6th of July
We came out of La Rotonde while it was still raining so we headed directly for the subway. Before we got off at Invalides, the sky had miraculously cleared up, and the wind had chased all the dark clouds away. It stopped raining but the streets were so wet they turned into a mirror in which pedestrians could examine their reflections. We were heading to Pont Alexandre III. The sun was just setting over the Seine.
“It’s so beautiful you can’t help falling in love,” I said and nobody said anything afterwards. Mysterious forces had brought us onto that bridge after having teamed up in order to let us admire the incredible spectacle performed for us by the Universe.
The sun was hiding away beyond the horizon like a child who’s afraid of the darkness. An hour later, streetlamps were lit and dusk obscured the rainbow which had embellished the sky after the rain. Bateau mouches were moving along the Seine, drawing apart the glistening colorful flickers of light that had been magically cast on the water by the streetlamps. The pale moon was climbing the stairway to heaven and the Eiffel Tower glittered in the distance. Devoid of her smartphone, Julia used her fingers to shape an imaginary camera and made a clicking sound, pretending to immortalize that beautiful view.
Among the people walking along the bridge, one could notice lovers, lost wanderers, those who think about love, those who wait for someone, and those who are about to meet the person waiting for them. In Paris, there was a spectacle of light, the night came slowly and gently like new verses of a sonnet being written inside the poet’s head. It was almost midnight.
We left Pont Alexandre III without saying a word. We were the shadows which roamed around Paris at night in search of the smallest particle of light. Suddenly, Robert’s ringtone roused me from the feeling of rapture. He looked at us as if he wanted to apologize and took the call.
“It’s freezing cold and it doesn’t want to stop raining. What about you?” he said, winking meaningfully at us. We chuckled.
About a quarter later, we got back on the subway. As soon as the train left the station, a man with a speaker and a trumpet, who got on the train together with us, started playing “What a Wonderful World”. I looked around. People were sitting as usual, some of them were talking, somebody was playing with a smartphone, and someone else was staring dully at nothing particular, awaiting the end of journey. A girl was gazing at a man who was standing by the door and reading a book. While she was getting off at one of the stations, she slipped a small note between the pages of his book, whispering “give me a call”, and ran out through the door. He followed her with his eyes smiling and then returned to reading.
It was our last day in Paris. I thought about how incredible it was that I got there in the first place. I also thought about the people who happen to be only the passers-by in our lives; they come and go, sometimes stirring things up a bit. On the other hand, there are Angels, as I call them, who resemble shooting stars, bringing some light into our room. I thought about Julia and Robert, about the coincidence as a result of which we had met as well as many other twists of fate that we had experienced during our journey. At that moment exactly, Robert must have noticed my pondering since he addressed me with the words he would frequently use in many situations, both good and bad.
“You know, Charles, maybe it was all supposed to be like that.”
10th of July
We arrived in Paris in sheets of rain and we left Paris in sheets of rain. I’m sure it was less coincidental than it seemed.
A couple of hours later, we made a stop in a parking lot somewhere in the vicinity of Loiret and sat down at a wooden table, laying out the map. We were not far from the Loire and we could see groups of cyclists pedaling from one castle to another.
We couldn’t decide what to do. Robert thought about staying for a few more days in order to thoroughly plan the next steps but Julia didn’t even want to hear about it. She woke up in the morning along with a sudden desire to go to Bordeaux and visit all our friends who were waiting out there for us. Actually, she was the only one who had friends in Bordeaux – she had met them on the Internet.
“It’s beautiful out there,” she tried to persuade Robert and me. “We know a lot people there. Why should we go somewhere we don’t know anybody? To get bored?”
She was getting on my nerves. All she cared about was herself and her virtual friends. I looked at Robert who shared my opinion but didn’t want to say it out loud.
“It’s pointless,” I said to Julia. “Bordeaux is too far away. And you don’t really know those people.”
She rose from the bench, bridling at my remark.
“How can you tell whether I know somebody? Who are you, anyway? And stop giving me all those good advices and telling me what to do. You don’t know me, you understand? You’re nobody, you hear? You’re just nobody!” She pulled the map off the table, stalking away.
“You could stop talking so much, at least once,” I muttered but the words were clearly audible. I was really angry and I didn’t want to suppress my anger.
Robert was shifting his petrified eyes from Julia to me and from me to Julia.
“Come back!” he shouted to her and then switched to a quiet, unnaturally calm voice. “You know, Charles, I think we should go back. We don’t even have a place to stay for the night.
I guess it all ends here. I don’t want to go further. Anyway, screw all of that.” He gave me a desperate look; then lay down on the bench and closed his eyes while the sky started to shed tears which dripped down his face, drop after drop.
