Fishing in Beirut

March 3, 2010

Part 4: Causality (scene 13)

Filed under: Character : Johnny, Part 4 : Causality — fishinginbeirut @ 22:44

Johnny was at Beaubourg. Michel had wrangled another lesson out of him, and was seated alongside, smoking.
“Both / both of, neither / neither of, either / either of,” said Michel, brandishing a grammar book like a weapon. Johnny’s heart sank. Michel turned to the appropriate lesson, comically flicking the pages in an unconsciously earnest manner. Johnny forlornly eyed the content.
“So all of these words are for two things,” said Michel. “Not much things.”
“Many things.”
“They are for many things?”
“No,” spat Johnny. “You say ‘many things,’ not ‘much.’”
“Ah, yes. Many things.”
Michel paused for a moment.
“But they are not for many things,” he ventured, timidly testing the water. His shoulders hunched.
Johnny stared at him coldly. His mouth opened as if to speak, but then Michel realised he wasn’t going to, and instead confirmed it for himself.
“They are for two.”
Thus the lesson began. Johnny sat there scowling and correcting, and Michel prodded, questioned, and sniffed. Johnny felt a buzz in his jacket every time he got a message. Michel was desperate to learn, and was trying really hard.
“Both of us went to the party,” he read.
Nevertheless, Johnny couldn’t be bothered. He didn’t even feel particularly angry, it was just an unnecessary drag. He started fiddling with his phone.
He stood up suddenly, and announced he was going for a walk. Told Michel to keep studying. He turned to his right and skirted the top of the piazza, disappearing down rue des Lombards and emerging at Chatelet. Bus 58 was parked on Saint-Denis.
It felt good to take a change of location, even if it was only around the corner. He watched the skirts and suits. He thought of jumping on the 58, unsure really where it went, but what was the use. He’d have to come back eventually. A child dropped an ice-cream and roared loudly, and its mother negotiated it onto the bus. The screams grew muffled within.
He scanned the faces for want of a distraction. Get lost in the appearance of others. There were furrowed brows, tourist smiles, and heavy and light applications of make up. His jacket buzzed again. He went and bought a crepe, asking for sugar and chocolate, and the man behind the counter needed convincing he was serious. He ate in a machine-like fashion.
He wandered into a café and drank a cup of coffee. He played X’s and O’s on a napkin. An old Arab man beside him whispered to himself, folding and unfolding a torn off page from a phonebook. Johnny cracked his knuckles.
He leaned with his chin in his palm, feeling his breath make contact with his skin. Warm jets covered his nails. So many people talked and hummed to themselves in this city, at once entirely present, and somewhere far away. He threw a glance at the waitress.
Back at Beaubourg, Michel displayed his knowledge. He seemed to be completely in control of this topic, and Johnny was tempted to ask why he needed a teacher at all. A pigeon pecked a panino.
“You don’t need me for your teacher.”
“Yes, I think that I do.”
“You don’t.”
They sat in momentary silence.
The pigeon extracted a large lump of mozzarella and scampered off. Johnny kicked the remaining bread, wishing to put some distant between himself and it. The Chinese busker wailed.
A girl called Severine sat down beside them. Johnny knew her in passing, and had once woken up in her flat. He tried to recall something else. She told him he looked well, and that she’d been promoted. She was evidently pleased. He felt embarrassed and imposed upon, but was expert at hiding this, and probably merely appeared aloof. She left a short time after.
“That was who?”
“No one.”
“OK.”
Michel went to buy some alcohol.
As they sat drinking in the sunshine, Johnny watched two teenage girls in whispered conversation. Their body language was private, conspiratorial. He felt that they were separate, but still wanted to be seen. He caught a glimpse of bra strap.
Do women have that many secrets, or just a worship of secrecy? He really didn’t know. He turned to Michel and flicked his ear, and Michel said ‘both of the girls are pretty.’ Johnny rolled his eyes. This was German beer, or claimed to be, and the faint metallic taste spilt the beans that it was cheap. It was cheap shit, an insult to the Reinheitsgebot.
They finished the bottles and started on others, content to be drinking in another easy day. Don’t stress yourself, cause half the world will try to. They flicked the discarded tops. Johnny reached round for the guitar, and absently picked a pattern. He put some tremolo on the B string. The teenage girls swivelled their heads, and seemed to agree non verbally it would be interesting to approach. They sat at a respectable distance.
Johnny continued picking. He murmured or hummed occasionally, but was in possession of no desire to erupt into full-blown song. One of the girls began assembling a ponytail.
“Jouez monsieur,” said her companion. He gave her a sly-dog smile. “Jouez une chanson pour nous.” Michel leaned back on his elbows.
The police put in an appearance, and the beer was deftly hidden. Michel spotted them over the far side and placed the guitar case on top of their stash. Johnny went on with his playing. The girls began to talk amongst themselves, quietly, discussing some hope or ambition, or maybe reciting a poem. There was a rhythm to their interplay. Michel kept an eye on les flics.
“So what do you want to hear?” said Johnny. They didn’t understand. He repeated it in French, turning a tuning peg slowly, and when they told him anything he gave them a quizzical look. Hair flicking ensued.
So he played something, anything, and they seemed to be satisfied, or at least pretended they were. He almost offered them beer by mistake. They watched him with wisdom and wonder, or with something approaching those two. They scrutinised. He stretched out his arms in the evening, yawned, and quietly scrutinised back. Michel had left.
“I’m going to tell you something,” said Johnny, standing up and knowing they wouldn’t understand.
“Businessmen are fuckers, and love is impossible.”

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