The train begins to move erratically, like a confused millipede unsure of which direction to take and yet compelled to begin its movement. My head jerks back and forth in response to its shudders until it finally finds its bearing and begins to move with some measure of confidence. My head regains stability. I turn to my left and tell Bena that she can sleep if she wants to; only one of us needs to be awake to alert the others when we get to Val d’europe. She says something to me in her soft Scottish accent – a thing which has now become lost in the labyrinths of my memories like many other inconsequential things before it. I think it was a joke of some sort. I vaguely recall laughing. It was a few minutes past midnight and we had just managed to hop onto the last eastbound train at Charles de Gaulle Etoile after walking from the Louvre to the Arch du Triumph and prancing about Champs Elysees, taking in most of the sights that the city of love had to offer along the way. It is 12:04 a.m., we are all tired and the rest of our party had already taken up sleeping positions before the train came alive. I cannot sleep despite my physical weariness.
I miss sleeping next to you.
Bena is starting to nod off now, her dark blonde hair draped around her right shoulder and her left hand resting on her right thigh with her engagement ring visible to see. She had shown it to me earlier that evening during dinner when we talked in some detail about her fiancée and their coming naturalist wedding. I had queried in whispered jest as to whether the stone was a real diamond or cubic zirconium and she had whispered back to me in what I assume was good humour that it was real. In the dim light of the Midnight train from Paris, it looked simple, elegant, and beautiful. I turn away from her, lean back in the uncomfortable seat of the train to retrieve my iPod with the hope of listening to some music when I see her – a caramel-coloured vision of beauty seated across the carriage, three rows away from me. Just like Bena’s ring, she is simple, elegant, and beautiful.
She is wearing a grey jacket and black tights with a thick grey shawl around her neck. Her hair is done up in a bun atop her head with a pair of black Beats by Dre headphones resting in front of it, much like a 21st century tiara. From the colour of her skin and the curly appearance of her hair I can tell she is of mixed race – most likely European with some African (perhaps Caribbean) blood or vice versa. Regardless of which it is, she presents a glorious visage to behold. And behold I do; until she sees me staring at her from across the carriage.
Mildly embarrassed, I am about to turn my head away when she smiles. It is a faint smile, barely there, but I see it as clearly as a lost seaman would see the beacon from a lighthouse guiding him home. It’s the kind of smile I imagine a woman would wear when she sees that a man has taken a liking to her and is wondering if he will do something about it or not. I sit there transfixed, as though her beauty is a bright blinding light and I am a small woodland creature caught in its rays. Her smile widens a little bit more and some courage takes a firm hold of my erratically beating heart. I begin to map out a course of action in my head.
First I will get up slowly from my chair and walk over to her unhurriedly, with a smile kept firmly in place on my face – one should not create the impression of desperation in the mind of a beautiful woman. Thankfully, there are three free seats beside her, more than enough space for me to come within conversing distance without making her uncomfortable. I will then say to her in my atrocious French “Tu es magnifique” – a cheesy pick-up phrase I had learned just the day before from Delphine while we were on the bus back to the hotel. I imagine she will laugh at my clumsy command of her language and then I will ask “Tu parle Anglais?” To which she would invariably reply “A little bit” in equally atrocious English. We would then stumble into a conversation about where she was from – she will say her father is a French engineer who married her mother while he was stationed in Trinidad and Tobago (or something of the sort) at which point I will tell her I am an engineer as well and she will make an awkward joke about how happy her father would be to meet someone like me in her company. After sidestepping a few awkward silences, our conversation will casually drift towards movies and music and I will tell her all about the genius that is Quentin Tarantino and speak quite highly of ‘The Artist’ which I saw just a few weeks ago. As I put together this plan in my head, I am mildly aware that this is more or less the same conversation I had with Delphine two days ago. But then again, as the Americans say…
“‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
I resolve that when the train is finally about to reach my stop, I will ask her for her phone number and then proceed to ask her if she will accompany me to the Eiffel tower on Wednesday if I am still in the city, even though I am sure she has been there several times before. At the point of asking, I will be sure to put on the warmest smile I can muster. Yes, this is a fine plan and if all goes well, she will say…
She is still looking at me steadily, but her smile is gone. It appears this nameless beauty and I have been staring at each other for a considerable amount of time, the exact quantity of which I am not aware. I place my right hand on my thigh to support myself and I glance as my watch as I do so. I recoil with shock. It is almost 1:00 a.m.! We will soon be at our station. I must have fallen asleep while staring at her – plotting my advance – and then woken up at an instant when she happened to look back towards me. Time had flown by in an instant. I clandestinely drop my chin to my shoulder and use my forearm to wipe my face. I try to recompose my thoughts and work up some confidence to approach her again but just as I make my attempt to rise, Bena touches my shoulder lightly and asks me to wake the rest of our party. We are almost at Val d’europe. I sigh heavily and wonder what you would say if I told you of this.
I miss talking to you.
As we clamber out of the train and onto the platform, I turn back to look at the vision that will come to represent my missed opportunities and haunt my subconscious for some time to come, sitting on the carriage seat and looking at me with mildly disappointed (or perhaps just indifferent) eyes. I call out to her in my atrocious French…
“Tu es magnifique, mademoiselle, une autre fois peut-être”
…just as the doors of the train shut and the metal millipede continues its journey through the tunnels of Paris. I turn away quickly so that I will not be sure if she has heard me or not. If she has, I hope my words flatter her enough to make her smile again. Perhaps someone else on the train will see that faint, radiant smile and make the move that I did not have the chance to.
“Friend of yours?” Bena asks me, tugging gently on my arm to remind me that we need all to get back to the hotel.
“Not really” I reply softly.
I shall be going to the Eiffel tower on my own when Wednesday comes. Perhaps it’s better that way. Perhaps there is a part of me that has not moved on from us and resists my efforts to move past what we had. Perhaps I am my own saboteur. Perhaps I am not being honest with myself. Perhaps, if I were, I would call you and tell you…
I miss you.