This is a continuation of Dark Tunnel and Dark Tunnel (continued). My apologies to readers who prefer shorter self-contained pieces. If you care to read Parts 1 and 2, please follow the links. If not, the setup is that, in Dark Tunnel, the main characters (a man and woman) are crawling through a tunnel attempting to elude pursuers. In Dark Tunnel (continued), as he crawls, the man thinks back to his first meeting with the woman on a warm evening at Les Deux Magots café in Paris, and how it was interrupted by something she saw. At the end of that part, they have jumped up, leaving their friend Alex at the table, and run, with her in the lead. In what follows, Part 3, still in the tunnel, his reflections on that fateful night continue…
… I catch up to her, gripping her hand as we dart across all four lanes of Boulevard Saint-Germain, just ahead of the changing light. Daring a quick look back, I see the steady flow of Parisian drivers where we’ve just crossed, and the agitated man in red shorts temporarily blocked from following us. We bolt along Rue de Rennes and through the open doors of the first bus we see. As it lurches forward we tumble into seats. I glance out the window, eyes immediately drawn to those red shorts again. The same tall stranger who had tried to follow us across the busy lanes of the Boulevard. I feel exposed as his eyes dart from Stéphanie to me, but we are moving and, for now, safe.
“Who is he is? What’s going on?” I blurt between gasps for breath. Our eyes meet again, and I notice my pulse. Crazily, I’m reminded of a lecture I give on self-perception theory. How we infer our feelings from what our bodies tell us. How people in contrived experiments judge faces as more attractive if they’re fed false information about their heart rates being faster. Now here it is, literally, staring me in the face. Have I fallen for her so quickly, or am I just pumped up from the running and the alarm. I make a mental note to use this example if I ever teach self-perception theory again. I also make a mental note that it doesn’t matter. In spite of the apparent danger, I am happy to be with her, sharing whatever this adventure is. I would not trade it for security and quietude of any kind. “Je ne sais pas,” she says, then mistaking my crooked smile for confusion, adding quickly “I don’t know, but we must find a place to go. To think. To…” her voice trailing off.
I realize that we have boarded Bus 95, on a route I’ve followed many times since beginning my sabbatical here. “We can go to my place” I offer. “It’s just a few stops down.” She leans against me, relaxing for the first time since her startled reaction at Les Deux Magots, hand enfolding with mine. She tells me how she was taking photos of traffic at night with her phone, capturing the blur of movement, not realizing that she was also getting people in the pictures. She shows me two pictures, with blurred images of the man in red shorts taking a backpack from a woman and walking off. “What’s in the back pack?,” I ask softly. “Je ne – I don’t know, but they think it matters that I saw. That I have the picture” she sighs. “He and the woman came toward me asking for the phone. I ran. I don’t know why. I thought I had lost them, but there he was, tonight, by the café.”
We finish the ride in silence, each lost in contemplation, then get off at Armorique – Musée Postal and head to my apartment on Rue de l’Armorique. I text Alex to let him know we’re safe, but do not get a reply. Stéphanie and I sit on the small balcony, sharing a bottle of red wine, pretending the man in red shorts does not exist and looking at the glow of the Eiffel Tower in the distance.
It is late and we both stifle yawns. I point her to the bed in the tiny efficiency apartment, saying I will sleep in the nearby chair. “Non – no” she says, looking searchingly into my eyes, “I need you to hold me.” There goes my pulse again. Can’t blame it on running or fear this time…
Copyright © Thomas Ward 2017