…I’ll recap Part 1 - The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
In the very center of Paris, at Point zéro des routes de France, a stout, dark figure appeared in front of me. He wore a black shirt, buttoned all the way up, throttling his neck, on an all-too-warm summer’s evening. Over his shirt he wore an elegant, black blazer and dark trousers.
His large frame loomed over me. I studied his face. Something about him seemed strange. The flame from a fire breather illuminated his eyes. Then I noticed it! His one eye, and eye socket, protruded unnaturally from his forehead.
“Bonsoir”, I said. He nodded. Despite the stout man’s strange appearance, he had a calming demeanor and a warm smile. The Notre-Dame tourists rambled about, oblivious.
On to Part 2…
Cape Town 2017
Back in the restaurant in Sea Point, while I described the appearance of the Quasimodo look-alike in front of me, one of the Parisian girls became visibly distressed. She pressed me for a more clear description of the man. "What's his name?" She asked. "He introduced himself as, 'Patrick'." I said. She reached into her bag and thumbed her phone in search of something. Perhaps she responded to messages. One of the other girls seemed irritated by all the questions that now interrupted the story and was anxious to have me continue.
He introduced himself as Patrick. He could speak English relatively well, but would also offer extended, unintelligible sentences in French. He said he owns an apartment, on the same island, in the middle of the Sein, where the Notre-Dame resides. He invited me to come have a look. Right there and then. Wow. I thought to myself, how amazing would it be to see an apartment in the middle of Paris? I tested him: I said that I am waiting for my friends and perhaps they would like to join us? He responded in a distinctly French accent, “Yeeess, but it will be niiice, if you come alooone?”
I smiled. Didn’t blink. Maintained my composure and studied the elderly man dressed in black. “May I take your number?” I asked. “My friends might arrive soon, but if they don’t, then maybe I can send you a text?” He obliged and walked away.
As I hung around, in the midst of the crowds, my internal dialogue went something like this: “Man. I would love to see his apartment, but what if he spikes my drink?”
I could feel time rushing forward. As if the movie was fast-forwarded. My friends clearly weren’t coming. The elderly figure never left. He sat across the piazza. He waited. My eyes met his. He smiled eagerly. He got up and ambled towards me. “I’m going to be fine.” I thought to myself. “It’s going to be just fine.”
He asked if I was still willing to visit? “Yes,” came my confident response. “Let me call my friends and tell them I’ll meet them later.” I took out my phone and made a fake call to Reuben... Reuben didn’t have a phone. I spoke in Afrikaans… Reuben doesn’t speak Afrikaans. I “hung up” and turned to the man and said, “I’ve got half an hour.” He seemed pleased and immediately turned and started walking away from the crowds with me in unwary pursuit.
We turned the corner and walked along a deserted and unlit, Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame. The almost century old Notre-Dame towered above us on the right, and ancient apartment buildings flanked us on the left.
He turned towards one of these apartment blocks. We entered a glass and steel door and stepped into a dark, unmanned foyer. We got into a brightly lit, yellow, wood-paneled lift, barely large enough for the two of us. Neither said a word as we ascended.
We reached, what seemed to be the top floor. We turned the corner and arrived at a white door. Patrick unlocked it. The door swung open quietly. The moon and city lights provided just enough light to allow me to get a sense of the space in front of me. Patrick didn’t switch on any lights, but I recall wooden floors, a spacious living room and a sizable wooden desk that faced the front door with an expansive library wall behind it that reached from floor to ceiling. Patrick lead me through the living room and through the open doors of the balcony. I stepped outside. In front of me… the city of Paris. I looked down onto the garden of the Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower stood tall far to the right. I joined Patrick as we sat down on plastic chairs.
…end of Part 2. Onwards to Part 3.