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Perched at the edge of our third story apartment’s window, I’d been sitting sentry for nearly two hours watching for the van that would bring our lost luggage. Midnight was near and the street below, Rue Volta, in Paris, was empty. Across the way, Bagel Tom, had closed its door hours ago and its dimly lit signboard jutting from the ancient stone wall hung motionless. To my right a couple exited from Feng Shen Restaurant and were slowly wandering home. At the other end of the block, La Falon’s last two hangers-on emptied their beer glasses and left the tiny street-side table they had occupied all night. Tipsy Frenchmen and the two lovers crossed paths below unaware of the rapidly fatiguing American sentinel observing their day’s-end journeys. As the people left so did the light and Rue Volta’s darkened demeanour now matched my own.
I did not see the young French couple at first. Ever vigilant for the delivery service vehicle, I failed to notice them under the Bagel Tom sign until their playful exchanges rose above the constant lowing of the traffic on Rue Volta’s perimeter. They were about nineteen and dressed for a warm summer night. She was tall and thin with shoulder-length dark hair, quick to laugh. Even in the dim light and from three floors up I could tell she was beautiful. He looked like the kind of boy who would love a girl like that. I would have given them their privacy and looked away except for the young man’s sudden vertical explosion. He, seemingly without effort, sprung straight up and slapped the Bagel Tom sign above his head. When he landed, she eyed him silently then followed with a woefully inadequate attempt of her own, thrusting her arm wildly toward the wooden square, rewarded only with a handful of night air, a full twelve inches below the sign. When her feet returned to their concrete launching pad she was met with a smug little snicker – a response a more practiced suitor would have known to avoid. A two-handed shove to his chest was her reply. I don’t speak French but the movements of their bodies, their postures and gestures spoke clearly to me. He was issuing her a challenge.
I watched her turn and then walk some distance away. I thought she might be leaving but she spun around and stopped then rushed in the direction of the boy. Just before reaching him, she leapt into the air and took another swipe at the sign. Missed by a mile. At that moment her taunter became her coach. He moved quickly to a spot down the sidewalk about fifteen feet from the target and gestured towards the ground. When she was in position, he moved to a place just in front of where the Bagel Tom sign hung and planted his right foot as a marker. He barked something in French and she tore down the lane, reached his foot and propelled herself toward the sign. Failure. They replayed this tableau six or seven more times. On each try the girl would run at the sign, the boy would shout encouragement, and as she approached her target, I could see him unconsciously lean, bend his knees and stretch up as if his vicarious participation would carry her to success. It never did. As she tromped back for one last run at the target, I saw a pair of headlights turn onto our street and then slowly back out. Without hesitation I sprinted down two flights of stairs to the sidewalk waving my arms at the white Peugeot van that I knew had our precious bags. I briefly looked back only to see that the young couple had gone. Behind one of the apartment doors on that side of the street I suspected. Laughing and enjoying the thrill of unimportant things I hoped.
The next morning, I lugged our suitcases downstairs and deposited them on the sidewalk. Our driver would arrive soon. I glanced across the street and saw the Bagel Tom sign moving gently back and forth and it gave me pause. I stared at it for a few seconds then removed my hat and stepped into the street. I travelled quickly across the rough, cobblestone surface of the road to the walkway on the other side and took my position about fifteen feet from the swaying shingle. I bent over, took the set position and burst off the line running as fast as my old legs would carry me. At exactly the point where the young French boy had planted his foot as a marker for his lovely pupil I threw my body upward, raised my arm, extended my fingers and struck at the Bagel Tom sign. Missed by a mile.
Michael Harrelson, 73, is retired and has chosen to dedicate his travels to primarily France and, always, Paris. Michael and his wife, Nancy, were both “orthophonistes” who worked in the public schools of San Diego, California. They have explored most of the regions of France and love the small village of Semur-en-Auxois; quiet, beautiful and the perfect place to contemplate the slow moving Armançon River and write.
Lead photo credit : The Wall of Love in Montmartre, Paris © shutterstock
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