It was a Wednesday and Wil was sick of writing. He had gone to the street market in search of mouldy cheese and inspiration, a canvas bag swaying on his forearm. She had seemed foreign, like him, fingering courgettes and apples, smiling, but never buying. He had followed her through rows of home-made cotton shawls, rotisseries and piles of orange skins, until she spun and they collided. Caught and speechless, his eyes focused on her chest, envisioning her showering, making savoury crepes and stealing from faceless corporations in the name of anti-globalisation. This was the first time he smelt Sofiane.
Everything moved more quickly in Paris, Wil noticed. Dogs and their owners spent no time admiring the small parks that dotted the city and economised walking time by shitting on the footpath, taxis went as quickly down six-lane boulevards as they did cobbled laneways and baristas had no lavish routine when serving coffee, distributing espressos with the flick of a wrist. Tourists who hesitated when ordering at a patisserie were shunted, often removing themselves to observe the procession. Wil would have been intimidated if not for Sofiane - but he was one of them now, by association.
Sofiane worked at the local Ed supermarket on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. She was from Lyon and had never finished the final semester of her degree in Art History. She ate with her mouth open, and had a birthmark on the upper part of her left arm that Wil had named Shelley, as the skin was two-toned and coarse. Her parents owned a military and aviation bookshop in the same quarter as her grandmother’s boulangerie and her feet swelled in summer, meaning their closet was full of footwear that hibernated until the picnic weather arrived.
She was well traveled and a passive animal rights activist. She ignored Wil’s contention that the modern France lacked the culture and sophistication for which it was renowned. This was often a topic of argument as it was the misconception responsible for Wil’s moving to Paris. He had pictured finding inspiration for the male protagonist of his novel, Nico, in the city’s artists and philosophers, and those of the ‘indie’ music scene. Wil wondered if Picasso had drawn pigeons at the same canal where he took polaroids, and if the drawings had always been good.
He felt quite sure he’d never finish the novel with the brilliant title, but he would see plenty more breasts on TV. He told Sofiane that she was the only reason he stayed.
After lunch, Wil ran a bath, soaking his underwear in the warm water near his feet. She would leave for Lyon in the morning. Sofiane told Wil that he didn’t have to go with her, so he didn’t. In the morning he would lie about loving her from the warmth of their bed, but wouldn’t get up to see her off.
The next day, on the metro home from Oberkampf, Wil took out his earphones and studied a girl worthy of being his female protagonist, Julienne. He quickly wrote notes on the back of a discarded leaflet:
Her left eye narrows into a squint, and she is either plotting or trying to find the bit of apple peel in her molars. Everyone can be more graceful if they need to be. If she had known someone was watching, her eyes would have remained full, and open, but she hadn’t.
She got off at Galleries LaFayette and he followed her; she stopped at a café, so he ordered a coffee.
She put her hand on her hip, and made a diamond shape that went the length of her elbow, into the curve of her torso, and back again. His eyes traced the shape, and when he looked up her hoop eyes met his. They bore the softness of a childhood loss, maybe her mother. When Nico was catching the metro home the boy opposite played with a rubix cube, and he thought of her.
The girl walked past Wil, and no scent lingered behind her. He scrunched the leaflet into his coat pocket and chased.