Drafts piling up. Today was spent chasing apartments, avoiding dog poo, buying turn-of-last-century documents and notebooks about how great The Crusades were and chronicling l’Outre Mer conquests/savageries. And voila, the first pair of crocs I’ve seen in ages. Rive Mal-a-Droit. Juxtaposition is lazy, I know.
I spent my Saturday night at Gare d’Austerlitz. Rolled in about eight, bought a ticket, and baulked when I saw the next train wouldn’t be leaving for another three hours. What kind of chicanery?! I tried to sneak onto other trains, but not a one pointed in my direction. Fuck. Phone dead, I stuck my carte bleue into a public phone and made the requisite local and longdistance calls. Magazines, the communist paper, a paperback. I prepared to settle in for a long wait.
I blamed Moussa for making me late for the earlier train. I had been so starved for sharp conversation.
That afternoon: NY cap sunk low alloverprintcamohoodie, he jogged backwards beside me for a good Blvd Voltaire block before I finally took out one earbud to listen to him. “Jolie fleur!” he called out. Vous etes une jolie fleur. What are you doing? Are you going somewhere? Can I talk to you for a minute?
The fleur part was true enough, so I took out the other earbud and paused.
Moussa, 27, from banlieue, he comes downtown to hang with friends on weekends. A few of them kept shuffling over or calling to him from the bench they sat on up the street, and he’d run off briefly, face and hands apologetic, to faire business. We talked sociale and literacy and public health and boredom in the banlieue and young people and soccer and how to flip different masks and uniforms depending on the circumstance or threat. So many of the same plotlines, modified by language, migratory paths, textiles. But so same. He wanted to take me out for a coffee, he said, but he wouldn’t break fast for another hour. We parted ways with a salam alaikum, an alaikum salam, a pound.
I turned toward Bastille, carrying the deadweight of my dossiers (requisite for my (infuriatingly fruitless) apartment search) under one arm. Earbuds back in, back to the mixtape still rolling. Five train, direction Porte d’Italie. My favourite metro moment comes after Quai de la Rapée, once you pull out of the tunnel and onto this lovely, weathered, graffiti-smothered bridge over the Seine. Layers of decay, gray waters, sparkling sunshine, and the slow, sexy sway of the train, right to left, as it crosses. Next stop, Austerlitz.
Amadou, 21, hit me up by the entrance. I was leaning, holding my reading materials, looking outside for an exit strategy that didn’t exist. Not two minutes and he was offereing me hash, mixtapes, and his phonenumber. He wanted to know what I was listening to.
“Weezy. Vous connaissez?”
Ah, word word word, or whatever the French equivalent of “word” is. “Do you like Rick Ross?” he asked, and then pulled out his little mp3 player. Boombox 2008. He put some Biggie on and was amazed when I called it. I asked for French rap and he obliged, getting me extra excited over the Comorien joints. He had most of one front tooth missing and got a faraway look in his eyes when I messed up a word or conjugation. He wouldn’t correct me, he’d just let my fuckups roll off the sides and move along with the conversation. “I thought Canadians were supposed to speak French?”
Back inside the gare, there was nowhere to sit but on the concrete floor. There are no benches — benches are for resting, they’re places for people to congregate comfortably, an invitation to loiterers, the homeless, the aimless. With nowhere to sit they’re left to wander, pace, float around like ghosts.
After three hours at the train station, I started to feel like a ghost too.