It takes a while until the brake applies. A tiny squeaking. Hot wind grazing my cheek. Smells of tar, exhaust fumes and garbage hover above the three-lane roundabout. I turn and plunge in.
Simon navigates between the cars. Turns round, shouts, l’opéra, behind you.
He disappears between metal, the sound of horns, buzzing.
I stop, support myself at the edge of the pavement. A taxi rolling slowly on the side lane ahead of me. I see red lights flashing up. My skin is pale above the dark asphalt, as I hoist my long skirt, tie it anew between my thighs. My bike sways under my body. I push off and pedal. Lights are blinding me.
Simon drives circles around the streetlights’ cones. He is wearing Flip-Flops, his toes stick out like horses at the drinking trough. Any moment they could streak the street, but he does not notice.
Garbage gathers like flotsam around the bollards on the side of the road. Underneath a carton I can see dirty soles. Simon says, in Paris they accept the homeless.
Bright light from a staircase at the métro-station.
Revellers stumble by, hasten in one of the nearest alleyways. Young they are, those women in their sparkling dresses, their heels clicking.
Whereabouts are we, I shout.
Simon turns around.
Near the Seine, but I don’t know the name of this part of the city.
I follow him onward, into a tangle of streets and alleyways. I enjoy being the follower, not knowing where I am. I feel the muscles in my legs, the wind cooling the sweat under my arms and on my temples.
Do you hear that, Simon says, driving a circuit, enqueuing next to me.
Distant beats sliding in from the right, I cannot localize them, from the left, from the right, where do they come from. After the next métro-station there is a crowd of people, cars and bicycles. Moving like a colourful river.
Hip-Hop hammers from open windows and doors. And someone shouts with a loud voice, qu’est-ce tu fais, putain.
More I cannot perceive. Neon letters blink in pink, yellow and green.
My friend stops in front of a shop, a wall of corrugated metal, the entrance door a hole.
Shall we buy some more beer?
I am still feeling drunk from the ones we had before, but I nod.
I get off my bike, tug my skirt into place, enter the shop.
Behind a wooden counter there is a brawny man, next to him a meagre kid moving to and fro, bringing bottles.
Avez-vous de la bière?
The tall one looks at me. My white skin stands out from his other customers. He makes a slight move with his head.
He nods, turns around, says a few words to the kid, and turns back. His eyes are black.
I put the coins in his hand, but he is already talking to his next customer. The small one jumps up, grabs my bag from the counter and puts the cans inside. He waves, waves me out.
Merci, I say.
We lock our bikes at the dépot. Stroll into an avenue, nobody to be seen in the lanterns’ lights. From afar we can hear engine noises, dry leaves rustling in the wind. We take a seat on a spur, behind us houseboats in a canal. They seesaw softly on black water. Only one has its lights on.
It must be late, Simon says.
I lean against the wall, put a beer in front of me and one in front of him.
Tell me Simon, how do you like Paris.
It’s fine, he says and looks down, at the boats.
Did you find what you’ve been looking for?
No. I fled from my family, now sit in Paris and think of them.
But is it easier?
But don’t these things change anyway, when you are away.
I often think of my mother. I cannot forget how she put a glass of water behind the door every single morning, before she left the house. Only to know if they have been in.
The intelligence service.
I take a sip of my beer. Bittersweet taste. We toast. À Paris.
I had a dream, he says. It was dark, I couldn’t see a thing. My mother was sitting in the living room, rocking herself like a baby, moaning. I couldn’t help her. I started screaming. My sister closed the door to her room and all of a sudden there was my father’s voice. Hush, or the neighbours will know. I fell and woke up. I’m beside myself. She is going insane and he just watches it.
He pauses, his gaze still on the boats.
He is weak. But I cannot look after her, I have a life of my own.
Didn’t you organise therapy for her?
She doesn’t go there anymore.
We look into each other’s eyes. I open my mouth to speak, but not a word comes out. Water gurgles between the boats, at times a buoy bumps against wood. We put our cans down at the same time, a metallic sound. The concrete is dirty, as I spilled my beer. The skirt absorbs the liquid. Time passes, I cannot tell if slowly or fast. The engines noises have slowly diminished. Deliberately we start walking again.
In bra and shorts I leave the bathroom. Damp following me, steaming up the only window in his room on the last floor, a dark rectangle. Seagull-like birds scream, invisible, distant.
This must be night birds, right, I say quietly.
Simon, sprawled on his bed, looks up from his notebook. His room is so tiny, he needed only put forth his hand and could touch me.
Shall we go to sleep?
“Summer Flights” has been published in my book “Autumn Wood’s Colour” in May 2012.
Translation and text © Marianne Jungmaier. Rome, 2012.