by Mathilde Requier
With dark clouds roaming above me, I got to the bus stop called Robespierre. I suppose it is funny to think about how a bus stop named after a historical murderer is supposed to bring me home. Anyway, it was starting to sprinkle as I sat down on the grey bench, where an arbitrary red “Adore” advertisement stared back at me. A stranger walked up and sat next to me. He was wearing a black leather jacket and black pants, paired with what at first sight looked like blood-stained white vans, but a closer look suggested it might just be a tye-dye job gone wrong.
“Good afternoon,” I said, avoiding the familiar awkward silence encountered when one’s space is penetrated by a stranger. “It looks like it is going to rain.”
His yellow-tinted eyes looked back at me like a child. “I don’t think so,” he said. “The wind isn’t picking up enough yet. But I’m also not the weather psychic kinda guy.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“What is your name? My name is Gomez.”
Half weirded out, half feeling sociable, I gave him the usual introduction as he asked me questions. I told him my name, that I’ve only been in Reims for a little while. I lied about my age, explaining I’m in high school, a habit which, in retrospect, is probably more compromising for my safety than simply saying I’m in college. All the usual stuff. He told me about his own voyage to Reims after having lived in Bordeaux for five years. I asked him about his reasons for being here, and this was when the conversation shifted.
“You know, since we are now friends, I will tell you honestly why I’m here,” he said. “I had many problems back in Bordeaux.”
Oh shit, I thought to myself. This is when he is going to tell me he is a criminal. This is why stranger danger is a thing. I felt the too many nights spent watching murder documentaries catching up to me.
Sensing my fear, he explained, “When I lived in Bordeaux, I worked for a Lidl. One day, as I was walking around my salon, I completely passed out. I was brought to the best hospital in the city, where the doctors told me I had internal bleeding in my brain. They told me I had the genetic marker for it. I couldn’t believe it.”
As I stared at him in complete shock and disbelief, he showed me a picture of his surgery scars on his cracked phone, which wrapped up a little more than a quarter of his head. “The internal bleeding had gone on for so long they had to cut open my head to operate on me. I was so lucky I was in France; if I were still in Africa, I would’ve been dead today.”
Still not getting over the fact that at that moment, on a random street in Reims on a random Friday afternoon, I was meeting a man who had a near-death experience; I stared at the moldy wood building in front of me. I expressed my astonishment to him and proceeded to ask, “And what happened after your surgery?”
He stared back at me as if I was the past. “I remember being in the hospital, crying because I was all alone and in fear that I would never work. You see, my left side is completely paralyzed, and still today, I cannot walk well. I spent the next four years in physical therapy,” he pointed to his leg, trying to lift it but failing to do so even slightly. “Since I couldn’t work, I lived with my boss’ family for a year. Can you imagine that? His wife, a random white lady, let me live with her family for a year? And here I am now, in Reims.”
“It takes a certain type of person to go through all of that,” I told him. He agreed, hitting his head playfully as to show strength. “Anyway, this is my bus. Goodbye, Mathilde.”
He walked out in the now clear sky, limping a bit, but with an inspiring steadfastness and ferocity.