The Parisian Metro, 2 AM
The Paris metro doesn’t close at 2:00 am, as advertised, but actually at 1:50 am. I learned this the hard way, arms flailing, heart pounding, breath racing down the stairwell towards the next train platform. A kind-faced police officer twirled his keys around a finger, head shaking back and forth as he saw me approach.
Undefeated, I proceeded to the nearest train map. As the officer finished his patrol, I pretended to understand the knot of lines in front of me, nodding and mumbling to myself like reading metro maps was my calling in life.
I snuck a look over my shoulder. He was gone. Slipping my phone from my crossbody bag — the one with two zippers, like all the guidebooks recommend — I took a quick photo of the street where my hotel was located. I didn’t trust my French skills to get me very far without visual aids.
I took my time going back up the stairs, letting the Parisian suburb reveal itself like Atlantis from the sea. Parisians were everywhere, black leather jackets and oversized purses reflecting in the streetlights. Shiny clothes on shiny people on shiny streets. I already had seven countries behind me, yet I felt smaller than ever as I queued for the taxi stand. A French couple laughed from behind me, and I stuffed my hands deeper into the pockets of my bright red track jacket. I thought of my friends back at the bar in Montmartre. Should I have stayed with them after all? Would it really have been so bad to subject myself to a 15 euro cover and the drunken chanting of the other American tourists?
Yes. Most definitely, yes.
It was finally my turn at the taxi stand, and I leaned through the passenger window towards the driver, shoving my phone in his face. His eyes narrowed at me. Another Stupid American. I tried to keep my hand from shaking as I tapped the picture on my screen to make it larger. It was the map from the metro, the one that didn’t close at 2 AM.
The screen reflected in the driver’s eyes as he took the phone from me, looking closer. Could he hear how fast my heart was beating over the crowd? “Can you take me there?”
He grunted in a way that was undoubtedly French, and the phone was thrust through the window back at me. I took that as an affirmative answer and slid into the back seat. The red of my jacket looked wrong against the black seat, but I smiled to myself anyway, not bothering with my seatbelt.
The Eiffel Tower jumped between gaps in buildings. Sitting in that taxi, I felt the first flicker of a spark somewhere deep in my gut. The very same spark that will convince me to jump from a plane in just a few months time. The spark that will leave me prone to late-night glasses of wine and last-minute international flights. A creeping sickness with only one symptom: an overwhelming need to keeping moving forward, forward, forward.
A sick compulsion to see more, more, more.
The Eiffel Tower glittered again as we turned a corner, a thousand far-away cities captured in a patchwork of steel. We stopped at a light and the door across from me flew open. A girl heaved herself into the seat, falling face first onto the dark fabric at my side. She smelt like red wine and wet leather.
I stared at this drunken creature as the driver shouted in French. The girl mumbled into the cushion, her words drowned by the seat A second girl outside the taxi yanked her intoxicated friend back, holding tightly as she lurched like a spinning top on the pavement. Just as quickly as it began, the door shut again.
The driver cursed in French, but we started moving again. A thrill of untamed excitement welled inside my chest at yet another twist of the evening. I looked back through the window to catch another glimpse of the drunk girl swaying against her friend in a half dance. I would see the very same embrace years and miles away in Rome, under the harsh red lights of a Tuesday night. Then again on a rooftop in Orlando, edges blurred by gin, pineapple juice, and fog.
We reached a familiar street and I knew we were close. The Eiffel Tower appeared in the distance as nothing but a shadow against a dim city. We came to a stop in front of my hotel, an impossibly tiny Best Western with one of the only last-minute openings in the city.
The total on the meter read 22 euros. I hesitated, unsure how to ask for change. I handed him the contents of my wallet, having no other option.
I lingered in the taxi, expecting change for my 40 euros but only receiving the same narrow stare.
“Right.” I pushed the door open. I was yet again overwhelmed by the heavy weight of my own youth and inexperience. I’d been to seven, now eight countries, and I had 11 more to go before I returned to my small South Florida town. Would I ever shake the feeling that this was all new? Even worse, what happened when that feeling loses its edge. Will every corner be another challenge? Will this excitement follow me further than the Paris Metro?
I didn’t know it then, as the door of that Paris Best Western closed behind me, but I would feel this same weight a month from now with every step on the cracked pavement of Cape Town. I would taste it in the second Peroni in a Croatian bar with a name I couldn’t pronounce. Even years later I would hear the echo of laughter from late-night Parisian cafes in my local coffee shop.
More, more, more, it whispers.
Creative Nonfiction by Samantha Tetrault
Samantha Tetrault is an editor of Capulet Mag and hopes her creative nonfiction is good enough to appear alongside such a long list of talented writers! She writes full-time from her home in Orlando, Florida, and her writing has appeared in Goliad Press and the American Book Review.