out the word work.
I place the empty tea cup from the tea he gave me back on the table.
"When's the last métro?"
I wonder why I can’t linger in the space of wondering whether men are going to upset me. Par contre, I am predisposed to placing myself in situations where they can promptly do so.
I leave him with the RATP tab open.
A young blonde girl stops me in one of the cavernous hallways of Place de Clichy.
I’m unsure of her age but it’s clear she’s distressed.
Paris Nord. She informs me breathlessly that her phone has died.
“You’re trying to get to Gare du Nord?” I inquire.
I tell her she needs to catch the dernier métro. It comes in eleven minutes. I can’t give her that last bit of information because she’s already jogging.
I won’t say that she is wasting her time because we all have the same eleven minutes in front of us. The métro takes no Pass Privilège.
We meet again on the quai. She asks me if I speak French.
I never said anything to her in English before but I tell her I am Canadian.
That doesn't answer her original question, but it does satisfy her.
“So how can I take English courses en dehors de l'école?” she asks me.
I tell her about Superprof and Leboncoin, and how I posted an annonce on each of those sites.
Her eyes light up. She wants to habiter à Londres, even though she doesn't know any English.
I'm not sure she understands my accent in French. I tell her I would like to improve it.
"Mais nooon!" She swats away the idea with a manicured hand.
"Girls, guess what I'm going to smoke?" A creepy man suddenly corners us.
I pretend I don't speak English. "Je vais bouger," I say to the girl.
The man is not French. He is incredibly large.
I have nothing else to say.
Finally, he retreats.
When the metro arrives, the girl offers me a piece of gum. I tear off half of the mint green substance and place the rest in my pocket for safe-keeping. It is Hollywood Chewing Gum. The girl seems like the type of person who would non-ironically enjoy being on the Sunset Strip. A guy with a handlebar moustache asks for some as well. He receives a silver rectangle of foil in the palm of his hand that is not clutching an empty wine glass.
We all place the gum in our mouths around the same time. It’s like communion.
Imagine if the girl and I made a big show of putting the gum in our mouths.
"Guess what we're going to chew on to freshen our breath?"
We could whisper from a corner too.
Since I have decided that I trust the girl I remind her that if she wants to go to Gare du Nord she should descendre at La Chapelle. At her request, I tell her how to say "tu m’as sauvé la vie" in English.
A man leans in close to my neck and comments on my perfume. C’est quoi ?
I almost regret going to Printemps in Lille. This is Estée Lauder's granddaughter's shit, I think.
I glare at the man. The girl asked why I am going home so late. I have to answer.
I tell her I was at a friend's (this is a lie) and that because I have to catch a train to Lyon early tomorrow it would be best for me to go home and faire mes valises now.
I don't make it seem like I have lots to pack but I do make it seem like it was my choice to leave the apartment. Because it was my choice. I could have stayed there. But I have too much pride.
I wanted to be equally done with him. I'm good at being the one who leaves.
But never the one who checks out.
I think about this nice passage from The Idiot about how some people just need to narrativize everything. I am one of those people for sure. I was already thinking how I could write about this French boy, how I could cast him and his thick eyebrows, as I was reading on the corner of his couch.
“What about you?” I ask the girl. “Why are you trying to get back to Gare du Nord so late?”
“Do you really understand French?” she asks softly.
“Yes,” I chuckle.
She tells me a man said he would call her an Uber but then he just wanted to touch her so she had to rentrer à pied. She escaped.
“Bon courage,” she brushes my arm as she floats out towards another tunnel.
“Bon courage,” I whisper as I move away from the Perfume Sniffer.
I am no fewer than three paces past the immediate vicinity of the bench when he calls after me.
"Bonsoir," he says. I grimace. "Bon soir," he repeats twice more with increasing urgency.
He tells me not to rougir, or be afraid… he makes some kind of comment about mes fesses. I turn the corner. I can't be arsed to tune in.
I get into my apartment.
No motorcycle men have followed me. I am safe.
I’m safe but I’m mad that I can't occupy space at night the same way men can. I alternate between moments joy derived from being alone (predominantly during the day), and inordinate loneliness (le soir).
I flash back to my friend Justin hugging a homeless man near Pigalle one night. The night we took off nearly all our clothes in a small apartment and ate the sweet potato fries he baked while dancing to Abba. The fun we had at night, traipsing through the streets near Canal Saint Martin. The unbridled freedom of movement.
I will change my train twice more before my departure to Lyon.
I lay in bed and wonder what else I can change in my life.
I've never been able to overlook cons easily.