Paris, September 2011

by George Pringle

Excerpt from “Lone Stranger – Tour Diaries”

When you got to the end of the road, you stopped in the van and looked in the rearview.   You looked into it for minute or so. There was no traffic on the road, just me standing there, camouflaged in my grey blazer against the cobbles and the pale walls rising about us. I don’t know if you saw me in the rearview. Whether it was me you looked to. But I like to think so. That when you stopped at the end of the road, you thought of how you’d miss me. Or you thought of how small I looked on that big grey street.  How you wanted to drive back and get me.

In reality, you were checking your blind spot. A best case scenario, you simply stopped and saw me looking small in the road and you thought for a minute or so of how I looked just standing there.

Off to Sweden you went, with my money.  You would stay with the promoter. Usually when promoters are attractive and they ask you to stay…I didn’t want to think about it.  And they did look a bit like models, her housemates…I’d seen them on FaceBook.  A group of pretty girls living in a pretty house on the lake or wherever.  How did I know this?  One of them always liked your photographs. I’d gotten sucked in and binged on her life.  I didn’t want to think about it.

The road now had about it a strange kind of quiet.  The clouds had closed in.  Is it possible, there was less sound?  Here I was, alone in Paris, £700 down, missed my Eurostar and now, an eight hour bus journey to look forward to.  Yes, that’s what I was like, a certain kind of foolish man. The kind you see in old movies. The type to give some floozy money and furs. Then she disappears.  This inverse cliché amused me.

I took myself, heavily to a cafe. I ordered a coffee and a pain au chocolat.  I ate it slowly.  My thin cheeks collapsed in on the frail flesh of the pastry. The cafe was in a stodgy style, the kind you see everywhere in mainstream Paris. Brass and plastic, lattice chairs…my eyes wandered over to the corner, to a boy.  He must have been about nine years old. He seemed to be sitting alone.

Pale and bespectacled, he blew cautiously from behind his frames, cooling his allongé. He sipped with a seriousness that depressed me. I averted my gaze and remarked to myself that I had never seen a child drinking coffee before. I needed sleep. This place was freaking me out. I went out to the terrace and lit a cigarette.  Sitting within the transparent tarpaulin, I smoked it fast, suddenly realising the time.

I rushed off towards the station. One last honk of the Gendarmerie.  A last look to the foreboding column, ruling over Bastille and a lingering glance to the faded greyish-gold of the sky before the Metro could swallow me.  I would miss this miserable splendour.

When I got in to Gallieni, I was late, so I started running.  God I just hate to be late. My Mary-Janes clattered on the brown tiles in the underpass. I had fifteen minutes but I’d made it!  Handing my ticket to the man at the kiosk, there was an unnerving silence.  He studied it closely, before lifting his disenchanted face.

“Ce n’est pas le ticket, c’est la confirmation. Vous devez aller et imprimer le billet.”

He said this quickly and officiously before sliding the pointless paper across the counter towards me.

 This could only happen to me.

“Oh s’il te plait. Je n’ai pas le temps. Le bus part maintenant. S’il vous plaît pouvez-vous simplement accepter la conformation? Vous pouvez voir l’heure de départ et le … le paiement …et…mon nom” I said, running my fingernail pedantically beneath each detail.  

He looked at me with something akin to distaste.  I suppose he was right.  Who was I to give him a hard time?

“D’accord” was said, before flying into a bind panic.  I started running again.  My bag overwhelmed me.  It leant me a demented manner as I hiked the stairs and skirted the ring-road outside in a frenzied fashion, looking for a hotel

I ran into the first place I saw and looked at the man on the desk.

“S’il vous plaît, j’ai un besoin urgent d’utiliser Internet”

Silly, schoolgirl French.

The man behind reception looked at me. There was a beat and he slowly turned around in his revolving chair to look for something on the desk behind him. His tie rested on his taught paunch, it burrowed between his buttons.  He laboriously went about writing something down, stopping to check it was correct before scrubbing it out and starting again.

My blood ran warm.  He handed the code to me before ambling across the room to a PC. He rummaged around on the floor, finding the power button.  A flimsy ping and then a clunky “Warning” sign flashed on its lapis screen.  A fizzing of circuitry turned to a clumsy fan. It was taking forever.  Finally the time appeared on the right, it said it was half past already. My heart vaulted and I put my hand in my pocket to look for my phone. No, it was ten minutes fast.

I still had ten minutes.

Eventually I managed to launch a web browser, to login and to print the damned thing. I left the man with 5 euros, not waiting for my change. I rushed back and arrived, triumphantly on time.  My friend was just about to close his kiosk but miserably he stopped, taking the ticket, silently, scribbling with biro, absently before cordoning everything off.