Thursday, December 15, 2011


Warning: French translated in Babelfish, since I know as much about French as my character. No idea how accurate it is.

Lost. That’s where I was. Lost on the streets of Chantilly, a small French town near Paris. We had come for a vacation, a well-needed break from the large English cities, and I hardly knew a word of French. But my parents insisted.

It was well into the night now, and we had run out of milk. The shops were open now, but they wouldn’t be next morning, when we needed it. I decided to go out. How hard could buying a bottle of milk be, I thought?

I was wrong.

We were staying in a small hotel, barely recognisable by its flickering sign. I took two steps away from the nearest lamppost and was bathed in darkness. But from here, I could see the glowing light of the French convenience store. It was only a hundred meters or so away. An easy distance.

I started towards it, found my milk, and went to the counter. The shopkeeper was middle-aged, with a burly build, dark hair and a pleasant smile. He said something in French which I couldn’t understand, then tried again in English.

“Four dollars thirty. You a tourist?”

His accent made it hard to understand. “Yes,” I said, as I paid the money.

He gave me a toothy grin. “Are you enjoying Chantilly?”

“Oh yes, very much,” I said earnestly. I grabbed my milk and left the convenience store.

My eyes were peeled open for any sign of the hotel. I walked up the steep slope of the narrow, unfamiliar streets, past shops and houses with extinguished lights. It must be almost midnight. Through the gap of a curtain, I saw a large woman making some tea. She had a bedside lamp turned on. I quickly walked past, hoping she hadn’t seen me, before the realisation hit me.

I hadn’t seen her when I was going to the store. I was going the wrong way.

Panicked, I turned and started back down the street. The road sloped downwards at quite a sharp angle, and I had to force myself not to break into a run. The darkness pressed in around me, and the hairs at the back of my neck stood up. It was okay, I told myself. I had just walked past my small hotel.

I scanned both sides of the empty streets, but found nothing. Not a hotel, not a single soul. The only point to guide me was the convenience store, which was mercifully still open.

I had almost reached the convenience store once more when I met a boy, coming from the other direction. He was a teenager about my age, in torn jeans, a shirt and a black vest. His blond hair was messily cut, and he grinned at me as we passed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him lift a hand, and mimicked me carrying my bottle of milk in an exaggerated, snobbish fashion like the posh Englishmen.

I laughed, loudly, because he was kind of cute. I heard him join in.

Instinctively, I turned around. He was the only person I had met all night, and I didn’t want him to go.
“Où allez-vous?” he asked me, cocking an eyebrow.

I blinked at him, so he tried again. “Êtes vous perdu?”

I cleared my throat. “I, um, don’t speak French.”

“Oh.” He frowned, gathering his thoughts. Then he pointed at me, mimicked walking, and then gave me a questioning look and shrugged his shoulders. Apparently he didn’t know much English either.

“Um,” I said again. I had some idea of what he was talking about.

The boy sighed, obviously irritated at my apparent lack of understanding. He pointed at himself. “Émile
I definitely knew what he was talking about now. “Janette,” I said, indicating myself.

He grinned. “Nice to meet you.” He paused, frowning. “Where are ... you ... going?”

I shrugged. “I’ve no idea. I’m lost.”

I could tell by the look on his face that he was lost about my sentences as well. “I don’t know,” I said slowly.

“Perdu?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.”

Émile sauntered over to a street sign and pointed up at it.

I shook my head. “Hostellerie du Lys,” I said.

“Maintenant nous obtenons quelque part!” he exclaimed. Then he saw my frown, and grinned. Émile pointed down the road, held up two fingers, then pointed right. Then he gave me a thumbs up.

“Merci,” I breathed. I dug into my wallet for some money, but when I looked up again, he was gone.