It’s been a decade since the last time I was here.
Getting from Charles De Gaulle to La Fourche feels like weaving my way through the well-trodden welcome mat of a respectable, old, brothel.
I fumble through the process of getting my ticket onto the RER into the city.
Five stops in, a man enters the train. He is a fat man in the way a man gets fat from being too full of life. A small girl walks along beside him. He stands in the center of the train. The small girl waits beside him watching one of her feet kick the other.
The man begins calling out something in French. I don’t understand his words, but I know what he wants. His throat is wet with shameful tears. It adds an edge to his voice that is recognizable in any language. When he finishes, the young girl walks off down the train, hands outstretched. The man comes my way. He holds out his hand.
I shake my head. He moves on, politely. I watch him go from seat to seat with his hand outstretched. No one looks at him. No one moves. The train stops, he gets off. A woman makes eye contact with me for a moment, then we both look away.
I get off at Gare Du Nord. It is vibrating with footsteps. I make my way into a tunnel toward line two. Against a wall a family sits. A man and woman with their heads bowed. A sign in front of them says “Syrian”. Their children sit beside them, wailing. A sea of headphones pass them by. I am listening to The Mountain Goats. I can hear the children through the music. The boy’s face is stretched out as though Edvard Munch painted him just for me.
I am sweating. My shoulders hurt. Once I have finally made it out into the light Parisian air I take a breath, I sigh. I walk away from the crowd. I stand on a side street to smoke a cigarette. A pair of green dumpsters sits across from me. A limping man approaches to my right. He holds a bag. He drops it. He opens one dumpster, then the next.
A man with neat hair and glasses walks between us, he tosses a bottle of some sort toward the bins, he misses. The limping man snatches up the bottle.
I smoke and watch him. He doesn’t notice me, or, doesn’t care. He doesn’t find anything of value. He moves to the other side of the road. I watch him repeat the process. I finish my cigarette before he is through. I pick up my bag and find my way to the bar where I am supposed to meet my friend.
I order a beer. The waitress smiles and recommends a stout.
I tip her well, as is appropriate.