We'll Always Have Paris
Spring days in Paris are usually warm and sunny, but this day was rainy and cool. That didn't seem to matter to the pair who was walking up the Rue des Abbesses together. She was young, beautiful, and wore a waterproof coat over her frock. He was elderly, silver haired, wearing a plain black coat over his clothes. He held a wide umbrella that covered them both, and she held his arm.
"Father?" she asked, her accent at once both French and something exotic. "Where are we going?"
"To the café where I met your mother for the second time," he explained.
"The second time?" She favored him with a puzzled glance. "Where did you meet her first?"
The old man smiled. "I met her first in England, at Kew Gardens when I was head botanist. Her father was lecturing on entomology; they came to the gardens to see how we used various insects to pollinate the plants. He was especially interested how we attracted and used butterflies." He looked up at his daughter, his eyes shining. "She was named for an Indonesian butterfly, you know. The Vanessa samani."
"You never told me that before," she said softly.
"Butterflies were your grandfather's favorite," the father explained. "And the name was appropriate." His tone and expression turned wistful for a moment, then he smiled again. "Ah. Here is the café. However, I do not care to sit outside."
"Then let's go in," the young woman suggested. "I could use a café au lait right now."
"And I would like a cup of chocolate," her companion admitted. "Yes, let us go inside."
The café was warmer, and crowded. A waiter escorted them to a place near the window where they could watch the gentle rain fall, beading up on the tables outside. Her father helped her off with her coat, and removed his own, ready to spend a leisurely time with his cup of chocolate. His face was a study in recognition as he examined their surroundings.
"They have renovated since we were here last. That is to be expected."
A waiter approached, asking for their orders. The man, speaking in excellent French, ordered hot drinks. Perhaps it was the young woman's beauty that made the waiter polite as he recorded their orders in a data pad and left them to their conversation.
"So, Father. Tell me about your second meeting with Mother," the young woman said. "I don't remember her well, but I do have the impression that you loved each other very deeply."
The old man's smile became gentle. "Your impression is correct, Tin-Tin. Your mother and I loved each other very much." He was interrupted by the waiter's return with their drinks. Thanking the server with a soft, “Merci,” he took a sip of his chocolate, then put down his cup. "Hmm. Our second meeting. Well, this little place was on the route between my small apartment and the nearest Metro station. I passed it every day on my way to and from work. I was on my way home one summer afternoon when someone called my name..."
"Bonjour, Monsieur Kyrano!"
The young Malaysian stopped short. He was still relatively new to Paris and to hear a voice - a female voice at that - calling his name, was a shock. He turned, expecting to see one of the waitresses from the hotel, and was stunned instead to find a lovely, familiar face.
"Mademoiselle Manabo!" he exclaimed, smiling. "How pleasant it is to see you again!"
"And you, sir!" She brushed her long black hair out of her face. "Where are you going? Do you have a moment to visit with me?"
His face showed his surprise. "I am on my way home, but yes, I have time."
"Then please, come and sit." She motioned to the chair next to her, and took a sip of wine, leaning over to speak to him as he sat down. "I am very surprised to see you, and find you are working here. I had thought that the Royal Gardens would have provided you with enough challenge for a lifetime."
"It would have," he replied. Miss Manabo waved a waiter over, and Kyrano ordered a cognac. He turned to the lady again as the waiter went inside. "As I was saying, it would have, but I became restless and decided to indulge my other passion, haute cuisine."
"You, restless?" Kyrano was captivated by her ready smile as she added, "I would never have thought it of you. And haute cuisine? In Paris? That is an audacious hobby. Are you studying it, or have you found a place to indulge that passion?"
"The latter, I am happy to say," he replied. "I am a sous chef at the Hilton de la Défense, working the lunch shift."
"Ah!" She smiled again. "Well, I'll have to eat there some afternoon and see if your skill equals your passion for the subject..."
"And did she?" Tin-Tin asked, as her father stopped to sip his chocolate.
He glanced up. "Yes, Tin-Tin. The next day, she was in the restaurant and asked after 'the chef'. The head chef was not pleased." He smiled, sighing happily. "We talked for hours that day, about everything, until the café closed. We ate our first meal together here. We met at the café nearly every day after that. It became 'our place'." He sipped his chocolate again. "I discovered later that her presence was no coincidence. She knew full well that I had come to Paris and had discovered where she might 'casually' meet me." He looked around, sadness on his face. "I do not think anyone here would remember though. It was a long time ago."
"Perhaps someone would remember at the Hilton?" she suggested.
"Then let's see."
They paid for their drinks, and Kyrano helped Tin-Tin on with her coat. As they left, Tin-Tin took out her phone, and speed-dialed a number. After a few moments, a sleek car pulled up and a chauffeur alighted to open the door and hand them inside.
