…I’ll recap Part 2 - What if he spikes my drink?
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. He lead me through the living room, through the open doors onto the balcony. I stepped outside. In front of me, the city of Paris. Below me, the garden of the Notre-Dame. To the far right, tall and erect, stood La Tour Eiffel.
I joined Patrick as we sat down on plastic chairs.
Part 3 - But who is the [true] Hunchback of Notre-Dame?
We exchanged pleasantries intermittently, silences underscored by the breathtaking view in front of me, and luckily… he never offered me a drink.
I recall only two small details from that conversation: First, that along with a friend, he owns another apartment in New York, and second, that he’s never been married. He seemed comfortable to share with me personal details about his life, though I neglected to ask what he did for a living. But, in all honesty, I detest discussing such banalities the first time I meet someone. The answer to this inevitable question always seems to color one’s impression of the person and frames their identity by their career.
“Nice shorts.” said Patrick unexpectedly, his words piercing a moment of silent reflection.
I looked down at my khaki shorts. ”Merci.” I responded.
A moment passed.
“Nice tan.” He added. I thought to myself — I arrived in Paris, from a wintry Cape Town, only four days ago — could I have picked up a tan this quick? “Merci.” I responded again.
Then I felt a finger on my knee. I looked down and found Patrick’s hand hovering above my knee. He's finger gently poked at my flesh.
“May I?” he asked most courteously. ”Non, merci.” I responded, unperturbed. But Patrick did not remove his hand. With the palm of his hand, he proceeded to slowly stroke my thigh, just above the knee. Again he asked, ”May I?”
”Non, merci.” I responded once again and placed my hand on his. Gently, I lifted his hand off my knee and placed it back on his.
A great silence enveloped us. We gazed out over the flickering lights of the world’s most romantic city.
At once, I became aware of this elderly man’s most intimate hankering, a mere mask for what he truly desired — what we all desire: Acceptance… Acceptance for the person we are when we are at our most vulnerable, and if possible, to not only be accepted, but to also be wanted in our most vulnerable state. When we feel that we are wanted, we have this sense that the reciprocated actions are not merely mechanical, but authentic expressions of love, of feelings so strong they have to be expressed outwardly, however fleeting these feelings may be.
The city noises drowned out the silence. We exchanged a few more pleasantries as if nothing strange ever happened .
At least half an hour has passed since I made that 'call' to Reuben. I turned to Patrick and said that I had to leave, but that I would love to see the rest of the apartment. He got up and gave me a glimpse of the various rooms, though I do not recall that he ever switched on the lights, or they were extremely dim. I peeked into what appeared to be his bedroom. Isolated, in the center of his room, stood a single bed, perfectly made.
Patrick walked to the front door and suddenly turned to me, "Time to say, bye-bye," he said. The front door swung open. He walked me back to the lift. As we waited for the lift, he said a number of things, but all in French. Or at least, unintelligible to me. I interrupted him and said, "Patrick, you are a special man." He continued to speak unintelligibly. Again, I interrupted him. I placed my hand on his chest and said, "Patrick, you are a special man." He stood in silence.
The lift reached the top. I stepped inside the wooden cubicle.
I exited the building and stepped onto Rue du Cloître-Notre-Dame. I looked up at the balcony where I sat with the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. There he stood and looked down at me. I lifted the hat that I bought the day before. He waved.
I made my way back to Montmartre. I discovered that the trains no longer ran and my only viable option was to take the bus. At a bus stop I studied the routes and waited endlessly for the next bus. When it finally arrived, it carried me north, but I got off again, two kilometers too soon. Now I had to walk the remainder through the quiet streets of Paris. Suddenly I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. It's a text message... from Patrick — "Thank you for visiting,” it read. “Please let me know whenever you are back in Paris."
Late that night, I arrived at La Montclaire Youth Hostel. There, in the foyer, sat my two friends, Reuben and Kate, waiting for me with a bottle of bubbly, half empty and three glasses. "Where were you!?" they asked. I had the same question! But it turned out that they arrived at the Notre-Dame only five minutes after I left with Patrick.
Cape Town 2017
The Parisian girls that I entertained for the day, looked at me with shock. It was evident that my story did not have the enchanting effect I hoped for.
The girl on the opposite side of the table, the one who thumbed her phone, now held it out towards me. On her phone screen was a Getty stock photograph of a man dressed in priestly robes.
"Is this the man?" she asked? Incredulous, I took her phone. The man in the photo was a stout, elderly man with a gentle guise. His one eye, and eye socket, protruded unnaturally from his forehead. The man stood in front of the Notre-Dame where he awaited the arrival of two new bells for the cathedral. In the caption was his name, Patrick Jacquin, Archpriest-Rector of the Notre-Dame. Patrick didn't even lie to me about his name, I thought to myself.
Then the other girl, next to me, also reached for the phone. Shock replaced her eagerness. She explained that her brother served this man as an altar boy for many years.
I gasped. The girls were speechless. Our lunch ended in silence and I never saw those girls again.
What were the chances that I would go on a hike with three Parisian girls, in Cape Town, 8 years later, and that they would know this man personally? What were the chances that he had features akin to Quasimodo and lived by the Notre-Dame?
Ever since that night in Paris, a tender affection for this man remained with me. I thought, if only I could call him and say hello… that he is accepted. Would he remember me? Would he even be willing to acknowledge that he remembered me? Many times I searched my phone for the name, "Patrick" or "Patrick-Paris", but alas, those were pre-iCloud days.
Cape Town, Today
I just checked the entry under his name in Wikipedia... "On the night of the 24th October 2018, he died after suffering from peritonitis."
He was 68 years old.