Tuesday, February 7, 2012

13. Nina's Song


           By the time I climbed out of the metro at Filles du Calvaire, night had fallen.  My cell phone dinged.  I pulled it from my pocket.  Someone had left a message while I was on the train.  I fiddled with the phone but couldn’t figure out how to retrieve the message.  You’d think a French cell phone would work the same as in the US, but no.  Some woman came up behind me and screeched, “Bloquez pas la sortie.”  I was standing on the top step and people were bumping me as they passed.  Oops.  I moved along the sidewalk a few steps, fiddled some more with the phone, but no luck.  It had to be Aunt Mill.  Who else even knew I had the phone?  Still, I was going to have to study the stupid manual, if she actually had one, and if it was in English. 
            I started back for Aunt Mill’s.  The clouds where literally brushing the rooftops now. Wisps of fog even drifted along the street.  I thought I knew the way back but everything looked different in the dark.  Without realizing, I took a wrong turn and then another.  It’s easier than you think.  None of the rues in Aunt Mill’s arrondissement, er, neighborhood, run straight and the names of them change every five feet or so, and half the shops that were open in the morning were closed now, their big metal doors, like garage doors, pulled down over their windows.  Add in the dark and fog and the fact that I thought I knew where I was going and, before long, I was all turned around. 
            I reached in my pocket.  No “Paris Par.”   I searched every pocket three times.  It must have dropped out in the Metro or something.  I beat myself up awhile, standing there while people walked past, going home after work, carrying groceries or baguettes, chatting on cell phones or to each other, talking in French of course.  I’m used to being in places were people don’t speak English because of Dad’s work, but every once in awhile it dawns on you how everybody is not only talking with different words than you but thinking in different words too.  It can sneak up on you and creep you out.   Not creep-out really—that’s not the word—but, I don’t know, make you feel like you fell suddenly into a loneliness ditch, if that makes any sense.
            Maybe a minute went by before I called a truce on my pity party and walked to the end of the rue and looked up at the blue sign: rue de la Verrerie.  Sounded familiar, like one of the streets Sief took me down.  I figured if I turned around I could at least make it back to the metro stop. 
            I must have walked for ten years.  Going in circles no doubt.  Everything looked familiar.  Everything looked strange.  I passed rue Quincampoix, which I know Sief dragged me down, so I took it, hoping I’d get to the river.  For some reason I started thinking about Lucia and my Mom and Baby-X and even Clymene.  What was wrong with me anyway?  How could I be such a miserable friend and miserable kid and miserable sister?  Maybe I’d just keep walking in circles till I starved to death and became a ghost, blending in with the fog that was rushing along these tiny rues, here, then gone, then here.  Voices came out of nowhere.  Maybe it was the fog talking, or all the headless ghosts of the Terror, fresh from the guillotine, wandering for centuries down the tiny streets of the Marais.  When I got homesick during summers trips, my dad used to say, “you’re only as far from home as you make yourself.”  Just the fact that his voice popped into my head was tard-o.  I felt like crying.  “You gonna cry, Daisy?” I thought to myself.  “Really?  Cry?  How pathetic.  Go ahead, little girl.  Cry your wimpy eyes out, wimp-O.”
            That’s when I heard the piano.  I thought for a second it was in my head, but no.  Same song I’d heard tossing and turning at Aunt Mill’s.  I must be near home.  If I found the piano I would be close.  I rounded the corner onto rue des Lombard.  That didn’t sound familiar, but the piano was louder now.  I walked on. 
            It was coming from a club called Le Baiser Salé.  Outside stood a girl of maybe thirteen, talking on her cell phone.  I have such a snapshot of her in my head.  I guess you would say she was put together.  Opposite of me.  Black stockings, pointy high-heel boots, a fitted coat, big scarf wrapped round and round, almond eyes, huge lashes, perfect brown skin that looked like it was made of amber.  Plus, she was gabbing on the same model Samsung cell phone that I had, in English.
            “Excuse me.” I said.
            She put up a finger, spoke into her phone, “Got to go.  Text you later.  No, hey, don’t be doing like that.  Love-love.  Bye.”  She clicked off, pocketed her phone, smiled.
            “You speak English,” I said.
            “I do.”
            “Have you ever heard that song, the one playing inside there?”
            “I have.”
            “I hear it sometimes late at night.”
            “Me too.”
            “Yeah, my dad plays it all the time.”
            I must have looked like, I don’t know, a hill-booby or dim puppy or hapless chuckhead or all three, cause she cocked her head and then started to laugh, then stopped herself and said, “Are you okay?”
            “I lost my map book and I’ve been wandering around for like six years now and I, um, I heard your, your dad playing and I think I, I mean—do you live near the Café Saint Gervais?”
            “Around the corner.”
            Now I laughed.  She raised a—can I say it?—sophisticated brow.  I said, “Sorry.  My name is Daisy.  I’m acting like a total spaz, but I don’t always.”  I whipped out my cell phone.  “Can you tell me how to retrieve the messages on this thing.  I’ve had it for less than a day and I don’t know how to work it yet.”
            She took the phone.  “I’m Nina.  How long are you in Paris?”
            “Till the end of the school year.  Like May or June, I guess.  How about you?”
            “I live here.”  She handed back the phone.  I put it to my ear, listened to the message.  Aunt Mill was at home and wondering where I was and if I was hungry.  Beep.  Nina put out her hand, took the phone, touched the keypad a few times. “This saves the message.  Hit seven if you want to delete it, star when you’re done.” 
            “Are you American?”
            “You speak amazing English.”
            “My dad’s American.  Mom’s French.  Come meet my dad.”   She walked into Le Baiser Salé, right past the door guy, right up to the stage in back.  A drummer, bass player and saxophone player were setting up.
            “Hey, darling.  Did you get something to eat?” said a tall, black man with a dark suit, wire-framed glasses and smoothly-shaved head.  He was sitting at the piano, drinking a cup of coffee.
            “Dad, this is Daisy.  She listens to your music all the time.”
            “She lives near us.  Hears it when she’s trying to sleep.”
            He looked over his glasses at me, then at his daughter, then laughed a round, lovely laugh.  Nina kept a straight face but you could tell from her eyes she was pleased.
            “I hope it doesn’t keep you awake.”
            “No,” I said.  “The opposite.  It reminds me, I don’t know, of all the good things about home.”
            He smiled, leaned down, stuck out his hand.  We shook.  “Pleased to meet you, Daisy, I’m Kirk.  Stick around for the show if you want.”
            “I’d really-really like to but, um, my aunt is probably wondering if I’m dead or not.”
            “I’m going to walk Daisy home.  If that’s okay,” said Nina.
            “Sure.  Homework finished?”
            “Not yet.  I’ll do it when I get back.”
            He nodded. The saxophone player was running through scales, the drummer whapping his snare as he tuned it.  I was mesmerized.  How impossibly cool to have your dad be a real jazz musician who played in real jazz clubs in real Paris.  Nina touched my elbow, nodded toward the door.  We walked out, her dad playing as we went, playing what I would later learn was Nina’s song. 

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