by Ethan Seavey
It’s my last day in Paris, and a liminal one. I have to leave for the airport by 14:00 to retrieve my suitcases from my friend.
I intended to write several sentences before writing the climax of this short piece—that I wish France would say goodbye to me, that someone French would notice my absence—when a young man walked up to where I am sitting on the lawn. He wore brown sandals and a soccer uniform in bright orange and blue. His hair fell to his shoulders and he said:
« T’écrit ? »
“Sorry?” I responded.
“You are writing?”
I glanced back down and finished my sentence, “…from my friend.”
He laughed softly.
He left. He walked down the lawn, and then across another.
I suppose he was Paris coming to say goodbye. I reacted to him as I did to the city. I engaged lightly but held back; I didn’t know how to respond to his existence; I buried my head in my journal; I kept writing to end the conversation; I pretended that I was as important as any other expatriate writer in Paris; I wanted to appear lofty and crafty; I wanted to walk away with the city’s last muse, sitting in the dregs of their coffee cup.
When I wanted to be seen by Paris, I felt ignored. On my very last day I am noticed. He has altered my premature past.
I did not ask if he needed help. He could have wanted a lighter for a cigarette, but I don’t have one. He could have wanted my phone to call somebody, but I must conserve my battery to get to the hotel later. He may have wanted romance but I have none to share. Friendship, but I am leaving soon. Conversation, but I was tired and my mind was somewhere else.
I’m not sure that I owed him anything. Usually in a city I assume that I owe nothing to that temporary neighbor of the public. This is different than in a small town, where I must be courteous to every pair of eyes that moves my way. But we are in a city park (a very private and very social setting) so it is my decision to choose whether or not to find out what he wanted from me.
I’m guilty because I chose to ignore him. Because I chose to ignore him, he will remain forever fixed to my vision of the city, and damn him for that. He should feel guilty, because he put me in the position of deciding to ignore him. But he won’t remember me tomorrow.
Paris was surprised that I am still writing in his presence. Paris was intrusive. He wanted to know what I thought, what I was writing, or he would not have approached. But I am writing nothing of importance; Paris thinks writing is important toujours but sometimes it is nothing. I intended to write about the birds I saw in the park. Little swallows which wield the sky like the seagulls in Rome. I intended to use them as a means to my swirling thoughts. I intended to write a feeling which would have gone nowhere. I intended to lead it towards a simple bittersweet goodbye. I intended to write arduously, bearing no regard to desired style or the reader’s comprehension. Paris does not understand that sometimes writing is nothing. Ink in a little leather journal which I had bought at a small market six months before. Poor handwriting demonstrating no respect for the words I write. Something to do while I think about something else.
If he was Paris then Paris was not my type. His shirt and shorts, upon closer inspection, were two shades of blue which did not go well together. They looked fine from afar, but up close you saw the issue. The same was true with his overgrown haircut. His skin was as pale as a Hausmann and the lines next to his eyes made it clear that he was forming a judgment. They meant that from across the lawn when he first noticed me, he was briefly unsure of how to judge me, and needed to investigate to uncover his critique. It meant that he clocked my inability to understand his French and my reflexive “sorry?”; and when I kept speaking English with “yes”; and that I rudely glanced down to my writing; and that I put him in the position of the artist’s lingering audience, expecting them to create on command, lurking on their unfinished work; and that I did not invite him to sit; and that I waved in confusion and irritation when he walked away.
I assumed he formed the assertion, “What nerve, to be writing around me, but not to engage with me!” But of course I have no idea. I heard that sentence from inside my own head, and projected it upon his back as he walked away. Upon judgement, his expression was not kind, certainly, but it didn’t have to be angry. He may have thought, “How strange and brilliant, that writer was very secretive about his writing.” Or, “How delightful and mysterious, that writer was very quiet.” Or, “How dull—that writer was silent and pretentious. His writing will float to the surface like pond scum.”
He could have thought anything. You never know with Paris.
He’s gone. Walked off. I feel like I should try to chase after him and explain:
- It’s my last day in Paris.
- That’s why I have three large bags with me.
- That’s why I’m loitering in this park.
- That’s why I am writing.
- (And this is why I did not understand his French or his intentions.)
- That I hope he finds the writer he wants to talk to.
[Then I closed the journal. Not every page has been filled, but it had been finished. I would go on to order pho at my favorite Vietnamese place, where the owner knows me from my weekly visits. He would notice my suitcases and ask, «tu vas à l’aeroport?» to which I would reply, «oui, je vais quitter Paris aujourdhui, c’est triste.» He would wish me well and after the meal he would ask me to order more pho whenever I’m back in Paris: a request which I would turn into a promise (of course, subject to my return).]
[I am subjected to my decisions concerning the signs around me. My goodbye to Paris was through the soccer player, but it could have been the owner of Pho 5, or the unwritten sparrows flying wildly in the night sky, or the moment with my friend later that day. After I had eaten that kind lunch and I had left for the airport, I would wish I had chosen the kind restaurant owner as my goodbye. But the sign did not exist before I noticed it. Paris was just a man striking up a conversation with somebody who was unwilling to put down the pen and talk back. He did not know it was my last day in the city I’d known for nine months. He did not choose to be my goodbye. I chose him, and then I was forced to harshly reconcile with this connection.]