Cycles: A Short Story
Cycles: A Short Story by Christina Bevan
She stumbled. The scene surrounding her came as a shock. She hadn’t expected this difficulty. And the unnerving stares of the people around her caused panic. In particular, the stares of a blonde, young woman sitting outside a riverfront café by the Seine. She could not help, with her mind in such a frenzy, wondering what the woman’s intense gaze meant. Her actions appeared to be those of a foreigner.
In actual fact, the blonde woman’s thoughts were turning in a different direction.
Maria Martin had learnt her capabilities and was not now surprised by how quickly her mind connected the present situation to her own experience. She had been this tourist once, she thought. She recognised the blind panic. The need to escape the stress of suspicion. The pain drumming at her uncomprehending ears.
She had lived that nightmare, and she had survived with the help of one kind person. And so would this woman.
When she had arrived in July, Paris had seemed to be the very bowels of hell with its absurdly busy atmosphere. Everyone had talked so fast she had wondered why she had ever come. Why she had thought a break from her boring country life would revive her “thirst for knowledge and adventure.”
She wondered why she had ever walked into the dreadful travel agency in the first place. She had thought about it too much. If she had been honest with herself then she would have realised that her decision had been entirely based on her desire to escape her mother’s stiflingly overprotective attention.
As she had stood in De Gaulle airport with a poster of newly-elected President Sarkozy staring imperiously down at her from an advertising board, she had not even wondered how she would survive in Paris with so little French. She had been looking at a whole new way of life through rose-tinted spectacles.
‘Silly, Maria,’ she had chided herself when she had at last left the airport in search of her hotel.
This had to be the first time in her life that she had been so confused and it actually hurt – she was shocked – the constant straining of her ears caused pain to explode inside her head – but at that instant, it was not a big concern to her. The joy of having done it – travelled abroad – for the first time had overwhelmed her.
She remembered her difficulty checking in. How nice the receptionist was too slow her speech in the hope Maria would understand. She didn’t. Her room was small but quaint and her resolution to see Paris made her determined not to spend more than a few hours in it.
For lunch the next day, she decided to eat out. She wanted to experience French Culture. It intrigued, fascinated her. She listened to people speak. She understood very little. Everyone had told her ‘a few words and you’ll be fine.’ Would she? she had thought, as she picked up a few words of a couple’s conversation. Fille. Anglaise. Stupide. She had a sudden urge to turn around and satisfy her suspicious mind that the couple were not discussing her. Could they be?
She struggled to order. The waitress was patient as she tried to speak French.
‘That’s okay,’ the young girl said, ‘I struggled too when I first arrived. You’ll pick it up. I had help.’
Maria had stared at her. The waitress had spoken English and had been kind enough to allow her a chance. Maria had felt her optimism blossom that day.
That girl, she remembered, had become her guide. Her teacher. She had taught and guided Maria through difficult moments. She had been patient and if it had not been for that petite étudiante, Maria would have returned home a few days after she had arrived.
Maria had returned to the café each day for the next month. During her breaks, the waitress had spoken to her in French, gradually increasing her confidence with the language day by day. When the waitress had had to leave for an exchange programme at the end of that month, Maria had felt she was safe. She was protected by an extra layer. Language.
Maria looked at the panicked woman standing across from her, frantically reading the signs. It became obvious to her the woman was lost. She crossed the bustling street and said in English, ‘Can I help you?’ The light that shone in the woman’s eyes caused her to comprehend why the waitress had helped her. Why she had been so patient.
Maria understood as she gave the young woman directions to where she needed to go – her phone number in case she found herself in further difficulty – that she had just continued the cycle. The waitress had helped her, someone before that had helped the waitress.
Now it was her turn. She allowed herself a smile of satisfaction.
Read about some of Christina’s experiences abroad here.