Getting back on track
Marie breathes a sigh on relief and tried to sneakily see who this saviour was. And lo and behold it was Percy, looking incredibly tired if I do say so myself. Marie took out her earbuds when she saw Percy was trying to catch her attention.
“I saw your face when they came in and thought it would be a good time to take my break. Everyone is going to hate me for taking this table for myself but I figured you didn’t need it after the last family that sat next to you.” Percy said, hoping that this would make her more relaxed.
Before Marie could stop herself she launched and gave Percy a hug, taking both herself and Percy by surprise.
“I am so sorry! I’m very tactile, and grateful. And I can’t concentrate when I’m surrounded by a lot of people, especially when they are loud.” Marie blurted out, slowly filling with self loathing.
“No, no it’s fine. I’m just happy I could help.” Percy replied, realising that it was.
“You helped me so much, thank you Percy. I mean it, for today at least you are my hero.”
“Then it’s a good job I come bearing gifts then.” Percy grinned.
For the first time Marie noticed the second sandwich on the table and Percy handed one to her. It was the exact same one she ordered every Sunday, tuna and sweetcorn.
“Beware Greeks bearing gifts, as the proverb goes.” Marie said, more to herself than anything.
“Well if you don’t want them...” Percy teased, reaching to take it back.
Marie reached out and took the sandwich, after all she was very hungry.
“I don’t think so,” Marie said, clutching her food like her life depended on it, “thank you for this, I’ll pay for it once this has all died down.”
“That’s fine. And I’m sorry for prying earlier, I didn’t mean to ask so many questions... I get carried away when people talk about travel.” Percy said, his voice trailing off as he struggled to look Marie in the eye.
“It’s alright, I do the same thing.” Marie replied, realising she actually enjoyed talking to Percy, “And I realise not I never answered your question. I am actually thinking about going to France. Either that or in an ideal world Switzerland, but there’s no way I can afford that.”
Finally, Percy thought, my element of conversation. Percy could talk about travel all day and usually did. Besides he had researched those countries himself, he knew where to go for whatever Marie wanted, and how to save money. But Marie didn’t exactly look the hosteling type.
“How about Aosta Valley in Italy or Chamonix in France, it is a bit like Switzerland but cheaper?” He suggested.
Percy was delighted to see Marie warm up to the conversation. She had even locked her laptop screen to give him her full attention.
“I did think about Aosta, Byron is from there and his family still live there so I could live with them. But there aren’t that many universities in the mountains. Not like Geneva.”
Maybe I should test the waters, Percy thought, see what else she is into?
“Geneva huh? Is that from Frankenstein?”
Marie’s mind went back to when she was reading Frankenstein again a few months ago in the cafe. Oscar had bought her a French copy and she wanted to see how it compared to her English copy. At this point Marie was comfortable enough to try an attempt at humour.
“It’s that obvious? Unlike a certain character I have no intention of creating a monster, or dropping out.”
Is she attempting to be funny? Percy thought to himself as his mind went back to the comment she had made earlier. She’s not very good at it, but I can play along. Besides he never got to discuss books with anyone.
“Your one of those who get annoyed when they call him a doctor.” Percy replied.
Suddenly Marie became more open and relaxed, books this was her element. She could and often did spend hours discussing books with others. Perhaps Percy was like her, she thought, and she considered the idea of introducing him to the group.
“But he did, he dropped out. He’s not even a doctor, he’s a failed undergrad.” Marie exclaimed.
“Oh I know, I do the same thing.”
Marie smiled as she knew then that he was like her, academic. She had noticed the way he dressed was similar to her and her friends and she wondered on more than one occasion why Percy never tried to talk to her or her friends before. But Marie was now more interested in knowing more about Percy himself. She hated talking about herself and it dawned on her that she knew nearly nothing about Percy beyond his first name, degree and job.
“So what about you? Where are you thinking of going next year?” Marie asked, genuinely interested in the answer.
“Percy hated to admit it but he had been looking forward to this question. He usually hated talking about himself but when it came to his future plans for travel there is no stopping him.
“Call me cliche but Paris, lots of romantics went there and it’s got great literary history.” Percy said, trying to look confident but instead looking a little embarrassed.
How cliche was exactly Marie’s thought. But she liked it, after all Paris was her first home. And she had found another topic that they had in common. Marie began to speak more about herself than to Percy as she reflected on her own memories of Paris. Or the good memories at least.
“I don’t remember much about Paris, but I remember it at night. The street lamps look beautiful after its rained and the light reflects in the water. I would like to go back one day to see if that really is a memory or if I just made it up.”
Percy looked like a child on Christmas. She’s been to Paris! He knew she was French, or at least it was confirmed now, but he never imagined she had actually lived in France, let alone Paris. You know what screw it, he thought, this is my chance to talk about something that I am really passionate about, my one weak spot. As questions began forming in his head he was also saying them out loud.
“You’ve lived in Paris? How close to the center? Have you seen the Eiffel Tower? Or been to the Louvre? Pouvez-vous Français?” Percy said, the words spilled out of his mouth.
Marie was taken aback by Percy’s excitement and also the fact that this had caused him to move closer to her, something he hadn’t yet noticed. Marie wasn’t used to people asking so many questions about her, or rather looking so excited to learn the answer. Somehow it was refreshing to see someone learn she had lived in Paris and not link it to romance. And he clearly knew some basic French as well, Marie was interested to see how much he knew. She was also interested in how many other languages he knew, something she will have to ask later. That is if she gets the chance to speak.
“That is a lot of questions, so I’ll start from the top. I moved to Bath when I was two so I don’t really know a lot of the answers. Besides you know I speak French, you’ve heard me on the phone to my Papa.” Marie replied when she saw an opening.
“That’s still amazing! To think you have actually lived in Paris, you’ve eaten the food there, breathed the air. And you speak French, I mean you properly learnt if from your dad.”
Marie was fighting the urge to let out a laugh as she didn’t want to offend Percy. But the way he spoke about France sounded like something she would read in poetry or the words of an old romantic novel.
“French is my first language, in fact its pretty much all I spoke for the first seven years of my life. My Papa literally only replies to me if I speak in French.” Marie replied, “What about you? Can you speak French or any other languages?”
“I can speak pretty good French, I wouldn’t say I’m fluent. I can speak conversational Spanish and Italian too. But I’m fluent in Hausa, its what my grandparents speak in Nigeria, we often go and visit them every year.” Percy replied.
“I can’t remember the last time I visited my grandparents. They moved from Paris to Bordeaux before I was born, still video call them every Christmas though.” Marie replied.
“How much do you remember about Paris?” Percy enquired.
“Not much I’m afraid.”
Percy suddenly looked serious and took Marie’s hands.
“Tell me everything you remember. Please?”
Marie removed her hands from Percy but smiled, he sat back like a child about to hear a story.
“How can I decline someone who looks so excited? But afterwards you have to tell me more about yourself. Deal?”
Marie really didn’t like talking about herself, and much less her past. She didn’t want to say but a lot of her early memories of Paris had been tarnished. But Percy seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say, even if it wasn’t much. In all honesty she just wanted to finish her story so Percy could say more about himself. While Percy himself could barely contain his excitement, he really wanted to go to France one day and wanted to learn as much about it from someone who had actually been there. He wanted to know if it really was as beautiful and lively and romantic as he had seen in movies and read in books.