Paris Commune

In this narrow room, dust and bread crumbs are swept from the wood floor each morning. The wall behind the bar is made of old stones. The front of the room is a large window looking onto a thin strip of road. People sit and eat bread, butter, and apricot jelly. People say, “Encore du pain.” and “Merci.” Light comes through the window and shines white on their skin. People come from around this blue globe to eat bread in this room, speak in tongues not natural to them, and drink coffee. An elderly Algerian man counts euros in a bill-fold. An Egyptian woman writes home. Four blonde Swedish boys with golden hair smoke cigarettes awkwardly against a brick wall, their faces seem like they’re carved in stone. A British man at the bar raises a pint of ale to his unshaven chin. A large, round Malian lady sweeps the floor and says, “Travaille, travaille, tout les jour.”

An American man sits at a table against the front window and looks across the road at a market where an excited Frenchman holds fresh strawberries in front of pedestrians and says, “La Belle Fraise!” A phone rings behind the bar and a young Icelandic woman with blonde hair and a round face answers it, “Allo.” Behind the American man, another door swings open and a stocky Spanish girl enters a courtyard where sunlight spills, and the smells of roasted chicken and hashish linger. The American man cocks his head back and watches her enter the courtyard. He turns his head back to the front window and looks at the steps of the Chapel. They are an orange-yellow, a reddish stone, worn by the footsteps of two hundred years, and the sun’s relentless rising and setting. Trees push up from the grass around the chapel, and thick ivy grasps the dark side of it. Pigeons flutter on the stone walkway outside.

It is a well-known hotel, in the center of one of oldest cities in the world.

Across the narrow street, the chapel’s steeple points into the sky and casts a long shadow into the courtyard of the hotel. In the courtyard, a thin Senegalese man wearing white overalls sits in a wooden chair, he is holding a broom. The Malian woman enters and the two begin chatting in muffled French. Two Canadian girls with long blonde hair and tanned legs sit facing each other at a wooden table. They are talking about the weather in Cancun. A group of young Mexican men are standing in a circle, two of them smoking, two of them counting money. A balcony looks down from each side of the square courtyard. Above the Canadian girls, on the balcony, a short woman with grey hair knits in a metal chair.

In the bar, the American, with his pen, note pad, coffee and bread, continues to sit and look through the front window. His face is clean shaven, but his brown hair is tossed around it. His face is tired, his are eyes bloodshot. They dart around as if struggling to gain clear sight of the room. He removes a “Craven ‘A'” from a pack and lights the short cigarette with a match.

He arrived three days ago by train with his two American friends, one, a short blind man with long hair, and the other a violinist with long red hair. The three pooled their money together in an attempt to conserve it. The two friends have been lost in the city since the night before, looking for an ATM that would accept their cards, so the American sits alone in the hotel bar. He says aloud to himself, “Mes deux amis sont perdut.”

The chapel across the street is lit by the afternoon sun. It burns the way the moon glows when the sun is on it. A black Saab convertible parks on the street next to the church. A tall French man wearing a dark suit and a purple tie gets out of the Saab, goes around the car, and opens the passenger door. A tall woman with brown hair, dark dress and a floral scarf wrapped around her neck gets out of the car and takes the man’s arm. They walk to the bottom of the steps leading into the chapel, and greet the crowd of French people, many of them wearing scarves. The American man is now fixed, gazing at the colors of each person’s clothes, the way each man touches the elbows of each woman, and kisses the side of her face. Some of the people are couples and some are single. There are middle-aged people, children, men in their thirties, old women, all with brown hair and all thin. The American man, now with his hand racing across the page, thinks perhaps something is happening.

The Icelandic woman interrupts him, “Would you like another piece of bread, more coffee?” He says no and looks back up at the window and the scene starting to take place across the street. Then, the sun drifts past a thin cloud and shines fully onto the crowd gathering in front of the chapel, on the stone. The colors in front of him multiply; greens and bright browns, more shades of purple, a deep yellow on a shirt maybe. For a moment the American man takes note of this, and begins to write it down.

