Patrik used to work at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. For many months he pestered me to come and work at the bookshop. Because I was broke and lazy, I only wandered over in late September. I stuffed a couple pairs of underwear and some random articles of clothing into the backpack my great aunt Vicki gave me for my 13th birthday. I didn’t have a plan because I was too chaotic to think about planning. Everything was chaos in September. My dog had a urinary tract infection and I had to work as a nanny for three eight-year-old boys.
The plan was to work and stay at Shakespeare and Company. A small, but famous, bookshop in Paris, this is a place where English nerds can stay for free if they work a couple hours a day. I got there and spoke to a man with two braids and a goatee working at the register. When I asked if I could stay there he giggled and said with a snark, “Not tonight, definitely not tonight.” I was totally stranded.
I probably should have booked a hostel. But Patrik, the boyishly handsome moustached man, urged me to stay. As a neurotic New Yorker by birth, images of crime TV shows inevitably ran through my mind as we walked through Paris towards his friend Nuyringa’s apartment.
He assured me I was not being rude. “Nuyringa is the nicest person. Don’t worry, don’t stress, just help yourself to whatever.” A weird lamp, a train ticket and a bunch of peanuts sucked out all the cash I needed for dinner that day. I was late for my train so I only had a Nature Valley bar for breakfast. Despite my polite upbringing, I found myself forced to raid the fridge of a woman I’d never met and who potentially would be rather angry at me pilfering her carefully selected groceries.
I fiddled around the woman’s fridge while I waited to meet her for the first time. I didn’t want to eat anything too expensive so I grabbed a block of cheese wrapped in plastic. It was a bit suspicious, but I convinced myself the best cheeses are stinky and gloopy. Meanwhile, Patrik casually popped open a bottle of Nuyringa’s red wine and delicately poured it into a ceramic mug with a protruding snowman on it.
His round Harry Potter glasses and dark brown hair bustled about as he swigged. He has a moustache that he very subtly waxes so it turns up on either end of his lip, evoking his inner Poirot. I met Patrik a year ago in a café when I was living in Rome. I overheard him having a conversation with his friend in a language I could not understand. It was certainly not Italian, English, Spanish, French or Portuguese. Upon my inquiries, I learned he was speaking in Latin. Duh.
I ate the entire block of cheese. In my defence, I never meant to be in this random woman’s kitchen in the center of Paris at 12:30am. Patrik promised me a place at his place if all else failed. Upon my arrival in Paris, I learnt that he’d been evicted from his apartment. I have yet to understand the reasons for this eviction. My place at Shakespeare and Company was deferred by the man with a goattee, so Patrik called his friend Nuyringa.
We drank red wine out of coffee mugs and I pretended I wasn’t having serious gas from the block of cheese I ate. Nuyringa was still a phantom-like host at that point. I remember sitting out on her balcony whilst Patrik smoked his Marlboro reds. Patrik promised I would love this figure who I knew nothing about apart from a name and her love of unsalted butter. And when she finally returned like a triumphant Stephen Dedalus at the end of Joyce’s Ulysess, I did. But after a bottle of sherry, numerous glasses of red wine and enough cheese to last my lactose-intolerant stomach a lifetime, who don’t you love? Especially if they provide you with dairy products and booze and warm roof over your head for the night when you need it the most