I prayed the thin white wires hanging from my ears would serve as sign, a signal saying: “Better to ask someone else for directions, or for the time. My time.” As a native New Yorker, I’d learned at a very early age how to erect invisible boundaries.
I was studying the Eiffel Tower through a scratched Metro window. With the Seine in clear view, a warm, marmalade light entered the car as the train surfaced from below. This was the first time I’d spotted the calm river and its flanking tower since arriving in Paris. Although this wasn’t my first time visiting the city, my heart raced just as it had exactly ten years earlier.
The Parisian riders seemed coolly unaffected, the way I was when the D or N train rattled over the Brooklyn Bridge howling at our pointy and sparkling brown and silver city. I smiled and nodded to this territorial ambivalence as the train doors opened and closed, and I collapsed into the Chili Peppers throbbing through my earphones.
Taking in my surroundings was always easier this way, with bass and separation. Plus I was about to move to California when I got back to the States, so it was fun to fantasize about Anthony Kiedis, and what we might do together in Paris if I was his Dani California. He was so creative, excitable, unstable, conflicted, scarred, addicted, recovering, and, more than likely, emotionally detached. Sweet imperfection. Just like my last love in Paris a decade ago.
The train filled at the next stop, Trocadero, where we’d found that addicting, orange-filled macaron café years ago. My nostrils flared, and I flashed back to the citrusy zest as I dropped my head against the window.
I didn’t wonder if he was happier now as much as I wondered what that meant.
Ready to disappear into melancholy and the anonymity of the crowd, I felt two sets of eyes on me. A couple, brunette, in their twenties, carrying a large bag that read “Paris” in a serif font mimicking the design of the Eiffel tower. He was holding the center car pole, and she was grasping onto him for balance. Both studied me. Wide-eyed, not communicating to each other or to me why they were staring, but eerily fixated.
This would’ve driven me nuts back home, and I would have returned a squinted, slow and deliberate gaze to show my annoyance. But this wasn’t a NYC-subway stare. This was nonthreatening and innocent, friendly, even before our wide eyes met and they simultaneously cracked half grins. They were happy to see me, giddy almost. Their excitement and concentration were so palpable that I almost smiled back, but my reflex to turn away kicked in first. Their four brown eyes were so glued to my movement that the mouths below them automatically started to mirror my grimace.
What was it about me that caught their eyes? They were obviously American, with their eagerness, blue jeans, Chuck Taylors, and tourist tote full of travel bounty. But what made me stand out as familiar and amiable to them on this busy train?
This wasn’t Tokyo or Melbourne, where my copious melanin and head of exploding curls always gave away my alien status. There were people of every shade and design on this train, so it had to be more than that. Was it the way I was dressed: a black, peplum-collared raincoat, black leggings and black ballet flats? Doubtful. This was Parisian camouflage.
It pained me to consider, but I wondered if they’d recognized, in me, the fresh-faced naiveté I detected in them? Or maybe the distinct American tension that comes from the compulsion for companionship mixed with the juvenile need to be exceptional, to stand apart?
I’d come to Paris to embark on a vision quest of sorts, alone. I wasn’t committed to staying that way, and hoped to meet like-minded people, maybe even give the love thing an honest try again, but I was proud to walk the streets without the armor of constant company.
At least I thought I was. Had they seen through my ruse, sensed my insecurity? Felt the terror they’d just awoken, or worse, the long-dead hope?
As the train stopped they moved toward two matted cloth seats, unbalanced, clinging onto each other for dear life. I felt exposed, fraudulent—and immediately grateful the two open seats faced opposite mine.
About the Author: Kimberly Reyes began her transition to creative writing after receiving her MA from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2013. She’s since been a post-graduate journalism fellow at the Poetry Foundation in 2013, a Callaloo fellow in 2014, a Watering Hole fellow in 2015, and she is currently a William Dickey Fellow and MFA candidate in poetry at San Francisco State University. Her nonfiction has appeared in the Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly, Time.com, The New York Post, The Village Voice, Alternative Press, ESPN the Magazine, Jane, Honey, NY1 News and The Best American Poetry blog. Her poetry has appeared on The Feminist Wire, The Acentos Review and in Belleville Park Pages.