I'm sleepless in Beirut.
"Je crois qu'elle me plait..."
The Nth time I hear him pledge his love to a girl he has just shared the air in the room with.
I met Dot via a dot.com. We chatted briefly, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy and we agreed to meet the following day in front of a bar in the street where I used to live.
I got off the 21st, reliving the sweet taste of an old familiar routine, waited for the light to turn red, crossed the street before the crowd of tourists switched into gear, crossed the second light, but instead of going straight through the huge arcade, I walked around to gather some courage, to calm myself down and to freeze the feeling of nausea that never fails to show up in my stomach whenever I am meeting someone strange.
I saw him leaning against a street pole, casually looking into his phone and observing the surroundings through the blurry mist that lay outside his focal point.
He looked decent, but not as masculine as his photos promised, more retired ballerina than bull-fighter. And he was not the height he claimed to be. As I approached him with my calculative gaze I missed the equations he used to go up all the way to 1.75m. Soooo not his height.
We walked down the winding street, stretched by the setting sun rays and the languid shadows of people strolling, successfully making conversation, that felt genuine yet, still, slightly constructed. At Odeon, every cafe and bar within our view seemed either too full or too touristic or or or...so we settled for something neither of us knew, liked or disliked. A perfect neutral ground for social experimentation.
Dot was interesting. Interesting in the sense that his curiosity was still alive and a-poking. His manner was powder-room soft, his sentences well articulated, perhaps too much, rehearsed...? His best quality to surface within half an hour was his honesty.
"Je suis marié."
"Comment? Où est ta bague?!"
"Marié mais en train de me divorcer."
It's a funny feeling. So he was someone with whom some girl fell in love with and thought they could have a life together. Wow. But also, he was someone with whom the dream didn't take flight. Daaaang.
But I wasn't looking for a flight. I had two months left in Paris and all I wanted was a sweet ride to take for a spin.
I began feeling increasingly nervous, but I didn't immediately feel the anxiety, instead, I read it in my hands. My fingers were playing with my hairband, contorting it into spectacular shapes. This meant only one thing - I was losing control of the situation and I tried to restore some power to myself by moulding an elastic band. I had to get out of here.
"Je ne me sens pas bien."
"Qu'est ce que t'as."
"Je suis nerveuse..."
"A cause de moi?"
"Je ne sais pas, mais en tout cas, je le sens. Je ne sais pas quoi faire avec mes mains."
"Tu veux qu'on bouge d'ici? On peut aller chez moi, j'ai du fromage, des tomates, de pancetta..."
"Chez toi? Hmmm, je ne sais pas si..."
"Non, non, rien ne va se passer. Je te promet."
And that is how control was back in my deck of cards. I learned that in anxiety-ridden situations the best way to go is to address the anxiety. Most of the time, people are surprised by the claim.
Few people have the X-ray vision that your paranoia invents.
So over to his house we went. As with most Parisian apartments I had lived in or visited, it was on the last floor. He opened up the rooftop window, we climbed out, laid out the plates, cutlery, nibbles and a large globe of light, and suddenly the scene turned all gooey and movie-like. Minus the romance.
The romance was waiting for us lower below, contained by the warmly lit walls. As I sat on the sofa, he inconspicuously moved over to the piano and began playing one of my all-time favourite piano pieces. Smooth criminal.
After a couple of beautifully played pieces, he sat down next to me and it felt like the famous Hamlet quote, but in a naughty context.
It was awkward, I threw my cardigan over my head, in what I will forever remember as the unsmoothest randomest move I ever pulled out of my sleeve, and said that I had to go.
In the corridor, he said, "Embrasses-moi".
He was shorter than me, I knew it wouldn't work, but I leaned forward anyway.
And suddenly life was complicated by a simple desire to make that stupid cliche moment linger, a desire to avoid the greasy metro poles, to forget that I had work tomorrow, to forget that the timing of things mattered.
Finally, I pulled away and out the door.
But the next day, I was back, with my suitcase and all. That is how I moved from dot.com to Dot's in 36hours.