We sat almost motionlessly for a couple of hours, without saying a single word. We couldn’t bear looking at each other. In Paris, none of us wanted to make a slightest move in order not to disturb the beautiful sunset over the Seine. Now, none of us could make the first step in an attempt to somehow restore the usual order. The world around us seemed like it had died down: birds didn’t sing, there was not a single cyclist passing by, nobody decided to take a walk. But it was still drizzling and the rain drops dripped down our faces, replacing the tears we were unable to shed ourselves. My grandfather always told me there are words too difficult to say and that one must pay a high price and suffer a great deal to finally get them out. Now I was getting his message.
In the afternoon, Robert suddenly got up, took the keys out of pocket and went to the car.
“Come on,” he said to us. “Let’s go.”
I’m not sure whether it was some hidden inaudible voice that made us follow him or we simply didn’t have another choice. We followed Robert like two lost souls or ghosts trying to cast off their chains and finally conclude their journey. We didn’t know where he was taking us. We drove in silence and none us even thought about asking where we were going to. When night fell, I closed my eyes to avoid the dazzling lights of the cars going in the opposite direction. We bumped occasionally on rough sections of the road and we didn’t make any stops on the way so we had the impression we would drive forever. It was getting very late but I couldn’t get any sleep – I kept my eyes half-open, as if I was daydreaming, and I shifted my eyes between Julia and Robert who were looking at the road that kept disappearing under the car to the tune playing quietly on the radio.
They didn’t expect being summoned so suddenly like no one would expect an abrupt storm tearing the night sky apart with a lightning. They filled the suitcases with their most precious belongings – memories, hopes, strings of all the days they had been pulling along like freight trains moving with a heavy clatter of wheels into the misty future. The night was falling, bringing along the swelling warmth of the darkness. Streetlamps illuminated the corners of the busy streets with an artificial light like the stars knocked off from the sky with a sloppy movement of a hand. They followed a violinist in a patched-up hat to a large and almost empty parking lot which was surrounded by the pale light of the neon signs. The red bus was already there waiting for them, and the driver was repeatedly tapping on his watch while he was finishing his last cigarette. It seemed to be just an usual evening in a large city but people kept coming. Everyone turned around nervously from time to time in order to make sure there were others behind them. They differed in age but their suitcases were identical – some were full to the brim and others were half-empty since nobody knew what to take along, they hadn’t been prepared although they had been informed of the journey in advance. Soon, the suitcases filled the trunk, and the passengers found their seats on the bus. The driver closed the door and started the old engine. He looked at his handless watch and decided it was a good moment for setting off on the journey.
Johnny Cash’s deep voice flowed from the on-board speakers. The interior of the bus was filled with piles of what seemed to be an unwanted and unnecessary junk. Cardboard boxes, blankets, a variety of awkward trinkets and silver pendants. There were empty Coca-Cola bottles rolling on the floor and feathered dream catchers hanging from the roof. The road kept disappearing under the wheels while the bus passed the specters of other cars traveling on that highway. The passengers were nervous with their thoughts being haunted by uncertainty. A sweet feeling of inertia was beginning to grip them, making them feel as if they were involuntarily leaving all those complicated matters of the world behind. They didn’t know what to do. An egret sitting motionlessly next to the driver had somehow chained them to their seats with its gaze. In its beak, there was a scale with a cicada on one side and a glow-worm on the other side. The scale was continuously balancing between immortality and the moment.
They were traveling across the lands shrouded in darkness. Occasionally, they could notice groups of conjurers standing on the side of the road, unicorns strolling between the old trees that must have been there for hundreds of years, shining fairies tapping on the windows of the bus and imprinting their smile on the passengers’ hearts. However, all they could do was to watch as if they were in a gallery, admiring the paintings, walking along its corridors and experiencing a short-lived impression that they owned its treasure. They kept passing through the lands shrouded in darkness, being unable to learn anything about them due to the defective cogwheels of their memory.
The passengers kept looking other people in the eyes in search of their own reflections. They even tried to strike up a conversation from time to time but the words seemed to be spoken into an empty space since nobody could hear anything, as if everyone had their ears covered with headphones and tried to tell their neighbors the song they were listening to at the moment. “It’s so unreal”, said retired Shakespeare. “Are you sure you haven’t forgotten anything?” asked the thief. The would-be queen of France sat in her seat, muttering something to herself. Most of the passengers kept silent while the driver was taking them into the unknown.
The bus bumped occasionally on rough sections of the road while the periwinkle light illuminated faces of the passengers who were just falling asleep. A couple of hours later, they woke up only to fall asleep again. The night seemed endless. So they drove along the infinite roads of eternity like the stupefied patients in a large hospital where the doctor in a white apron tries to cure life with death, and then cure death with life.
To be continued
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