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Thursday, August 20, 2009

One more Paris vignette: incident on the metro

This one incident keeps coming to mind, I am not sure why, so I wanted to get it down in writing before it fades from memory.

I don't always romanticize the metro, as I once did. Sometimes it's just a hot, tiring way to take me home or wherever I am going. But sometimes...

It was late at night, I don't remember which night, and I was heading back to my hotel. There were lots of people on the platform, so I knew the train was coming soon. The metro is prompt and efficient, one never waits long, although the wait is longer, of course, late in the evening.

I had noticed the voices behind me as I came down the corrider to the platform. Two women, in heavily accented English. It sounded as if they were arguing. I was curious but didn't want to be obvious or rude. As I came onto the platform I noticed a family of four, parents, two kids. They were American, of rather few I'd seen, surprisingly, in all of my time in the city. The older, a boy of perhaps 14, had tears running down his face. His father,sitting on the bench next to him, had his arm around the son. I was, again, curious.

The women I'd heard behind me emerged onto the platform. One was tall, thin, dirty blonde hair, nondescript. She could have been one of the young adults from my volunteer project. The other woman one could not have missed, in any setting. She was a bit plump, wearing a very lowcut top out of which one nipple peeked, and a very short skirt. Her hair was black, her eyes heavily made up. Her lips were bright red and the lipstick bled beyond her mouth. She looked like a caricature of a prostitute. Each of them was carrying a well-worn plastic shopping bag filled to the brim, although I actually didn't notice that until a bit later.

As the train pulled in, the family went toward the car on the left, the women to the car to the right, and I had to decide which way to go, which story to follow. I chose the women, and so never found out, if I indeed could have, why the teenage boy was crying.

On the train, I tried my best not to stare at the women, and especially not the one woman's chest. It was hard. We were all holding the same pole. The bland woman answered her phone. In English, which sounded Eastern European to me, she spoke and said, I have to take my friend home, she has a lot of bags to carry, she needs my help. That was when I noticed that each one had a worn plastic bag, like a homeless person would carry. Neither of the bags looked heavy. There wasn't any luggage or anything else they were carrying.

When she ended the phone conversation, she commented quietly to her friend, he always has to know where I am.

My mind went through possibilities. Prostitutes and a pimp? Eastern Europeans lured west? The two women seemed such an utter contrast to one another. That, I think, was what captured my attention more than anything else, and the fact that whatever their situation was, it didn't seem it could be good.

They left the train before me. In the end, of course, I knew little more about them than about the American family, about the crying boy. Probably, his situation was much more mundane than that of the women, who were only several years older than him. And maybe I had entirely overimagined their problems.

I'm not sure why, out of all my experiences travelling, I cannot get either of their situations out of my mind.

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