Image by Christine Renney
Despite the continual warnings, all the official advice, they continued to travel. Despite the very real threat of a bomb or poisonous gas or a man in the middle of the night coming into your room and holding a hand over your mouth whilst plunging a knife into your side. Despite all of this, they continued to visit and explore.
It was easy enough to get a flight, find your way to anywhere. Still possible to climb part of the Eiffel Tower or gaze at the site where the Parthenon once stood. For the most part they set off alone but were easily identifiable in their raggedy uniforms of jeans, a sweatshirt and sensible shoes. And so, with their backpacks, they banded together. There was safety in numbers or so they hoped.
‘Why do we do it?’ Joe asked.
‘Because we can,’ Eve replied, without missing a beat, ‘because it’s all out there and we want to see it and experience it for ourselves.’
‘But at what risk?’ Joe mused, ‘is it really worth putting ourselves in danger?’
‘I don’t think about it,’ Eve said, ‘I really don’t and after so long I’m not even sure if I believe.’
‘But the terrorists are real,’ Joe declared. ‘The bombs, the murders, it’s all real.’
‘I suppose so,’ she said, ‘but I just want to look at the world.’
Joe realised then that he was falling for her.
‘The girl who wanted to look at the world,’ he said. ‘It would make a good title for a story.’
‘But it would be a sad story, one full of regret,’ she said.
‘Is that how it’s been for you?’
‘No, no, of course not.’
‘Well then it’s your story,’ he said.
‘But I don’t write.’
‘Yes, you do. You’re writing it now.’
‘Describe those men,’ Joe demanded, a little too forcefully. ‘The ones sitting behind you at the table closest to the door.’
She laughed. ‘Ok. They are young, in their early or mid-twenties. They are dressed smartly, are a little dandyish. They have dark hair and olive skin. They are from here, I think, and they keep glancing across at us. They know why we are here and they have polished, shiny shoes and they despise us.’
‘Are they terrorists?’ Joe asked.
‘It’s possible, it’s always possible.’
‘But you don’t care?’
‘Of course I care, but I won’t not do what I want to do.’
‘You really are impressive,’ Joe said.
Eve blushed. ‘Why didn’t we do this in Paris?’ she asked.
‘Talk. Why didn’t we talk, it would have helped pass the time.’
‘It was pretty grim, wasn’t it?’
‘I’m serious. Why didn’t we do this?’ she repeated.
‘We were all too desperate,’ Joe replied, ‘we weren’t capable of talking in anything other than clichés and platitudes.’
‘It sounds as though you dislike us as much as our friends at the table over there,’ Eve said.
‘Sometimes,’ Joe sighed, ‘I think that I do.’
Joe and Eve had met the previous year, had been part of a larger group, fifteen of them holed up in a grotty hotel in Paris, waiting around on the off-chance that they might be able to visit the Louvre.
In Paris they had indeed been desperate. They were reduced by it, lessened. It wasn’t that they hadn’t been disappointed in their travels before. They had all journeyed hard only to come up against a locked door or a barred entrance. To find a ruin, fenced off and hidden, a once fine building dilapidated and in disrepair. To discover that something had disappeared entirely, had been moved or stolen, possibly even destroyed. But they had believed Paris would be different. It had been announced in the newspapers that the once world famous gallery would be open, just for one day from nine in the morning until five in the evening. Although it was an advertisement and not a news report it had the stamp of authority, the air of officialdom and so they had gathered, only to have their hopes dashed.
Before their disappointment had been able to sink in the rumours had begun to circulate. The day had been changed and there was still a good chance that the gallery would open. Those that could afford to do so stayed. Joe and Eve were amongst the very last to leave.
‘Would you do it again?’ she asked.
‘Of course,’ he replied.
Satisfied by this response Eve settled back into her chair and grinned.
‘Tell me something good,’ she urged. ‘Tell me about somewhere you’ve visited, something you’ve seen, something that amazed you.’
‘Ok,’ Joe said, ‘but let’s go back to the hotel. We can get a drink there.’
‘Yes,’ excited, Eve stood. ‘And we can compare notes,’ she enthused.
The table closest to the door was now deserted. Eve took Joe’s hand and in their sensible and soundless shoes they began to make their way.
Stepping from the restaurant and gathering themselves on the pavement, they didn’t notice the two men standing deep in the shadows beneath the awning directly opposite.