Home > Paris for One(7)

Paris for One(7)
Jojo Moyes

‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ she says aloud. She decides she hates Paris.

And it is then that she sees a half-open envelope on the floor, half under the bed, with something sticking out from it. She bends down and picks it up. It is two tickets to a show by an artist she has vaguely heard of. She turns it over. They must have belonged to the American woman. She puts them down. She’ll decide what to do with them later. For now she needs to put on some make-up, brush her hair, and then she really needs to get a coffee.

Outside in the daylight she feels more cheerful about Paris. She walks until she sees a café she likes the look of, and orders a coffee and a croissant. She sits out on the street, huddled against the cold, beside several other people who are doing the same thing.

The coffee is good and the croissant is delicious. She makes a note of the café’s name in her book, in case she wants to come back. She leaves a tip and walks back to the hotel, thinking, ‘Well, I’ve had worse breakfasts’. An elderly Frenchman tips his hat to her, and a little dog stops to say hello. Across the road there is a handbag shop, and she gazes in through the window at some of the most beautiful bags she has ever seen. The shop looks like a film set.

She cannot work out what to do. She walks slowly, debating with herself, scribbling her reasons for and against taking the five o’clock train, into her little notebook. If she got that train, she could actually make the late train down to Brighton and surprise the girls. She could save this weekend. She could get blind drunk and they would look after her. That was what girlfriends were for.

But the thought of spending another hundred and fifty pounds on an already disastrous weekend makes her heart sink. And she does not want her first trip to Paris to end with her running away, tail between her legs. She does not want to remember the first time she went to Paris as the time she got dumped and ran home without even seeing the Eiffel Tower.

She is still thinking when she arrives at the hotel, so she almost forgets until she reaches into her pocket for the key. And pulls out the American woman’s tickets.

‘Excuse me?’ she says to the receptionist. ‘Do you know what happened to the woman who was sharing my room? Room forty-two?’

The woman flicks through a sheaf of papers. ‘She checked out first thing this morning. A … family emergency, I believe.’ Her face reveals nothing. ‘There are many such emergencies this weekend.’

‘She left some tickets in the room. For an artist’s show. I was wondering what to do with them.’

She holds them out and the receptionist studies them.

‘She went straight to the airport … Oh. This is a very popular show, I think. It was on the news last night. People are queuing for many hours to see it.’

Nell looks at the tickets again.

‘I would go to this exhibition, Mademoiselle.’ The woman smiles at her. ‘If you can … if your family emergency can wait.’

Nell gazes at the tickets. ‘Maybe I will.’

‘Mademoiselle?’

Nell turns back to her.

‘We will not be charging you for the room, if you choose to stay tonight. To make up for the inconvenience.’ She smiles in apology.

‘Oh. Thank you,’ Nell says, surprised.

And she decides. It is just one more night. She will stay.

Chapter Seven

Sandrine, Fabien’s ex-girlfriend, always said he got up too late. Now, standing near the end of a queue that is marked with signs saying ‘One hour from this point’, ‘Two hours from this point’, Fabien kicks himself for not getting up at eight o’clock as he had planned.

He was meant to visit his father, to help him put up some shelves. But somehow, as he rode his bike beside the river, he had seen the signs and stopped. He had stood at the end cheerfully some forty-five minutes ago, thinking the queue would move quickly. But he has moved forward just some ten feet. It is a cold, clear afternoon and he is starting to feel the chill. He pulls his woollen beanie further over his head and kicks the ground with the toes of his boots.

He could just quit the queue, head off and meet his father as he had said he would. He could go home and tidy up the apartment. He could put more oil in his moped and check the tyres. He could do the paperwork he had put off doing for months. But nobody else has ducked out of the queue, and neither does he.

Somehow, he thinks, he might feel better if he stays. He will have achieved something today. He will not have given up, like Sandrine says he always does.

It is, of course, nothing to do with the fact that Frida Kahlo is Sandrine’s favourite artist. He pulls up his collar, picturing himself bumping into her at the bar. ‘Oh, yes,’ he would say casually. ‘I just went to see the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo exhibition.’ She would look surprised, maybe even pleased. Perhaps he will buy the catalogue and give it to her.

Even as he thinks about it, he knows it is a stupid idea. Sandrine is not going to be anywhere near the bar where he works. She has avoided it since they split up. What is he doing here anyway?

He looks up to see a girl walking slowly towards the end of the long line of people, her navy hat pulled low over her fringe. Her face wears the look of shock he sees on everyone else’s when they see how long the queue is.

She stops near a woman a few people down from him. In her hand she holds two slips of paper. ‘Excuse me? Do you speak English? Is this the queue for the Kahlo exhibition?’

She is not the first to ask. The woman shrugs, and says something in Spanish. Fabien sees what she is holding and steps forward. ‘But you have tickets,’ he says. ‘You do not need to queue here.’ He points towards the front of the queue. ‘Look – if you have tickets the queue is there.’

‘Oh.’ She smiles. ‘Thank you. That’s a relief!’

And then he recognizes her. ‘You were at Café des Bastides last night?’

She looks a little startled. Then her hand goes to her mouth. ‘Oh. The waiter. I spilled wine all over you. I’m so sorry.’

‘De rien,’ he says. ‘It’s nothing.’

‘Sorry, anyway. And … thanks.’

She makes as if to walk away, then turns and gazes at him, and then at the people on each side of him. She seems to be thinking. ‘You’re waiting for someone?’ she asks Fabien.

‘No.’

‘Would you … would you like my other ticket? I have two.’

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