Unedited excerpt of my memoir – ©2019 Sylvaine Francine
I close the low gate behind me. The twins, Nicolas and Marion, run toward the children. I sit on a bench and think about Sam and India. Our fights over his drinking on dry days when no liquor can be purchased or consumed. We didn’t leave in the best terms; I was too upset with him.
“Your French uptight temper, a real problem.”
“Your American laid-back attitude that cares about nothing, don’t you think that’s a problem? The law in this country applies also to you. I have seen the prisons. I’m not interested to end up there because you can’t follow the law.” I catch myself smiling. It is funny, now that it is part of the past. Irrelevant. I am so happy to meet with Sam today.
I glance at the mothers. Politely, they nod their heads in my direction. I wave. On the opposite side of the square, I hear the squeaky noise of the gate closing. I turn my head and spot Sam in sweater and blue jeans. He approaches, a smile on his handsome tanned face. “Hi!”
“Sam! Hi!” I reply. I jump on my feet. In front of me, he opens his arms wide:
“Gimme a hug! So happy to see you again.”
“Hey Sam….” A huge hug and we sit down. “How’re you?” He keeps one arm around my shoulders, crosses his legs at the knees. “You look a bit tired. Long flight, eh?
“No kidding. But I’m fine, besides being cold. Freezing, here! I’ll sleep well tonight. And you, how’re you? What are you doing? Are you in school or babysitting?” The mothers turn their attention toward us. The language, the accent, the words, his look, all definitely American. Something for them to talk about.
“Both actually. My life’s hectic. For now, I have this baby-sitting job, just for this week. But I appreciate the routine, even if it is for a short while.” I look at him, “I can’t believe you’re here, you know,”
“It seems so out of context,” he replies, “I look at you, and it’s like you don’t belong here, in beautiful Paris…. And it is beautiful, really. I love the buildings, the architecture, but it’s cold here. And I remember you in Indian clothes.”
“I’m not quite used to the cold myself, not yet. Tell me, how was the rest of your trip? Where did you go?”
“It was OK. More of the same, but without you, it was different. You know, I’m truly ready to go back to San Francisco and start working in that law firm. The best part of my entire trip was the time we spent together. When we split, everything changed. That’s why I changed my itinerary. I wanted to see you before I returned.”
Marion and Nicolas run toward us. “Are you hungry yet? I have some cookies.” Quietly, they look at Sam. “Sam, this is Nicolas and Marion” He removes his arm from around my shoulder and leans a bit forward, stretches his hand out.
“Hello, Nicolas, hello, Marion. How are you? Nice to meet you.” They shake his big hand. “Are you hungry?”
The two kids open wide their eyes. They don’t understand a word of what he says. In a little voice, Nicolas asks:
“Where are you from?” He turns toward me.
“Is he American? From New York?”
“San Francisco,” replies Sam who hands out the open end of the package of cookies to them. Marion takes a cookie, keeps quiet. She gapes at him and forgets to eat.
“Thanks,” says Nicolas, “You want to play?” He puts the whole cookie in his mouth.
“Nicolas, not so much in your mouth at once. You know what, Nicolas? I think Sam is a bit too tired to run after a ball right now,” I answer, “But you play with your friends. Look, they’re waiting for you.” He turns around and runs back. Marion decides to sit on my lap and stare at Sam.
“Yeah, they are, and well behaved too.”
“Remember Jaipur, the unruly monkeys?”
“Jaipur, monkeys on the roofs, yes. They’re pretty scary.”
The afternoon passes and we catch up with each other’s lives. I must go back to the apartment with the children and make their dinner. We verify addresses again and phone numbers. He promises me to send pictures of our trip together.
They arrive a month later at my parents’ home and my mother forwards his letter to me. I pass the pictures on to Yvette. Pictures filled with sunshine, smiles and happy memories.
“This is Sam?” asks Yvette, “Good looking guy, you didn’t mention that. Do you think you’ll see him again?”
“Sam? How would I know? He showed up here a month ago, that was a surprise. But I have no plans to travel to San Francisco.
“What does he do again? Lawyer?”
“Yeah. His first job.”
“Will you write to him? You should keep in touch. Handsome, handsome.”
“Yeah, I will write to thank him for the pictures. The only pictures I have from my trip. It was nice of him to send them. He must be so busy now.”
“Yesterday, I received a letter from Hakim. He will bring some pictures, too. Ali mentioned he has some for you.
“How is he?”
“Ali? Fine. But, don’t you write to him?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Why? Why don’t you write to him?”
“What for? Pakistan is so far. I’ll probably never go back. Even with friends, clean breaks are less disappointing. Ali was a friend, nothing else.” I remember our good byes, fast, unexpected. It was too hard. I place Sam’s photographs with his letter, in my purse. “Why write? One day, I won’t receive anything anymore. Such a long-distance, and life takes people in different direction—people grow apart. Besides, Ali and I don’t need to write to each other.” As I say that, I remember his gaze, his words—he held my eyes in his: “In the space of the heart, we will always meet.” I sigh and decide to put my coat on. I tie my shoes.
“Where are you going?”
“On a walk to Notre-Dame. See you later.”
Photo: LauraMusikanski from Morguefile.com