In my suitcase I pack a silk red rose, a small cream cushion, a sieve, an elastic band and a big plaster. I’m travelling light; other than the clothes I stand in as I prepare for this spontaneous trip, I have nothing except £300.
The girl on the check-in desk frowns at her computer, lifts my case as if to reposition it and looks shocked at its emptiness. She blushes, she’s flustered. An almost empty suitcase. But not quite.
‘Did you pack your bags yourself Madam?’ she asks.
She tags it and it quivers as it disappears off around the corner over the rumbling conveyor belt. She doesn’t hand me my boarding pass straight away and is talking quietly into a handset with her back turned away from me. I’m not sure what’s happening but she swivels back to face me and I get a plastic smile with my documents. I get the feeling I’m being followed as I make my way to Departures.
This feeling of being followed follows me through the emptying back streets of Paris in the lull between evening and night time. I sit down at a small round table outside a cafe. My shadow has already halted back at the last corner. I wonder why I am here.
I wonder what I am going to do now that I am here. I’m not in the mood for shopping. I’ll have to make my clothes last twenty-four hours. This could be the last twenty –four hours and every one of them is too important to be wasted sleeping or shopping and besides, my £300 is depleted by the air fare.
I think about the contents of my suitcase which sits next to my legs. I take out the rose and place it inside the little vase in the centre of the circular table. Its texture jars slightly against that of its neighbours; after all, this is Paris and I would expect nothing less than real flowers.
An elderly lady with a small dog arrives and sits down at the table next to me. She is wearing an elegant calf-length suit and seamed stockings. She looks over and smiles and I notice how her lipstick has seeped into the lines around her lips. Her little dog is bouncing, trying to leap up into her lap and she tries to pacify him on the pavement. I take out the cushion.
‘Pour vous?’ I ask the dog and the old lady laughs and places it on the seat next to her.
‘Merci beaucoup, Madmoiselle’ and I return to my seat. The dog circles on the cushion before curling up, sighing and closing its eyes. The lady orders her coffee. When it arrives, she leans forward for her lips to meet with the rim of the cup but as she does so, the pendant around her neck catches around the button on her jacket sleeve and its stone plops into her coffee.
‘Here, let me’, I say, forgetting my French in the heat of the moment. I take her cup over to the kerbside and pour its contents through the sieve. The stone – and I am not sure what kind of stone it is – lies steaming in the pit of the sieve as the last drops filter through the mesh. The lady orders another coffee from the waiter who has come rushing outside and she thanks me again. She orders me a cake and I’m grateful.
Energised from my coffee and cake, I wave to the old lady, pick up my suitcase and set off down the pavement. I walk for a while and my heels become sore from the friction as I try to walk as graciously as the French girls strolling with their arms linked together.
Ahead, on the bank of the Seine, I can see a bench and plan to sit down to examine my sores. But I hesitate as I lower my weight onto the seat. I remember something; once you take off whatever’s hurting you, you never want it back how it was. Flesh swells, fills the gaps repressed by straps and finds its own form.
A few yards away, an artist is packing away his easel and painting. He looks tired and wipes his brow with his sleeve. He has a case for his brushes. It’s a hard, black one a bit like those I’ve seen musicians use. Perhaps it’s an artist thing, this case, the idea that you can contain your precious belongings in a case. The main difference between him and me is that my case is full of random objects; I will not be using them to create a masterpiece. Or will I? Perhaps I will write a story about a trip to Paris and feature the contents of my case and then they will be useful because someone might read it.
But what about the plaster? I bet you thought I was going to put it on my heel. Not so. I offered it to the artist to stick on the back of his painting after it fell on top of his case and was torn by its catch. That’s art for art’s sake. The elastic band remains the only mystery in this plot; it is circular and if you stretch it to a point, it comes back to the shape at the beginning.
In my suitcase I pack a silk red rose and wonder where it will take me. This is the beginning of the end.