1st of July
This story simply flowed out of me – I just flung it like the sea throws different objects from its depths onto the beach. It took me an entire year to experience that story and I finished writing it when I was already on the journey. Everything is real. It couldn’t be any other way. Still, it’s rather the stories that write me than me writing the stories. Possibly, the notepad you’re currently reading contains more me than I do myself. Well, never mind that.
Anyway, I tore myself away from my laptop when we were crossing the German border. I don’t like to write on the computer but I didn’t have any choice – I probably wouldn’t be able to decipher my notepad and the typewriter was too heavy to be taken along. At least, that’s what Robert said. However, I managed to put it in the trunk at the last second so I could use it when we make a longer stop on the way.
“Comment ca va, little writer?” Julia turned around to face me and gave me a smile, holding a handbook on the French language in her hands. I knew her enough to know that she was capable of learning this language before our arrival in France. I didn’t even try, yet. “Can I read this story?”
“Later. You must wait a while,” I answered.
“Wait, wait a while… wait forever…” She took her smartphone out of the pocket and suddenly perked up, as if an electrical impulse ran through her body. “I should take a picture with you. Charles, believe me – if you’ll be famous one day, I’ll have proof that I’ve known you! Or I’ll be famous and you’ll have proof of our relation.” She moved closer, and I heard the camera clicking. Then, she immediately retreated to her seat and started to move her finger on the phone’s screen in order to upload the photo to Facebook.
It was her addiction. She never ceased to check the notifications, she kept posting pictures she took and corresponding with friends whom she never met in reality. She couldn’t live without her smartphone. I felt as if part of her remained with us but the other part escaped into the virtual reality.
Well, I felt similar. Not in terms of the Internet, though – it was never attractive to me. Some part of me was left behind in Toruń. I kept telling myself that it was my entire world and I felt the desire to return there as soon as possible. I enjoyed the trip, I really did, I was happy but… you know, I always wanted to be in multiple places at the same time. I always felt that I should be in other places. It seems a bit foolish. I think we unnecessarily construct complex labyrinths around ourselves. I looked at the landscape moving on the other side of the car’s window and I thought that maybe a trip is the key to finding the exit from that maze.
“How are we doing?” I flung a question at Robert who was driving.
“Still a long way ahead of us,” he answered. “What can I say?!”
He was frowning from the beginning. That is, initially, all of us were very happy that we finally set out, we were singing and talking in excitement, imagining what France might look like. Later, the fire calmed down and now it became almost extinguished. The three of us seemed tired and bored, especially Robert. The truth was he’d just lost his job and it wasn’t a surprise he was upset. I would probably feel alike if I were in his shoes. When he was out of sorts, he would grumble about his situation for hours. He used to say that all had been better in the old times and that he would definitely be more successful in any other country. Lucky for me, I didn’t have such problems, not yet at least.
I tried to focus on the present. I wanted to take a nap but my body didn’t let me so I could only wait until we reached our destination. The further we drove from home, the more thoughts were slipping my memory, like butterflies leaving their cocoons – I was leaving those thoughts behind with the illusion that I was being born again.
We arrived in Strasbourg late in the evening. Julia had a friend there so she happily jumped out of the car to greet Florence. Robert and I got out slowly since our legs refused to obey our orders after such a long drive.
“Aller, aller,” Florence shouted. “Come, I’ve prepared a dinner for you.”
We took our bags with the most necessary things and, listening to the music played by the creaking stairs, climbed to the dark top floor of the tenement house. Florence switched the light on, and I could finally see her – long red hair, freckled face, and exceptional eyes that exist only in dreams. She opened the door with a quick motion and entered the apartment.
The TV was on and its blueish glow flooded the room. I noticed a couple of paintings, wooden elephants, and masks that must have come from the trips to Peru and Nepal that Julia had mentioned before. I felt a bit uncomfortable among those objects so I was happy to be taken by Florence straight to the kitchen.
“Sit down and I’ll open a bottle of wine,” said the host, stepping back into the living room.
I heard the click of the TV set being switched off.
On the table, there was a plate of sushi and wooden chopsticks for serving it. I looked at my friends’ faces – they had brightened, depression and fatigue after the travel vanished into thin air without leaving any traces behind. We sat down, waiting for Florence. I was starving. My God, you can’t even imagine how hungry I was.
A moment later, Florence returned and sat down with us. She gave us a broad smile as if she was promising us happiness. Initially, the conversation was a bit of a drudgery since Julia was the only one who could communicate with Florence, making lively gestures and speaking a blend of French and English, but after a while, Robert suddenly revealed his linguistic skills, and I managed to overcome the language barrier as well. We spoke three or four different languages, I can’t even remember precisely.
We sat on a couch while Florence brought in a baguette along with several types of cheese on a large plate and opened a bottle of red wine.
“I’m still an actress,” she said when we asked her about her job. “I play in Comedie de Reims. Different roles. I prefer the sad and tragic ones… anyway, I’m an actress so I don’t only play in theatres. I play all the time.” She leant over the table and whispered in a conspirational tone: “Shall I tell you a secret?”
Julia nodded, so did Robert and I, quickly grasping the situation.
“No!” Florence moved away rapidly, constricting her pupils like a cat. “You’re not ready, yet.”
I wanted to ask her when that would be but a second later I classified it as a stupid question. Anyway, even if I had thought of it as a great question, I wouldn’t know how to formulate it in French.
I learnt that Florence was spending the early day of July in Strasbourg because she didn’t like Reims. It was a large grayish city – the only things one could like there was the theatre and champagne, as she said. However, when we told her we were going to stay there for some time, she stated that she could even go with us so she could visit some friends before setting out for the theatre festival in Avignon.
It was already past midnight and we were still sitting over the baguettes, cheese, and red wine. Florence inserted Lana Del Rey CD into the player and related how lucky she was to meet her in person and chat for a second, presenting the singer’s signature as proof. While listening to the music, we exchanged memories of various adventures we had experienced, talked about literature, travels and the people we met while traveling, only to arrive at devising incredible visions of the future, as if we could build the world from scratch or change it with words. I was drifting away from reality and the objects around the living room started to lose their shapes, grow bigger and wave, losing their sense of existence, quite as I did.
Florence noticed that we were becoming unaware of the words we uttered so she got up and took us through an empty dark corridor to a small room where we could have some rest after the travel.
“Bon nuit,” she said silently and her whisper seemed to come from another, very distant land.
I was flaking out but before going to bed, I opened the window and looked out at the courtyard. There was still light in some windows and I could see human silhouettes moving inside. From time to time, a car swooshed through the street and the vagabond cat meowed under the cardboard roof. I loudly released air out of my lungs.
I thought about the distance I traveled, about my hopes and all the words we don’t say, about Florence, her theatre, and the secret she wanted to share with us. Before I closed the window, when the night air puffed along my face, I robbed the world of a thought that would become accommodated in my head in form of a story.
To be continued