I was in the back seat of a small dingy van with chipped white paint and toujour triste bumper stickers. The driver spoke French and wore a tired look. We had driven a few miles when he asked me to repeat my destination. I don’t speak French. A friend I had met that evening had given him details of the airport terminal, I thought. But now we were lost and I was in a hurry. He turned around to me with a blank stare and I pulled out a map. “Wo yao qu zhe ge difang” and pointed at the grey space showing the airport. His eyes widened and he asked how I knew Chinese. It was all so strange.
I took time to look around the tiny car, small cages occupying the boot, darkly tinted windows and cold dust blowing in through the shutters of the air conditioner. I should have waited for that taxi. He was now trailing off in Chinese, mumbling whether it was his accent that gave him away, flashing me twitchy eyes and wild smiles in the rear view mirror, exposing dark shadows around his chin. He was from the south but had moved to France after his father’s death. He had started humming to something when they came in, black gloved hands with godly authority and pulled me out.
I should never have got off in Paris. But my imagination had ran wild when I thought of the waltzy sound of accordions sweeping through the streets in cadence, pebbled roads, butter croissants and the overall utopian whelm you get after watching French films. It could be an adventure, I thought, a spontaneous one at that. Besides there was a master class I could attend. Now when I think of it, I can’t remember where I was coming from when I transited in Paris. All I know is I have a meeting. At 8pm. A Skype meeting. But couldn’t I just do it online, here? My head is spinning and the driver has quietly taken back to the road. My evening friend-Theresa. An old pal from high school. I’d bumped into her while anxiously waving my arms to grab a taxi. It was a cool evening with pink-turquoise skies, on a street brightly lit from an assortment of colored lamps dangling along the edge of a canal. “Tisa!” I was happy to see her, although now her appearance at that particular moment seems utterly random. I immediately explained to her I needed a taxi, and so in control she took my phone and dialed a number. After a few seconds of worded French, she spoke “They will be here in ten. Do you want to walk along this street while we wait?” We strolled along cemented pavements, talking and taking in each square, one footstep at a time until we came to a crossing. Then I saw the van parked on the roadside with a short man standing through the window. It had small perfectly round tires that carried its miniature frame. I smiled at her and in an apologetic tone said “I’m in a terrible hurry”, then threw my suitcase in the back seat and followed in. Winding the window down I thanked her and asked if she could tell Mandy I was sorry for stealing the money. She smiled wearily and waved as we drove off. I sat back in the cold seats, relieved. I just might make that meeting.
Mandy. Mandy. Or was it Mary. The master class had left me more confused than enlightened. I had spotted the glass building across the street from the train station. The day was cool and I knew all the places from a movie I’d watched a year ago. At the entrance doors hung a poster advertising a master class already in order and too good to miss. I was going to gate crash it. I remember thinking of how my manners had flown out of the window of late. “I might as well. Only for a few hours.” I hurried in and took a seat at the back. That’s when I noticed all the faces. Some passersby, others seared into my brain of couples smiling like their facebook profiles. On the edge of the stage sat a chubby middle aged woman with pale white skin and silver hair. She talked for hours and I was excited. Conversing over topics to do with film and mise en scene sprinkled with just the right amount of go-get it motivators. We did exercises and that’s when I got to speak to her.
Mandy that is, I can’t remember how, but we used to be friends, best friends if you asked me. Time had passed and we could both see we had changed. She stood beside a 6 foot tall boy, dressed in pale blue jeans and an orange t-shirt. She crouched comfortably into his side and they looked almost conjoined at the waist. She told me the joys of a purely symbiotic relationship, giggling “we’re like rhizobium and nitrates!” and ending the monologue “Its true love” I walked off. There were others there like them, but I don’t think I cared enough. I needed to see the woman on the stage. She sat in silence as the clock ticked above her head. It was 7:15. It must be getting dark. Her face remained down while she spoke. “You did well, but I don’t see your name on the list, Who are you?” It was time to go. I smiled and told her there must have been a mistake. That I was assigned to another class as I quickly backed out through the stage door. I scrambled quickly for my suitcase sending it reeling down the narrow stair case and out the door. I followed frantic after it out into the cool evening sky. I have a flight to catch.