"It was kind of Mr. Tracy to order the car and driver from the Tracy Industries' motor pool," Kyrano said, glancing over at his daughter. "Of course, only the best for his daughter-in-law-to-be."
"And for his old friend," Tin-Tin countered, smiling softly. Leaning forward, and in perfect French, she told the driver to take them to the Hilton at the Place de la Défense.
Their chauffeur was well acquainted with the streets of Paris, and drove skillfully toward La Défense, the tall, shining towers of the business area looming ever closer as they crossed the Seine. The boxy Grande Arche became visible, as did the hotel. The driver took them to the front of the Hilton, and handed them out of the car, escorting them with an umbrella to the entrance.
"Has it changed?" Tin-Tin asked, before they walked inside.
Kyrano looked over the building's facade. "I am not sure. I usually entered through the back, as did the other employees."
His daughter laughed. "Of course! I should have remembered! Come, Father. Let's see how the restaurant has changed."
They walked into the lobby, and Kyrano turned to take in his surroundings. "Again, they have renovated."
"And again, it's to be expected," Tin-Tin commented. "Where is the restaurant?"
"Over here." Her father motioned toward the entrance. "I see it is still Les Communautes. I doubt anyone would remember me. It has been a decade or more."
They stepped inside and were greeted by the maître d', an elegant middle-aged woman dressed in the hotel's livery. She approached them, at first smiling, then frowning slightly.
"Do I know you, monsieur?" she asked. "You look very familiar..."
Kyrano read her name tag, and smiled. "Monique? Did you waitress here several years ago?"
"Yes, I did," she replied warily. "I remember you from somewhere... I know it! Were you perhaps a regular customer?"
The old man laughed. "No, Monique! I was the head chef!"
The woman stopped for a moment to think, then her eyes grew wide with pleased surprise. "Tuan? Tuan Kyrano?" she cried. "Is it really you?" She reached out to pat his upper arm, then looked his companion up and down. "And who is this lovely young lady? Can it be... little Tin-Tin?"
"Yes, yes, it is," he replied, beaming. "She has grown into a beauty, has she not?"
"Oh, yes!" Monique returned the smile, and said to Tin-Tin, "I remember you when you were small. Your mother would bring you here so you could eat dinner with your father before the crowds came in. You were always such a polite little girl." She clucked her tongue approvingly. "You look so much like your mother."
Tin-Tin blushed prettily. "Thank you, Madame. I remember coming here, though my memories are vague. I'm sorry that I don't remember you specifically."
Monique waved a hand. "Oh, you were such a little thing back then. When your mother died... well, enough of that," she said, noticing the smile fade from Kyrano's face. "Let me take you to a table."
She checked her seating chart, nodded, then led the pair to a table in the corner. "I think you will remember this spot, Tuan."
Kyrano nodded. "Thank you, Monique. I remember, and the memories are happy ones."
Monique left them, and as her father pulled out her chair for her, Tin-Tin asked, "This spot brings back happy memories, Father?"
"Yes, Tin-Tin. Your mother insisted on sitting here whenever she visited the restaurant before our marriage - as close to the kitchen as possible. When she came, she would time her luncheon so she was here when my shift ended." He shook his head, a wistful smile on his face. "Of all the women I ever knew, your mother was the most persistent - and the most determined to make an honest man of me."
"Father? You had other women?" Tin-Tin asked, her voice showing her shock.
Kyrano chuckled. "Of course! As you had other young men before Alan. But once your mother began her conquest, there were no others."
Tin-Tin watched her father with interest as he busied himself with the menu. He has never spoken of Mother like this before. Perhaps it is Paris that has prompted him to do so.
"You make it sound as if she was very single-minded when it came to your future," she commented.
"She was. She had only one goal when it came to our relationship." He sighed wistfully. "And the day that I capitulated was the sweetest day of my life." Glancing over at her, he added, "Our love did grow deeper and our time together more meaningful over the years," he explained. "But that day held a sweetness born of surprise and wonder. I will never forget it..."
Sighing, Kyrano collapsed into a chair next to Samani. It had been a very busy lunch, and the head chef had importuned him to stay later than usual. Now he was dressed in his street clothes, ready to leave. Samani had been patient, working on the research for her doctoral thesis while she waited at the corner table.
As he sat down, she smiled at him distractedly. "Let me just finish these last few sentences."
He nodded, she finished typing, then he helped her pack her laptop and other materials into her briefcase.
"I will meet you in front of the hotel," he told her. She nodded, and they parted so he could leave through the employees' entrance.
Once reunited, he took her attaché, and they walked slowly toward the entrance to the Metro, the shadows of the towers that surrounded them wrapping them in an early twilight. "I am sorry I worked so late," he told her, sighing. "Luc was sick and Jeanette insisted I stay..."
