what if
Fiction, Fiction in English

What if…

Xavier always thought that the bus journey was one of the nicest moments of his day. As a true Parisian, he should have been trying to squeeze himself into a crowded metro, standing under someone’s armpits – but that would have prevented him from the scenery he enjoyed everyday through the bus windows. You’d thought that after living in the capital for more than 10 years, one would get used to the haussmannian buildings, the undescriptible charm of Pigalle, the greasy falafels of Le Marais, the shadowed alleys of the Luxembourg’s gardens or the constant liveliness of Belleville – but he never grew accustomed to it.

Buses were the best way to daydream, and Xavier needed that. He needed to feel that he was transitioning to one place to another, to one part of his life to another – the bus was a kind of metaphor. It would transport him from his 12 square-meters bedroom to the university, then again to his work. In the morning, he would smell of musk deodorant, in the evening, of fried onions – he worked at the Subway.

Sometimes, he would come back to reality to observe the people around him. The teenagers going to school, laughing out loud like they were kings of the world; the old lady with her wheeled shopping bag, back from the morning marché, deeply annoyed by all that screaming; a Mom and her baby girl, about to burst into tears because of the noise; a businesswoman with a phone buzzing in her hand – a lot of different kinds of people, all gathered in the same vehicule.

At some point, it is stopping, and the loud teenagers are pushing everyone, trying to make their way out of the bus. Some people complain and a lot of ‘Putain!’ are heard. A book falls at Xavier’s feet. He tries to reach it – and for one microsecond, his fingers brush the cover, and the hand of its owner. He barely catches the title of the book. Within two seconds – when he glances at the owner again – it’s over. All he glimpses are long, brown curly hair falling on her shoulders.

*

There are two situations all librarians in the world try to avoid with caution. The first one is having to read the brand new Izzlie Tember’s cheesy-romcom-softporn novel. The second one is having to read it in a moving bus, when you suffer from motion sickness but you have no choice, because you have to present it to the weekly book club.

So there she was, standing in the bus, trying to hide the cover with her left hand – the old lady was glancing with curiosity at it. Who could blame her? The cover represented the amazingly beautiful six-pack of a man. For sure, none of Victor Hugo or Marcel Proust’s novels had such attractive covers.

Nora loved her job at the library – who wouldn’t? Working in the center of Paris, walking along the bookshelves, enjoying the quiet atmosphere – just you, and the books. But to reach her world of imagination, she had to confront herself everyday to another world made of musk perfumes, crying babies and spotty prepubescents.

The conductor of the bus brakes abruptly and the group of teenagers just realise that they have to get out of it. ‘This is our stop! This is our stop!!’, they shout, while pushing Nora on the side without any excuse. She lets the book fall, hurries to catch it before someone sees what she is reading – too late, another hand is already grabbing the object. She quickly takes it back, feels fingers touching hers, and steps out.

*

I’ve got to intervene in this story. I know it’s not my place, but I have to. And I’m sorry in advance, because I’m not supposed to – I’m the narrator, for God’s sake. But I have to save this story. You probably already have imagined the rest of it, and you have high expectations about the end. But the thing is, the author is not into romantic stuff. She doesn’t think that fingers touching should be something, something huge even – she thinks that it’s just moments like this, everyday moments, when you’re about to meet someone but the opportunity is missed. For sure, Xavier could jump out of the bus and run after the long, brown curly hair, but based on what? And what about this important exam that he has to pass on this day? Anyway, who runs after someone that he or she barely knows – except Colin Firth?

So dear author, please forgive me, but let’s rewind a bit.

*

At some point, it is stopping, and the loud teenagers are pushing everyone, trying to make their way out of the bus. Some people complain and a lot of ‘Putain!’ are heard. A book falls at Xavier’s feet. He can’t help but smile when he sees the bodybuilder on the cover. Seriously? Who reads that sort of novel?

‘It’s not mine…’

He looks up, still smiling. Two big brown eyes, well hidden behind a mass of thick, brown hair, are looking – with some embarrassment – at him.

‘Well tried, but that’s okay, everybody has his own literary taste… I guess…’ he says, slightly amused.

‘Oh shit, that was my stop!’ Nora mumbles. ‘I will step out at the next one then’.

She takes the book back and sticks it into her bag. She seems to be trying to say something, but she hesitates.

‘I’m a librarian’ she finally explains. ‘I have to read it for our book club. The… the members asked to read this one and discuss about it’.

He laughs: ‘I would be very curious to know what you have to say about these abs on the cover’.

He has something. Maybe it’s his smile – he has only one dimple, on the left cheek. People don’t often smile on the morning bus. Before she even realises it, she says:

‘Come. The library is on Rue Baudelaire. We meet at 8 and it’s open to everyone. Even… if you haven’t read it’.

*

Of course, dear author, this is just one way to do it. Life and words offer a million of different possibilities. Xavier could also have chosen to take the bus 15 minutes earlier to prepare for his exam. Nora could have decided to take a day off, because she was working like a dog even on weekends, and she just deserved it. She could have waited to be out of the bus to finish the book, since she was suffering from motion sickness. He could have been deprived of any sense of humour, and could have judged the book by its cover. She could have yelled back at the teenagers, start fighting with them, or she could have been seating somewhere else in the bus.

But… but if you pay attention sometimes, if you look, really look at people, you will discover how easy it is to change your own story.

what if
© Ernanette Carolino/Unsplash

 

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