74 Rue Du Cardinal Lemoine
By Author Subhadip Majumdar
‘Monsieur can you tell me where this address is? ‘
For the last three days whenever I passed through this road I heard this question. A very old lady with dusted ragged appearance with a shack in her shoulder always asked the question. Her English is broken and can hardly be understood. But, I still take the postcard from her and have a look. It’s not a postcard. It’s a very old faded photograph. And the black and white photo has undergone through so many folds of time almost like the woman herself that nothing can be seen in the photograph but a faded fainted black.
Everything that was there has gone and now lost. Only the paper remains smelling of old time and the finger spots of this old woman. I said, ‘I am afraid nothing can be seen in this picture. ‘
I look at the woman. Her face became more weary more blurred.
I walked away.
Today, around eight in the evening when it started to drizzling from no where, as beautiful and unpredictable as Paris weather is, I came out of my home. I walked my way through the known streets sitting a while along the Seine. Then with the drizzle shifting towards rain I walk fast. But I stopped at the juncture of two streets.
Rue Descartes and Rue du Cardinal Lemoine.
Here, I met the old woman for the last three days.
Today she is not there.
She has gone.
I cannot help asking that question myself.
Has she found the address?
There came a rush of wet wind and I ran my way to my favorite cafe on the road to my home.
It is the same old cafe which was once named Cafe des Amateurs.
In morning this place is full of students and young people, the shouting and excitement always prevails here. Now though, it is calm, quite and very well lit. I sit in a corner order a coffee and bring out my notebook.
I started to write. How long I wrote I don’t know but with an air of excitement around I looked up.
‘There she is! ‘ Someone whispered.
That old beggar.
‘Oh no, again!’
‘Where did she come from ?’
‘No one knows.’
I got up. I pushed the glass door of the cafe and went outside.
It is still drizzling. Enough to get wet.
Just opposite me below that famous building stood the woman. I have no doubt she is the woman who the last three days asked me the question. Has she found her address?
She stands there in a peculiar fashion. She leans forward with the postcard in hand and stares straight towards the road. I crossed the road and walked to her. ‘Have you found the address you are looking for? ‘ I asked her. No answer ‘Why are you standing here?’ No answer. I tried in French. No answer. But slowly the woman looked up at me. At that moment blue lightning flashed, it fell on her wrinkled face. I looked at her.
The woman smiled. If one can term it as smile.
‘It is raining. Take some shelter.’ I said her again. She offered no response.
I gave up again and went back to the cafe. ‘Has she talked.’ The girl at the counter asked. ‘Not a single word.’ I replied. ‘That’s the problem. We also tried to make her talk.’
‘Where did she come from, do you know?’ I asked.
‘No, we are only seeing her from yesterday here.’
I stand there thinking but then came back to my place and order another coffee as the earlier one has got cold and tasteless.
Around eleven, when the cafe closed I walked through the cobbled stoned towards my one room studio. But I stopped and turned. It is raining.
The old woman stands there as it is. With her eyes on the road.
I came back to home start reading and then slept.
It rained hard that night and it became cold. So cold that at midnight I need to switch on the heater.
Around seven in the morning when my eyes opened I don’t know why I put my jogging shoes and came out locking my door.
I walked towards the next road where is the cafe.
As I near it I saw a crowd. My heart leaped. I walked fast. When I reached the place, I saw the woman is no more standing. She cannot.
She lies on the wall fully drenched fully cold after a full night. She is dead.
‘The ambulance is coming.’
‘Give her a good funeral.’ The crowds whispered.
I strangely numb, now made my way towards the dead woman. But before seeing her my eyes fell on something else. The faded black postcard now washed out in rain and lay on a cobbled stone. But the dead woman is still holding something between her frozen fingers. Another postcard.
I take it from her hand.
In it a beautiful young woman smiles with a handsome man standing before a building.
It is that same building before which I stand now. Before which the woman lie. 74, Rue Du Cardinal Lemoine. A house famous as Ernest Hemingway once lived there and made 1920’s Paris immortal.
I look at the young woman and at the face of the old dead lady. It’s the eyes. Still the same. She is the woman of the photo.There is the sound of ambulance. It’s coming.
As the car stopped and took the lifeless body of the woman to be cremated I still hold the photograph in my hand. Now, I flipped it. Something is written there in a man’s handwriting. The first sunlight fell on it.
“Emille, let’s promise that if we meet someday again, it would be here, this place, as it is where it all started. Yours Alvarez.
July, 2nd, 1961.”
I stared at the date once more. Each letter again. July, 2nd, 1961. The day when far away in Key West in his home Hemingway finished off himself.
I kept my eyes on the departing ambulance for a long time. An inexplicable pain stir in me. Suddenly I feel within an emptiness and if I have lost something precious. The woman standing alone on the night street soaking in rain completely alone, the last glimpse of the woman alive visited my mind again and again throughout the day.
I did not sleep well that night.
Next day, I attend the funeral in a small cemetery. When I came out it is drizzling again. I take out from my pocket the photo of the young couple.
I stared at Emille. She was an unbelievable beauty. I whispered ‘Sleep well, Emille now on the soil of Paris where it all began. ‘
Then I got into the cab waiting for me. I know, that for the rest of my life I can never forget Emille.
Subhadip Majumdar a writer poet from India. He is certified in Creative Writing from University of Iowa. He also edited for a long time a reputed Bengali poetry journal. Wrote a short novel as Tumbleweed writer in Shakespeare and Company, Paris.Two poetry books published and one novel in process of publication.
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