An Evening in Paris
By Joji Jacob
Meera did not know if she was more disappointed with the city of Paris or with herself. She had wanted to visit Paris ever since she could remember. But here she was on the viewing gallery atop the Eiffel Tower, the city laid out before her like a carpet of lights, and all she wanted to do was go back to the hotel, pull the blankets over her face and never ever wake up.
The viewing gallery was barricaded with steel railings. To deter suicides, she assumed. She pressed her forehead against the cold steel and looked down and wondered what it would be like to fall from that height. How long would it take before the body hit the tarmac? A screaming eternity? Or would one merely float and sway in the strong breeze like a feather and settle ever so softly in some startled Frenchman’s lap?
Beside Meera, a Caucasian couple were locked in a deep kiss. Spanish, she decided arbitrarily. The man was squeezing his partner’s buttocks in a steady rhythm.
Meera started to walk. Even though the gallery was packed with tourists like so many sardines in a can, it was very cold. The temperature was about six degrees, which, the newspaper had said, was not unusual for the month of September. That is why the tickets had been cheaper too.
The wind was worse on the eastern side of the viewing gallery. Without the façade of the tower to block it, the wind howled like a rabid dog, snatching at scarves and coats.
Meera scanned the gallery for Prakash. He was a few paces away, squatting on the floor, the lens of his camera jutting out through a gap in the barricade. The Nikon 450 was his latest toy, decided upon after as much deliberation as the trip itself.
Almost all day she had posed for pictures; at the Louvre, in front of Mona Lisa (The painting was much smaller than she had imagined it would be. Yet another Parisian letdown.), at the Notre Dame, beside the Seine. When the pictures were developed, it would show a worried, tired Meera, smiling a small, strained smile. But then, she remembered she looked like that in all the pictures taken in the last four years.
Meera pushed her hands deeper into their warm nests in her coat pockets and waited for Prakash to be done with his shot. In the yellow glare of the tower’s naked functional light, she could see the balding patch on the top of his head.
She had to do it now. Get it over with. She would do it now and perhaps they could go back tomorrow. Maybe she could leave alone. It would be weird traveling back together after tonight. She wouldn’t even bother with the bags. Just get off the Eiffel Tower, get into a taxi, get into a plane, and maybe get off the planet.
The wind bore down on her as if urging her to do it. She walked to Prakash and put her hand on his shoulder.
“Hey babes, where’ve you been?” he asked without looking back.
“Prakash, I want a divorce.”
The wind snatched the words and whirled them around in a wild dervish dance.
Prakash rose to his feet, his eyes intent on the camera as he tried to put the lens back on.
“What did you say?”
Meera searched his face for hurt, anger, pain.
What did you say? I didn’t hear you.”
“I’m cold. Can we leave now?”
Prakash put an arm around her and led her to the elevator door.
“Come, let’s get back to the hotel and get us a drink.”
On the way out, they passed the Spanish couple. The man still had firm possession of the woman’s buttocks.
Prakash squeezed Meera’s shoulders and grinned at her. Meera kept her eyes averted.
Outside Prakash started towards rue Saint Charles. Meera tugged at his sleeves.
“Our hotel’s that way.”
“My sense of direction is awful. I’d be lost without you, girl,” he said.QLRS Vol. 4 No. 1 Oct 2004