It has been less than five days since I arrived in my new home, Cesson-Sevigne, a quiet town nestled just outside the larger metropolis of Rennes. I can already feel the loving sprouts of familiarity winding, filling the space between me and its local virtues.
Its morning smell of bread and butter, the quiet rustle of voices outside my window, and the soft breaks of rain that permeate the streets with nature’s aroma.
My apartment, above the bakery of my employer, looks over the slight street and onto the butchershop, bustling with morning deliveries and the day’s local rush. Just around the corner is a store for home goods and tea; single-seat tables dot the space outside and beckon passers-by to peer inside. An old church stands in angled antiquity over the small market square.
Just down the road extends the bridged entrance, welcoming me with shallow waters and a cobblestone path meant for entrance by foot, bike, or car; all transport small enough to be the same. Stones pierce the water’s surface alongside patches of flowers and tufts of mossy green.
It has taken me longer than usual to write of this entrance. With my laptop sent on its merry way for repairs, I have found myself without my natural motivation. There are only so many times I can write fresh and alive about the cobblestone, stone walls, stone bridges, stone everything. Yes, France is green and beautiful, and it is enough to choke my throat with my luck, but how many ways can I say grass before they are all just words we all glaze over as we scan my next post?
I am craving something new, something real, or at least more authentic than the typical introduction to my next village. It’s still true that my eyes trace the nature around me with an attachment to the ethereal and earthly details, and my mind winds with a million ways to say this is original love, but I will be here for a while. There is plenty of time to languish in the details.
Boarding the C6 bus takes me to Rennes’ center. The wheeled journey travels along split pavement that breaks for the river’s channel. My gaze trades this view for my book as I avoid the stare of the man who insisted on speaking to me at the bus stop.
I am looking at you, Sylvia,
and your page gifts me some solace from the man
who stares and talks at me
though I don’t meet his eye.
Just because we board the same bus
does not mean we have anything in common
but the same slow ride to the center.
I see gray dot his beard while
I wade, barely ankle deep in my 20s.
What does he expect me to say
when he tells me he speaks very little English
and I lie,
saying I speak no French,
none at all.
Why does he ask where I live,
and why am I so polite that I reflexively ask his name
when he asks for mine?
Why did this instinct grip me, Sylvia?
Why do I prefer my discomfort to a scene at his expense?
I don’t want to make things worse,
so I let him do that.
I choose the single lonely seat,
he cannot sit next to me, so he sits across from me.
Of course he does,
I asked his name,
I see silver on his left ring finger, and
I feel his eyes on my hands as I write to you.
The corner of his eye wonders
what could I possibly have to write?
What could be so pressing I must avert my gaze?
Sylvia, what makes the difference
between him and the other men
I try and understand.
I met one yesterday and gave him my number,
with a real smile.
But he waited for my grin and gaze
and did not insist on everything.
He did not continue on
after I had stopped talking,
after I barely started.
He did not rise with me at my stop,
exiting the doors behind me and calling
the name I let him learn.
He did not trail my brisk footsteps,
or make me shake with anger, pepperspray grip in my pocket,
or press through my truthful answer.
No, I do not want to get coffee with you, no.
There doesn’t need to be a reason,
but he needs one so he can understand.
His one-track mind can only fathom my lie.
I don’t want coffee with you,
and he waits for the because.
Because I have a boyfriend,
I don’t Sylvia,
but thats the only because he knows.
Back off, he understands now,
not because I am my own and don’t owe him my presence,
but back off,
I am already another man’s property.
And Sylvia, what is respect but between two men?
Men are the same in every country. I try and brush this off as I continue on my way to the bookstore, checking over my shoulder every two seconds to make sure he’s really gone. He is, as far as I can tell, but I still feel every presence around me like a threat, and it is too early for this. 10am? Jesus Christ.
I’ve calmed down by the time I make my purchase, an English to French workbook I will attempt to instruct myself with as every real course is too expensive. Though finding an affordable course has proved difficult, I refuse to be discouraged.
If I dedicate myself to reading french books, completing workbooks for grammar, and speaking to as many people as possible in a day, my comprehension and expression will surely improve. Saying yes to the kinder Frenchmen who ask me to coffee can’t hurt either, though I spend half these dates nodding along, smiling when they do, and repeating a casual “ouias, ouias” every so often.
Regardless, dating is good practice, and it’s fun to play along.
Like most cities at the end of Summer, Rennes is littered with construction sites. Work trucks blare loudly down the street as yellow and orange vests circle city craters. These swollen trucks crowd the small aisles of the street and are often circled by police cars.
Besides my usual disgust at their presence, I also possess a new fear of these officers due to my french employment and lack of visa to extend my stay in the EU.
The three-month limit has crept up quickly and prickles me with that familiar flighty feeling that screams, “you’ve got to go!”
But I don’t want to. I want to stay. I want to learn this life for a while.
My visa will come, despite my stress, and a WWII caveat extends my legal stay from three weeks to two months. Still, my spine shutters with uncertainty.
This is the message sent & delivered (quietly).
The message that pops through the apple ether & sprouts
with an earlier time stamp on my mother’s phone.
Nothing dire, but call me.
Nothing dire, but tears are threatening me in this cafe.
Nothing dire, but my life is kind of perfect- and what if it’s taken away?
Are the cracks beginning to show?
I fill their hairline fractures shallowly, like makeup
over a bruise, just enough so I can squint & ignore & look
upon my other features.
Can I see them spreading,
like a network of roots beneath me,
I am so afraid of water’s presence,
next to anything with an on button.
I’ll dry, you can cry on me,
but don’t you dare juice an apple,
not while my fingers rest on its keys.
Why must there be passports,
why visas & contracts & cameras.
tracking tracking tracking,
marking me for taking up space.
I am so petrified of the police,
even though I am young & innocent &
if that isnt enough, I’m white.
I’m not illegal,
Nothing dire, but I can hear hooks’ crocodile hunting me.
Nothing dire, but my stay is a ticking time bomb.
Nothing dire, but it’s counting backward until I am a violation.
An aberration for my presence, but
I just want to live free,
somewhere off cruel soil- off my soil.
That dirt, colored cruel because I know too much.
Give me fresh, clean soil! Or if not,
give me mud marked ancient & wet
by tears I do not understand enough to join in the crying.
Nothing dire, but I need new ignorance.
Nothing dire, but just for a moment.