So sat Theresa, marooned on an isle in the middle of the lobby, alone with her Blackberry and her wishes, without a back-up plan in sight.
The old man mopped the last area around Theresa’s feet, but she was too absorbed in her Blackberry to notice. He finally stopped, leaned on his mop, and stared down at her, in a not unfriendly fashion. Theresa felt his gaze and looked up. She said, “Yes?” and he continued to look at her. Theresa said again, “Yes?” and then realized he might not speak English. She scrolled quickly through some phrases on the Blackberry. She said, “Que … voulez … vous? There!” and she looked up at him, proudly.
The old man said, “Que voulez-vous, madam?” She said, “What I voulez is to get the hell out of here and to Angers somehow.” He smiled at her. She smiled back. He looked so … so grandfatherly. She peeked around him and said to the concierge, “He doesn’t know what I’m saying, does he?” and the concierge shrugged his shoulders.
The janitor said to Theresa, “I do ze clean, okay?” She said, “Okay, but I have to find the way out of here.” He pointed outside and said, “Go, un verre, a drink in the café. I clean.” She said, “A drink’s not a bad idea.” He smiled and said, “Go, go.” Theresa smiled back and said, “My luggage?” and the concierge said, “I will take it madam. He need to finish up. Please go to the café.” Her smile disappeared. “I’m going, I’m going!”
The janitor walked her carefully across the wet lobby and pointed to a café just across the street. Theresa didn’t recall seeing it before, but maybe she had been too focused on her meeting. She crossed the cobble-stoned street.
The café earlier seemed pretty crowded for 11:30 on a weeknight, Theresa thought, but maybe the French always stayed up late drinking. Maybe that’s why they never had breakfast meetings before 9 a.m. She shrugged and then realized what she’d done. “Good god,” she muttered to herself. Theresa found a small table on the sidewalk. Around her couple and small groups leaned into each other, talking rapidly, incessantly. She slid into the chair and pulled out the Blackberry. She twittered, “Café in Paris. These French never seem to shut up.”
A waiter materialized at her side, a long white apron wrapped around and folded over at his waist. She scrolled quickly through her phrases on her Blackberry. She said, “Seal vu plaid, un verre? Vin rouge.” She eyed the waiter to see if any of that had gotten through. He said, “Un red wine madam?” Theresa was relieved. “Yes, thank you, uh merci.” He was back quickly with her glass and a small carafe on wine on his tray. He poured the wine with a grand gesture and then pulled out a chair and sat down next to her. Theresa almost choked on her wine. He leaned in and said, “Americaine, yes?” Theresa said, “Yes.” He said, “New York? You know New York?” Theresa rolled her eyes. “NO” she said emphatically, “NOT New York. Chicago!”
The group at the next table leaned over and started speaking in rapid fire French to the waiter, who responded with equal passion. She heard, “Shee-cog-o” and “L’Americaine” and then “George Bush,” which elicited disgust from several of the participants. It was like watching a championship tennis match between the Williams sisters—except they volleyed with words instead of balls. But it was the same passionate, hard-hitting back and forth, over some invisible net. They kept gesturing to her as if she were part of the conversation but she couldn’t understand a word. Suddenly Theresa suddenly felt very isolated. She looked around and said to herself, “I wish I understood them—I wish they understood me.”
A man at one of the conversation tables stood up, catching Theresa’s eye.