“Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait…”
Maybe it was my posture, or because I was pretending to be engrossed in my map. It could have been my appearance.
A girl had just glided effortlessly along the pavement and my eyes were discreetly following her until he interrupted.
“You speak English.”
I remember smiling politely and being grateful for a familiar accent. However, he looked out of place, an Englishman in Paris. And yet there he was, unabashed; his trilby and smart suit.
I cannot recall what his question was; I don’t think there was a question. My attention was elsewhere; the girl with the long, slender legs. I do remember that he persisted, and I couldn’t bring myself to be rude.
Years later, when I told Sam her immediate response was, “How could you be so naïve; what were you thinking?” As if I was thinking anything other than feeling grateful that a kind man was being friendly to a soul lost in Paris. And that’s the thing. It is easy to be objective from where I am now.
I’m lying on a beige carpet, staring into the flat white surface above me. There are shadows from a bubble-gum tree; the shadows are coloured, bright orange, green and yellow. And there is an albatross slowly gliding towards a chandelier. Someone is calling my name. I recognise the bowtie that rotates when he puts his right hand in his trouser pocket. It’s ‘Obélix’.
I pretend that I haven’t heard him.
“…why are you such a maggot?”
The laughter makes me realise. There is a pause. I decide that I have nothing to gain from being complacent. For once the consequences don’t frighten me.
I sigh deeply as I raise my head.
The silence is empowering. Suddenly his expression turns sour, and his bowtie stops revolving. He raises his bushy eyebrows; he looks surprised. It has never taken this long before. No one moves. My hesitation has obviously surprised them. Pringle, who is sitting next to me, has his gaze fixed on something on his desk. I tighten my grip on my pencil; I look towards the front. The blackboard is covered in erratic squiggles that mean nothing. My eyes meet with his. Someone whispers, “Go on Spooners; go on.”