"Shhh." Samani stopped and put two fingers to his mouth. "It's over, Tuan. Time to relax."
"But I did not want to leave you waiting," he said, gently taking the fingers away from his mouth, squeezing her hand before letting it go. He offered his arm instead; she took it, and they walked on. Kyrano's eyes were downcast; he was tired and irritated at himself for making Samani wait.
"Tuan?" she called softly. As he turned to her, she smiled softly. “Let's not stop at the café today. Just walk me home, please."
They said nothing on the Metro; it was too crowded for conversation. He made sure she had a seat while he stood before her, one hand in his pocket, the other holding onto one of the overhead bars. She watched him as he steadfastly gazed at the tips of his shoes. He knew she was watching, gauging him, but why, he couldn't fathom. Unexpectedly he looked up, and their eyes met. Her gaze - warm, sympathetic and tender - spoke without words and, suddenly, his entire perception of her changed.
In a heartbeat he knew, he knew that this woman loved him. Of more importance, he knew that he loved her. All the little things - the friendly time spent together, their long talks, her patient waiting, the gentle teasing - all of it now fell into perspective. He was being wooed, courted by a woman who knew exactly what she wanted... him. Now it was time for him to respond in a way that made it clear that her feelings were reciprocated.
The Metro stop nearest her home came, and they got off. She took his arm so they would not be separated in the crush of citizens and they waited for the crowd to thin before climbing to street level. Once clear of the station, they walked slowly in the direction of her flat. It wasn't far, just a block or two before they were at the old house where she lived.
They walked up the stair together, strangely quiet with each other. She did not want to intrude on his mood and he struggled for something to say that would properly express his feelings. At last, they reached her door. She opened it with her keycard, then turned to him.
"Would you like a cup of tea, Tuan?" It was her standard question when he walked her home. Until today, he had never taken her up on her offer. He had always felt constrained to be discreet, and his reserved nature had convinced him that to accept was pushy and forward. But today...
He ducked his head for a moment, scratched bashfully at the back of his neck, then met her eyes, smiling. "Yes, Samani. I would very much like a cup of tea."
He took a sharp breath at the wide-eyed look of delight that lit up her sweet face. More would pass between them that evening besides tea, but the first step had been taken, the ice broken. And he would carry the memory of her joyful visage all his life long...
"That is a wonderful story, Father," Tin-Tin said as they ate their lunch. "I never knew these details about your courtship."
"I know, Tin-Tin," he replied. "But it is time you do. Especially as you and Alan will make such memories of your own."
Tin-Tin smiled, and applied herself to her own meal. When they were finished, and had enjoyed the restaurant's fine coffee, she called for the car.
"Where should we go next, Father?"
"To the cemetery."
The sky had darkened and thunder rumbled overhead as they took the Boulevard Périphérique to the south, leaving the city proper. Kyrano closed his eyes as lightning flashed. It was on a day like this when the library where Samani was doing research was hit by lightning. A fire started, smoldering within the walls before breaking out into open flame. The fire detection and suppression systems were shorted out; as a result, the dozen or so people visiting the Renaissance collection were trapped, overcome by heat and smoke inhalation, Samani among them.
The car moved into a more suburban area, finally pulling up to a small cemetery. The rain had eased off here; the thunder sounded far away now.
"Wait for us," Kyrano told the chauffeur, who held the door open. "We will not be long."
Tin-Tin held her father's arm as he guided them unerringly to a particular gravestone. It was a simple granite block, smooth and shiny, its simplicity distinguishing it from the more elaborate memorials around it. On the face was engraved: Kyrano Samani, 17 Juillet 2015 - 5 Mars 2050. Below her mother's birth and death dates was a single word in Arabic-style characters that Tin-Tin did not recognize.
"Father? What does that say?" she asked. "I don't remember."
"It says 'tercinta'," Kyrano replied softly. "In Malay, it means 'loved'."
He stood before the gravestone and bowed deeply, hands pressed together, eyes closed, his lips moving silently.
Tin-Tin watched, and when her father had straightened up, she asked, "Why did you leave Paris?" Her face was troubled. "Why did you leave her behind?"
Kyrano looked at the memorial, sighing. "I left because the city had lost its luster. With her alive and beside me, Paris was a glorious city, full of life and light. Without her, it was just a place to live." He shook his head, smiling softly. "But I did not leave her behind, Tin-Tin. She is here," he touched his head, then his chest, "and here. In my memory, we'll always have Paris, your mother and I.”
Tin-Tin nodded, then returned his smile. "I think I understand." She kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for sharing your Paris with me."
“Perhaps one day you will share with your children a similar story about your courtship,” he said as they walked back to the car.
“Yes, Father,” Tin-Tin replied, now smiling widely. “I'm sure I will.”