“Vos papiers,” he says, asking for my identification papers.
I can’t find it.
I also can’t imagine why he’s stopped me at the edge of this off-ramp. I’ve just navigated the narrowest and oddest upward spiral – a series of blind curves – and managed to come out on top. Frankly, I’m rather proud of myself.
“Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” I ask, inquiring what the problem may be.
He demands my papers a second time, and I go through the contents of my purse again. I can’t imagine what has happened to them, which I try to explain calmly, but he motions me out of the car.
We step into a small office, and I sit with him at a table. I’m suddenly uncertain what I’m doing in Paris – in particular, in what I assume is the underground parking at Charles de Gaulle.
I’ve never had to drive here on my own, but I’m at ease, not jet lagged, and couldn’t have gotten on the plane much less through customs if I didn’t have my passport. And that was just yesterday. Of that much, I’m certain.
Now we are waiting for orange juice to arrive, though when he asked if I wanted a coffee I said yes.
“Orange juice for the blood sugar,” he says.
Once, scaling the Eiffel Tower stair by stair, I collapsed on a platform with a view of Paris below me, an angry husband beside me, and worried children looking on with panic in their eyes. Jus d’orange was sent to rally me.
The officer asks the purpose of my trip, and I note a smile when I say “pleasure.”
Then I wonder if this is someone’s idea of a joke – but it isn’t April first, and I really can’t find my passport. I explain that I had everything necessary for any eventuality – yesterday.
“Perhaps you still do,” he says, inching his chair closer, and laying his hand on my arm.
I take a breath and let it pass, undisturbed by his proximity, much less this intentional touch. I ask if I may use my phone to make a call, and he says yes, moving back and allowing me my space.
I dig my cell out of my bag, and immediately press the keys to reach my mother who is 3,000 miles away.
She picks up after three rings, and I hear Oprah in the background. There is always something in the background at her house, as though silence is too heavy for her to bear.
“Nice to hear from you,” she says, and her tone is surly.
“Listen,” I say. “This is important. Please go upstairs to the dresser in my room, and check the top drawer for my passport.”
“I’m watching Oprah,” she replies, utterly unconcerned with the whys and wherefores of my request.
“Screw Oprah,” I say wearily. “Do this for me. Please.”
I hear the sigh. I imagine her on the yellow wall phone with it’s impossibly long spiraling umbilical. She seems to take her time, or she’s moving more slowly than usual. She returns a full three or four minutes later.
“Thank you,” I say, and disconnect.
“I don’t know what the problem is,” I tell the officer. “It’s not at home, I had it yesterday, I can only imagine it was stolen. Could you help me with a report, and may we contact my French friends to vouch for me?”
He passes the orange juice to me – which has only just arrived. I take a sip and thank him, and he glances at me now in a way that is anything but “official.”
“Lekker?” he asks, and I nod.
I wonder why he’s speaking in Flemish, and chooses the word for “tasty.” I also wonder how he knows I will understand. He notes the curiosity on my face, and says “Je suis Belge” which of course only answers the first part of my question.
I think of Jean-Marc, whom I met occasionally in Lièges or Ghent though he haled from Paris. I think of the days we spent together, and particularly, I think of the nights.
“You’re a very nice woman,” says the officer. “We’ll help you file the reports and send you on your way.”
He hesitates, then adds: “Perhaps you would like some company in Paris?”
I sip the juice as he edges closer still. He takes off his cap and sets it on the table. He’s forty, if that, and he’s attractive, there’s no question. In fact, he resembles two men I have known – the pale skin and hazel eyes of one, the lush lower lip and deep voice of the other. Yet I miss the broken nose that gave Jean-Marc‘s face so much character. And Chéri? It was his humor, his intellect, and his passion for the literary that was, to me, irresistible.
It’s hard not to remember younger days in this city. It’s impossible to dismiss the imprint of love.
I’ve no idea who he is beneath the uniform and the constraints of his position. But we never know who we’re dealing with, really. Even when we believe we know someone intimately.
I also wonder why a Belgian would become a French policeman. Then again, it’s only recently that I learned that the quintessential Frenchman, Yves Montand, was actually Italian, born Ivo Livi.
Suddenly, I picture the dresser in my bedroom and know that it is out of place – a gray-painted set of drawers that I used as a child – long gone. And I realize my mother is also long gone, dead some seven years. Her birthday is approaching, and she’s been much on my mind.
Now I know this is dream, and in lucid dreaming I may redirect the action. I want to stroll the streets of Paris before I must wake. It’s exactly what I’ve been needing.
“Il faut que je parte,” I say to the officer, and he slides his chair back and rises. I stand, I smile, I am taking my leave. I am going where I wish, and I do not ask permission.
He puts his cap back on his head, opens the door, and politely responds: “Oui, Madame.”