The American man came here for a vacation, to be away from a life of waking up in his cold room, sitting in front of a computer all week, killing spiders, having dreams about his teeth falling out.
I still don’t feel awake, the man says to himself. But still, even in paradise something is being asked of him.
He had not found any contentment here. He only learned that Americans like to chase pigeons, British folk are racist in one way or another, and that everywhere you go in the world, there’s a dirty river.
Two friends happened to be in the same city.

He came to view monuments, visit the tombs of despots, look at priceless art, smell the air of another culture, live and breathe the old world, stand on trodden dirt, practice a new found tongue. He didn’t expect to run out of money, nor did he expect his friends to show up, with no money. Writing was the last thing he wanted to do, but now with no money, here he is, writing. His head is now aimed directly out the window at the shuffling of feet and voices of French people visiting in front of the chapel. It is a parade of color, a festival of light playing on the crowd, giving the crowd a yellow halo, a burning shine about them.

More people begin to gather in front of the chapel. There is a man with a white suit rounding the corner with a lady in an indigo dress at his arm. They are both wearing white scarves, his tucked into his suit jacket, hers large and billowing from around her neck. The man with the purple tie greets the couple and they move into the crowd of French voices.
The American man puts down his pen and reaches for a 35mm camera in his bag across the table, but quickly pulls his hand back and continues to move across the page. The crowd has grown large now and other colors have begun to arrive. Two young women walk up arm-in-arm, both wearing white dresses that touch their knees, one has an off white scarf, the other is wearing a cobalt blue shawl. Pigeons stutter around on the stones surrounding the crowd, their heads bobbing with each step, anxious of the crowd, and excited by it.

Then, from the back of the crowd, the man sees two familiar heads working their way through conversations. Their heads came through the crowd without leaving a wake, but to the American man, they were like two dark pieces of home jutting into the bright image before him. His friends have returned from their search. He watches them enter the hotel bar through the front door. They sit down at his table and the violinist says, “No luck”, and looks down at his palm. The blind friend sighs and says, “Yeah…shiese.” The American man finds it hard to focus on the long faces of his friends, their broken demeanor made him sick. He quickly looked away from them.

His neck bent towards the commotion at the chapel. The American man could see what was happening at the chapel, but his friends could not. They walked through the middle of it and did not notice. A third Saab wheels around the chapel and parks in front of where the crowd is standing. Like flowers raising their heads toward the sun, the people watch the Saab park, and they watch two people get out. A bride and groom are let out of the back seat by the man with the dark suit and purple tie. They walk through the middle of the parted crowd, to the bottom of the steps. There, they stand and meet with the crowd.

The two friends are not seeing any of it. Their heads are trying to see blue bills with presidents faces on them, and little coins that say EU on them. The sunlight and the color coming from that chapel are not visible to them. The American man stands up, stretches his legs outward and his arms upward. He walks away from the table where he is sitting. He walks to the glass and peers at the chapel. The bride is smiling, the sun is on their faces, children are running circles around the adults. A woman’s yellow dress billows at a gust of wind. Pigeons continue to mingle nearby. The American man looks back at his friends, silent at the table. The red-haired violinist gets up from the table, approaches him and says, “We should have brought more money, I knew it.” The American man pays no attention to his friend and stares out the window. The engaged couple are moving slowly up the steps. The sun is so white now, he can barely see what’s happening. They are gliding like angels, without footsteps, a wake of warm air behind them. The crowd is like a cloud.

Even the children stop to look at the couple, standing there with the church door in front of them. For a moment, through the glass, the American man thinks that something has gone wrong, because the pigeons have stopped moving, but he sees then, that even the pigeons are watching. The couple goes into the church. The crowd follows them. When only the pigeons are left on the stone, the sun burns so brightly the American man squints his eyes.
The sun is shining in Paris, he says to himself.
A hand rests on his shoulder. The red-haired friend says, “Hey, you alive?”
The American man looks at his friend, smiles weakly, and says, “Yes.”

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