Pain et Baguettes.

Nov 29, 2007, 7:43 AM |

It was a wonderful Autumn Day. The sky was smiling down on the world, all blue azure, speckless, the sun bright in its full glory. Such dazzling scene which you dream the bosoms of a paradisiac tropical archipelago were like. Only this time you were smack in the beautiful city that is Paris. It was a bit fresh, certainly. Nothing to make you cringe inwards fast into your heated-up apartment. Especially when you go over one of the many bridges striding over the pretty river Seine. The fresh breeze kissing your cheeks and bringing a sparkly redness, just enough to reinvigorate your outward image. The tall poplar trees, spreaded all over and carefully planted, had mostly discarded their leaves, the street-cleaners daily sweeping out of sight the odd few fluttering its way down. It was all saying that Winter was just about upon us. But there was no doubt about it, Jack Hanses was truly enjoying his first few days in the French capital.

He was heading towards his first job interview abroad. Having been invited over from England. He'd seen the advertised post in a national newspaper and decided belatedly to apply for it. You could question why he took that long to make up his mind. But like most people with the opportunity, he too was not enthralled initially with the idea of moving here. He'd heard so much bad publicity about the place. The many strikes that always seem to paralyse the capital. Not mentioning the riots that would erupt every so regularly. With the visible police personnel patrolling the streets and train stations everyday. Some with their firearms well in sight. Enough for anyone to be very much apprehensive on seeing them approaching. And then there were the more obscure private security staffers, tall and powerfully-muscled blokes, straddling the underground metro for the most part. They wore civilian clothes all right and it was difficult to really ascertain who they worked for really, but their threatening demeanour was enough to send a cold shiver among the people they were supposed to be protecting. Hanses had already witnessed a few pick-pockets and petty thieves at work, having been here but a few days. He had taken the escalator down to get onto the metro, when the doors had closed, the train moving away from the platform for its next stop. Suddenly, there was a skirmish nearby with a tall strong-looking woman in her forties, not really an ideal victim, screaming sharply out. She started bashing the shorter more compact fellow standing near her in the packed train with the immediate tool she had at her disposal, her one handbag. At first glance the dark-haired man might easily have been her companion. That is, should you have failed to see that person away towards her left amid the passengers, himself getting over his initial surprise to start landing ineffective punches from too far back.When the train stopped and the hapless would-be thief had ran off, protesting his innocence without much sincerity in his gestures - he was strangely well-dressed - only then did it become apparent to everyone what he had tried to do. Everyone felt around for their personal belongings to see if everything was still intact. There was the fly-by attempted murder of a lawyer whom the news later suspected his attackers to be unhappy policemen, the lawyer having defended succesfully an alledged criminal. All signs surely of a failing cosmopolitan ideal. The news media almost daily reporting the French permanent worries over their dwindling salaries and the hiking cost of living. Most were afraid of becoming another one of the many visible SDF - street vagrants who'd have lost their homes and jobs with their future all but curtailed. They would be sleeping in tents throughout the whole year, pitching atop the metal casings which were the ventilation openings to the underground Metro, seeking for the warmth it brought. Sometimes the shit you'd put your foot in as you strolled along the pavements might not be the dogs' but theirs. You'd think that the city was experiencing its Emile Zola's days all over again, bar the exquisite architecture that was there to truly admire. The new Les Miserables yelling to be re-written. But hey! He was a man of overtures, Hanses had told himself. Why not give it a go? He could always leave if he didn't like it. He was young. Time and desires to burn. Afterall, the name Paris inevitably conjured a delightful odora to the air surrounding one's head. It was the fashion capital as went the rumour. If it's where the beauties were! To him the chic filles françaises. Zola's smokey skies were well encrusted in the past long gone.

It happened like this. The meeting with the girl that is.

Hanses had just crossed the bridge on foot, going eastwards. He had gotten off the number 9 metro-line, having chosen to go the long way round to get to where he was supposed to go. He could have taken a more direct way from his hotel. It wasn't like he couldn't work out the capital's transport system. Piece of cake in fact, and quickly learnt. No. It was simply that he wanted to kill time before he faced the dreaded interviewers. It would be a lie to say that he was a cool guy when it came to these things. He'd had a few before but never enough to instil any huge confidence facing people who were supposed to evaluate his capabilities. It was some sort of minor boost to know that the interviewers were going to be older than him. Much easier to be deferential in these circumstances. He couldn't bear the thought of being in the shoes of the older job-seekers. But time clocks its merry way by and at some point it will happen to him. Unless he became his own boss. Now there's a prostitute of a thought.

The girl was right up against a building block. In a side road than the one he was actually walking on. A sort of a dead alleyway for cars. Although there was a metal staircase rising upwards away from Hanses. He assumed that it meant some passage of some kind that the public could borrow. He couldn't be sure. The staircase rose too high up for him to see clearly. The modern building beyond was that of a metro station, minus the M symbol like displayed habitually. Above was a TV headquarters with the building rising some seven stories high. The staircase rose to about three quarter way up - it might be less than that but he was looking from a lower vantage point and that would create some errors of evaluation - then it seem to level out to a wide platform of some kind. Perhaps the unseen roads on all sides went eventually upwards to the top of some small hill. In normal circumstances, Hanses would have ignored her. He should have carried on his way and in a matter of seconds the girl would have been out of his sight and mind forever. Many girls would stand by the roadside. Some coming from the adjacent buildings, and if there were offices they would be outside for a cigarette break for example. The hunt for smokers in public places was now well established here too. Sarkozy was President - not that there were any direct liaison between the two. But you know what politicians were like. Give them an opportunity to make a sudden kill. Even if in a few years time slogans and ideas turn in roundabouts and on their heads. Strange, though, that the wide open spaces were not yet considered to be public. Hanses didn't mind one way or the other. Freedom is what a baby is born with, until it makes its first steps on man's territory. He wasn't keen on the idea of one section of society turning against another simply for something that they differ doing. On the other hand, taking out another polluting outlet could only be beneficial for everyone.  But back to the girl. She could simply be waiting for a friend held up in an apartment above. Although she didn't appear to be doing that either. Her stance indicated that she was somewhat crouched uncomfortably, the upper half of her body folded downwards, her face almost meeting her thighs. In pain?  

The thing is this. If you see a dog hurting on the streets you'd go and check. Even if it is just to satisfy your ambiguous conscience that it is really dying. To go back to your home later on, having convinced yourself that at least you did accompany it in its final hours. Even if it is from standing point only, a safe distance away from the hurting animal. It would be another story to tell around you, to give you kudos somewhat in a discussion. But what happens if in place of a dog, you see a human being in this situation - that girl? You know the one that many men tell themselves when it is oh so way too late, that he should have avoided his eyes?

Hanses looked about him, hesitating for a few seconds, until he was certain that no-one was liable to come soon. He stepped into the alleyway, two car-length wide plus narrow kerbs. He walked towards the girl, trying to appear that indeed he was going to borrow the road anyway. All the time keeping his eyes glued on her.