Home > Paris for One(9)

Paris for One(9)
Jojo Moyes

‘Really. I’ll be fine.’

She hears her mother’s voice: You don’t just go out with strange men. He could be anyone. He has a shaven head.

‘Nell. Please let me buy you one drink. Just to say thank you for the ticket.’

‘I don’t know …’

He has the most amazing grin. She feels herself wobble. ‘Is it far?’

‘Nowhere is far.’ He laughs. ‘You are in Paris!’

‘OK. Where shall we meet?’

‘I’ll pick you up. Where is your hotel?’

She tells him and says, ‘So where are we going?’

‘Where the night takes us. You are the Impulsive Girl from England, after all!’ He salutes and then he is gone, kick-starting his moped and roaring away down the road.

Nell lets herself back into her room, her mind still buzzing with the afternoon’s events. She sees the paintings in the gallery, Fabien’s large hands around the little coffee cup, the sad eyes of the tiny woman in the painting. She sees the gardens beside the river, wide and open and the River Seine flowing beyond them. She hears the hiss of the doors opening and closing on the underground. She feels like every bit of her is fizzing. She feels like someone out of a book.

She has a shower and washes her hair. She sorts through the few clothes she brought with her and wonders whether any of them are Parisian enough. Everyone here is so stylish. They do not dress like each other. They do not dress like English girls.

Almost without thinking, she races downstairs to the little row of shops she had passed earlier. She stops in front of a window. She had noticed the green dress with the pineapples this morning. It had made her think of 1950s film stars. She takes a breath and pushes the door open.

Twenty minutes later she is back in her hotel room, with a carrier-bag. She takes out the dress and puts it on. She stands in front of the mirror, looking at its lovely folds, the way it nips in at the waist, and she realizes that she has not thought about Pete for the entire afternoon. She is in Paris, wearing a dress she bought in a Paris shop, getting ready to go out with a strange man she picked up in a gallery!

She pulls her hair back into a loose knot, puts on her lipstick, sits down on the bed and laughs.

Twenty minutes later she is still sitting on the bed, staring into space.

She is in Paris, getting ready to go out with a strange man she has picked up in a gallery.

She must be insane.

This is the stupidest thing she has ever done in her life.

This is more stupid than buying an expensive dress with pineapples on it.

This is even more stupid than buying a ticket to Paris for a man who had told her he couldn’t decide if her face looked more like a horse or a currant bun.

She will be in a newspaper headline or, worse, in one of those tiny news stories that aren’t important enough to be a headline.

Girl found dead in Paris after

boyfriend fails to show up.

‘I told her not to go out with

strange men,’ says mother.

She gazes at herself in the mirror. This is madness. What has she done?

Nell grabs her key, slips into her shoes and runs down the narrow staircase to Reception. The receptionist is there, and Nell waits for her to come off the phone before she leans over, and says quietly, ‘If a man comes for me, will you tell him I am ill?’

The woman frowns. ‘Not a family emergency?’

‘No. I – er – I have a stomach ache.’

‘A stomach ache. I’m so sorry, Mademoiselle. And what does this man look like?’

‘Very short hair. Rides a moped. Obviously not in here. I … He’s tall. Nice eyes.’

‘Nice eyes.’

‘Look, he’s the only man likely to come in here asking for me.’

The receptionist nods as if this is a fair point.

‘I – he wants me to go out this evening and … it’s not a good idea.’

‘So … you don’t like him.’

‘Oh, no, he’s lovely. It’s just, well – I don’t really know him.’

‘But … how will you know him if you don’t go out with him?’

‘I don’t know him well enough to go out in a strange city to a place I don’t know. Possibly with other people I don’t know.’

‘That’s a lot of don’t-knows.’

‘Exactly.’

‘So you will be staying in your room tonight.’

‘Yes. No. I don’t know.’ She stands there, hearing how silly she sounds.

The woman looks her slowly up and down. ‘It’s a very nice dress.’

‘Oh. Thank you.’

‘What a pity. Your stomach ache. Still.’ She smiles, turns back to her paperwork. ‘Maybe some other time.’

Nell sits in her room, watching French television. A man is talking to another man. One of them shakes his head so hard his chins wobble in slow motion. She looks at the clock often as it ticks slowly round to eight o’clock. Her stomach rumbles. She remembers Fabien saying something about a little falafel stall in the Jewish quarter. She wonders what it would have felt like on the back of that moped.

She pulls out her notebook and grabs the hotel biro from the bedside table. She writes:

REASONS I AM RIGHT TO STAY IN TONIGHT

He might be an axe murderer.

He will probably want sex.

Perhaps both 1 and 2.

I may end up in a part of Paris I don’t know.

I may have to talk to taxi drivers.

I may have problems getting back into the hotel late at night.

My dress is silly.

I will have to pretend to be impulsive.

I will have to speak French or eat French food in front of French people.

If I go to bed early, I will be up nice and early for the train home.

She sits there, staring at her neat list for some time. Then on the other side of the page she writes:

I am in Paris.

She stares at it a bit longer. Then, as the clock strikes eight, she shoves the notebook back into her bag, grabs her coat and runs down the narrow staircase towards Reception.

He is there, leaning on the desk and talking to the receptionist, and at the sight of him she feels the colour flood into her cheeks. As she walks towards them, her heart beating fast, she is trying to work out how to explain herself. Whatever she says will sound stupid. It will be clear that she was afraid of going out with him.

‘Ah, Mademoiselle. I was just telling your friend here that I thought you might take a few minutes.’

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