Fishing in Beirut

February 21, 2010

Part 4: Causality (scene 3)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 4 : Causality — fishinginbeirut @ 16:10

Johnny ignored the hookers. He was on rue Saint-Denis, in the evening time. He was eating a crepe and waiting for that fool Michel, who owed him money as usual. He saw him come out of some place further up, whistled, and when Michel arrived they strolled back to Beaubourg. Johnny didn’t really feel angry about the money, but he still wasn’t leaving without it.
They sat down and drank. Johnny huddled inside his leather coat, and Michel looked at it enviously. He’d come from his audition wearing only a shirt. The crowd thinned out before their eyes, night coming down, and the tourist bellies rumbling. Johnny spat champagne on the ground.
Michel handed over the cash. He didn’t even have to be asked. Johnny counted it carefully, but felt ridiculous doing so, as no resistance had been offered. He stuck it in his pocket.
“I want to improve my English,” said Michel, in English.
“Tu parles anglais?” said Johnny, surprised. He looked at him with interest.
“Un peu, mais je veux parler bien.”
There was silence after this. Johnny didn’t know what was coming next.
“Est ce que…” faltered Michel, stopping.
“Oui?” said Johnny, guessing now. “Qu’est ce que c’est?”
“Est ce que, uh, on peut parler anglais un peu?” stammered Michel, scratching furiously at his right eyebrow.
“Ouais, si tu veux.”
Johnny roared with laughter.
Si je veux?” he coughed, wiping his chin. “C’est toi, putain. Qu’est ce que tu veux French boy?”
“Moi je veux parler anglais,” said Michel.
“What is your name?” said Johnny. “How old are you? Tell me.”
“Arret,” said Michel.
“Quoi,” shouted Johnny, in hysterics now. “Tu veux parler anglais ou non? What is your fucking name?”
“Michel,” said Michel.
“My name is Michel.”
“Very good. How old are you?”
Michel grimaced. “I am 29 years old.”
“And what do you like to do?” asked Johnny, falling over on his side. He was genuinely enjoying this, but he only wanted Michel to think he was taking the piss. The prospect of English conversation sounded good for some reason.
“I like to read and spend the time with my girlfriend.”
“Spend time.”
“Spend time, not the time.”
“Oh, OK, and spend time with my girlfriend.”
“Very good,” said Johnny, approvingly.
He lit a cigarette, then reached back in his pocket and gave another to Michel. He blew out smoke, cheeks puffed, and Michel flicked the lighter for a flame. They continued.
“Tell me all the different types of weather you can have in English.”
“In English or in England?”
“In English and in England,” said Johnny, although he hadn’t meant that at all. “Tell me ‘bout that London fucking weather.”

“Well,” said Michel. “It can do snow…”
“It can do snow, rain…”
“No it can’t.”
“Yes, I think that it can. The cold. Like here you know.”
Johnny sucked the smoke.
“Don’t say that. It can snow, it can rain, it can…I don’t know, be cloudy.”
“It can be cloudy,” said Michel.
They drank some more in silence. Johnny surveyed the deserted square, or, as he came to notice now, the near-deserted square. There was a figure moving slowly across, down by the Pompidou entrance. He squinted in the darkness, trying to make out who it was, wondering if maybe he knew him. Smoke rose skyward.
Whoever it was changed course, climbing the sloping square diagonally. This brought him gradually nearer as he passed. His jacket was ripped and threadbare, his chin hunched toward his chest. His feet seemed to shuffle more than step. Johnny stared in uncertainty, still unsure if he’d ever seen him before. He pursed his lips and sniffed.
“You look at him,” said Michel. It is who?”
“Je sais pas. Personne.”
“Il n’est pas Francais. Anglais, peut-etre.”
The figure drank from a can. He put it back in his pocket and shuffled on, leaving the square and disappearing down a side street. Johnny and Michel were alone.
“Il n’etait pas Francais,” repeated Michel. “Anglais, peut-etre.”
“Ouais, peut-etre.”
Michel took out a notebook and scribbled phrases down. Johnny saw him write ‘it can be snowy,’ but said nothing. He was tired now. Yes he had seen that guy before, somewhere, but he didn’t know him, he was sure of that. Someone else uncertain of the place they had been set. That’s all. He stood up and stretched and yawned.
“It can be very fucking cold,” said Michel.
The lights were on in the Centre, the empty library brighter than day. Blue and red pipes snaked upwards. An enormous picture of some dead German flapped in the wind, an artist being exhibited Johnny presumed. He’d been in the Centre Pompidou many times, but he’d only ever wandered around the free bits. Never, as they say, taken in a show.
Michel stood up too, and Johnny punched him in the stomach. He had energy to unleash. It wasn’t hard enough to hurt, but maybe to hurt a little, and Michel groaned in shock for a moment, before swinging deftly back. They flailed at each other in mock viciousness, observed unawares by a table-stacking waiter, who’d seen all this before, uncountable times. Johnny seized Michel in a headlock.
“It can be snowy, French boy,” he shouted, laughing and hitting at exactly the same time. He rubbed the top of Michel’s head with his fist, employing what those in the trade refer to as a knuckleduster. Michel hissed like a pansy, and Johnny stopped and released. They swayed in the moonlight, regaining breath.
“Je ne peux pas dire, ‘it can be snowy’?” gasped Michel, coughing.
“C’est pas grave,” his companion snorted. “Tu peux le dire si tu veux.”


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