1st City of Love

My train was still some hours off. Its scheduled departure time was illuminated overhead in a warm orange glow that was comforting despite the freezing winter weather. I didn’t really mind the cold. It was warmer in the waiting room where people huddled around an ancient radiator. But the crowded room made for rich pickings and there were wandering hands whose jobs were made easier as people dozed off in the early morning. Besides, I didn’t feel tired. I was going home. I reached into my inner pocket and removed a tightly wrapped steak-frites.  We had been keeping each other warm, but my belly reminded me that this love affair was – and forgive the pun- all consuming. I carefully pealed back the aluminium and paper wrapping and bit into it. Is there a German or Japanese word which describes that feeling of near ecstasy that accompanies your first bite into a delicious steak frites that’s eaten on a freezing and near deserted Parisian train station? No? Well there should be. I nodded appreciatively in the direction of the kebab shop whose exhausted employees smiled wanly as I fumbled through my order in bad French. When I finished the last of it I rummaged about in my jacket pocket and pulled out a cigarette. I was searching for a lighter when a hand reached out.

‘Need a light?’

‘Thanks.’

I breathed in deeply and let the smoke drift lazily out. This would probably be one of my last cigarettes. It was a habit I picked up casually and then enthusiastically once I discovered that it paired wonderfully not only with coffee, but also salt, sugar and fat. Oh, and alcohol. Mustn’t forget to mention its evil twin. I thanked my benefactor.

‘Mind if I join you? There are too many…’

‘Hands?’

‘That’s right. Way too many’ she said with a strong Texas drawl ‘now don’t go asking me where I’m from.’

‘Wouldn’t dream of it’ I smiled ‘but where are you going?’

‘Oh, I am on my way to London to catch up with some friends’ she said a little uncertainly.

I instantly recognised that tone. She was homesick. Probably somewhere near the middle of her adventure, I guessed. That’s when it really struck. Her Texan accent was delightfully incongruous and seemed to dispel the slight air of menace which hung about the deserted station. I had my fix of salt and fat. Alcohol was out of the question, but sugar and coffee I could certainly do with.

‘Can I offer you a coffee?’

She looked sceptical. All the cafes were shut and their steel shutters were tightly fastened.

‘It’s the freshest brew for miles around. I swear to you.’

Before she could say anything I disappeared and shortly after reappeared clutching two plastic cups of steaming coffee.

‘You a magician or something?’

‘I know a guy who knows a guy’ I responded in my best gangster accent. She looked at me blankly. ‘There is a vending machine around the corner that sells coffee. Now drink.’ I took a mouthful and closed my eyes as if drinking the nectar of the gods. She tentatively followed suit and almost gagged.

‘It’s shit, isn’t it?’

‘Oh, it’s not so bad. Kind of reminds me of home.’ Damn if there wasn’t a tear in the corner of her eye.

‘Where are you from that you have to put up with such bad coffee?’

‘Well, you wouldn’t believe it, if I told you.’

‘Try me.’

‘I come from a small town called Paris, Texas.’

‘No!’

‘We got ourselves an Eiffel Tower an all!’

‘An Eiffel Tower and vending machine coffee all in the one place. Well that’s the best argument against travel I ever heard,’ I said teasingly.

‘That may be right, but I find the men here more to my liking,’ she teased back and I went red. I took a deep gulp of coffee and smiled. It was sickly sweet. She pulled out another cigarette and this time it was my turn to come to the rescue.

‘Allow me mademoiselle,‘ and I leaned in close to shield the flame from the wind that had obligingly started to blow. I was close enough to smell her perfume above the odour of tobacco. Did anything ever smell so good? I hovered over her for a moment longer than needed. I pulled away and coughed a little theatrically while desperately thinking how I could recover the initiative.

‘Is Paris, Texas, also a city of love?’ And I cursed myself as soon as I said it. The distance between us though had closed and we were almost touching. She gave the question serious thought before responding.

‘I hope you take the opportunity to find out for yourself.’

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