Hi guys. Betty here.
Today’s story was written by The Alchemist. I remember that the first time I read it, the images stayed in my head. I hope you enjoy it as much..
The train begins to move erratically, like a confused, mechanical millipede unsure of which direction to take and yet, compelled to begin its movement.
My head jerks back and forth in response to its starting shudders until it finally overcomes its inertia and begins to move with some measure of confidence. My head regains stability. I turn to my left and tell Bena that she can sleep if she wants to; only one of us needs to be awake to alert the others when we get to Val d’europe. She says something to me in her soft Scottish accent – a funny comment or an expression of gratitude – I am not sure, and before long, even the tone of its expression are lost in the labyrinths of my memories like many other such small things said in small moments things before it. It is a few minutes past midnight and we have just managed to hop onto the last eastbound train at Charles de Gaulle Etoile after walking from the Louvre to the Arch du Triumph and prancing about Champs Elysees, taking in most of the sights that the city of love had to offer along the way eve though none of us are in love with each other. It is 12:04a.m., we are tired and the rest of our party already took up sleeping positions before the train came alive. I cannot sleep. I feel electric. Perhaps I have inhaled some potent love some sort of ebullient emotion that
Bena is starting to nod off now, her dark blonde hair draped around her right shoulder and her left hand resting on her right thigh with her engagement ring visible to see. She had shown it to me earlier that evening during dinner when we talked in some detail about her fiancée and their coming naturalist wedding. I had queried in whispered jest as to whether the stone was a real diamond or cubic zirconium and she had whispered back to me in what I assume was good humour that it was real before elucidating the details of a naturalist wedding. In the dim light of the Midnight train from Paris, the ring looked simple, elegant, and beautiful. I turn away from her, lean back in the uncomfortable seat of the train to retrieve my iPod with the hope of listening to some music when I see her – a caramel-coloured vision of beauty seated across the carriage, three rows away from me. Just like Bena’s ring, she is simple, elegant, and beautiful.
She is wearing a grey jacket and black tights with a thick grey shawl around her neck. Her hair is done up in a bun atop her head with a pair of black Beats by Dre headphones resting in front of it, much like a 21st century tiara. From the colour of her skin and the curly appearance of her hair I can tell she is of mixed race – most likely European with some African (perhaps Caribbean) blood or vice versa. Regardless of which it is, she presents a glorious visage to behold. And behold I do; until she sees me staring at her from across the carriage.
Mildly embarrassed, I am about to turn my head away when she smiles. It is a faint smile, barely there, but I see it as clearly as a lost seaman would see the beacon from a lighthouse guiding him home. It’s the kind of smile I imagine a woman would wear when she sees that a man has taken a liking to her and is wondering if he will do something about it or not. I sit there transfixed, as though her beauty is a bright blinding light and I am a small woodland creature caught in its rays. Her smile widens a little bit more and some courage takes a firm hold of my erratically beating heart. I begin to map out a course of action in my head.
First I will get up slowly from my chair and walk over to her unhurriedly, with a smile kept firmly in place on my face – one should not create the impression of desperation in the mind of a beautiful woman. Thankfully, there are three free seats beside her, more than enough space for me to come within conversing distance without making her uncomfortable. I will then say to her in my atrocious French “Tu es magnifique” – a cheesy pick-up phrase I had learned just the day before from Delphine while we were on the bus back to the hotel. I imagine she will laugh at my clumsy command of her language and then I will ask “Tu parle Anglais?” To which she would invariably reply “A little bit” in equally atrocious English. We will then stumble into a conversation about where she was from – she will say her father is a French engineer who married her mother while he was stationed in Trinidad and Tobago (or something of the sort) at which point I will tell her I am an engineer as well and she will make an awkward joke about how happy her father would be to meet someone like me in her company. After sidestepping a few awkward silences, our conversation will casually drift towards movies and music and I will tell her, in fine detail, all about the genius that is Quentin Tarantino and speak quite highly of ‘The Artist’ which I saw just a few weeks ago. As I put together this plan in my head, I am mildly aware that this is more or less the same conversation I had with Delphine two days ago. But then again, as the Americans say…
“‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
I resolve within me that when the train is finally about to reach my stop, I will ask her for her phone number and then proceed to ask her if she will accompany me to the Eiffel tower on Wednesday if I am still in the city, even though I am sure she has been there several times before. At the point of asking, I will be sure to put on the warmest smile I can muster. Yes, this is a fine plan and if all goes well, she will say…
She is still looking at me steadily, but her smile is gone. It appears this nameless beauty and I have been staring at each other for a considerable amount of time, the exact quantity of which I am not aware. I place my right hand on my thigh to support myself and I glance at my watch as I do so. I recoil with shock. It is almost 1:00 a.m.! We will soon be at our station. I must have fallen asleep while staring at her – plotting my advance – and then woken up at an instant when she happened to look back towards me. Time had flown by in an instant. I clandestinely drop my chin to my shoulder and use my forearm to wipe my face. I try to recompose my thoughts and work up some confidence to approach her again but just as I make my attempt to rise, Bena touches my shoulder lightly and asks me to wake the rest of our party. We are almost at Val d’europe. I sigh heavily.
As we clamber out of the train and onto the platform, I turn back to look at the vision that will come to represent my missed opportunities and haunt my subconscious for some time to come, sitting on the carriage seat and looking at me with mildly disappointed (or perhaps just indifferent) eyes. I call out to her in my atrocious French…
“Tu es magnifique, mademoiselle, une autre fois peut-être”
…just as the doors of the train shut and the metal millipede continues its journey through the tunnels of Paris. I turn away quickly so that I will not be sure if she has heard me or not. If she has, I hope my words flatter her enough to make her smile again. Perhaps someone else on the train will see that faint, radiant smile and make the move that I did not have the chance to.
“Friend of yours?” Bena asks me, tugging gently on my arm to remind me that we need all to get back to the hotel.
“Not really” I reply softly.
It seems I shall be going to the Eiffel tower on my own when Wednesday comes.
I walk up the ancient stairs of the station slowly, mentally kicking myself for letting slumber get the better of me. When we exit the station, Bena asks me to walk with her to the Italian shop across the street, just besides the next train stop. It is late and she is hungry. I agree without much hesitation. The night air will do me some good, I think. We leave our bags with our more weary colleagues and begin the short walk to the shop. When we reach the crossing, we pause to wait by the side of the empty road for the lights that will tell us that we can safely cross, to turn green. I make a joke alluding to the silliness of obeying traffic lights at 1:34 am when there is obviously no traffic to be mindful of. This elicits a chortle from Bena. She responds with a joke of her own but by this time, I am no longer listening to her.
Standing right across the road, also needlessly obeying the over-zealous traffic lights, waiting to cross in the opposite direction, is my potential Parisian princess from the train. She is smiling a broad smile. There is no mistaking the hint of recognition in here eyes. This is no trifling sign. This a second chance.
I return her smile, with some interest, and begin to summon my limited French vocabulary to the front line of my mind. I turn to Bena with a mind to beg her pardon but she is smiling as well, she already knows what is happening. I need not say anything. I turn back hastily to look across the road, some part of me is afraid that my romantic quarry will evaporate like a pool of spilled ester in a chemistry lab or a fade away like a river fairy if I look away for too long. Chances are fickle things. Second ones are even more so. This time, I tell myself as a smile cuts its way across my face from deep within my soul, I will not let sleep stop me from taking mine.
The light turns green and, confidently, without any plan in my head but a plenitude of hope in my heart, I take the first step towards my destiny.
Please share your thoughts below.