I bury my head deep inside my leftist newspaper, “Libéraction” or “Libé” for short, or inside my balanced, or rather center-right “Le Monde”, or my extremist denunciating, conspiracy-filled satirical newspaper, the one that tells me what “people” try to hide, and that goes by a name I particularly favor, “The Chained Duck.”
I read my papers, fingers steadily staining, and I pretend to avidly ready my novels, ever the little intellectual bookworm, so that people won’t talk to me, but really, it doesn’t work. Occasionally someone strikes up a conversation, and in a city where everyone complains there is no sponatenous human interaction, I seem to witness it daily.
People don’t expect kindness in big cities, and the shocked, blank look they give, if you extend a helping hand is often sadder than the general apathy towards lifting a finger. I’m careful, I don’t act stupid, but I also don’t want people to think the city is heartless, because it isn’t. We make it what it is.
I leave origami frogs with messages on them in subways. Sometimes.
Around midnight the underbelly surfaces, and I love them all, the drunks, stumbling along the urine-scented corridors of the sad bus terminal. It reminds me of the Port Authority, minus the desperation of public transport in America. Here, normal people take the bus, not just the destitute. People in Paris who have good jobs, expensive appartments, find themselves queuing like me, at quarter to one in the morning, glad they made it for the last bus.
Makes for early nights out, but what the heck. At least there’s fauna to keep me titillated.
Tonight, a bunch of horny teenagers were racing down the halls, torsos naked, trying to negociate drinking beer (Heineken) and smoking cigarettes and touching each other’s cheeks at the same time, singing loud songs of 1968 protestors that made the older folks hide a smile.
People duck their head when they smile. Hiding their defeat at being moved by someone they don’t know?
The bus isn’t always pleasant. Caught one night, at one in the morning in a super-full bus with a couple necking two feet away from me, two men coughing up phlegm behind me and next to me, and a fleshy person leaning against the bar I was supposed to be holding, made it a bit…uncomfortable.
But there is charm even in the midnight bus. The last bus home, the bus of urgency, and when I take it, I almost don’t mind living so far away from the City. It affords me still, my perspective, always the perspective I love. The outsider, eternally. The outsider, looking in. In onto the old man, tumbling drunk, barely standing up, leaning against the metal wall who misses the phone call that emerges from inside his jacket. After royally cussing, and nearly falling down, he fumbles, finds the offending object, and manages to dial back, still vacillating, but somehow managing to do two things at once. He dials the lost call, and in a slurred voice, manages to say “hello…honey bunny? my love, I’ll be riiiiight there, I’m coming, my sweetheart.”